Reviews of VT151CD 'Holsworthy Fair'


Holsworthy is to be found in North Devon, where the Orchard family are now settled. Tom and Jean are both Gypsies, with a long and strong family tradition of singing, playing and stepdancing. Here, joined by their son Ashley, they bring together songs and music from a variety of sources; unconcerned with putting labels on them, more rightly choosing material which they have enjoyed within their family, and are now sharing with the rest of us. Tom and Ashley are melodeon players, with the title track being one of Tom's compositions for his instrument. Their playing is both robust and melodic, and very functional as a driver for the stepdancing at which Tom excels. It may seem strange to portray stepdancing through an audio recording, but it doesn't take a lot of imagination to picture the performances!

 

The songs are drawn from a wide range of sources, from the Child ballads 'Dark Eyed Gypsy' and 'A Wager, A Wager' (often known as The Broomfield Wager'), to Foster and Allen numbers such as, 'Do You Remember'. Whatever the provenance, Jean's approach is to sing the material strongly and clearly. Her voice has a good range and is relatively unornamented, which gives her delivery an immediacy and intimacy.

 

This is a fine recording of an important strand of the tradition, and one which is worth seeking out.

The Living Tradition

 

Here we are privileged to hear a gypsy family singing, playing, and stepping. Introduced with a 12-page booklet with family history and photos, this CD is a charmer. Jean's singing has a fetching directness, and the two fellas play nifty melodeons. The material is both familiar and unusual.

Folk Kernow

 

With all the usual attributes of a Veteran recording, this CD comes from one of the best known Gypsy families in Devon performing songs, tunes and stepdances from the West Country. Tom & Ashley play melodeons on most of the sixteen tracks while Jean sings and plays penny whistle; Tom stepdances on three of the tracks to produce, between them, a robust performance that should be an inspiration to any up and coming 'Folk' performer. Some tunes and songs are new to me others are familiar, but all in all a good CD to listen to & learn from.

Essex Folk News

 

Tom, Jean and Ashley Orchard are a Gypsy family from Devon. Tom and Ashley play melodeon, Tom stepdances and Jean sings and plays the whistle. The CD has a nice mix of songs, tunes and stepdances. Stepdancing is an interesting concept on an audio recording but like clog, Northwest Morris and rapper you can tell how good it is just by listening to the stepping. The tunes come from various sources - family favourites, pub sessions, Jimmy Shand records and folk festivals - and the songs are traditional or from Foster & Alien recordings. It is the singing that fascinates me. Jean's singing reminds me of that great gypsy singer, Phoebe Smith. Perhaps it's just a typical Romany style but whatever it is, it works for me. Jean learnt three of the traditional songs, Over Yonder's Hill, Sixteen Come Sunday and A Wager, A Wager from members of her family and the other one, Dark-Eyed Gypsy, from Chris Coe. Comprehensive sleeve notes provide a lot of background information on the Orchard family, the tunes and the songs.

Mardles

 

I knew that it would be a pleasure to review this CD, the latest from Veteran, and I was not wrong - after all it's traditional, what is more it's local. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to attend an Orchard Family get together or to be in the bar of the Kings Arms at South Zeal during the Dartmoor Folk Festival will probably know what I mean....but listen....this is different....there's no chatter, no approximate accompaniments and no background hubbub.... and what a difference it makes. The tracks have been well balanced - a melodeon tune from Tommy followed by a song from Jean and then a track with Tommy stepping to a hornpipe played by Ashley. Jean, who also plays the penny whistle on three tracks, sings with a confidence and strength to match the very best Gypsy ladies, full of emotion and expression but still with great clarity. Three of her songs are from her family tradition, Over Yonder's Hill, Sixteen Come Sunday and A Wager, A Wager, but then there are two that she learned from Foster and Allen recordings and The Dark Eyed Gypsy which Jean first heard sung by Chris Coe in the late 1970's. The Orchard Family have never been afraid to supplement their traditional repertoire with songs and tunes from other sources and why shouldn't they?

 

Tommy's style of melodeon playing is instantly recognisable as 'Gypsy' and Ashley has followed the tradition, playing with lots of umph and adding twiddley bits whenever the opportunity arises. Some of the tunes are from the family tradition, Holsworthy Fair is one of Tommy's own compositions and the Jimmy Shand and Bob Cann influences are also evident.

 

The CD booklet includes a fascinating Orchard Family history compiled by Jean with several photographs. There are also notes on the tunes and songs and it is now possible to access the words to the songs on the Veteran website.

What's Afoot

 

If you are looking for an erudite assessment of a grass roots album from a West Country gypsy family, this is not the review for you. As a non- musician, I can only hear this album with a amateur singer's ear.

The album has a very strong traditional base and there ain't no fancy attachments. Songs, melodeon and step dance is what you get with perhaps the odd penny whistle. The playing is more than competent and I wish I could even start to play any form of squeeze box anywhere near in the same manner. There is no showmanship just strong honest playing.

You feel that the Orchard family are presenting their music to you as they would present to their usual audience. "This is us. This is our music" is what they seem to be saying. Their enjoyment of the music is evident and is even transmitted in the step dancing on three of the tracks. Jean's clear, strong voice is topped by good interpretations of songs that range from sadness to joviality. Tonal quality and empathy cannot be faulted. Here is a singer that can sing almost anything in the tradition and I suspect a bit more.

If you are looking for an exotic curry, this album is not for you, but if bangers and mash with plenty of butter is what you want I suggest you tuck in.

The Folk Mag

 

Centuries of persecution and oppression against Romany Gypsies by the sedentary 'Gorger' majority means that there remains a high level of mistrust across the ethnic divide. This has resulted in many Gypsy families keeping to themselves and having little to do socially or culturally with those outside their community.
 

However there are those who are prepared to raise their heads above the parapet and seek to build bridges and it is amongst these Romany ambassadors that we find the Orchard family. Through their family traditions of music, dance and song, Jean and Tom Orchard together with son Ashley are well known far beyond their native West Country and this album will undoubtedly carry their reputation even further afield. Jean's singing style is firmly in the Gypsy tradition, particularly noticeable on this album when singing 'Over Venders Hill' and 'Sixteen Come Sunday', two songs that she inherited from her grandmother Dehlia Cracker.
 

Tom's melodeon playing is fluid and expressive, qualities that he has passed on to son Ashley who plays alongside him on most of the instrumentals. Also of note is the cameo appearance that Torn's feet make on three tracks, reminding us that amongst his many talents Tom is also a champion step dancer.
 

For lovers of English folk music this album is a must, demonstrating that the tradition is alive and kicking in its natural environment of family gatherings, country fairs and public bars.

English Dance & Song

 

(reviewed with VT150CD)

Heel And Toe' consists of recordings made by collector Sam Steele in East Anglia between 1959 and 1962. This was, of course, a rich region for traditional songs and music, and although many of the names are unfamiliar, the quality and repertoire is truly exciting. Reg Bacon and Hockey Feltwell are not only fine singers by any standards, but have particularly good and unusual variants in their repertoires. Bacon’s John Barleycorn and Barley Mow are refreshingly different to my ears from the familiar versions, and Feltwell shows that it’s not only middle-class misfits of the folk revival who delight in the gore of the Child Ballad collection, entertaining his audience with some spectacular bloodletting in a rare English version of Lamkin. The tunes, too, are most enjoyable, with Percy Brown showing possibly even greater skill and subtlety on the melodeon than on his later Topic recordings, while Walter and Daisy Bulwer on fiddle and piano provide the archetype of joyful, tub-thumping English country music. When joined by Billy Cooper on hammered dulcimer they kick up the proverbial storm. With several tracks recorded in a pub setting, the overall effect is of having wandered into the kind of English song and music session one could hardly dare dream about.

 

But the good news is that just such a session can still be enjoyed by the discerning visitor to the Dartmoor Folk Festival who seeks out the King’s Arms in South Zeal when the Orchard family are running the show. An established local gypsy family, the Orchards have a long tradition of melodeon-playing, step-dancing and singing, and their sessions include all three, lurching from boisterous choruses to furious stepping, and pin-drop order when a ballad is called for. I first met the Orchards several years ago, had the privilege of playing melodeon for Tom Orchard to dance to (“Faster, boy, faster!” was his agitated demand), and was impressed by the way their younger generation participated in the music, right down to the toddler who was enthusiastically miming melodeon on a red plastic school lunch box. “That boy’s going to be a great box player one day,” I confided to my wife. Much has happened since then. Two of Tom and Jean's talented sons died in a car crash in 2001 and the music stopped. But then young Ashley—he of the lunchbox and now a teenager—took up the melodeon with a vengeance, and the family plays on. Tom and Ashley play box in a style not unlike friend of the family Bob Cann, with Jean adding penny whistle and Tom offering several examples of his stepping: Dorsetshire Hornpipe is a great, driving example. Jean contributes several lovely songs in the gypsy style, with the characteristic catch in her voice, sometimes accompanied by melodeon.Give-and-take between “tradition” and “revival” is nicely illustrated by her having learnt—and quite radically reinterpreted—A Wager, A Wager from Chris Coe, while Ashley’s Mexican Tune (actually a medley of Tex-Mex tunes Daddy’s Polka and Viva El West Side) came to him from the revival, if I’m not much mistaken. [From our Mr Peters’ own Squeezing Out Sparks CD, to be precise—indiscreet Ed] Holsworthy Fair is a fine record of one of the most vigorous outposts of tradition still going strong.

Stirrings

 

Veteran have produced a nice twelve page booklet (through Jean) for this CD with the history of a large part of their, very extended, Gypsy family. Based in the West Country Tom (dad), Jean (mum) and Ashley (youngest son) have started to take their music out of the family circle to new audiences. The music travels well, as it should, bearing in mind its origins and here we have sixteen of their tunes, songs and dances. Tom and Ashley play the tunes on melodeon joined occasionally by Jean on whistle. When Tom steps, Ashley is the musician and when Jean sings she might be unaccompanied or with Tom ... or with Ashley ... or with both. Good innit? It's all there, a complete pack­age, a family . .. which is what they are.

 

The tunes can be from anywhere. Scotland provided Bonny Dundee/The Rock & Wee Pickle Toe (a bit like The Athol Highlanders), Ireland tipped up Smash the Windows and England, The Dorsetshire Hornpipe. Tom steps to that one and it's a lively sound.

 

Jean has learned songs from Mum (who learned them from Gran) and Patsy Cline and Jim Reeves, in fact anywhere and everywhere, just as it should be. Her delivery is redolent of music hall and club singer and Hollywood in the 50s, a charming melange of observed styles. You wouldn't think that a 'rue dum a-day' chorus would sit well with that style, but it does. Track seven, Sixteen Come Sunday, has a chorus like that, and it just does. Maybe it works 'cause Jean is so unselfconscious, and is singing from bang in the middle of her own culture. I wish that was the way with other people today but sadly, if they pop their heads over that particular parapet, there are regiments of bystanders waiting to batter them back down. I'll Never Stop Wanting You, from the Foster and Alien stable is track ten. Not a folk song which ever way you hold it up to the light. But Jean doesn't care, it's one of her favourites, she likes it and it shows in the way she sings it, and I dare the whole 1st Reg. of Bystanders to take issue with her. A Wager, A Wager of the Broomfield Hill/Wager family, is the finisher, collected all over the UK and Europe. Firmly accompanied by Tom and Ashley in waltz time, it's a truncated version of the usual twenty seven verses but all the story is contained therein if a little hazy in parts.

 

The family is visiting festivals now and sharing their music whilst learning new songs and tunes. What goes around, comes around, it's a lovely process and the more it happens the easier it will be for social music to regain a foothold in society. A vain hope? I hope not.

Tykes News

 

Tom and Jean Orchard and their son Ashley are three members of one of the best-known West Country Gypsy families. They grew up in a musical environment and Tom and Jean formed a family band that appeared at festivals and fairs all over the country as well as meeting the musical needs of their own part of the world.

 

Following the tragic deaths of Tom and Jean's sons (and members of their family band) Nathan and Anthony in 2001 the family band understandably came to an end and the music stopped for a while. Ashley's learning the melodeon at last put the desire to make music back into Tom and Jean, and now the three of them perform together.

 

Like much of the traditional music played and sung by English Gypsies, a strong musical influence is the music of the settled rural population. In a less technological time travellers provided a large part of the seasonal labour force needed to keep farms and the rural economy going, and, of course, drank in the pubs where they were camped. Often enough local singers and musicians would be attracted to those same pubs, looking for a chance to share songs and tunes, with the inevitable result being a great deal of cross-fertilisation (in many senses of the term) - the Gypsy input into English traditional music is too frequently overlooked. Equally, English Gypsy music has, by and large little in common with the guitar and violin-based modal sound of Eastern Europe or such as the Gypsy Kings or the Keinhardt family. Yet it ain't quite the same as the settled tradition either.

 

"Holsworthy Fair" is a mix of dance tunes and songs. The songs are all sung by Jean, whose singing has a subtle ornamentation that slides up to notes, or pitches slightly outside the scale in a way that is distinctively Gypsy. She sings in a quiet, understated way that puts the emphasis on the song rather than the singer. There's two songs Over Yonder's Hill and Sixteen Come Sunday she learned from her grandmother, a couple of Foster and Allen numbers, a version of Dark Eyed Gypsy inspired by Chris Coe and finally the traditional A Wager, A Wager (Broomfield Hill). Some of the songs are unaccompanied, some have a tastefully simple melodeon support that serves to enhance rather than detract from the song.

 

Tom and son Ashley both play the melodeon, but unusually for English musicians, their chosen instruments are of the 3-row variety rather than the generally used 1 or 2-row. They sound very "Dartmoor" in a Bob Cann /Mark Bazeley sort of way, picking very strong melodies and letting the tune speak for itself. The playing is very relaxed, precise and confident and the CD's worth the price for the Mexican Tune and Tom's Gypsy Waltz alone. Jean's whistle playing joins the melodeons on some tracks.

 

The Orchard's dance music is very functional; it's a style that modern ceilidh-goers might find a bit old-fashioned, but the dance tunes on this CD are great and are played with lots of confidence and life and provide a lesson in playing music to dance to. The functional nature of the music is underlined by the percussive step-dancing that accompanies some of the tunes (or should that be the other way round?).

 

There's no fancy arrangements, huge studio budgets or screeds of famous guest musicians involved in making this CD. It has no pretence to be other than it is - an honest recording of honest music.

Shreds & Patches

 

Tom, Jean and Ashley are descended from an old West Country Gypsy family though they now live a more settled life in Holsworthy, North Devon (pronounced ‘Holsery’). They will be well known to any regulars at the Dartmoor Folk Festival. There is a strong family tradition of making music, singing and step dancing and an earlier generation were recorded for Topic and Folkways in the 1970s.

On the CD there are 6 songs - 3, ‘Over Yonder’s Hill, Sixteen Come Sunday and A Wager, A Wager’ from family tradition, 2, ‘Do you Remember, I’ll Never Stop Wanting You’ from the Foster and Allen stable and 1, ‘the Dark eyed Gypsy’ learned from Chris Coe in the 70s. The other 10 tracks are tunes or sets of tunes with 3 used for step dancing. Tom (dad) and Ashley (son) play melodeon on most of the tracks, Jean (Mum) sings the 6 songs and plays the penny whistle. The step dancing is performed by Tom.

If the idea of dancing to an audio recording seems strange. one only has to remember that traditionally step dancing competitions are conducted by a judge sitting underneath the farm wagon, on which the dancer performs, so that only the sound of the steps is heard. By this criterion Tom’s stepping is very good.

The tunes, which are a valuable source of performable material for any aspiring folk musician are from a variety of course - family tradition, self-composed, collected from other musicians at fairs of family gatherings and of course from old Jimmy Shand recordings.
 

A very enjoyable CD to listen to and, as usual with Veteran, the booklet is very informative on the family background and on the sources of all the songs and tunes.
 

Puddlestone

 


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