Confidence Building

I am coming towards the end of Module 4 and only the dissertation to complete.

During my time doing this MA, I have grown in confidence. Part of my work for Module 1, I presented at a conference in Cecil Sharp House the history of the dance Morpeth Rant. That was daunting, not only did I work on the development of the dance and pushed its known history back five years or so, members of the audience included a number of respected dance teachers and researchers.

For Module 3, part of my submission was about the development of the English Ceilidh Band. For this I interviewed a number of nationally known performers and record producers. All of these people allowed me to interview them and as far as I am aware, they considered and then answered my questions honestly.

This last Module I have written about he development of the 78rpm record with emphasis upon country dance and made a radio programme. Again I interviewed well-known people for both parts and again, they have been welcoming to me. It is funny, I have been involved with country dance for over 40 years, and when interviewing this time, especially for the radio programme it felt different. I was interviewing as an insider: people think you know more than you do. I was interviewing people from a generation ahead of me and they think I knew all about the people and events they are describing. Of course, I know some of them, but they talk about it in-the-moment, just like it took place yesterday.

My confidence, and especially as an insider interviewer has grown. This has been helped by undertaking projects on this course, such as essay and report writing and structure and having the ability to say ‘I can do this’ and can do it well.

Some of my research took place at the Vaughan William’s Memorial Library a Cecil Sharp House. The Librarian and the staff have been most helpful.

78 recordings

I am just completing part of my submission for Module 4, and I have done some work on English country dance 78rpm recordings. As an aside, I presented a conference paper on this subject at the Steeping Conference held at Cecil Sharp House on the weekend of 16 and 17 November 2019.

Here are some did you knows:

The first 78rpms of English country dances were recorded in the USA in 1915 and 16 and issued on Victor and Columbia records. At the first session supervised by Elizabeth Burchenal and using Cecil Sharp’s arrangements, the dance Goddesses was recorded at 124 beats per minute (62 bars). Interesting, Cecil Sharp suggested that there was no historical authority for speed, but recommend that 112 beats per minute would be adequate.

The tune Speed the Plough that is played widely by folk musicians was recorded by the Folk Dance Band on 16 July 1928. The Morris Motors Band recording that is usually cited as the source recording by Rod Straddling and others was recorded on 20 December 1937.

The recording of Circassian Circle in 1947 by The Square Dance Band was the first to have a change of tune!

If you want to listen to some of these 78s, the easiest way is to buy a copy of Listen to the Band, published by the English Folk Dance and Song Society and complied by Mike Wilson-Jones. Not all the tunes are suitable for dancing, as some are really fast, like Christchurch Bells that comes in at 136 beats per minute. In preparation for my presentation, I worked out my walking speed. 98 steps per minute.

Lastly, 78rpm records generally came in 260mm or 300mm diameter and a playback on each side was 03:30 or 04:30 minutes.  You could get 22 tracks on a CD. 22 tracks would mean 11 records and that would weigh 2.6kg, compared to 0.083Kg for a CD. What progress!


Radio programme. Recording hardware

I thought it’ll be a good idea to list the hardware I used when recording my radio programme. Readers might be interested and it will also be a reminder to me.

At home I used a Rode NT2 condenser microphone. This was brought as various reviews suggested it was a good around microphone and particularly suited for interviewing. It was attached to a desk mounted Rode microphone arm. Again bright because of excellent reviews, and specifically as one reviewer stated, you put it into position and it doesn’t move. I have had it mounted to my desk for 6 months with the Rode NT2 and it hasn’t Great investment.

Using a short xor cable, the microphone is plugged in to an Allen and Heath ZEDi8 mixer. This is small having just two xlr inputs with Phantom power (to provide power to the Rode NT2 microphone) and just sits on my desk. The mixer is then connected to my computer via an USB Audio Interface.

When ‘in the field’, I used an Apogee Mic for recording. This is smaller than the Rode NT2 and more portable and can be placed into a small microphone tripod. The sound is not quite as good as the Rode NT2. I also used a portable Sony PCM M10 as a back-up recording device.

There is a balance to be sought, recordings should be made to the highest standard against the availability of equipment. Using the equipment described hear, I feel that balance was achieved. My recordings are clear, recorded to .Wav files at 24bit recording and 48kHz.

Recordings are made in the moment and you never know what they will be used for in the future. They might be broadcasted so make them good!


Radio Programme

For part of Module 4 I made a radio programme. This was 28 minutes long and mirrored a BBC Radio 4 radio doc.

I really enjoyed this project and was confidence building.

Firstly I had to identify the subject. Well, it had to be within the country dance sphere, and I decided to look at the development of tunes on recordings between 1915 and 1974. The first country dance recording was made in 1915 in New Jersey by the Victor Band under the supervision of Elizabeth Burchenal. Elizabeth used Cecil Sharp’s arrangements and I used the dance Goddesses. Compared to modern speed, this is fast and goes along at 126 beats a minute.

Next I used recordings by George Remain who was a traditional melodeon player from Yorkshire. His playing is great, and compared to standards today still fast. Next up was the Country Dance Band under the leadership of Nan Fleming-Williams. The Country Dance Band, along with The Haymakers, Jolly Wagoners etc recorded for the EFDS in the 1950s. Lastly, I used the Waves of Tory recorded by Ashley Hutchings and the Sawdust Band in 1973.

The programme was interspersed with interviews from various experts and practitioners. Interviewing was great, having identified prospective interviewees they were contact via the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library in London who were very helpful. I had to identify their particular area of expertise and made sure it fitted into my programme subject.

I used a ‘home-made’ studio in my living room to record my links, and VinylStudio to cut my interviewees contributions to a basic length. Vinyl Studio is a programme for recording records to digital format. It is possible to import audio files in .WAV format and too edit them in a basic form. I then booked the radio studio at the University of Brighton for real editing. Using the multi-channel editing software, Adobe Audition I put together my programme. Using my newly honed techniques including fading each segment in and out, double tracking, precise editing of my selected tracks and interviewees contributions I made my programme. Using compression and other effects, I think I made a good attempt: it didn’t even sound like me! Almost professional and truly inspiring.

As well as all that I described able, I wrote the script and did all the recording. Recording my links was interesting. I lost count at the number of takes I did. Fumbling or mis-pronouncing words, breathing in the wrong place, a loud noise.

I found the whole project inspiring and grew in confidence throughout.


What were the Ceilidh Bands really up to

This is a difficult question, but what did the members of the Ceilidh Band movement think they we trying to achieve.

Some members of the Ceilidh Band movement would have you think they were trying to preserve a dying music. Well, yes, the music may have been dying-out, or it had gone underground. Music collectors in the 1960s and 70 had found numerous musicians and recordings were made of musicians playing regularly in Sussex, Kent, Hampshire and the whole of East Anglia. Granted, most of these musicians were in their 70s and 80s with few younger people involved.

Ceilidh band musicians did meet these people and learnt their tunes. They learnt some of their tunes, but many of the tunes they played were no taken up. Many musician played ‘hits of the day’ and other popular tunes such as Wild Rover, Turkey in the Straw as well as songs from World War Two. Tunes like this, that did not conform to English Traditional Music were cast aside.

Many musicians did make visits to folk festivals and similar events, often taken by Ceilidh Band musicians. Almost like zoo exhibits, they were taken, put on a stage, formally introduced and made to play. Playing in public arenas such as these were not what they were used to, and they often failed to produce acceptable performances.

So what did the Ceilidh Band musicians want. Well, they want the tunes which they got. Many musicians changed the style to a slower, step-hop style. This style grew and became the accepted style: it was the opposite to the style supported by the English Folk Dance and Song Society which had also been manufactured in the late 1940s and early 50s. One interviewee was quite cynical about the movement; after the initial formation, musicians realised that they could have a good time with the music and bands played at festivals and large dances. They began to attracted a large number of followers who liked the high-energy dancing. Did the Ceilidh Band musicians follow the money?

Ceilidh Band movement

I am researching into the Ceilidh Band movement during the late 1960s and the early 1970s.

I have been interviewing several people who were involved in the movement including dance music  collectors, musicians and record producers. I was particularly interested when I spoke to the record producer. He told me that when they recorded East Anglian musicians, they had been recommended to the record company by other musicians and the producer went down to East Anglia and spoke to the musicians and sealed the deal. The record company booked out the local village Hall for the weekend and set up the tape-recording machine and microphones on Friday night. Saturday morning run throughs were made, recording levels set, microphones re-located to avoid external noises ec. Saturday afternoon the proper recording sessions took place. Twenty recordings were made of four performers. Masses of open-tape was used, as recordings were recorded on full-track at 15 inches per second.

Back in London, the tapes were edited, the order or performances confirmed. Artwork for the record cover commissioned, notes from an ‘expert’ sought and then printed. 500 copies of the recorded were sent away to ‘Decca’ for pressing. Interesting, producing a cover is much more expensive than record-presing, so in this instance 2500 covers were printed and only 500 records. Depending on sales, further copies can be pressed. What about storage costs for record covers!

Then, advertising in trade and customer magazines, records sent out to reviewers, records shipped to customers!

Although this is a summary of the production, it is an involved business. In this case, the record was not a big-seller. A second pressing took place, and in total 750 records were sold.

Module 3 outline

I am a few weeks into Module 3 which has two parts. Firstly an essay that will look at an aspect of 20th century folk dance development, and a shorter essay that will summarise the historical development of folk dancing.

For the longer essay, I am going to look at the early development of the English Ceilidh band: Oak, Webb’s Wonders, the Old Swan Band and Flowers and Frolics. I will be conducting some interviews or extended email exchanges with key performers, collectors and record producers. I am really looking for to this.

I don’t have that many words to complete the shorter essay. I might struggle to fit in everything such as the Sharp:Neal debate, the ‘invented’ dance problem of the 1930s, Douglas Kennedy’s initiative to try to involve more people into enjoying folk dancing in the 1950s and the influence of the complicated dances of Pat Shaw and Gary Roodman.

Seasoned dancers will probably know something about everything in the last paragraph, except the ‘invented’ dance problem. Maggot Pie published at the beginning of the 1930s contained the first composed collection of folk dances for a 100 years or so. The English Folk Dance Society became very worried about their influence and that more might be composed and dilute Sharp’s Playford publications. The debate centred around could these dances be consider folk dances. After consideration, the EFDSS banned these and other dances from any EFDSS organised event and the EFDSS also produced a list of publications that dances could be taken from and performed. What a state of affairs! At some point that I currently cannot locate, the ban was lifted.

Digital Recording Standards

Last week I attended the British Library’s open day for perspective and first year doctoral students. And a good day out it was too.

One session was taken by Janet Topp Fargion who was explaining how the British Library record fragile items from wax cylinders and 78 rpm records. In many cases, the first recording may be the only one or best that can be made.

Fargion suggested that the British Library record items at 24bit and 96 kHz sample rate using  .WAV format. The CD standard is 16bit and 44.1 kHz. Many portable handheld Digital Recorders  record at 16bit and 44.1 kHz or higher.

On the 11 November I spoke at the Folk Song Conference at Cecil Sharp House about the historical folk song collecting activities of Tony Wales in the Horsham area in the late 1950s. These recording were made on reel-reel tape recorders at either 9.5 or 19cm/s. At that time, the standard recording speed for broadcasting and other similar activities was 19cm/s or higher.

At the Folk Song Conference some speaker indicated that in pre-planned recording sessions they were recording at rates lower than 16bit and 44.1 kHz, some using mp3. Am I alone finding this a worrying trend? Recordings should be made at the highest level possible for later reproduction or broadcasting and for whatever new technologies may come in the future. Recordings must be made future proof.

One speaker went further and suggested that substituting videoing (or Digital Recording) was an answer as that showed the actual performance including sounds and visuals. I would suggest that the highest quality sound and visual rates must be recorded. Song collectors and others who capture performances (either sound, visual or both) must record at the highest possible rates. If necessary two or more machines must be used. As we all know, data storage units, such as portable hard drives are becoming cheaper. Just remember to back everything up to avoid loss!



Folk Song Conference

On 11th November I presented at the Folk Song Conference held at Cecil Sharp House.

I spoke about the folk song recordings made by Tony Wales at the end of the 1950s and beginning of the 1960s. I acquired the recordings which were all recorded on reel-reel tape in the the 1990s, and part of the sales agreement was that I would make them available in the future, That I have done and they can be found on the Sussex Traditions website.  Look here:

I am satisfied with my presentation. I was within my 20 minute limit, I spoke clearly and at a good speed. There was a problem with some of the embedded sound files, they all finished about 10 seconds early.

Tony Wales wrote about Sussex and its traditions. He wrote for a public audience, which means that it does not necessarily have academic rigour. His writing often includes stories or comment without the evidence to back it up fully.

Tony was one of many collectors operating at that time in small localities such as Horsham where he lived. They were self-funding and often worked alone. Although their work may be flawed, we do owe them a huge debt: without them our knowledge, and in this case actual recordings of the singers would not have taken place and we would have been poorer for that.