Following our successful recording day in January, we are sad to report that John Willis, whose tunes were at the centre of our recording project, passed away on 2nd July following a period of ill-health. Our thoughts are with his wife Margaret and their family. We are grateful to have known John over the decades and to have played with him in the Club, but especially to have received two things from him - his beloved tunes and his great sense of humour. We trust that our recording project stands in fair tribute to John's achievements and to his memory. The International Concertina Association decided to include a feature about John Willis' tunes (with Steve Griffiths' arrangements) in their magazine - Concertina World, CW482, July 2020 and we have reproduced the article under our Special Projects area along with recordings we made in January, which also include John playing his own tunes for us.
John Willis, enjoying the YCC recording day in January 2020.
For the past two years the YCC has been working on a project to record tunes written by founder member of the club John Willis, and on 19th January, we turned the upstairs room of the Cornerhouse Club in Leeds into a recording studio and captured five of our favourite compositions.
John, a retired engineer, has been writing music most of his life, and over the years, some of it has found its way into the YCC canon - we have more than 50 tunes in the YCC tune books which John collated for us. As a group we have really enjoyed working with his tunes over the years and felt now was a good time to record them and share them with the wider concertina community.
The first challenge was to narrow our list of favourites down to five tunes. This took quite a long time as each of us had tunes we particularly enjoyed. In the end we settled on:
Old Jock's Dance
Bernie the Ragtime Ferret.
Each has a story behind it, which we will share in later posts, but they were chosen as a group which reflected the different styles of John's compositions.
We asked our Duet player Steve Griffiths (pictured below) if he could arrange the tunes for ensemble playing, and we all agree he did a magnificent job in reflecting the spirit of each composition, and in conducting the band on recording day.
For the past year we have been rehearsing each of the pieces in readiness for recording day, when we were joined by professional sound engineer Matthew Nelson, son of one of our members Chris (our webmaster), who set up our pop-up recording studio and captured our performances.
Matthew with his pop-up recording studio.
The pieces have now been rendered into something we can share, and the plan is to work with Concertina World, the magazine of the International Concertina Association, to include them in a special edition.
Performers on the day were:
The YCC band is currently working on tunes which were popular during the 1930s and 1940s thanks to a “bit of a find” by bandleader Carolyn Wade who stumbled across old manuscripts in a suitcase.
Carolyn, herself a composer and arranger, has worked these tunes into arrangements for concertina band, and we have been enjoying practicing them and getting them into shape. The big band sound of the era seems to work well for concertina.
The ten-strong turnout today worked through Go down Moses, Chattanoogie Shoeshine Boy - a tune we are still polishing! - Only You and the medley We’ll Meet Again & There’ll Always be an England – very rousing!
Our meetings as ever are in three parts, band practice, followed by notices and discussions, and finally party pieces with some tune playing.
Notices for March:
We have changed the dates for the following meetings to account for the Easter break and the Swaledale Squeeze
April - meeting is now on 14 April
May - meeting is now on 12 May
The Club is to host the 2020 ICA (International Concertina Association) AGM, to be held in April or May 2020, and discussions were held around securing a suitable venue.
Members also discussed suggestions for guests at future YCC meetings this year – watch this space for details.
Our Sept meeting will be joint with NECP, with us hosting this time at our Leeds venue, The Cornerhouse Club, Mooretown.
Steve played a version of Cadair Idris on his duet concertina – a tune he had heard Rob Harbron (English) play. Lovely tune, followed by a discussion of technique of playing the duet system.
The club is working on pieces written by club member John, and arranged by Steve, with a view to recording them later this year. Steve conducted us through his new setting of Shannon Waters then The Little Mouse, Old Jock’s Dance and Bernie the Ragtime Ferret - best tune-name ever!
To end the afternoon, we are working on developing our skills for playing by ear and taking part in music sessions, using the Tuneworks book. This month we worked on Speed the Plough, Morpeth Rant, Winster Gallop, Rattling Bog and The Sloe, getting to the stage where we played them without looking at the music – which I find very very…hard!
We intend to try a few more from Tuneworks next month.
Cheshire based English concertina player Dave Ball brought his tune archaeology project to the YCC meeting on 17 February 2019.
He has been collecting tunes associated with particular calendar dates for some time now, his database is now up to about 1500 tunes and only three of the 365 days in the calendar remain uncovered.
This session was a mixture of discussions around the historical notation of tunes, tune archaeological technique, and of course a bit of playing.
Dave started by getting us to play a tune with just the note names given as letters – a good step to learning a tune, in effect, “by ear”. Then we considered the difficulties encountered in sourcing tunes from old manuscripts – sometimes unbarred, no time or key signature, sometimes just plain wrong notes written down. This led us to consider how to think in detail about playing and shaping a tune from the raw material provided, and this approach then featured with all the rest of the tunes we looked at.
The first was a tune for 18th March Dance in Rob Roy, just presented to us as a series of unbarred quavers with no time signature & an incomplete key signature, which appears to have been incidental music for a stage play, premiered in 1818. We managed to work this up into something playable before he revealed the actual tune.
Dave provided much fascinating information about the use of such music in theatre of the time and also recounted anecdotes about characters with tunes written about their exploits, including the man who first did a parachute jump (1802 – successful!) and had a tune written in his honour.
Some Yorkshire tunes were presented, of which we played one The Honest Yorkshireman (…that, of course, includes us all!) again composed for the theatre in 1735, with calendar date of 11th July. We then looked at Tom & Jerry, 26th November’s tune (which was very similar to the well known session tune Donkey Riding). Interestingly this tune celebrated the two picaresque characters later immortalized as the cartoon cat and mouse characters.
Finally, Dave presented a couple of the vast number of tunes associated with Queen Victoria. One of these, Queen Victoria’s Jubilee (for 20th June), was a lively tune reminiscent of a hornpipe, which conjured images of Vic dancing merrily.
The calendar tune project has been a vast undertaking for Dave, which is now nearing its completion, and he hopes to be touring with selections from the collection with his band Cabinet of Monkeys later this year.
York-based Concertina player Michael Jary brought his individual punchy style to the YCC workshop on 18 February 2018. His session, which featured a Finnish Polka and a Newmarket Polka, demonstrated how to build up from a simple tune line into something complex with ornamentation and underpinning chords. To hear his arrangements of the two polkas, take a listen on our Tunes page.
Michael is known for experimenting with bellows technique, and introduced the group to an alternative hold using the index finger in the thumb-strap on the English concertina, using the thumb and palm to more tightly control the bellows. Try it! While the alternative fingering takes a bit of getting used to, it does allow for a much more powerful, punchy sound.
This was a brilliant workshop which sent the group home inspired to practice playing in sixths, octaves, and tenths - useful in creating simple accompaniments.
Michael, who studied under Alistair Anderson, plays with a number of bands, in particular the York-based Fiddlers' Wreck. He was a finalist in the BBC Radio 2 Young Tradition awards in 2000.