The Yorkshire Concertina Club joined thousands of concertina players all over the world to celebrate the first World Concertina Day on Sunday 6th February.
The event, organised by the International Concertina Association to celebrate the 220th birthday of Sir Charles Wheatstone, the inventor of the English Concertina, and the 70th anniversary of the ICA, included concerts by performers in the United States, Canada, Japan, South Africa and Sweden, and of course all over the UK, including Leeds where the YCC is based.
Our contribution to the celebration was a concert at the Corner House Club, where we played some of our favourite band pieces, and also featured songs performed by Russ Etherington who accompanied himself on a treble concertina.
Graham Heffernan (YCC chair) said that while the YCC met each month in an upstairs room of the Corner House, this was the first time it had performed there for regulars in the public bar. “Corner House Club members put up with the odd noises from our rehearsal room every month, and to say thanks for their hospitality over the years, we thought it would be great to share our music with them as part of World Concertina Day,” he said.
“We had some lovely comments afterwards, and hope that playing for the Corner House Club might become a regular part of the YCC year.”
YCC members who took part in the inaugural World Concertina Day event were:
Russ Etherington – treble and baritone English concertina
Ruth Flint – treble English concertina
Helen Graham – treble and baritone English concertinas
Phil Graham – Anglo concertina
Steve Griffiths (deputy band leader) – duet concertina
Graham Heffernan (YCC Chair) – treble concertina
Adrian Jackson – treble and baritone concertina
Rhona Stevens – treble concertina
Carolyn Wade (band leader) – treble and bass concertina
The playlist included:
American Patrol trad US
Shannon Waters by John Willis
Hymne a l' Amour by Marguerite Monnot
Moonlight Serenade by Glen Miller
Bernie the Ragtime Ferret by John Willis
Harry Bloodgood trad
Only You by Buck Ram and Ande Rand
A Policeman's Lot by Arthur Sullivan
The Little Mouse by John Willis
The Plane Tree trad
Yorkshire Concertina Club Rag by John Willis
Nellie the Elephant by Ralph Butler and Peter Hart
The Great Escape by Elmar Bernstein
Yesterday by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
As part of our rehearsal time, we also played a brand new composition by Alan Day, the World Concertina Day March, written especially for the event. We look forward to recording and submitting our version of this piece to the ICA over the coming months, joining other concertina clubs’ submissions as Alan has suggested,
For more information on World Concertina Day and to see what players around the world have been doing to celebrate go to https://concertina.org/world-concertina-day/
To celebrate WCD the Yorkshire Concertina Club (established 1992) will be putting on a short informal Concert in the afternoon of Feb 6th. This will take place in the downstairs bar of the venue where we have our regular monthly meetings upstairs. We will be playing a selection of our favourite arrangements in parts, led by our esteemed YCC Band-leader, Carolyn Wade, plus some compositions of one of our long-standing past members, John Willis, beautifully arranged by YCC member Steve Griffiths. We should even have a couple of amusing ditties, ably self-accompanied on the Concertina, from YCC member Russ Etherington. I do need to add, though, that unfortunately the bar is a members-only private venue, so we will not be able to host any non-member visitors. Besides celebrating WCD, the event is providing us with an excellent opportunity to thank the venue, who have kindly provided the room for our meetings over the last decade or so. We are nonetheless anticipating a fun time, with, hopefully, a bit of sing-along participation from the audience and - maybe - even interest from one or two in taking up our beloved instrument!
The continuing national lockdown meant that our 21 March meeting was again online, and this time we welcomed leading UK concertina tutor Alex Wade who ran a workshop from her home in the North East.
We always enjoy her workshops as she likes to challenge us with something a little different, and this time it was with a Danish piece Den Toppede Hone Fra Vensyssel, sometimes called The Peat Dance, a popular session tune in parts of Scotland.
A rough translation is "The topped hen from Vensyssel", though whether this means a hen with an impressive comb or a headless chicken we are not sure - what we do know is that it was a great tune, a bouncy jig with three parts, arranged for band playing by Alex.
This workshop focussed on technique for getting lift into a dance tune, and giving it shape.
The notation is available on The Session here, and a version of it played by Random Quartet, a Danish string quartet, here.
While online workshops are not ideal, as we can't get a real sense of band playing on our own at home, it was good to have a go at something new and really drill down into technique.
White Rose Morris' concertina player Adrian Jackson (second from the left) led the YCC February meeting with a workshop on the history and technique of playing for Cotswold morris dancing.
In a fascinating meeting he explained what the Cotswold dances were, where they came from, how to interpret the traditional tunes and accompany the dances, many which have an irregular musical pattern.
The group were able to play along and add a few new tunes to their repertoire.
The meeting, on 21 February, was mid lockdown, which meant we were all online, and Adrian's workshop worked really well in this format. He was able to share pictures and videos of morris dancing - a bit more difficult to do in our face to face gatherings.
Having access to online resources meant that we could get a good idea about how the music worked with the morris stepping, and we could each play along at home.
Adrian is a member of YCC, and also a dancer and musician with White Rose Morris, which is based in Huddersfield. The dance team perform all over the UK, and have their own Facebook page @WhiteRoseMorrisMen where you can find information about where they will be dancing over the summer.
In an attempt to beat the lockdown blues, the YCC has been experimenting with music software which allows musicians to jam together.
We have struggled to meet to play since lockdown, a situation faced by many musicians all over the country, and while we have managed to chat over Zoom (pictured above), this particular meeting platform isn't great if you want to play live as a band, there are delays in the transfer of the sound information (latency) which means that any attempt at group playing results in a dreadful cacophony.
At our October meeting one of our members suggested taking a look at JamKazam, free software which he had heard was designed for band playing and dealt with the latency issue. Over the last month, a small group of us have been meeting to work out how to use JamKazam and evaluate its usefulness to us at the YCC.
It is fair to say we have had mixed success. After a couple of weeks investigating how to use JamKazam, three of us have managed to jam together in our test sessions, and played a recognisable rendition, in three parts, of a popular folk tune The Plane Tree. However, when we gathered in a larger group at our meeting on 15th November, things started to fall apart a bit as some of our members struggled to access the JamKazam platform fully - the audio feed was a bit glitchy. JamKazam is really designed for people who work with music technology on a regular basis, so we are all doing a bit of upskilling at the moment in trying to get it to work for our concertina band.
We intend to take a look at each individual set up to work out the techno-kinks and have another go next month, but thought it worth sharing our findings so far.
To use JamKazam successfully we have found:
1. You need to download the JamKazam app to your computer
2. It doesn't work particularly well over a wi-fi connection, you need to be connected directly to the ethernet
3. You need to take some time to set up your audio correctly, and this requires a bit of technical know how
4. Headphones are an essential if you don't want a lot of feedback when playing
5. Planning ahead is important as you need to make each other your "friend" within JamKazam so that you can accept an invitation to a YCC session.
6......patience is helpful!
JamKazam does have potential, and it has been useful to investigate whether it could work for our group. We continue to explore technical solutions to playing as a band while socially distancing, and also to meet via Zoom until we are able to get back into the band room at the Cornerhouse Club.
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.