Norfolk, and East Anglia in general, has been a fertile area for traditional music making. Composers such as Vaughan Williams and E J Moeran have collected extensively and utilised the music in their compositions. For the practitioners this was part of their daily life, whether it be a pint after a fishing day in Cromer, resulting in step dancing, or pretty much the same thing happening and being commonplace in rural pubs across the county.
The singing, music playing and step dancing traditions were strong and most villages had a resident musician who would provide the required musical accompaniment, such as Percy Brown, who would be called on across the field at home to come to the pub to accompany Cromer fishermen in Antingham Barge. Norfolk has therefore long been a fertile ground for traditional music collectors, and much was recorded by Peter Kennedy and Seamus Ennis, for example in Southrepps Vernon Arms, in the 1950s, as well as by others both before and after. Several singers from the county have received fame, most notably Sam Larner and Harry Cox, the latter no mean musician himself, even if better known for his songs. There were a great many others who sang, played or step danced, or sometimes did all of those, just for entertainment. These recordings of four melodeon players from north Norfolk showcase the music of the area with what was the most commonly used instrument for social music in the county.
The recordings on this CD represent the type of music that was prevalent for social occasions, whether in the pub, playing to accompany singing or step dancing, or just for listening to, as well as for other social occasions such as weddings. All these musicians from north Norfolk did so on a regular basis in their heyday. Of the step dancers, the Davies family from Cromer were prominent performers, and still are to this day. Fishermen by trade, they relaxed in the Albion in the town and musicians such as George Craske and Percy Brown would play for them. They were far from the only step dancers in the area though, and many farm workers would step dance during lunchtime breaks, again mainly to the sound of a melodeon. In all, these recordings represent a good sample of the music which was performed for social functions across the county, and indeed, much further afield.
George Craske of Sustead, known locally as ‘Gidjee’ was a regular musician for accompanying step dancing. He played regularly in such pubs as Alby Horseshoes and Erpingham King’s Head, both being a couple of miles inland from Sheringham and Cromer; also the Albion in Cromer and many other places. He also played for dances in village halls, often in conjunction with fellow musician Frank Ward. His tunes, several without identifiable names, were used to accompany step dancing mainly. He was a bachelor and worked on the land, described as ‘a big old raw-boned boy’. He was recorded at his allotment by Peter Clifden and Ann-Marie Hulme in 1977.
Percy Brown lived in several villages around Aylsham and played the melodeon regularly around the area. He was born in Felmingham in 1903 and was taught to play the melodeon by his mother Sarah Jane. One place where he used to play was Antingham Barge. This was a lively place for music and the Cromer fishermen would often come to the village to cut hazelnut sticks for their crab pots and an afternoon of step dancing would follow. The dancers would dance on the flagstone floor. Percy also played for social functions such as weddings on a regular basis, often playing with mouth organ player Billy Gowan and bones player Bill Thridgett, as well as a blind drummer Jimmy ‘Coconut’ Martins. Aside from the music playing, he was a woodman and later a chimney sweep. Recorded and filmed several times in the 1970s, he continued to play the melodeon up to the end of his life.
Herbert Mallett was born in Thurgarton in 1899, one of eleven children. Both he and his brother Albert would play regularly in pubs around the area, and also for a while as part of a trio. A gardener by trade, Herbert Mallett came to wider attention when piano teacher Joan Roe noted down several tunes from him in 1935. He then recorded three tracks for the BBC in Norwich around 1950, the ones included on this CD. As is common with all of these musicians, he seems to have played for both step dancing in pubs and wider social events in his community.
Walter Newstead was born in 1912, in Stibbard. He spent most of his adult life in Cockthorpe, working on the land, eventually becoming a farm steward, a culmination of fifty one years working in agriculture. He was from a musical family: siblings played either fiddle or melodeon. At around the time of the Second World War the Newstead family formed the Cockthorpe Band of two fiddles and two melodeons and were very much in demand for social dances, playing various polkas, the Viennese Waltz, the Barn Dance and for the Long Dance, as Walter recalled.
During the Second World War, when the local population was swelled by the ranks of soldiers stationed at Stiffkey and elsewhere, the Friday night dances were packed in places like Wells Assembly Rooms. In addition, Walter played in a great many pubs in the area, such as Binham Chequers, Warham Horseshoes and Langham Bell. He played to accompany singing as well as dancing, sometimes in conjunction with banjo player George Thompson, as well as the piano playing landlady of Morston Anchor, Ann Mary Bullimore. More for family amusement than public performance, Walter would step dance whilst playing the melodeon . He continued to play until the end of his life and was recorded, at the age of 92, by Chris Holderness and Des Miller in 2004, recordings of which are included here.
Notes by Chris Holderness
A Musical Traditions Records
production © 2020