From 1770-2 a man called William Vickers made a manuscript collection of dance tunes, of which some 580 survive, including both pipe and fiddle tunes. The manuscript is incomplete - 31 pages have not survived, though their contents are listed at the beginning of the book. In the mid-19th century, it belonged to the pipemaker John Baty, of Wark, Northumberland, and it now belongs to the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne
The Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne, the oldest provincial antiquarian society in England, was founded in 1813..It has had a long interest in the archaeology of the north-east of England, particularly of Hadrian's Wall, but also covering prehistoric and mediaeval periods, as well as...
. It is kept in the Northumberland County Record Office at Woodhorn, Ashington.
Little is known of the man himself, but something can be learned from the manuscript - he was obviously a keen musician, and many tunes are only playable on the fiddle. The collection does not only contain fiddle tunes however, for instance there are numerous tunes with the characteristic 9-note range and mode of the Border pipes
The border pipes are a type of bagpipe related to the Scottish Great Highland Bagpipe. It is perhaps confusable with the Scottish smallpipe, although it is a quite different and much older instrument...
. Several of the tune titles refer to Northumberland and Durham and a lot of other tunes are local to the region, so it is reasonable to conclude he lived in or around Newcastle. He may well have been the William Vickers who was married at St Nicholas, Newcastle, in 1775, probably the same as the Excise Officer of the same name whose son, also William, was baptised there the following year. He certainly had some education, and a sense of humour - the tunes are introduced by a poem:
- Musicks a Crotchet the Sober thinks it Vain
- The Fiddles a Wooding Projection
- Tunes are but Flights of a Whimsical Brain
- Which the Bottle brings best to Parfection
- Musisians are half witted mery and madd
- And Those are the same that admire Them
- Theyr fools if they Pley unless their Well Paid
- And the Others are Blockheads to Hire them.
Although many tunes are local to the North East of England, many others are from Scotland, southern England, Ireland and even France and Germany, revealing the very extensive and varied repertoire of local musicians at that time. Again, many of the tunes go back a century and more to sources such as Playford, while many others were contemporary, for instance 'Tristram Shandy' is named after the novel published just a decade before. There is a wide spread of tune types - FARNE lists 53 9/8 jigs, 192 6/8 jigs, 251 reels, 20 triple-time hornpipes, 32 common-time hornpipes, and 17 cotillons.
The collection includes many tunes not known elsewhere, while many tunes still current today make their first known appearance in it, including 'The College Hornpipe
The Sailor's Hornpipe is a traditional hornpipe melody.- History :The usual tune for this dance was first printed as the "College Hornpipe" in 1797 or 1798 by J. Dale of London....
', 'The Irish Washerwoman' and 'Soldier's Joy'. Frustratingly, one of the 31 missing pages included the first reference to 'The Morpeth Rant', a characteristic local dance tune.
Published and online editions
A facsimile of all the tune pages of the manuscript is visible on FARNE, with some annotations by Matt Seattle. The recent 2nd edition of the published book contains much more detailed notes, making clear the relation of tunes to any contemporary published or manuscript versions known, and listing many alternative titles for the tunes. There had been a local revival of interest in this music since the 1960s, led by the High Level Ranters. After the first publication of an edition of the tunebook in 1987, this interest became much more widespread. Many of the tunes are once again current in Northumberland and elsewhere, and are frequently performed and recorded.
- A Mile to Ride (Trailer LER 2037), The High Level Ranters, 1973.
- The Bonny Pit Laddie (Topic 2-12TS271/2), The High Level Ranters, 1975.
- Ranting Lads (Topic 12TS388), The High Level Ranters, 1976.
- Cut and Dry Dolly (Topic 12TS278), Cut and Dry Band, 1976.
- Corby Crag, Alistair Anderson, (Topic TSDL371), 1977.
- Four in a Bar, The High Level Ranters, (Topic 12TS445), 1979.
- Northumbrian Choice, Minstrel's Fancy, Bonny at Morn, Pauline Cato, book and 2 CDs, DMPCD9701, DMPCD9702, 1997.
- Out of the Flames, Matt Seattle, DGM 9907, 1999.
- Tod's Assembly, Stewart Hardy, SHYCD1, 2001.
- Ashburnham, Dave Shepherd and Becky Price (Beautiful Jo Records BEJOCD – 36). 2001
- English and Border Music for Pipes, David Faulkner and Steve Turner, EELCD03, 2004.
- New Tyne Bridge, Pauline Cato, (Tomcat TCCD05), 2005.
- Time Out Of Mind, Chris Ormston, (Kyloe103), 2005.
- English Fiddle Tunes: For Violin, Pete Cooper, book and CD, (Schott ED 12758), 2006.