Holme Valley Tradition, The

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The steep-sided Pennine valleys and the moorland to the south and west of Huddersfield have long been recognised as the home of some of thefinest traditional singing to be found anywhere in England today. A combination of rugged independence and social custom (humorously parodied in television's Last of the Summer Wine) have produced just the right environment in which traditional singing flourishes. The hunt socials and shepherds' meets provide the occasion and the songs are the vital means of communion and entertainment. The singers, be they agricultural workers, craftsmen, tradesmen, or whatever, have a singular respect for their heritage that is matter-of-fact and down-to-earth. This they demonstrate through their enthusiastic and unaffected style of singing. Obviously they enjoy themselves and they love their songs. The formal divisions between audience and singers are hardly in evidence.

The performer of one song will become an audience of the next. I have witnessed as many as a dozen men stand up and sing side-by- side verse after verse in unison, and every word be second nature. A first public glimpse of this world where The Larks they Sang Melodious (Castle Hill Anthem) and The Brown Hare of Whitebrook rub shoulders with Old Shep and The Volunteer Organist was given on the L.P. A Fine Hunting Day: Songs of The Holme Valley Beagles, (Leader Records, LEE 4956, 1975).

Merry Mountain Child' (Hill and Dale private record, HDO06, 1981) focused on the performance of one of its finest past masters, Arthur Howard. Now four of the leading lights, each an accomplished and distinct artist in his own right, have come together, and produced and paid for their own record. Although the influence of fellow singers, friends, and neighbours is reflected in their selection, their interest in the Folk Revival and the fascination of the Folk Revival with them is becoming increasingly significant. In this sense they are rather special, bridging the gap between two distinct cultures. Such English traditional singers (in their prime) that can comfortably transfer from a strong home base into the Revival context without compromise or concession deserve to be taken seriously.

IAN: How did you get together as a group?

WILL: Barry and me sung together as we'd sung with Arthur (Howard). I know a few people that were to do with the Holmfirth Folk Festival (in 1982) and they asked me if I could get one or two together to sing our local stuff. Obviously Barry was singing with me at that time anyway, and I asked John and Ernest then, 'cause they were really about the two best singers that there were. The organiser of the Festival put it down as the Holme Valley Tradition for that morning's singing. After that John said, 'That sounds a good name to call ourselves.' 'Cause with four people if you just have your own names it's a right mouthful. That was how that came about, by accident really.

IAN: Where do your songs come from?

WILL: Basically the stuff that we're doing is the Holme Valley Tradition with odd little bits. We might have a song or two from other places like most singers.

IAN: Have you sung a lot together?

WILL: I think it's since National (Sutton Bonnington'84) we've really started singing a bit more. We sang at a couple of clubs and we went to Whitby, not as guests, we just went there and we were asked to a session one night to sing. It was a super do. There was a lot there - Martin Carthy, John Kirkpatrick, Peter Bellamy, Flowers and Frolics. We were singing. They thought we were alright. We went down very well that night and wi really enjoyed that.

IAN: What do you think of folk club singers like the Watersons?

WILL: We like some of the things they do. We get on well with them. I like them personally. They're just very nice people. I like Martin Carthy. I would say I want to hear his stuff all the time. I don't know much about music but he looks a brilliant guitar player and he sings some lovely ballads as well -'Big John', I like that one. They sort of make harmonies in songs, their own arrangements. They take songs from tradition and mess them about to suit themselves. They seem to have got hold of some good songs.

IAN: At Sutton Bonnington last year there were only three of you.

WILL: I don't really know why. Ernest hadn't been (away) to anywhere else with us. He's a nice singer; he's'- a lovely voice. He seems to go down well with a lot of people. Ernest sort of sang to a particular type - I don't know how to say it - a bit more classy singing rather than just singing - bit more what people'd reckon as a quality singer -