Holme Valley Tradition, The

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Compiled from interviews conducted by Dr. Ian Russell on 1/11/84 and 8/11/84 at Leake Hall Farm, Denby Dale. Copyright Dr. Ian Russell and reproduced with his kind permission.


Will Noble * Barry Bridgewater * John Cocking * Ernest Yates talk to Ian Russell.

Originally published in English Dance and Song

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 - holding his notes on and being a bit more smooth. You know, he's won a few cups up in Lake District for his singing. I suppose we're quite a good mix really between us. There should be enough of variety for four male singers. John and mine's nearest. Me and John can sing together because we pitch it similar. (If) Barry pitches we can't sing. That's why with 'Pace-Egging' we've sometime a bit of difficulty.

IAN: Hunting seems very important to you.

WILL: I wouldn't say that I'm a huntsman like some of the others. They're really interested in hunting. It's been the other things that I've enjoyed anyway. It was the social side that I went up to Holme Valley Beagles for. I must have been going up fifteen or sixteen years.

IAN: Is that where you started singing?

WILL: I did know a few songs before, 'cause I remember first time I sang The Farmer's Boy in public. It's over twenty years ago when I worked on a farm. There was an old chap retiring and I sang it at his retirement do. I didn't really do a lot more singing then, I just knew the odd songs like that Lincolnshire Poacher. I seem to have known them all me life.

IAN: How did you begin, John?

JOHN: Actually that's how I started when I started going with hunt regular, when I'd been odd occasions before. I'd always loved hunting. It just seemed to be mN- scene really - hunting tunes - used to love to hear them. 'To me they were striking. No matter what quality of singing ik-ere. But I didn't used to know anything and I thought I ought to do summat about it. I didn't go to folk clubs but I always liked that type of music and the hunting music tied in with it. I thought I ought to learn something. I reallv started learning monologues before I ever started singing. I learnt about four and used to throw them in on an evening. They used to go down a bomb! They were different, you see. Nobody else did any. The first thing I ever did were 'Uppards'. It's made up out of that 'Excelsior', a parody- as we call it.

IAN: You sing one or two local songs that've been written recently like 'White House'.

JOHN: Malcolm Hawkswell wrote it, back in the fifties. He's a bright lad that, tremendous friend, not so old. That other's his,

'Come gather round the fire lads I'll tell vou all a tale

About four jolly hunting men that went to Patterdale . . .'

ERNEST: We went up with Ullswater at Easter. We used to every Easter. That's what that photograph's about on (my) sideboard. That's the 'four jolIy hunting men' - me, Malcolm Hawkswell, Ken Green, and Bob Lockwood.

WILL: It's a living tradition, it's still happening 'cause these are written by ordinarv people which is what folksongs were anyway.

JOHN: Were you at that do of ours?, Sutton Bennington '84). We had a session to finish up. We were in with the Wilson Family and the Kippers. I sung that and I've never had an experience like it. The place was packed. They were sat on these tables all round the room and they were stood, and what chairs there were were occupied, and then they were sat ont' floor right up to us. Thev picked up the chorus on that song 'The fox's mask upon the "wall . . .' they held on to that, 'was winking at Joe Weir'. Talk about lift the roof. What a feeling. Hairs stood up ont' back of my neck!

IAN: Ernest, you've obviously been singing a lot longer than the others.

ERNEST: I'm 58. 1 don't think I look so bad and I don't think I do so bad. When I get up on these fells, I leave a lot of young 'uns at the back of me. I were brought up in Slaithwaite area, always in country. Me father worked int' mill. There were a biggish family on us. I used to sing a bit when I were int' navy. We used to have Sods' Opera. They used to sing owt bar what were right, you know, obscenities and all damn sorts there, and there were some good comic efforts. I might sing some of Joseph Locke's, then 'I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen'. I really got into hunting scene just with local Beagles - Colne Valley. After first hunt I went to, it were in Marsden, I'd worked int' morning, it were int' afternoon, and when they had this sing at neet I thought it's bloody real that! I started going ever after then. Probably'Master Smith' 'd've been first I learnt. Then there were that Cumberland song 'When the Fires on the Hearth' ('Joe Bowman').

IAN: How did you learn so many songs?

ERNEST: I've been engineering (at Holset's of Huddersfield) eleven years. I worked in mill previous up to then, textiles. There were always plenty of noise int' mill when you were int' weaving department. You could sing like hell and nobody knew whether you were singing them right or wrong. It's the same where I'm working now. They all know I'm singing but they don't know what I'm singing about. That's how I practise them. If I want to learn a song I can put a tape on and write it down on some paper and take it to work with me. I know that song when I get home at nect.

IAN: Do you ever come across any'anti-blood sports' feeling?

WILL: I've once been to a place singing and that, and because I sang a hunting song to start off with I seemed to feel a bit of antipathy towards me. It didn't seem to go down well. I were a bit taken aback by it really. Even if people don't enjoy your stuff they tend to join in. I think if I'd been brought up not in a rural environment I'd 'a' probably been against it myself, 'cause I'm somebody who's very fond of animals and I don't like cruelty in any form. We don't live in a perfect world, we live in a world as it is. There's a lot worse things happening. There's a lot worse things happening to animals. It's hard to justify. People say it's hard to justify killing them to eat, in the same way. I wouldn't want to see the whole thing stopped. There's a lot more to it. I like to be out in the fresh air. One of the things I really enjoy when there's a hunt going on, you can cross anywhere, any bit of country, where in other cases if you want to go across the fields, you'd be trespassing. I can see both sides of it. I can understand people getting upset by it. Because there's a song about something you don't particularly like you can't just not sing it. There's been songs about murders and shipwrecks. I don't think you should just discontinue using a song because the subject's something you feel a bit objection to, 'cause a song's a good song in its own right. Obviously you need a bit of feeling in a song. If a song says something to you personally it p'r'aps comes over a bit better.

IAN: You've called the record 'Bright Rosy Morning'.

BARRY: I think it's right nice little song for opening. I always thought it were a good song. Of course, when I got involved with huntsman's job, it were always his job to start night off. That's when I picked it up to sing. That's the first one I did. I learnt it off Long John Kaye. He were related to Arthur(Howard) through his other brother and he married a Howard. He could sing it an' all. He'd a very deep voice. Frank Hinchliffe (of Holme) and Long John sang together more than anyone. They sang together more than Arthur. We used to go back every Saturday night to every pub, same as Colne Valley did - everybody did in them days. That's what started me off really. I know even now when I go to hunt meet, if it's a crisp morning, I always say, 'It's a bright rosy morning'. Seeing 'a hare run before us' is a beautiful sight without a doubt. I think it's real!

JOHN: When you do get a 'bright rosy morning' there's no pleasure like it, turning out with a pack of hounds on a nice crisp morning. Hunting is the reason we're singing. That's what introduced us all to this singing job. It's where we learnt our singing.