The tunes found within the FARNE Archive were all written and played for people to dance to. Dance is intrinsically linked to our music. Find out about our country dance traditions here...
As with all cultural practices, Northumbrian Traditional dance can be defined both by regional variations from within and wider influences from outside. The single most striking factor which sets Northumbrian traditional dance aside from those traditional dances known in Southern England, Scotland and other parts of the British Isles is the number of dances which feature vigorous stepping throughout, or as their main feature. The most common step being the rant step, this being found in such dances as The Morpeth Rant, The Quaker's Wife, The Rifleman, Roxburgh Castle, Soldier's Joy
and The Triumph
Many of the dances are danced on both sides of the border. It can be said that there is a distinctive style of playing for dance which stretches from such Scottish towns as Selkirk and Kelso to as far south as Wooler, Alnwick and Rothbury. Some places might have different steps - such as the 'Wooler hop'
- but the repertoire of both dances and tunes remains very much the same. The exception, perhaps, being the dance 'Drops of Brandy'
(Strip the Willow), for which the Scottish musicians play reels, whereas musicians in Northumberland or Cumbria play hornpipes. Similarly, a number of Scottish dances, such as the Eightsome Reel, which are ranted when danced in Northumberland, do not use this step north of the border.
Writing in the booklet notes that accompany the Topic CD Ranting and Reeling - Dance Music of the North of England
, Reg Hall has this to say about the influence of Scottish musicians on the local Northumberland repertoire:
'In the early post-War years the demand for dancing was such that a man called McKinnon began to book some of the big names in Scottish music from over the border for dance engagements. Bands like those of Bobby MacLeod, Jim Cameron, Smiling Jack Forsyth and Lindsay Ross and the Hawthorn Band played only the local repertory when they were in Northumberland - no Scottish country dances at all. Most of them, however, had difficulty playing the right time and rhythm, and it was the job of the local MC to put them right. The only one among them who had a natural feel for local style was Jimmy Shand who, it is reputed, got it right every time. Local musicians in the Cheviot Ranters, impressed by his tunes for the Student Lancers, picked them up bit by bit over the course of three or four of his bookings. The visitors from over the border created great interest among the Northumbrian musicians, and Will Atkinson, for one, believes they did nothing but good for the music.'
Also there are many Old Time dances - Military Two Step, The Barn Dance, The Palais Glide
, etc. which are popular throughout the country, but which have their own reigional variants. Similarly, the Quadrilles
and the Lancers
which were introduced into Britain in the 1820's and are at least as old as most of the traditional dances, have played thier own part in shaping the history of Northumbrian traditional dance.