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October 31, 2006

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John Armstrong of Carrick

John Armstrong of Carrick
John Armstrong of Carrick (Photograph Johnny Handle)

Although John Armstrong is best remembered as a musician, but he was also well known as a stick dresser and huntsman. He worked two large farms in Elsdon, near to the Army firing range. The Armstrong family claims an unbroken tradition of Northumbrian piping going back at least four generations. The Clough family visited the Armstrong family home at Raylees just after the First World War. It was here that John often played duets with Tom Clough. He also played with Billy Pigg. John owned a magnificent collection of pipe tunes, including original manuscripts by James Hill, Tom Clough and Robert Whinham. He provided many tunes for the Chorlton Memorial Tune Book. A series of accidents to his hands, resulting in a stiffening of his fingers, forced John to concentrate on the fiddle in later years. He is featured on the Topic Album Bonny North Tyne (12TS239) and was known to many amongst the older Northumbrian musicians as Carrick, a name taken from his dwelling place and a useful device to differentiate him from the many other John Armstrongs who live along the borders.

On this recording we hear John Armstrong playing Shield's Hornpipe. Better known as Morpeth Rant, the tune was composed by William Sheild, in the 18th century. The town of Morpeth is in Northumberland. The tune is often associated with a dance of the same name which is still very popular in the North of England. The dance uses a vigorous form of stepping, once popular throughout the Northern counties, known as the rant step. Older versions of the tune are generally in B Flat, sometimes G, and have a wider range in the 'B' part than the version usually played nowadays. John Armstrong's version is in the key of G.

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