Dorset Christmas traditions kept alive

A GROUP that began as part of a Heritage Lottery funded project to explore the cultural history of the landscape of the South Dorset Ridgeway is now an established part of the Dorset music scene, and this Christmas sees the Ridgeway Singers and Band with more concerts than ever, starting at West Bay on Friday 7th December.

The group, led by historian-storyteller-musician Tim Laycock and multi-instrumentalist Phil Humphries draws on the rich resources of  locally collected folk songs and West Gallery carols, but the concerts always include new work, often by Tim or Phil and sometimes by members of the choir.

Traditionally sung by village choirs in English country churches, and celebrated by Thomas Hardy in Under The Greenwood Tree, the music of the West Gallery continued for centuries until the innovations of the organ and harmonium.

If it hadn’t been for Hardy and latterly Tim, Phil and groups like the Mellstock Band, the old West Gallery musicians who played the fiddle, the cello and the serpent might have been no more than a footnote in history. Hardy wrote evocatively in both his poetry and his stories about the music and the musicians that he knew as a boy.

This year the Ridgeway Singers’ seasonal programme will include songs from Puddletown, Durweston and Hinton St Mary manuscripts, together with newly composed carols in the West Gallery tradition. Interspersed with some sparkling instrumental pieces and midwinter stories, plus a few Ridgeway favourites, expect a heart-warming seasonal celebration of all things Dorset!

The concerts begin on Friday 7th at St John’s Church, West Bay,  01305 262159, at 7.30pm, followed on Sunday 9th by an Artsreach event at Holy Trinity, West Lulworth, 01929 400790, at 4pm, St Nicholas, Winterborne Kingston,  01305 262159 on Friday 14th at 7.30pm, and a second Artsreach event at Herrison Hall, Charlton Down,  01305 264060, on Sunday 16th at 4pm.

The Ridgeway Singers and Band’s new CD will be available at the concerts or order from Mike Lofthouse, email or telephone 01305 265374.