West Gallery carols and words with Artsreach

THE West Gallery church music that Thomas Hardy knew and loved was brought to vivid life again last week in two picturesque West Dorset churches in concerts organised by Artsreach, Dorset’s rural arts organisation.

The West Gallery concerts at Winterbourne Abbas and Abbotsbury churches, were part of Rooting Around the Ridgeway, a South Dorset Ridgeway Landscape Partnership project aiming to revive the traditional carols, folk song and dance music of the Ridgeway area, and to stimulate the creation of new carols and songs inspired by the landscape and local history.

The two concerts, led by musician Phil Humphries and musician, actor and local historian Tim Laycock, represented the culmination of the first phase of the project, and featured carols formerly sung at Winterbourne Monkton, Stinsford, the Piddle Valley and Martinstown.

Singers and musicians from all over Dorset took part in the workshops that led up to the two concerts, and their efforts were rewarded by packed audiences and enthusiastic applause from music and history-lovers keen to hear what these ancient carols sound like.

You could say, quite simply, that the response was “more please!”

The evenings began with a brief outline of the history of West Gallery music from Tim, a member of Hambledon Hopstep Ceilidh band and a music and folklore expert who has played at the National Theatre and regularly on BBC Radio 4. Tim is also composing the music for the next Dorchester Community Play, Drummer Hodge.

revu-westgallery2Phil Humphries is best known locally as a member of the Mellstock Band (its name inspired by Thomas Hardy) with whom he plays the picturesque (and very difficult) serpent.

The concert featured The Ridgeway Carollers and instrumentalists (several of whom also sang) including Tim Laycock (concertina), Phil Humphries (serpent and “humstrum” – an ancient, primitive stringed instrument), John Dike (violin), Angela Laycock (recorder), Bridget Bowen (recorder/oboe), Jenny Trotman and William Whiting (violins) and Margaret Down and Carol Graham (cello).

The carols included Hail Happy Morn from the carol book of James Saunders at Puddletown, Away Dark Thoughts, The Shepherds Amazed and Now to the World, all from Winterbourne Monkton, Christians Awake from the 1834 MSS book of William Lake of Winterbourne Monkton, Shepherds Keeping Watch by Night from the Piddle Valley and While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night from Martinstown

There were readings from William Barnes (Herrenston and The Humstrum), from the late Victorian vicar, the Rev FW Galpin, The Winterborne Musicians, A Steepleton Wedding and The Martinstown Church Band, Dribbles of Brandy’ from the Hardy family music MSS and The Oxen by Thomas Hardy.

After Easter 2014 Tim and Phil and the Artsreach team will start to look at the folk songs collected in the area by Henry and Robert Hammond, and at the same time encourage people to write lyrics or melodies for some new carols that can be sung in the West Gallery manner..

In autumn 2014 the carol workshops will run again, focussing on village repertoires from the Ridgeway communities east of Weymouth, but also including the best of the new carols.

Artsreach will advertise all workshop and future performance details. In the meantime, if anyone in the South Dorset Ridgeway area has any old carols tucked away in a chest, they would love to hear from you!


Posted in Reviews on .