I was very privileged to be asked to teach a hurdy-gurdy music workshop on playing music from John Playford’s Dancing Master on the hurdy-gurdy at the Bagpipe Society Blow-out weekend. The workshop was well attended with 15 attendees from all corners of the UK.
We looked at 3 tunes during the hour and a half workshop and all members of the group mastered them and we were able to play them together by the end of the session and create a joyful noise!
The tunes we worked on were Drive the Cold Winter Away, Argiers , and Nonesuch. I provided dots but the tunes were learnt by ear. I chose the first and second tunes and the group chose the third tune in the workshop.
We were lucky to have with us Ruth Bramley a re-enactor who dances Playford and her comments and additional information supported the learning and interpretation of the tunes in an applied, knowledge experiential real world way.
At various points I encouraged members of the workshop (Nicholas and Lucille) to lead the tunes and for me this is really important as it lays the groundwork for future workshop leaders .
Some notes on Playford for those that will:
b. Norwich, 1623 d. London, 1686 Music publisher and bookseller, clerk to the Temple Church and Vicar-Choral of St Paul’s Cathedral. In 1639 he was apprenticed for seven years to John Benson, a London publisher, and in 1647 became a member of the Yeomanry of the Stationers’ Company. As a Royalist, Playford began publishing political tracts, culminating in “The Perfect Narrative of the Tryal of the King”. This was an age when music publishing was part of the more general field of book publishing, a situation changing by the time of his son Henry. On 7th November 1650 he entered in the stationers’ registers “The English Dancing Master or Plaine and Easie Rules for the Dancing of Country Dances’, which was published in 1651. It is generally thought that this was his first musical publication but “A Musical Banquet” bears the mark of John Benson as well as his own and so there is some speculation that it may have been earlier. “The English Dancing Master”, with enlarged editions, continued until 1728, each ‘new edition’ often differing little from its predecessor, although new lessons may have been added and some taken away.
John Playford published hymns and psalms and we have records of his personal feelings and ideals in introductions to his works.
An enormously important figure in the development of English music publication and a source of inspiration for Cecil Sharp’s English folk revival.
There is no exact record of Playford’s burial but it is of interest that Purcell wrote the “Elegy on my friend, Mr John Playford”.
My guiding principle in the workshop and interpretation of the Playford tunes was that music is correct when it sounds good.
PS. I was very surprised to have happy birthday sung to me in the evening and to hear the tune Argiers played in the session led by the hurdy-gurdy playing of my good friend Peter Kanssen from that there Laaandan Tooon!
The drone has meaning changes as a direct result of my mood and the context in which I hear and understand it.
Some wider context before delving into the music, drones have existed and continue to exist in many corners of the world. The systematic use of drones originated in instrumental music of ancient Southwest Asia, and spread north and west to Europe and south to Africa. They seldom resonated on their own but for the most part they were embedded into instrumental arrangements. The drone or “burden tone” (Bourdon) has served as the backbone to many folk music traditions, from Southern Italy to Scandinavia. Most bagpipes have up to three drones, in America, most forms of the African-influenced banjo contain a drone string. Since the 1960s, the drone has become a prominent feature in avant-garde and film music.
In the Middle Ages, Europe and Byzantium sang over a foundation of drones. Back then, larger cities in the Christian world hosted huge entertainment venues called cathedrals that showcased psychedelic light shows backed by endless drones and aesthetic semi-narcotic heady incense fog: cathedrals, where choirs and organ players pushed their audience into ecstasy with what was then the loudest music imaginable, resonating from the walls with lots of heavy overtones bringing heaven to earth with a lot of help from the drone. So even in their purest form, drones connected people with a vibrating universe from early on.
Drones change the original piece of music fundamentally as the melody plays against the drone. They also change so much more in terms of the audience’s actual act of listening and experience of the music. The sound world created by the drone and its interplay with the tune adds a dynamic a constant, a pull towards or away from the home tone. Each note has its own special relation to the drone creating a dyadic cadence ( a two-tone musical interval). The drone is the essence of life itself in its most primitive state the point from which all melody stems from, is related to, understood by and must return to.
Human beings are wired to respond viscerally to the drone it embodies our sense of the infinite and eternity it is a heady and powerful sonic form that is very much a part of our spiritual DNA connecting us to the one, the eternal life force. It embodies the understanding that “God is Sound,” and “Sound is God.” The drone is eternal and takes us to a deeply spiritual place within a few seconds.
The drone sets up a ritual, a play space where magic can happen and this feels strangely comforting to me, like home and yet a sustained tone to evoke disquiet, a sense of lifting the curtain of the everyday. A place where Mystery and magic live. Here be dragons!
The drone harnesses time in an unmarked, uninterrupted spiritual ritual, an audio element within music that transcends borders and stretches back millennia. The drone creates a sacred sonic space it entranses us .
When we play the hurdy-gurdy we create a sound world in which we can dream, drift and explore. The instrument powers up the synapses and feeds the soul. It really is a magical thing. It takes us back to our ancient past; it takes to everywhere and nowhere. When we play the instrument runs deep into our psyche, it’s like free basing history and universal geography. The drone comes from a place of resonance and intuition, something primal that exists within everything and is everywhere.
With the drone you can enter a trance state if you’re luck you’ll be able to leave your body and become the spirit of the music. It can be a full on psychedelically revelatory out of body experience through music. That is what I’m aiming for when I play with Celtarabia.
Often with the drone in the hurdy-gurdy, it’s about playing the silences, especially with melody strings and the trompettes. It’s finding those moments, those punctuations, pauses and silences.
I think of the drone as like ‘the universal one’ of God it’s the home tone. Each note played melodically is one step away from or towards home and this is where the musical tension and meaning resides in the relationships between melody and drone.
The drone exists outside of us and deep within us. It is an oral expression of a universal hum we can only hope to fleetingly channel when we play.
When we play the drone we are also played by it. It changes our psychological state by facilitating a focus on the present by limiting our experience of the constant of change. Putting us in the moment for a continuous period of time.
The drone allows us to take control of time by releasing us from our need to mark time. It takes us away from the mundane in every way and allows us to enter a sacred space dream and just let go. To be in the moment for as long as we choose.
In a way, the drone represents the ultimate folk music a powerful tool of personal liberation. The drone unites us as a feeling of togetherness by dint of communal or and shared wonder and allows us the freedom from the tyranny of time and the now normalised imperatives of human achievement and digital social validation.
The drone is the sound of a free universe in which anything is possible.
This is a short except from my forthcoming book ‘The Secret Life of the hurdy-gurdy’ Field notes on playing the hurdy-gurdy from the world’s most respected players.
To buy any album click on the image to arrive at the Bandcamp page.
“…(Constellation of Birds) is compelling, demanding, progressive, and fuses a range of cross-cultural folk-based sounds and moods. The album challenges and stretches boundaries, and occasionally – in a good way – feels slightly unhinged, but I absolutely love it when musicians dare to tread forth where many would turn on their heels and run…” John Reed Fatea Magazine
“…an album that both respects and goes far beyond the traditions of Hurdy-Gurdy and European Folk, embracing genres and creating lovely textures. You will not hear another album like this in 2022.” Neil March Trust the Doc
“… the disparate textures and threads they weave coalesce into a mesmerising tapestry of sound that is uniquely theirs.” Mike Davies, Folking
“Purveyors of hurdy-gurdy and weirdness” Andy Inns, Black Dog Radio
Experimental hurdy-gurdy on duo’s impressive debut. European Howl is a complex, immersive and at times disorienting listening experience. Opening track ‘Helicopter Arms’ sets the tone – pulsating, intriguing, the distinctive droning, buzzing but melodic sound of the hurdy-gurdy and whispered spoken-word vocals … ‘Minor Surgery’ is a cyber-Morricone soundtrack with whipcrack noises and a splendid rumbling bassline. (SONGLINES July 2021)
In all the years since this podcast started I don’t think we’ve ever knowingly featured a hurdy-gurdy – but there’s a first time for everything thanks to Agent Starling. (Tom Robinson, BBC Radio 6 Music)
This is wonderful. It has a feeling of antiquity and a feeling of something new. The music is a blast and the images are a constant wow (Dan Kellaway – Luthier)
Its epic! Really well constructed, like reading a book. (Jim Mclaughlin Director Musicport Festival)
Very interesting instrumentation, textures and approach… ambient meets world. Very unique and enjoyable. (Kluane Takhini)
Both haunting and exhilarating at the same time. (Les Ray – Strummers and Dreamers Radio Show)
Such original use of a hurdy-gurdy (Readifolk Radio)
This is wonderful. Love the fluid bass figures (Landi Michaels)
You went deep with this! Cool experimental track! (Minor Surgery) (Jaguar – BBC Introducing Dance)
There’s only room for the most fabulous music on the planet. We started our two-hour #681 sound journey from the UK with ′′ European Howl “, formidable debut album of the Agent Starling trio, training that breaks out strong in the landscape of traditional inspiration with a proposal that has its gravitational center in the zanfona. (Jordi Demésenllà Transglobal World Music Chart)
Very tasty mix of beats with the exotics. Great work! (Junkyard of Silenced Poets)
Brilliant again! If someone ever did a spaghetti western film in the graphic novel cinematic style of Sin City – this would be perfect music for it! Very tasty mix of beats with the exotics. Great work! (Junkyard of Silenced Poets)
Absolutely loving these tunes (Mark Whitby Dandelion Radio)
I love the sound of a hurdy-gurdy and this album’s wonderful arrangements of hurdy-gurdy, strings, percussion and softly spoken lyrics really hits the spot for me (Folk Roots News)
Lots of wonderful hurdy-gurdy, drones, bass experimentalism, and other worldly goodness. Recommended! (Ian Stacey)
I am listening to this as I write. I will certainly play something from the album in next week’s show. I am only halfway through listening but already this has gone on to my long list for Album of the Year 2021 … it’s up there with anything else I have received this year. (Ian Blues and Roots Radio)
This stunning track is difficult to pigeon-hole since it is too organic to be considered electronic, too ambient to be considered anything to do with Rock but does verge on classical. Lou provides enigmatic story-telling spoken word while the music develops from long chords, tremolo violin and a host of other ideas and techniques to create a semi-meditative feel despite the busy activity continuously driving it along. Earthy but complex, this is an impressive demonstration of how they are able to combine such individual timbres to create such an uplifting atmosphere. (Trust the Doc Edition 54)
Congratulations on your new release! I really enjoyed listening to it today, there’s so much depth! Very interesting sounds too, it reminds me of Lithuanian folklore at some points. (Jonas Lapinas)
What a great song (Maija Handover Sound UK – Extraordinary musical encounters)
Great video and what a wonderful, unusual sound! (Aine Kennedy)
Agent Starling – I see the deserts of Mongolia and flags blowin’ in the wind (Cowboy DC)
Love this stuff soul-moving (Kelvin Richmond)
It’s a 21st century Van Der Graaf Generator (Andrew Lee)
What a wonderful album. It’s the kind of sound and complexity that I love to hear as well as play. (Cruise Cycle)
Beautiful in every way. The music, the playing and the photography are all amazing (Richard Harries)
This was a fascinating experience… Interesting, confusing, thought provoking, earie, troubling and hypnotic – all at the same time. I didn’t know what to make of it – but loved it! I think it’s more – a piece of art than it is music, it begs to be part of a larger physical experience within an art instillation or a maze or to be listened to while rotating in a gyroscope… All in all – very interesting!
For once I am lost for words… In short, I think this is something with much greater potential than just the music on its own. It’s very clever and powerful – I hope you have plans for it. I’d be interested to know what happens next? Congratulations on creating something truly original and uniquely mystifying… (Trevor C. Krueger Founder Equal Ability Radio)
Klasse!! (Merit Zloch)
Beautiful, and great production (Don V.Lax)
The album is freaking excellent! (Michael Hunter Roots and Branch Radio Australia)
NORTHERN LIGHTS TRILOGY EP
“I doubt very much that you will hear anything quite like this anywhere else in current music in 2021. Truly wondrous.” Neil March Trust the Doc Issue 62
“Festive EP… features the self-penned, spoken poem title track with its tinkling icicle keyboards (and a snatch of Prokofiev’s ‘Troika’), shimmering melody lines and cascading chorus alongside new arrangements of traditional tunes ‘Stockport Polka’ and ‘The Cordwainer’s Lament’” Folking Magazine
“Something very different here, something quite addictive to listen to, from the Northern Lights EP I give you Agent Starling …” One World Music Radio
‘Wow what a track that is, absolutely awesome and compelling that was Agent Starling and Northern Light taken from their winter EP The Northern Lights Trilogy’. David Chamberlain-Acoustic Routes
“The Cordwainer’s Lament owes its unique sound to the Hurdy Gurdy, that strange medieval instrument that’s part hand-cranked organ, part bowed string instrument, but sounds equally like neither. Capable of producing eerie drones as well as bowed melodies, it infuses the track with an atmosphere of the distant past, with an almost Eastern quality in its texture.
And this track really does have texture. Images of moss-covered cliffs, lashed by storm waves and haunted by souls lost at sea instantly spring to mind; you can practically smell the sharpness of the salty mist in the air, as Gulls whirl daringly above the sea foam. This is perfect music for a BBC costume drama or a film soundtrack.” Andy Page Fresh on the Net moderator
“The Cordwainer’s Lament’ sounds like an atmospheric musical walk down a snowy country lane. ‘Northern Lights’ … mixes spoken-word with musical quotes from Prokofiev’s ‘Troika’ … It’s a joyful, wintry offering. Amid a soundscape of sleigh bells and church bells, Lou sings “I know you yearn for calm, long for night, but my heart dances with the Northern Lights.” Finally, we have the exuberant ‘Stockport Polka … “
“It’s all terrific fun and, for me, it’s the 2021 equivalent of the Cocteau Twins’ glorious 1993 Christmas EP Snow. If you’re short of Christmas cheer this year, you could do worse than to go to Bandcamp and get hold of the Northern Lights Trilogy.” Tony Gillam, Passengers in Time
DHM RECORD LABEL RADIO PRESS RELEASE For immediate release
Agent Starling release European Howl
Agent Starling’s debut album, European Howl releases on all the usual digital outlets on May 4th, 2021. The ten-track album is full of catchy hurdy-gurdy tunes, new songs, hypnotic drones, live bass grooves & strings, all with an experimental edge.
Agent Starling are Quentin Budworth hurdy-gurdy and Lou Loudhailer voices & other instruments. Recorded in the first three months of 2021, European Howl also features Dexter Duffy-Howard on violin and cello. Recorded in Yorkshire UK by Agent Starling, the album was mastered in Oregon by Kevin Carafa.
The album is influenced by musical traditions from nations across Europe. A mix of instrumental pieces, spoken word and songs, themes range from a miscellany of Greek Tales (Wine Dark Sea), an elegy by a dying lover (Requiem) to Helicopter Arms, inspired by the glorious gurdy tune at the heart of the song. Delores County Ride is a tribute to the women who hop trains in Arno Bitschy’s film This Train I Ride, and the album’s title track is an ode to being European, a call for connection in today’s isolationist climate.
Quentin and Lou both have strong musical provenance. Lou was originally in prophetic UK Indie band Red Guitars and has gigged and recorded ever since, heading up psychedelic rock band Loudhailer Electric Company. Originally part of Suns of Arqa, Quentin is the force behind world fusion medieval rave band Celtarabia, also featuring Lou on bass. He spent the year before lockdown touring Europe meeting with other top hurdy-gurdy players exchanging tunes, techniques and experiences. The band usually play the alternative festival circuit throughout the summer, but due to lockdown restrictions on live music, Lou and Quentin joined forces to create Agent Starling and record European Howl.
European Howl releases on all the usual digital outlets on May 4th, 2021 on the DHM record label, catalogue number DHM028, distributed by Label Worx.
Welcome to Agent Starling, Lou Loudhailer and Quentin Budworth’s new collaboration. Loudhailer Electric Company captain Lou has teamed up with Celtarabia chief Quentin who spent the year before lockdown touring Europe meeting with other top hurdy-gurdy players exchanging tunes, techniques and experiences. This is the first of the preview tracks, our arrangement of the French folk tune Il N’est Plus Temps composed by Michel Pichon. The video photography is by Richard Duffy-Howard. Lou Duffy-Howard 2021
Welcome to Lou Loudhailer and Quentin Budworth’s new collaboration. Agent Starling. This is our next album preview track, Drive the Cold Winter Away also featuring Dexter Duffy-Howard on violin & cello. Immerse yourself in the snow scenes of Quentin’s captivating video to illustrate the tune featured in Playford’s Dancing Master. Lou Loudhailer:
Playford’s winter tune is part of the new collaboration between Lou Loudhailer and Quentin Budworth. Loudhailer Electric Company captain Lou Duffy-Howard teams up with Celtarabia chief Quentin who spent the year before lockdown touring Europe meeting with other top hurdy-gurdy players exchanging tunes, techniques and experiences.
During the Lockdown of 2020 Paul Sherwood and I have led classes for D/G hurdy-gurdy players via Zoom and had a lot of fun doing them. Some players described it as the thing that they looked forward to the most during the week. Here are the tunes for you to download and a link to the Youtube playlist Lockdown-tunes All
If you have any questions about the tunes you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday 13th March 2020 Bridlington Contemporary Art Gallery
Rebecca Folds Gallery Programmer:
‘On Friday evening the gallery space at Bridlington Contemporary was packed with an expectant audience, eager to hear the renowned hurdy-gurdy player, Quentin Budworth. We had seen Quentin before at the Hull Folk Festival with the band Celtarabia. That was a massively amplified, foot-stomping, head-banging, stadium rock performance on an outdoor stage with a huge crowd of festival goers dancing their socks off.
It was a surprise and delight to see him in this more intimate setting, transformed from rock god into an entertaining and informative raconteur showing us the more subtle and thoughtful side of his musicianship.
With the help of an Arts Council Grant, Quentin had spent 2019 travelling through the UK and Europe visiting centres of musical excellence, meeting and playing with and learning from the best musicians, composers and instrument makers who form a quite remarkable international community.
Quentin’s account of his year of travel took us from this country to various festivals, gatherings and musical schools throughout Europe. We heard about the different traditions, styles, and approaches in different parts of the continent. It was good to know that these were being shared and adapted, keeping the tradition alive and of course Quentin was able to demonstrate all this on the two beautiful instruments he had with him. The were plenty of questions from the enthusiastic audience in the final part of the evening and I think everyone learnt a lot – from the history of the hurdy-gurdy since the 11th century to the response of contemporary composers to the instrument. And of course a whole load of cracking tunes – all in all a fantastic evening’.
The Chance to get a couple of days studying Hurdy-Gurdy with Gilles Chabenat at Gaunts House was to good to miss. I learnt an incredible amount in the small group (there were 3 of us) and having the opportunity to see Gilles playing and inprovise on stage was certainly hugely beneficial.
I attended an extended weekend course for musicians to develop ensemble playing skills and make imaginative arrangements that are exciting to listen or dance to. Using music from European folk/traditional/popular music traditions as the raw material to make new arrangements that can go in any direction. The aim was to explore and combine all sorts of influences and ideas to make spine tingling music that is more than the sum of the parts.
The course was fairly intensive and included all day ensemble workshop sessions with the aim of performing all the pieces created together at a public concert on the Sunday night. The course was led by musician/composer/arranger Paul James – saxophones, border bagpipes (Blowzabella, Evening Star), Belgian diatonic accordion virtuoso and composer/arranger Anne Niepold and we are delighted to welcome German harpist, composer and teacher Merit Zloch to the team for the first time this year.
Paul James is a saxophonist, bagpiper, singer and composer from Newbury who writes, arranges and performs music influenced by English and other European folk traditions. Paul was composer for the critically acclaimed production of John Milton’s ‘Comus – A Masque in Honour of Chastity’ at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and has composed music for TV, documentaries, theatre and contemporary dance, as well as the bands he plays in. He has been a member of the hugely influential folk band Blowzabella since 1980, and plays with his pan-European band Evening Star and the folk dance band The Playford Liberation Front.
Anne Niepold studied in the jazz department of the Royal Conservatory of Brussels and attended many courses and masterclasses. As a performer she is a true force of nature – brash, adventurous and phenomenally skilled, she takes the humble accordion in startling directions. Beside her solo projects, she performs with numerous arts companies at home and abroad, and has numerous recordings to her name.
“(Anne) shows us the right way, that of intelligence, respect, emotion and heart. Run quickly listen to her and see her in concert!”
Richard Galliano, Accordionist
Merit Zloch is a harpist, composer and music teacher. She sees herself in the tradition of the itinerant harp players of the 19th and early 20th century, travelling with her harp throughout Europe charming people with her original compositions and arrangements of historical dance music.
She has played in bands almost as long as she has played the harp and is constantly fascinated by the interplay between musicians. She likes to arrange und develop pieces together with her band colleagues and to improvise.
Merit researches historical dance manuscripts and organises musicians meetings, bals and instrumental workshop weekends.
If you have any queries about the course, have a chat with course leader Paul James 0788 794 8853 email@example.com
I met up with Sam ( Samuel Palmer ) in London last week and played some lovely traditional tunes and had a go on Sam’s lute backs and midi gurdies, – Sam gave my Gurdy the once over. Oh and there was cake (not pictured).
It was really great to meet up with Peter Kanssen yesterday and have a good play through some tunes and have a delicious Parsnip Soup lunch (not pictured). I also got the chance to have a go on Peter’s Neil Brook 3d Gurdy (storming!) and his amazing Sam Palmer midi gurdy both of which I have to say are lovely instruments. As a few people have been in touch about my thoughts on Sam’s midi gurdy I’ll write a post about it in the not to distant future.
One thing that came up during the meeting was the variable length crank as a learning tool …. to develop articulation of the coups – (buzzes) of the Hurdy-Gurdy trompette.
Quentin Budworth is a Hurdy-gurdy player and composer from Yorkshire, England, who makes music from 'Every-hear'.