John Armstrong (of Carrick)

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John Armstrong of Carrick (1909 – 1984) was an English farmer, huntsman, stick dresser and traditional musician from near Elsdon, in central Northumberland. His nickname refers to High Carrick, his hill farm on the edge of the Otterburn Army ranges, near Elsdon; Armstrong is a common name in the Borders. He claimed descent from the Border reiver Johnnie Armstrong of Gilnockie. His wife was descended from Muckle Jock Milburn.

He played Northumbrian pipes as a young man, [1] and in later life the fiddle. [2] 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 for several years, [3] just after the First World War, and John often played duets there with Tom Clough. He also later played regularly with Billy Pigg, who wrote several tunes named for him and his family, "The Carrick Hornpipe", "Raylees", "Mary Armstrong", "Jane of Biddlestone", "Anne's Wedding" and "John of Carrick". [4] John, with his sister Annie Snaith, and Billy Pigg, played regularly at events in the area, becoming known as 'The Border Minstrels'. They were joined in 1938 by Archie Dagg. They played for listening, rather than dancing.

John owned a notable collection of pipe and fiddle tunes, including early manuscripts of tunes by James Hill, and autograph manuscripts by Robert Whinham. These provided 88 of the 112 tunes for the Charlton Memorial Tune Book. [5] This book was a major extension to the published repertoire of Northumbrian pipe music, being much larger than the first edition of the Northumbrian Pipers' Society Tune Book. Unfortunately, late in his life, he lent many of his Whinham manuscripts to a friend, and they were lost.

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 started playing duets with Joe Hutton in 1972, adapting arrangement for two pipes to pipes and fiddle. In 1973 they won the pairs competition at Newcastleton Traditional Festival. He is featured on the Topic album Bonny North Tyne. [6] However a project for a subsequent duet album never materialised, owing to his illness and death. Some recordings of them are available on FARNE, as well as a few of Armstrong on solo fiddle. [7]

FARNE [8] wrongly attributes some compositions to him, but there are no confirmed attributions of any compositions of his; in particular there are none in the Charlton Memorial Book, based on his own collection, where any compositions by him might be expected. However, the jig "Coquet Lights" is widely believed to be by him. [9]

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Tom Clough (1881–1964), known as "The Prince of Pipers", was an English player of the Northumbrian pipes, or Northumbrian smallpipes. He was also a pipemaker, and the pipes he made with Fred Picknell include several important innovations, and have a distinctive tone. He had studied the instrument with the noted piper Thomas Todd, and from his own father Henry Clough. His three surviving recordings, among the earliest recordings made of the instrument, and his considerable body of music manuscripts, including his own compositions, give considerable insight into the traditional playing technique and style of the instrument. This is particularly so because at least four previous generations of the family had been pipers, as was his son 'Young Tom' (1912–1987) – they thus form a continuous link between earliest players of the modern instrument, and contemporary players. In contrast to the widely accepted notion of traditional folk music as an essentially rural activity, he and his family lived in the mining community of Newsham in south-east Northumberland, and were miners themselves. At the end of his life, "Young Tom" recalled piping sessions at the 'Willow Tree' in Newsham, with his father Tom, grandfather Henry Clough, and Richard Mowat all playing – Henry's and Richard Mowat's playing would get more furious and inaccurate as the evening progressed; Tom was teetotal. Young Tom had the job of carrying his grandfather's pipes afterwards. There is a composite photograph of the Clough family at. Here Tom himself is on the left, his pipemaking collaborator Fred Picknell standing behind him, his father Henry Clough and son 'Young Tom' standing towards the right, while an older image of Tom's grandfather "Old Tom", seated piping in the foreground, has been added subsequently. Old Tom died in 1885, and the main photograph was taken in 1924. The other figure, seated on the far right, is believed to be Captain Nicholson of Haydon Bridge, a traditional fiddler.

Henry Clough was an English player of the Northumbrian pipes, or Northumbrian smallpipes. He was a miner, listing his trade as a hewer, and he lived in Newsham, in south-eastern Northumberland. He was the father of Tom Clough, 'The Prince of Pipers'. Several previous generations of the family had also been pipers, Henry's father, 'Old Tom' (1830-1885), and grandfather Henry (1789-1842) among them. Since the instrument assumed its modern keyed form at the beginning of the 19th century, the family's playing tradition goes back unbroken to that time. There is a photograph of Henry with his son at, while a photograph of Henry, his son Tom (III), and grandson Tom (IV) playing at Bellingham Show in 1926, is at.

Will Atkinson was a noted traditional musician from northern Northumberland. He started off as a player of the English diatonic accordion, but was best known as a harmonica or moothie player. His playing was distinguished by a very clear sense of rhythm, with a definite lilt. He was a major figure in Northumbrian music. He was also the composer of several tunes that have entered the tradition and are played at gatherings and sessions.

Jack Armstrong was an authoritative and influential performer on the Northumbrian smallpipes.

Adrian D Schofield is a player of the Northumbrian smallpipes, the traditional bagpipe of North East of England. In 1988, Schofield joined with pipers Pauline Cato and Colin Ross in forming the band Border Spirit.

Colin Ross was an English folk musician who played fiddle and Northumbrian smallpipes. He was a noted maker of Northumbrian smallpipes, border pipes and Scottish smallpipes, and one of the inventors of the modern Scottish smallpipes.

From 1770-2 a man called William Vickers made a manuscript collection of dance tunes, of which some 580 survive, including both pipe and fiddle tunes. The manuscript is incomplete - 31 pages have not survived, though their contents are listed at the beginning of the book. In the mid-19th century, it belonged to the pipemaker John Baty, of Wark, Northumberland, and it now belongs to the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne. It is kept in the Northumberland County Record Office at Woodhorn, Ashington.

Joe Hutton (1923–1995) was born in Halton Lea Gate, near Haltwhistle in the west of Northumberland. Like his father, Jake, he was a shepherd, and a musician - he started on the fiddle, but took up the Northumbrian smallpipes after hearing P.J. Liddell and G.G. Armstrong playing at a concert in 1936. He started on a James Reid set from Halton Lea Gate, refurbished by G.G. Armstrong, a noted piper from Hexham, and he took lessons in the instrument from Armstrong. He made rapid progress, and won a competition as a novice, the following year. Armstrong made him a new set of pipes in January 1938, and Joe was photographed, standing at the left, with other competitors at the Bellingham Show piping competition in 1938. He continued to play the fiddle at dances during the war years, but he continued piping, upgrading to a 17-keyed chanter, again by Armstrong, in 1943. In 1950 he began piping in competitions again, winning all the Open competitions for two years. He was very isolated living out on the border with Cumberland, and to play with Tommy Breckons, a noted piper from Bellingham, he recalled "it meant walking 8 miles to Gilsland, bus to Hexham, another bus to Bellingham....Man, it was a day's work getting there". On another such piping trip, to Carrawbrough on the Roman Wall, he met his future wife, Hannah, whose brother John was also a piper.

Tommy Breckons (1928–2009) lived all his life on his family's Foundry Farm, Bellingham, central Northumberland. He was a noted player of the Northumbrian smallpipes.

George Grey Armstrong (1877–1961) was a noted player, teacher and maker of the Northumbrian smallpipes. He also composed several tunes for the instrument. He lived in Hexham, Northumberland. He learned to play the instrument from the Clough family, and studied pipemaking with John E. Baty. There is a photograph of him with his pipes, from the Cocks collection, at.

Richard Mowat or Mowatt (1865–1936) was a renowned and award-winning player of the Northumbrian smallpipes.

Archie Dagg was a shepherd and traditional fiddler, piper and composer from central Northumberland. He was born at Linbriggs, in Upper Coquetdale, and except for his time in the Army at the end of the First World War, lived all his life in that region. In the late 1930s, he was a member of the English Sheepdog Trials Team; when competing with them in Scotland, he would play Scottish tunes on the Northumbrian smallpipes, and found he would get a steady supply of free drams.

George Hepple (1904–1997) was an influential traditional Northumbrian fiddler. He was born at Sook Hill Farm, Haltwhistle, West Northumberland. He went to a nearby school in Melkridge. He began his working life as an apprentice blacksmith at Cawfield's Quarry at the age of fourteen, before moving to Ventners Hall Colliery where he remained until its closure in the 1950s. He then worked at Bardon Mill Colliery. He later worked in a plastics factory in Plenmellor, South of Haltwistle, until his retirement. In the last years of his life, he lived with his wife Edna in sheltered housing in Haltwhistle. At this time, he also had a pacemaker implanted and when the doctor said he should return to have the battery replaced, in 10 years, he replied "I don't need to worry about that then!".

John Forster Charlton (1915–89), was an English traditional musician, originally from near Hexham, Northumberland, who later settled in Gateshead. He at first played fiddle, but later also took up the Northumbrian smallpipes. He was a major figure in the folk music revival during the 1950s and 1960s, and an active member of the Northumbrian Pipers' Society. He was a founder member of the High Level Ranters, playing fiddle and smallpipes on their first record, Northumberland for Ever, but he subsequently left the group. Later he played in a country dance band, The Borderers.

The Northumbrian Small Pipes Society was founded in 1893, by members of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne to promote interest in, and playing of Northumbrian smallpipes, and their music. As it only continued in existence for seven years, it is now regarded primarily as a short-lived precursor to the Northumbrian Pipers' Society. However, despite its short life, it played a significant role, publishing the first tutor for the instrument, J. W. Fenwick's Instruction Book for the Northumbrian Small-Pipes (1896), holding regular meetings, and organising annual competitions. In 1894 and 1896-7, the society published Transactions, as well as publishing an account of their Annual Meeting of 1897. As well as Members, who paid an annual 5s. subscription, there was a category of Honorary Playing Members. Since the society's records include the names and addresses of all members, of either kind, they have listed the names and addresses for 37 known pipers. Two articles in the Newcastle Courant, in April 1900, gave an account of their Annual General Meeting, at the Literary and Philosophical Society, and referred to the society as flourishing, with 200 members, of whom almost half were pipers. Officers were elected for the following year; however there is no subsequent record of any formal activity of the society, such as meetings or competitions. In 1906, when the Cloughs played for King Edward VII at Alnwick Castle, an account of this in the Berwickshire News stated that the Northumbrian Small Pipes Society had done some good work in reviving interest, but that 'seven winters had passed without it giving any signs of life'. This suggests that the society had been largely inactive for some time before its final AGM.

References

  1. [ dead link ]
  2. "FARNE Archive Search :: Results". Archive.today. Archived from the original on 2013-01-17.
  3. The Clough Family of Newsham, Northumbrian Pipers' Society, ed. Chris Ormston and Julia Say (2000)
  4. Notes in Billy Pigg, the Border Minstrel, 2nd edition, Northumbrian Pipers' Society
  5. Charlton Memorial Tune Book, Northumbrian Pipers' Society, 1956
  6. Bonny North Tyne 12TS239
  7. "FARNE website". Folknortheast.com.
  8. "FARNE archive recording". Archived from the original on 2016-03-06. Retrieved 2012-03-06.