Trio step out to revive the dance tunes of old at Shoreham

Leveret, Andy Cutting on melodeon, Sam Sweeney on fiddle, and Rob Harbron on concertina
Leveret, Andy Cutting on melodeon, Sam Sweeney on fiddle, and Rob Harbron on concertina

ALL that was missing from the hornpipes, jigs and reels played by Leveret at Shoreham’s Ropetackle Arts Centre on Sunday was the background whir of an extractor fan.

It’s the unlikely accompaniment to the tunes fiddler Sam Sweeney shares with fellow members of the folk trio, Andy Cutting and Rob Harbron, when he records them in his bathroom, with its good acoustics – and that humming fan.

These days collectors of folk tunes and songs can, as Sam does, pass them on to others in their circle in a file attached to an email, but when John Playford set about assembling his first edition of The English Dance Master, published in 1651, paper and ink were the media for writing down, then printing, the notes and dance steps.

Over the next few decades, Playford and his descendants brought out 17 more editions of the collection, revised and updated, while in the north-west of England, another volume, John O’Green’s Cheshire Way, assembled scores more hornpipes and other dance tunes.

Both works were a rich vein from which Sam, Rob, on concertina and Andy Cutting, on melodeon, drew for a performance which was not only entertaining but educational, too.

Down the years they have collaborated in various musical guises, but Leveret is their new project and this their first tour, with a new album, New Anything, released three weeks ago.

The Ropetackle gig mixed ancient and modern, the new material of their own blending well with centuries-old tunes. Their approach is highly flexible, not only in how the tunes turn out on the night, each one developing its own character, but also in the order of play. No two performances will be the same, as Andy explained: “We don’t really know what is going to happen. I have great faith in Rob and Sam that we will hold it together!”

That faith was amply justified as these three accomplished musicians delivered a memorable evening, albeit after a somewhat slow start with Morris tune Glory Shears and Sussex’s Foul Weather Call. They were soon in their stride, however, delving into Playford’s book for An Italian Rant, a sensuous dance full of colour and texture.

Milford, written just 18 months ago, was a delightful waltz, then came a re-working of The Watersons’ The Good Old Way, opening with Sam’s superb fiddle-playing, then building with the melodeon and accordion into a spellbinding whirl.

Miss Wright’s Fancy, a few minutes after the interval, was the highlight for me, daring us to get up from our seats and dance to this catchiest of tunes. If only there had been the space. . .

Three engaging, talented musicians, their enthusiasm for a wonderful heritage and their knowledge of the social history surrounding the tunes made for another excellent Ropetackle event.