My uploaded harmonica video archives can be found in several places.
YouTube – My first attempts at video production were to capture the annual National Harmonica League (NHL, now HarmonicaUK) concerts in the Folk House in Bristol, starting in 2001 until they were moved after 2018. I also began to digitise some earlier NHL concerts from VHS tapes and early camcorder tapes mainly from recordings by Victor Brooks. Around 230 videos can be viewed on my YouTube site.
Here is the video introduction for this channel.
Vimeo – I prefer the videos to be viewed without ads, and I like the control that a paid Vimeo account allows. The downloading and embedding of the videos can be specified and if a video needs updating or editing it can be uploaded over the original without affecting the original link/url.
My more recent harmonica videos have been uploaded to Vimeo where they can be linked to my websites like this blog. There are over 75. You can view them here
The videos are organised into Showcases where similar videos are grouped together.
Playing the Thing – One group of the Vimeo videos is part of a project to reverse engineer a harmonica film from 1972 – ‘Playing the Thing‘ – directed by Chris Morphet. These are now embedded on a dedicated web site for this project which is recreating the original interviews which were edited to create the original film – Larry Adler, Sonny Terry, James Cotton, Cham-Ber Huang, Duster Bennet, Bill Dicey, Andy Paskas, Hohner’s Factory, Dutch Harmonica Championship … You can watch the original film here
I first heard about Martin Brinsford when Eddie Upton came to the NHL festival in Bristol in 2008, and we discussed the place of the tremolo harmonica in English Folk dance music. This is covered in full on my blog page on British traditional harmonica players.
Martin was busy at the time with Brass Monkey but eventually he agreed to play at the H2017 and H2018 festivals in Bristol. This is based on his workshops and subsequent communications.
This is work in progress.
Martin was born in 1947 and was given a Hohner Chromatic harmonica when he was 10 years old. He still owns it although he has played tremolo harmonica for the last 50 years. He took up the drums in 1962.
In 1972 he bought a copy of ‘Morris On‘, a folk rock interpretation of Morris dance tunes featuring John Kirkpartrick and members of Fairport Convention, and fell in love with the music. That year, after moving to Cheltenham, he joined the newly formed and subsequently legendary Old Spot Morris dancers where he met Rod Stradling, an influential melodeon player and evangelist for the traditional music of England. Rod gave Martin at least 6 hours of cassette tape recordings of traditional musicians which he listened to religiously whilst working as a carpenter on building sites, much to the bemusement of the rest of the workforce!
Rod also introduced Martin to the Romany Traveller tradition of simultaneous mouth organ and tambourine playing.
The Old Swan Band, England’s premier country dance band, was formed in 1974 with Rod, Martin and other local musicians, playing tremolo and and percussion. It is still playing and they had a 40th anniversary concert tour in 2014.
Martin’s first recording was in 1976 on squeeze box virtuoso John Kirkpartrick’s album Plain Capers and in 1977 the Old Swan Band released the first of many LPs and CDs
Martin Carthy and John Kirkpatrick set up Brass Monkey in 1981 and invited Martin Brinsford to join. They toured and recorded extensively but intermittently for over 30 years. Martin is pretty confident he was in the only band to play at the Albert Hall and his local pub, The Prince Albert, in Stroud. Here is a video featuring Martin playing ‘Happy Hours‘ with them.
Martin played with several other bands like The Tangent Band, and Edward II and the Red Hot Polkas as well as taking part in many recording sessions on harmonica, saxophone and percussion.
He has also recorded with the English country dance band ‘The Mellstock Band‘, ‘The Steve Ashley Band‘, ‘Phoenix‘, and ‘Grand Union‘, on on harmonica, saxophone and percussion. He even played on ‘Grandson of Morris On‘ a third generation follow up to the record which inspired him all those years before.
An unusual part of Martin’s style is his gypsy style harmonica and tambourine playing. He discussed this in a workshop at the NHL H2017 festival. He also demonstrated his interest in performing a wide range of world music.
Currently he is playing with The Pigeon Swing who specialise in vintage Québécois dance music, and who are planning to record later this year.
Martin and Katie Howson played together for a few years, but now it is on an occasional basis.
Martin’s most recent CD, ‘Next Slide Please‘ has lots of mainly Irish/American tunes and was recorded with Keith Ryan and Gareth Kiddier.
I learned about Terry Potter from Eddie Upton in 2008. Eddie ran Folk South West when he came to the National Harmonica League festival. He was able to give me the names of some harmonica players who were active in the English folk music scene.
Terry Potter is a tremolo player who has been active since the 1960s with the modern traditional musicians like Ashley Hutchings (‘The Compleat Dancing Master‘, ‘Kicking Up The Sawdust‘) as well as playing with the Etchingham Steam Band, Potters Wheel and his family group, Cousins and Sons.
Along with Richard Taylor, I interviewed Terry Potter in his home in Sussex in 2009. I am using this and subsequent written communication to write this blog.
Terry was born in 1935 and is a traditional folk musician. He first became involved after his extended National Service in Germany, when he attended a local folk club in 1957, in the Free Christian Hall, in Horsham, West Sussex, where he still lives. It was run by his parents and he joined in all the dancing. He wanted to play this sort of music and remembered he had some old mouth organs at home. His father had played mouth organ and Terry had played a few pop songs – but not in public! Both his father, Charlie, and mother, Marjorie sang folk songs and were recorded by local collectors in the 1950s. Their original songbook was presented to the Horsham Museum.
He was allowed to join in at the next dance and soon learned to play a number of tunes, like ”Joe the Carrier Lad‘, from three ladies, The Benacre Band, who came to the club. They invited him to play with their band. He played his first concert that year which lead to to his first band, ‘The Derrydowners Folk Band’ with Geoff Hedger (piano), Derrick Smith (accordion), George Whetton (banjo), Lionel Bounton and Tony Wales (drums). It played for Barn Dances throughout Sussex for over 25 years
Terry formed a folk club in Horsham in 1958 with Tony Wales called called Horsham Songswappers, and the Horsham Folk Club continues to this day. Folk musicians were a close knit group and Terry joined up with Paul Morris (guitar/banjo) and Mike Howley (accordion) and played with them at ‘The Troubadour‘ at the time of the London folk boom, and with ‘Benacre Band‘ at the Albert Hall, in London, in 1958. There was also ‘The ‘Pandemonium String Band‘ with Pete Marsden (fiddle, guitar and vocal) in 1958 and ‘Country Cousins‘ began in 1962. Terry collected folk albums and played in the Ceilidh, jazz and blues clubs in Dublin and made visits to Germany.
In 1970, Terry was in Martyn Wyndham-Read’s band, ‘No Man’s Band‘ and they were heard busking in Leicester Square, London. They were playing Ned Kelly songs outside the premier of the film ‘Ned Kelly‘, staring Mick Jagger, and they ended up playing them on the BBC2 late night TV show.
Terry met Ashley Hutchins in 1972 when he was recording an album of traditional tunes with well known folk musicians, ‘The Compleat Dancing Master‘.
Terry played on the three tracks below: First, ‘Haste to the Wedding‘ – 2:10 mins, ‘The Triumph‘ – 4:25, ‘Off She Goes‘.
Here are a couple of tracks from Shirley Collin’s 1974 album, ‘Adieu To Old England‘. First, ‘The Chiners‘ and then ‘Portsmouth‘.
From the 1970s, Terry played mouth organ occasionally with several progressive folk bands such as ‘The Albion Band‘, ‘Kicking up the Sawdust‘, ‘The Etchingham Steam Band‘, ‘Potters Wheel‘, and ‘No Man’s Band‘. These bands included great musicians Ashley Hutchins, Shirley Collins, Dave Mattocks, Simon Nicol, Martyn Wyndham-Read, John Kirkpatrick, Bob Cann, Grahame Taylor, Peter Bullock, Michael Gregory, John Tams, and John Rodd.
Here Terry is featured on ‘Speed the Plough‘ on the ‘Kicking up the Sawdust‘ LP.
Some of these bands became very popular and some of the musicians went full time and toured Europe. Terry had a job and could not continue so he stood down and continued to play locally. He had worked with Metal Box but later did a series of local jobs.
Terry had continued to play with his cousin, Ian Holder, and wife, Margaret, since 1963 with various musicians but the band finally settled into, literally, Cousins and Sons‘ when they were joined by their sons, James Potter and Gary Holder. In 1978, John Tyler included their gigs in Harmonica News. They played together for 50 years but no longer play regularly in public. Fortunately, Dave Arthur recorded the group in 1993 in Terry’s sitting room.
Terry does not read music so he has built up his large repertoire of music by learning by ear. He only plays a tremolo but this has all the diatonic notes and it lets him play in many styles of music besides folk, including popular and some jazz tunes for fun. The mouth organ’s musical range is similar to other instruments in the bands but he can play in the higher octaves to have a more distinctive voice. He also uses a small Hohner mic and amplifier when playing in the band. Like Sonny Terry he plays the mouth organ upside down (back to front) with the high notes on the left.
Terry has made lots of recordings but the financial rewards are slim. His checks of the Royalties website suggest he may have to wait a while before they reach the level where they start paying out. He plays music for the heart and still gets nervous when he performs.
Terry has a large collection of mouth organs but his favourite is a Golden Melody which he plays in the keys of C,G,A,D,E and F. Hohner liked to get value from their brand names and this is not the well loved blues harp, but a tremolo harp.
Terry has made a collection of tracks called “Terry’s Collection – 1974 to 2001” which illustrates the range of his musical performances with different groups.
A = ‘Country Cousins‘, B = ‘Potter’s Wheel‘, C = ‘No Man’s Band‘, and D = ‘Etchingham Steam Band‘.
Whilst there is a lot of information on the use of the harmonica in Scottish and Irish Traditional music, little has been written about its use in England. This reflects the lower profile of traditional music in England and the relative isolation of most of the harmonica/mouth organ players. Musicians usually use tremolo or diatonic harmonicas. Here is a brief summary of what we could find. More details will follow about specific players from England. This is work in progress.
This review was written by Roger Trobridge with the help of Katie Howson. Thanks also to Jane Bird and others for their input.
Northumberland shares a border and many cultural links with Scotland, especially musical ones. It’s mainly rural location in the North of England has helped it to retain its musical traditions when other regions have struggled to do so.
The Northumberland Moothie Tradition
Will Atkinson (1908-2003) from Northumberland is the best known English traditional harmonica player. Will came from a musical family and was a shepherd for most of his life. He played mouthorgan and melodeon as a child before moving to the accordion and playing in a local group. Later in his life he returned to the tremolo harmonica. Will knew and played with many of the musicians like Jimmy Shand at musical festivals in the Scottish Borders. His repertoire included a very large number of local and Scottish tunes and he was renowned for precision of his playing. There are several CDs of him playing solo or with The Shepherds (Joe Hutton and Willie Taylor).
Ernie Gordon (The Geordie Jock) from Alnwick was a friend of Will’s and spent a lot of time with him, learning many of Will’s tunes. He is a fine musician who also plays the pipes and drums as well as music from countries like Greece where he lived for a few years. Ernie has been a big supporter of HarmonicaUK for 20 years which has help to raise the profile of the moothie. He has recorded one CD. You can see many videos of Ernie Gordon and Will Atkinson here.
Roy Hugman is another Geordie moothie player from Morpeth, who has promoted music from Northumberland and taught tremolo for HarmonicaUK is . He plays locally with his band and has an active YouTube and Facebook page.
Jimmy Little is a prominent moothie player from the Alnwick area who has released a couple of CDs.
Jimmy Hunter was recorded by collector Peter Kennedy in 1954 at his home at Haydon Bridge, Northumberland, England, when Kennedy was working for the BBC’s Folk Music & Dialect Recording Scheme.
Other Geordie moothie players include Anita James and Rob Say.
Other Regional Traditional Players
Some other areas, particularly East Anglia and the West Country also held onto their traditional music, including harmonica players. Here are some who have been picked up by collectors and local clubs.
Jim Small (1913-n.d.) Learned to play from his father and played for folkdancing at school as a teenager, growing up near the Mendips in Somerset. He was involved in national radio broadcasts from 1938 to the mid 1950s, playing mostly folk dance music, and was then rediscovered by the revivalists of English traditional music in the 1970s. He was featured on a cassette / CD on Peter Kennedy’s Folktrax label, which sadly, no longer exists.
Alfie Butler was a Gloucestershire gypsy who played harmonica as well as piano accordion.
Bill Elsom and Jasper Smith were Travellers recorded in southern England; the latter can be heard on the CD “My Father’s the King of the Gypsies” on the Topic label.
Peter Roud, from Hampshire, was the subject of an article in EDS Spring 2011. He made a few recordings which are held by his family.
Sam Bond, again in Hampshire, played polkas, step dances, marches, singalong tunes etc, and recorded a cassette on the Forest Tracks label.
Stan Seaman was, a Hampshire melodeon player who also plays harmonica who made some recordings.
Dave Williams (1934-1997) was a harmonica, melodeon and banjo player in the New Forest area, who performed with Stan Seaman on many occasions, and was part of the Forest Tracks record label which recorded both Stan and Sam Bond.
Two more Hampshire players, Jimmy Dixon and Ron Whatmore can be heard on the Topic CD: “Rig-A-Jig-Jig – Dance Music of the South of England”.
John Cole played chromatic with a few of the folk song and skiffle groups in the London area in the 1950s before moving to Spain.
Bill Train of Teignmouth recorded a selection of old song tunes, polkas hornpipes and a nice jig.
The musical and dance traditions from the Dartmoor area have been well documented through the twentieth century.
Jack Rice (1915-1994) and Les Rice (1912-1996), cousins from Chagford, played harmonica in the pubs, and for dancing. There is a CD of their playing available, called “Merrymaking”:
Bill Murch played in the Dartmoor Pixie Band from 1973 to 1992 and can be heard on their CD “A Dartmoor Country Dance Party”
The county of Suffolk has been well covered by folk music collectors throughout the course of the 20th century and just a cursory scan of the sources produces: Albert Smith, Tom Thurston, Harry Fleet, Charlie Philpots, Fred Pearce and George Ling in the coastal village: some of these can be read about on the “Sing Say and Play” pages on the Musical Traditions website – https://www.mustrad.org.uk/ssp . In Mid Suffolk there are even more names to be found including George Wade, Glyn Griffiths, Clemmie Pearson, Tom Williams, Lubbidy Rice, Jack Pearson, Bill Smith and Reg Pyett, who are all featured on the double CD “Many A Good Horseman” on the Veteran label. Others including fiddler Fred Whiting, melodeon players Walter Read and Fred List were known to play the harmonica as well. Most of these men played in the their local pubs on a Saturday night and for outings with darts and quoits teams, and their repertoire would include sing-a-long songs as well as hornpipes and polkas for stepdancing.
Harold Covill (1910-1993) from March in Cambridgeshire started by playing his father’s mouthorgan and played all his life for local entertainments and dances. In later life he featured on Topic Records’ 1974 LP “English Country Music from East Anglia”. He also taught children through a local youth club.
Jack Hyde played for Abingdon Traditional Morris Dancers (now Oxfordshire, but then Berkshire). There are tracks of him on two CDs on the Topic label: “You Lazy Lot of Boneshakers” and “Rig-A-Jig-Jig – Dance Music of the South of England”.
Players In English Ceilidh Bands etc.
Martin Brinsford (b. 1947) started playing drums in 1962 and then discovered traditional English dance and music and took up playing tremolo harmonica. He was a founder member of Old Swan Band, England’s premier country dance band, and Brass Monkey with Martin Carthy and John Kirkpatrick. He has played in many other bands and recording sessions He plays a wide range of music drawn from around the world as well as England. currently plays vintage Québécois dance music with The Pigeon Swing. He has played at HarmonicaUK festivals. You can read more here.
Terry Potter (b. 1935) is another tremolo player who has been active since the 1960s with the modern tradition musicians like Ashley Hutchings (‘The Compleat Dancing Master‘, ‘Kicking Up The Sawdust‘) as well as playing with the Etchingham Steam Band, Potters Wheel and his family group, Cousins and Sons. You can read more here.
John Tams (b.1949) is a multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, composer and actor. He is known locally in Derbyshire for his work with the Derbyshire Volunteers, but is known worldwide as the driving force behind such hugely influential groups such as Home Service and the Albion Band and also for his creative input into productions such as “War Horse” and “Lark Rise to Candleford” at the National Theatre, and for composing TV and film music including “Sharpe”.
Katie Howson (b.1956) is known mainly for playing the English melodeon/ diatonic accordion but has in fact played tremolo harmonica for nearly as long. A member of several English ceilidh bands, including PolkaWorks, whose 2014 CD “Borrowed Shoes” features her harmonica playing.
Chris Taylor (b.1946) from Kent, played in the Oyster Ceilidh Band, Gas Mark V and Polkabilly. Gas Mark V released a number of recordings featuring his harmonica playing.
Simon Booth (b.1955) from Lancashire, plays tremolo harmonica and recorded with the Ran Tan Band.
Barry Parkes (b.1952) from Cheshire, plays tremolo harmonica and recorded with Dr Sunshine’s Pavement Show, All Blacked Up and The Ironmasters.
Des Miller whilst living in Norfolk played and recorded with the Old Hat Concert Party and Rig-a-Jig, both bands specialising in localised repertoire.
Jaime Gill was featured in “Harmonica World” playing his large Hohner “683” double sider with the Clog Morris Band. He plays in “The Bicton Inn” in Exmouth.
Steve Harrison played mouth organ (and melodeon) in a couple of barn dance bands around Halifax (Yorkshire) and occasionally further afield. He was a member of HarmonicaUK and played tremolo and later, diatonic, until his death in 2018.
Eddie Upton took up harmonica more seriously in the 1970s. He played and recorded with The Pump and Pluck Band and toured Internationally. He set up Folk South West in 1992 and he appeared at a HarmonicaUK festival.
Ted Crum (1947-2020) from Coventry played blues style harp to accompany folk songs with Somerville Gentlemen’s Band, and driving dance music with “rock ceilidh band” Peeping Tom and jazz-influenced Steamchicken.
Jon Fletcher plays diatonic, chromatic and tremolo harmonicas and is a guitarist and singer, performing both solo and with the band Magpie Lane.
Keith Holloway plays tremolo harmonica, although he better known as a melodeon and bass player in bands iincluding Random, The Old Chapel Band & Bosun Higgs.
The New Generation
Traditional music never stands still and young musicians will always find a way to keep it fresh and relevant for the new generation. Two in particular are very talented, original International performers who include traditional music in their compositions and performances, but in very different ways.
Will Pound comes from a folk music family and he has worked with other musicians like Dan Walsh (banjo) to develop his own style and repertoire. He has been nominated for the BBC Folk Awards ‘Musician of the Year’ and has released six varied CDs. You can find out more about him here and on his website.
Phillip Henry is one of the UK’s top guitarists as well as a harmonica player who has developed his own style of beatboxing and diatonic harmonica playing. He has been nominated for Instrumentalist of the Year in the FATEA Awards and has released several CDs alone and with collaborators like Hannah Martin (Edgelarks). You can read more about Phillip here and on his website.
Sean Spicer and Simon Joy are two younger players who are continuing in the tradition. Sean played in the National Youth Folk Ensemble and at Twickfolk and Simon looks after traditional music within HarmonicaUK.
Jane Bird plays diatonic and tremolo harmonicas, mainly in sessions. She also plays anglo concertina and is probably more widely known as a dance caller and event organiser.
Scottish Traditional Harmonica Players
Nigel Gatherer has a list of Scottish traditional recordings and musicians including moothie players
Dave Hynes has assembled a large gallery of images of Irish traditional harmonica players, as well as a list of the All Ireland Champions and BDs and DVDs of harmonica music.Additional Information
Will Atkinson – 3 CDs (2 were LPs) have been released – Mouth Organ (Solo), Harthorpe Burn (Joe Hutton, Willy Taylor and Will Atkinson), An Audience with the Shepherds (Joe Hutton, Willy Taylor and Will Atkinson). Will also plays on several CDs of Northumberland Traditional music. Here is a video from a concert at Morpeth Town Hall.
Martin Brinsford – He has recorded one CD under his own name, Next Slide Please (Keith Ryan with Gareth Kiddier) and he is present on several recordings with Brass Monkey. He has several videos on YouTube from the HarmonicaUK festivals.
Pat Missin has created the best harmonica site on the internet. Everyone ought to visit it at least once so they are aware of the vast amount of knowledge he has assembled on all aspects of harmonica.
One web page contains a selection of vintage harmonica performances recorded between 1904 and 1940. It includes recordings and historical information about Pete Hampton, Professor Dickens, Arthur Turelly, H. J. Woodall, Henry Whitter, Borrah Minevitch, Moore and Freed, Sandlin Brothers, William Haussler, Haussler and Coutlee , W.V. Robinson, W.W. MacBeth, Gwen Foster, Willie “Red” Newman, John Sebastian and Rhythm Willie.