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.
Return to my blog page on British traditional harmonica players.