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GRAHAM DIXON - The Lads Like Beer: The Fiddle Music Of James Hill's Tyneside

GRAHAM DIXON - The Lads Like Beer: The Fiddle Music Of James Hill's Tyneside
Mitchell Music ISBN: 9780992669607

Dundee born fiddler, James Hill, was the foremost composer and performer of fiddle music in Tyneside in the 19th century. Experienced music writer Graham Dixon has produced a revised and extended version of his 1987 book on the music and times of James Hill, helped by the insights of Newcastle fiddler Stewart Hardy. This second edition of The Lads Like Beer contains sections on many aspects of Hill's life and musical context: Victorian Britain, Victorian Tyneside in particular, Tyneside fiddling, the Newcastle hornpipe form and James Hill's career. In around 30 pages, Dixon sets the scene for Hill's life and explains his significance. Hill was and is best known for his hornpipes - The High Level, The Beeswing, The Champion, Proudlock's Fancy and many others. Stewart Hardy contributes a short section entitled The Hill Hornpipe - A Fiddler's Perspective which has many interesting comments on these tunes.

The other 70 pages of The Lads Like Beer are devoted to a collection of Hill's compositions and other traditional tunes of the time. One particularly useful aspect of this book for me is Dixon's authoritative stance on which tunes were composed by Hill, which were not and which are associated with him but may have been written by others. I believed until now that The Locomotive and The Cliff were Hill compositions: it seems this is not certain. Prince Albert's Hornpipe, on the other hand, is a Hill composition: often known as The Newcastle Hornpipe, this virtuoso piece is one I have played for many years without knowing it was a James Hill tune.

In addition to a hundred or so notated melodies, Dixon includes a handy tune index and a bibliography. The book is printed in a colourful landscape format, with about 50 old photographs and maps. Whether you are purely interested in James Hill's tunes, or have a deeper interest in Tyneside fiddling, The Lads Like Beer is an excellent resource and an entertaining read. There is also a CD available (also on Mitchell Music – MM01) with 71 minutes of James Hill music played by well over a dozen fiddlers and other musicians, a great accompaniment to the book and a varied CD of fine traditional music in its own right.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 100 of The Living Tradition magazine.