Notes from Roger Digby of Flowers
To order the latest Flowers & Frolics CD "Reformed Characters",
please contact HEBE MUSIC at firstname.lastname@example.org
Note from Paul: These notes are culled from email exchanges Roger and I
had about the music and history of the Flowers & Frolics band and Roger's
concertina playing. Listen to sound clips on the Music
Paul: Your concertina playing history... when did you start? why? who taught you? who were/are your influences?
Roger: I atarted playing in 1972 when I picked up a 30 key Lachenal from the shop
at Cecil Sharp House in Camden Town. A year later I bought a C/G 38 key
Crabb (made by Neville) which was a Jeffries copy. (There's a very long
story with this box; I still own it, my only non-jeffries.) I was already
playing with the friends who were to become Flowers and Frolics in 1975 so
I had to learn very quickly to play in D across the rows - a useful skill.
Nevertheless I picked up a very loud 30 key Jeffries in G/D at the first
opportunity and these are the two instruments on the first Flowers LP 'Bees
On Horseback' (1977). I had no teacher and was well on the way to
developing my own approach before I came across recordings of Kimber and
Tester. Having started on piano as a child I had the musical basics and
having busked through my teenage years on the guitar I knew enough about
chords and accompaniments to be able to transfer this knowledge to the
Anglo which I suppose is what I did. My musical influences and the basis
from which the band grew were firmly rooted in the music of Southern
England and came primarily from melodeon players and fiddlers. I believe
very strongly that listening to traditional music is the only way to
develop in the traditional style and that you can learn from all musiciams
whatever the instrument.
Paul: Which instruments do you play?
Roger: On the new CD I play a 38 key G/D stamped 'C. Jeffries' (and therefore a
John Crabb??) except on the Waltz set where I play an odd box in F/C. The
difference in tone is very audible. This box has three and three quarter
inch sides rather than the usual three and a half inch; it has raised metal
ends from Jeffries in Praed St. but the bellows look Wheatstone and the
reed pans have been attributed to Lachenal so goodness knows what its
history is. It is in a square leather box, being too big for the usual
Paul: Why a "reunion" CD? Has the music and style changed?
Roger: The reunion CD is partly because the two vinyl LPs have been unavailable
for years and we were being asked whether we had any plans to re-release
them on CD. We didn't, because we weren't happy enough with either of them.
Also a lot of the material from the very early repertoire was worthy of
reintroduction so we opted to re-record with the original line-up including
a number of songs as well, some of which do go back to 'Bees on Horesback'.
We stress, however, that this is not Bees on CD. The music and style have
not changed, though we worried that it might. Fortunately as soon as we got
back together the old way of playing came right back although many of us as
individuals have developed along different musical routes. After the 3
promotional gigs, the last at Towersey festival, we
will dissappear once more into the mists and our individual musical
Paul: I received your CD and I quite like it. I really didn't
know what to expect so I'll have to listen to it some more to really get
a better feel for the music, but it's certainly interesting to hear
because it's definitely new to me.
Roger: Sounds like a bit of historical information will help you get the picture!
In the early 70s the 'Social Dance' activity in England was dominated by
the view that there was very little - if any - traditional English music to
go with the traditional English dances that had been notated and therefore
these dances were being danced (and I use that word very loosely) to tunes
from Ireland and America. The American tunes fitted in with the imported
practice of 'calling' (not present in the English tradition) but, because
they were fast and lacked emphasis they reduced all the dances to running
sets. This is of course an overstatement but it is sound nevertheless. What
'Flowers' set out to do was put English tunes (many available) and English
style (excellent older musicians and recordings of earlier ones were
available) back to English dances, using the distinctive rhythmic style of
the English country musicians. We were not alone in this; the Old Swan Band
from Cheltenham were doing the same and many followers soon came along. The
solidly rhythmic approach, coming up behind the beat to lift the dancers
(like the Morris) lead to our back line which owes more to New Orleans in
its instrumentation than to any English tradition. (The second line up of
the band lost this thrust.)
At the same time we met Graeme Smith, who was in London for a spell, and
discovered that Australian rural musicians had a similar style and so our
repertoire took in some antipodean influences!
The repertoire of the real genuine traditional singers in the second half
of the 20th century regularly included songs from the strong Music Hall
presence in the earlier part of the century and the end of the 19th. We
liked all this and were keen scholars of the Music Hall so we also included
a lot of this material into the performances which were our stock-in-trade
as a resident band in a music club (The Empress of Russia) and part of our
performance when guests in other venues. Of course, we continued the
process with the modern manifestations of the true Music hall spirit!
The CD goes back to this. Many of the new enthusiasts are hearing it for
the first time and it is doing remarkably well.