The Old Swan Band
and related musicians

This page also includes the English Country Dance Band and Token Women,
Rod Stradling and Jo Freya.

Old Swan Band

The Old Swan Band at the Bedford Hotel, Sidmouth Festival, 2004.

Left to right: Heather, John, Neil, Jo, Martin, Flos, Paul, Fi.

Picture copyright © S. Farthing 2004.


The Old Swan Band were formed in 1974 by Melodeon player Rod Stradling and others. The band emerged from sessions in a pub in Cheltenham, The Old Swan in 1973. Among those present with Rod Stradling were Martin Brinsford and Fi Fraser and her sister Jo Fraser, then young teenagers.

Between 1977 and 1981 the band recorded and released three LPs. Over this period the principal members (and instruments) were Rod Stradling (melodeon), Fi Fraser (fiddle), Jo Fraser (whistles), Martin Brinsford (percussion, mouth organ).

No Reels vinyl album cover

They recorded their first album No Reels in 1977. So called because at the time the band avoided high speed reel tunes.

The second album Old Swan Brand was recorded 1978-9. This included a bass trombone played by Mel Dean on some tracks, and the album included some songs.

The LP Gamesters Pickpockets and Harlots was recorded and released in 1981. This included additional fiddle player, Paul Burgess, and some tracks included a piano in the backing.


In 1982 Rod Stradling left and there was a significant difference in the music now due to the absence of a melodeon.

(Rod later joined with Paul Burgess and others to form the English Country Dance Band.)

Flos Headford joined, giving the band a line up featuring three fiddles.

Trombone player John Adams joined. This brought 'brass' into the band as a permanent element, though there had previously been occasional use of bass trombone by Mel Dean.

The band now consisted of: Fi Fraser, Jo Fraser, Martin Brinsford, Paul Burgess, Flos Headford and John Adams.

An E.P named The Old Swan Band was recorded with this line-up in 1983 and Until 2004 it was the most recent available recording of the band, and the only one without Rod Stradling.

Still Swanning

There is a CD with a large amount of their recorded material, 23 tracks and 78 minutes long, and is excellent value. The title is "Still Swanning... after all these years". All the material was recorded before the end of 1983 and most includes Rod Stradling but two tracks from 1983 reveal the sound of the band after he left. The cover gives little clue about its contents and could easily be overlooked in a record shop. It has a booklet with a lot of history about the band and was the source of much of the information on this page.

List of tunes on this CD: Walter Bulwer's Polkas Nos.1 & 2, Bonnets so Blue, Starry Night for a Randy, Uncles Jig, Not for Joe, Oscar Wood's Polka, The Heel and Toe Polka, The Man in the Moon, Fire Burning Bright, Varsoviarna, Dannish Waltz, Indian Polka, Rigs of Marlow, Dan Leno's Boat, Sherborne Waltz, Lovely Nancy, Curley Headed Ploughboy, The Quaker, Three Around Three, The Rose Polka, JB Milne's Polka, The Matelot, Michael Turner's Jig, Captain Lemo's Slow March, Can't Stop Polka, Evesham Stick Dance, Symondsbury Mummers Tune, Dr Casey's Finbook, My Love My Love, Trip to the Forest, The Triumph, Bourton Six, Speed the Plough, Staffordshire Hornpipe, Mad Moll of the Cheshire Hunts, Woodcutter's Jig, Swedish Dance, Little Polly, Double Figure Eight, Old Heddon of Fawley, The Marriage Vow, Gloucester Hornpipe, Polly put the Kettle on, Give us Some Treacle & Bread, Mrs. Claxton's Polka, Worcestershire Hornpipe, Morning Star, The Vine Tree, The Sloe.

One account says the Old Swan Band folded in 1984. Martin Brinsford joined Brass Monkey around this time. In fact the band continued to get together occasionally despite the members living in different parts of the country and Heather Viga joined on piano.

Some time in the following years Jo Fraser progressed to playing saxophones in the band and in the late 80's changed her name to Jo Freya.

Neil Gledhill joined in 1989 playing bass saxophone, thus furthering the distinctive brass content of the band.

The line-up was now Fi Fraser (fiddles), Jo Freya (whistles and sax), Martin Brinsford, (mouth organ, percussion), Paul Burgess, Flos Headford, John Adams (trombone), Heather Viga (piano), Neil Gledhill (bass saxophone).

There have been no changes to the band's line-up since (as in 2004).

2004 was the 30th anniversary of the Old Swan Band and they held a special event at the final ceili at Sidmouth Festival with a number of former members appearing including notably Rod Stradling. (See picture elsewhere on this page).

They released a new C.D. Swan-Upmanship, the first new recording since 1983 over 20 years ago. It is great music typical of their live performances, and mostly traditional tunes. It also has a good long playing time of nearly 60 minutes.

List of tunes on this CD: The Green-clad Hills, Jimmy Garson's March, Jack Robinson, William Irwin's No. 3, The Tipputs, Steamboat Hornpipe, Gloucester Hornpipe, General Ward, The Day Room, Winster Gallop, Four-hand Reel, Dark Girl Dressed in Blue, Church Street, Redwing, St. Mary's, Flowers of Edinburgh, Soldier's Joy, Morpeth Rant, Wenlock Edge, Summer Waltz, Flowers of Edinburgh, Schottis Fran Havero, Another Fine Mess, George Green's College Hornpipe, Basquet of Oysters, Sally Sloanes,  Freedom of Ireland, Kitchen Girl, Beatrice Hill's Three-hand Reel, Ger the Rigger, Mickey Chewing Bubble Gum.

** Newly added in summer 2010 **

video clip

A video clip of The Old Swan Band is available at
www.flickr.com/english-music
Needs broadband and flash player.

Jo Freya's web site Includes an official Old Swan Band web page with contact details.

 


The English Country Dance Band

The English Country Dance Band

The English Country Dance Band consisted almost entirely of former and current members of The Old Swan Band.

Left to right on picture:

Rod Stradling -Melodeon
Flos Headford - Fiddle
Jane Burgess - Fiddle, caller
Martin Brinsford - Percussion, mouth organ
Paul Burgess - Fiddle, piano

The most perfect English country dance music you are ever likely to hear at a ceili.

There is just one CD available by the English Country Dance Band, "Barn Dance". It is arranged in tracks consisting of sets of tunes for dancing and includes the instructions to the dances in the accompanying booklet. The CD cover is rather bland, and does little to convey the excitement of the music itself. Like the Old Swan Band CD it might easily be overlooked in a record shop, but in any case it later became available only direct from the band.

List of tunes on this CD: Three Around Three, Speed the Plough, The Cliffe, The Gloucester, Haste To The Wedding, Trip to the Forest, Soldier's Joy, Lemmie Brazil's, Galopede, The Tanner Man, The Queen's Jig, The Basque Jig, Jack Robinson, Steamboat, The Swiss Boy, Heel-and-Toe Polka, Sir Roger De Coverley, Waltz for the Veleta, Dashing White Sergeant, Brighton Camp (The Girl I left Behind me), Clee Hill, Belle Isles, The Triumph, Oyster Girl, My Love My Love.

Sadly the English Country Dance Band disbanded around 2003.


Rod Stradling

Rod Stradling

Must be regarded as the founder of the Old Swan Band which in turn has led to a whole revival of English country dance music - his intention at the time. Left the Old Swan Band in 1982 and later became a founder member of the English Country Dance Band. He is a highly respected melodeon player.

The picture shows Rod appearing with the Old Swan Band's 30th anniversary celebration at Sidmouth Festival, 2004. Copyright S.J. Farthing 2004.

Rod Stradling's Music Traditions web site



Token Women.

Dare I say it? An all-woman version of the Old Swan Band? Well there are similarities. Multiple fiddles, brass, and even three members in common with both bands. Line-up in 2003:

Jackie Allen - Fiddle, Viola
Alice Kinloch - Tuba, Trombone, Euphonium
Fi Fraser - Fiddle, Clarinet
Jo Freya - Saxes, Clarinets, Whistles
Jo May - Percussion
Heather Horsley (formerly Viga) - Keyboard, flute.

They play mainly traditional English music but include some of their own compositions and other European music. All instrumental of course at ceilis with Jo Freya as a very able caller and mainly playing saxes once the dancing gets going. They are primarily an instrumental band but advertise that "all band members can sing".

For more information see Jo Freya's web site.


Jo Freya

One of the original participants in the Old Swan sessions as a young teenager, then named Jo Fraser, and with sister Fi. Has been a constant member of the Old Swan Band, and progressed from playing whistles to becoming an excellent sax player, particularly excelling, in my view, on the alto sax/clarinet type of instrument. Has been a member of Blowzabella, a highly respected band of musicians many of whom are famous in their own right. Also an able caller, for example with Token Women, effortlessly setting up the dances efficiently without too much waiting around.

Although Jo Freya has appeared on many CDs in her role in other bands in 1992 she recorded Traditional Songs of England, the first CD entirely in her own name. It consists of beautiful songs sung well, but is especially outstanding because of the superb instrumental backing from a large ensemble of top instrumentalists including Flos Headford and Paul Burgess, and the Rose Consort of Viols. No synthesisers, drum machines or even electric guitars here! I also like the choice of material, being all traditional songs, and it has approximately 70 minutes playing time.

Traditional Songs of England by Jo Freya.

Personnel on the CD:

Jo Freya: voice, whistle
Fi Fraser: harmony vocals
Paul Burgess: violin, recorders
Flos Headford: violin
Dave Townsend: concertina, accordian, violin
Nigel Eaton: hurdy-gurdy
Nick Hooper: guitar
Kathryn Locke: cello
The Rose Consort of Viols
(Alison Crum, John Bryan, Elizabeth Liddle, Susanna Pell):
treble, tenor, bass, great bass viols.

List of songs:

All Things are Quite Silent, As I Set Off to Turkey, As Sylvie was Walking, General Wolfe, Though I Live Not Where I Love, A Sailor's Life, Rounding The Horn, Lord Franklin, The Unquite Grave, The Broomfield Wager, There Was a lady All Skin and Bone, Geordie, Maids When You're Young Never Wed an Old Man, Bold William Taylor, Lovely Joan, A Blacksmith Courted Me, The Carnal and the Crane, The Green Cockade,  Fourpence a Day, The Streams of Lovely Nancy, Sweet England.

Jo Freya's web site


sound clip

Hear the music of the Old Swan Band and the English Country Dance Band? I would love to put sound clips from their albums on this site so that visitors could find out what it's all about, but am unable to do so for copyright reasons of course. Still, Hampshire band Jigfoot (search this site) play some of the same tunes in similar style and at the time of writing (2010) have a full-length stereo recording of Gloucester Hornpipe on their site. There is also a video clip of Jigfoot playing Lemmie Brazil's available at www.flickr.com/english-music together with the video clip of The Old Swan Band, with music, as described above.


The Coleford Jig

Traditional Tunes from Gloucestershire

A sheet music book by Charles Menteith and Paul Burgess with many tunes which are played by the Old Swan Band and English Country Dance Band. Not only a practical book of tunes suitable for fiddlers and other traditional musicians, but a serious study of the sources of these tunes within Gloucestershire, and with some tunes appearing in different versions.


Link:

A review of the Old Swan Band CD. Still Swanning...after all these years.
www.folkmusic.net/htmfiles/webrevs/frcd31.htm


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