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Half-Witted, Merry & Mad
Catalogue Number: SJCD022 / Release date: 12th October 2018
Lonesome fiddler Andrew Cadie breathes life back in to forgotten gems on a bold new album of traditional Northumbrian music.
Sometime in the 19th Century, the Newcastle Society of Antiquities acquired a dusty old manuscript of fiddle and pipe tunes. An elusive local figure called William Vickers had noted down almost 600 melodies between 1770 and 1772, in what seems to have been a concerted effort to collect tunes that were circulating in the area at the time. 250 years later, Andrew Cadie has decided to make an album of some of this music, arranging the mix of wonderfully weird modal jigs, ancient reels, songlike airs and rolling triple-time hornpipes for unaccompanied fiddle. Vickers included a poem in his book that describes musicians as, “Half-witted, merry and mad.” This seemed like a fitting title for such an unusual album.
William Vickers was obviously surrounded by Northumbrian tunes that were considered ancient even at the time, but he also documents how musicians in the 18th century were already moving around and trading melodies. There is a strong Scottish contingent, as well as some of the earliest records of tunes now considered Irish classics. Several southern English country dance tunes make an appearance, alongside even some German and French examples.
Despite the idea of a solo fiddle album sounding like a hard listen, Andrew Cadie found it easy to pick out enough variety of material to hold the audience’s interest. This was thanks to the eclectic nature of the source and is bolstered through the use of traditional fiddle effects, such as driving “double-stopped” chords, bow bouncing, lively dynamics, overtone bowing and plenty of feeling.
“Music on a printed page is not a living thing”, explains Andrew. “It was alive when Vickers was in the tavern, getting tunes from travelling strangers. But at some point, many of these tunes were forgotten. Our job is to breathe life back in to them and imagine how William Vickers would have played these tunes if he was alive now.”
As an exception to the rule the album contains one “fiddle-singing” song. Sair Fyel’d Hinny was taught to Andrew by Nancy Kerr and tells the story of an old man comparing his failing strength to the enduring might of a much older oak tree. This song was already well known at the time Vickers was compiling his book, and although it wasn’t included in the collection, the melody has some strangely beautiful twists, in keeping with some of the dance tunes on the CD.
Born in Berwick upon Tweed, Andrew Cadie spent 10 years as a busker, often playing as a lone fiddler on street corners throughout Europe. A short stint playing for the Newcastle Kingsmen rapper dancing team also helped develop an interest in the fiddle as a sole generator of rhythm, harmony and melody. Originally self-taught, Andrew was offered violin tuition at high school after the family moved to Staffordshire. Teacher Alan Brown oozed enthusiasm and virtuosity and passed on a sense of the seemingly endless musical possibilities the violin could offer, which left a lasting impression on Andrew’s mind’s eye.
After time spent in Spain and Germany, Andrew returned to North East England to study Folk and Traditional Music at Newcastle University. His main tutors there included Kathryn Tickell, who herself grew up playing fiddle with Northumbrian shepherd Willy Taylor; and Shetland fiddler Chris Stout, who for Andrew was like a folk version of Alan Brown, teasing all kinds of crazy rhythms and textures out of a tiny wooden box.
After moving to Germany, Andrew joined forces with compatriot and multi-instrumentalist Mark Bloomer to form the duo Broom Bezzums, releasing five CDs to date and still touring full time. But for this album it seemed right to go back to the challenge and the starkness of the naked fiddle.
William Vickers’ manuscript has been a constant source of inspiration for generations of folk musicians in North East England. From Bruce and Stokoe in the 1880s, The High Level Ranters in the 1960s and others up to the present day. But with so many tunes left to uncover, Half-Witted, Merry and Mad is just another step in that journey – and many more people will follow this path in time to come.