The Seaton Snook Northumbrian Smallpipes Tunes

These tunes were found at the back of books possibly belonging to Robson Booth that were donated to Hartlepool Library shortly before his death in 1967.

 

Seven tunes were written in pencil in the back of a pianoforte anthology book - the Halifax Manuscript; six in a collection of children's songs and rhymes - the Song-Time Manuscript; and four additional pieces - known as the Tempos - in the back of a copy of Hymns Ancient & Modern- Revised.  

A large brown book marked "MUSIC - H.BAIRSTOW SUMMER-CROFT, HALIFAX' containing sevn of the seaton snook northumbrian smallpipes pieces, possibly written by Robson Booth
The Halifax Manuscript: seven of the seaton snook northumbrian smallpipes pieces, possibly written by Robson Booth
Front page of the book Song Time, a book of Rhymes Songs and Games for children collected by Percy dearmer and Martin Shaw, but also containing pencil-written tunes for northumbrian smalpipes, possibly written by Robson Booth
The Song Time Manuscript: six of the seaton snook northumbrian smallpipes pieces, possibly written by Robson Booth
Burgundy copy of Hymns Ancient And Modern Revisited No.76, also containing the Northumbran Smallpipes Tempos possibly written by Robson Boot
The four tempos: four motifs to be played with the Seaton Snook Smallpipe Pieces at divers times of the year

While the tunes are not specifically stated to have been written for the Northumbrian Smallpipes, the manuscript does share certain characteristics with the William Dixon manuscript↗̱, deduced by piper Matt Seattle to have been written for the Border Pipes.  

Key features of the Robson Booth Northumbrian Smallpipes manuscripts

The lack of a clef or key signature implies an instrument that is only capable of playing a limited mode of notes, with no chromatic alterations, and in the same key no matter what the piece. 

A four line stave, as well as the number of different notes used in the tunes, points to an instrument that only uses eight notes.

All of this, taken with the styles of tunes, and the area in which they were written leads us to believe these tunes were written for a primitive set of  Northumbrian Smallpipes (NSP).  NSP music is written out in G major, (though the pipes usually sound just sharp of F).  "Keyless" sets such as those used to play these particular pieces can play a major scale from G to g', with no chromatic additions, and have three drones tuned to G, D and g'.  They are bellows-blown, smaller and quieter than the more famous Great Highland Bagpipes, and are suitable for indoor playing.  NSP also have a closed chanter, resulting in a characteristic staccato sound.  

This video by master piper Kathryn Tickell provides a superb introduction to the NSP:

The collection contains:

 

  • one hornpipe; 

  • seven marches (two of which in a rhythm specific to Northumbrian clog dancing called a "rant"); 

  • three jigs; 

  • one slip jig; 

  • one ambivalent style;

  • one unknown piece, possibly unfinished or possibly an air;

  • and four free-time motifs called “Tempos”, which were to be played before and after any given smallpipe piece depending on the time of year.   

The tunes have certain melodic characteristics that are unique to Seaton Snook, and these features as well the prescriptive performance practice involving the Tempos may have ensured that none of these tunes seem to have spread outside the town at all.  The melodic characteristics are explained in the following video:

 

The table below contains links to the manuscripts and transcriptions of each tune, with analyses, and rough demonstrations of the pieces played by The Archivist on the Northumbrian Smallpipes.

IDENTIFYING THE TUNE TYPES - A LAYPERSON'S GUIDE

The rhythms of the main styles of tune in the collection can be identified as follows (with thanks to the folks at TheSession.org↗̱ forums):

Jig: two or four beats to the bar, to which you can generally sing "Jigg-e-ry Pok-e-ry, Jigg-e-ry Pok-e-ry" (or "Carrots and Cabbages")

Slip Jig: three beats to the bar, with a feel of "Jigg-e-ry Jigg-e-ry Pok-e-ry, Jigg-e-ry Jigg-e-ry Pok-e-ry".

Hornpipe: four beats to the bar, with a feel of "Hump-ty Dump-ty Hump-ty Dump-ty", ending with "Hump-ty Dump-ty Hump-ty Dump-ty  Pom, Pom, Pom."

March: does not necessarily have the feel of a "military" march - but has an even feel and an even number of beats, eg. "Double Decker Double Decker". 

The Rant rhythm is explained in further detail in the page for Harrison's Rant.

The tape loops found amongst Robson Booth's effects (known as The Viola Loops) contain recordings that may have been used to accompany performances of some of these tunes.  Viola Loop Page.