David Ingram sends some thoughts on the Gille Callum story published in our June 2015 issue

I thought I should take up my pen in response to your request for letters for the “common stock”.  I was particularly interested in the letter about sword dances - having in the past been a member of a Morris team who performed a longsword dance at Christmas inside various pubs.  While most of the existing “english" longsword dances were recorded in North and East Yorkshire there are several including the Papa Stour dance (from Shetland) which were not.  Some folklorists now think that longsword dances were originally performed by Vikings and spread along the North Sea coasts of the UK and Europe.  Although commonly called sword dances most are performed using tools for mending fishing nets or for making steel.  Indeed, coal miners in North East England started using pit pony cleaning tools and developed the rapper dance, which was performed under very strict competition rules.  So while there are some similarities between the Scottish dance described in the article and the “English Longsword” many Morris dance traditions include death and resurrection, as do nearly all mummers plays (to open another Christmas tide can of worms).
From the piping point of view many dances are to sets of hornpipes and jigs though my own team danced to a set of double time marches. For example the well know North Skelton dance uses the tunes “Lass of Dallogill”, “The Oyster Girl” and “The Keel Row”.  Whilst the first two are in the piping range, the Keel Row would need some work. I have heard some rapper teams performing to accompaniment on Northumbrian small pipes but would like to hear members views on suitable (and hopefully fairly easy) borders tunes for the Scottish small pipes which might be used.  Perhaps the LBPS could introduce a competition category of playing for dance.

David Ingram

Ed: From my experience of playing fiddle for the Grenoside Sword Dance in Sheffield in the mid-1970’s I can supply two well-known border tunes that are used at Grenoside, as they were when Cecil Sharp visited at the beginning of the 20th century. The opening figure is danced to ‘Drops of Brandy’ and the second figure to ‘Roxburgh Castle’. The latter was printed in the EFDS collection ‘Sword and Ceremony’ as a ‘broken time hornpipe’, but is danced today to the tune played without the ‘dotted’ notes.

Roxburgh Castle (at Grenoside the last two bars are played as an introduction, after the Drops of Brandy)