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Tarleton's Jig A Christmas programme of songs and dance music from 17th century England and Germany
5 December 2004 Blackheath Halls, London

This was an extraordinary event, and one of the very best Blackheath Sundays concerts in the 2004 season. But because there was no proper publicity, it attracted only a moderate sized audience.

Nor was there a printed programme, so we learnt nothing about the performers; hence my images, produced afterwards by the players! All of them proved themselves consummately expert multi-instrumentalists, who also sang, James Bisgood with considerable flair - I have been able to identify several of them as Musicians of The Globe Theatre.

Nor was there any interval, so people stayed in their seats (not even demanding an encore) until someone said "finito"! These things need to be organised better (q.v. also this week juice vocal ensemble at The Warehouse).

From discussion at the end, whilst the numerous instruments were being collected, it appeared that they are all busy period instrument players, well known in the movement in different groups. They have no collective website, nor individually; neither CDs, nor even a website!

From the platform, the instruments were described as the hour went along, and the items were announced, spiced with interesting background anecdotes, including a deadpan delivery of a scarifying sermon about the moral turpitude of dancing by Jeremy West, who makes the cornett look and sound easy.

Christmas carols only originated with the Victorians, who adopted earlier tunes and set them to Christmassy words; in this concert we heard some of the tunes to original words of the 17 C and before. Several of the musicians shared the linking narrations, and the whole hour and a quarter of music was integrated into a perfect sequence, in which everyone learnt a great deal about instruments as various as cittern (a twangy member of the guitar family with wire strings), the cornett and mute cornett (the latter has a built-in fixed mouthpiece), the curtal (a primitive bassoon) is twice as long as it appears, whereas the archlute (cittarone) had to be so long until overwound strings emerged as on a modern guitar. Their Flemish bagpipes were reconstructed from Brueghel pictures. The Jew's Harp had connections with James VI of Scotland, etc etc.

Tarleton's Jig certainly need to get themselves properly organised; they're not impoverished up-&-coming youngsters! This Christmas programme would make an excellent CD to attract people to Early Music and, exactly as presented in Blackheath, a captivating DVD; particularly worth while for a group which only meets together when busy engagements diaries make it possible.

They should also be invited to come again, and to give a similar concert at the Old Royal Naval College Chapel in next year's Early Music Festival at Trinity College of Music, where they would be assured of an audience of several hundreds.

© Peter Grahame Woolf