Folk Viola Sheet Music: About the Tunes in Midnight on Platform 16B
'Midnight on Platform 16B' is my illustrated sheet music book of original compositions, written in the tradition of folk music from the British Isles and beyond. Originally written for solo viola, I've also published transposed versions for violin and cello.
You can hear the tunes, buy the printed book or download the pdf sheet music here.
The majority of these tunes have a bit of story behind them - while not exactly program music, they've often got an association with where I was at the time of writing, or what I was thinking about or wanted to commemorate. Some of them are simply named after something because I needed a tune name, others I feel are more properly musically connected with their title. Here are the stories behind all the tunes in my tunebook, Midnight on Platform 16B.
The Flaming Torches
In my early twenties I was part of a group of friends who used to hang out together a lot in each other's houses and in pubs and music rehearsals and beyond. We were a mixture of recent music graduates and current students. One of our number - Jenny - spent a term studying in Germany, and for her birthday the rest of us got together and sent her a birthday care package, which contained useful things like Yorkshire Tea, and less useful things like a recording of a song we'd all made up on holiday but with all the words changed to "happy birthday", and my friend Peter's slightly alarming/amazing electro-acoustic remix of it.
My contribution to the package was this tune, a jig. It's designed to be easy to play on a D whistle (the instrument she was mostly playing folk music on at the time) and is named after an event she described in one of her group update emails - a festival in Heidelberg which involved a torchlight procession up a hill in the dark. The torches were the proper old-fashioned kind: big sticks that were on fire.
Jig of Slurls
I kind of regret the name of this tune. This is because it's a really, really obscure pun, and also because most people glance at it and think they're just looking at the sheet music for the traditional tune 'Jig of Slurs', which a) is one of things that the pun is a pun on; and b) they aren't, and it's nothing like that tune, and thus there are several possible problems that might thenceforth occur.
So, to put things straight: a SLURL is a location from the online world Second Life. It is a combination of the initials of Second Life (SL) and URL (Uniform Resource Locator, more commonly known as a web address). In 2008 I thought it would be hilarious to write a tune called 'Jig of Slurls' because only people who played traditional folk music and were also on Second Life would get the joke. Nobody has ever got the joke.
This one is one of the ones that isn't very deeply associated with the tune - I'd just written a new jig, and I really like the sound of the word 'scree' and it was knocking around my head that day. That's all.
The Falls of Cruachan
In contrast to the the previous tune, this jig was quite literally composed on location: halfway up a hill near the Falls of Cruachan in the West Highlands, I was too hot, and went to cool off by sitting next to a stream under some trees, with my feet in the water. I had a tin whistle in my bag and I played it for a bit while cooling down, and came up with this melody. Fortunately I also had a bit of paper and a pen in my bag so I could write it down.
This tune is named after an occasion when I was part of a group of people who probably annoyed our fellow passengers on a tram in Sheffield a very long time ago. We were playing instruments at the tram stop, and when the tram arrived at around midnight, we got on it and continued to play the instruments until we got off (at Langsett). None of the other passengers said anything at all. I retroactively apologise for the disturbance, People Who Were On That Tram.
Audierne is a fishing town in Brittany. When I was sixteen I went on a family holiday to a cottage near to the town, and took my viola with me. I composed this tune while standing in a field near the cottage, because my aunt had a headache and said that if I was going to play the viola then that was where I was to do it. I've played this tune with a lot of different bands over the years and recorded several versions of it. The original, full length version is more complex than a standard folk tune as it has unconventional repeats and a middle section that doesn't adhere to the (e.g.) A/B or A/B/C format of a folk dance tune. However, I also adapted the tune into a standard 32 bar jig form, so that it could be used for dancing. Both versions appear in the book.
Hunting the Off License
Another jig. This one is named after a gig in 2002 in a town called Stocksfield. A concertina player I was in a band with went missing just before the gig for quite a long time. He'd said he was going to fetch beer. He didn't find any because, as he discovered, there was no off-license in Stocksfield. It isn't a very interesting story, to be honest.
Trip to Heligoland
The last tune in the jigs section of the book. Someone reminiscing to me about listening to Shipping Forecast as a child told me his favourite place on it was 'Heligoland', but that had now been renamed as 'German Bight'. German Bight isn't as a good a name as Heligoland, we agreed.
The Milk White Turbot
A three-two hornpipe. I think this was something to do with a 2am conversation at a folk festival which involved replacing words in traditional folk songs with species of fish, but my memory is reassuringly hazy. (My misspent youth: was Probably A Bit Weird.)
The Granville Hornpipe
I lived in a street called Granville Terrace for a while. I was sitting in my house in Granville Terrace when I wote this three-two hornpipe. And I hadn't named anything after that street yet, so that happened.
The Ice Sculptor
This tune was written as the instrumental section for a song of the same name, but since it works as a standalone tune I've included it in the book.
The Last Shoe Shop in Camden
I went on a shoe-shopping trip with my friend in Camden in 2001 or so. She did not find any shoes she liked in any of the shops until the very last one we went in, which would actually have been the first one we went in but at the start of the trip she thought it looked a bit dodgy, so we didn't. I named this three-two hornpipe after this incident so that she would be reminded of it forever. Which was uncalled for, to be honest. Sorry Jane.
Hole in the Knee
Named after the condition of the jeans I was wearing when I wrote the tune. No, not very significant.
I Thought it was an Antelope
From a train window in the distance I thought I saw an antelope. I do not know why I thought this because I was in the West Highlands of Scotland at the time. Anyway, it turned out not to be an antelope at all. It wasn't even slightly like an antelope, but I hadn't had very much sleep the previous night. It's kind of a schottischey type of tune, although it has an irregular number of bars.
The Hour After
The aforementioned bunch-of-friends (of birthday-care-package fame) used to attend a folk music session in a pub on Tuesday nights. When the pub closed and we were thrown out, we would sometimes go to a late-night café and play for an extra hour. The café had a piano in it and encouraged people to play music. The only issue was that the piano was three semitones flat, but luckily the piano player was very good at transposing on the fly. We had some very nice evenings there and I used to sometimes get entire bowls of jalapeños and just EAT THEM because I was twenty-two years old and could do that sort of thing in those days. This is a schottische which I wrote while thinking about those post-session sessions; happily we later played it at some of them.
This was originally entitled 'Ugly Betty' because a) there is a television programme called that and b) there's a traditional tune called 'Bonny Kate' and I thought it would be funny to write a tune to go with it that was called 'Ugly Betty'. But before publishing it I got scared about copyright and stuff so I changed the name. It's not as a good a name, but the tune does still go quite well with Bonny Kate. It's a march, rant or English reel.
This tune was written in two places: the beginning was written on a platform in Burley-in-Wharfedale railway station, and the end was written in a house in a village called Tilty.
Searching for Shells in Seaview
On holiday with friends in Seaview on the Isle of Wight in 2001, two of my friends got up very early in the morning and went out to collect shells on the beach. I didn't, because I was asleep. When I woke up I still didn't, because I was playing the viola. This can be used as a schottische, reel or rant.
Whisky in the Dark
I think the name of this reel may have been planned. The name was suggested as 'that would be a good name for a tune' after drinking some whisky in the dark. Then the next day I wrote it, on purpose.
Out of the Lock
Originally I was going to name this tune 'This Hand-Dryer Only Blows Out Cold Air' after a printed sign I saw an hand-dryer in Whitby Pavilion. Thankfully my friends have my back, and do let me know when I'm about to do something particularly stupid. It was re-worked from its original form while on a canal boat; the fast reel tempo is reflection on the speed of jets of water pouring out between the small gaps in a canal lock, rather than speed at which a canal boat leaves a lock (which is a lot slower).
National Express 348 Bristol to Oxford
I wrote this hornpipe during a very long bus journey. Seemed only polite to name it after the bus.
Terribly Nice Polite Cup of Tea Hornpipe
A somewhat regrettable name; it was originally going to be called the Bloody Well Sodding Hornpipe because I don't really like hornpipes. Someone told me this was too rude, and jokingly suggested the new name. I used it in an act of, like, revenge, or something, if slapping oneself in the face because someone points out you've put lipstick on your eyebrows* can also be categorised as revenge. I think, in hindsight, that I should have just got over it and called it something sensible. But there it is. I'm not going to start being revisionist about hornpipes.
*I feel I should clarify that I've never actually done this.
Sopley Mill I & II
These two tunes were composed to be played during a friend's wedding ceremony, which happened at a place called Sopley Mill. The first is a slow air; the second can be a reel or schottische.
Tumbling Over Tussocks
My mum suggested this tune name after a walk over a hill that was very tussocky, during which my cousin tripped over tussocks and fell into bogs repeatedly. It's in 9/8, can be played as a slipjig, but I think works better when treated as a slow air.
Midnight on Platform 16B
This slow waltz tune was written in Leeds railway station sometime in the early 2000s, at midnight, on Platform 16B, because I'd just missed a train and there was going to be an hour before the next one, and playing the viola seemed like a good way to pass the time. (Nobody else was there...)
The Giant's Causeway
A waltz tune I came up with and wrote down on a paper bag while on a bus coming back from a trip to the Giant's Causeway, during a youth orchestra tour in 2000.
I wrote this waltz/mazurka when I was 17, after a trip to Suffolk with some morris dancers. We visited the village of Walberswick, which had a nice beach. Not reflected in the melody is the fact that, while at the beach, most of the morris dancers decided to jump in the sea fully clothed.
Written in the back of a car, heading home from Whitby Folk Festival in the early 2000s. It works as a waltz or can be treated as a slow air.
The beginnings of this waltz tune popped into my head as I was crossing a bridge over the Ouse while walking home after a Sunday night music session at the Golden Ball in York.
On the Carpet
In Granville Terrace we had a very small living room and often quite a lot of people visiting at once. There was never enough seating for everyone, so some of us were always on the floor. I came to associate sitting on the carpet with good times and good company, and that's what the tune aims to reflect. A lot of other people seem to project an alternative meaning onto it, for some reason. It's definitely intended as a slow air - don't play it too fast!
The Farrar Street Poisoner
I shouldn't have called the tune that, because it was mean. Sorry, Catherine! This one is the first in a section of tunes in odd time signatures, and the A section changes time signature every bar.
I wrote this tune one morning, and just as I'd finished it my partner received a package in the post that contained copper wire. I decided that the name of copper ore would do for now, pending thinking of something better. Never thought of something better. Writing this tune was an exercise in staying in the same time signature all the way through, as I was going through a phase of not being able to stick with the same one. It's in 11/8 all the way through.
The First Bonfire
When I was twenty-one I thought I could handle having an allotment. It turned out I couldn't. But I tried, and one of the first things we did in it was clear up a load of sticks and things from it (it had been long-abandoned) to make a bonfire. When I went home after the bonfire I wrote this tune. It's mostly in 7/8 with bars of 3/4 at the end of each section, which isn't as complicated as it sounds on paper.
This entirely ludicrous tune title came about because one morning I asked a concertina player the time, and he replied 'ten to eleven' but I thought he said 'pillow fish'. I named a tune after this incident, and it later became the name of a duo I formed one half of. The duo spent a lot of time being asked why we were called Pillowfish, and explaining that we were named after a tune, and why the tune had been called Pillowfish. And then we were unfailingly asked whether any drugs were involved, which they weren't, unless you count a very strong cup of tea. This is mostly in 5/4 with some bars of 3/2.
Fly up the Hill
I once witnessed someone run delightly up a very steep hill in Newcastle upon receiving a kiss on the cheek from someone they had a bit of a crush on. Aww. This is one of the tunes that changes time signature almost every bar.
The Animals are in the West
These were the only words spoken in an anonymous phonecall, which was not made by me. Another rapid time-signature switcher.
This tune was first performed on a very hot night, before it had a name, and we asked the audience for tune name suggestions. Someone suggested this one because there was a shimmery heat haze in front of the stage, which made them think of desert mirages. The tune is mostly in 3/4 with occasional bursts of 5/8.