Dick Miles LivingTradition
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Dick Miles LivingTradition

The Sandman 08 Feb 18 - 02:40 PM
GUEST,Malcolm Storey 08 Feb 18 - 05:23 PM
r.padgett 09 Feb 18 - 03:30 AM
The Sandman 11 Feb 18 - 05:26 PM
The Sandman 13 Feb 18 - 03:50 PM
GUEST,Cj 13 Feb 18 - 05:21 PM
Will Fly 14 Feb 18 - 03:47 AM
The Sandman 14 Feb 18 - 03:45 PM
Steve Gardham 15 Feb 18 - 09:24 AM
FreddyHeadey 17 Feb 18 - 04:38 PM
The Sandman 17 Feb 18 - 04:52 PM
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Subject: Dick Miles LivingTradition
From: The Sandman
Date: 08 Feb 18 - 02:40 PM

Article in this current edition, plus mention of Fastnet Maritime Festival, june 15 17 2018., tis years guests include Steve Turner Martin Carthy, Tom Lewis.RosieStewart, Andrew Mackay and Carole Etherton, RoisinWhite, and many more

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Subject: RE: Dick Miles LivingTradition
From: GUEST,Malcolm Storey
Date: 08 Feb 18 - 05:23 PM

So that's why Roisin is learning shanties!?

Looks a great lineup Dick - all the best with it.

I will read about you and your secret life in Ireland when we get back from Oz.

Keep well

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Subject: RE: Dick Miles LivingTradition
From: r.padgett
Date: 09 Feb 18 - 03:30 AM

Great articles in LT Dick ~ yours and Andrew and Carole ~ Tom Lewis also in LT not too long ago!

Have a good 'un


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Subject: RE: Dick Miles LivingTradition
From: The Sandman
Date: 11 Feb 18 - 05:26 PM

thanks Ray and Malcolm

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Subject: RE: Dick Miles LivingTradition
From: The Sandman
Date: 13 Feb 18 - 03:50 PM

Dick Miles

From playing in a concertina quartet in East Anglia to running a folk and maritime festival in Ireland, Dick Miles remembers the highlights of a long and varied career on the UK folk scene.

I was born in Blackheath on the London-Kent border in 1951, and lived there for 10 years until I moved out to a small village in Kent, not far from Biggin Hill. Technically, I think I’m a Kentish man.

I remember my grandfather played the fiddle – his family had been travellers. And my father used to like playing jazz piano. My mother used to sing, and was very keen on folk songs. I had an older half-brother, who encouraged myself and one of my other brothers to play guitar. This was during the skiffle era – I would have been about seven or eight – and he got us started playing American folk songs like ‘Polly-Wolly-Doodle’, often songs with just two chords. So I got started on playing guitar, and I became very interested in American blues and folk songs.

However, at the same time, the other influence I’d heard was the concertina playing of Alf Edwards accompanying Bert Lloyd. My parents were in the Communist Party and knew A L Lloyd. He lived in Greenwich, not far from where we lived – just in the next borough in London. He sang folk songs from the British Isles accompanied by Alf Edwards on the concertina, and I suppose that must have got into my memory by osmosis from a fairly early age.

The guitar was my first instrument. After that, I used to practise for hours on end with the snare drum, which must have driven my mother mad. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, it actually gave me very good left-right coordination. That’s exactly what you need for the system of concertina that I play, the English concertina.

How I came to play the concertina is an unusual story. I went down to a folk club in Kent, not far from where I was living at the time, and there was a very helpful resident organiser there called Pete Hicks who ran the Farningham folk club. I’d bought this guitar in a newsagents window for about six pounds, which was quite a lot in those days. I’d got there early and I said to him that I had a lot of trouble tuning this guitar. He looked at me and tried to tune it, and he said “I’m not surprised, because it’s a left-handed guitar that’s been strung up right-handed.” So I’d been sold a pup.

Shortly after that, I’d seen someone playing the concertina, and I thought, “Well, there’s an instrument where I don’t have to worry if it’s left-handed or right-handed, or what tuning it is.” I went and found the last concertina-maker that was left at that time, called Neville Crabb. He operated in Liverpool Road, Islington and played the duet concertina himself. He said to me “What do you want to do?” I didn’t know much about concertinas except that I liked the sound, and I said, “I’d like a dual-purpose instrument that can be used for song accompaniment and also play tunes.” He recommended the English concertina even though he played the duet, and that’s how I ended up playing the English concertina.

I had to wait nine months for the concertina to be made, after I put a deposit down. Then the day came, and it was so exciting, because I was beginning to wonder whether my concertina was ever going to happen, and whether I’d wasted my money. When I got the phone call, I rushed up to Islington and bought the concertina, and I’ve been playing it incessantly ever since.

The very first gig I played was at Kingston-on-Thames, in a really good folk club at The Fighting Cocks. The place was full. I think I was only just learning the concertina at this time. At my very first gig I sang totally unaccompanied and unbeknown to me there were some very good singers in the audience – Jim Mageean and Annie Fentiman were there. They all joined in the choruses and it was a memorable first start because there must have been fifty or sixty people in this fairly small place, and when I sang choruses they all joined in and sang better than me!

I started playing in a duo with my then wife Sue. We played concertina and clarinet, which was unusual at that time. She was from East Anglia, where we lived, and we included traditional songs and legends from that area in our repertoire.

I was travelling all over the country, and I did a gig in Sheffield at a folk club called The Grapes. It was to a packed house – I think they were actually turning people away at the door. Nigel Pickles, a Yorkshireman living in that area who played the concertina, was in the audience. He approached me and said “I’ve bought all these instruments that belonged to the Mexborough Concertina Band that played brass band type music on concertinas, and one of the agreements I made when I bought the concertina was that we would play the music.”

He moved shortly afterwards to East Anglia, where I was living, and asked me whether I would like to play this kind of music. I said yes, and that was the beginning of the New Mexborough English Concertina Quartet. This was the kind of music that was very popular on the concertina in the period between 1900 and the 1930s. It was the popular music of the day – brass band type music – arranged for different sizes of concertina: bass, baritone, tenor and two trebles. I thought, “Well, I’ll give it a go.” It worked out very well.

We played at a festival at Kendall that was always memorable to me because we used to play a tune called ‘The Liberty Bell’, which was the theme tune to Monty Python. This was arranged very carefully for four concertinas. There was an introduction, and the second treble played a terrible bum note. We were sufficiently professional that we all just stopped after the end of the musical phrase, and none of us looked at the offending person. Nigel Pickles, with a poker face, said “I think we’ll do that again,” and the audience thought we’d done it deliberately. So we did it again, and did it perfectly. Afterwards I said to the guy who had played the bum note, “How did you manage to not do it again?” And he said, “Well, I just left the note out.”

We also played at Wath-upon-Dearne, which is near Mexborough, in Yorkshire. There were some of the original band members still alive, who knew the music intimately. One of their friends, who had also been a band member, had just died. Before the start of the performance we had a minute’s silence, which was a great start to a concert. But what was really fascinating is that they knew the music so well that one of them came up and said to one of us, “When you were playing the triplets in bar 36, you were playing it with one finger, when really you should be cross-fingering so that you get a smoother reiteration of notes.” That’s how familiar they were with the music – but we passed the test.

We played in folk clubs, in libraries, town halls and arts centres. I was the frontman, so I introduced the songs. We sang some music-hall type songs like ‘I Took My Harp To A Party’. We had a good time, and we were very well-received. We used to dress up in black velvet suits with bow ties and starched collars. We looked quite impressive, and very different from most of the people on the folk scene.

When I started the concertina, I had lessons from Frank Butler, whose family had been involved in concertina-making – the Jones company. He was in his late sixties and I was in my twenties, with long hair and a long beard, looking a bit like a hippy. We got on ok, and he was quite complimentary to me about my playing, but he’d come from the music halls, where presentation was very important. He said to me, “I’m really delighted that you folk people are playing the concertina, because I thought it was going to die out – and it’s wonderful to see young people playing. But you really ought to improve your presentation.” He always wore a bow tie, and was very smart when he gave me the lessons. One thing he said was, “Often I see these folk concertina players with their long hair, and they finish with their bellows open. When we were in the music halls, we always closed our bellows!’ That was considered very important. Every time now that I sing a song and I haven’t closed my bellows, I think of Frank Butler sitting up there saying “You’ve done it wrong again, Dick!”

After that I had decided to move to Nottingham, because it was in the centre of the country and very convenient for touring. I got to know a songwriter from Teesside in Yorkshire called Richard Grainger, who played the guitar and wrote lots of songs about his area. I became interested in songwriting, and he was a very good bass harmony singer who played the guitar well, which complemented the concertina. We could talk about songwriting, and we often helped each other – if either of us had written a new song, we’d show it to the other one to get an opinion. It’s a wonderful thing to have somebody’s opinion you respect about songwriting. I became a little bit better at songwriting, and started writing some songs as well as singing traditional material.

We toured together for two or three years until I decided to move to Ireland, in 1990. I’d been invited to come over to County Cork by some friends and I was so impressed and liked the place so much that I decided to move. It seemed to me at the time that the English folk scene was possibly oversubscribed with performers trying to make a living, even though I’d had no problem getting gigs because I had an unusual instrument. I was able to sell my house in Nottingham and moved to Ireland, and have managed over the last 27 years to earn a living playing in both Ireland and the UK.

I come back to the UK often. I just played at Tenterden folk festival in October 2017 for instance, and I’ll be playing at Saltburn festival in August 2018, and probably a festival on the North York Moors at the end of May 2018. I’m still doing festivals even though I could work all the time during the summer in Ireland. I’m able to do a slightly different repertoire – perhaps a more esoteric repertoire – in England than I could do in Ireland, and it’s enjoyable to see Morris dancers and some different folk music.

The music scene in Ireland different to the scene in the UK, but I’m very grateful to Luke Kelly. Because Luke Kelly was so popular, and in my opinion, had the most interesting repertoire of The Dubliners, any song that was sung by Luke Kelly can be sung successfully in pubs in Ireland. This means that some of the repertoire that I was doing in the UK before I left can still be done in Ireland – songs like ‘The Night Visiting Song’. Any song by Ewan MacColl is also accepted, because he was thought of very highly by Irish people – he wrote songs about the building of the M1, for instance, which a lot of Irish people were involved in. I find that singing songs by MacColl or Luke Kelly enables me to sing repertoire other than ‘The Wild Rover’ and ‘The Fields of Athenry’, which I would rather not have to sing.

In 2011 I set up the Fastnet Maritime and Folk Festival in Ballydehob, Co Cork. The 2018 festival will take place on June 15th-17th, and it’s an international maritime and folk festival. The aim of the festival is to encourage Irish, English, Scottish, Welsh and international music, although of course Irish traditional music features strongly because it takes place in Ireland. The idea is to try to make people aware of traditional musics from other places. We’ve had Norwegian folk choirs on two different occasions; we’ve had an American bluegrass group; we’ve had shanty singers from Wales. As much as we can, when we can afford it, we try to take an international approach.

There are some very well-established, well-known people appearing at the festival. We booked Martin Carthy in 2015 and he’s coming again in 2018. Donovan even turned up to see his old friend! This year and the year before we had Andy Irvine, who played to a packed house. In 2018 we’ll also have Tom Lewis, the well-known maritime singer, as well as Steve Turner, Chris Wilson of the Wilson Family, and Ann Alderson. This year we also had the unaccompanied sean nós singers Rosie Stewart and Róisín White, who are coming again next year. One year we had the storyteller Eddie Lenihan, who was very popular.

There’s a varied repertoire that’s geared more to the traditional, but we also have a songwriting competition sponsored by IMRO, which has been very successful, and we hope they will sponsor it again in 2018. We’re lucky to have the support of Cork County Council and Ballydehob Community Council.

Over the last five years I have reintroduced the guitar and the banjo to performances, and I find the five-string banjo is very popular in Ireland. I use five-string banjo styles like frailing to play English, Scottish, and Irish music, using the techniques of another tradition to play the traditional music of the British Isles. The introduction of the banjo I think gives more variety to performances as a whole.

I use two different American styles of guitar playing. One is the Carter Family style, which is a very good form of melody picking involving thumb melody. The other is the very opposite, the style of Mississippi John Hurt, which I’ve adapted to use for some English traditional songs. You use syncopation and play the melody off the beat. That’s something that I’ve used on the concertina – it came from the days when I was playing guitar in the style of Mississippi John Hurt. Without thinking about it, I started to do that on the concertina, playing the melody on or off the beat to make a sound like a little church organ.

I made an LP in 1985, on which Martin Carthy played the guitar, called ‘Cheating the Tide’. It’s just been re-released and I’ve added some new tracks with banjo and concertina, and one or two on guitar. Cheating the Tide is available now in CD form, rather than just in vinyl, and I’m sure I’ve got enough material to think about producing another CD fairly soon.

I’ve been very lucky health-wise, and I’m hoping to carry on playing, singing, and songwriting when I feel inspired. I intend to keep playing both in Ireland and the UK, and will be at Saltburn folk festival in August 2018. Undoubtedly there will be one or two other festivals next year, and I intend to continue playing in folk clubs for as long as I can. I’m carrying on in much the same way as I have done since 1974.

If you would like to obtain a copy of the re-released ‘Cheating the Tide’, or if any festival or folk club organiser wishes to contact me about bookings, I can be contacted on

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Subject: RE: Dick Miles LivingTradition
From: GUEST,Cj
Date: 13 Feb 18 - 05:21 PM

Nice one, Dick. Very interesting.

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Subject: RE: Dick Miles LivingTradition
From: Will Fly
Date: 14 Feb 18 - 03:47 AM

Thanks for that very detailed bio, Dick. It's always interesting to read how musicians started off playing and how they've changed and progressed over the years.

And many more of them!

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Subject: RE: Dick Miles LivingTradition
From: The Sandman
Date: 14 Feb 18 - 03:45 PM

Thankyou Will

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Subject: RE: Dick Miles LivingTradition
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 15 Feb 18 - 09:24 AM

Enjoyed reading that, Dick. Nice one!

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Subject: RE: Dick Miles LivingTradition
From: FreddyHeadey
Date: 17 Feb 18 - 04:38 PM

The New Mexborough English Concertina Quartet - The Liberty Bell on SoundCloud
including a photo of DM in black velvet suit with bow tie and starched collar! ;-)

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Subject: RE: Dick Miles LivingTradition
From: The Sandman
Date: 17 Feb 18 - 04:52 PM

yes, a long time ago,
mind you I remember one occasion I had to turn up at Towersy fesdtival for a concert with the suit and unmatching brown boots, before I left I packed my black shoes, which were not comfortable for driving, I parked my car a morris traveller in Stowmarket,, and popped out to buy a bottle of water foolishly leaving my car unlocked when i came back someone had stolen my black shoes.
Stowmarket was a sleepy suffolk town, but apparantly there was a shoe collecting kleptomaniac on the rampage, not having the money to buy another pair i had to wear my brown boots., with the black outfit. of course i was heckled by the audience but it was all good fun.

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