The 20thcentury traditional music revival in the British Isles was a complex phenomenon which involved more than just the simple rediscovery and promotion of neglected music and song. The viewpoints of key individuals influenced the scope and direction of the revival, and shaped perceptions of the sources of the revived music and how it might be regarded.
However, when considering Peacock’s Tunes, we can always return the words of his contemporary, Thomas Bewick, who wrote, “... with his old tunes, his lilts, his pauses and his variations, I was always excessively pleased”. Bewick’s words are a contemporary statement about Peacocks playing yet remain as relevant today as when he wrote them - the tunes of John Peacock can still give excessive pleasure.
Little is known of the man himself and even the nature of his connection with William Wright and the book that is now often called “Peacock’s Tunes” is uncertain. It is sufficient to state here that Peacock was known in his lifetime as a supremely skilled and musical piper, that he helped to develop the keyed chanter, and that he made a significant contribution to the book published by William Wright. He was part of a piping lineage that included William Cant, ‘Old’ Will Lamshaw and William Green, and in turn he taught Robert Bewick. Compositions by him for this instrument are still played, and his variations embody the traditional manner in which pipers ornamented their melodies. Despite his musical prowess he probably died in poverty but the book now known as “Peacock’s Tunes” remains central to Northumbrian piping lore. It is an important legacy.
Despite the impressive frontispiece in the original publication, which is from the workshop of Thomas Bewick, examination of an original copy reveals that the quality of music printing is no match for Bewick’s work. Working through printing ambiguities, owners annotations and subsequent editorial amendments can be confusing, and reading a facsimile of an 18th century document is not easy for players accustomed to modern notation. This edition, based on a photographic facsimile of an original copy, offers an authentic text in modern notation with all unavoidable editorial choices clearly marked. The text is supplemented with details from the Theme Code Index to help put the tunes into an historical and musical context.
Reading this urtext alongside previous editions and commentaries enables the reader or player to explore Wrights tune book and Peacock’s music by starting at a similar point of understanding as somebody purchasing a copy from Mr. Wright at his music shop in High Bridge - and that is both instructive and worthwhile.