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Welcome to The Traditional Tune Archive
    The Semantic Index of North American, British and Irish
 traditional instrumental music with annotations, formerly known as
                          The Fiddler's Companion.

41,344 Tunes by title with Annotations

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January 18 2020  Featured tune:     DE'IL AMONG THE TAYLORS
January 18 2020  Featured tune:     DE'IL AMONG THE TAYLORS

The Keel Row
Played by: Edric Ellis
From: St Ives
Source: Soundcloud

John Stokoe and John Collingwood Bruce (1882) devote a note to the tune claiming Northumbrian authorship for "The Keel Row," an extremely popular tune in its time (in both Scotland and Northumberland) and "the best known and most popular of all Northumbrian lyrics." He refutes assertions that the tune is Scotch (a provenance often credited), citing the following:

1) the 'keel' is a vessel which is only known on the rivers Tyne and Wear (Kidson points out however that 'keel' is an old Saxon word and has been used in Scotland as well as Newcastle);

2) In the collection of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle is a MS Book of Tunes, dated 1774, in which the tune appeared exactly as it did in Stoke's time;

3) Joseph Ritson, once a celebrated antiquary, included it in his collection of old songs, 'The Northumberland Garland,' published 1793 (a garland is a of eight to sixteen tunes).

Stokoe and Bruce point out that these dates are anterior to the appearance of the song in any Scottish collection, having found that Cromek inserted it in his Remains of Nithsdale and Galloway Song, 1810, where it is labelled a "popular bridal tune in Scotland" and set to a Jacobite song called "As I came down the Cannongate." (Stokoe also says that Allan Cunningham, in his Songs of Scotland, 1825, asserts that Cromek's version is imperfect, "and gives another, which is simply a protracted paraphrase of the original song, with the word 'keel' entirely omitted {except in the title}, the word 'shallop' being substituted"—Kidson sees this same song as a copy of the older Jacobite lyric.) Although taking no sides in the debate, Kidson (1890) does find the melody under the "Keel Row" title in an early Scottish edition which predates the Northumbrian printings, in Neil Stewart's c. 1770 A Collection of favourite Scots' Tunes, with Variations for the Violoncello or Harpsichord, by the late Charles McLean, and other eminent masters (Edinburgh).

As I cam thro' Sandgate, thro' Sandgate, thro' Sandgate;
As I cam thro' Sandgate I heard a lassie sing:
Weel may the keel row, the keel row, the keel row;
Weel may the keel row that my laddie's (truelove's) in.
Weel may the keel row, &c. .... (Stokoe & Bruce)

The tune was contained in the Northumbrian music manuscript collection of John Smith, dated 1752, unfortunately now lost. The contents were copied by 19th century folk-music collector John Stokoe in 1887, when the manuscript was in the possession of Lewis Proudlock. Stokoe's volume Northumbrian Minstrelsy had been printed five year prior, and his interest in Smith’s ms. demonstrates Stokoe's continuing commitment to older Northumbrian music. Researcher and Northumbrian piper Matt Seattle notes that this is the earliest known version of "Keel Row." Northumbrian musician John Bell (1783-1864) entered the tune and words into his c. 1812 music manuscript collection. In his annotations to the tune on the FARNE site [1] researcher Matt Seattle explains that the Sandgate area was a riverside of Newcastle and took its name from an old city gate on the route between Newcastle and Shields. It was a densely populated area, primarily by those laboring classes whose livelihood was with the river traffic. The 'row' in Keel Row refers to the giant oar used by keelmen when faced with poor wind or an adverse tide, says Matt.

...more at: The Keel Row - full Score(s) and Annotations

X:5 T:The Keel Row with Variations M:2/4 L:1/8 R:Country Dance B:Köhlers’ Violin Repository Part 3 (1885, p. 281) Z:AK/Fiddler’s Companion K:G dc|B2 GB|c2 Ac|B2 GB|AFDc|B2 GB|c2 Ac|BGAF|G2:| |:dc|Bddg|e2 dc |B2 GB|AFDc|Bddg|e2 dc|BGAF|G2:| |:dc|BdGB|ceAc|BdGB|AFDc|BdGB|ceAc|BGAF|G2:| |:dc|Bdgf|edcB|cBAG|FAAc|BDgf|edcB|BGAF|G2:| |:dc|(3Bcd (3GAB|(3cde (3ABc|(3Bcd (3GAB|(3FAd (3DFA| (3Bcd (3GAB|(3cde (3ABc|(3Bed (3cBA|G2:| |:d'c'|b2 gb|c'2 ac'|b2 gb|afdc'|b2 gb|c'2 ac'|bgaf|g2:| |:d'c'|bd' d'g'|e'2 d'c'|b2 gb|afdc'|bd' d'g'|e'2 d'c'|bgaf|g2:| |:dc|B2 GB|c2 Ac|B2 GB|AFDc|B2 GB|c2 Ac|BGAF|G2:|]

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Who Builds The Archive
Who Builds The Archive

Although we are not trained musicologists and make no pretense to the profession, we have tried to apply such professional rigors to this Semantic Abc Web as we have internalized through our own formal and informal education.
This demands the gathering of as much information as possible about folk pieces to attempt to trace tune families, determine origins, influences and patterns of aural/oral transmittal, and to study individual and regional styles of performance.
Many musicians, like ourselves, are simply curious about titles, origins, sources and anecdotes regarding the music they play. Who, for example, can resist the urge to know where the title Blowzabella came from or what it means, or speculating on the motivations for naming a perfectly respectable tune Bloody Oul' Hag, is it Tay Ye Want?
Knowing the history of the melody we play, or at least to have a sense of its historical and social context, makes the tune 'present' in the here and now, and enhances our rendering of it.
Andrew Kuntz & Valerio Pelliccioni

Please register as a user to make the most of the many functions of the TTA, and enjoy the many ways that information about traditional tunes can be elicited and combined, from simple to complex situations. Users may make contributions, which, when reviewed by an editor, become part of this community project. Serious user/contributors may become editors through the TTA's autopromotion process, in which quantity and quality of entries allows increased levels of permission to edit and review the entire index.
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Help Getting started


Navigation: Registered users can navigate the Traditional Tune Archive for information in a number of ways.

  • Search. The Search function is located at the top right, and can be used to search the entire index for any key word. See Search help pages
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  • Query the Archive. The “Query the Archive” function under “The Archive” in the sidebar can be used to draw down reports from the TTA in either in single items or in a number of combinations. One might, for example, use a single item query to run a report in the TTA for a particular composer/core source. Clicking on the arrow at the right of the bar draws down a list of composer/core sources, or one may be typed in. For example, clicking on “Bill Pigg” and then the “Run Query” tab at the bottom left will result in a list of all compositions listed in the TTA that the Northumbrian piper either composed or is the core source for. Reports may also be run in combinations, as, for example, by selecting “William Marshall” as a composer/core source, “Three Flats” for the number of accidentals, and “Major” for the Key/Mode. This will result in a report of all Eb Major compositions of Scottish fiddler/composer William Marshall that are indexed in the TTA.
  • Tune Books/Magazines in the TTA can be accessed under “Publications” in the left side bar. These are reproductions of publications for which access has been granted to the TTA by the copyright holder, under the Creative Commons license.