I’ve been playing and talking music with Becky since this pandemic started. From our initial conversations it was clear that she had wanted to go deeper into her music and wanted to achieve greater expression. On this recording Becky puts her musical discoveries on display, playing lots of beautiful tunes with genuine authentic feeling and expression.
Sometimes a debut album comes out when you’re a giddy teenager who’s barely paid their dues. Sometimes, however, it’s worth waiting, and paying and re-paying those dues. Such is the case with Becky Dellow’s debut album, Take Her Out and Air Her, recorded at Lukas Drinkwater’s Polyphonic Studio in Stroud, Gloucestershire in the spring of 2021 and due for release on November 15th 2021.
Becky has played fiddle at a semi-professional level with numerous bands on the folk scene for the past three decades, recorded with Rabbi John in the early 2000s for their debut album, and co-created poetry and music shows for the Laurie Lee centenary and more, but it has taken until now for her to decide to release her own album.
The impetus to record her debut album came from a tripartite collection of influences, the first of which was Becky picking up her fiddle and fully rekindling her love of the instrument after several years dedicated to raising a family.
The second when Becky decided to seek mentorship from two of the folk scene’s most highly regarded fiddle players, Martin Hayes and Sam Sweeney, during the 2020 lockdown.
Thirdly, she met Lukas Drinkwater while recording an audiobook with poet Adam Horovitz (with whom she has collaborated on several projects including The Thunder Mutters, a podcast celebrating the poetry and music of John Clare).
“Take Her Out and Air Her is a culmination of the influences on my playing of Martin Hayes and Sam Sweeney,” says Becky. “I am still studying the fiddle with Martin and, using his expertise and guidance, have learned to allow my own musical voice to develop.”
“Lukas Drinkwater has been an ideal studio partner, too – it would have been tricky, recording in lockdown, to get in more session musicians, so Lukas took on the roles of guitarist and bass player, as well as being the album’s joint producer. He was fantastic to work with – always sympathetic to my vision for the album, but expertly adding nuance and experience to enhance it.”
Take Her Out and Air Her has a melancholic but hopeful feel, particularly appropriate as one of the things that brought Becky back to music, and out of the worst stages of grief after the unexpected and tragic death of her mother, was the unexpected offer of a gig.
“Given that the album was recorded in the midst of lockdown, some of the strangest times we have lived through in living memory,” says Becky, “I hope that the melancholy-but-optimistic air of the album will resonate with people.”
Appropriately, Becky is also joined by her daughter Milly on vocals for two tracks, ‘False, False’ and ‘Parting Glass’. “The collaboration with Milly has very much kept me looking forward on this album,” adds Becky, who also commissioned Milly to do the lino print design for the album artwork.
Becky has always loved a good tune but is particularly driven by those which move one in a darker, melancholic way, pulling at your soul, as well as those which lift up the listener with a deep but nuanced rhythm. Undeniably drawn more naturally to melodies and rhythms heard most in music from Ireland, Becky’s love of a good melody knows no borders and she embraces tunes from all traditions and ages.
Take Her Out and Air Her may be a move away from the rip-roaring, fast-paced stomping Irish reels of Becky’s youth, but it is a move to a more nuanced, soulful style of playing with intricate arrangements and an indefinable lightness and subtle, more focused rhythmic drive. As debut albums go, it was definitely worth the wait.
Take Her Out and Air Her is released on 15th November 2021 and is available to buy from Bandcamp or by contacting Becky directly through her website. A launch is planned at The Prince Albert on 15th November where Becky will be accompanied by Kit Hawes
Becky Dellow is a fiddle player and musicologist from Gloucestershire who comes from a paternal line of English fiddle players going back at least to her great-great-Grandfather, Thomas Hampton, (b1844), whose handwritten fiddle tunebook inspires Becky’s research and repertoire.
She is currently a pupil of Martin Hayes, and has played in many bands, appearing nationally at festivals, folk-clubs and pubs, recording with Ed Boyd and Lukas Drinkwater, and supporting Eliza Carthy, Steve Tilston and Ric Sanders. She regularly collaborates with poet, Adam Horovitz, whose recent productions have been sell-out successes. During the 2020 pandemic, Becky and Adam collaborated online, producing a monthly podcast based on the poet and fiddler John Clare, called ‘The Thunder Mutters’.
Becky graduated with a BA (Hons) in Music from Nottingham University, an MA in Musicology from Bristol University, researching tunes from John Playford’s 1651 ‘English Dancing Master’, and in 2018 was awarded a PhD in Musicology from the University of Sheffield, under the supervision of Dr Fay Hield. Her research was in part focussed on the tunes of her fiddle playing great great-grandfather, Thomas Hampton. In parallel with her performance career, Becky continues her musicological research and has had several articles published in academic journals, presents papers at conferences and has contributed a chapter in the recent Routledge Companion to English Folk Performance.
The album title comes from the first track, a tune Becky became acquainted with through a paper given at the 2020 Traditional Tunes and Popular Airs academic conference which she helped to organise. The tune was a traditional tune used by Stanford and Grainger in their 1905 composition ‘Four Irish Dances’. Not only is it a cracking tune, but the title resonated with Becky as she re-kindled her love for fiddle playing.
Becky played folk tunes with her father and grandfather alongside a classical musical education culminating in performance up to degree level and continuing to a Masters degree in musicology and a PhD in Musicology. Her research focussed on the tunes of her fiddle playing great great-grandfather, Thomas Hampton.
Apart from one track (Steppy Down Roads composed by Sam Sweeney), and one of her own compositions, (Ruskin Mill), this album is made up of traditional tunes. Becky wanted the album to express her own musical soul and showcase her own arrangements rather than be a facsimile of a tune-up pub session. The adaptations she plays are sometimes as learnt by Becky from Martin Hayes, (eg. Sailor’s Bonnet), but mostly variations written by her, where the melody takes the forefront, supported by layers of strings or piano, arranged and played by Becky and guitar and/or double bass parts arranged and played by Lukas Drinkwater.
Becky’s playing also draws on the playing of other musicians such as Liz Carroll, James Kelly, John McCusker, Alistair Fraser as well as older musicians such as Tommie Potts Tommy Peoples, PJ Hayes and Paddy Canny.
Rolling Wave – My Love is in America Becky learnt these traditional tunes from the playing of The Gloaming and Martin Hayes but gives them different treatment. The first she takes slower and adds a leitmotif played on guitar, running through to represent a rolling wave. Then the mood changes as Becky moves into a lighter, more upbeat feel with My Love Is In America.
Garden of Butterflies This beautiful tune is another choice influenced by Martin’s repertoire. Becky first heard it many years ago on The Lonesome Touch album where it is hidden as part of a long medley. She loved this tune especially and felt it was strong enough to stand alone so has created a gentle, haunting string arrangement to complement its beauty.
Take Her Out and Air Her –Broken Pledge This is the title track which Becky sought out after hearing about Stanford and Grainger’s 1905 arrangements at a Traditional Tunes conference, followed by Broken Pledge, a long-standing favourite of Becky’s for its drive and rhythmic groove.
False False Becky and Lukas are joined by one of Becky’s daughters, Milly, on vocals to sing on their arrangement of this beautiful traditional song, made famous by Cara Dillon and collected by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seegar in 1962 from traveller, Christina MacAllister.
My Mind Will Never Be Easy – Booley House – A beautiful traditional tune which Becky first heard played by the Martin Hayes Quartet. Becky’s arrangement of layered strings and piano adds an unsettled and tentative feel, and Becky finds this a hauntingly moving tune to play and is another of her favourites. This segues into a gentle jig, called The Booley House, named by Martin Hayes after he found the tune, un-named in an old tune manuscript. Becky learnt the tune from the playing of The Gloaming and arranged it with strings only, simply but effectively to lead the listener from the melancholic first tune to one with slight, gentle optimism.
Breast of Glass – Steppy Downs Road A contrast of old and new here as Becky found Breast of Glass in The Petrie Collection of the Ancient Music of Ireland. George Petrie’s collection was published in 1855, by which time the tune was already considered as ancient. Its beautiful, mournful melancholic melody is balanced by the gorgeous gently uplifting tune, Steppy Downs Road, written by Sam Sweeney and inspired by a Cornish street with that name and featured on his 2020 album Unearth Repeat. Becky’s arrangement of the tune weaves string parts together inspired by her time spent at masterclasses with the Allegri String Quartet during her under-graduate days.
Tom Billy’s – Sailor’s Bonnet A traditional Irish tune, Tom Billy’s has been in Becky’s repertoire for over 30 years, learnt when she was a member of the school folk dance band, albeit now played with a bit more swing and delicacy. Becky lets the tune develop, the rhythm and melody venturing into new shapes. She follows this with another traditional Irish tune, The Sailor’s Bonnet, playing variations taught to her by Martin Hayes.
The Parting Glass – This traditional song, thought to be of Scottish origin, starts as an arrangement of three fiddles, inspired by The Wailin’ Jennies vocal version, and finishes with an acapella verse sung by Milly Dellow.
Ruskin Mill – Determined not to allow her daughter to have the last word, Becky rounds off the album with a short, solo rendition of her own composition, written in 2015 whilst on a course run by The English Acoustic Collective.
Finally I have recorded my first solo album…’Take Her Out and Air Her’ due out in the Spring of 2021. Recording is all finished and just the mixing, mastering and marketing to go!
Recorded at Polyphonic Studios in Stroud, UK under the expertise of Lukas Drinkwater, the album is a culmination of the influences of Martin Hayes and Sam Sweeney, both of whom mentored me throughout the summer of 2020.
I continue to study the fiddle with Martin Hayes, and using his expertise and guidance I am trying to allow my own musical voice to develop through my fiddle playing.
The album title comes from the title of the first track and resonates with rekindling my love for fiddle playing.
I’m delighted (and relieved!) to announce that I passed my viva in October 2018 and have been awarded a PhD in Musicology. It’s odd to be Dr Dellow, and even stranger to be without the three 19th century men to whom I’d grown so close. Hopefully the new year will bring new projects and research, and maybe even a job!
My fiddle playing and research joined forces in November 2018 when Rob Harbron recorded me playing some of the tunes from Thomas Hampton’s tunebook, including one on Thomas’ actual fiddle. Audio files to be uploaded shortly…
2019 also brings the 2nd ‘Traditional Tunes and Popular Airs’ conference to be held at the University of Sheffield in June, which I am helping Dr Julia Bishop to organise. (see facebook page for more details).