Willy Taylor (January 5, 1916 - November 2, 2000) was a noted traditional fiddler from northern Northumberland. Note: on his album 'Welcome to the Dene' his name is spelt Willie
He was born on Lilburn Tower Farm near Wooler, and went to school in nearby Chatton. For all his working life, he was a shepherd in the Cheviot Hills. From childhood, until the 1990s, he was very active and influential in traditional music circles, on both sides of the Border. This continued well after his retirement.
His was a musical family, with five of his uncles playing the fiddle; one of them, Geordie Armstrong, in Willy's later opinion, was one of the best players around. Geordie Armstrong played in a band with Jack Jobson, who gave Willy lessons in playing the fiddle, though Willy hated this at first. The lessons stopped when Jack Jobson 'got the religious bug'. Willy's mother and elder brother played the melodeon, and Willy also learned this, playing by ear on his mother's instrument. When he was fifteen, he lost the first finger of his left hand while slicing turnips for sheep, giving up the fiddle lessons, though his father continued to encourage him in music. He tried the piano accordion, mandolin and concertina as well as the melodeon. At the age of 18, he was working at Low Bleakhope Farm, while Geordie Armstrong, the fiddler, worked nearby at High Bleakhope. About this time, he picked up the fiddle again, though without formal lessons, and was playing with other musicians, including his cousin Will Atkinson and another fiddler, Archie Bertram, by the 1930s.
He won competitions at Northumbrian Gatherings in the early 1950s, and he was recorded by Peter Kennedy for the BBC in 1954 playing both fiddle and melodeon; these recordings already show a great musicality and powerful sense of rhythm. They were recently re-released by Topic, together with later recordings, on Ranting and Reeling, Topic TSCD 669.
In later life, he was very active in traditional music on both sides of the border - he was a founder member of the Border Strathspey and Reel Society, based at Langholm in Dumfriesshire. He was also one of the leading members of the Alnwick Pipers' Society, who published several of his compositions in their two tunebooks. In 1983, he recorded the classic Harthope Burn MWM 1031, with the 'moothie' (mouth organ) player Will Atkinson and the piper Joe Hutton. This group, known as The Shepherds, travelled widely, playing at clubs and folk festivals, across the whole of Britain. They also made some broadcasts, often with Alistair Anderson, the English concertina player. After his retirement from farming, he made a solo record Welcome to the Dene, CGR 008. Some recordings of his club performances, solo and with The Shepherds, are available on the FARNE archive.
Partial list of compositions:
Like many traditional musicians, he composed several fine tunes, which are widely played by musicians in Northumberland and elsewhere. Most are named after members of his extended family. The Dene refers to Middleton Dene, the last farm he worked before his retirement.
The Pearl Wedding (reel),
Nancy Taylor's Reel,
Snowy Monday (jig),
The Shining Pool (hornpipe),
Neil Taylor's Jig,
Christine Taylor's Jig,
Kerry's Welcome to The Dene (6/8 March),
Farewell to the Dene (schottiche),
Ranting and Reeling Topic TSCD 669 (1954, 1991),
Harthope Burn MWM Records 1031 (1983),
Welcome to the Dene Common Ground CGR 008 (1990),
Northumberland Rant Smithsonian Folkways SFW CD 40473 (1986, 1994, 1996)
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license