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John Kirkpatrick

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John Kirkpatrick was born August 8, 1947 in Chiswick, West London. As a child he sang in the choir and played piano. In 1959 he joined the Hammersmith Morris Men, in the second week of their existence, beginning a career-long love of folk music. In 1970 he became a regular at a folk club in the Roebuck pub in Tottenham Court Road and led the resident group, Dingle’s Chillybom Band. The club hosted a film show of Morris dancing and Ashley Hutchings turned up. It was the beginning of a long musical relationship. In 1972, John recorded his first solo album, Jump at the Sun, which included Richard Thompson on acoustic guitar. For contractual reasons Thompson had to use a pseudonym.

In 1973 Kirkpatrick moved to Shropshire and married Sue Harris. After seeing a dance team called Gloucestershire Old Spot Morris Morris Dancers he formed Shropshire Bedlams to perform local dances, in the so-called Border Morris style. In the early weeks some girls turned up and rather than have a mixed morris team, Harris took the girls aside to form Martha Rhoden’s Tuppenny Dish; both teams are still flourishing. By this time John Kirkpatrick was an expert player of melodeon, anglo concertina, and button accordion. Ashley Hutchings’ project, Battle of the Field, floundered when the Albion Country Band broke up. They had recorded not quite enough material for an album. John had appeared on several of the tracks with Martin Carthy and offered to record two extra tracks with his wife in 1973. It was not released until 1976 but is highly regarded. Harris sang and played oboe and hammered dulcimer, an unusual combination. In 1974 John Kirkpatrick and Ashley Hutchings produced a themed album, The Compleat Dancing Master, a history of English country dancing. He 1976 he teamed up with Martin Carthy for Plain Capers, a collection of morris dance tunes.

In 1977 Steeleye Span recruited both Kirkpatrick and Carthy, partly to replace fiddler Peter Knight, Kirkpatrick appearing on the albums Storm Force Ten and Live at Last; in concert with them, he would perform solo morris dances. In the same period, John released two albums as a duo with Sue Harris. John became part of Richard Thompson’s backing band in 1978. This brought him such publicity that he was in heavy demand as a session musician. He recorded with Pere Ubu, Viv Stanshall, Gerry Rafferty, Maddy Prior and others. In 1980 he released his only single, “Jogging Along With My Reindeer.” Two more albums with Sue Harris appeared in 1981, but the constant touring, as a duo and as part of other groups, was putting a strain on the marriage. They had four sons together, but parted in the mid-eighties. In 1988 he and Sue published Opus Pocus, a collection of many of their own compositions from the previous 20 years, and a selection of some of the (then) more obscure traditional English tunes which had influenced them.

In 1979 Kirkpatrick had appeared in the National Theatre Company’s stage show Lark Rise to Candleford together with Carthy and trumpeter Howard Evans. Prior to this the use of brass instruments in English folk music was a rare event, but all three had found it thrilling and a couple of years later formed Brass Monkey with Martin Brinsford from the Old Swan Band. The group is an occasional gathering rather than a fixed company. Roy Bailey, like Leon Rosselson has frequently recorded songs of social commentary, frequently on an anti-war theme. John has made several records with Roy Bailey, as well as in a group called Band of Hope. He recorded with Frankie Armstrong in 1996 and 1997. They share a love of early English ballads.

In 1997 John decided to front his own “rock-folk” band, and put together a line-up consisting of Graeme Taylor (guitar, electric guitar, banjo, mandolin – ex-Gryphon, Albion Band and Home Service), Mike Gregory (drums, percussion – ex-Albion Band, Home Service), Dave Berry (electric bass, double bass, tuba) and Paul Burgess (fiddle, recorders - from the Old Swan Band). They made two albums: a live album, Force Of Habit, containing many of John’s arrangements of Morris tunes, plus other material from his back catalogue, plus a studio album, Welcome to Hell, featuring new material.

Since 1993 John has recorded seven solo albums. He often unearths obscure English tunes and songs from folk ceremonies. Recently he has started to explore Balkan and Hungarian dance tunes. He has produced one of the only teaching videos for English (D/G) melodeon, now also on DVD. A further teaching resource is his 2003 book of traditional tunes, English Choice, and two accompanying CDs. He has recently started to perform with accordion wizard, Chris Parkinson as the Sultans of Squeeze, and the pair have released one album. He is happily remarried. One of his sons, Benji Kirkpatrick is a member of Bellowhead, a former member of Magpie Lane and Dr. Faustus, and has recorded as a solo guitarist. All four of John’s sons do morris dancing. As a composer, choreographer and musical director John has contributed to over 60 plays in the theatre and on radio.

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