Born in 1933, Reg Hall has been a quietly important stalwart and historian of traditional music for wee over fifty years. Best known as a dance musician, Reg has had a long, personal involvement with traditional music-making and has played Irish music and English country music with most of the finest traditional musicians. For many years he accompanied Michael Gorman and later Jimmy Power in London pub sessions. Reg has played for the Bampton Morris for the past fifty years and was with the Padstow Blue Ribbon ‘Obby ‘Oss for forty years. He formed The Rakes with Michael Plunkett and Paul Gross in 1956, playing for dances and finding time to back Bob Davenport in concert and on record.
Though holding down a day job as a probabtion officer, Reg managed to both participate in the music performance and to document it in extraordinary detail. Reg’s enthusiastic contribution and his pioneering work documenting and encouraging traditional music has not always been widely acknowledged. Both an historian and a musician, he brings a rare understanding and insight to his writing and playing. His association with Topic Records began in 1963 when he wrote the sleeve notes for the Irish Pipe & Fiddle Tunes ep, two years later he collaborated with Bill Leader on The Paddy In The Smoke recording and has compiled and annotated many significant recordings, culminating in The Voice of the People series in 1999. He was awarded the Gold Badge of the English Folk Dance And Song Society in 1987, a doctorate in history from Sussex University in 1994 and the Gradam Cheoil musician’s award from the Gaelic television company TG4 early in 2009.
Reg Hall’s monumental and comprehensive history of Irish music in London A Few Tunes of Good Musicis now available for free viewing and download as a fantastic online flipbook, complete with many illustrations, discography and original interview material.
On March 18th 2016 Topic Records released two magnificent compendiums of Irish Music in London:
Some of the most talented young traditional musicians from rural Ireland found themselves in London in the 1950s, working on the buildings and in heavy construction, away from home, but among hundreds of people like themselves. Music was played in pubs and dance halls and, for a decade or two almost every night of the week, Camden Town, Fulham and neighbouring boroughs were buzzing. Even as far as the outer suburbs, in some back-street pub or other, there was great music to be found, that is, if you knew where to look for it. Beyond the gaze of mainstream society and unknown to the media, promotion was solely by word of mouth among the Irish themselves.
As a lad in Roscommon in the 1930s, Jim Donahue played the flute regularly with an older man, Michael Coleman’s brother Jim. He recalled whenever Jim came to the house: “He’d take down the fiddle. Then you’d hear a few tunes of good music altogether!”
Compiled by Dr. Reg Hall, these two three-CD collections of rare recordings allow us a very privileged view of a unique community who lived this music. Here are some great musicians, some great tunes, and great warmth and humanity. At the time, it was often said, that there was much better Irish music to be heard in London than in Ireland. An overstatement, of course, but there was certainly more of it to be heard in London than anywhere else in the world.