Fiery Clockface

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FIERY CLOCKFACE, THE. AKA and see "Pin Reel (The)." English, Jig. England, Northumberland. D Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB. Composed by Robert "Bobby" Nunn (1808-1853), according to Peter Kennedy. Nunn was a tradesman-a roofer who worked on slate roofs-who lost his sight following a fall from a roof he was working on. Like many a blind individual, he turned to music to eke out a living, and played fiddle and sang. He composed a number of songs and was a regular at pubs and other venues around the Tyneside area. His songs could be rather risqué, full of (pre-)music-hall innuendo, and include "The Pitman and the Blackin'," "The Newcastle Lad," ""Druncken Bella Roy O!;" quite popular even with mixed audiences of his era. His best known song is "The Fiery Clock Feyce", about the drink-caused illusion of a man passing by St. Nicholas Cathedral, surprised at the glowing clock face which had been newly illuminated by gas. It was originally set in the key of 'G' major, although 'D' is a more popular key nowadays, to accommodate melodeon players. A quite nice sketch of Nunn appears in Thomas and George Allen's Illustrated Edition of Tyneside Songs and Readings (1891):

Besides the attractions of his fiddle he was a good singer, and composed a great number of local songs, which he sang with great success. Many of his songs, written upon passing events, and sometimes rather coarse in consequence of the mixed companies he amused, are now forgotten, but several which appear in this volume have taken their places as standards amongst Tyneside songs, and are highly popular. He died at Queen Street, Castle Garth, Newcastle, on the 2nd of May, aged forty-five years...(He) was eminently a Newcastle man and had the 'burr' in all its delightful purity. He could not be considered a man of any intellectual culture and it is therefore the more creditable that he has produced so many songs. Some of them will not bear a close inspection, on account of their approaching the questionable. There were circumstances to account for that; he had some talent as a performer on the fiddle, and being in the habit of attending women's boxes or benefit clubs on the occasion of their holding their head-meeting days, when the old ladies had plied themselves with a plentiful supply of stimulants they would disport themselves on the 'lightly-gay fantastic toe' to the pleasant scrapings of 'Bobby's' fiddle. To diversify their delight he would entertain them with a song, and a professor of moral ethics would have got a lesson had he have seen how the more than innuendos were received. No doubt this would urge him on more in that direction. That was no reason, however, they should ever have appeared in print.

'Bobby Nunn' as he was generally called, was a heavy looking man, a great favourite at resorts of which we have spoken, and no party of the kind was considered complete without 'Bobby' and his fiddle. The bard, for Nunn is worthy of the name, did not confine his efforts in supporting his family to his musical abilities only; no honest work came amiss to him. His musical gifts were generally in demand at nights, and during the day Bobby, for Sopwith and other turners and cabinet makers, turned the big wheels of their lathes. When not busy with that he indulged his love of birds, for which, blind as he was, he had a passion in making cages for them.

The melody was used to accompany a special dance in Northumberland, as fiddler Ned Pearson relates in his recorded introduction to the tune: "The other [Ed. i.e. tune in the medley], a country dance, they call it the ribbon country dance, but they do it in the village places with handkerchiefs." The dance is sometimes called The Ribbon or Handkerchief Dance, and the tune "The Pin Reel." Pearson was born in 1876 and played fiddle in his father's dance band. He was the gamekeeper for Sir Charles Trevelyan at Wallington.

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Kennedy (Jigs & Quicksteps, Trips & Humours), 1997; No. 44, p. 12.

Recorded sources: Topic Records 12TS282, Tom Gilfellon - "In the Middle of the Tune" (1976). Topic 12TS283, Ned Pearson. Topic TSCD 669, Ned Pearson (et al) – “Ranting and Reeling: Dance Music of the north of England” (1998, as "The Pin Reel". Fiddler Pearson was born c. 1875 at Cambo, near Morpeth, Northumberland).




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