Iron Legs

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IRON LEGS. AKA - "Iron League." English, Hornpipe or Reel. D Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB. The 'A' part is closely related to the melody "Petronella." The source for the tune is Cumberland fiddler William Irwin (1822-1889), a cooper who worked for most of his life for the Elterwater Gunpowder Company. Irwin also had an active local career (he lived in Langdale) as a fiddler who played for decades in a church band, in numerous local pubs, and for various gatherings and parties such tea parties ("auld wives' bakes," said Irwin) and Christmas-time 'Hunsups' (Hunts-Up). Irwin himself noted in his ms. that "Iron Legs" was a hornpipe. The title of this tune is possibly a corruption of 'Iron League' (although that term is not explained, either), by which title the tune also appears in musician's manuscript collections from the 19th century (e.g. James Winder {1789-1841}). Barry Callaghan (2007) suggests that the famous stage performer, acrobat and clown, Guiseppe Grimaldi (1713-1788), known as 'Iron Legs' for his amazing leaps--the result of well-developed leg muscles-was honoured by the name of this tune. Grimaldi was a pantomimist and dancer, rising to Dancing Master at Sadlers Wells theatre in the 1780's and was the father of Joseph Grimaldi, the 'father of clowning'. The elder Grimaldi began his career performing at fairs in Italy and France, but then moved to England where he became "employed in the ballet at the King's Theatre, Haymarket. In 1758 he began at Drury Lane Theatre an engagement which lasted for thirty years, during which he was seen as clown, harlequin, pantaloon, etc. In the summer months up to 1767,he appeared in the pantomimes at Sadler's Wells, to whose audiences he afterwards introduced his famous son Joseph" (William Davenport Adams, A Dictionary of the Drama, 1904).

Source for notated version: William Irwin manuscript collection (Cumberland).

Printed sources: Callaghan (Hardcore English), 2007; p. 38. Knowles (A Northern Lass), 1995; p. 39.

Recorded sources: Big Chain BC 103, Cooper & Bolton - "The Savage Hornpipe" (2006). Harbourtown Records HAR 047, The Boat Band - "A Trip to the Lakes" (2005). Plant Life Records PLR 077, Alan Lamb & Howard Salt - "English Fiddle Players" (1988).




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