This is the earliest known version of a tune which flourished on both sides of the Border and is still popular in Northumberland. Of Atkinson's strains, 1 and 3 are the ones which have survived in the smallpipe repertoire. Atkinson's version is evidently for fiddle because of its range, but strain 3 may have been influenced by the smallpipes - it is notable for the 'partial shift phenomenon' also present in Robert Bewick's version.
The tune forms part of The Henry Atkinson manuscript, dated 1694/5. The book is one of the earliest fiddler's manuscripts to have survived, and certainly the oldest from North East England. The meticulous bowing indications make it fairly clear that this is indeed a fiddler's book. We can also be fairly certain that the book is infact from the North East as it contains a number of local tunes which are not recorded elsewhere till much later. In notes accompanying the manuscript, dated early to mid nineteenth century, Willam A. Chatto also informs us that 'Henry Atkinson ... was a native of the county of Northumberland, and lived in the neighbourhood of Hartburn', though he does not say where he got this information.
The book has what appears to be the earliest known versions of 'Bobby Shaftoe' ('Brave Willy Forster'), 'Sir John Fenwick' ('The Flower of Yarraw') and 'Wylam Away' ('Gingling Geordy'), all of which have continued to be played by pipers and fiddlers in the region to the present day. Atkinson also has many tunes which feature in various editions of Playford's 'Dancing master' and some which feature in 'The division violin', though he rarely seems to have copied directly, which suggests that he recorded the music from aural circulation. There are also many Scottish tunes, and some rare early examples of pieces in Scordatura, where the fiddle is retuned to give a drone effect. Although some pieces are in idioms still familiar, many naturally have an antique flavour - jigs with 6-bar strains, triple-time hornpipes, syncopated Scots Measures, minuets and bourees.
The book is written in and paginated from both ends. The first part begins on p.2 with 'Jock Carvatt', and the second on p.1 with 'Dear Jockey' and 'Chickens and Sparrow -Grass'. There is more than one hand at work in the manuscript. For the most part the tunes are neatly written and musically clear, but some need careful editing, a few prove unintelligible, and a significant number are untitled. Though some of the untitled tunes have already been matched with versions from other sources it is hoped that putting the collection onto the internet will enable more to be identified, as well as making this intriguing collection readily accessible.