Update: Bal Folk Tune Book

Dave Mallinson

After posting my review of the Bal Folk tune book, I managed to talk to both Dave Mallinson — publisher of the tunebook — and Mel Stevens — compiler of the iconic pink/blue Massif Central tune books that Mallinson’s book is based on. I had some questions. First, how did Mallinson go about editing the two books into one? How did he make the decisions he made? Second, who are Trevor Upham and Chris Shaw, who wrote a bunch of tunes in the new book? And, third, why isn’t Mel Stevens even mentioned on the new edition? He did, after all, transcribe and compile the master set.
Mallinson explained in an e-mail:

I published Bal Folk because I bought the Dragonfly catalogue several years ago. The selection was made by eliminating any tunes that had possible copyright problems. Trevor Upham and Chris Shaw are friends of Mel Stevens who write excellent tunes in the style of the rest of the book. All the editing, re-naming and additions were at the request of Mel Stevens. Bal Folk has been thoroughly checked by Mel and extensive corrections have been made.

Mel Stevens wrote:

When I first became interested in French music there was very little in print. During the period 1979-1984 I picked up a lot of music in France. This came from recordings I made of folklore displays, folkdance workshops, dances, sessions, and festivals, anywhere where trad music was being played. This was initially to develop my own repertoire. These are the tunes that ended up in the Massif Central tune books.

I have, however, been unhappy about these books and their inaccuracy for several years, and when Dave Mallinson took over Dragonfly, I told him that I did not want them reprinted. Bal Folk was a compromise whereby Dave took over ownership and kept a French tune collection for his catalogue.

Stevens requested that his name not be on the book.

Additionally, Trevor Upham and Chris Shaw are not merely friends of Mel Stevens, but bandmates in the group GIGCB (The George Inn Giant Ceili Band). So, cheers to Stevens for compiling the original thing, and to Mallinson, Upham, and Shaw for keeping this vital resource alive!

8 thoughts on “Update: Bal Folk Tune Book

  1. Mystery solved. That's amazing that you get to correspond with your idols. Maybe that's the wrong word, but you know what I mean. I've got a question for you: do any politicians play the bellows? I'm not intentionally trying to taint your blog…


  2. I am an expat living near St Chartier and play accordeon with local folk groups here. My interest in this music started soon after I started playing for Morris when a friend gave me a coppy of Mel's books. I soon discovered St Chartier and made the pilgrimage every year from 94 until I finally moved here. I meet Trevour, Chris and Mel each year at Gennetines. I know mel has been unhappy about the 'correctness” of some of the tunes but here there is controversey all the time as to tune's names and which dance they are used for. Many local musicians tell me 'I just play what I like'. Most trad tunes used here in the Berry are from old folk songs and many still sing the songs. Many tune/dance combinations, like in Morris, are different depending where you live in the Berry – haut Berry, Bass Berry etc.

    There now exisits a set of 3 DVD's produced by a dance club here that include the date and location of where the dance was collected and, like the Morris 'Bible', gives many variants of both dance and music.
    I regulalrly play with a friend who is 80 and started playing accordeon at 8 so he is a trusted source, but as he is from the bass Berry, his names often conflict with other friends I play with.


  3. Anonymous, sir. Thanks for this great — envy producing — comment.

    My first question is: where can I get those DVDs???

    My second question is: how fierce is the controversy. I've never felt the same sort of dogmatism as I have in other folk communities here in the States. Do people come to blows over this stuff? When I was in Alsace I encountered nothing but support and encouragement.

    I'd love to know how you managed to construct this life for yourself — it sounds wonderful.


  4. Hi, sorry for the long delay.
    I came to live here in the Berry when I met a French lady at Gennetines one year (2002)
    We exchanged email for a year and the following year we came to the festival together. I then returned to the UK, begged for early retirement, and 2 months later retired to France. After 2 years in the south we came to live here in the Berry as I knew it would be the place we would love with so much music and dancing.

    As in Mels original books many tunes have no title as they have been handed down and titles lost. Some are known after the dance that is popular for that tune, but then a few miles away they dance a different dance to the tune. One tune I play here is known as the Machtagouine as we dance he Machtagouine to that tune. By chance one day I found the same tune on a web site from the south west of France and it had a local name from that area.

    As for the DVD's there is now a set of 5. 2 of bourrees from the Bas Berry, one of bourrees from the Haut Berry, one of couple and quadrille dances, and one of branles and ronds.
    Take a look at Vivez la Danse: http://www.vivezladanse.fr/
    Back to the practice.


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