CHAPTER 4: Dulcimers in the British Isles since 1800 > Dulcimers in East Anglia

People - 5 of 13: Billy Cooper, 3 of 3

He played both with the normal cane-and-wool hammers, and with his fingers: Russell Wortley said, "He'd play fast tunes like we've been playing here, hornpipes and things like that, step-dancing of course: when he was playing that type of tune he'd be using the sticks, but when he was playing in the pub for singing, when people were having a Saturday night sing-song, then he'd be using his fingers - entirely, I think - and he'd grow the nail on his first finger on each hand long so that he could use it like a kind of plectrum; he was using his thumbs too, so he could get chords like this..." He couldn't remember where he picked it up from - not from his father, at any rate - but "it was a long time ago". It will be remembered that finger-and-thumb chords were recommended in the 1770 tutor, and described (1585?) by (?)Jacques Cellier.

For 60 years of his life he played regularly with piano and guitar at the Eight Bells in Hingham, even seven nights a week towards the end of his life; but when I visited the pub less than ten years after his death the only dulcimers anyone had heard of were in Glasgow.

The Youngmans said that busking was Billy's holiday - he was a grocer by trade - and he could play for three hours solid without playing a tune twice; "he lived for it", they said - and Irish Washerwoman was his favourite. They told how they would go and fetch 'old Billy Hingham' when they had a special party on in Wells, and [fig. 131] shows Billy and Jack Bond playing in John's mother's kitchen, while he John looks on appreciatively: special thanks to John Youngman for offering me one of his few pictures of the man for whom he had such a deep respect and affection.

In 1959 and 1960 he was heard on BBC radio and seen on Anglia TV, and his last appearance was at Cromer in November 1963; he died on 9th January 1964.

Bridget Westrop, herself now playing her grandfather's favourite dulcimer, concluded, "He really did enjoy his life, 'coz he made so many people happy".