CHAPTER 4: Dulcimers in the British Isles since 1800 > Dulcimers in the Midlands & the North

Bill Fell - repertoire - playing technique - performing

Bill's repertoire is "mostly Music Hall stuff; I keep thinking this Country and Western would go well, too".

Some of his tunes are rarely heard played by other dulcimer-players and he has inherited some tunes from "the old chap".


One of these I have not heard anywhere else, although Tony Engle thought he had recorded it elsewhere some while ago: Bill had no name for it, so I have provisionally labelled it 'Fell's Hornpipe'.

Others include Over the waves, Picaninny's Bedtime, Sailor's Hornpipe, Garryowen, Irish Washerwoman, Clementine and The Happy Wanderer.

His playing technique is to concentrate mainly on the melody but to add occasional bass notes and other harmony, which may often start with an octave below the melody-note, and adding others to it, as the example shows.

"I can't get on with hammers, I keep hitting all the notes at once,"

he says and instead uses little metal plectrums, slightly tapered at the playing end, and bent over at the top; he holds them between thumb and forefinger.

He stands to play, in front of surrounded by, almost - a steel frame he made himself.

He does not play in public so very often now, but mostly just at home for amusement; this is not from choice, but as he said when I was first in touch with him, he had "given up hope of ever hearing from anyone about Dulcimers: no-one seems to be bothered with these instruments today".

However, he did come to play at the Student's folk music Festival at Loughborough University in 1975, where he both performed and contributed to a dulcimer workshop I was leading; and he was invited to take part in the Birmingham Repertory Theatre's folk festival earlier this year [1976].