Ten years of music in the Land of Bone and Stone

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The Ridgeway Singers and Band celebrate their tenth anniversary with two concerts of music from Dorset villages and church archives

Bronze Age round barrows on Bronkham Hill © Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Ten years ago a project was launched to explore the heritage, archaeology and culture of the South Dorset Ridgeway – the ridge of land between Dorchester and Weymouth, from Eggardon Hill near Bridport in the west to Osmington in the east. Known by archaeologists as an internationally-important ‘prehistoric ceremonial landscape’ for its concentration of archaeology from the Neolithic and Bronze Age (6,000-2,300 years ago), the area is considered as important as Stonehenge and Avebury for the sheer number of monuments and what they tell us of life in the past.
One aspect of the project which has continued – and this year marks its tenth anniversary – is the Ridgeway Singers and Band, founded by Artsreach, Dorset’s rural touring arts charity in 2013. The birthday is being celebrated with two concerts, at the Old Brewery Hall in Ansty at 7.30pm on Saturday, 21st October, right in the heart of the Blackmore Vale and on Sunday 29th October at 4pm at St Mary’s Parish Church, Bridport.
The programmes will include seasonal songs, dance tunes from the collection of Benjamin Rose of Belchalwell near Ibberton, and readings from Dorset’s William Barnes and Thomas Hardy.

Tim Laycock with the Ridgeway Singers and Band

Dorset’s cultural fabric
From the start, the Ridgeway Singers and Band were led by musical director Tim Laycock, one of Dorset’s best-known musicians, actors and oral historians, and multi-instrumentalist Phil Humphries, famed for his prowess on the historic serpent. The new group was founded to explore the musical traditions of the South Dorset Ridgeway, part of the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and Dorset’s heritage of West Gallery songs and music (featured particularly in Thomas Hardy’s Under The Greenwood Tree). The group’s concerts of traditional – and new – Dorset songs feel like an intrinsic part of the cultural fabric of the county.
Initially, the Ridgeways rehearsed at Abbotsbury village hall, drawing their repertoire from the carols and Christmas music, stories and poetry of the Ridgeway area. The first concerts were very local, at Winterborne Abbas and Abbotsbury. The following year they widened their approach to look at folk songs collected by the Hammond brothers in Dorset in the early 20th century, and the dance tunes of the Hardy and Benjamin Rose collections.
The repertoire has expanded to include new songs and music on local themes composed by members of the group and their many musical friends in the county. Two of the most popular new works are Anna Eveleigh’s In Praise of Dorset Apples, and Tim Laycock’s Ridgeway Carol, One Bright Star.

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