JOHN KIRKPATRICK – Squeezebox Times

John Kirkpatrick has been one of the most well-known and popular performers on the British folk scene for the past twenty-five years. He is widely regarded as Britain’s leading exponent of ‘squeezebox’ instruments. His remarkable skill with accordion, concertina and melodeon has taken him from the Hammersmith Morris Men to experimental rock music and a series of international recording collaborations. Throughout this period Kirkpatrick has continued to perform regularly in folk clubs as well as being a member of Steeleye Span, Brass Monkey and the Richard Thompson Band.

Kirkpatrick’s interest in traditional music and free reed instruments began in the late 1950’s, when a Morris Dance team was formed at the local Church youth club. Kirkpatrick quickly took up the melodeon, and within fifteen months he had graduated to the accordion. Serving his apprenticeship in a variety of ensembles – the Troubadours, the Rhythmics and Dingles Chillybom Band – playing music for dancing, Kirkpatrick soon established a reputation as one of the most exciting instrumentalists on the infant folk revival and by 1970 had decided to pursue a career as a musician. John’s first recordings were for Bill Leader’s innovative Trailer label. His debut solo album ‘Jump At The Sun’ was released in 1972, with contributions from two (thinly disguised) members of Fairport Convention – Ashley Hutchings and Richard Thompson. Later that year John worked with both on the remarkable ‘Morris On’ – a landmark recording in the merger of British folk and rock music.

john-k.jpgThroughout the 1970’s and 80’s John Kirkpatrick continued to perform at festivals and folk clubs throughout Europe, both as a solo artist and in a duet with his then wife Sue Harris. During these years the couple recorded a series of influential albums for Topic Records. It is from these recordings that the material for this disc has been drawn. Kirkpatrick has concentrated upon British, specifically English, dance music for his main repertoire, all the while absorbing a remarkable variety of stylistic influences from around the world.

‘The Rose Of Britain’s Isle’ released in 1974 garnered unanimous critical praise, and was voted album of the year by Folk Review. The album set the pattern for future recordings by the duo, concentrating on traditional dance tunes and songs, with an original tune or two. That year also saw the release of ‘The Complete Dancing Master’ an exploration of country dance music prepared by John with Ashley Hutchings, and John appear on two classic records by Richard and Linda Thompson. In 1975 the Kirkpatrick’s established two Morris dance sides – the Shropshire Bedlams and Martha Rhoden’s Tuppeny Dish – which were to greatly influence the revival of interest in native English dance traditions. John and Sue’s own ‘Among The Many Attractions…’ from 1976 and ‘Shreds and Patches’ from 1977 consolidated the promise of their debut album. 1976 also saw the release of ‘Plain Capers’ – “a selection of 27 Morris dance tunes from a wide range of Cotswold traditions, using a fair range of traditional instruments”- and one of Kirkpatrick’s favourite recordings. ‘Plain Capers’ picks up the challenge of the electric ‘Morris On’ and reaffirms the potential for exciting dance music performed on acoustic instruments.

The late ’70’s saw Kirkpatrick join Steeleye Span for two records and a “farewell” tour, and appear as a regular member of the Richard Thompson Band. Recordings with Mr. Thompson led to many requests for John to bring his squeezeboxes to the recording studio; his inventive and exciting playing can be heard on an enormous variety of records including singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty, comedian Max Boyce, eccentric Viv Stanshall, and the experimental rock band Pere Ubu. It was to be 1980 before John and Sue’s next album appeared – the completely instrumental collection ‘Facing The Music’. That year also saw the release of ‘The Moon’s In A Fit’ by Umps and Dumps – the occasional country dance band of Alan Harris, Tufty Swift, Derek Pearce, Sue Harris and John Kirkpatrick.

Working at the National Theatre on a production of Flora Thompson’s ‘Lark Rise To Candleford’, John K. discussed with Martin Carthy the possibility of forming a new band. The glorious Brass Monkey united Kirkpatrick, Carthy and Martin Brinsford – who had all worked on ‘Plain Capers’ – with Howard Evans and Roger Williams, two of the theatrical world’s finest brass players. Although the ensemble gigged sporadically, their two albums (now collected on ‘The Complete Brass Monkey’ Topic TSCD 467) stand amongst the finest acoustic recordings of the 1980’s.

1989 saw the release of ‘Stolen Ground’ the last album to be recorded by the Kirkpatrick and Harris duo. Widely acclaimed, the album is a remarkable collection of songs highlighting the beautiful interplay between Sue’s ethereal vocals, hammer dulcimer and oboe playing and John’s robust squeezeboxes.

In 1995 John formed a new powerful ensemble to carry forward the torch of English folk-rock – the John Kirkpatrick Band – with Graeme Taylor and Micheal Gregory (both ex Albion Band0, Paul Burgess from the English Country Band and the remarkable bass and tuba of Dave Berry. 1996 saw the release of ‘Force Of Habit’ (Fledg’ling FLED 3007) the debut album from the band. Recorded live in concert the album is a powerful career overview – drawing material from the whole of John’s repertroire. The band has released their debut studio recording ‘Welcome To Hell’ (Fledg’ling FLED 3011) in 1997.


John’s relationship with Fledg’ling records has continued in recent years with a series of very fine solo albums – Mazurka Berserker (2001), The Duck Race (2004), The Sultans Of Squeeze (with Chris Parkinson in 2005), Carolling & Crumpets (2006) and the splendid double album Make No Bones (2007). For more than thirty five years John Kirkpatrick has helped to shape the revival of folk song and dance in Britain. We can now look forward with excitement and impatience to his musical exploration of the next quarter century

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