Are the fiddle tunes written by or associated with James Hill popular? Look at it this way: the combined efforts of everyone else in the history of music named James Hill, or everyone simply named James for that matter, wouldn't even come close in terms of the number of tunes that have been passed down through the generations and are getting played, repeatedly. That last word is as important as anything said in the tavern all night other than the cry for "last call." The Hill fiddle repertoire is being played, night after night, session after session, probably every time a fiddle comes out of a case in the United Kingdom. Hill was one of the great fiddlers from the Tyneside region during the mid-19th century, the creator of flighty tunes such as "Hawk," "Beeswing," and many others.
Of course, one thing that the fiddle repertoire seems to have in common from land to land is the question of authorship, with the era of the "professional music business" complete with publishers and copyright only piling mountainous confusion on to questions concerning what is a Hill and what isn't. Many tunes that are thought to have originated with the fiddler are also present in the repertoires of Northumbrian pipers, pointing to a wide-ranging influence on the part of Hill. Recording artists often credit the fiddler as an arranger on tunes of questionable origin, since legend has it that Hill could make any tune sound like his own. Interestingly enough, Hill's career as a fiddler was in full swing circa 1850, when the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle-upon-Tyne began collecting Northumbrian musical compositions in earnest. But, since Hill's activities at that time were contemporary, not antique, the organization ignored him.
Hill's music provides more historic detail about the time and place it was written than historians have been able to provide about the man himself. Tunes are named after people of his era including "Jenny Lind," while it is a safe bet that "James Brown" is not about the soul singer, who would have appreciated Hill's fiddle tune entitled "The Rights of Man." Horses such as the "Flying Dutchman" and the "Spotted Bitch" gallop through Hill's musical territory, passing by "Blaydon Flats," "The Cliff," and the "High Level Bridge" before stopping for a nibble on the grounds around "The Pear Tree." His tunes celebrate the common folk, whether it is "The Country Lass," "The Gardener Lads," or "The Hunter." He even predicts a future political concept such as "Free Trade," and "The Wonder" is that there seems to be no summit to this Hill; researchers just keep attributing more and more tunes to him, as surely as "The Tide Comes In." With one tune even called "Random," Hill seems accessible to new millennium youth -- after all, one unchanging fact is that "The Lads Like Beer." Besides that, listeners who enjoy the musical scenery of the British isles can be sure of one thing: "Hills for Ever."