More than simply a folk group, Newcastle, England’s Old Rope String Band represent a complete entertainment package; comedy, mime and theatre accompanying traditional music of English and European extraction. In this way they draw as much influence from Dario Fo and the Commedi del’Arte as Pete Seeger or Phil Ochs. The members are also closely involved with the socialist protest movement. Joe Scurfield (b. Joseph Scurfield, England, d. 8 June 2005, Newcastle, England; vocals, fiddle, guitar) formerly unicycled to performances with his ceilidh band, making his living from children’s parties as ‘Joey The Clown’. His former groups included the Peanuts Band (full title - We Don’t Want The Peanuts, We Want The Whole Plantation), the Tyneside People’s Choir and the Flop- eared Mules. While taking part in The Red Umbrella alliance which supported the UK coal miners’ strike of 1984, he met fellow student and banjo player Pete Challoner. Together with guitarist Ian Carr, the Old Rope String Band was formed. Their performances in the north of England were instantly memorable - with instruments played while performing handstands, fire eating, comic routines and other such diversions. Challoner also played concurrently with Howling At The Moon until their demise in 1992, while Carr became an in-demand guitarist, performing with Syncopace, Simon Thoumire, the Rub and the Kathryn Tickell Band. These activities eventually forced him, reluctantly, to leave the band, and he was replaced by Scottish accordion and piano player, Tim Dalling, another veteran of alternative theatre. Scurfield, Challoner and Dalling continued to tour the north-east of England widely, carrying folk’s protest tradition before them but imbuing it with great humour and sparkle. In June 2005, Scurfield and fellow musician Keith Morris were killed in a hit and run incident. Challoner and Dalling subsequently formed the New Rope String Band with Vera van Heeringen (guitar) and Jock Tyldesley (fiddle).
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