Boscastle Breakdown as played today by Tan Ha Dowr, a dance group who specialise in Cornish Scoot Dancing.
The whole point of both dance and tune is to play a series of variations as a conversation between dancer amd musician and the simple chord structure encourages this.
Versions of Boscastle Breakdown captured in the past:
Step or “Scoot” dances like Boscastle Breakdown are a conversation between dancer and musician, a duet between melody and percussion. Both musician and dancer introduce variations to the tune, the percussion, and the speed. This provides a competitive element between dancers and between dancers and musicians. The simple G-C-G-D / G-C-D-G chord structure of the tune gives the musician an opportunity for endless variation. Above is a 32-bar version of the tune as transcribed by Jon Mills (originally in F) from Beatrice Bright whilst playing at the Cobweb Inn in 1974 followed by two 16 bar variations provided by Arthur Biddick when teaching dancers in 1982. The tune is played 3 times to complete the dance.
Step dancing at Boscastle was reported at social events in the village in the early 1900s, it was recorded for the BBC by Richard Dimbleby in 1943 and was a popular entertainment on the moorland farms in the inter war years. Boscastle Breakdown was one of several step dances that continued in living tradition in isolated moorland communities until the 1980s when they were adopted by Cornish Dance groups looking for suitable display dances.
“On May Day eve in 1981 John Bolitho arranged for the authors together with fellow dancers Pat and Dave Crewes to meet with Charlie Jose and Evan Trick at the Napoleon Inn, Boscastle. The carpet was eventually rolled back, and Charlie allowed us to film as he demonstrated the Boscastle Breakdown. Talking about the dance afterwards, Charlie stressed the importance of dancing on a hard surface such as slate, explaining that revellers had been known to ‘borrow’ a gravestone for the purpose when a suitable slate floor was not available! The dance was often performed on the top of a beer barrel. He also explained that what we know as the shuffle part of the dance should sound’… like a train’, further emphasising the need for hard shoes on a hard floor.
John also introduced the authors to Arthur Biddick, a native of Boscastle and familiar with the local dance traditions, who acted as mentor and dancing master for the formative Cam Kernewek Cornish dance group. Arthur explained that the name derived from the ‘old Boscastle Jigs and reels’ which were ‘broken in together’ to form the tune for the breakdowns. The tune Boscastle Breakdown was recorded by the BBC in 1943.
Some years later Cam Kernewek were playing for a troyl at Calstock, where a local celebrity by the name ofJim Stacey provided a floor spot in the form of a step dance similar to the Boscastle Breakdown, with a much freer style, which he called the Calstock Step Dance.” *
A version of Boscastle Breakdown was performed as part of the Padstow Mummers Play. Charlie Bate played a leading part in bnoth Padstow’s May Day traditions and the Padstow mummers. He explained that a banjo player called Joe Apps used to come along with a two foot square dancing board and do a little step dance. The tune had a number of local variations and known as “Joe Apps Hornepipe”, “Chubbs Hornpipe,” in Boscastle the “Boscastle Breakdown” and in Padstow “The Devil Digging Teddies in the Middle of the Night”**
Charlie Bate describes Boscastle Breakdown and plays the Padstow version of the tune.
*Jowdy, Alison & Merv Davey, Scoot Dances, Troyls Furrys and Tea Treats, (London, Francis Boutle,2009) p.63