The 'original' High Level Ranters - the one featured on most of the early LP's - is:
Alistair Anderson, Tommy Gilfellon, Johnny Handle, and Colin Ross
That was from 1969 to 1979
The current line up is:
Jim Hall, Johnny Handle and Colin Ross.
1980 - 2004 (at least)
At various times and for various recordings , the following have also been 'Ranters'
Forster Charlton, John Doonan, Pete Wood, and Louis Killen.
Alistair was introduced to traditional music by one of his teachers,
and came to the Folksong and Ballad Club at the Bridge Hotel in the
He took up the English concertina, and very quickly became proficient,
appearing on all the High Level Ranters recordings from 'Northumberland
for Ever' in 1968 to 'Four in a Bar'
in 1979. He went with others to musical sessions in Northumberland, and
says he was also influenced by Billy Pigg and his music. He took up the
Northumbrian smallpipes soon after
the Ranters, and has greatly contributed to their popularisation,
his recordings and his later work.
In the late 70's he started to work solo, and with other musicians, and later parted with the Ranters to concentrate on his solo career. In 1988, he co-founded Folkworks, a Folk Music development agency, which initially concentrated on promoting the musics of the North-East region, but has since expanded its remit to include many traditions, and now organises national tours as well as running the teaching workshops for which it first became noted.
Since he moved his base to North Northumberland, he has promoted many traditional musicians of the Coquet valley and northwards, becoming particularly associated with 'The Shepherds' (Joe Hutton, Will Taylor, and Willy Atkinson), who played at many national events in the 1980's and early 90's before Joe's untimely death in 1995. He also established the Rothbury Traditional Music Festival, which has become one of the highlights of the musical calendar of the area.
Forster was a traditional fiddler from the Alnwick area, who later
up the Northumbrian smallpipes
as a result of his brother's acquaintance with Billy
Pigg. He was involved in the folk music of Newcastle upon Tyne in
1950's, and introduced Colin Ross to both the smallpipes and Billy
In the 1960's he was secretary of the Pipers
Society for several years, and was very keen to record many of the
traditional musicians of the area. He played with the Ranters when they
first took the name and started touring, and appears on the 'Northumberland
for Ever' recording, playing both fiddle and smallpipes.
he left the group.
Throughout the 1970's he remained an influence on the world of the Northumbrian pipes, and helped many of the present generation of pipers with both their playing and the manufacture of pipes. He died in 1989.
(Information to follow)
Being born in
Jim grew up with many of the songs and tunes which are such an
part of the Ranters repertoire. He played these and many other
songs on the piano in pubs around Tyneside in his student days before
seriously involved in traditional music and in particular the
small pipes. He quickly became an outstanding player and won many
played at festivals and concerts both in this country and abroad, and
radio and television appearances, before first recording
with the Cut and Dry Band in 1977 and
When the New High Level Ranters formed in
1980, he became their lead piper, also playing piano, and calling for
when required. He has appeared on all three subsequent recordings, and
as well playing with the band is still in demand as a piping judge, and
as a tutor for workshops.
Johnny has been a musician all his life. With Louis Killen, he founded the Folksong and Ballad Club in the Bridge Hotel in 1958, when their previous watering hole was demolished for redevelopment, and once that was established, he helped to guide the direction of the Club into the Revival years, making some classic recordings along the way. (Tommy Armstrong of Tyneside, Along the Coaly Tyne etc etc). His varied musical and songwriting skills played a major part in the style of the High Level Ranters, and his ability to respond to an audience is one of the features that makes the group unique. Still there after 30 years, Johnny has also made solo recordings, and now plays for ceilidhs, and performs with the Scots singer, Christine Hendry, as well as playing with the Ranters. Though rarely heard on stage, he is also proficient on the Northumbrian smallpipes.
Johnny has made numerous recordings, which are listed on a separate page.
Colin played the violin at school, and first encountered traditional
music through his involvement with the original Earsdon Sword dancers.
Once at university in Newcastle he played for morris dancers, and first heard the pipes played by Forster Charlton and Colin Caisley. He soon got his own set, and used his training as a sculptor to make a copy of it. He was involved with the Folksong and Ballad Club from its inception, and developed his powerful and characteristic fiddle style by listening to traditional fiddlers from Northumberland and elsewhere. He was also heavily influenced by the tunes and style of Billy Pigg's piping. Establishing himself as a pipemaker at a time when demand for the instrument was being created by the band, he quickly became the most sought after maker of today's Northumbrian pipes, a position he still holds. With the Ranters he primarily played fiddle, but also in the early days contributed a bewildering variety of other instrumentation, and recorded some of the best piping tracks in their repertoire.
Today Colin's piping is principally heard in the context of the Northumbrian Pipers Society sessions and meetings. He has helped innumerable people start on their piping careers, and has been an inspiration in the Society for nearly as long as he has been a member. His ability to relate to any audience and draw them into the performance, makes either listening to him, or even better, playing with him, a very worthwhile experience.
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