Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



An English group formed in 1987 to play mediaeval and Renaissance music. There was considerable activity in this area in the 1960s, on DGG Archive and other labels on the Continent, and by the Early Music Consort of London formed in 1967 by David Munrow (1942-76). In the '70s James Tyler (b 1940, Hartford CN), who had played with Munrow, formed the London Early Music Group. These were often large ensembles (one Munrow LP listed 24 players) and could not work together full-time; the Dufays met playing in various groups and formed a sextet without a leader (named after composer Guillaume Dufay, c.1400-74). Lineup: Paul Bevan (b 8 December 1962), slide-trumpet, recorder, pipe and tabor, percussion; Giles Lewin (b 31 December 1956), vielle (with a drone string as well as stopped strings), rebec (a bowed string instrument, called 'rabab' in Arab countries), gittern (guitar family), shawm (a double-reed instrument of the oboe family), pipe and tabor; Bill Lyons (b 13 May 1964), flute, recorder, bagpipes, shawm, pipe and tabor; Raphael Mizraki (b 19 May 1962), lutes, rebec, percussion; Susanna Pell (b 24 September 1964), vielle, percussion; Peter Skuce (b October 1959), harp, organ, percussion. All are from London or the home counties except Pell, from Leicestershire. Lyons does most of the research and writes excellent notes, and Mizraki made some of the instruments, but the choice of what to play and how to play it was co-operative.

In early music there is only a melody line and even that is often unclear (fewer than 50 pieces survive from before 1400); players make their own arrangements, just as households made music with whatever instruments they had. The Dufays toured the Middle East several times, jamming with local musicians and studying the music, which was profoundly influential in Europe (see Folk Music); the lutes they play are traditional Turkish instruments and some of the percussion is Moroccan and Indian. The Dufays' scholarship and delightful playing remind us that we have had 'world music' for centuries, and that 'popular music' has always been music that a lot of people like; they have been described as 'the Pink Martini' of period music.

BBC broadcasts included a concert from London's Smith Square, the Dufays featuring guest singer Catherine King. Their first CDs were instrumental: A L'estampida '91 on Continuum included 13th- and 14th-century French, English and Italian pieces; common to all is improvisation, and e.g. heterophony: unison playing of a melody with differing ornamentation by each player. Their playing of 'Lamento di Tristano' (c.1400) with the vielle brings out the Eastern influence. They moved to the Chandos label; A Dance In The Garden Of Mirth '93 included Italian and French dances; Miri It Is '95 had songs and instrumental music from mediaeval England, the group singing with guest John Potter (who recorded with Tyler). With Johnny, Cock Thy Beaver '96 they moved up to the 17th century, not long before the invention of a commercial music industry as we know it, adding guest players Richard Campbell and David Miller: Potter's delightful 'wooing song of a yeoman of Kent's son' would have rung out in a household that had a chestful of instruments, and where a visitor was expected to play or sing; the title song (means 'Johnny, tip your hat') is the climax of a ten-minute instrumental medley that should make you want to dance around the room.

On The Banks Of The Seine '97 went back in time again, subtitled 'Music of the Trouvères'; Mizraki was absent but Jacob Heringman added on lute, Vivien Ellis on vocals, others also singing. The trouvères were the northern French equivalent of the southern European troubadours; while jongleurs, or minstrels, hawked their talent in the streets of mid-13th-century Paris. The Dufays provided atmospheric music for a London production of Lope de Vega's The Jewess Of Toledo (1610) at the Bridewell Theatre '97; a new CD that year was Miracles: 13th Century Spanish Songs In Praise Of The Virgin Mary, the original sextet playing instrumentals plus gorgeous singing by Ellis on seven songs. More new CDs were Cancionero (2002) on Avie, 'Music for the Spanish Court 1470-1520)'; then Music for Alphonzo the Wise (2005?), and their version of The Play of Daniel (2008), both on Harmonia Mundi, from France.

The busy William Lyons played flute on a BBC Music Magazine CD of Renaissance Love Songs in 1996 with a group called Virelai. He was conductor on a CD called Flower of Cities All: Music in London 1580-1620 by the English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble, on the Deux-Elles label in 2008. Among his many activities he is composer in residence at Shakespeare's Globe; his opening and closing music for Jessica Swale's comedy Blue Stockings in 2013 was described as 'pure delight' by Katherine Duncan-Jones in the TLS. 

The Dufays were a quartet of Lyons, Heringman, Rebecca Austen-Brown and Jon Banks on I have set my hert so hy: Love and Devotion in Medieval England (2015), back on Avie, this time collaborating with Voice, a unique female vocal trio (Emily Burn, Victoria Couper and Clemmie Franks). Lyons says in his booklet note that while collections of Latin and vernacular music had been preserved in France and Italy, in England there were no manuscript collections between the Westminster Trope (10th/11th century) and the Old Hall manuscript (late 14th/early 15th century), and these were comprised of sacred music, while there had been an explosion of poetry in the vernacular. So Lyons reconstructed English Medieval love songs, setting poems to adapted or his original music, throwing in a few instrumental dances for good measure. The result was another lovely voyage of discovery.