History of the Dartmoor Pixie Band
Back in 1919 near Whiddon Down in Devon a 3 year old Bob Cann first picked up a one row melodeon and played 'now the day is over' with one finger. He was born into a musical family and learned a lot from his two uncles George and Jim who both played squeeze boxes. He played for dancing from a young age either solo or with various other local musicians. By the 1940's he was playing for regular dances accompanied by Mrs Eccles on piano and her son on drums. The band at this stage was simply known as 'Bob Cann and his band'.
In the 1960's various musicians joined Bob playing for dances and 'six penny hops' including Jack Rice on accordion and mouth organs, Mary Ireland on piano and Ruth Askew on melodeon. Callers included Sheila Reedhead, Margaret Marsden, Dick Witt, Ron Smedley and Ted Berry.
In 1972 Tom Barriball from Launceston joined Bob playing 5 string banjo and later Hawaiian guitar! (Apparently he'd tuned it in banjo tuning). At this time it was just the two of them with Dave Evans calling the dances. A year later in 1973 Bill Murch joined the band on mouth organs and melodeon and it was at around this time that Bob taught himself to call the dances and play melodeon at the same time. Dance classes were regularly held at village halls around the area where dancers would learn not only the different moves but the whole dances. At many dances Bob would simply announce the name of the dance and people would get up and do it without walking it through.
1974 saw the addition of Cyril May also on mouth organs and melodeon. On new years eve 1974 the band were playing for a dance at Fingle Bridge, near Drewsteignton, a picturesque location at the bottom of a deep valley on the edge of the moor. Several inches of snow fell that evening and the band and all the dancers were stranded there for the following two days. Fortunately only about half of the guests had made it due to the weather so there was quite a lot of food left over after the dance.
In the early 70's the band had two occasional drummers, Roy Parish and Arthur Sandy, and in 1975 a young Ian Kielly joined the band on drums. The following year 1976 saw the addition of Kath Mortimore on piano accordion.
in 1977 Bob retired from his job as Farm Manager due to ill health and soon took to his music to earn a living. It was around this time that he named the band 'The Dartmoor Pixie Band' and called himself 'Pixie Bob' for his solo bookings. Bob hadn't mentioned this and Bill Murch recalls reading a local newspaper and seeing one of their dances listed as 'The Dartmoor Pixie Band' and commented to Bob "I see the band has a name now then?"
Gerry Fisher also played accordion in the band and Cyril's daughter Karen occasionally called. See photo below.
Ian Kielly, Gerry Fisher, Cyril May, Bob Cann, Bill Murch, Kath Mortimore, Karen May
The music in Bob's family seemed to skip a generation and in 1978 Bob's grandson Mark Bazeley at the age of 6 picked up one of Bob's anglo concertinas and started to play 'daisy daisy'. Bill Murch's son Rob started having lessons with Tom Barriball , first on ukulele then on 5 string banjo and from about the age of 8 both Mark and Rob would sit at the back of the stage at Pixie Band dances learning the tunes.
Mark (aged 7)
Dartmoor Pixie Band 1981
By 1981 Ian had left the band and the drummers seat was immediately filled by Cyril. See photo above. Unknown musicians joining in with the band, sat behind Bob.
In 1983 Bob bought a new melodeon, A Hohner Ouverture V and Mark now about ten became the owner of his red Hohner Club IIIM. During the 80's other musicians played in the band including Kate Marriot on fiddle, Jimmy Elliot on whistle and clarinet and Derek Byron on fiddle.
Mark (Aged 16) Bob Aged 72)
Rob,Cyril,Bill,Kath,Bob,Mark. Pixieland, Dartmeet, Dartmoor
By 1989 Mark at the age of 16 had started playing Bob's melodeon in the band while Bob called the dances and sometimes played the concertina. It was about this time that a young Sarah Vanstone who'd been coming to the dances with her parents had started to call the dance moves to herself whilst dancing. Bob spotted this and persuaded Sarah to call a couple of easy dances. At each dance that Sarah attended she would call a couple of dances and her confidence grew.
Bob passed away on 25th May 1990 aged 73. Over 400 people from all over the country attended his funeral at South Tawton church.
The band continued after Bob's death with Bill, Kath, Cyril, Rob (aged 18) and Mark (aged 17) and Sarah as the bands resident caller, (aged just 16).
During the early 90's the band were part of a BBC Radio 2 series with Stuart Hobday called 'Barn Dance' and the band along with a coach load of dancers and supporters went to the Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham with 'Pixies On Tour' written across the back window. The band were also filmed at a dance in South Zeal for a German television programme called 'Alternative Britain'.
Bill left the band at the end of 1994 and 1995 saw the gradual loss of their banjo player Rob. The band continued with Mark, Kath, Cyril and Sarah and in July 1995 Mark and Sarah were married. A month later at the 18th Dartmoor Folk Festival Mark overheard someone playing one of Bob's tunes in a style very similar to his own. Upon investigation he discovered it to be Jason Rice and found out he was the grandson of Jack Rice, a good friend and musical companion of Bob's, hence the similarity in musical style. By the end of the day Jason was a member of the band and already knew many of the tunes and played on stage at the end of the music hall to an audience of some 400 people.
At the Dartmoor Folk Festival in 1999 a familiar face came strolling down through the marquee carrying a banjo case. Within the first tune it was like he'd never been away. Rob rejoined the band and in no time was playing better than ever.
In 2001 Ed Rennie, the melodeon player with the Bismarcks who'd recently moved to Devon started to play banjo and bass guitar in the band on occasions when Rob wasn't available. In 2003 he was presented with his first proper gig list and informed he was a qualified Pixie!
In 2005 Kath became ill and although she continued to play in the band occasionally she later became too ill to play. She sadly passed away on 31st January 2006 having been a member of the band for almost 30 years. She's very much missed.
In 2018 Ed the band's bass player for 17 years took a break from the band. Doug Lander and Matt Norman currently share the bass player role in the band.
The band continue to take bookings some 12 months in advance mostly throughout Devon but also at ceilidh clubs and festivals across the country.