Francis | Bennett | Hartley

Tunes, steps (and the occasional song) from the Lake District and beyond

Photo of Francis | Bennett | Hartley

Carolyn Francis, Scott Hartley and Toby Bennett share a passion for the music and step dance of Lakeland. Combining fiddles, step dance, border pipes and song they weave rhythms and harmonies from the music and steps of the English Lakeland region and beyond.

Carolyn has been researching and playing Lakeland tunes since 1997, and Lakeland born and bred Scott has been playing with her since 2005 when he joined the “Lakeland Fiddlers” community fiddle band at the age of 16. Westmorland (Lakeland) Clog Dance Champion Toby met Scott and Carolyn separately and, latching on to their dynamic playing for step dancing, has performed widely with both of them.

In 2016 Carolyn, Scott and Toby decided to explore working together. That summer they spent some time in an ancient barn in the Lakes exploring directions for their collaboration. Their material is founded on tunes, steps and song collected in Cumbria, alongside other traditional material and new tunes and steps composed/choreographed by Carolyn and Toby.

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Carolyn Francis (fiddle and border pipes)

Carolyn is probably Cumbria and North Lancashire’s most well-known and respected fiddle player. In 1997 Carolyn began delving into manuscripts left by the Lakeland fiddle players of the 18th and 19th century in order to provide inspiration, and a sense of place, for her teaching and performance. She is founder of the twenty-strong ‘Lakeland Fiddlers’ community band which formed in May 2000. She has composed a number of tunes which have entered the tradition and are now widely played locally.

Carolyn has made a living from the fiddle since 1997, staying rooted in the area and developing various creative collaborations with theatre companies, musicians, and storytellers. She plays regularly with Striding Edge, the Cumbrian-rooted ceilidh Band, which will soon reach its 1000th gig in over 20 years touring.

Carolyn is currently focussing on developing methods of teaching and handing down the tradition to young people, and works with over 100 school children every week, mainly in Barrow and Carlisle.

Toby Bennett (step dance)

Starting as a folk dancer, and winner of two clog dance championships, Toby studied with numerous teachers including a number of the key figures in the clog revival such as Sam Sherry, Pat Tracey and Mrs Marhoff. He went on to train in other forms of dance before becoming a professional dancer and later a dance educator. Returning to his folk dance roots he draws on this rich experience in his performance and teaching of English step dance.

Toby has performed and taught widely including Europe, Egypt and the USA. His dancing combines energy, attack and speed with lightness and fluidity; an experienced teacher he works with all abilities from absolute beginners to advanced dancers.

Scott Hartley (fiddle and vocals)

Lakeland born and bred, Scott William Albert Hartley is a fiddle player, singer and educator whose music can truly be described as learnt at the knee. From first learning to play the fiddle from the man living across the road, to sitting down with his grandfather and learning old songs and tales, Scott’s music explores the past in forward motion. He became a member of the Lakeland Fiddlers in 2005 and developed his playing under the mentorship of Carolyn Francis as a teenager. A graduate with a first class honours from the Traditional Music programme at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, he has been captivating audiences ever since both as a solo performer in collaboration with a variety of international musicians and dancers.