Tom Clough (1881-1964), known as 'The Prince of Pipers', was an English player of the Northumbrian pipes, or Northumbrian smallpipes. His three surviving recordings and his considerable body of music manuscripts, including his own compositions, give considerable insight into the traditional playing technique and style of the instrument. This is particularly so because at least four previous generations of the family had been pipers, as was his son 'Young Tom' - they thus form a continuous link between early players of the modern instrument, and contemporary players. In contrast to the widely accepted notion of traditional folk music as an essentially rural activity, he and his family lived in the mining community of Newsham in south-east Northumberland, and were miners themselves.
In 1929, HMV issued a recording of him playing three pieces - Elsey Marley, The Keel Row and Holey Ha'penny. The first is a simple song tune in jig time, the latter two are elaborate variation sets. This recording is currently available on The Northumbrian Smallpipes (Topic TSCD487), and The Keel Row may be listened to on Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GTco_xluJjg. The pieces, especially the variation sets, are played in a highly ornate style, and what is significant about the technique, apart from his great skill, is the total lack of open-fingered or slurred notes. The chanter is closed, and hence silent briefly, between any pair of notes. This forms a great contrast with the style of Billy Pigg, which was distinguished by his use of open-fingered ornamentation. Tom felt, on the other hand, that open fingering was 'a grievous error in smallpipe playing'. The error persists: Young Tom once commented 'Nowadays they play with half their hand off the chanter'. Chris Ormston, who knew 'Young Tom' for a few months before his death, is a respected modern piper who consistently uses and advocates the 'Clough' style.
A book The Clough Family of Newsham,(ISBN 0-902510-20-7, edited by Chris Ormston and Julia Say), was published by the Northumbrian Pipers' Society in 2000. This is a significant source for players of the instrument. It contains a short biography, selections from his writings, a description of his playing style, transcriptions of the recordings, and selections from his music manuscripts. These include his extensive collection of variation sets. Of these, some are distinctive versions of traditional variation sets, such as I saw my love come passing by me, other sets are his own compositions like The tailors are aal gyen styen blind. Others are his adaptations, to Northumbrian pipes, of sets composed for other instruments such as the fiddle. Some of the versions are very old - for instance, the triple-time hornpipe Lads of Alnwick, here with 5 strains, is almost identical to William Dixon's version from the 1730's, while the commonest 19th century version omits the final strain.
Comparison of the recordings of The Keel Row and Holey Ha'penny with his manuscripts of the same pieces, and his notes on how to play them, suggests that most of the pieces in his huge repertoire were played much more floridly than he notated them.
Unfortunately, by the time portable recording equipment became available in the 1950's, he had largely given up playing owing to severe deafness. However, the three surviving HMV recordings are a testament both to his virtuosity and to the expressive power of the traditional close-fingered style.