Steve was a priceless asset to the class, bringing with him the unfailing cheerfulness, enthusiasm and generosity which were familiar to all who knew him.
Round about 20 years ago, a new face joined the melodeon tutorial group I was running in Sheffield. It would be wrong to describe Steve Dumpleton as my pupil; he was already an accomplished player, and took on the role of my trusted lieutenant, offering help and encouragement to less experienced group members and helping to co-ordinate meetings, which were often held at his home. Steve was a priceless asset to the class, bringing with him the unfailing cheerfulness, enthusiasm and generosity which were familiar to all who knew him. He had soon become such a fine player that I doubted whether I had much left to teach him, but Steve was determined to stay with us, taking delight in any new detail of fingering or harmony that might somehow have escaped his enquiring mind. Meticulous attention to detail was one of Steve’s great attributes; he took delight in building two one-row melodeons on courses led by Emmanuel Pariselle, and developed great skill as a tuner and repairer, in which capacity I called on his abilities more than once.
Steve’s patience, good humour and technical expertise made him a popular tutor on courses run by the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust and Melodeons at Witney, and he was instrumental in the establishment of the successful melodeon weekend at Wensleydale. He had a particular love for the East Anglian style - its bouncy exuberance reflecting his personality – and also for Welsh music. Steve’s rhythmic playing was honed during the 30-odd years he spent as musician for the Lizzie Dripping women’s dance team, in which he was joined latterly by his wife and fellow-melodeon player Jan, who intends to continue in the role.
Steve had an active and successful life independent of the folk music world. A degree in Geology led him to a career working as a mine geologist for British Coal in the South Yorkshire coalfield, and a four-year stint in South Wales, where his research into the prediction of ‘outbursts’ - explosions caused by a combination of pressurised gases and coal dust - contributed to miners’ safety. Along the way he achieved a Ph. D. in his later specialism of Hydrogeology. Steve’s musical interests extended to a proficiency on the Northumbrian pipes, and also into the classical field: he spent 40 years as principal clarinet with the Sheffield Chamber Orchestra, and was deeply involved with many aspects of its organisation. For the last 10 years he was a key member of the Black Velvet Clarinet Quartet, playing bass clarinet and writing many ingenious arrangements for their repertoire. He was a keen photographer as well.
It was a huge shock to learn back in May that Steve had died suddenly while out walking. For such a vibrant character, so full of the joy of living, to be lost to the world is a tragedy I find it hard to come to terms with. He will be missed enormously by his family, and also by his wider family in the music world, especially those eager learners who were so encouraged by his teaching. As one of his close friends said to me after a moving secular service of celebration and farewell, he loved to share his own skills in order to enable others to participate and enjoy the music as he did. And that’s what folk music is truly about.