Thursday, 17 October 2013

If I Could Turn Back Time

So the good news is, after a hiatus (should that be an hiatus?) the Wytchwood drummer is back on his blog. Wytchwood have had an interesting summer, with various pub dance-outs, a trip up the surprisingly quiet M6 to Sandbach, the Fed day of dance at Shrewsbury and a quite sublime day driving around the villages of the Cotswolds. Oh, and a few of us motored down to Wallingford in the old charabanc to spend a pleasant weekend with our new bestest mates Beltane Border Morris. But for various reasons, the blog ain’t got done. But we’re back now. So all’s well.

The last big thing on our summer schedule was our own Day of Dance, in Bewdley, to coincide with the harvest fair. After our Chief Day Of Dance Organiser left in July, the job fell to me, as someone with time on his hands. A frantic month of work was ahead of me, if we were to have a day worth remembering. Actually, I’ll let you into a little secret. Apart from a few e-mails to the sides concerned, a little package containing map, schedule and local tourists spots (pubs, mainly) and a couple of meetings, the Chief DODO does bugger all really. Everyone rallies round, the sides turn up and dance, are thanked and go away again, and everyone’s happy. Ian, our musician, kindly did the dance rota, we had three willing volunteers to act as marshals and money collectors (more later on that one) and Liz had a brilliant idea of baking some biscuits for the Great British Dance Off at the end. In the end five of the ladies (this isn’t intentionally sexist, just none of our men do baking) made more than enough biscuits and even I couldn’t eat any more at the end.

After, I think you’ll agree, the most glorious summer since ’76, the weather had taken a turn for the worse, but the good news was, that after a week of cloudiness and drizzle, the forecast was sunny spells. I’d got some posters to put up around the town, so although we weren’t due to begin until 1015, we arrived in Bewdley at the unearthly hour for a Sunday of Just After Nine. I stood at the bandstand on Severnside South putting the first poster up, turned round, and there was a vision in… Well, have you ever gone to bed after drinking a bottle of whisky and smoking twenty fags and dreamed of Barbara Cartland in a mini skirt, fishnets and a beard? Just me then? I think you get the picture.  In fact, here is a picture, why should we be the only ones to suffer?
A Vision in Pink

Yes, our old mate from Bunnies, Bedcote and several other Morris sides beginning with B, Phil Watson had arrived to help with the marshalling and money collecting. Stuart the Squire then turned up, and after a brief chat, I went off around the town distributing my posters. Bewdley is a fine Georgian town, overlooking the River Severn, with a history as an inland port and centre of commerce. As I wandered up Load Street, I tried to imagine what it must have been like in its heyday in the 18th century, full of bustling costermongers, muleskinners, coopers and teamsters.  Actually, I’ve no idea what I’m talking about; I’m just reading it off a museum leaflet. Bewdley is a good place to visit though, if you’re ever in the area. Especially when there are over a hundred Morris Dancers in the town. Hurrah!

I arrived back at the bandstand at around 10ish, to find most of our side, but few others. The stall-mongers (is that right, or does it just mean a seller of stalls?) were crowding in on us but the side were doing an admirable job of fending them off. We’d invited ten other sides, so I had another look around town and found more than a few dancers wandering around, disgorging from cars and vans, sitting in tea shops etc., so  I gathered them up, and by the time I arrived back at about 1020, we were ready to go. Stuart said a few words of welcome and everyone eagerly ran off to their first dance spots, apart from those who were at the bandstand of course. Actually, I call it "the bandstand"; in fact the bandstand was removed in about 2003 but the name seems to have stuck and there is still a rather nice circular pattern of slabs which is perfect for dancing on.

We were outside the museum and Civic Centre first, with Old Meg and Shropshire Rapper. Two lovely sides to start off with and we spent a pleasant 45 minutes gathering a fair sized audience. It was then time to leave, and go off to St Georges Hall, where there was virtually no audience at all. Bewdley, for all its charms, has very few open spaces to dance in; we’re limited to the Riverside really, and a fairly large pavement area outside the museum. We really needed four spaces to dance in, so we decided on the hall, but it’s a bit off the beaten track and a struggle to attract the only passers-by who are on their way to and from the car park. It was an experiment that didn’t really work; I’m sure we’ll get over it. In fact, by the end of the session, we had about twenty people watching, so we didn’t do too badly. We were with Silhill, a great bunch of people from around Solihull, the posh side of Birmingham, and danced turn and turnabout until it was time for lunch.

I don’t know what you think about the Wetherspoons pub chain, they seem to be all over the place now, offering cheap and cheerful food and drink; a good selection usually, of real ales. Some seem to me a bit too cheap and cheerful, with big tellies showing football and kids all running over the place, but they are a good stand by in towns you don’t know, and if nothing else, they seem to do a good job keeping the price of beer down across town. It’s only my opinion, of course, and what does that count for? Anyway, the one in Bewdley is better than most in my humble opinion, and it was to here that we retired for some well-earned victuals. It’s set in the George Hotel, a Tudor building in the middle of town. My family stayed there in fact, for our wedding. I tried to imagine what it must have been like in the 18th Century, with its bustling ostlers, barkeeps and bootblacks. Nah, I didn’t really, I just had a couple of pints of mild and a burger and chips. Lovely. 

In the afternoon, we were at the Bandstand (remember, not really a bandstand) with Nancy Butterfly and Clerical Error, all the way from North Wales. A great session in the (by now) fairly warm autumn sun. A good audience too, even though the road was still open and the odd car kept disturbing them. Phil did a great job, all in pink, directing traffic and pedestrians alike whilst rattling his collecting tin. 

The last session of the day, we were supposed to be up at St Georges Hall again, with Shropshire Rapper, but we scratched that venue, and the Rappers went up to Severnside North, whilst we stayed on Severnside South with Aelfgythe, Bellyfusion, and Silhill. Aelfgythe are an all-girl border side, whilst Bellyfusion are, well, belly dancers. All those girls! I didn’t know where to look! My wife did though - at me, so I wandered over to the railings and looked down at the River Severn. An old Severn trow river yacht was moored below, its crew lounging on the deck. The Bo ‘sun watched as longshoremen and stevedores manhandled barrels and sacks onto the shore for the tally clerk to check and note in his register. I woke up with a start. I must have imagined it. The biscuits had arrived. 

Something like what I imagined. Probably.

All sides met up back at the bandstand for a last dance when biscuits were served. It was a glorious ending and a very happy one. Stuart thanked everyone for coming, cheerio’s, hugs and kisses were exchanged, and whilst my wife nipped home to look after our dogs, I helped host a bit of a session in the Arches, my favourite pub in Bewdley, where they serve the best pint of cider this side of Hereford. Tunes were played, songs were sung. A very convivial end to a memorable day. Thanks to all the dancers and musicians from all sides, to Phil, Steve and Lucy, for marshalling, collecting, selling badges and keeping the traffic of Bewdley flowing, to the delicious biscuit makers and all of Wytchwood as ever, for their help and support. And a special thanks to the public, who bothered to watch.

Well, that’s all in the past now, merely a dream. Last night we had our AGM when Stuart, after three outstanding years as Squire stood down. Joe Muggins here is now the Squire, and looking forward to new challenges in the coming months. Next dance-out is, I believe, Blists Hill in December. I’ll keep you posted.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Wearing Purple

People are drawn to the Morris in various ways. Some are born to it, with fathers or uncles, or in these more enlightened times, mothers or aunties already in a side. Some may come to it as part of a community payback programme. Actually, that's not true. Some though, see a side dancing out, and think "I want some of that". With my wife and I, it was the Witchmen, at Southwell Folk Festival. With Angie, it was Beltane Border Morris, at Upton.
We've danced with some great sides, Seven Champions, Boggarts Breakfast, Ironmen and Severn Gilders, Rivington Morris. Now at Teignmouth Festival, we were going to be dancing with Beltane.

For us, up in the West Midlands, Teignmouth is a bit of a trek, it's fair to say. On a Friday evening, starting out around 4ish, we were expecting the worst, especially when we saw the ominous signs on the M5 warning of delays around Bristol. Nevertheless, we made the trip in about three and a half hours. The M5 takes you almost all the way. By 830pm we were ready to hit the town. It's compulsory to eat fish and chips the moment you arrive in a seaside town, so we had a look round and found a decent chippy, Finn McCools. Suitably fed, the next thing was a watering hole. It all seemed to be happening at the Riviera Cafe Bar, a large imposing pub on the seafront, so we went in. Doom Bar was on offer, as was Aspall's Suffolk cider. The session upstairs was in full flow, with some excellent singers and musicians. We had a few, a chat with Lizzie, Sarah, Stuart, Alf and Liz from AngleTwitch, Angie and Doug, and wended our merry way back up to the campsite, at the Teignmouth Community School, conveniently situated at the top of a steep hill. And so to bed.

The next day, it was all looking a bit grim. The wind was howling, well, it had been all night. The clouds had gathered, and a marquee which had been erected by members of Beltane was listing somewhat.I got dressed and washed, and wandered down to the school for some breakfast. An excellent bacon, sausage and egg bap and plenty of tea later, we were ready to go. We were all to meet down at the East Cliff Cafe for the procession. See my last blog for my opinion on processions. Just add to it a roaring wind off the sea, blowing my drum all over the place, a pipe band (though I think I may have mentioned that before) and drizzle. Least said, soonest mended. After about 1/2 an hour of absolute purgatory, we were at the Triangle and ready to be introduced to a rapturous crowd. Despite the weather, which was breezy, chilly for June, and a bit drizzly, there were quite a few people assembled on plastic chairs in the Triangle. The Lady Mayor was there, and she opened the festival with a suitable flourish. Everybody in the procession had to do a dance. We started with an Ockington, and it got a cheer. That was good enough for a start. And the good news was, we didn't have to move, because we were dancing with Old Speckled Hen and Plymouth Maids in the same spot. It's always good dancing with clog sides because their dances last for about four minutes and you get a good break! A Brimfield, a Titterstone Clee and a Manning Tree followed in succession until just before noon, when it was time to move on. Our next spot was on the promenade, along with Gasket Rats and Grimspound, both accomplished border sides. We enjoyed a good thirty minutes or so with them to a fair audience, and then it was time for our lunch.

 I was getting desperate by then, it being half an hour past drinking time, so we adjourned to the Riviera Bar. Ian, our disabled musician, was so desperate for a drink, he tripped on the ramp and went flying into the dining area. The barmaid was great. We helped him up, and she cleared the kitchen and let Ian alone whilst he sorted himself out. Job done, she came back with an accident form and lots of sympathy. We enjoyed an excellent lunch, I had a couple of pints of Aspalls and I went upstairs to the gents. In my haste, I tripped up the stairs, cutting my hand. The barmaid looked concerned. I came back down a few minutes later to find everyone on their way out. The barmaid smiled at me. "we're out of here" I said, "place is a bloody death-trap!"

What a great barmaid! Mr P, you should be proud of her!

We then had our own special spot in the Triangle between 1.30pm and 2pm. I spoke to a couple of Welsh lads who were amused by it all. We did a few dances, basked in some quite ecstatic applause, and moved on to our 2 o'clock date with Imbolc Bedlam and Plymouth Maids. We were dancing in Bank Street, and as we arrived I asked Derek, of Imbolc, "where can I get a drink then?" "Well, we're supposed to be dancing here, but there's a pub at the other end so I suggest we all move up there"
"Oh I like you, you can join our side if you like!" It turned out to be a weekend of that sort of comment. I nipped into Molloys for a bottle of Bulmer's and came out in time for a Pershore Hanky.
We had a great hour there, with Imbolc and the Maids, and when it was time to choose what to do next, we just carried on. We ended up with a Tinner's Rabbit and even I had a dance with two young ladies who didn't seem to mind me kicking their shins.

Back to the Triangle for the last waltz, and our first glimpse of Beltane. They did an excellent White Ladies Aston, with far more gusto and energy than I have ever seen. We clapped and cheered as befitting a great dance by a great side. We did a Pershore Hanky, which got great applause, and finished proceedings with a Twiglet.

We'd been invited to Beltane's party on the Saturday night, so after a shower, and a change of clothes we headed over for a burger at the Ceilidh in the school. We watched Boekka's dance spot, an interesting mix of Gothy Morris and movement. About nineish we went over to the marquee and joined the proceedings. What a party those Beltane people throw! Music, singing, beer, food and friendship. Possibly the best session I've ever been to. And I suppose really, after their enthusiastic cheering of us in the Triangle, we should have guessed. But it turns out that Beltane, one of the best Morris sides in the country, think that we're pretty good too. Highlights of the evening? Well, a sublime performance by Seamo of the classic Gogol Bordello song "Start Wearing Purple" on guitar with kazoo accompaniment by Keith and Joe. A beautifully rendered "They Don't Write Them Like That Any More" by Spike and just about everyone else. An amazing free-form dance display by Arwen to  "American Pie". Oh, and a rousing rendition of the Disney classic "I Wanna Be Like You."
Wonderful, wonderful stuff. Around 2am, my wife and I left, to hugs and handshakes all round. As I was leaving, a pretty girl with red hair gave me a hug. "We're so excited about dancing with you tomorrow" she said. I nearly cried.

After a few hours sleep, we were up and ready to go. Another breakfast bap, and down to the seafront for dancing with Boekka and Newton Bushel, a fun Cotswold side with a great Fool. We danced turn and turn about as usual, and had a good time on the seafront, as we did in the next spot, at the Triangle, with Newton Bushel (again) and Old Speckled Hen. Another lunch in the Riviera Bar, and it was over to the promenade for our spot with Beltane.

A few months ago, Richard Ingrams had written a small article in The Oldie magazine, moaning about Morris dancers clogging up his pub. "A rabble of young men and women in drab green costumes and black masks, many of them unsteady on their feet, as they struggled to keep in time with the monotonous diddly-diddly-dee tune of a squeeze-box....." he called them. Well, all I can say is, that in his haste to get a few cheap laughs, he failed to do his research. He's obviously never seen two bloody good sides pulling out all the stops to impress one another as we did that Sunday afternoon. They did a Beltane Fire Dance, we countered with a Manning Tree. They did a Haccombe, we came back with a Sorting Hat. At the end of about an hour and ten minutes, the audience knew they had seen a show of epic proportions.  Monotonous? Ingrams, you know nothing! Of all their dances, I love Jolly Roger. Not taking anything away from all their other dances. Beltane are a wonderful exciting side to watch. The music! The shouting! The dancing! The fishnets! If you watch no other Morris side this year, then try to see Beltane. Or us, obviously! You won't regret it.

I can honestly say that in five years of dancing, never has a weekend gone by so quickly. Never has a weekend been so full of fun. Never have I thought so much "What a great side! And what lovely people!" So thank you Keith, and Joe, Will, and Sue, and Seamo, and Benji, and Ant, Spike, Arwen and Jackie, and anyone else I apologise I've missed off. Thanks for a smashing weekend. And a special thanks to Amy for reminding me what a sentimental old softy I can be when someone says something nice. Especially when I've had a few.

PS If a spare liver was found in the marquee on Sunday afternoon, it'll belong to Dougie, our Glaswegian photographer. They all think they can drink up there.

Monday, 24 June 2013

No Sleep 'Til Clun

Big weekend then, with the Upton Folk Festival on Sunday and Clun Green Man Festival on the Bank Holiday Monday. We had decided to go to Upton on the Saturday as well, to watch a bit of the dancing. Angie and Doug agreed to put us up for the night, living as they do close to Upton, so we were well sorted.
We arrived in Upton at around 2ish, and with Angie, Doug and Clive, saw some good acts. Quite a few friends were dancing as well, Lizzie was with Stone the Crows, the hard dancin', hard drinkin' Lancashire border side, and Fi was with Foxs, who do the whole weekend. Bellyfusion were there, and Bourne Borderers too. A great afternoon, watching rather than dancing for a change. And when it was all finished, we had fish and chips on the river front. A great day. We spent the evening in the Swan, always a good place when there's a folk festival on, and slept well.
Sunday dawned bright, dry but a little windy. Angie did us some lovely bacon sandwiches and we had the last of the cat's milk in the tea. Not out of the cat's bowl, you understand, it was milk in the fridge, set aside for the cat. Think I've cleared that one up Angie! Thanks for looking after us!

We were dancing our show spot at 1110am, so we'd all agreed to meet up before 1030 for a quick run through. Practice over, we made our way down to the show spot. We kicked off with a Manning Tree, Lizzie's excellent dance honouring  the so-called witches executed in the 17th and 18th centuries. Jane's Dance, a long dance in the Manx tradition followed. Both got some good applause. "Can you do one more?" said the organiser, "a quick one?" so we finished with a Katie Cruel. Rapturous applause. A quick sprint down to the rugby fields, about a mile away, and we were ready to start the procession. I don't know whether I've mentioned it before, if I have, I apologise. I hate processions.
Reason 1: No two Morris sides process at the same speed. You end up with a mixture of shuffling about on the spot, and sprinting to catch up.
Reason 2: They always seem to go for a least a mile, sometimes two. I'm a fairly stoutish sort of fellow, with small legs. It's hard work for me.
Reason 3: You try walking and playing a big mediaeval drum at the same time. It swings all over the place, gets between your legs, falls off.....
Reason 4: Most processional dances are in fact rubbish. This is in no way a reflection on the writers, it's just more or less impossible to write a dance where you keep moving forward all the time in a medium that is meant for static dancing.
Reason 5: Nobody can hear what's going on. There I am, walking alongside the dancers, banging away for all it's worth, in 4/4 time, and just in front there's a pipe band. Or a Samba band. Or three accordions and a set of English pipes playing something in 6/8.
Reason 6. I could go on all night, but I think I've said enough.
On the upside, when we all get to the other end, we all form a sort of guard of honour, and everybody walks through everybody else, to applause and back slapping, that sort of thing. Until we get to the end, and then nobody knows where we started and we start again. After about an hour, we're done. There, I've just cancelled out the upside.

Anyway, procession over, it was time for lunch. On Dougie's recommendation I immediately ran over to the  Anchor, for a pint of  Sharpe's Doom Bar. Another followed. What a great pint of bitter Doom Bar is! Spicy, malty, fruity and bitter. A meal in a glass. Apparently I had some food to, but I can't for the life of me remember what....

Upton is an interesting festival, in that you just dance where you like. There about a dozen spots, up and down the town, along the waterfront, but you just pick your spot and away you go. Some memories of the afternoon:
Flagcrackers of Craven outside the Swan. Do a magnificent dance called Bedlam. I love theatrical, and this was THEATRE! Brilliant. Watch it when you can!
Bellyfusion, outside the Anchor. I've been trying to get them interested in Tom Waits for a while now, and they've done a dance to a Tom Waits song, just for me! Well, probably not just for me, but that's what they said. It was great! So thank you Angie, it was wonderful!
Good to see Chris Butler-Hall and Rosie, looking so well! Here's looking at you kid! Didn't see your dad though, he was probably in a pub somewhere....Hope you had a good time Steve, see you soon.
All in all, a cracking day, weather held good, some good dancing, company, and beer. Not necessarily in that order. Obviously.

Now how do I describe Clun? Have you seen Deliverance? It's a border town. Right on the border really. From Craven Arms, you drive through Aston on Clun. And Clunton. And eventually you come across this town, nestling in the valley. Of the River Clun. We parked up on a field and walked into town. We walked into this town square, where there were terraced houses, shops, and a pub. A first floor sash window flew up, and some kids looked out, like that scene in The Wicker Man. The sun was shining brightly and some old friends were sitting on the steps of the pub. Iron Men and Severn Gilders were there, ready to start. Drinking or dancing, anybody's guess, but I know what my money was on. They hadn't been at Upton, and we hadn't seen them for...ooh, a week, so hugs and handshakes followed.

They were sensibly dancing in the same spot all day, near the pub. We, as newcomers, had been allocated the spot near the bridge, where all the Green Man/ Ice Queen action kicks off, so we walked down a fairly steep hill to set up. Down at the river, it was packed. Last year, the whole thing had had to be cancelled due to flooding. This year, kids were paddling in the river, people were sunbathing on the grass, and the ice cream vans were doing a roaring trade. After the road had been closed, we started off, to a fairly big and appreciative audience. We raced through a Twiglet, a Titterstone Clee, a Sorting Hat, and a Brimfield. All to wild applause. A Manning Tree, our new Oddington dance, Young Collings, and then disaster struck! During Katie Cruel, Kylie pulled up and hobbled off. Dangerous Steve, quick as a flash, stepped in almost seamlessly and finished the dance. Luckily, we had Jodie, a very qualified nurse with us, and she had a look at Kylie's injury. An Achilles tendon problem. Poor Jodie missed the whole of the Green Man/ Ice Queen action, as she administered to Kylie's heel. Thanks a lot Jodie, for being such a patient nurse!

The Green Man bit over, we were due up the hill and outside the pub again, for an action packed afternoon with the Ironmen and Severn Gilders. Kylie, hobbling over the bridge, spied a chap on a mobility scooter. "You couldn't lend me that to get up the hill could you?" she cheekily asked. He carried on, but seconds later his wife came running back, saying, "he felt guilty watching you struggle, do you want some help?" He very kindly lent Kylie his crutches to walk up the hill with. What a really nice couple!

An excellent afternoon ensued. A few pints of the ever popular Butty Bach from the White Horse,  great dancing and a fabulous time was had by all. Congratulations to Martyn and Sheena for their first dance with Wytchwood, a Pershore Hanky and a  Brimfield respectively. Good to see all our friends from the Ironmen and Severn Gilders again. And a combined Sheepskins to finish off. The good people of Clun have probably never been so comprehensively entertained!