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Tag: morris dancing (page 1 of 2)

A further 15 seconds – should have about 14 minutes and 7 seconds left, according to popular belief

There’s not much more to this than blatant self-promotion – the other week our morris dancing team (that would be The Westminster Morris Men, in case this wasn’t yet abundantly clear) was filmed as part of an ITV News piece to promote the upcoming premiere of the new film, “Morris: A Life With Bells On“.  And the only reason I’m mentioning it is because you can see my beardy mug peeping towards camera in a couple of places.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKkPeQx0aCo

Now, just waiting for the scripts to start rolling in.

(Incidentally, the team will be performing at a screening of the film at the Everyman Cinema in Belsize Park on October 31st – more info on the team website…  I won’t be there, but if you’re in the slightest bit interested in seeing what all the buzz is on this movie, this would be a perfect opportunity!  Provided you live in easy reach of London, I mean.  Go on, get amongst it & get involved!)

Nice, also, to finally appear on the TV screens of my adopted home in a presentation that isn’t about genitalia.

Life once again has meaning. In suit form.

Another absolutely excellent weekend judders past and highlights how much fun it’s possible to have if you really put your mind to it.

Friday night I went to The Bloomsbury Theatre to see a standup gig from Al Madrigal and Janeane Garofalo.  Both were in excellent form, however the crowd was really fired up for Garofalo, and there was a general air of disappointment when she got to the end of her allotted time and had to leave the stage – we all wanted more, and she had plenty more to tell us.  Hopefully a revisit sometime soon?  She was charmingly cynical but in a venemously perky way.  Self-effacing and seemingly resigned to what life’s thrown at her, she gave us some great insights into her world.  I’m not 100% sure why, but she reminded me a lot of Bill Hicks.  Very, very glad I went.

Saturday I was out hankywaving in the St Albans area with The Westminster Morris Men again – as well as some top fun dancing with some excellent sides (St Albans, Hoddesdon Crownsmen, and Etcetera Morris Men), we alsohad a chance to visit historic country pile Hatfield House.  Does wonders for the self-esteem, that does.  Beautiful place though.  Wouldn’t mind retiring to something like that.  I’m convinced that I’ve had bedrooms smaller than the fireplace there.

Hoverdancers go WHRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR

Hoverdancers go WHRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR

Saturday night we descended on a bar in Shoreditch – which had sadly swapped its cheesy “soft porn decoration policy” for an “inversely proportion music volume with ambient light policy” – to welcome Liz into a new period of chronological accounting.  Good people, nice drinks: top night out!  Not sure why, but I was momentarily overcome with excitement to realise that I routinely hang out with such a bunch of absolute babes.

Oh, you beautiful babes from England... will you go to the prom with us in San Dimas?

Oh, you beautiful babes from England... will you go to the prom with us in San Dimas?

Sunday, for an extra special treat, we celebrated Ally’s birthday with afternoon tea at The Dorchester.  Oh yeah.  It’s easy to get caught up in the opulence and grandeur of the surroundings, however now becoming accustomed to such things I was able to concentrate more on the food – the rosé champagne we had was light, fruity & tasty, the scones were fluffy, and the most impressive thing was the “pre-dessert” of cherry sorbet with some kind of cinnamon creme on top.  Three thumbs up!  And the staff were unfailingly helpful & polite.

photo4

And on the way back up to Soho for champagne and salsa dancing, we saw the finest suit that has ever been made for anyone, anywhere, ever.  Behold its awesomeness:

photo1
There’s nothing further to be said.

This whole “hankywaving” malarkey – what’s all that about?

uptonbartosik

If I was to ever write a personal FAQ – other than the sort of mock-humorous 20-questions style FAQ which adorned previous incarnations of this internet resource – one of the definite contenders would be “[expression of enquiry involving various degrees of astonishment] made you get into morris dancing?”.  Examples:

“How’d you get into morris dancing?”

“What in the world got you involved in morris dancing?”

“But you’re Australian – why the bloody hell are you doing that ridiculous thing?”

and so on.

So, for the record, the way it happened was this:

In 1989 at the tender and impressionable age of 13 I joined the backstage crew of the Adelaide Gang Show.  Why the hell I did that still remains a mystery.  I think I was too shy to join the cast, but thought it’d be fun to get on board.  Whatever.  Anyway, during show week one of the sketches was about morris dancing – a load of blokes in flowery hats and baldrics stood in a long line and said some unlikely things in terrible Zummerzet accents, and there were 2 dances to some apple-cheeked English tunes; one of which involed hankywaving and the other bashing sticks together (complete with Ted Wilkins and the running joke of him dashing offstage to get bigger and bigger sticks, until he took stage with a hockey stick and armour).

Fast forward now to early 2003, when I decided that the only thing better than living in a house with ludicrously cheap rent was to share it with someone and thereby pay half as much again, and managed to convince Mike to occupy one of the spare bedrooms.  Mike was, at the time (and it seems, once again), the Squire of the Adelaide Morris Men, and would periodically disappear for the day in white shirt & trousers & black top hat (a sort of quasi-Clockwork Orange getup).  The sort of thing where I’d say “What you up to this weekend mate?”, and he’d reply, “Oh I’m off morris dancing”, at which I’d nod wistfully, safe in the knowledge that I only had a distant & vague idea of what that involved.

It must’ve been around January 2004, when I was preparing for my imminent departure to live in the UK – I’d severed each weeknight commitment I had, and in the interests of saving a few bucks was spending more time around the house than previously.  Mike, ever the astute fellow, noticed this and launched into the now pivotal exchange:

Mike: I’ve noticed that you’re not busy on Thursday nights at the moment.  I therefore put it to you that you should come to morris dancing practice.

Me: Now Michael, why in the hell would I be doing a thing like that?

Mike: Well, there’s a number of reasons really…

  1. It’s good fun.
  2. It’s good exercise.
  3. They’re a good fun bunch of lads.
  4. They don’t mind a pint – which I’ve noticed is an area you’re more-than-casually interested in.
  5. You’re leaving the country, so if you hate it there’s an easy get-out clause.
  6. It’s a new skill, and learning things keeps the brain active.
    But I guess most importantly…
  7. You have a car, and I need a lift to practice.

Unfortunately, being a fairly logical fellow I couldn’t find a fault with any of that, so I went along.  Though I can’t profess to being particularly good at it, or a fast learner, it was pretty good fun – and in March 2004 I went on my first public danceout at the Moot Yang Gunya Festival in Mundulla, SA.  I didn’t have baldricks or anything, so just had white shirt & trousers and some borrowed bellpads.  It was a top event, and the crowd really seemed to get into it.  The men were a little short-handed, so they put me in a couple of dances which weren’t in my “ready to be danced outside the practice hall” list, and finished off the day with a dance I’d never seen before – the famous “Vandals of Hammerwich”, which the guys said “don’t worry, it’s not hard – we’ll talk you through as you go!”.  And I reckon we broke about 6 sticks in that one.  Great fun – woodchips flying everywhere, and an appreciative crowd all supporting my maiden voyage.

amm_mundulla

Upon landing in London it occurred to me that I didn’t know anyone, so I figured it made sense to see what was around in terms of morris dancing, and fortuitously there were a couple of teams in easy distance from where I was staying.  Contacting the first – the Westminster Morris Men – I learned that it was their final practice for the year, but they were having their annual Day of Dance on the Saturday, and I was welcome to come and watch.  It was quite a spectacle, with over a hundred morris men in Trafalgar Square – certainly more than I’d ever seen before!  I also checked out the Hammersmith Morris Men (aka The Smiffs), who were also great fun & a top bunch of lads.

Something drew me back to the Westminster lads though, and they very accommodatingly let me tag along on some of their country trips in my white gear, and let me join in to the farewell dance at every spot, Bonny Green Garters.

And I’ve been with them ever since!  They’ve been incredibly patient with me, and there’s a rumour going around that my dancing’s now fit to be seen in public…

It really is top fun – not just for the reasons Mike outlined back in Adelaide (although 5 and 7 are less relevant over here): we also do some pretty cool stuff, like all the weekend trips away to bits of Britain I’d probably have never seen had I just remained a tourist.  We have an annual weekend in The Cotswolds, a bi-annual trip to Devizes (in Wiltshire), occasional trips up to Chester, and then there’s been various other one-offs, such as our Gloucestershire tour, Southwold (Suffolk), Exeter, Eastbourne, Dartington, Ripley, Saddleworth

Probably the one event that stars in the photo album would be the time that we were booked to perform at a garden party at Lambeth Palace for the Archbishop of Canterbury.

wmm_archbishop

A close second though would be the Westminster Day of Dance – which I’ve somehow been jostled into position as the organiser for for the last 2 years – and the opportunity to put on our kit and dance at some of London’s most famous landmarks, such as Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, Chinatown, St James’s Park and Westminster Cathedral.

Intriguingly, one of the things which initially drew me to the whole thing was that it felt like the most ludicrous thing a bunch of blokes could do together.  Some of the dance moves seem really silly, which impresses me immensely (my favourite is called a “galley”, which sort of looks like an Arnold Rimmer salute, but using the foot).  After now having been at it for 5 years though my giggling has mostly subsided, and now that I know several dances well enough to not have to concentrate intently on each the puerile chortle has been replaced with a sense of attention to detail & doing one’s best to work in symphony with the other dancers in the set – you can just tell when you’ve nailed a dance, and it’s a real buzz when audience members come over and compliment you.  One of my favourite dances ever was the Longborough-style dance, “Loveless”, which I recorded in Thaxted earlier this year – to me it just looks beautiful, with straight lines throughout and coordinated hand movements.  The lads did a great job, I reckon!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hslLqt_QrvU

I’m still very much in contact with the Adelaide Morris Men – I pop in to practice whenever I’m back home for a visit, and they came over for a tour of the UK in 2005, and are currently in the final planning stages of another tour in 2010 which we’re all looking forward to immensely.

So it doesn’t really make a hell of a lot of sense, but I genuinely love it.  Though it’s frustrating, exhausting, and seems to take up bizarrely large amounts of my time, joining a morris dancing side is probably one of the best decisions I’ve made in the last decade.  You get bizarre looks from strangers, prospective girlfriends screw their faces up in puzzlement, and the British press seem to have a constant campaign afoot to get it abolished because they haven’t got the imagination to respond to it in any way other than derision.  But I’m crap at tennis, and besides, the music’s nicer.

wmm_bakerst_simonh

(incidentally, credit where credit’s due – the first photo in this post was taken by the immensely talented James Bartosik, and the last photo by media genius Simon Hepworth)

Keeping busy

Hmm, been doing a bit much waving around of opinions & reminiscing, and not enough recounting of what in the Dickens I’ve been up to lately, so here’s a roundup (in reverse chronological order).

29th : Night of 400 Billion Stars / Robin Ince & Friends – returning to the Bloomsbury (the scene of Ince’s Atheist Christmas gig), we (Housemate James, Trudy, Dancing Dave & I) settled in for another Rationalist-sponsored gig.  Again, an eclectic mix, with some excellent performances (Simon Singh and his pickle demonstration, the incomparable Gavin Osborn, and the ebullient Chris Addison, and the disarmingly charming Josie Long), and some more mystifying ones (Peter Buckley Hill always makes me laugh, but I wonder every time whether he’s ever performed before – this time abandoning an ill-considered monologue partway through to launch into an unaccompanied song about Schrodinger’s Cat).  Robin Ince is still one of my favourite comics, both for his viewpoints and his execution, however top act for the night I feel was Lucy Porter, who Housemate James & I both declared crushes on and spent the walk home trying to decide which of us should ask her out.  She read a love poem she’d written at the age of 14 which contained the names of 31 chemical elements.

27th : Late night cabaret with Hannah Waddingham – Belinda & Tom joined me to watch West End diva Hannah Waddingham (star of A Little Night Music and Spamalot) in The Delfont Room in the Prince Of Wales theatre sing to an audience of friends an punters, with musical guests ranging from her opera singing mother, to former musical colleagues like Ben Goddard from Sunset Boulevard, and various other friends & contemporaries.  She’s got a great voice & amazing presence, and she deserves to go far.  Favourite performances of the night were an arrangement of Madonna’s “Time Goes By So Slowly” by a couple of HW’s talented mates whose name I didn’t catch, and the finale of the combined ensemble singing “Seasons Of Love” from RENT – a song which previously I was convinced I’d heard enough of for this lifetime, but which these guys absolutely nailed.

26th : An evening with Michael Palin – Kat, Dave & I trekked out to the awkwardly named IndigO2 for a charity gig comprising a chat with former Monty Python member and globally recognised nice chap, Michael Palin.  The first half was made up of stories from his world travels through his various documentary series, and the second half was a journey through some of his memories from Python days.  The travel stuff was breathtaking, and I think the audience was united in a combination of joy at hearing/learning this stuff, and jealousy that this lucky bugger was able to travel to all these places as his job.  Among the exotic and bizarre travel tales recounted to the eager crowd, Palin surprisingly turned up a photo of himself riding a cow in South Australia’s “Mt Compass Cup”.  On the way out we also spotted the makeshift shrine to Michael Jackson thrown together by fans, as his hotly anticipated concert series was to be next door at the main arena of the O2.  Amid our chortling that as well as leaving flowrs & candles someone had thought to pay tribute to The King Of Pop in the form of a large Starbucks latte, we were interrupted by an argument largely propogated by a loudmouthed slapper over the exact degree of reverence that MJ should be shown: in her (incredibly audible) opinion nothing short of her interlocutor admitting Jackson’s absolute musical supremacy and excellence was acceptable.  Dave summarised this far more capably over on Flickr.

24th : Morris dancing in Belgravia – as is customary at this time of year, the Westminster Morris Men toured the Belgravia Estates, stopping at 3 excellent pubs – The Nag’s Head, The Grenadier, and The Star.  Enthusiastic audiences (cheers to Dan, Pamela, Brett, Rach, Belinda & Gemma for dragging about after us!), nice beer & sunny weather made for a grand night’s dancing.

20th : Daniel Kitson: Stories from a Starlit Sky – Daniel Kitson & Gavin Osborn have collaborated again on one of their now trademark story shows in Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, only this time held at midnight.  The bleary eyed but expectant crowd (which included Wenz, Pablo & I) crammed in through the stage door, and were rewarded for their staying up past bedtime with yet another beautifully crafted tale of love & humanity – this year’s centred on a couple who worked the graveyard shift together in a shadowy government filing department, cataloguing a card for every act of love that ever takes place.  To try to explain it any futher than that would be to try to retell the story, and that’s near-impossible to do as it relies on Kitson’s carefully considered wordsmithery, and Osborn’s musical backing & interludes.  It’s every bit as good at his previous story shows, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing it again in August.  An afterthought & footnote to this description is that contrasting with Kitson’s (also excellent, IMHO) standup work, it’s interesting that there’s no trace of the casual torrent of abusive obscenity that usually spews from his lips, which I think some punters were a little crestfallen about (I overheard snippets of “It wasn’t much like his last gig… not enough jokes or swearing!” on the way out), but to me just cements his talent.

20th : Charpentier concert – at Rupert’s invitation I went along to Canonbury Chamber Choir’s “Surrounded By Sound” concert, comrpised of an ambitious selection of music by Charpentier, Mendehlsson, and Purcell – some written for 4 choirs, which the CCC executed in the titular style whereby they split into 4 x 4-6 person groups and took op place at each corner of the room, creating a sort of surround sound effect.  I won’t profess to having any understanding or indeed recollection of the works, as I largely just let the sound wash over me (I’ve never been much of a lyrics-obsessive…) – overall very good, although judging by the facial expressions of some of the choristers it wasn’t without its minor cockups.  Still, a very talented ensemble I thought.

19th : Mark Thomas: The Manifesto – HC kindly gave me her spare ticket to the recording of South London comic, political activist & agitator Mark Thomas’s new radio show.  The premise is that audience members suggest policies, and over the course of the evening they’re discussed and then at the end one is voted on for inclusion in Thomas’s manifesto.  Not sure what happens after that.  Seizing the opportunity to possibly air one of my favourite UK irritations, I improvised an extrapolation and put forward that Londonders should be issued a weekly ration of “Sorry” tokens, and instead of constantly saying that word they could just hand over a token in lieu, and it also included ideas on education programmes to teach Londoners more meaningful & relevant alternatives, such as “excuse me”, or “may I please momentarily have your attention”.  Not hugely popular with the audience judging by the response, but Mark Thomas clearly liked it because he tried to bring it in 6 or 7 times as a running gag.

17th : Bobby McFerrin in Royal Festival Hall – It would be fair to guess that I’m a bit obsessed with Bobby McFerrin, and might even stretch as far as being accurate.  Mitch, Joy & I capitalised on a rare London appearance by the dreadlocked vocal gymnast and rocked along – I had a feeling I knew the structure of the evening, having seen him in Paris the previous month.  Sure enough, structurally it was the same, but as McFerrin improvises so heavily no two gigs are ever in any way alike (well, other than him singing “Drive” and getting the audience to sing “Ave Maria” while he arpeggiates over the top).  This evening’s gig featured a section by tubaist Oren Marshall – never have I heard the tuba played like THAT before… Wow.  Awestruck.  McFerrin then casually & informally asked if anyone wanted to come up on stage & dance, perhaps expecting that British reservedness might reign, however he soon had a queue of 4, no… 8, no… 12 people ready to improvise a dance to Bobby’s improvised grooves.  These varied from a quite obvious but fun bit of “dad dancing” from the first guy, to some very slick & able rotations by what could only be drama students – as with the Paris gig, Bobby seemed able to pick a mood & mode that suited each person & their moves, and had us all smiling & clapping with shared happiness.  When he invited a few people to come sing with him he was immediately swamped, and there was again the same massive range of talent.  The only lowpoint of the evening we felt was the one that the Guardian critic raved was the highpoint – when festival curator Ornette Coleman took stage to improvise a duet with McFerrin.  They described it as “an impromptu two-part invention, replete with responsiveness and wit, that proved to be the highlight of the evening and maybe of the whole week”, and it might be my lack of scholarly appreciation for Free Jazz speaking here, but I’d go closer to “an uncooperative, opaque, atonal, self-indulgent & disappointing end to an otherwise magical evening”.

16th : A Little Night Music – HC, PB, Kat & I returned to the Garrick Theatre for a second serve of Sondheim’s stuffy Swedish swinging spectacular because we enjoyed it so much the first time.  The only time I could tear my eyes off the amazing Hannah Waddingham was when the stage was taken by Maureen Lipman in the grandmatriarchal role, with a performance of such withering sarcasm that I considered adding her to my special list which includes Judi Dench & Anne Robinson.  Don’t ask.

12th : Jason Byrne Show – The Puzzler & Pamela invited me to use their spare ticket for this rambunctious Irish comedian’s new radio show, although whilst waiting for them in the queue (by way of the usual transport issues this city offers) I managed to fluke another spare ticket out of a father & son queueing adjacent to me.  I like Byrne’s irrepressable style, although I thought for topic matter for a radio show he was shooting a bit wide (the subject was “food” – a little bit on the general side I thought, as far as comic targets go), and it was weird to get the stop-starty transitions between standup and sketch comedy, which will presumably get cleaned up in the edit.

11th : Waiting For Godot – Pablo, HC, & BK were kind enough to accompany me to see Patrick Stewart & Ian McKellan’s performance of Beckett’s play encapsulating the meaning of the human condition, and precursor to Seinfeld.  It’s a tricky thing to sum up in a line what this play’s about, because it’s something which many, many differing words have been written on and which I’d therefore be leaving myself wide open to counter-argument, and given that I’m not a scholar I’d feel like I was being led around by the nose by anyone who cared to throw a cap into the ring in this area.  However WHATEVER was or wasn’t going on, it was utterly captivating from end to end.  Seriously, I’d pay £50 to watch Patrick Stewart read out a telephone book.

10th : Morris dancing in Clerkenwell – always keen to drop in at The Gunmakers for a pint or 3, I cunningly manufactured an excuse in the form of setting up a morris dancing tour of Clerkenwell, taking in The Gunmakers, The Three Kings, and The Sekforde Arms.  Anyone who says that this is an overly complicated way of justifying going to the pub clearly hasn’t yet got a firm grasp on what morris dancing’s all about.   The tube strike didn’t help matters at all, and meant that we were a little shortstaffed, however this just resulted in some of us getting a bit more puffed out than usual, and we had plenty of time to recuperate following our discovery of the total non-audience at the last pub.  A little tweaking, and we’ve got a cracker of a tour set up there.

8th : Bert Jansch at Jazz Cafe – Housemate James & I trekked along to Camden’s famous & not always accurately named Jazz Cafe to see guitarists’ guitarist, Bert Jansch.  Hard to fathom what a special place this guy holds in the guitarists’ canon, when he just looks and acts like your average grandad in beige trousers.  As soon as those strings start moving though you’re taken away to another place.  I think the only song I really recognised was Blackwaterside, which I found myself humming along to without being able to place it, then realised it was the one which Jimmy Page reportedly ripped off as Black Mountain Side.  Jansch was joined by a second guitarist whose name escapes me, but at least I remembered there was one – the Guardian review neglected to mention him at all.  Then Bert called out two more guitaring guests – Bernard Butler, and then Beth Orton.  A well behaved chilled out peaceful & attentive night, with incredibly skilled artists.

4th : The David Goo Variety Band – by stark contrast to any of the stuff mentioned above, the David Goo Variety Evening can only really be described as “random”.  Chris & I got there late – well, I got there late, and Chris waited for me.  We saw 3 musical acts and 2 short films.  First musician was a girl who played the keyboard whilst accompanied by 2 string players – her memorable finishing piece was a quirky rendition of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, in which she played melody on one hand and sort of punched or elbowed key clusters with the other (but it worked).  First film seemed to be about a boy & his granddad, and the reason for the granddad’s vexation with the boy was that the boy refused to say “fuck”.  Second act was a fairly bewildering singer whose songs tackled such underrepresented topics as having a third eye on your knee, and a lament that nothing stays the same, and he didn’t see why they had to change the name of Jif to Cif (this is a cleaning fluid, and probably something which doesn’t rank highly on anyone’s list of world concerns).  The second film featured a guy on a bus obsessing over a girl who was getting chatted up by a third guy on the bus – that description doesn’t barely do it justice, but we got distracted at the time by a 60 year old woman fainting in front of us at that point.  The main act, the aforementioned variety band, finally stormed on to stage and played out their set of intricately orchestrated chaos which once again conjured up visions of Frank Zappa, Mr Bungle, along with gypsy dancing music and Jewish surf tunes.  They’re really good fun, and absolutely worth a lookin.

Incidentally, if you ever ask me “So, what’ve you been up to?”, and I respond “Hmm, not much”, then I’m probably lying and you’re completely entitled to punch me.

Hankywaving and kickarse swamp rock

What a weekend!  This year saw the 75th anniversary of The Morris Ring, celebrated at the Thaxted Ring Meeting (I know, the what?!), and once again the Westminster Morris Men were honoured to participate.  What this translates into for our young hero is a weekend absolutely jam-packed with dancing, beer sampling, travelling around Essex, watching other people dance, singing in pubs, listening to top-class folk music being played in the same pubs in an effort to drown out some of the less-good singing, and generally having a mad and slightly surreal time.

I managed to capture a bit of video footage on my little camera, and upon returning home & reviewing it I’ve got to say – I was pretty darn impressed with the following dance which the lads did at the lunch stop on our tour.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hslLqt_QrvU

The dance is one that was written by an old member of the team, and it’s called “Loveless” – named after Father Ken Loveless, a longtime friend and supporter of the team, and a much loved figure in morris dancing circles.  It’s in the style of the village of Longborough – you can tell that by the way it starts with those “shufflebacks”, and by the way that the hankies are waved in the air in a horizontal inward-circle.  Bloody lovely bit of dancing that!

(we have more dancey goodness on YouTube, including the occasional dance featuring yours truly)

Now, most normal & sensible people would have taken a weekend-long dance festivity and said “Good, that’ll do for me!”, however can anyone guess which pillock thought “Hmm, chances are we’ll be back in London by about 5pm, so there’s no earthly reason NOT to book in a concert for later that night!”?

skynyrdfront

Lynyrd Skynyrd are one of those bands who have been around since time began, and near as I could tell the reasons for seeing them would be:

  1. Being a mad keen die hard fan.
  2. It’s a box-ticking exercise.

For me it was definitely the latter – essentially, it was an idea floated by Gig Chris a while back, and I thought “Yeah, why not”.  The only songs I knew being the ubiquitous “Sweet Home Alabama”, and the title of rock-gig encore in-joke staple, “Free Bird”.  As I handed over my £45, I thought to myself “Hang on, this is a frigging expensive exercise!?”, but by that point it was far too late.  And OH.  MY.  GOD.  Am I glad I went!

skynyrd

Suddenly it became obvious why these people are die-hard fans.  There’s something about southern blues-rock that just works and makes you want to holler whenever they dang well tell you to.  I thought perhaps the confederate flags in the crowd were a little bit too far (London not historically being a massive active supporter of the Confederacy), but otherwise I found that there was “something to it”, in a way that I didn’t get with the Hollywood Rock Posturing I got at Velvet Revolver.  I wouldn’t have said the blues influence on Skynyrd was quite as obvious as with Led Zeppelin, but damn… those boys can play!

In hindsight my skepticism was in part due to the knowledge that of the original lineup, only 2 band members were currently alive – along with the younger brother of the lead singer following the famous plane crash… and since booking the tickets in December or January we’d read about 2 more band member deaths.  Absolutely nothing to worry about though, as the 7 piece nailed every single song, of course finishing with “Sweet Home”, and then disappearing briefly before coming back for the inevitable encore.  Van Zant reappeared on stage and in mock-enquiry addressed the crowd: “So, is there anything else y’all wanna hear?”, and the crowd responded in unison – “PLAY FREE BIRD!”.  So they did.  For a good ten minutes solid.

Yes siree, much more than a box-ticker.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaargh! Spare time – you wot?

Anyone looking at maximising their relaxation time and restorative sleep benefits would be well advised not to volunteer to arrange a day of morris dancing for 170 blokes from around the country for the centre of London.  It certainly cuts into one’s blogging time.

And that seems like a nice segue into mentioning that this Saturday brings the 2009 Westminster Morris Mens’ annual Day of Dance.

_11k7270

We’ll have teams from all around the place (Exeter, Chester, Monkseaton, Ripley, Huddersfield… to name but a few) scattered around Trafalgar Square & environs between 10:15 and 18:30 on Saturday May the 9th – so if you hear the jingling of bells, pop over and say hello!

The main show will be in Trafalgar Square commencing at 17:00.  Otherwise, the day’s programme can be found on the Westminster Morris website (linked above).

It ought to be stacks of fun.  It has been every other year!

Ooooh!

Mitch & Rupert have started a folky session! That’s a bit of a treat.

Brief, but spectacular

As it’s the last day that our dear friend Connie is running The Coach & Horses in Longborough, the lads & I thought we might scoot up the A44 and give her a farewell dance or two.
Thanks for all your support over the years Connie!

No… Sleep… TIL BEDTIME!

Would you believe that our morris dancing team was asked if we were available this weekend to appear in a rap video? Good lord, even typing it makes me feel 50 years old…

Rumours of our demise have been widely reported and reasonably exaggerated

Judging by the legs that this story gained, I suspect you’d have had to have been living under a rock in the first week of January not to have heard the story (given that it appears in nearly every news source in the UK) that apparently morris dancing will be extinct within 20 years (including one in The Sun featuring a photo of my learned colleagues Andy & Colin, and I).  Admittedly, the first I heard of it was by telephone halfway up a mountain in Sweden (where I was trying my hardest not to become extinct), but that counts as story-exposure, so it supports my theory.

The brouhaha all started when the meeja picked up on a press release put out by The Morris Ring – the association of mens’ morris dancing clubs in the UK.  As listed above, news services (after an initial delay, it seems – had to wait for a slow news week…) went into something of a frenzy, and this sent commentary among the morris community into a similar frenzy as well.

In point of fact, I don’t think there is quite the crisis mentioned – in short, if any organisation was to not do any recruiting for 20 years it would die out, so provided morris can nurture the steady trickle of new participants it normally enjoys there’s no need to go hitting the panic button.  The story was a good way to generate discussion though, and it’s some of that which I find slightly bothering.

Many of the articles seem to be written by reporters who feel they have to conform to hackneyed old cliches – that morris dancers are all beer-bellied, bald, bearded Real Ale types, and that morris dancing is an embarrassing disorganised shamble about in flowery hats and bells.  And then there’s a tedious conveyor belt of English people who say that morris dancing should die out, because it’s irritating and, again, embarrassing.

As Jeffrey pointed out in his beer blog, one of the reasons why morris dancing has survived so long – as many folk traditions have – is because it’s just good fun.  Because something’s years old doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be stony-faced and reverent.  I’ll concede that many of the morris dancers out there don’t look as if they’re enjoying it so much, but then half of the are probably concentrating so they don’t arse up their steps, or are maybe caught up in the physical exertion required because they’re not as fit as they’d like to be.

I’m not trying to deny that lots of morris men have beer bellies, however it’s one of those crap statistics similar to what we used to face in Rovers (that being, the 18-26 year old section of Scouts in Australia).  Rovers were forever fighting a PR battle against the idea that they spent all their time drinking booze…  In Australia if you sample any group of 18+ year olds you’ll more than likely find that some of them enjoy relaxing with a beer – the fact that they’re Rovers is kind of peripheral.  It’s all about Venn Diagrams, man.  But yeah, similarly – stand about any place where lots of people walk by, and observe how many blokes have beer bellies.  Or beards.  It’d be fair to say that there’s many many many more bearded, bellied blokes who AREN’T morris dancers than are.  Rugby players are renowned as big beer drinkers, as are cricket players, engineering students, and Australians (although statistically Czech people consume more per capita).  Are we to somehow extrapolate that morris men should fall into all of these categories/activities also?

More interestingly however (I think) is this perception that morris dancing’s a pathetic floral shambles put on by old men.  I don’t know what these people have been watching, however to make these conclusions about the state of morris dancing would be like me claiming that football (or, soccer, if you will) is boring and skill-less after watching a Northend Thistle match.

Or, to put it all a slightly less anecdotal way, can anyone point out to me what’s embarrassing, floral, or old-manny about this?

httpv://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=B3q0FmHb4FQ

Or perhaps – help me if you will – point out where the beer bellies and beards are?

httpv://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=2-8V52CFP1Y

I’m looking, but I can’t see the evidence of lethargic, unfit shambolicness…

httpv://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=iNOMqGgzN7g

In fact, I DARE anyone to tell the Hammersmith Morris Men that what they’re doing isn’t organised, manly, or entertaining.

httpv://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=cy10ZG7tD-E

OK, here’s one WITH some old blokes in it…  am I being biased, or is it still watchable, entertaining, and reasonably precise?

httpv://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=XW4grcKKZ6I

Seriously, anyone who has any doubts about the skill, precision, energy or fun of morris dancing should spend a few minutes checking out what’s on offer from teams like Ripley Morris Men, Icknield Way Morris Men, Pecsaetan Morris, Moulton Morris Men, Pig Dyke Molly, Thrales Rapper, Dogrose Morris, The World Famous Hammersmith Morris Men… there’s many more!  Quite a lot of people have even reported enjoying watching we, the Westminster Morris Men.

In case I haven’t made my point yet, morris dancing is energetic, skilled, precise, appreciated by the public, good exercise, sociable, entertaining, vigorous, and not entirely repulsive to young people.  If you look hard enough you’ll find morris men who conform to the outdated stereotypes, however also remember that statistically most people have more than the average number of legs.

Incidentally, if you’re interested in finding out more about morris dancing – either to watch, have a go, or just to learn about, feel free to contact either us at Westminster Morris, use The Morris Side Finder to track down your nearest team (UK only), or if you’re in Australia try The Australian Morris Ring, or if you’re in the USA there’s plenty of teams there too.

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