We’ve been a little busy over the last month (for us), so it’s taken me a while to grab some time to ponder over the events we’ve been to. Quite a variety, and with a variety of audiences (and weather).
First came the Party in the City on a Friday evening in May. This is the first night of the Bath International Music Festival: there are free public performances of music all over the city – in the Abbey, in churches, halls, on the streets. In last couple of years it has co-incided with Museums at Night where museums around the country open for free after normal closing hours. Combine the two, and you get free music in the museums as well. The city was full of people in the late evening, spilling out of the Abbey doors into the cool evening air. People stopped and started as the fancy took them – and we provided some music and dancing in Kingston Parade right outside the Abbey and Roman Baths. Interspersed with performances by the Widcombe Mummers, we provided the folk tradition interval between the children’s and adult choirs in the Abbey. The audience, therefore, was whoever so happened to stop by. The Mayor of Bath stopped off for a while before she moved on to other venues. Many tourists, most of whom were probably unaware this festival was going on that night, also stopped to watch on the way past. We often get asked to explain a little more about the dancing, music, kit, sticks, clogs etc. as they watch, and we’re always happy to oblige. Most of them are pleasantly surprised that they enjoy it – morris dancing has a reputation for being one of those boring things beardy folk do outside pubs (I’ll come to them later…).
A few days later, after a damp weekend, we were at the Chippenham Folk Festival for the Bank Holiday Monday. I’d dropped by on the Sunday and saw some great dancing – Wheal Sophia were dancing up a storm on the stage (one of the noisier ones to perform on in clogs). Lots of visiting sides make the trip, and many visitors come back year on year. Monday was a little thinner on the ground for morris sides – I think there was another day of dance on in the neighbouring county that drew away some of the Hampshire sides. But the weather held and we had a great time as usual performing for a quite knowledgable audience. Some of them seem to have their favourite style of morris and often ask when we are next performing. It was great to see Devizes Morris there with their affiliated junior side, Rigel Morris, from Roundway School. Only the kids’ first dance out and they also managed to take part in an adult dance that they had never performed before. Keep going guys, you did great.
Our next performance was the Wessex Folk Festival in Weymouth. We don’t often get down to Weymouth for this one, and we did only have 7 dancers so were pulling together some of our smaller dances for this event. But there was a large enthusiastic crowd at the seaside that day. Glorious sunshine (I forgot my sunscreen and paid for it), but dancers do like an audience. One of the spots was due to be round the back of Cooper’s Yard, but this was abandoned and moved due to lack of audience (other than ourselves). Other morris sides make a great audience, just not as good as having loads of people in the main part of the event. So we set off to round the back of the ambulance – which moved to alongside the ambulance to not disturb a local resident. It probably helped that we were near a tearoom and pub, both with outside seating (the pub also served really nice local ciders). One of the problems with the site we were on – a road alongside the river – was the width of the site. Plenty of space to dance, if you didn’t mind dancing straight towards the public almost walking through the middle of your set. I can avoid the odd person, but baby buggies are a little harder. I haven’t been to Weymouth for many years, and I enjoyed the return visit.
We were next supposed to meet up with Priston Jubilee Morris for a pub dance out in Chilcompton (the so-called ‘beardy’ folk dancers outside the pub). We did this last year as well, and enjoyed ourselves as long as the light lasted, but the weather was not being kind to us this time. Most of Mr Wilkins turned up – we hadn’t been told otherwise – and at least had a drink. An impromptu music session was held and the dancers even managed a couple of (small) dances inside the pub itself before retiring for the evening. Many of the pub dance outs we do are in the evenings, so we have a limited audience. Unless it’s a warm evening, the patrons often stay inside, so the audience may be limited to just the dancers. No less enthusiastic, and often an opportunity to catch up with familiary faces from other events through the year.
Last on this list is another unique local event. For many years we took part in an event called Widcombe Rising, which became very popular and quite large. It had started as a protest to get the priorities for a local road changed and remove heavy traffic from Widcombe Parade and make it safer for pedestrians and residents. This campaign succeeded a few years ago and the Rising was stopped. Now the road alterations have finally been finished and, to celebrate its opening (at last), the local Widcombe Association held a party to celebrate. And we went along to help celebrate after attending so many of the Risings through the years. Blessed with another gloriously sunny day, we were dancing in the middle of the brand new road surface which was, unfortunately, very narrow just where we started as it was a crossing point. Made for some interesting squeezes in some dances, but added to the laughter. The audience was out in force, determined to enjoy themselves, and the PA announcer was on our side as well, so we had a good build up to the performances. The last spot especially garnered a bigger audience (it was a wider bit of road, admittedly), and even got a round of barking from a couple of enthusiastic dogs who weren’t quite sure what to make of the whole thing.
It’s the variety that makes events interesting. Some fall a little flat, and some are great fun despite the hindrances of space or weather. What makes them work for good or bad is often the audience. So please go out and support your local morris sides. They all appreciate a good round of applause.