It feels like it was weeks ago. For the last couple of weeks before the Day of Dance we were running around doing those hundred and one last-minute things you can only do at the last minute. And some of the things we should have done earlier, but had left until the last minute. In the end, even the weather co-operated in the best way ever.
We were going to disrupt Bath in a style that happens rarely. And, lets face it, Morris dancing has a reputation (to ‘normal’ people) of being strange men (usually) jumping around with bells on and waving hankies (which some of us actually do occasionally). So, Mrs Chief Organizer Wilkins spent a whole day a couple of weeks before the event going round all the shops in the vicinity of our dance spots with flyers. Just to let them know that the bells were coming. And, for the most part, she got a very positive response. As long as we didn’t impede their customers, they were happy with anything that might bring more people in their doors. And this approach worked on the day – none of the shops were surprised, and only one landlady objected (she thought we’d stop the rugby fans getting in to watch the England match). On the day a steady stream of Morris dancers buying pints quickly ameliorated the situation. As if Morris dancers needed any encouragement to enter a hostelry.
The only thing which did seem to fail was the publicity. Both the Morris Fed and Mr Wilkins’ Shilling tried to promote the event with national and local radio, tv and print media. Emails, tweets, FB messages. None of it seemed to work. I did manage to phone up the local radio station on the Saturday morning with a notice for local events happening that day. But the media weren’t interested. Not even our local newspaper – they went to the Chilli Festival instead it turned out. I’m not sure what’s the best solution – perhaps a planned bombardment? Morris bells at dawn beneath their windows?
Anyway, early Saturday morning we were up and running – crockery and cakes being delivered; sound systems dropped off; chairs moved and kettles warmed up. We were almost beaten to it by the first arrivals at 9am, although that turned into a blessing as it meant some sides were registered and getting ready earlier than others – 34 sides all at once might have been a little too much! Our whole side had joined in to make the day work – we started with a quick final briefing for the stewarding team who included some very helpful husbands. I’d even manage to rope in a non-dancing friend to act as our (ultimately unneeded) First Aid cover. We know Bath can be a confusing place to navigate around and we also knew there were some things that you’d have to be made aware of as the sides moved around, so the stewards had a list of all the hazards and all the dance spots. Some of them even learnt a little geography of the city (not all of them live here). The worst thing dancing in a new town is not knowing if you are in exactly the right place as the hosts have arranged – and a friendly face helps too. At the end of the day many of these stewards also headed back to the Friends’ Meeting House and helped with the clearing up and cake-eating duties. But they all did it with a grin on their faces – they had a great time watching all the sides, many of which they’d never seen before.
Bath has a Mayor. The position doesn’t hold any political power (in fact, it’s supposed to be apolitical), but to be a representative of the city for events in the city and elsewhere. It’s a bit of a leftover from the days of a City Council, and Bath is one of the six towns with Charter Trustees who elect a Mayor – a compromise with the creation of unitary authorities in 1996. Councillor William Sandry, Mayor of Bath this year, opened the proceedings for us in Kingston Parade. I think he’d probably be the first to admit that he knew absolutely nothing about Morris dancing. But he went around various spots for over an hour watching the dancing, and I think he had a much greater appreciation of Morris afterwards – as is often the case. In fact he was so impressed by the whole day of dance and cheering up of the city, that he suggested we might like to organise another one next year…
It was fantastic to see so many sides in Bath. As a side we don’t often dance in the city – 2 or 3 times a year – and usually on our own or with the Widcombe Mummers. 34 sides all at once is virtually unheard of. You couldn’t turn a corner in the city centre without hearing bells or the beat of a drum, and I loved it. Admittedly, the weather made it perfect. But seeing tourists lighting up with surprise at the unexpected traditional dancing, new Bath Uni students and their parents wondering what they had just signed up for, and confused-looking rugby fans all enjoying the bonus entertainment in the streets makes all the hard work worthwhile. Oh, and the dancers/musicians having a ball, greeting new friends and old, and scoffing lots and lots of cake (there was still some left – you should have eaten more of it). And a special mention for Northfields Morris – a new side this year – and Persephone Women’s Morris at their last Day of Dance, ever.
Of course this was a team effort:
- The dancers, musicians and the ‘other halves’ turning up to steward, pour tea and scrape plates, or just pick up the rubbish. Without whom it just wouldn’t have worked.
- Mr Wilkins the Mandolin Player for organising our ceilidh band, All Blacked Up.
- Mrs Wilkins the Tea Lady for organising the cakes, teas and coffees, as well as the gang of helpers who made it all run smoothly.
- Mrs Wilkins the Treasurer who took in all the bookings and money for the ceilidh, sorted the programme and kept a good accounting.
- Mrs Chief Organiser Wilkins who sourced the halls, filled in the mounds of paperwork, babysat the Mayor, sweet-talked the Bath Buskers into giving up one of their most lucrative days of the year, battered her way through the labyrinthine corridors of the Council and did a hundred and one other things of which I am blissfully ignorant.
- Mrs Wilkins the Squire for being cool, calm and collected and keeping her head when all around her were having the screaming willies. And helping with the registration.
- And, of course, the Morris Federation and all the sides who attended. Without whom there would have been no point.
Beetlecrushers (Gurney Slade, Somerset); Belfagan Women’s Morris (Cockermouth, Cumbria); Bell’s Angels (Holt, Wiltshire); Berkshire Bedlam (Wokingham); Chinewrde (Kenilworth, Warwickshire); Chippenham Town Morris (Chippenham, Wiltshire); England’s Glory (Cheltenham, Gloucestershire); Full Moon Morris (South Wales); Garston Gallopers (East Garston, Berkshire); Hammersmith Morris Men (London); Heage Windmillers (Heage, Derbyshire); Hips & Haws (Biddestone, Wiltshire); Kettle Bridge Clogs (Maidstone, Kent); Malmesbury Morris; Mason’s Apron (Long Hanborough, Oxfordshire); Minden Rose (Alton, Hampshire); Northfields Morris (Northfields, London); Persephone Women’s Morris (Hunsworth, West Yorkshire); Pigsty Morris (Bishopston, Bristol); Priston Jubilee Morris (Priston, Somerset); Red Cuthbert Morris (Bedford); Redbornstoke (Ampthill, Bedfordshire); Shrewsbury Bull & Pump Morris; Shrewsbury Lasses; Somerset Morris (Bath); Standon Morris (Standon, Hertfordshire); Treacle Easter Clog (Yeovil, Somerset); Twostep Clog (Tyne & Wear); Widders Welsh Border Morris (Chepstow, Monmouthshire); Windsor Morris (Windsor, Berkshire); Winkleigh (Winkleigh, Devon)
Check out our Facebook page for lots of photos and some videos of the day from various sides.