Bromyard Folk Festival – Real, cross-dressing, morris dancing English with bells on.

image1Never been to Bromyard Folk Festival, it’s morris drenched banks have never been somewhere I’ve set my festival canoe down. Though many good friends have been. Mainly for the morrising. Something which I haven’t got much experience with. My friends that do do morris seem to enjoy it immensely and I have seen some really impressive stuff. Sidmouth Solo Jig competition for example is worth a look for some lads that can really jump around and make a hanky look sort of cool. In my first year at  university I played for a competition winner called Chris Taylor.

Red hair, ear piercings, nail polish (nothing so gauche as black darling), band tee, baggy trousers big industrial bike chain. I wear the standard uniform of a 1990’s ‘non-conformist’ metal kid. Standing next to me is a washing powder scented, crisp, white, rossetted young morris dancer called Chris Taylor. We’re back stage at the now defunct Alnwick Playhouse about to play flute and dance a solo jig in front of a sat down audience. I’d never done anything like this before.

We’d spent weeks playing together in the quiet meeting rooms of the university accommodation. Chris had taught me the subtly of playing with a dancer. When someone jumps up in this type of English traditional dancing its a display of their suitability as a suitor or general health I guess. So you jump as high as possible. Which momentarily puts any accompaniment out of time so a good player watches the the jump and waits for the landing. This creates a lovely feeling in the tune, a nice big pregnant pause; a lovely bit of tension.

The Audience claps, we look at each other and I walk out  on stage. This is the biggest stage I’ve ever been on. Other students had been to Folkworks summer schools all their life and this was par for the course. I hadn’t. My folks were folk singers who played mostly in pubs by the time I started playing with them. I knew a handful of tunes that I’d been given to learn for ceilidhs – mostly English, mostly jigs and hornpipes and mostly read off the dots. I didn’t really have the tune repertoire that a proper instrumental focused trad tune player has. My dad can knock out a good tune on his mando don’t get me wrong but he’s from Coventry and was raised with no traditional tune playing Just Stax O’ Soul! So there I was, sole exponent of traditional flute playing on stage.

The lights were so bright I could only see the stage and a shadowy hint of a raked seated audience. I wasn’t scared I don’t think – just excited and nervous. I threw all that energy at the audience as I announced Chris with a bow and a smile. I enjoyed being the guy who introduced the talent, energetically promoting the act to come that I was glad to be a part of. I still like doing this, being not exactly centre of attention but off to one side. And the dance began. Chris had taught me a tune called the Princess Royal I think. Still a very popular tune you’ll hear at any folky festival or event down south. The A part went OK, just me on me little flute as Chris’ hankys yanked through the air. His arms extended high above his head then circling up and down as his foot work described a dance that had been done for at least a couple of centuries. The slows now, the part of the tune which pauses….and boom – land, boom land…. ddedededdeeee boom. And repeat.  The set ends and we, the tune player and dancer bow triumphantly toward the audience, who go fucking ape shit. The next morning the Alnwick Chronicle reads ‘STUDENT MORRIS DANCE DUO LIGHT UP ALNWICK PLAYHOUSE AND CHANGE THE LANDSCAPE OF FOLK MUSIC FOREVER’ I think. something like that. if not, at least Katie Doherty’s mum came up to us at the end and said we were her favourite bit in the whole student show, coincidentally Katie’s bit was my favourite bit.

I saw Katie at Cambridge this year playing with her new outfit ‘The Navigators’ a trio with the inimitable David Grey and Shona Mooney. I also caught up with her at a party at Kathyn’s. She’s an all round awesome person both musically and socially. She told me her plan was to give her band a year to get off the ground and then see how it went. She’d been a little disconcerted that her efforts so far hadn’t been as fruitful as she’d hope and she was thinking of winding it down. I think I spent about 3 hours telling her she was amazing and trying to persuade her that she should give it at last three years for anything to properly get going.

I also Saw Chris Taylor as I was heading away after the gig at Bromyard. Main stage. Headlining with KT&TD (brag). We said hello and that’d we’d not seen each other for years. He’s got a camper van (new!), two little dogs and is an electrician. All grown up. He said the gig we’d played ending at midnight was alright as his eyes crossed and he gently swayed away from me back to his camper. Nice to catch up.

Never been to Bromyard Folk Festival. It’s basically a campsite with food stalls a few large marquees. One for traditional dance things like ceilidhs and morris spots, the main stage and a sociable beer tent where local acts play like the enthusiastic ukulele group. I watched them with my mum. ‘Whats that song?’ said mum. ‘Come Up and See me’. ‘We could do that one in the pub set’. ‘yeah it’d go down well’. Despite a long career in education and special education my parents still do pub gigs every holiday period when they travel up to Scotland in the van. We watched the elderly Wizard at the back end the ukulele set with a flourish of his baggily sleeved hands. Was that the same chord the wizard was playing as all the others were playing? No? Top marks for effort though. There were no other wizards there, with or without a Ukulele.

We’d been marking time watching them until the MAIN EVENT. My mate Ruth Ball and Becky had informed me of a spectacular morris display. I’d even bumped into festival promoter Dick Dickson (hired my band 5 or so times and other projects of mine at least 4 or more times – didn’t recognise me!) who also informed me of the spectacular morris display.

We filed into the trad dance tent, whispers of ‘they’ve been working very hard’ and ‘meant to be amazing’ coming from the obviously very excited capacity audience. Mum and I shuffled past some more clammy, cross-dressed men into the thick of the hot tent. The quartet on stage ‘Contrasaurus’ finished their spirited ‘festival-finisher’ set for the packed-in ceilidh-ers on the dance floor. Crackin’ little raised wooden dance floor in there which emptied of dancers and filled with expectant morris fans. This was it. the dance floor fell into darkness. My mate Nic on the lights started their CD. Queen? We Will Rock You? That would explain the sofa, inflatable guitars and scene from…. oh god… there are now at least 10 different era Freddy Mecurys morris dancing. This is the most English thing I’ve ever seen. Not like poncy proms English. Real, cross-dressing, morris dancing English with bells on. The troupe did two dance numbers increasing in difficulty until the walk off to ‘We Are The Champions’. Notable mention goes to the one morris dancer who dressed as someone from Kiss. That’s 1 out of say 20? He was loving life. The crowd was loving life too. They were ecstatic which kind of really sums up Bromyard Folk Festival. I think that will be the highlight for many of the people that went, or the dance lovers anyway. The music heads obviously thought we were mint.

mum took a piccie of the Freddys –

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here’s us being mint-

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The gig went great. It was a relief as it’s been a hard slog getting this band together. It involved a lot of effort on everyone’s part. Not least Kathryn, who has had a lot to contend with recently. She’s a truly impressive person, and it doesn’t really change when you get to know her. I’ve been hanging around with Kathryn since I was pals with her brother Peter back in uni. People often wonder how Kathryn is so popular still after all these years. I know the answer. She doesn’t sleep, she doesn’t give up on a project, she works like a beast, she has an untiring love of music and laser guided idea of what she wants out of her music. She’s also extraordinarily talented on her pipes. I guess that helps too.

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