Farewell Nev

nev-in-kitMersey Morris Men’s Liver Bird of long standing Nev Moulden died on Tuesday 18th October. He was also a musician with Mockbeggar Morris (Ladies North West).

He was 83 and his health had been in decline for some years. However he did make it to the Forest of Dean MM Family Weekend in June.

At the funeral,  Richard Stapledon, Foreman of Mersey Morris and a close friend of Nev’s, painted the perfect picture of someone who had definitely lived life to the full…….

“Nev & Pat first took up country dancing about 30 years ago because according to Pat, they were watching too much TV. It was there that a couple of existing Mersey Morris Men tried to persuade Nev to join, because they were desperate for new men. He rose to the challenge!

Nev stuck with it in the early days, despite Jim Jones asking why he bothered because, in Jim’s view, he was a rubbish dancer! We all realised we may not have gained the most nimble footed member of the team, but it soon became clear that the qualities we had gained were far more valuable to us. WE GAINED A FIRST CLASS CHARACTER.

Not satisfied with just learning how to get by on the dance floor, Nev became fascinated with 2 other aspects of the morris – the music and dressing-up-in-a- liver bird-costume! The latter was easily arranged because nobody else really wanted to do it, so from then on Nev WAS the Liver bird, adding props in the form of liver bird eggs, liver bird noises, liver bird webbed feet and stripy legs, liver bird motorised baby chicks! His one-man act could hold a large audience spellbound as he laid eggs, made labour pain noises, gave birth and finally taught his offspring how to dance the morris!

Nev’s determination to learn a folk instrument was partly borne out of his realisation that this would keep him in the hobby for the long term. He always said that he wished he had come into folk as a young man rather than as a 50 something year old, but if he could play an instrument, he could still be involved after his dancing days were over. I remember him quizzing me about whether the melodeon would be a wise choice and when I explained that it was just like playing a mouth organ, his mind was made up and that’s what he went for. In a very short time, he became extremely proficient on the instrument, becoming one of MMM’s mainstays for many years.

A few years after Nev joined MMM, in 1991 a new ladies’ morris team was formed through the instigation of some Mersey wives including Pat and my wife Jean. For these past 25 years, Nev has been a leading musician for Mockbeggar Morris as well as MMM. With his Mockbeggar contributions being restricted to the music, he still managed to find other ways to make his mark, for example by donning a heated jacket at their winter practice sessions which encouraged all the ladies to snuggle up to him to keep warm! Now that’s better than any chat-up line!

Nev was determined to keep involved with the ladies’ team as long as possible, even in later years when his ability to walk any distance had become an issue. Not that long ago, he apparently dabbled with an alternative system to walking when he turned up with a motorised scooter – not a mobility scooter but an ordinary scooter! He was proudly showing it to a few of the girls outside on the pavement when, to their amazement, Nev’s traditional foot pumping action set the motor in action and whisked him away into the distance like a whirlwind. Totally exhausted, he reappeared some time later and made the decision that this perhaps wasn’t the answer to his problems!

We nearly lost Nev a few years ago – – –  and I mean this in more ways than one.

Now Nev was never a heavy drinker in his time with MMM but he decided to make an exception to that rule during a morris trip to Holland. In the early hours of the morning after a heavy day of morrising and drinking, just before dawn, he decided to get up from his bed, presumably to visit the loo. The trouble was that he was in a top bunk; clad in just his underpants, he left the upstairs room via an exterior-wobbly-spiral-staircase, walked about 50 yards barefoot along a gravel path onto the small country road that had 3 foot deep dykes on either side. The three of us who were awoken and realised he hadn’t returned, went to search, clad in our pyjamas, going in each direction along the road until one of us received a pointing finger and bewildered facial expression from the milkman doing his early rounds! Just about in one piece, Nev was led safely back and the rest of the men were totally oblivious to the adventure until they later awoke!

I have tried to give you a flavour of this FIRST CLASS CHARACTER that both morris sides were privileged to welcome into their folds. This was a man who was loved, admired and respected by all age groups in the folk and morris world. It was he and Pat that took my 15 year old son and his friend to Glastonbury Festival. The 15 year olds would come back to their tents exhausted each night, only to find that Nev and Pat would still be out living it up.

At many a folk or morris weekend, Nev would be found outdoors surrounded by youngsters, all happily playing with his large collection of juggling equipment or watching in awe as he launched his water propelled plastic bottle rocket toward the clouds, then holding their breath as they watched to see which car or tent it would hit as it returned to earth!

Those of you who knew Nev through other connections will all recognise the qualities that everyone loved about him. All of us in his morris sides have been privileged and had our lives enriched by knowing Nev. He will be sorely missed by us all.”

nev-bird

My kind of pub: The Plasterers Arms, Hoylake.

How swiftly time passes you by: here I am at the end of January when it had been my intention all along to try and capture something of the character of the Plasterers Arms, Hoylake, on New Year’s Day 2016. Let us hope that the passing of time has not dulled the recollection too much, at least I can draw on cumulative effect, albeit with this New Year’s Day as the initial stimulus.

plasterers arms hoylake

It is always a joy and a pleasure to find ourselves in this corner of Hoylake, not least given the reception we ordinarily enjoy. In many ways it is to be wondered whether it is the situation of that pub which helps us along: tucked away and apparently isolated from the rest of the world the dancing is, in a manner of speaking, placed centre stage. Though it stands at the corner, with roads passing before it, the plucky spirit of the locals is such that they claim this space as their own, and in turn offer it up to us. Whether it is a quirk of geography or just the naturally occurring spirit of those around, we always enjoy a warm and enthusiastic reception. The impression given is that these folk come out specially, and deliberately, to watch and enjoy the dancing. These are not passing voyeurs but dedicated spectators. The response tends to be vocal and encouraging, banter and chatter rippling around our “auditorium” as well as between one and another. Then there are the children whose attention we capture, if only fleetingly at times. For certain of us, our commitment to dancing the Morris reaches back to our own childhood and witnessing the spectacle for the first time on the village green or at the local pub. The children of the Plasterers Arms always strike me as being particularly special: you get the impression that these characters have had a full and very active day at being a child. Meant in the best possible way, by the evening in the summer when we perform, they appear a little dishevelled, worn from the rigours of childish exertion.

From a performer’s point of view, I suspect something not distinct to the Morris, a lift in any performance results from the active versus the passive audience. It may take the form of fleeting eye contact mid caper (ideally a look of amazement and wonder on their part), shouts, cries and laughter, or those on the side-line trying to replicate the stepping or some figure in the kindest form of mimicry. This has, on occasion, come with the adornment of accessories, amazing to think how well white toilet paper can make up for a lack of handkerchiefs. When it comes to Greenbank, our standard audience participation number, there is seldom a need to cajole the good people of the Plasterers Arms, on the contrary, sticks quickly run out as the Foreman’s skills, patience and volume are pushed to the limit.

dancing at plasterers arm 010116

Thus far my focus has been turned to activities outside of the pub, yet I would hold that that fine establishment is a locus and catalyst to this spirit. Without wishing to get too caught up in spatial geography, I still hold that the setting of the Plasterers Arms has something to do with this. Not only does it draw people onto the streets but it also sucks them into its cosy interior which is really the point I have been wanting to make all along with reference to our visit there of January 1st 2016. From a humble façade a fine sanctuary opens up which typically accommodates all sorts. So it was on New Year’s Day that there were those, and rightly so, quite content to prop up the bar, quietly sip on a pint whilst we did our thing outside. They appeared not to resent the chaos ensuing on the street no more than we resented their keeping themselves to themselves (and this despite our “invasion” after that part had concluded and we retreated indoors). What is great about the interior of the Plasterers is the narrow corridor running before the bar, leading into a more open space where musician and itinerant “performers” collect. Within this densely packed space, standing room only, an orchestra pit comes to life, perhaps not in the style of the Phil’ but certainly in keeping with the tradition of music hall.

We are blessed with many fine and bold musicians who quietly bring this corner to life, and in expansive form. All comers are welcomed, and so it is that members of the public who may have set out with no intention of warbling a song that they may, or may not, be able to recall take to their feet and share what they have got. As the tableau unfolds, those on the edge joyfully join in bringing full force and gusto to a lusty chorus or two. Even the idiocy of dancing in that small space is tolerated in good humour with the nasty flick of the hanky in the eye being laughed off as an occupational hazard. The great charm of all this is that it is not planned, rehearsed or anticipated but is merely a naturally occurring phenomenon, the product of the right time and place. Though on the inside and, perhaps, in the thick of it I occasionally wish it were otherwise and that I was the member of the unassuming public who happened to wander into the Plasterers Arms and chanced upon this scene: a lucky coincidence and a beautiful piece of serendipity.

For me, the Plasterers Arms is in many ways unique: there is a community feeling whenever we dance there and the pub itself is a warm and comfortable refuge. Long may it continue!

David Clampin.

The Taming of the Broom

Paul, one of Mersey’s newest members, takes on a personal challenge…

Having been part of the Mersey Morris Men for roughly four months now I have been met with a combination of excitement to get involved with everything and try it all, and having absolutely no idea what I’m doing.

Having gotten the hang of a few of the dances my eyes fell on a dance that was introduced to me on my second or third practise with the group.

The illustrious broom dance was introduced as a warm up exercise and I had sadly missed the workshop day for it a month or so earlier. What terrible luck and bad timing!
a broom in waiting
What really roped me into this particularly challenging manoeuvre at first was actually the tune. I have been a huge traditional folk music fan for a few years now so I appreciate a nice tune.

The particular choice of music we have been using for the broom dance is a piece called ‘Four Up’ (Ed.- composed by Barry Goodman). The tune got caught in my head after that first practice and often randomly dives into my mind unexpectedly. Usually, I might add, when trying to sleep. Typical.

My next experience of the broom dance was at one of our events and watched two talented individuals perform the dance in public. I was thankfully able to get someone to film the dance and I knew that even though I had missed out on the workshop I had an opportunity to teach myself the dance.

Using this video and some written instructions I was able to piece together the sections of the dance and practice each part in turn. I was determined that one day I would perfect this particular dance, so I may as well begin working on it now!

Part of me questioned whether I should put effort in to this more challenging action when there were many other easier dances I could try and perfect first. This part was quickly told to shut up and I decided to try and do it anyway, after all there are no limits to what our muscle memory can master.

I finally put the whole routine together with music and had two very different results. The first was that I actually remembered everything in the right order (Result!!), the second was I was more out of breath than I have felt for years.

I thought the challenge was going to be in remembering all the different parts, but it is actually a lot more energetic than it looks!

I was finally ready to add it to my performance list, just needed the final test, to go through with the broom master himself to make sure I actually had it right. For the most part yes, a few little details need improving, but it will becoming easier when I don’t have to focus simply on what is coming next!
paul broom dance june15
I have now done the broom dance publicly three times, and I can feel each time getting better and I don’t quite feel like I’m going to pass out afterwards as much.

Here is to a future of perfecting this tradition and keeping it alive!

Breaking News – Rapper Sword dancing started on the Wirral, not the North East

A few weeks ago, we unearthed the following information in a local archive:-

In 1882, a flood in one of the Neston collieries resulted in the death of nine pit ponies. As a result the pit had a surplus of the two handled blades used to scrape the coal dust and sweat off ponies at the end of their shifts.

Wirral Morris Men (who later merged with Liverpool Morris to form Mersey MM) decided they could use these in dances and the rap-a-tap-tap of their boots on the wooden floors of the day led to the dances being called Rapper.

Mersey’s Scally Rapper can still be seen performing to this day. As miners moved to find work, the dances then spread through other mining communities, especially those in the North East, where dancers now lay claim to originating the dances.

BUT WE KNOW BETTER.