MMM’s Visit to Brittany

Dance is an art form that transcends cultures, languages and national boundaries. With that in mind and a thousand years of history behind us, Mersey Morris Men crossed the English Channel armed with just a name and an email address to meet with Les Gastadours Lamballe, a Breton dance group. We were accompanied by members of Mockbeggar Morris.

After an introductory meeting with our hosts conducted in little bits of schoolboy French (although we weren’t able to get ‘my grandmother was run over by a steamroller’ into the conversation) we had an itinerary of sorts.

Friday Night

A welcome by our hosts with crepes and cidre followed by visit to Le Val Andre, a seaside resort. Then a MerseyMorris first, a paramedic helicopter landing in the middle of our set.

Saturday

It started with boule and pallet, traditional French games followed by a typical Breton lunch of a mere 5 courses. Kir, pain du potage, a pork, sausage and beef stew served with cabbage, cheese,  Far (Breton custard pie) all washed down with wine and/or cidre.

Then we went to an English festival in Moncontour, a beautiful fortified small city set on hill overlooking the beautiful Breton countryside. A representative of the mayor gave us a tour. Then the main event.

A display by Mersey in the town square to mix of curious locals and tourists. Amazingly they stayed to watch all afternoon. They were taught a simplified version of the Shepherds Hey jig and Greenbanks, a Mersey stick dance. Then we were joined by Les Gastadours Lamballe for a Danse Spectacleur. Finally, Bonny Green Garters was performed by all that were willing including an old school friend of the Squire, who was a member of Jockey Morris but had moved to Brittany 35 years ago.

The day was completed by a visit to an evening festival in a vineyard listening a variety of Celtic music groups and a Pink Floyd tribute act whilst eating Gallettes Saucisson (sausage pancakes) and the local wine.

Sunday

A visit to a Bread and Threshing Fair at Pleuganast. Again we were fed with the local cuisine and performed 2 spots. This was made more interesting to locals by a gaggle of geese being herded through the set by a dog. There was also an impromptu session of dad dancing, enough said.

Monday

This was a day off performing, so we thought, with a visit to the medieval town of Diann as tourists. Then in the evening was a Conviviale. Another belly busting feast of local produce. Performances by both both sides including Breton social dancing, a massed jig including Alain, one of our hosts. He has been signed up as an overseas member. Finally an obligatory Scouse song, Lily the Pink.

We met through a name and an email address and parted as good friends. Some might say sending a bunch of Scousers onto mainland Europe would accelerate Brexit negotiations, but we have endeared ourselves to our hosts and their friends through the medium of dance and our ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ sense of fun. We are already planning to host out new friends next year.

 

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

Don’ts For Dancers #6

Don’t dance with bent knees. Bent knees suggest an ancient cab-horse on its last pathetic stagger or a performing chimpanzee gyrating round its keeper. The knees should be ready to bend when necessary, but most of the actual “play” should come from the ankle and the ball of the foot.

Don’ts For Dancers by Karsinova, © A&C Black 2008, originally published 1925

Don’ts For Dancers #5

Don’t dance before you know how to walk and hold yourself properly. Bear in mind that poise and balance are essential to graceful dancing.

Don’ts For Dancers by Karsinova, © A&C Black 2008, originally published 1925