Mersey Morris Men’s 2nd Cotswold Morris Music Workshop Day

For the 2nd time in 2 years, the residents of a quiet Wirral village may have caught a waft of mysterious music on the breeze as their Church hall echoed to the sound of melodeons, violins and a recorder playing odd but wonderful lumpy tunes with quite a lot of Oomph. Yes, it was Mersey Morris Men’s Musicians’ 2nd Music Workshop Day, a challenge in apostrophe-placing and chance for our large group of Musicians to get together and focus on how we play.

Jon, Emma & Toby Melville – skilled Morris musicians & dancers with a wealth of experience between them – put Mersey musicians through their paces with a variety of discussions, group and solo playing.

Mersey Morris Music Day 2019

Group playing is a challenge for Morris, as the more usual situation of only one or two Musicians allows great flexibility and manoeuverability between musicians and dancers. Without a lot of thought and practice, a group of Morris musicians can be stodgy, muddy and not together.

 Working with the tutors, the musicians practised playing staccato, getting melodeon bass patterns to match the feet of the dancers, plus using ‘oomph’ to encourage the dancers to get airborne. Then there was a chance to practice leading the dance, with the leader setting the pace and following the dancers while everyone else follows the leader closely. Sounds simple, but in practice, leading a large group of musicians which may contain those who’ve done it a million times before and think they know exactly what speed old Joe will do his slows at and therefore think they don’t need to watch the leader, can be a tad tricky!

Group playing can, however, also provide an opportunity for adding spice to a performance by improvising counter melodies around a tune. With the proviso of not interfering with the underlying tune and disconcerting the dancers, this can add great interest and enjoyment to both musicians and audience. The dancers may even notice sometimes too! With Emma leading on piano accordion, the musicians were encouraged to improvise around ‘Speed the Plough’ – being allowed to play anything except the tune – with pretty pleasing results.

The tutors also challenged all the musicians to play solo or duo for a jig – a nerve-wracking experience, especially being critically assessed by other musicians. Impressively, everyone stepped up to the mark and played for either Jon or Toby to dance ‘Nutting Girl’. Considering this father/son combination of Musician/Dancer won the solo jig competition at Sidmouth a few weeks ago, this stirred up some considerable nervous excitement within the ranks. There was a 2nd chance later in the day to play the same jig for a Mersey dancer, and a plan to include some solo/duo jig practice in the winter practice sessions.

After a tasty and all home-made lunch of soup, bread, cakes and some fruit to balance it all out, afternoon sessions concentrated on ways of varying the large group performance to provide light, shade and interest, whilst mirroring the shape of the dance. Using the ‘break it down then build it up again’ technique, figures were accompanied by strings & recorder, then adding box right hands and then the chords again in the choruses. Silent choruses were also used. When a bevy of hungry Mersey dancers arrived for the final hour, and once extricated from the cake table, the musicians then got to try this out to a set of dancers, whilst also rotating the leadership.

After a triumphant final dance, musicians and tutors retired to The Harp – a rather lovely old-fashioned pub on the edge of The Dee estuary, for a well-earned pint! All in all, an excellent and enjoyable day, with much to take back to Music rehearsals over the winter.

And a final take-home message from the tutors:

The leader plays to the dancers, others accompany – if you don’t know who’s leading, don’t play – if you can’t hear the leader, you’re too loud – and remember – not everyone needs to play all the time!

Bordering on Poetry

No-one really knows what inspiration drives people to write poetry……A time? A place? An event? An idea or notion?

This was well-illustrated when MMM visited Chester for their annual Border/Molly Tour. Who knows what happened that day to drive two dancers to pick up their keyboards……………


Chester, Chester, oh city fair; we’re on our way to give you a scare.
With instruments blaring, and men in smocks, we’ll march around and wave our sticks in your general direction.

DC


Of all the fair maids across this land, the Morris Molly is fairest to be found.
Demur of manner and kind of heart, in a bare knuckle fight she’ll stand her ground.
Of great reserve, impulses she’ll not divulge, and beneath her skirts an unusual arrangement of hosiery.

DC (again!)


There was a young maid called Molly.
Her dancing and skirts were jolly,
Till she lost her heart
to a despicable tart
who lifted her skirts with a brolly

PM

Border and Molly in Chester

Although primarily a Cotswold side, every now and then Mersey Morris Men like to don our rag coats and do a bit of Border and Molly dancing.  In fact, if doing something more than once makes it a tradition, then we have just had our third traditional annual February day of dance in the ancient city of Chester. 

Chester is well known for a number of things, one is that it has a complete City wall running round the centre, and another are the world-famous Rows. For those who have never been to Chester (you should, it’s a beautiful old city), these are four streets that have two-storey shops, dating back to medieval times, with a covered gallery that runs in front of the top row.  Because the city centre is pedestrianised these make perfect audience viewing positions for watching the dancing in the street below.

It was an unseasonably warm, sunny early spring Saturday and the city was full of shoppers and day trippers. We danced a total of 30 dances during the day in six different spots, by the walls, by the river (another thing Chester is known for) and between the Rows.  We have a small repertoire of Border and Molly dances, our two Border dances were both written by one of our members and one of our four Mollies was written by another member.  We supplemented these six with the traditional Upton Stick Dance.

So next year on the 3rd Saturday in February come and see us as we continue our new-found tradition.

From our on-the-spot reporter Matt King.

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