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.
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.
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!