Monday, September 04, 2006

Festival Season

Since I last posted we've had a very hectic three weeks of festivals, starting with Whitby, where Redbornstoke were dancing as a booked team as well as giving workshops based on our own Morris Dancing tradition. I find Whitby to be quite an odd festival, in that it's very spread out, using small venues, and is very much a "hands on" event, with participation high on the agenda. It doesn't have the "big stage" feeling of festivals like Towersey, Chippenham and Cheltenham, but there is a charm about the Whitby style which we found grew on us, just as it did last time we were there (in 2002), by about the third day, and there's no doubt that it's a friendly, comfortable place to be.

The team did well, performing a very popular ceilidh spot on the Sunday, and being interviewed and photographed for the BBC North web pages. We met a lot of old dancing friends, and made plenty of new ones. Concerts were good, with plenty of new faces among the more familiar names, and the food and drink was all you would expect in that part of Yorkshire - plenty of fresh fish and some very decent beer!

Next to Towersey Festival, where I was MC for a number of concerts. We saw some great acts, notably Martin Simpson, Blue Murder, Genticorum, Lau, The Maerlock and the biggest hit of the festival, The Spooky Men's Chorale. These guys have to be seen to be believed, but their website gives a fair impression of what to expect! It was nice to see The Maerlock there, as they were perticipants in the New Roots competition this year, and the Towersey gig was one of their prizes.

The new Festival Dance House was a good venue, making room for a full three major events every evening, as well as being a good spot for performances, such as Lark Rise, or "specials", like the Whap Party on Bank Holiday Monday (some of the best dancing I've been part of for ages!).

Whapweasel at Towersey

The Morris Offspring/English Acoustic Collective show, On English Ground was, overall, a good spectacle, and should be given as much exposure to the general public of England as possible - it really does show what English traditional dance is about, and where it could go in the future. Despite a rather slow, over-serious beginning, the show gathered pace and warmth as it progressed, and ended to rapturous and well-deserved applause from the capacity audience in the arena.

Altogether a great weekend (and the weather was kind, too!). We were expecting very inclement weather the next weekend, when Rockhopper were dancing at the Wallingford Bunkfest, but as it turned out the rain stayed away, and, although windy, we enjoyed dry, warm weather for our display spots. The standard of our company was not inspiring, and we hardly rose to the occasion, but it was nice to get together again, and touch base before our Day of Dance in a couple of weeks' time.

Highlight of the Festival for us was The Big Caper, featuring The Outside Capering Crew and Berkshire Bedlam, repeating the show they produced for the Ka-Dans Festival at Torhout, Oost Vlanderen, Belgium. The show contained all the high-energy showmanship associated with the Capering Crew, and the very best of BB's highly imaginative, breathtaking dance creations. Seen in a performance setting such as this, the sheer spectacle of Morris and the way it can be developed into an engaging, joyous, even riveting spectacle is plain for anyone to see. Between them, On English Ground and The Big Caper could do more for the image of Morris in this country and abroad, than any number of "going-through-the- motions", flowery-hatted teams dancing outside your local pub on a Thursday night. The Morris is alive and kicking in the hands (and feet) of people like Simon Pipe (TOCC) and Jameson Wooders (BB), and the wonderful dancers they work with.

The Outside Capering Crew and Barkshire Bedlam - the Big Caper at Wallingford

The Woodpecker Band played for the evening Ceilidh on Saturday, with Pete Rees calling. Despite poor acoustics in the room, the band and caller did well, and we had a good evening, with more room on the dance floor than we had expected, considering the size of the room and the number of people. The dances were well-chosen, and the band was blisteringly rocky, inspiring the dance out of tired legs and bodies.

Good on you, Wallingford - this is a great community festival that deserves to grow and grow.


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