A very Morris week

I was very bad last Saturday and totally forgot to attend a chat for members of the Macaronis.  In my defence, my husband had come home with tickets to see the Demon Barber Roadshow, and after that everything else fled from my mind.

Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t look at this picture without a massive internal squee.  Is this not the coolest thing ever?


So at the prospect of a night in the theatre watching a roadshow based on a fusion of hip-hop, clog, rapper and morris dancing, I dropped everything and ran out, only regretting that I hadn’t taken time to change into my morris kit first.

This will give you a better idea than I can about what I saw


but it was indeed well worth all my enthusiasm, though I was a little disturbed by the fact that they made the morris dancers the bullying thugs of the dance world.  (Frankly they probably had to, since the morris jigs they wanted to show off are designed as a kind of male ritual display and challenge, where “I can leap higher than you,” stands in for “I can give you a good kicking.”)  The jigs were fantastic.  All the dancing was fantastic, as was the music, and I grinned until my cheeks hurt, and then I carried on grinning.

I wasn’t grinning this weekend, though, as – speaking of music – I had my first Coton dance out in which I was the lead musician.  For a while there I thought I was going to be the only musician, and I was petrified.

There’s a long story behind this that basically starts around this time last year when I picked up a pennywhistle for the first time and discovered that (unlike the recorder) the fingering was simple enough for me to remember. I’ve always wanted to play some kind of melody instrument, and through the years I’ve picked up all kinds of things to try and play them, and every time I’ve failed.  So basically I have never played anything (except the drums) before this year.

I practiced desultorily for most of the year.  Then at the beginning of this August my husband told me that Coton were desperate for musicians and wanted me to come along and learn their tunes.  Their practice season starts in September.  So I buckled down and practiced every day for a month, and by the time September came I was shakily OK in about 13 of Coton’s tunes.  Enough to tootle in the background while one of the established musicians did the heavy lifting of playing the tune repeatedly without any mistakes, keeping in sinc with the dancers, remembering where to speed up or slow down, and where the A and B parts come in.

Then one of the musicians left to have twins.  One fell off the stairs and broke her hand, and suddenly I was the only musician they had available to play for a paying gig.  No one really minds if you mess up a for-fun dance out in front of the local pub, but a dance out where the side is dancing in an arena in front of a crowd and getting paid for it is another matter.

Oh s**t! I thought, and made myself sick with nerves for about two weeks beforehand.  Fortunately, Joachim, one of the Riot’s musicians, volunteered to play too.  Unfortunately, he didn’t know any of the tunes, and though he picked them up enviably fast, it still left me with the responsibility of being the rock of the team – the one who knows what they’re doing and doesn’t mess up.

The day came.  I hyperventilated, my legs shook and my vision went weird.  To make matters worse, they couldn’t hear us, so someone stood beside me and held a microphone over the whistle – ensuring that every mistake would be amplified.  At the last moment we decided to do a dance Joachim hadn’t learned, so he gamely tried to pick it up as I went along – which was extremely distracting.  And in the one tune I was good at, the whistle clogged up with moisture and wouldn’t play.

It was a baptism of fire and I’m glad it’s over.  But I did it, and I did it in front of a paying audience who applauded at the end.  So I feel I can now officially call myself a musician.  Albeit only a folk one :)

Here is one of the tunes I played.  (Though not in this instance played by me.)  Just ignore those silly men in the background and concentrate on the whistle.  That’s what I do ;)


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