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Dancing English

Valentine's night, 2004, Kidlington Oxon. There's a guy with green spiky hair flinging his girlfriend halfway across the room. Another young couple are leaping so high in the air that you expect to see ice on their heads when they land. There are several blokes obviously dressed to dance 'til they drop in eye-catching shorts, and the old hands are easily identifiable by the towels and bottles of mineral water neatly arranged on their tables awaiting their return, drenched in sweat and with a raging thirst. Young people at play, eh? In my day they used to stand on street corners sniffing glue, drinking meths and grunting at each other; now apparently they're ceilidh dancing their teens away.

Oak, with Rod Stradling second from right.
Oak, with Rod Stradling second from right.
We do seem to be in the midst of a significant resurgence of English dance. A quick glance at the characters providing the fuel for Kidlington's dancing tonight is evidence of that. The band is a bunch of 20-somethings called Hekety (a play on the name of the Greek goddess of darkness and winter, triv fans), as representative as any of the brave new world of ceilidh. They've all grown up with the music but aren't constricted by it, based around the clarinet of Jo Veal and the fiddle and melodeon respectively of Jess and Richard Arrowsmith, a Sheffield-based duo who've been going to Sidmouth Festival since before they could walk. With Nigel Holmes on bass and Gavin Davenport on guitar and cittern, there's a skip in their beats and a sense of mischief in their tunes that's pleasing to the ears and irresistible to the feet.

"Oh, that was pretty sedate," says Gavin Davenport when I collar him after the Kidlington date. "I mean, it was good, but it's an older crowd than you get at places like Warwick or Exeter where there are big student events. Then it gets really wild..." Hekety, along with the likes of Whapweasel, Jabadaw and Random have, in the last couple of years, quietly been sowing the seeds of a gentle revolution in English country dance music that seems to now be taking root with spectacular results. The in-crowd call it 'e-ceilidh' and, heavens, the disturbing phrase 'rock ceilidh' is even being dusted off as a misleadingly collective description of these and slightly longer-established bands like Florida, All Blacked Up, Tickled Pink and Peeping Tom.

Gavin Davenport is wisely reluctant to subscribe to anything as superficial as 'a movement' or 'a boom', but concedes Hekety are in big demand at present. A demand that can't be fully satisfied due to other responsibilites, like Hekety's offshoot vocal group Crucible and his day job designing video games.

This feature first appeared in fRoots 250, April 2004


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