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Dancing English

"If you listen to the old guys you can hear what it's really about. The instruments they played may not have been very good, and by the time they were recorded they may not have been at the height of their powers, but there's stylistic stuff there and you can hear the nuances. The stuff everybody plays gets changed dramatically so it's good to hear how the original tune sounded. We got so much enjoyment finding stuff and putting it into sets and it seems a shame if someone else comes along and copies it note for note - you might as well just have a tape recorder and put it on."

MC GP - Gordon Potts, king of the callers.
Photo: Jak Kilby
MC GP - Gordon Potts, king of the callers.
During the 1970s there was an explosion of bands taking ceilidh music out of the creaking corridors of Cecil Sharp House and popularising it at weddings, PTAs, formal events, folk festivals and social events around the country. Stradling was again prominent with Old Swan Band while the likes of Albion Dance Band, Flowers & Frolics, The Leeds Band, New Victory Band, Cock & Bull Band, Umps & Dumps and Oyster Ceilidh Band variously put their own highly individual stamp on the music. They played with passion and flair, stuffy old attitudes crumbled and English country music had seemingly never had it so good.

"For about four years the Old Swan Band was effectively blacklisted from playing Society (English Folk Dance & Song Society) dances," remembers Stradling. "In their terms we didn't play it the right way and we were completely incompatible with the dances they held. And they were right. Their people couldn't have danced to our music."

While the likes of Old Swan were putting the boot into the dancing masters of the EFDSS, there was some insurgence within Cecil Sharp House itself with the introduction of Friday night Knees Up Ceilidhs. "We set them up in direct opposition to the Saturday dances there, which were so boring compared to people like Flowers & Frolics and the Old Swan Band," says one of the architects of these sessions, Gordon Potts, currently king of the callers and a member of the excellent Committee Band. "Nobody at the EFDSS seemed to mind. Nibs Matthews, who was director, actually came and said it was about time somebody played good music at the House!" The ruse certainly worked. Operating a determined policy of introducing new bands, the alternative monthly ceilidhs are still going strong 25 years later while the proper Saturday night Society dances have long since died out - literally in the case of most of the dancers.

This feature first appeared in fRoots 250, April 2004


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