Millie and I went to Camden last night, to Cecil Sharp House, to watch Must Come Down – Millie’s first proper grown-up “gig”. 🙂
I put gig in inverted commas because it wasn’t your conventional rock’n’roll mosh pit, not by any stretch of the imagination. It was a…well, let’s be completely honest: it was a show about folk music and morris dancing.
We went because Millie (and I) both love Jackie Oates‘ album, Hyperboreans (as mentioned here) and Jackie was playing there.
Before we left I was a bit worried that Millie would be bored – Cecil Sharp House had replied to my question about bringing a six-year-old, saying that she would love it, however, Millie had barely mentioned the gig since being told about it. She was apparently more impressed about being out at night, in the dark, when everyone else (but particularly Amber) was in bed.
As it turned out, I needn’t have worried.
First of all, let’s address the elephant in the room: the morris dancing.
I have no problem with morris dancing and I enjoy folk music. I don’t drink real ale or wear hairy jumpers – I don’t even have a beard! When I was small I remember seeing my dad and his brother take part in some morris dancing (I need to follow up on this memory, actually, as I have no idea why they seemed to do it once and never again), but otherwise I’ve never seen any live morris dancing before. Not because the concept repelled me, just because…well, just because…I don’t know.
So Millie and I went to see Must Come Down as a Jackie Oates gig, but it was actually advertised as ’An exuberant spectacle of vitality and passionate dance wrapped in a cloak of beautiful music, stunning singing and heart-stopping stories.’
And, by George, they weren’t wrong! It was wonderful! If Millie hadn’t been there I would still have loved every second of it. With Millie there it was simply glorious.
We arrived at C-Sharp House just in time to see a fearless lone morris dancer doing some kind of jig on a high wall. Going downstairs to get a pint (for me, not Millie) the bar was filled with the sound of singing – and really good singing, all the participants in tune and in harmony.
Coming back upstairs we discovered the show had already begun so we hot-footed it across the floor to some empty seats – just missing being trampled by morris dancers with sticks!
The video above gives some idea of what we saw next, but doesn’t really get across the eerie joy of the dance. With the striking blue lighting, the stately, haunting music and the sight of so many white-clad people dancing so expertly in time it was oddly moving. Millie was quite obviously mystified and spent most of the evening nuffling a toy bear she’d brought with her.
I realised how excited she actually was when she kept tapping me on the shoulder and pointing things out. She asked what I thought would happen next, and when the dance was over was audibly annoyed that it had finished. I had to reassure her there would be more to come…
Another worry of mine, before we arrived, had been that it might be a very formal affair – too much so for a six-year-old Millie. Fortunately, it was a fairly brief show (two hours, with interval) and as well as something new beginning every 10-15 minutes it was just a really joyous thing to watch. I’m at a loss to put it into words here, but I had a smile on my face all night as we watched.
Millie’s sort-of-dream was realised during the interval when we went back out into the garden (against Millie’s will, it should be said – she wanted to play on my phone) and got to meet Jackie Oates! I introduced us, told her we were both fans and she was very very nice indeed. Millie was almost completely tongue-tied so we left Jackie alone after a couple of minutes, but I felt like a very Good Dad afterwards.
A Cool Dad and a Good Dad. 😉
Back inside, we were interviewed by a lady with a microphone about why we were there, what we knew about morris dancing and would Millie like to learn how to morris (“No, it looks too difficult” but since changed to “Yes!“)
In the second half Millie confided that she didn’t really like the singing and wanted to see more dancing. Fortunately, as I said, we’d come there expecting a gig and had gotten a full-blown morris dancing show, so everything worked out for the best, really.
One of the last things we saw was this dance (below) featuring a giant boar and a unicorn.
Millie turned to me after the unicorn arrived and excitedly asked, “What do you think is going to come on next?”
“God only knows,” I replied, but burst out laughing when Millie suggested “A polar bear?”
After the show finished we went downstairs to use the toilets before we caught the train home and found the sticks the dancers had used. Millie carefully picked one up as though it was a sacred relic, not sure she was allowed to touch it, and waved it around. The stick-hitting – and a synchronised leap-frog at the end of one song – were her two favourite things of the night, she told me.
And then we caught the tube and train home, getting back to Bexley at 11.30, much to Millie’s continued amazement – “I can see 30 stars!” she told me, as we walked home from the station.
So that’s me entirely converted to the merits of morris dancing, then. One final thing I particularly liked was that the dancers were ordinary people – they weren’t stick-thin whippets and didn’t seem to be pushing themselves to the limits of human endurance; no, they were all shapes, all sizes and a variety of different ages (although I think the oldest couldn’t have been more than 35).
From watching them I got the real sense that they loved what they were doing and were enjoying it purely for the physical pleasure of dancing with each other. Twice they asked members of the audience to join in and there was never any shortage of volunteers.
I called it “joyous” earlier, and I stick by that description. It was beautiful and it was joyous. 🙂