Stories of and from 25 years of dancing

Cobh, Ireland, 1993
“The Festival workshop in the Memorial Hall is cancelled due to inclement weather”.
When asked “Why?”, the reply was “The fella who has the key will see the rain and not want to come out to open the Hall”

1995 International Festival of Dance
A member of the Irish dancers fails to turn up on Saturday because the host family’s car has broken down. It later transpires that in reality a late night drinking session had rendered the driver incapable.

Songs to suit, 7 Jun 1998
Thelwall were invited to dance at an "afternoon tea party" at a sheltered housing community in Liverpool where all residents were probably in excess of 70 years of age (as they say). The "supporting act" was a musical sing-along with two young lads. One song which featured was The Beatles classic "When I'm 64" - somehow inappropriate.

Sir Arnold Bax (1883-1953) (British composer)
You should try everything once, except incest and folk dancing.

Terry Pratchett (in “Reaper Man”)
It [the morris] is danced innocently by raggedy-bearded young mathematicians to an inexpert accordian rendering of “Mrs Widgery’s Lodger” and ruthlessly by such as the Ninja Morris Men of New Ankh, who can do strange and terrible things with a simple handkerchief and a bell.

George Bernard Shaw (New Statesman, 23 Mar 1962)
Dancing is the vertical expression of a horizontal desire.

Thelwall Morris Men Badge
Best appreciated in colour. The “T” is the roadway of the Thelwall viaduct, the blue background is the blue water of the Manchester ship canal, the red pointed blocks are the rusting barges carrying their cargoes to the city. The yellow surround (not shown) represents the sandy shores.
No - I don’t believe it, either!

Thaxted Ring Meeting, 1987
“Dogsbody” dreams that he woke during the night and threw up over Jimmy’s sleeping bag, only to discover next morning that he had - with Jimmy still in it!

AGM, 1985
Jasper awarded the prestigious Bagman’s medal for organising the Ale. In reality his organisation consisted of finding the room and writing a few letters.

AGM 6th October 1999 – Nomination for Bagmans Medal
It was suggested (unkindly) that the medal should be awarded to the whole team, except Bibby's kids, for putting up with Bibby's kids

Philip Stubbes (Anatomie of Abuses, 1583)
"They strike up the Devil's dance withall: then martch this heathen company towards the church and churchyards, their pypers pyping, the drummers thunderring, their stumpes dancing, their belles jyngling, their handkercheefes fluttering about their heads like madde men..."

Christmas comes early
Mrs Shepherd remembers one year when Thelwall had a function in the old School Hall (an Ale) during late November, the keys were returned after midnight accompanied by ringing bells - "I though Santa had come early"

M6 hard shoulder en route to Sellafield in hired minibus, 1992
Steve still insists that when the fuel tank reads empty there is at least two gallons left

Canal boat trip during 1996 weekend of dance
Thelwall show their adeptness at dancing without music by dancing, on the narrowboat, the “silent” version of Lichfield Ring ‘O Bells.
The absence of musician being due to Derek busy “feeding the fishes”, for which he was awarded the slippery gullet.

Cobh, Ireland, 1993 - Programme entry for Thelwall Morris Men
They hail from Cheshire, the heartland of Morris Dancing in England. There it comes second only to religion in the intensity of commitment on the part of its many participants.
Probably one of the most unique forms of dance to be found anywhere in Europe with its Squires and Bagmen, it leaves the viewer bemused as to whether it is to be taken seriously or just enjoyed.
Note: The Cobh festival Committee had lost the Thelwall MM version and therefore invented the above description.

Letter to the Warrington Guardian, 16 Sep 1983
The Thelwall Morris Men are an entertaining bunch. They were all so happy and jolly when they visited Statham, Lymm, on August Bank Holiday Monday. Just watching them for half an hour made one forget all the cares of the world. I am sure I speak for many spectators when I say “Well done guys” and don’t be too long before you return to Lymm again. You will be most welcome.

One man’s view on the trip to Sellafield, 1992
We had been invited to the Sellafield Visitor Centre and, suprisingly, we were able to make up a team; only two of our side had reservations. For one, his consumption of beer and cigarettes was a significant health risk already and the other was an accountant, so quite beyond hope.

A bad kit day at Bakewell dancing “Jockey to the Fair”
Dancers will often lose grip of a hankey while dancing and very occasionally a bell-pad will come loose and dangle dangerously around the ankle before being shaken off.
Ernie Walley had developed a reputation for relying on such things as staples and glue, but on this day he excelled himself.

Jockey to the Fair is what is called a corner dance, which means that corner pairs of dancers repeat the movement of meeting in the middle of the set.
On Ernie’s first visit to the centre he dropped a hankey.
By the time of the second corner chorus he was already having difficulty with a loose bell-pad, and managed to shake it off and leave it on the ground in the middle of the set next to the hankey.
Looking quite dishevelled by now with a wayward shirt tail gently flapping, his third visit saw his belt, which had somehow undone itself, come snaking down from his waist onto the growing pile of kit.

The other dancers in the set, and many of the audience, found it difficult to keep straight faces in anticipation of what clothing Ernie would discard next!

Lymm Historical Society, 1977
We didn’t get a fee for this, but afterwards one old guy gave us £1.50 and said “Buy a drink for everybody”

Thelwall Rose Queen, 1991
Thelwall Morris Men join the procession in traditional Thelwall kit, but concealed by heavy duty Kagools as torrential rain pours down. The rain holds off, briefly, for the performance in the arena, only for the rain to pour again during the final figure of the final dance.
To commemorate the “event” special individual badges were produced for the 7 members present - Thelwall Web-Footed Morris Men

Cobh, 1977
The first trip to Cobh, being during term time, meant that one teacher in the side could not get leave (even unpaid) for anything other than a dire emergency. Desperate measures were called for and the only course open seemed to be sickness, and for this trip, that meant being signed off by a competent doctor!

At this time Ian Goodier had already suffered a severe slipped disc and was able to give coaching in the classic symptoms: what to complain of, what the doctor would say and do, and exactly how to react! The doctor played his part perfectly and the scene was acted out as predicted followed by two weeks off work with what the doctor described as “a classic slipped disc”. Of course our intrepid dancer had to limp out of the surgery and down the road just in case the doctor was watching.

Being a teacher in a Roman Catholic school, many of the families had relatives in Southern Ireland and were regularly sent Irish newspapers. These papers often reported on news with English connections. Consequently every team photo call resulted in our “invalid” running into the distance away from the camera.

The final “sticky moment” occurred on the ferry back to England, when the teacher met one of his pupils and vainly tried to convince him that he was really his own twin brother and not “Sir”.

Cobh, 1993
Kevin, Gordon and Dave’s first impressions:

Arriving late on the first night, there was still activity in the streets but the bars looked closed.
With nothing but an address for our hosts, we decided to ask a passer-by to direct us to “Lower Road”. A lilting Irish voice replied “Well, you have to go back down this road for about 15 miles, then ask again”. We were mystified until it clicked - “No. It’s not Cork we want, it’s Lower Road here in Cobh!”. It was only 100 yards away!

Extract from the Squire's Report, 1989
Thelwall is an excellent side. The standard of dance is usually high, and the attitude is nearly always good.
What has made it an excellent side, apart from all the work put in by foremen over the years, is the continued habit of individuals and the side to recognise failings at least as much as successes - and to work at these failings.
Success doesn't go to our heads, and we are never in danger of being overbearing. Compared to many sides we are an unassuming bunch - and our lack of bumptious confidence is healthy - because our justification is always that we should dance well, and our confidence finds its expression in dancing well.

On a more serious note...
Dave Pratt, Squire of Thelwall Morris Men writes... The arrangements for the Cobh trip were proceeding well during the early part of 1993, when the bombing of Warrington occurred in March which killed Johnathan Ball and Tim Parry.
Thelwall Morris Men debated at the next meeting whether it would be appropriate to continue with the tour, and would we still be welcome. We decided to go ahead with our plans. A few days later the Cobh Festival organisers sent a fax in which they said:

“It is very difficult for an Irishman to find adequate words to express the revulsion that we feel when some inhabitants of this island of ours do what they have done to communities such as yours and presume to do it in our name”

When we got to Ireland, we found that this view was widely shared. Even though many people had nationalistic sentiments, they appeared to be genuinely disconcerted by what had been done.
As a result, we were made to feel doubly welcome.

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Last updated 24 April 2000