Stone The Crows – Give them some stick

Leyland’s well-known Stone the Crows morris dancers – who danced at the 2012 Furness Tradition Festival –  are sending out a desperate appeal for coppiced hazel after they keep breaking the sticks they traditionally clash together while dancing.

Stone the crows

Founder member Murray Riggs said: “There are now over 40 of us in the team. With weekly practice and lots of dance displays in the local and wider area, our sticks take quite a hammering with the constant clashing together they get in all of our dances. Although they do literally grow on trees, we are struggling to find fresh supplies. At the moment, most of our very limited stick collection is bound up with gaffa tape to stop them deteriorating further. This does help to preserve the sticks but deadens the sound of them clashing together – which spoils the impact of our displays.”

Murray said: “We have tried many different types of wood but have found that hazel is the most robust and when it has been coppiced or cut back tends to grow nice a straight stick. We need sticks about 30 inches long and somewhere between a broom handle and a pick axe handle in girth. If anyone has any suitable hazel we would be more than willing to cut and collect it. We then need to strip the bark and leave them to season for at least six months before we can use them.”

If you can help the Leyland based troupe, you can contact them through their website, at www.stonethecrows.org.uk, or call 01772 499074.

Apologies for the headline.

Council 2 Coconutters 1

Here are the latest developments in the County Council vs Britannia Coconutters battle, previously reported earlier in the year.

Members of Britannia Coconutters, dressed in turbans, red and white kilts, clogs and blackened faces, perform 12 hours of dances at 20 pubs in Bacup, every Easter Saturday. But council bosses say the tradition must end, after photographs taken covertly at the last event show spectators standing on the highway.

The group – affectionately known as the Nutters – traces its origins back to 1857 and has held an Easter Boundary Dance parade in its current form for 110 years.

Their treasurer Neville Earnshaw said: “We are the envy of the folk-dancing world. We can dance in Dublin on St Patrick’s Day or Yorkshire – but we can’t dance in our own town.”

He said he received the ‘shocking’ news at a meeting with police and county council chiefs. The officials have safety concerns about the dancers and crowds using the roads and suggested the dancing be contained to the pavement, something organisers say is not viable.

Local councillor Jimmy Eaton said banning the march would be ‘barmy’. Mr Earnshaw said he and secretary Joe Healey were shown photographs taken at this April’s event which showed spectators standing on the highway.

He said: “Myself and Joe walked into the meeting and noticed a lot of black and white photos on the table. The officers asked us how we thought it went and we said it was great. We raised more than £600 for charity. They said they had someone photographing the event – covertly – and that having members of the public on the highway was dangerous. The county council said the parade would not be sanctioned again in its current format.”

The boundary dance, which goes from Britannia through Bacup and Stacksteads to the border with Waterfoot, was almost cancelled this year after the group was asked to pay road closure fees of £1,000 for the first time. Grants from councillor Eaton and Peter Steen, both county councillors at the time, ensured it went ahead and ten police officers helped marshal the 800-strong crowd. Mr Earnshaw said the county council’s demand for future dances to be held on the pavement rather than the road were ‘impossible’. He added: “For us as a group to receive the blame or be deemed unsafe because of the actions of others is ridiculous. They said people were standing on the highway to take photos of us. If that’s the case, why didn’t the police officers deal with it? It beggars belief. It’s impossible for us to dance on the pavement. Can you imagine asking the bandsmen to read music, play and walk on a pavement? Our tradition is a huge source of income and pride for the people of this town and the people in charge don’t understand. They don’t want us on the highway at all.”

Councillor Eaton, whose Greensclough ward the dancers pass through, said he had never known any serious trouble at the event. He said: “I think there will be an uproar in the town if it doesn’t go ahead. Surely the Nutters can’t be responsible for everybody who is watching them? They’ve put Bacup and Rossendale on the map and it’s absolutely appalling what they’ve been told.”

The Nutters’ committee is due to meet to discuss their formal response to the county council.

Oliver Starkey, the county council’s highways manager for Rossendale, said: “Officers from the county council, Rossendale Council and the police met with the dancers and highlighted some issues following this year’s event. The problems were explained to the dancers and we discussed how we would like to work with them to ensure a safe event for next Easter.”

The Nutters’ custom of blackened faces is believed to stem from dancers who had a pagan or medieval background disguising themselves from being recognised by evil spirits, or members’ historic connections with the mining industry. The Coconutters perform around 40 gigs a year and their youngest member 43-year-old Steve Esther dances alongside their oldest member 76, Dick Shufflebottom who has become an icon in the folk world after dancing for more than 56 years.

Justin Timberlake sings ‘The Auld Triangle’

Inside Llewyn Davis
Inside Llewyn Davis

Remember the 2000 film ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’? The soundtrack launched a resurgence of interest in American traditional and bluegrass music that continues to this day. The Coen brothers who made that film have now made another that looks at the early 60s Greenwich Village folk scene. Called ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ the main character is loosely based on Dave Van Ronk.

There will also be a soundtrack album that carries the same name. Performers include Oscar Isaac (who plays Llewyn Davis), Justin Timberlake, Marcus Mumford, Stark Sands, the Punch Brothers, Carey Mulligan, Adam Driver, and the Downhill Strugglers.

Track titles that you may recognise include ‘Last Thing On My Mind’ ‘Five Hundred Miles’ ‘Green, Green Rocky Road’ ‘The Death of Queen Jane’ ‘The Roving Gambler’ ‘Shoals Of Herring’ and ‘The Auld Triangle’

You can listen to some of them here. In all honesty the Punch Brothers sing ‘The Auld Triangle’ with Mumford and Timberlake joining in on the chorus.

Most of the album showcases recordings made specifically for the movie, but Inside Llewyn Davis closes with a nicely chosen pair of archival recordings. One, a previously unreleased recording of Bob Dylan performing “Farewell,” provides a nice reminder of what came out of the scene the fictional Llewyn Davis occupied. The other winds down the proceedings with Van Ronk doing “Green, Green Rocky Road.” Isaac performs the song elsewhere in Inside Llewyn Davis, but if Van Ronk’s life indeed inspired the film — his music was farther-reaching and considerably more idiosyncratic — it only makes sense that he’d get the last word in edgewise.

Here is a trailer for the film which is released in the UK on January 24, 2014. The soundtrack album is being released about now.

BBC Young Folk Awards

A few weeks ago a group of us from Furness Tradition were fortunate to attend the finals of this year’s BBC Young Folk Awards at the Brewery in Kendal. There were 10 acts; all of them were exceptionally good, and the variety of different musical styles was amazing. One act sang shanties, another was a singer-songwriter. Some acts played acoustic instruments, others used technology.

For the performers, the weekend included tutoring and mentoring by the likes of John Spiers and Rachel McShane of Bellowhead. Here’s what John had to say “A few weeks ago Rachael and I had the privilege of being the workshop leaders and judges at this year’s BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Awards weekend in Kendal.  We had a great time sharing our knowledge and working with such a talented and varied bunch of up and coming musicians.  The standard of the performances in the semi-final concert was mind-bogglingly good and the judging panel took longer than the concert itself to discuss the performances and arrive at the 4 finalists who will go through to the full Folk Awards next year.”

I can well believe that it took the  panel such a long time to decide the final shortlist, and I did not envy their task.

To hear who the finalists are and listen to some of the performances, tune in to Radio 2’s Folk Show with Mark Radcliffe on 20th November. Highlights of the concert will be televised on the BBC red button channel but I don’t know the times yet.

Steeleye Span

One of my favourite bands have combined their talents with one of my favourite authors. At a time when most bands of their generation would be resting on their laurels, Steeleye have found inspiration in the work of author Terry Pratchett. They have worked with him on a brand new project based on Pratchett’s ‘Wintersmith’ novel – a tale of ancient rituals and secret folk dances. The album features special guests Terry Pratchett, Kathryn Tickell and John Spiers. It is released on the 28th of October.

The track listing looks very interesting. I look forward to hearing this.

TRACK LISTING
1. The Dark Morris
2. Ancient Eyes
3. The Good Witch
4. The Wee Free Men
5. Wintersmith
6. You
7. The Summer Lady
8. Love Enough
9. Hiver
10. First Dance
11. Fire & Ice
12. Crown & Ice
13. Band of Teachers
14. We Shall Wear Midnight
15. The Dark Morris Tune