English Ceilidh (ECeilidh)

Energetic Ceilidh Dancing in England

Posted to Usenet by Dave Ingledew (The Bursledon Village Band) 23 May 1995. My thanks to Dave for permission to reporduce it here.

I suspect this subject will seen differently by different people depending upon various factors, How long they have been dancing and which bands they have seen, how old and fit they are and who they have been dancing with.

I started English country dancing when I was at primary school in Lincolnshire. We danced fairly standard dances, circassian circle, strip the willow etc to 78 records on a wind up gramaphone, the music was very Scottish in style and rather orchestral, I'm talking about the early to mid 1950's . Over the years my interest in folk music continued but I didn't start dancing again until the early 1970's. By this time I had moved to the South of England (Hampshire). Country dances by this time were nearly all called Barn Dances (They still are) and the dancers were most often there for a social evening . The dancing standard was and still is pretty low. Again the music was mainly Piano Accordian/fiddle based and in a style very similar to Scottish country dance music (Quite fast and fairly smooth). In the mid 70's various things happened which seem to have contributed to the rather more energetic style of dancing which makes up some of the dancing in the U.K. today.

The first was the release of a record of traditional country musicians from the southern part of England. This record called "English Country Music" was recorded by Mervyn Plunkett and released by Topic records. It featured among others Walter and Daisy Bulwer, Billy Cooper and Russell Wortley accompanied by Reg Hall on Melodeon and Mervyn Plunket on Drums. Reg Hall Writes about this band and the players in a fascinating book "I Never Played To Many Posh Dances" which details the musical life of Scan Tester and many other country musicians in Sussex. (I use the term country in it's English sense, musicians who lived in the country villages and played for themselves and other country dwellers). This record I believe started many people looking for similar musicians in other parts of the country and recordings of Bob Cann (Melodeon) from Devon and Jimmy Cooper (Hammer Dulcimer) Bournemouth followed. I'm sure there were many more but these are the ones that I collected.

Reg Hall in particular was very influencial in bringing this different and in many ways simpler music to the notice of many up and coming dance musicians. Almost simultaneously it seems two bands sprung into action, one being Flowers and Frolics and the other The Old Swan Band. The significance of these two bands on the current Ceilidh scene cannot be over emphasised. The music was played significantly slower and with much more emphasis on phrasing and strong rythmic drive. It is interesting to also note that both bands (especially Old Swan ) were strongly influenced by playing for Morris dancing. I still remember with great fondness English Country Music weekends at Cricklade in the mid 70's where these two bands came together with many old traditional musicians. The dancing was a revelation nearly all stepped. The travelling polka step or double step reigned supreme, the morris men really coming into their own. It's also interesting to note that at this time these two bands used no electric instruments.

Ashley Hutchings and the Albion Dance band changed all that. By using a rock drummer, bass and lead guitar along with fiddle melodeon and other more traditional instruments the sound of country dance music in the U.K, was changed beyond all recognition.

During the last 20 years there have been many more bands involved, New Victory, Tiger Moth, Umps & Dumps etc. Many of the more recently formed bands have strong associations with the earlier Flowers and Old Swan. Token Women Has Jo Freya who used to be Jo Fraser, Gas Mark 5 used to feature Dan Quinn from Flowers and Frolics and Edward ll used to have Rod Stradling of the Old Swan. The John Kirkpatrick All Stars and Brass Monkey (both featured bands at Sidmouth last year) had Martin Brinsford as their percussionist and drummer, a roll he performs so well with the Old Swan, My own band The Bursledon Village Band and The Old Hat Dance Band are perhaps slightly more traditional in our approach but still depend on that steady and strong rythmic approach to the music that is so helpful for dancers who want to expend some energy and have a good time. 

In passing I must comment on the definition that a Ceilidh band has members who stand up. All the members of Flowers and Frolics used to sit. I think all of the Old Hat Band do and Most of us in The Bursledon Village Band. Most of the Old Swan Band used to sit, I haven't seen them for several years but I will take note when I go to their 20th anniversary bash in June.

Now for the dancers... I would say they are mainly under 40 years old though we have followers who are well into their 60's and step with great enthusiasm for most of the evening. Country dancing is not very popular with the lower working class in the U.K. they seem to be more interested in the latest thing in the top 20. There are exceptions as always. Most dancers seem to be fairly well educated, University students are very prominent as are teachers and computer programmers.

I think this strata of society is probably supporting most of the traditional folk activities in the U.K. Most bands in the U.K. are booked to play by people who organise the event. I believe that particularly on the West Coast of America the bands themselves tend to organise the dances. The vast majority of bands (ourselves included) spend more evenings playing for the general public who are supporting a fund raising event. Such organisations as Parent Teacher Associations, The British Heart Foundation, Amateur Athletic Assocations provide most of the work in the South of England. Though there are many Ceilidhs for more experienced dancers and festivals throughout England they alone couldn't provide enough work for the bands around.

I hope this is of interest, as I said at the beginnig this is how I saw the upsurge in Energetic Ceilidh dancing. I'm sure others will have seen it from a different perspective. Incidently the other less energetic style of dancing didn't go away, there are still plenty of accordian based Scottish influenced bands around and many many people enjoy dancing to them. Thank goodness there is room for all of us !!!.