During lockdown our roving reporter interviewed (okay, swapped emails from home with!) one of the original members about the side’s first public appearance. It was a September evening at one of Bedford’s finest pubs. What they found out is preserved here for posterity…
The side was formed in the spring of 2012, and first danced out that autumn. Could you tell me about the time in-between? It must have been busy finding somewhere to practice, learning and writing dances, recruiting enough dancers and musicians? How long was there between starting the side and that first performance?
We did our very first practice, 5 of us, on a patio on Friday 13th April 2012, an all-round Good Friday. We were wanting to see if it would be possible to start our own side, especially changing dances written for 6 people down to 4. We found quite quickly that we could adjust them especially once we’d invented the teardrop hey in that first session (adaptation of the Adderbury hey from 6 to 4 people).
We looked at different practice venues but found St Cuthbert’s Hall pretty quickly. We spent some time faffing with other practicalities, but once JB (seasoned Morris Man and county supplier of seasoned sticks!) had furnished us with some old sticks he had lying around, we were up and running.
When was the first dance out decided? How did you pick the time and place? There are a lot of good pubs in Bedford, was it a controversial decision to go to the Three Cups?
We ended up at The Three Cups by serendipity, like most of Red Cuthbert’s fortune. We finished our first practice, decided to go for a drink so walked down Newnham Street. The Castle looked a bit full that day so we carried on to The Three Cups. They’ve been welcoming to us ever since! We did quite a few practices, every other week for the first year or so, but soon decided we needed an aim so booked the first dance out for the September. That made a big difference to our practices – we were focussed on getting ourselves presentable.
How big was the side? Some of the photos show dances for four, but there is a fair sized band in others as well as you and another dancer taking photos…
We started with 5 of us who had Morris danced before and quickly gained a 6th experienced dancer. By the time we did the first dance out we had also enlisted 2 friends new to Morris – one dancer and one musician as well as taking in a Folk musician who was new to these parts and was found wandering in The Three Cups.
So, how did it go? Do you remember a favourite moment?
It’s difficult to remember back to that first dance out now. I definitely remember a festive and excited feel.
S—- made a black and red cake (no mean feat, not sure how much food colouring went into that). It was a little chilly outside, although not for the dancers!
I can probably guess some of the dances from the photographs, do you know what the set list was?
I know we danced Bluebells (Adderbury), Vandals (Lichfield), plus there’s one photo that looks like we’re about to dance the Upton-Upon-Severn Stick Dance (Chingford tradition, for the precision Morris connoisseur) all adapted for 4 but I couldn’t tell you what other dances we had in the set at that point.
We felt from the beginning that we wanted to do a mix of traditional Morris dances (Cotswold and Border) but also keep it as a live tradition by adding dances we made up. I’m can’t remember if we had any ready by the time we did this first dance out – if we did it may well have been the Cuthbert’s Brawl to the tune of The Bear.
What was the audience like? How did they enjoy it?
We had great support from friends and punters at the pub. I don’t believe any of them watching were familiar with Morris, but we took their compliments all the same.
Anyway, what happened next? Were there “lessons learned” from the first gig?
We learnt a lot from that first dance out. Mainly that having a dance out to work towards makes all the difference to practice. But another lesson that we’ve taken with us since is that it takes a long time to face paint on every side member and no matter what you do, face paint will always run off M—‘s face.