(Please note: the video ends at 3.04 due to technical issues which could not be resolved.)
Cardiff’s folk scene has battled prejudice, poor students and disappearing practice venues. So, as the new year looms, Folk Cardiff explains why we should look forward to dancing round the maypole – and not round the bend!
It’s Friday night: your head is thumping, you’ve had too many Sambucas and you’re in the middle of a nightclub. Oh, and you’ve got a load of bells strapped to your knees. Morris dancing has indeed come a long way since Cecil Sharp collected dances from twee teams in country villages. But as infamous groups like Morris 18-30 see more and more young dancers sign up for a heady weekend of drinking and dancing, where’s the new blood on the Cardiff folk scene?
Far from plastering our antics on the photography archives of Live Lounge, our scene is secretive, and for a capital city, it could do with a boost. So, just as we are adept at tuning a fiddle, fixing a bell pad and polishing a rapper, how can we stitch the Cardiff folk scene back together?
“Attracting young people to folk dancing in a large urban area will always cause problems,” says Alun Roach of Cardiff Morris.
The city’s cotswold side have been going since 1970 and have a steady influx of “free spirited” students each year.
However, this still leaves them at a loss when their recruits finish their degrees and return home for the summer. Like all sides in Cardiff, the team would love to attract more members, but as the average 18-year-old isn’t champing at the bit to go morris dancing, it is a slow and steady process.
“Young people jeering has turned more to “what you doin’, mate, looks cool”…” laughs Alan, recalling the reaction from young audience members.
“But it is still difficult to get them to come along to practices – the reluctance of people to do something outside their comfort zone is a huge hurdle.”
The Young Ones
Yet, ask any young morris dancer about their experience on the folk scene and their tale might be a bit different: cue stories of nightclubs, all night lock-ins, romantic liaisons, silent discos, and a ridiculous number of friends in every capital city.
As someone who’s grown up on the folk scene, Shady Tann-Watson knows all about our funny world of folk. Hailing from Donisthorpe, and studying Genetics at Cardiff University, both Shady’s parents were in their local Leicestershire dance teams, while she has been attending Sidmouth Folk Festival since she was a tiny tot.
“It’s difficult to say what’s the best part about it,” smiles Shady, 19, who joined Cardiff Morris in September.“It’s great to be surrounded by music and culture, and also by hundreds of friends who are always looking out for you.
“At festivals there’s often a ceilidh happening, which is great fun for everyone involved. These are always followed by sessions, led by fantastic, young musicians that continue long after the pubs have shut.”
But never mind shutting the doors for a lock in, how do we get youngsters to open the doors to the folk scene?
Alun is somewhat skeptical of ‘modern’ methods: “We have had stands at fresher’s fairs in the colleges in Cardiff and more recently established a presence on social media, but all these methods yielded fewer dancers than we actually picked up at dance outs!”
There’s no place like home
Before we begin the plans of ‘folking’ the 5,000, dance teams had better make sure they actually have somewhere to practice.
Clocs Canton were shocked when they were unable to use their Canton scout hall because of dodgy electrics until, in its finest hour, Western Avenue’s Tesco offered them their community room. However, the struggle to find a venue has worrying implications for those wanting to set up a dance team.
“I visited or rang every church hall and pub function room that I could think of but places like Chapter were crammed full of bookings and church halls already had dance or exercise classes,” explains step clogger Lynda Edwards.
“Meanwhile, most pub function rooms had low ceilings and carpeted floors, which were just no good.”
This is particularly worrying if new teams would like to set up, as an unstable practice venue would not appeal to new recruits, whilst most teams can’t fork out for a more reliable, expensive setting.
For now, those on the Cardiff scene remain true to their tankards, as three sides practice in a pub, the Owain Glyndwr, St John’s Street, which boasts a free function room. But despite the mecca of morris seeming to be in one Cardiff pub, the scene is still very secretive.
The revolution will not be televised
However, one Cardiff dancer thinks he may have the answer to help bring sides together.
Like Cardiff Morris, Edwin Dyson has been trying to get punters interested in folk. He started running the city’s only sword dancing group, Taff Rapper, in spring but soon opened up his originally all-male sword dancing team to females due to lack of members. Now, as numbers are slowly growing, he hopes one day to have both a male and female side, and has an idea to create a buzz in the city.
“My basic plans are to invite every traditional side in the Cardiff area to join a day of dance and take over the area between the Owain Glyndwr and the new library,” says Edwin.
“We could demonstrate routines and also hold workshops for the public in various venues during the day. Then, to finish it, there could be an evening concert and ceilidh.”
So, while we won’t be crashing into the basement of Metros anytime soon, the New Year is all about fresh opportunities. If Facebook and social networking don’t help then it is time to think outside the box: if the students don’t come to the morris, then the morris must go to the students! A big day of workshops sounds like an excellent way to break down the barriers and show Cardiff citizens what we’re all about. And, as long as we keep abreast of practice room issues, then the folk scene can only grow stronger. This is Cardiff, and Cardiff’s got bells on!
Edwin Dyson talks about rapper sword dancing and why it would be great for young people to get involved with his new team. To find out how you can join, visit: http://www.taffrapper.co.uk/
Here is Edwin in action with his old side, Northgate Rapper. Keep an eye on the Folk Cardiff Facebook page, as we will be posting the the first videos of Taff Rapper soon after they have been filmed! Video courtesy of Northgate Rapper.
Cardiff Morris member, Jonathan Baker, talks about how he became involved in the folk scene and how it has influenced his life. As the Christmas bells ring, it’s time we think about recruitment for the New Year.
Cardiff Morris perform ‘Upton Stick’ in Pontypridd. Video courtesy of Cardiff Morris. To see more of the side’s videos, you can visit: http://www.cardiffmorris.org/CMMhome.htm
Would you like to join? Find a dance team here!