I am interested in community gigs and caught up with Spiers & Boden in my own back yard at Cecil Sharpe House in Camden Town - hoping to learn about making connections.
Spiers and Boden, long established folk duo, founder members of great festival band Bellowhead, are in town. They will play twice today in the same but changing venue of Cecil Sharp House – the home of English folk music. First a ceilidh. Then a concert.
The floor is cleared for the dancers. These people know what they are doing. Their faces wreathed with smiles save for the odd grim look of fear when they think they might just miss a connection. There are very few mistakes. I find this disheartening. Surely the fun of the ceilidh is in the error. That’s always been my view at any rate.
Folk dancing calls from deep within me. It was one of the pleasures of special school and of barn dances in later years. I note the moves and the formations. I know these. But I’m not fit enough to allow myself exhilaration today. My companion on the other hand tells me of entering school competitions and cannot resist the allure. Spiers and Boden strike me as being almost maniacal in the speeds they achieve, the swirls they create. I was supposed to go see The Animals this week. Something tells me they would not deign to do a pre gig dance for all those who wish to reflect on the mashed potato or that their audience would seem so inclusive.
I remember the last time I was here and the joy of linking up with Ju Gosling and Julie Newman who were then spending time creating Wolk Dancing (Wheelchair Folk and Street Dancing) and find myself wondering what happened to that http://www.ju90.co.uk/folk/index.htm
I leave Cecil Sharp and return a tad late for the main event. A transformation has come about. The hall is now bedecked with seated people, packing it to the rafters. Spiers and Boden still whip up a storm when it suits them but they can slow it down too, dance tune or no dance tune. Bellowhead standards tumble out; London Town, New York Girls, Led Zeppelin’s Prickle Eye Bush (Sorry - Gallows Pole) and is that there Tom Padget, a begging crip with a mighty penis ploughing agricultural furrows. Jovial songs often have great sex hidden within them. Each song with a chorus finds a response from the crowd and one a silly little dance too, which I have joined in with in my time, but which usually appalls me.
Spiers and Boden and myself differ on the merits of social singing. My dad used to be good at it down at the old Dog and Partridge. He would be called on to perform and would always bring pleasure. He didn’t pass on the gene. Me? I want to hear the song. Not have it drowned out by some cats mewling the few words they know.
Who am I kidding? I do it all the time sometimes even when I’ve never heard the song. This is a great tradition and Spiers and Boden are using technology to engage fans by asking them to nominate the songs of their areas. Nothing seems to be coming from Camden Town but there’s this particularly silly song from Ashby De La Zouche and Spiers and Boden show no shame in teaching it to us.
From social song to community singing Spiers & Boden are engaged in breaking down barriers, lifting spirits and empowering voices. It used to be something we did so well in the Disability Arts Movement. Do we do it still? The debate rages on.