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Dancing English

The Shooting Roots events at Sidmouth have been a good gauge of the upsurge of interest among the young. Much of the credit goes to 26-year-old Laurel Swift, dancer, fiddle player with rising dance group Gloworms, leading light with Morris Offspring and co-ordinator of these Sidmouth Shooting Roots sessions. "My parents were morris dancers so I was always involved in it somehow," she says. "One year I went to a Shooting Roots workshop with Bill Jones and we didn't like it much, so we offered our services! At first it was a series of workshops but it has grown quite organically. It's for 12-25 year-olds and although they may stop coming when they reach about 17, they still hang out at the festival and bring their friends. Ceilidhs are an ideal introduction to the music and there seem to be a lot more people involved of my generation now. And there are more people in the 10 years below me than the 10 years above."

Laurel Swift
Photo: Ian Anderson
Laurel Swift
She doesn't feel there's any need for a charm offensive or marketing splurge to spread the word. "The scene always works best by word of mouth. Radio and TV helps, of course, but for the grass roots stuff you can't beat mates telling their mates. Ceilidhs are such great entertainment and the bands are cool. Hekety, Whapweasel, Florida, Jabadaw, Woodpecker Band ... they're all great. I was always into dancing but I never used to take much notice of the bands. When I was growing up we had the John Kirkpatrick album Plain Capers and the Oyster Ceilidh Band, but it's only recently I've started taking much notice of the bands. Maybe that's because they are so good now."

Conducting a revolution of his own from a totally different angle is Roger Watson, a stalwart of English music through sterling service with the likes of Muckram Wakes and New Victory Band, now artistic director of regional folk development agency TAPS. He's spreading the word with trailblazing multicultural dance band Boka Halat, which he originally founded in 1999 with Musa Mboob, ex-Ifang Bondi. He takes the view that modern English dance music should be represented by contemporary English people, from whichever culture or tradition they happen to evolve.

"You use whatever resources are to hand, pool it together and make something of it," he says. "If it's a steel drum player and a tabla player and a guy who can play three notes on a tin whistle and another guy who watched some morris dancers once, then that's what it is. Statistics show that 2.8m people go to festivals and folk clubs and ceilidhs, but there's 50m other people in the country who don't and it's their music too."

This feature first appeared in fRoots 250, April 2004


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