Review: English dance tradition goes electric at Cromer’s Folk on the Pier festival

Folk on the Pier 2014. Music and song session at The Albion on Sunday.PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Folk on the Pier 2014. Music and song session at The Albion on Sunday.PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

'Morris On', one of the most influential English folk albums of the past 50 years, was celebrated in superb style at this year's Cromer Folk on the Pier festival on Saturday night.

Ashley Hutchings, new patron of the annual music extravaganza, led a cracking new five-piece band to recall the origins and influence of the 1972 LP.

The folk-rock bass player, who had helped found Fairport Convention and was leading Steeleye Span at the time, told of a momentous turning point in his life.

He recalled how he had been bowled over when he first heard recordings of traditional morris dance tunes played by concertina player William Kimber (1872-1961) from Headington Quarry, Oxon.

Despite protests from purists, he decided to play the traditional English dance tunes on electric instruments and formed the first Morris On band, with Richard Thompson, John Kirkpatrick, Barry Dransfield and Dave Mattacks to record the project in just two days.

'Morris On' became one of the best-selling English folk albums ('I'm still living off the royalties') and inspired hundreds of young people to take up morris dancing – as well as popularising the new genre of music.

The original LP led to four 'new generation' spin-off albums featuring different line-ups over a 40 year period – all led by Hutchings.

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His current band, at Cromer, featured Simon Care on melodeon, Guy Fletcher on fiddle and drums, Gavin Davenport on acoustic guitar and lead vocals, and Tom Wright on electric guitar and drums.

Together they produced excellent versions of tunes from the various Morris On albums with Care and Fletcher also dancing the traditional Bacca Pipes Jig and Broom dance respectively.

Classic morris tunes including Shepherd's Hey, Beansetting, Shooting and Billy Boy went down a storm and Hutchings recalled memories of Welsh border morris in his own Mr Trill's Song.

Gavin Davenport turned in excellent versions of the songs I'll Go and List for a Sailor, and the sexually explicit Cuckoo's Nest – both from the original LP – and the band also included various bits of doggerel from the morris tradition.

As a special treat the show also featured energetic, and inspiring dance displays by three young members of Fools' Gambit Morris – accompanied by up-and-coming melodeon player Ollie King.

Forecasts of wet weather had put off local morris dancers from performing at the festival but despite that there was no doubt in the minds of the audience that Morris is alive, and well … and electric!

Brian Gaudet

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