Friday, May 05, 2017

The Songs were Extremely Rude. It was all so Very British

by O. Reader


Buxton part 2
            The reason we came to Buxton was a folk festival, but unlike the usual events held in fields with muddy campsites and suspect “rest rooms” and the like, this was held in a couple of theaters, with a huge “beer tent” erected between them.
            It obviously had a different “feel” to the usual, least of all was the actual comfort enjoyed by ourselves - and we have got to an age where comfort sort of rates high on the totem pole.
            I missed the stalls selling organic food and hippy beads, and offering tantric osteopathic experiences. I missed the sing-arounds, where people with voices like bathwater escaping could still make their mark. And I missed the open mikes where young hopefuls could have their 15 minutes of infamy and the club tents. Paul Simon appeared at the club tent at one of the first Cambridge Folk Festivals, and look where he went from there.
            So it was probably more a series of official concerts in halls including the beautifully decorated Buxton Opera House, which dates from the Victorian era, where we had previously been for several years’ worth of Gilbert and Sullivan festivals in the past.
            But it was a bit incongruous with the music and the audience. You looked around you in the circle balcony. Loads of grey rinsed perms and bald heads could be seen jigging about in unison, forming a sort of Mexican wave along the rows. You half expected some octogenarian to throw himself into a spot of crowd surfing, being propelled over the heads of the audience before disappearing over the side of the balcony to land with a thud in the stalls below.
            But it WAS nice to have reserved seats. Incongruous, but nice. And it really was nice to sleep in a bed rather than in a sleeping bag on the floor of a tent.  
            There were two extra events that we will remember. On the Sunday morning they organized a walk. About 200 turned up. It was billed as a gentle stroll, but this was organized by fanatics who walk ten miles and then do a gig. We climbed UP (and I mean UP) to a folly called Solomon’s Temple, and there a choir who had walked with us with banners sang some political songs that were also extremely rude. It was all so very British.
            Mrs O declined to go on the walk, but I went with daughter and son-in-law.
            Then straight after, ones aching bones were abused still further by a Ceilidh. This is a sort of country dance, barn dance - dunno what you would call it in the States. It featured a band and a “caller” who gave you directions. Country dancing - a blast from the past - involves mass groups of people swinging around and stepping on toes, and forever changing partners, sort of getting their hands on all manner of different people - probably the main reason for it as a social activity in the pre-movie-radio-TV-internet age. They attempted what they called the largest example of a dance called “strip the willow” which involves large numbers swinging around in unison - a bit like an old Shaker meeting gone wrong. And did this go wrong! Large numbers of people on collision course in hysterics. That it happened in the “beer tent” where dozens of different ales were available for consumption probably had nothing to do with it. Yeah. Sure.      As for the music? Some was good, some very good, some I could happily never hear again. I did note with sudden perception that many younger performers don’t know what to do with their hands. I find this a problem with public speaking, but having something in your hand helps. For singers it can be a mike or a guitar, even if you don’t actually play the latter. Without it, you get some who jig around with stiff arms like a demented glove puppet - or you have John Jones of the Oyster Band with arm and hand movements so choreographed you would think he was giving you a master class in deaf-signing while he sang.
            The headliner was a group called The Levellers, which may mean nothing outside the UK, and even then outside a specific niche in the UK. But in the 1990s they had the biggest selling album of the decade in Britain. Yet it never made the charts, but 16 year anti-social left-wing-leaning teenagers loved it, and it steadily sold and sold. They were very professional, very funny, very political but full of the self deprecation that characterizes many Brits, which other nations sometimes find hard to understand. They brought the house down. Forget the reference to crowd surfing above, by the end of their set all those in the stalls were standing and dancing, and many in the circle where we were. I mean, they interrupted our view of the stage! Attempts to stem the tide were futile. And this was “The Opera House.” Nice one.
            So it’s goodbye to Buxton and home to responsibility and seriousness and all that sort of stuff. Ho hum.


1 comment:

Harry H said...

I think we Americans would compare your "Ceilidh" with what we call a "Square Dance." I remember spending a whole marking period (6 weeks) during my ninth grade year learning it in our gym class. It was one of the rare occasions that the boys mixed with the girls. Normally one gender was in the classroom or outside on the field while the other was in the gym. We actually had to hold hands with girls. For some of us more awkward teens this was a nerve-racking experience.

Square dancing gets its name from the form of four couples starting in a square and when the music begins following the directions of the caller. I'm sure it must derive from dances like the Ceilidh brought to America by our immigrant ancestors.