It must have been 1976 or 77 when I discovered a remarkable thing: folk dancing can be fun. It happened like this…
Before I was born, my parents used to go out dancing a lot: ballroom, old time, barn dances, square dances. Then in my teens, when I was old enough not to need a babysitter any more, they started dancing again, mainly at dinner dances organised by the school PTA. When my Mum tried to teach me to waltz, or do the foxtrot, I was completely uninterested. And although a bunch of my schoolfriends went to a PTA barn dance – and had fun, to be fair – I don’t think any of us considered it might be something we’d want to do on a regular basis. Similarly, when I discovered folk music at the end of 1975, I enjoyed the jigs and reels played by bands like Steeleye and the Chieftains, but thought of them only as music to listen to, not as music you might dance to. But when my Mum and Dad were invited to a barn dance in the village hall at Warehorne, a few miles from where we lived, at the last minute I tagged along. And it was a revelation.
What really made the difference was the band – the Oyster Ceilidh Band, whose music was not only extremely energetic and danceable, but also very listenable. I was hooked, and (along with quite a number of my teenage friends) became a regular at the dances organised by Ron and Jean Saunders at Warehorne. It was a tiny village hall, and the six or seven-piece band would crowd onto a stage created by placing boards on top of the snooker table (some years later I discovered that this had also been the practice in the 1930s, when Charlie Bridger – of whom more another week – used to play for village hops in the same hall).
At my 18th birthday party John Jones, Chris Taylor and Cathy Lesurf from the Oyster Ceilidh Band came along to play and call a few dances. And as a birthday present Cathy gave me a copy of Maud Karpeles’ The Crystal Spring Volume 2. This is a collection of songs collected by Cecil Sharp, and over the years I’ve found it to be a really good source of songs. But I was particularly excited to find that one of the songs had been collected in Warehorne.
This was a song which, in The Crystal Spring, is given the title of ‘The Baffled Knight’, and which Sharp collected in Warehorne on 23 September 1908 from James Beale. Even at 18 I realised, I think, that ‘The Baffled Knight’ was a ballad scholar’s title, not what a traditional singer would have used (it doesn’t even mention a knight in Mr Beale’s song – it’s a shepherd’s son who is “baffled”). A few years later, when I looked at the copy of Sharp’s manuscripts in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, I found that in fact Mr Beale had also sung “Stroll away the morning dew”, rather than the more usual “Blow away the morning dew”. So that’s what I’ve sung ever since, and that’s how I refer to the song.
James Beale’s last verse was
So if you meet any pretty girl
And your father in the town
O never mind her squalling
Or the rumpling of her gown
But I prefer to stick with the “if you will not when you can / you shall not when you would” verse given by Maud Karpeles.
You can find out more about the ballad and its history at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Baffled_Knight
Stroll Away the Morning Dew