A Workshop for Voices and Instruments directed by Alison Kinder

Backwell, 9th June 2018

Many people know the story of William Kemp, the clown with the big ego who Morris-danced (‘daunced’) his way from London to Norwich in nine days; not in fact nine days on the trot, or should that be the jump, but a journey taken over a few weeks with rest days in between. He was accompanied by a man playing pipe and tabor, a very necessary companion if you try to imagine dancing for hours on end and no musical help with the Morris leaps and kicks.  It is said that Kemp was an actor cast out of Shakespeare’s troupe, and that Hamlet’s reference to players who ‘have so strutted and bellowed upon the stage’ may have been a swipe at him. After the journey he published a journal, ‘A Nine Daies’ Wonder’, telling of his difficulty in keeping the crowds at bay, and giving chapter and verse in entertaining detail. I imagine he would be pleased to know that this can still be bought cheaply on line today.

Alison herself was jumping with enthusiasm which spread among us. She was very well prepared and things went smoothly, with great enjoyment and laughter throughout. Folk-dance music itself is made to lift the spirits. We began with two versions of Kemp’s Jig, the well-known tune first, then a different one in six-eight, and the others all marked the towns along the way, not by name but by some reference to dance, or to rest. A little puppet dancer was pinned to a chart and moved from town to town as we proceeded to Norwich.

We were encouraged to bring all kinds of instruments; some had tambours, which were most useful in providing the standard ‘baah, bup bup’ backing for dance; I much regretted that I had forgotten to bring a set of Indian ankle bells which would have been perfect. Alison had us playing repeats with different instrumentation and discovered some tasty instrumental combinations in the process.

This was the second outing of the workshop. Alison mentioned that the first time she presented it someone turned up in full Morris rig and gave a demonstration. On this occasion someone was able to give meaning to the text of ‘Since Robin Hood’ by Thomas Weelkes, by reference to the strange and ghostly Abbots Bromley horn dance, which is still performed annually and can be seen on YouTube. The strong atmosphere of this dance reminded me of the sinister whirling devil figure who scatters onlookers in Padstow on May day: dance was not always jollity but was used to stamp the earth-spirits to life, to keep luck on side and scare evil away. The Abbots Bromley dance tune was in essence a tune I know as Old Noll, which I normally play at speed, but slowed down it can certainly sound mocking, menacing and heavy

Besides Kemp’s jig, and a very different work by Weelkes called Strike it up Tabor (‘pretty Jill stand you still, dapper Jack means to smack’), we went through mostly vocal pieces by Morley, Bennett, Michael East, Coperario, and a Playford tune, then finally for Kemp’s arrival in Norwich an Ave Verum by Byrd. The piece I found most engaging of all was Cries of London by Gibbons; a wellmade instrumental piece, with vocal interjections, depicting a market-place surging with life; street criers selling fish and vegetables, ‘a poking stick with a silver handle’ and other oddities, and someone offering a reward for a lame horse ‘with a long mane and a short tayle, lost this thirtieth day of February’.  On the scene were the poor and hungry, ‘poor Tom’s a-cold’, and probably priests, thieves and ladies of the night. A painting by Hogarth comes to mind.

The workshop was not held in the usual hall but in St Andrew’s Church Hall, much quieter, with a country view from the long windows, well worth the walk from the station. A lovely workshop: thank you Alison and Heather.

Sallie Ranken

The Nine Days' Wonder with Alison Kinder, June 2018

It was a very imaginative idea to take the Nine Days’ Wonder as a structure, and to present us with music that had some relation to the events (as Kempe tells them in his account of the Morris-dancing).  It meant that we played dances, part-songs, madrigals etc. in various dispositions, and Alison presided over the music with gentle direction that made it a great pleasure to play and sing.  Nothing here was very difficult, and that in itself made for a refreshing change from some more intensive workshops (not that I want to forgo those!).

Simon Pickard