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Some morris traditions go back many years but, everything must begin somewhere. Wakefield Morris took inspiration from the Lancashire custom of carrying rushes on a cart through the streets to the local church, and gave it an interesting twist. In 2014, they established their own beercart festival which featured a procession of the said cart laden with beer barrels through the streets of Ossett. This was also the excuse for a beer festival and a day full of morris dancing. The whole event was held to raise money for the Wakefield Hospice.
The festival has now become an annual event and gone from strength to strength. Kettle Bridge were therefore very pleased to accept Wakefield's invitation to join them for the 2017 festival on the first weekend of June.
Most of us made our way up from Kent to Yorkshire on the Friday and almost everyone encountered some sort of delay due to the heavy traffic. A large contingent had booked rooms in the Leeds-Wakefield Holiday Inn which was conveniently located about 5 minutes' drive from Ossett town centre.
The beer festival kicked off in earnest with a sampling session on Friday evening in the Town Hall and this was well supported by Kettle Bridge members. The event included a vote to discover the most popular beer. Now personally I am getting really fed up with all this voting that is going on at the moment — referendum, local elections, general election — the list seems endless. There is a real danger that all this constant politicking is seeping into the rest of our lives. I just hope that it hasn't affected my ability to recount the weekend's events in Ossett.
Unfortunately, someone who couldn't make it to Friday's beer festival was Eva. She had come down with a nasty dose of something, possibly glandular fever, which left her completely washed out. There was a real danger that she wouldn't be able to take full part in the proceedings on Saturday. She was advised to rest and was told "UKIP while we go off to the beer festival".
Saturday dawned bright and sunny (thankfully). Those who were going to be involved in the procession made their way down to the cricket club where Wakefield Morris were busily preparing the beercart. You can see from the photos that there was a large harness at the front of the cart to enable it to be pulled and a shorter one behind for use as a brake. The helpers from all the morris sides attending the event were invited to take their places in the harnesses, four abreast. The Kettle Bridge representatives were Les, Barry, Wendy, Ian, Trina, Pom, Sue and Sally (all pulling). In addition to this, Peter, John and Mike joined the musicians in the procession and Janey and Margaret elected to follow on behind the beercart.
The cavalcade made its way round the streets of the town, with the Wakefield banner leading the way together with the mini (pint-sized?) beercart. This was followed by the musicians, the pullers, the main beercart itself, the brakemen and finally everyone else.
A picture is worth a thousand words so just click here to see a video of the procession labouring uphill.
After something like two miles (that may be a conservative estimate), the beercart arrived in the centre of Ossett where there was a large turnout of local people to welcome the procession. The procession made its way up to the Town Hall where the beercart was parked, next to the market.
We then made our way across to the south end of the pedestrianised area, by Barclays Bank, where our first stand was located. Here we were joined by Ripon City Morris and Gog Magog Molly, taking turns to dance as is customary.
The latter are (surprise! surprise!) a molly side who come from Cambridge and who wear really bright outfits, with each dancer taking their own slant on what "multi-coloured" means. They dance very crisply and are always bang on the beat – definitely a pleasure to watch.
If you are interested, the names Gog and Magog appear in plenty of religious and historical stories. Click here to read the Wikipedia article.
Ripon are a traditional North West side who have been dancing since 1982 (and so are getting quite tired by now). They are very particular in that they use only fresh flowers in their hats, thus reflecting the changing of the seasons. I have no idea where they are from.
After finishing our stand by the bank, it was time for lunch so we all set off for some refreshment. If only there had been a beer festival nearby with a liberal supply of ale to slake our thirst!
Our first afternoon stand was at the War Memorial with Beltane Border Morris. They are a border side from Devon and their band unusually use electrically amplified musical instruments. This, together with their very energetic style and accurate footwork, makes for a fantastic spectacle. They were also very keen to join in with our audience-participation performance of Churchtown, clearly demonstrating that morris dancing has no borders (?).
After an excellent stand together, both sides moved up to dance by the beercart, just outside the Town Hall and conveniently close to the beer festival. There was a marginally bigger crowd here as it was also next to the market, and the audience enjoyed all the performances.
Then it was time to dance a session inside the Town Hall, alternating with Ripon City. The hall was very crowded as the beer festival was still in full swing, and fans and bottles of water were very much in evidence. We performed three dances, namely Prescot, Aughton 6 and KBC Processional, all warmly received by the crowd.
Back in the fresh air, we deposited ourselves back at the War Memorial again for a double shift of dancing. For the first half, we were accompanied by Ripon City again and Customs & Exiles.
Customs & Exiles are a renowned mixed North West side, based in Wokingham, Berkshire. They are known for their energetic style and, judging by their performances, are obviously well-drilled. It was great to see them.
We hosted another audience-participation Churchtown, which attracted plenty of support from the crowd and seemed to be enjoyed by everyone who took part. To finish off, Ripon and C&E lined up in opposition to each other to perform a combined dance and this was quite a spectacle.
The second half of the final stand was shared with the hosts, Wakefield Morris, and White Rose, a Cotswold side from Huddersfield in West Yorkshire. My understanding is that they took their name from the posh supermarket that the founders all worked for. There is another theory that they are named after the symbol of the House of York, but that would just be too far-fetched!
To mark the end of the dancing for the day, Wakefield led a performance of their Celebration dance that we first saw at Whitby last year. This is designed to be a dance that all North West sides can do (as a coalition?) so perhaps it is time for Kettle Bridge to learn it as the vast majority of clog sides seem to know it.
And that was that! A big "thank you" to Wakefield for hosting the event so well and for the people of Ossett for turning out to support it.
I must also mention the Kettle Bridge fan club (I spotted Les, Barry, Tony and Ailsa) that came along to share the day with us. It is much appreciated.
As ever, Ian did sterling work behind the scenes in liaising with the hosts and the squire did an excellent job of marshalling our dancing resources. Special thanks must also go to Eva for battling on through the day (thankfully she had brought along her own safe seat to use between dances) and to the band for playing through a very long day, especially as several are still recovering from ill health.
Well done everyone!
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