BackPlayford 2000

Chippenham Folk Festival, 2000

Welcome to Playford 2000.  I know this is an evening dance, not a workshop, but let me take a couple of minutes to explain what I mean by “Playford 2000”.

If you were at my workshop this morning you heard me question what we mean by “Playford style”.  Is it the way the dances were actually danced in John Playford's time (which we can only surmise)?  Or the way they was danced later, once the dancing masters had got their hands on it and put in complicated steps?  Or the way Cecil Sharp taught them?  Or the way they are danced now — but where?  Holland?  America?

There are basically two views of anything labelled “Folk” or “Traditional”.  One is that the thing — be it song, country dance, Morris dance, thatched roof, Christmas pudding — should be kept exactly as it was the first time it was described.  This is the museum approach: kill it, stuff it and put it in a glass case so that anyone can see the way it was.  The other approach is that a tradition has to live — that things will change, and we should go along with this.  There's always been this conflict.  Tourists walk through a quaint old town and say “What a pity there's a Marks and Spencers here — it's so out of place — they ought not to be allowed to do that in a historic place like this”.  And the people who live there say “This is our town, not a museum.  Do you expect us to get rid of our televisions, flush toilets, doctors' surgeries, because they weren't around in Shakespeare's time?” Similarly the purists might say “What a pity they start by taking hands four from the top — not like in Playford's day when only the top two couples started the dance and the others gradually joined in as they were reached”.  And the dancers say “Times have changed.  We don't want to wait for the action to reach us; we came here to dance.”

I had been told that it wasn't until the 1820s that taking hands four started to appear, but around 1685 André Lorin presented to Louis XIV of France a book of English Country Dances in which he says:

Toutes les contredanses ordinaires commencent et finissent avec l'ordre marquée dans cette instruction, neantmoins sy l'on vouloit qu'elles ne fusent pas s'y ennuieuses, il faudroit doubler les figures de quatre en quatre aux contredance a quatre, et de six en six aux contredances de six. Cependant la manier Angloise est que celuy qui est a la teste de la dance, demand telle contredances qu'il luy plaist, et la dance avec sa dame en les faisant tous dancer les uns après les autres.

All ordinary contredances start and end with the dancers in the order shown in these instructions, but if you wanted them to not be so boring, you could double up the figures with four and four in the contredances for four, and with six and six in the contredances for six.  However the English custom is that the man at the head of the dance chooses whatever contredances he pleases, and dances it with his woman making everyone dance one after the other.

and later…

Il faut remarquer qu'il y a un grand temps a attendre avant que chacun dance, et quand on est prest a finer de même, ce qui ennuye souvent les danseurs et spectateur, qui pouroient estre rejouis en doublans les figures selon qu'on jugeroit a propos pour le mieux.

It should be noted that there is a long wait before each couple dances, which is often boring for dancers and spectators, who would perhaps be delighted to double up the figures in whatever ways they judge best.

Things change all the time.  If you look at the dances and the tunes in the various editions of “The Dancing Master”, things change.  Sometimes it's a mistake which has crept in.  Sometimes it's a correction (though Tom Cook says this hardly ever happens).  Sometimes the music has been modernised — Cecil Sharp talks about the way the tunes became more conventional, as the old modes died out and the tunes were “corrected” by putting in accidentals.  Which version do you take as the “correct” one?  Look at “Devon Bonny Breastknot” in Sharp's first “Country Dance Book” and compare it with the version in the CDM — you'll find several differences.  The two-hand turn at the end has been replaced by a swing, for instance.  Which version is right?  If Sharp had collected it in a different village, or the same village a year later, he might have got something different again.

I remember Nibs Matthews complaining about people clapping as they turned out of the right-hand star in “Morpeth Rant” because that wasn't the way it had been collected.  But I believe that's the way dancers in the North-East do it now.  Which “Tradition” is correct?

So, I'm not saying that either approach is right all the time; you have to weigh up the facts and make a decision.  And that's what I'm getting at with the title “Playford 2000”.  It's 350 years since Playford published his first book of dances.  Some Playford dances are still danced the way they were interpreted by Cecil Sharp.  Some have been reinterpreted by Pat Shaw and other people, and this version is now the generally accepted one.  There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of interpretations of dances from other collections of the 17th and 18th century, all vaguely labelled “Playford”.  And there are thousands of dances written this century which purport to be “Playford” style — some of which certainly aren't.  What I'm giving you tonight is a programme of dances which I consider to be Playford style, as they are danced today.  To me, a dance in a book in a museum is not what it's all about.  A dance only comes alive when people dance it.  And anyway, just because Playford published a dance, doesn't prove that anybody ever danced it!  As Douglas Kennedy said in his introduction to the dances in “Maggot Pie”: “Some may die after a short existence.  Others may live to be collected, having survived the testing process of time and usage as every traditional dance has had to do in the past.”  I hope the dances I've chosen tonight will live on — but that depends on you.

The dances I called were:

Red and All Red   Music

Charles Bolton's version of a dance published by Thompson in 1757 — very much modified from the original, but it works well.

Terpsichore   Music

Original dance by Charles Bolton in early Playford style, to the tune published by Praetorius in 1612.

Bryon's Boutarde

Original dance by a Dutch-American, Fried de Metz Herman, to a tune by Bryon Bonnet.

The Doldrum   Music

From Maggot Pie, the first new collection of English Country Dances produced by Cecil Sharp's “Folk” revival.

The Sea Caves

A Scottish dance written by an Australian, Jeff Green, but with nothing in it that a dancer of Playford's time would be unfamiliar with.

Unrequited Love

One of mine, in early Playford style — but a change partner dance, which would not have happened in those days.


Jacob Hall's Jig   Music

Cecil Sharp's interpretation of a dance published by Henry Playford — he put it to a different tune and got it wrong, which makes the first half of his version much busier than the original.

A Mover and a Shaker   Music

By an American, Gary Roodman, to the Shaker song “My Robe is new”.

Chelsea Reach   Music

Mainly Cecil Sharp's version of a dance published by John Playford, but I've changed the shoulders by which partners cross in the first half of the second figure, and put the A's and B's of the music back to the way they would have been played in Playford's day.

Friday the Thirteenth

By an American, Tony Saletan, from that hotbed of Playford-style dances, “Zesty Contras”!  There's nothing American about this one at all.

Lady Pentweazle's Maggot   Music

Tom Cook's version of a dance published by Walsh in the 1700's.  Would they have danced it to a gentle 1-2-3-hop in those days?

Beechen Grove's New Hall   Music

Dance and music by Charles Bolton.  Is it Playford-style?  Yes and no.  It contains much that Playford would have recognised, plus an “all four ladies chain” and a swing!

Flixton House

Dance and music by Brian Wedgbury

Dublin Bay      Music

Published by John Young in the Dancing Master of 1713, though the original title “We'll Wed and We'll Bed” was too risqué when Bernard Bentley produced his version (published in Fallibroome 1 in 1962).  They love this one in the States, though it's not much danced in England.