Abandon thoughts of bells and handkerchiefs at this show – Will Pound takes morris dancing Through The Seasons

Will Pound, Ross Grant and Benji Kirkpatrick, who are at The Square Tower on May 6, 2018
Will Pound, Ross Grant and Benji Kirkpatrick, who are at The Square Tower on May 6, 2018

Even the musicians behind this show, Through The Seasons – A Celebration Of The Year in The Music Of Morris & Folk Dance – to give it its full title, admit this one could be a hard sell.

Based on a concept album about morris dancing by three time Radio 2 Folk Award nominee Will Pound, it is not going to be to everyone's cup of tea.

But with musicians of the calibre of Will, Faustus and former Bellowhead bouzouki and banjo player Benji Kirkpatrick, and Ross Grant, of Inlay, on fiddle, there's something to pique the interest of the modern folk fan.

And the show they've created for its tour promises to be something special.

'Originally, it was my wife Clare’s idea,' says Will. 'I’ve wanted to do a morris album for quite some time, but the timing’s never been right for whatever reason. The actual idea of the show to go with the record came out of the recording.

'Just going around and playing some morris tunes with three musicians wouldn’t be serving it. How can I make this a show as opposed to a few gigs?'

The album brings the morris and folk dance year to life in a musical almanac that should appeal to both seasoned dancers and folk festival-goers and also open the doors to newcomers, providing a unique foray into English culture, tradition and heritage for everyone.

'We were rehearsing just yesterday, going through the show completely nonstop and it’s great, we’ve got animation, and a storyteller, Debs Newbold, going throughout the whole show. She’s effectively taken some famous, or infamous, depending on how you look at it, characters from the morris world, and then she’s made up some as well. She's made up stories about them and mixed them with facts.

'The music is sort of interwoven with her, sometimes we’re playing when she’s speaking, others it’s just the tunes.'

Although Will grew up in morris world – his mum founded the Chinewrde team, it's how his parents met, and it's how he met Clare – he is aware of the wider public perception.

'A lot of it gets bad press - it’s not seen as cool, but I wanted to make it professional and look good, and when people come to the show, they’re probably expecting a history lesson of morris dancing, which it isn’t at all. That’s exactly what I wanted to avoid.'

Did he ever get any stick at school for doing morris dancing?

'Not really, because I didn’t tell anyone!' he laughs, but adds, 'and that’s the sad thing, these days the majority of people I know who dance are relatively young. I’d guess, the average in the Earlsdon team is about 35, and it’s a big team of about 30 members. A lot of young people are doing it now. What you see on TV, isn't usually the best example.'

Will is best known for his mastery of the harmonica, but on this album he has mostly swapped it for the melodeon.

'I’ve played box for quite a long time, and it’s quite similar to the harmonica, which is why I play it – I do play a bit of harmonica on the album too.

'The melodeon is used traditionally as a morris instrument these days, but they’re relatively modern instruments. Maybe they’ve only been morris instruments for the past 50-60 years though. And that’s why I wanted to use it alongside the fiddle, and the guitar and banjo.

'In some ways it was the most difficult album I've done to record. Morris music is kind of amateur – not the music itself, but because people play for fun, so making it sound professional while still keeping the morris sound was quite tricky, but it was fun to do, it was a challenge.'

How did the core trio for the project come together?

'We’ve known each other for quite a while, we actually live close to each other, and they’re also morris musicians – Benji’s part of the Shropshire Bedlams, and his father John plays on the album as well.

'It’s quite a nice mix, and then I’ve got some non-morris musicians on the album as well to give it a contemporary feel. We’ve got a brass section, and then a friend of mine, Suzanne [Fivey] who came and played piano, I kind of wanted to open it out a bit, and there’s people like Eliza Carthy, who aren’t directly involved in morris but obviously know about it.'

The album was funded by an Arts Council grant.

'It really helped with getting people in – the storytellers and the musicians – it really made the project work and got it on the road. They’ve been very supportive.

'It’s always a tricky one with the Arts Council, but we felt the proposal was a good one and something worth pursuing.'

The Square Tower, Old Portsmouth

Sunday, May 6

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