‘The one thing that gets me is, you just get six guys and a musician, and you’ve got a show. It all comes together ‘
Syd Pochin and I are having a pint in a Battersea pub where House music is playing in the background. It doesn’t seem as far away from the sound world of Cornish Billy or The Worcester Hornpipe as you might think.
‘When I’m dancing, I’m thinking this is tradition, this goes way back to a bygone age when there were no electronics. And no boxed sets on the couch.’ Whereupon Syd deftly traces the Rabelasian history of Morris Dancing as the resident musician of the Westminster Chapter. The stipendiary gig, he tells me, goes back to Henry VII bringing in an artisanal take on things to lively up the Galliards and Lavoltas in the court cloister. A bit later, Will Kemp was doing Morris moves instantly recognisable to country people all the way from London to Norwich.
Dance was a bush telegraph of allusion and social mobility like folk song tweaked visually and musically cross-country and quite possibly across continents. ’This is how we do it’ as youngers chant at Raves. If you’ve ever shaken a leg at a wedding reception or a corporate do, or indeed ventured out with a bit of A of A–style Flamboyance, it seems we’ve actually being Morrissing without noticing it. Syd got me wondering, as the house soundtrack ran on, about Ceroc, Capoeira and The Four Tops among other things.
These days Westminster Morris is itself the host of a Day of Dance in Trafalgar Square and radial hostelries in W1 which this year falls on May 12th. For reasons best known to itself, Westminster Council has just given them the morning, around noon, thus far. Although the Morris tradition is maintained and respected in the new world of dance diversity – Bhangra, Lindyhop, you name it – by the likes of Cecil Sharpe House for instance, the repository of many of the tunes in Syd’s cheery repertoire – you hopefully will be lucky enough to come across him on one of TFL’s busking pitches up West as I was recently.
Syd’s fascination with Morris began when he left the Wirral for a ten-year stint in Systems Consultancy with KPMG in Hong Kong. ‘I got involved with the Round Table and we used to put on an Ox Roast every year – we came across the Honk Kong Morris, about 15 guys from Ove Arup and other Anglo- Chinese outfits.’ One wonders how the present administration in Hong Kong would respond – given the Chinese urban habit of Tai-Chi in the morning.
Morris, as a team game, appears the soul of joshing democracy. The ‘corners 1 and 6, 2 and 5 dance together, corners and middles rotate as does the leader, then the middles 3 and 4. Then everyone dances together’. Tempo is moderated democratically over a swift half. Westminsters’ bush telegraph moderates to the Cotswolds’, while across the country, according to your locality, you might find ‘swords’ (actually used, Syd explains, to brush down pit ponies while the miners danced in lieu of showering facilities), handkerchiefs (fluttering Moorishly to waft away evil spirits) or clogs (factory girls square bashing to the looms’ groove to keep warm). Even, in Syd’s Liverpool days Pom-Poms, where female troupes with melting-pot influences from Tiller Girling to The Nolans and Cheerleading – practised enthusiastically under the handed-down Morrissian aegis. These days, Open Morris welcomes women and all the colours of the terpsichorean rainbow.
Syd’s first encounter with the musical kinship of Morrissing harks back to the Scouseward pub residency of The Spinners, whom you might remember as beacons of Scouse diversity on night-time TV in the seventies – you had to arrive early to get a seat. He has in turn gravitated to a Wednesday night residency at the Brewhouse in Islington, near Highbury Tube, which hosts all manner of guests and where taking the floor is a distinct possibility post-hot-desking or mid-prandial. Taking things a step further, Syd says newcomers are very welcome to give Morrissing a go when the Westminster team practices on Wednesday nights at St John’s Hall, Hyde Park Crescent, Tyburnia – not far from the wonderfully communitarian Funky Nuns of that ilk in fact. Your school day memory of folk dancing might be a tad stiff and curricular, but happens upon Syd busking, and his colleagues shaking a leg as the weather warms and I challenge you not to feel a spring in your step. I do. And find yourself warmly encouraged – nay instinctively emboldened to join the dance.
More information at www.westminstermorris.org
The Westminster Morris Men on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCY6ns2hnyfM-iHjXVz2QmWA
www.islingtonfolkclub.co.uk at The Brewhouse on 21st April then every Thursday from May
Andy’s radio conversation with Syd is at