Spotlight on Taffy Thomas who is our storyteller extraordinaire

Spotlight on Taffy Thomas who is our storytelling festival host at Halsway Manor on 20th – 22nd September – Taffy Thomas trained as a Literature and Drama teacher at Dudley College of Education. After teaching for several years in Wolverhampton he founded and directed the legendary folk theatre company, Magic Lantern, illustrating traditional stories and songs with shadow puppets and circus skills. He founded and directed the community arts company, Charivari, with their popular touring unit, the Fabulous Salami Brothers, which he fronted and performed in. After a major stroke at the age of 36 Taffy turned back to story telling as self-imposed speech therapy, which turned into a new career. Taffy has a repertoire of more than 300 stories, collected mainly from traditional oral sources, which he is happy to tell in almost any situation. This repertoire was built by meeting and working with virtually all the great traditional storytellers who were alive in Britain. See ‘Ancestral Voices’. He is now the most experienced English storyteller, having performed in many countries on four continents. He is currently artistic director of Tales in Trust, the Northern Centre for Storytelling, based at The Storyteller’s Garden in Grasmere. In the 2001 New Year Honours List he was awarded the MBE for services to storytelling and charity and performed a new collaboration for the Blue Peter Prom at the Royal Albert Hall. Taffy is a patron of the Society for Storytelling. In October 2009 Taffy accepted the honorary position of first Laureate for Storytelling which ran for two years from January 2010 to January 2012.
With Taffy’s head bursting with stories, riddles and folklore, professional storyteller Giles Abbot once commented, “when Taffy goes it will be like a library burning down.” http://ow.ly/nBTDD

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We are recruiting!! Come and work with u

We are recruiting!! Come and work with us!

Halsway Manor
National Centre for the Folk Arts

Duty Manager – Full Time
Key post with responsibility for ensuring the comfort and safety of guests on residential courses. Duties include overnight cover (3 nights per week on average), bar work, meal service, checking guests in/out and general customer care. Weekend / bank holiday working required. You will have a friendly and capable attitude and previous experience working directly with the public. Training is provided in all aspects of the job.

House Staff – Part Time
Friendly, positive person required to join our House Staff team. Duties include cleaning, housekeeping, meal service and occasional bar work. You will need to be available to work daytime, evening and weekend shifts.

For an informal chat and / or more information about either post contact Paul James, Chief Executive (07825 631769) or Lynne Norman, Operations Manager (01984 618 274).
Halsway Manor, Halsway Lane, near Crowcombe, TA4 4BD http://www.halswaymanor.org.uk.

A Playford Dance for you

English: English music publisher John Playford...

In honour of the Playford Liberation Front returning to Halsway Manor this past weekend! What an incredible weekend we had. Many thanks to everyone who came and especially to everyone who turned up and danced on Saturday night and of course to the brilliant PLF themselves! 

I am very grateful to Filip of the Marche who has typed up all of this fabulous information from The English Dancing Master 1651. Please do not print and distribute for profit… this is for information and enjoyment only.

What I love about this is that he has copied it directly, leaving all spellings and grammar the same as it was, with no corrections… this is simply the introduction – with one dance! If you would like to see more, you should go to his website. http://www.contrib.andrew.cmu.edu/~flip/contrib/dance/playford.html#Playford_81

The English Dancing Master:
OR,Plaine and easie Rules for the Dancing of Country Dances, with the Tune to each Dance.
Facsimile of original cover
LONDON
Printed by Thomas Harper, and are to be sold by John Playford, at his Shop in the Inner Temple neer the Church doore.  1651.
To the Ingenious Reader. The Art of Dancing called by the Ancient Greeks Orchestice, and Orchestis, is a commendable and rare Quality fit for yong Gentlemen, if opportunely and civilly used. And Plato, that Famous Philosopher thought it meet, that yong Ingenious Children be taught to dance. It is a quality that has been formerly honoured in the Courts of Princes, when performed by the most Noble Heroes of the Times! The Gentlemen of the Innes of Court, whose sweet and ayry Activitity has crowned their Grand Solemnities with Admiration to all Spectatores. This Art has been Anciently handled by AthenæusJulius Pollux,Cælius Rhodiginus, and others, and much commend it to be Excellent for Recreation, after more serious Studies, making the body active and strong, gracefull in deportment, and a quality very much beseeming a Gentleman. Yet all this should not have been an Incitement to me for Publication of this Worke (knowing these Times and the Nature of it do not agree,)But that there was a false and surrepticious Copy at the Printing Presse, which if it had been published, would have been a disparagement to the quality and the Professors thereof, and a hinderance to the Learner : Therefore for prevention of all which, having an Excellent Copy by me, and the assistance of a knowing Friend; I have ventured to put forth this ensuing Worke to the view, and gentle censure of all ingenious Gentlemen lovers of this Quallity ; not doubting but their goodnes will pardon what may be amisse and accept of the honest Intention of him that is a faithfull honourer of your Virtues, and                                        Your Servant to command,                                                       J. P.

Dull Sir John A square Dance for eight thus:

playford dance

playford dance txtDon’t forget that if you would like to join us, we are dancing Playford on Saturday 20th July  at 8pm. This is the saturday in the middle of the workshop, and it is open to non workshop attendees. If you would like to learn more about John Playford and the English Dance Master dances, then there are still a few spaces left – so make sure you give the office a call and see if we might be able to accommodate you.
Please visit our website for further information. http://www.halswaymanor.org.uk

In anticipation of a marvellous Playford weekend!

PLF_Jul12_another fine picWhen John Playford published the collection of tunes and dances in the Complete Dancing Master in 1651 from his shop close to St Paul’s Church in London, he would be astonished to know it would still be in print in the 21st century. Like all publishers he was trying to make money. To do so he brought together all the top tunes and dances of the time into one popular edition and hit on a winner! Although the tunes are anonymous it’s likely that popular composers of the day, such as Henry Purcell, contributed tunes for some ready cash. It sold out and there were many subsequent editions being published into the beginning of the next century, which is no surprise. Even now, in a world full of every conceivable type of music freely available 24 hours a day in every home, the book still stands out as being packed with great tunes. Tunes that are memorable, hummable, and which work  very well for dancing. There are a handful of duds but surprisingly few. When Paul Hutchinson and I came up with the idea for the Playford Liberation front in 2011, we got together with guitarist Chris Green, Clarinettist Karen Wimhurst, fiddle player Liv Dunne and bass player Wayne Lewis and played through the 1651 edition and we were all impressed by the high hit rate of great melodies.

pasted-file-2The idea of the PLF is to have some fun with the music and the dances. It’s not an original thought and many people have done it before us, but we did feel that, for a number of reasons, Playford wasn’t being taken up by younger musicians and dancers. From a musical point of view we’re keen to experiment with the music by seeing what we can do with the arrangements to make it sound fresh to modern ears. Like all great music it can handle a lot of different approaches. From the dance point of view, the PLF weekend is a great opportunity to get people who go to ceilidhs/barn dances and who don’t normally tackle Playford, to give it a a go!

For a sneak preview and a slice of playford, here is a video when the PLF played Portsmouth! Doesn’t it look fun?

The Halsway Manor Playford Liberation Weekend is 19th to 21st July 2013. For further information on this wonderful weekend of dancing please come and have a look at our website http://www.halswaymanor.org.uk/portal/alias__Halsway/lang__en/tabid__4461/eventid__328/default.aspx

Follow the PLF on Facebook too! https://www.facebook.com/playfordliberationfront

Somerset Folk Songs for Midsummer – Yvette Staelens writes…

_DSC2565Wow – the alchemy of song never ceases to amaze me. Somerset Folk Songs for Midsummer at Halsway brought together twenty strangers to a Somerset Manor House, plus two exciting tutors with their stash of ancient ditties, ballads, chorus songs plus bags of enthusiasm.  Yvette Staelens is our guest blogger this week, and here she tells us all about the wonderful weekend of Somerset Folk Songs for Midsummer…

Friday evening, we settled in the bar after a lovely dinner and discovered the incredible folk song legacy of Somerset. I presented slides and stories of the collectors who shared a passion for seeking out and recording ‘the songs of the people’ and then introduced those who sang to the collectors. Wonderful photographic portraits of singers and sometimes their families, taken by collector Cecil Sharp. We saw the, now famous, John England, gardener at Hambridge vicarage standing proudly in the vicarage garden, hoe in hand, having sung ‘The Seeds of Love’ to Cecil Sharp and his friend Reverend Charles Marson. A song that was to start the two men on a collecting journey seeking out the songs of the villagers and towns and hamlets nearby. We met Emma Overd of Langport who gave Sharp over 50 songs and who now has an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for her contribution to English cultural heritage. We saw photos of Louie Hooper and her half-sister Lucy White of Westport standing outside their cottages in pinafores and shawls. We heard about Sharp’s visit to a gypsy, Lucy Carter, who set off a musical box playing

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‘The Bluebells of Scotland‘ which despite, at the request of Sharp, her best efforts to stop it playing, continued for 15 minutes almost driving him mad! The evening ended with conviviality in the bar!

Saturday brought more sunshine and lots of people who said that they had slept really well in the peace of Halsway. It was our chance to become a shanty crew and to sing sea songs and shanties from John Short of Watchet and others, followed by William Woolley‘s un-censored version of ‘No John No’, ‘The Beggar’ and then some work on harmony singing. Lots of other songs were explored including a rousing version of ‘Dicky of Taunton Dean’. There was lots of laughing too when things went a bit…er ..awry and there was a bit of ‘part swapping’ too, and why not?

_DSC2654The evening concert was a blast, I took the part of MC and welcomed the audience and thanked them for their support for Halsway and later conducted 25 members of the Halsway Choir squashed together on a very small stage through a folk, african-american, Baka people, English repertoire ending with Sezenina ‘What have we done?’,. A South African song  from the apartheid era in one of the Zulu languages. It included the verse ‘Wenzenina u Mandela’ and we felt incredibly emotional as we remembered the man and his struggles for his people and with lots of encouragement, the audience joined in with choruses which was wonderful! James Findlay’s set wow-ed everyone, powerful voice, great instrumental skills and lots of stories and cheeky banter…and CDs only £10!!! – according to the advert on his Mac Airbook which he placed on stage for all to see!!

_DSC2674Sunday brought real treasure. The course participants were invited to bring a song to share. We learned about the legend of the ‘The Halsway Ghost’, then stunning twin female vocals accompanied by autoharp, then ‘Johnny’s lost his marble’ had us singing along. There was a little Somerset song about pancake days and the accompanying fun had at Chilton Polden in the early 1950s, and some lovely classical guitar. The temptation to check on the ‘Murray match’ at Winbledon proved too much for some; the library TV was switched on and there was a run to the library to check the score. We finished the day learning the four-part west gallery song ‘Halsway Grace’. It sounded wonderful. The sun shone, lots of friendships were made, people smiled and laughed a lot and the traditional Halsway Sunday afternoon cream tea ended what was a magical weekend.

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Halsway has the ability to draw you in and then somehow, you never want to leave, but we had to. My best memory of the weekend? The spirited singing of ‘don’t go kissing the girls at Bridgwater fair’.

All images kindly supplied by James Findlay, who when he wasn’t playing or singing, was photographing! Thank you James!

Spring Up! Halsway Manor’s local schools’ folk dance programme

Halsway May Day Hires-0824

Spring Up! is a programme of folk dance workshops delivered in local schools with the aim of giving children an opportunity to learn traditional dances, gain new skills like spatial awareness and sense of rhythm, work as a team and come up with their own creative I am setting up for my session in the school hall (newly swept to clear away the lunchtime peas from the floor) when the doors fly open and a swarm of eager young children spill into the room. You can always feel that moment of sheer joy that comes when children leave the confines of the classroom for a large empty space that invites them to move and burn off some energy! Of course, they are also keen to find out who I am and what we are going to be doing too… but, none of that – we get moving straight away!dance ideas. In summer 2013 Halsway’s Youth Dance Associate, Clare Parker, worked in Taunton primary schools taking country, folk and a little bit of street dance to over 150 children. Here she blogs about one of the sessions…

Halsway May Day Hires-1069We start with an exercise that involves using all the space available: the corners of the room, cutting through the middle, down on the floor, up in the air, making longwise, circle and square formations, working with a partner to gallop or form a right hand star. It  might look like utter chaos to anyone passing but there is a very real and serious purpose to the task  as it tunes in our awareness of the space and of each other. It is structured by the phrases of the music as we change direction or actions on musical cues; it is very inclusive and nobody need feel insecure, worried or exposed because any movement choices are OK and all importantly, it burns off some of the excess energy to bring the children to a place where they can focus.

Halsway May Day Hires-1009The exercise lasts for about 10 minutes and gives me a chance to observe the children and set up expectations for the session by reminding them to keep in their own personal space, be aware of people around them, listen to the music, listen to the instructions, using the whole of their body and their energy. It may also look nothing like folk dance but it contains the core elements and skills needed and helps children tune in to their spatial awareness, sense of rhythm, and to the sheer joy of movement. This is what the children tell me when they sit, all puffed out and very focused as a group, and I ask them what skills they have just been using.

 

Halsway May Day Hires-1080I call out “longwise formation!” and we are there in a matter of seconds, ready to start learning the Cumberland Reel. I want everyone engaged so it isn’t just the top couple but every pair (the children keep correcting my use of the word ‘couple’ which they decidedly disapprove of!) in the set that gets to do right hand and left hand star.  Then it’s the moment they love best – the chance for the top couple to gallop like crazy down the set, spurred on all the way by everyone clapping. Now, this needs a bit of work. We need to keep the energy and exuberance, but refine the movement so that it looks slightly less like a cross between Hussain Bolt and a rugby hacker! It needs quite a bit of work too to remind them to keep listening to the music and make sure they arrive back in time to cast down. Then it’s another favourite moment at the bottom making the arch and pegging it to get back to the top – to start all over again!

Once we have mastered it and each group is ready to perform for the others, I have the luxury of being able to watch the children dancing because 3 of the children take on the role of callers. They bellow instructions enthusiastically and perfectly in time with the music. They come up with their own names for movements : ‘cast’ becomes ‘banana split’, and mysteriously a “stingray!” is featured!

What is clear when watching the children dance is that they are really enjoying themselves and enjoying dancing with each other.  They perform with clarity, focus and a massive sense of energy that is infectious. Their faces show a sense of achievement and as we feedback to each other at the end of the session I am thrilled when one boy asks: ‘Can we carry on? Can we do it again?’