Saturday 12 December 2015
Every second Saturday of the month, between October and May, Oxfolk organises a ceilidh at the Kennington Village Hall on the outskirts of Oxford.
Jane Bird, one of the Oxfolk organisers, told me that it all started about thirty years ago, and at one time was based in the Clarendon Centre on Walton Street in Oxford. It was seven years ago that they moved to the spacious village hall with its sprung flooring – just perfect for dancing. Most of the top ceilidh bands, such as Random and Blackbeard’s Tea Party, have graced the Oxfolk stage over the years.
On the night I attended, Threepenny Bit were playing just the right jigs and reels needed for the energetic dancing that was taking place. Threepenny Bit formed as a trio in 2011 at the Folk Society of the University of Southampton. They have now grown into an eight-piece band with saxophone, clarinet and flute in the mix, which gives them a very expansive sound. I had the pleasure of reviewing their last album, Pantomime Cannon, and since that time they have become a band much in demand on the festival circuit (see a list of their gigs at www.threepennybit.com).
The ceilidh started at 8 p.m., with the first hour and a half taken up with non-stop dancing, making this reviewer feel tired just watching. The caller, Phill Moxley, had decided a Christmas jumper just wasn’t enough. He actually had a Christmas suit, complete with reindeers prancing around the middle of it! It was interesting to watch the ceilidh novices being tutored by the more experienced dancers as everyone stripped the willow and do-si-do’d around the room. Nobody complained or cared that they often all went wrong, it was just part of the fun.
Oxfolk try to have some form of entertainment during the twenty-minute interval, which gives the dancers time to get their breath back. This is often a display from one of the many local morris teams around Oxford, but tonight it was the turn of Short Drag Roger to sing us a medley of sea shanties. It never ceases to amaze me how many shanty singers do not live near the sea. This group come from Chalgrove, a village just outside Oxford, which is about as far as you can get from the sea in the UK. There were five members of the group singing this evening and their leader, Paul ‘Short Drag’ Rogers, told me they were formed in 2002 and have a new album coming out very soon, which we will review here in Shire Folk. They play gigs all over the country, but you will certainly find them at the Oxford Folk Weekend (1517 April) and at Bunkfest in Wallingford in September. For a full list of their gigs go to www.shortdragroger.co.uk
The raffle over, the second half began with more dancing. With well over 100 dancers in the room it was great to see so many people of different ages all enjoying themselves. There were children as young as six dancing with others well into their sixties and beyond! Some people were regulars and obviously knew each other, but if you were a newcomer you were made to feel very welcome.
So, if you have never tried a ceilidh, do go along to one soon. Many folk festivals have them and I know Oxfolk are a very active supporter of the ceilidhs at the aforementioned Oxford Folk Weekend. It is fine opportunity to dance off a few of those extra Christmas pounds and to make some new friends at the same time.