Our Dances

Here is some information about all our dances and tunes. To borrow a comment from our good friends Kemps Men of Norwich:

We don’t guarantee to perform all of the dances all of the time, but we will dance all of them some of the time, or even some of them all of the time.”

If you ask any of the Knots about the dances and tunes they will probably tell you something completely different. What follows is just one version…..

Basque

 Tunes : Poor Robin’s Maggot / Brothers in York

 A garland dance from the Basque region collected by Roy Dommett at the Letterkenny International Folk Festival, Donegal and learnt from the notation of Tubby Reynolds. Poor Robin’s Maggot (sometimes known as Would You Have a Young Virgin) dates from at least 1709 when it appeared in Thomas D’Urfrey’s play Modern Prophets and where even then it was described as ‘an old tune’. It also appeared in his Wit and Mirth: Or Pills to Purge Melancholy (1719) and in Playford’s The Dancing Master (1728). Also in 1728, John Gay used the tune for the song If The Heart of a Man in his ballad opera The Beggar’s Opera. The second tune, Brothers in York, appears in the manuscript of the Welch family from Bosham, Sussex (c. 1800). It also appeared in 1788 under the title Dribbles of Brandy in James Aird’s Selection of Scotch, English, Irish and Foreign Airs.

Beau Knot

 Tune : Le Cochon Chine

The dance is based on a Provencal garland dance collected by Roy Dommett in 1976 at the Sidmouth Folk Festival. The tune (which means The China Pig) is traditional and was collected in France.

Brighton Lasses

 Tunes : The Irish Hautboy / Untitled Polka

A dance written especially for the Knots by Paul Setford, well known local dancer and singer who has also written some excellent dances for Chanctonbury Ring Morris Men. Paul wrote it in the early days of the Knots when they were based in Brighton (and when they were lasses ?). The first tune is a traditional Irish polka. A hautboy (pronounced ‘ho-boy’) is an old type of oboe, the name being a corruption of the French “haut bois” meaning “high wood”. Hautboys are mentioned by Mozart and Shakespeare and were supposedly associated with doom and gloom. The tune was published in 1776 in Bride’s Favourite Collection of 200 Select Country Dances and Cotillons. The second tune is an untitled polka from the 1796 manuscript of William Aylmore of West Wittering, Sussex. It is included as tune 52 in A Sussex Tune Book (edited by Anne Loughran & Vic Gammon, 1982).

Five-Knots

Tunes : Scans Tester’s Country Step Dance / Churning Butter

The origin of this dance for five dancers has become somewhat obscure (our memories aren’t what they used to be), but it was probably adapted from a dance performed by a Morris side based in the Channel Islands who were dancing at Wimbourne Folk Festival. The first tune is from the playing of the legendary Sussex anglo concertina player Scan Tester (1886-1972). Churning Butter was written by musician, singer and dancer Sue Harris for a dance of the same name performed by the excellent Shropshire women’s side Martha Rhoden’s Tuppeny Dish.

Forget-Me-Knot

Tune : Tobin’s Favourite

A garland dance written by Knots musician Keith Phillips. Tobin’s Favourite is a traditional Irish jig published in O’Neill’s Music of Ireland in 1903. It seems that it was probably renamed by O’Neill (the original name of the tune being thought too suggestive) for Adam Tobin, a Kilkenny man and well-known piper and fiddler.

Gisburn Processional

Tunes : The Weavers March / Three Around Three /  Schottische du Crassier

The dance used by the Knots for processions. It is based on the processional dance from Gisburn (once in Yorkshire but now in Lancashire) that was danced annually at the Village Field Day by a team of 12 men and 12 women in clogs with a single stick in the outside hand. Subsequently modified by Knots musician Keith Phillips and danced with garlands by any multiple of 4 dancers. The Weaver’s March (also known as 21st August) was printed by James Aird in his Selections of Scotch, English, Irish and Foreign Airs, Vol 1 in 1782. Three Around Three (also known as Pleasures of the Town) is a traditional English tunes whilst Schottische du Crassier is a traditional French tune learnt from the playing of the band La Chavannee. Over the years the Knots have danced countless miles to these tunes and the band must have played them through thousands of times for hours on end, but never seem to tire of them !

Grenoside

Tunes : The Garden Hornpipe / Chas’s Tune

A processional dance written by Ted Frost of Grenoside Sword Team in Yorkshire and adapted by Gill Phillips to be a static dance. These two excellent tunes were written by former Knots musician Peter Rogan. The Garden Hornpipe was inspired by Bob Cann’s Step Dance hornpipes and Chas’s Tune by an Oddington morris tune. Both are named for Chas Thorpe, father of Peter’s wife, former Knots member Sue Rogan. Chas owned the orchard on what was once an island at the end of South Street in Lewes (the ‘Island Garden’).

Hindley

Tune : The Marquis of Lorne

This circular dance was collected by Maud Karpeles and originally used a walking step. The tune, a hornpipe first published in 1881, may refer to the Marquis of Lorne, son of the Duke of Argyll, who married Princess Louise, fourth daughter of Queen Victoria, in 1871.

Kemp’s Kamp

Tunes : The Jewish Tune / The Kite

Kemp’s Kamp was developed by Knots musician Keith Phillips from a figure in the Cotswold dance ‘Starry Night’ as performed by our friends, the inimitable Kemp’s Men of Norwich. It is named after the unique and memorable dance weekends of the same name that Kemps organised in Norfolk. The music is actually an amalgamation of two separate tunes played alternately. The Jewish Tune is traditional whilst The Kite was written by Sussex musician and dancer Keith Leech.

Keswick

Tunes : Smash the Windows / Rig-a-Jig-Jig / The Muckin O’ Geordie’s Byre

The dance is a version of the Keswick Stage Dance, as performed by the girls of St John’s School Keswick c. 1910-12, led by Miss Hayes. Collected by Mary Neal and Clive Carey, it was written for a performance on stage but is a derivative of the Mawdsley Dance. Smash the Windows and Rig-a-Jig-Jig are both well known traditional jigs. The Muckin O’ Geordie’s Byre is from the Scottish comic song of the same name, versions of which date from the 18th century.

Knutsford

Tune : J. B. Milne

A dance collected by Maud Karpeles (“Done at Knutsford by Peover team”) in 1930. According to Roy Dommett, it doesn’t actually come from Knutsford (in Cheshire) but was danced there, probably by the Leyland Junior Dance side. However, in the Knots it is always known as Knutsford !  J. B. Milne is a Scottish reel written by Angus Fitchet of Dundee (1910-1989), one of Scotland’s foremost fiddlers and bandleaders.

Lacemaker

Tune : French Wedding March

Based on a French garland dance collected by Roy Dommett in 1977 at the Sidmouth Folk Festival and modified by Knots musician Keith Phillips. The name of the dance is our own and the tune is a traditional French one.

Lancaster

Tune : John of Paris

The dance is based on the Lancaster Mayers (Mays or Maze) Dance as danced by John O’ Gaunt in Thaxted in 1977 and collected by Roy Dommett. The tune is much used for morris and has appeared in various publications, perhaps the earliest being the Joshua Gibbons Manuscript (Lincolnshire) of 1823 – 1826.

Lewes Stomp              

Tune : Linhope Loup

Based on an “Idea for a dance – The Stomp” by Roy Dommett and modified by Knots musician Keith Phillips. Linhope Loup is a traditional tune from North East England, the title being associated with the Linhope Spout waterfall in Northumbria. In the local dialect, a ‘loup’ is a jump or a leap, and the tune was supposedly a favorite with Northumbrian musician Willie Taylor, who used to jump the stream near the waterfall on his way home from playing dances.

Little Rock

Tune : Sail Away Ladies

An American dance from Little Rock, capital city of Arkansas, taught to the Knots by Roy Dommett. Sail Away Ladies is a traditional American tune learnt from the playing of the band Stocai. They in turn learnt it from the book Old-Time Kentucky Fiddle Tunes where it is credited to a recording in 1974 by Kentucky fiddler J.P. Fraley and family.

Lostock

Tune : Bonnie Dundee

This dance was written by Trevor Owen of Lostock Junction and was taught to the Knots by Roy Dommett. Bonnie Dundee is a well-known Scottish traditional tune, very popular with military bands. The title originally referred to the bonnie town of Dundee, but the tune was later adapted for a poem and song of the same name written by Walter Scott in 1825 in honour of John Graham, 7th Laird of Claverhouse. He was created 1st Viscount Dundee in 1688 and was known as ‘Bonnie Dundee’ by his supporters and ‘Bloody Clavers’ by his enemies.

Marston

Tunes : Bobby Shaftoe / What a Beau My Granny Was

The dance, probably a processional dance from Northwich in Cheshire, was collected by Roy Dommett from a Mrs Hepple.  Bobby Shaftoe is a version of the well-known traditional song. What a Beau My Granny Was was learnt from former Knots musician Will Duke when he was a member of The Pump and Pluck Band. It has been attributed to English composer William Shield (1748-1829) and was included in numerous music and dance manuscripts on both sides of the Atlantic (including one by William Aylmore of West Wittering, Sussex). An early reference to the tune appears in The General Magazine and Impartial Review of 1790 in a report of a royal ball celebrating the Queen’s birthday where it was noted that:

The minuets were not numerous, therefore the country dances commenced at half past ten, to the tune of “What a beau my Granny was”, and broke up about twelve.’

The enigmatic title is taken from the song of the same name – here is part of the lyric from 1833:

My granny was both fair and plump,
And like a squirrel she could jump,
With coral lips and natural hips,
But now each girl has her cork rump ;
The pleated ruff looks well enough,
Now pigeons’ craws they wear, alas !
Stuck out before like the breast of a boar,
Oh what a beau my granny was.

Although difficult to believe from watching them dance, the Knots of May boast a number of granny-Knots amongst their number. Comparisons to jumping squirrels, however, will probably not go down well…

Mornington Crescent

Tunes : Speed the Plough / Rochdale Coconut Dance

Written by Knots musician Keith Phillips, the dance’s name was taken from the game in the popular Radio 4 series “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue”. Like the game, the person leading the dance supposedly calls the figures at random.  Speed the Plough is probably the ultimate in traditional tunes – an old chestnut played in many a pub session and popular for over 200 years. The second tune was used in the 1850s to accompany the Rochdale rush-cart, whose dancers struck together ‘coconuts’ – small round blocks of wood strapped to their knees, waist and hands. This form of dance is still performed by the wonderful Britannia Coconut Dancers of Bacup, Lancashire.

Peover

Tune : Saddle the Pony

This dance, from Lower Peover in Cheshire, was collected by Bernard Bentley and was a “fluffy” dance – the girls club tradition from Cheshire. Saddle the Pony is a well-known traditional Irish jig.

Preston Carnival

Tunes : Blaze Away / The Liberty Bell

This dance was collected by Roy Dommett during a Carnival Morris (fluffy) competition at a fete in Preston in 1968. The two popular marches were both written by American composers, Blaze Away (of which we only play part) in 1901 by Abraham Holzmann and The Liberty Bell by John Philip Sousa in 1893. The latter tune was famously used as the signature tune for Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

The Rose

Tunes : Jackson’s Morning Brush / Atholl Highlanders / Tarantella

The Rose was collected by Roy Dommett in 1963 at an Inter-College event, as danced by a team from Sunderland. It was written by a teacher named Mr Harrison who taught at a girl’s school in Sunderland. Whilst at Sidmouth he had seen a men’s team dancing rapper or longsword and decided his girls could dance just as well, if not better, so wrote The Rose for them. The first tune (also known just as ‘Morning Brush’) was written by the Irish piper and composer Walker “Piper” Jackson (d. 1798) in the last half of the 18th century. The title possibly refers to the tail of an unfortunate fox (the ‘brush’). It was published in Jackson’s Celebrated Irish Tunes in 1774. Atholl Highlanders is a classic Scottish pipe tune dedicated to the Duke of Atholl’s regiment, Europe’s only legally recognised private army, whilst Tarantella is a traditional Italian dance tune.

Royal Oak

Tunes : The Black Pudding Tune / Thursday Night

This is based on the Royal Oak dance as performed by Earlsdon at Laycock in 1976 and St. Albans in 1977 and collected by Roy Dommett. Modified for the Knots by Angie Bassford. The Black Pudding Tune was written by former Knots musician Peter Rogan and its title is a nod to his northern roots. Its name is rather fitting as some members of the band have (perhaps unfairly) suggested that Derrick’s serpent is actually made from (and sometimes sounds like) a large black pudding. Thursday Night is traditional and was learnt from the playing of The Biggest Trio in The World, a local band whose (more than three) members boasted current and previous Knots musicians Keith Phillips, Peter Rogan and Mel Stevens.

Ruby Tuesday

Tune : O’Sullivan’s March

A dance written in 2014 by Knots member Jane Caddick to celebrate the side’s 40th (ruby) anniversary. The Knots have traditionally danced on Tuesday evenings – hence the title. The tune is a traditional Irish march, learnt from the playing of The Chieftains. The title refers to the historic 300 mile march in 1603 of one Donal Cam O’Sullivan, Lord of Beare and Bantry (the last Prince of Ireland) and 1000 followers from Glengariff in the south of Ireland to Leitrim in Ulster.

Runcorn

Tune : Mona’s Delight

A stick dance as performed by the Bourne End Girl Guides team taught by one Mrs Wilson and collected by Roy Dommett at the Bourne End Carnival in 1969. Mrs Wilson learnt it at the age of 17 in Runcorn and Widnes in Cheshire. Mona’s Delight is a dance tune from the Isle of Man named after Mona Douglas, cultural activist, poet, novelist, journalist and collector of folk music and dance on the island.

Sussex Trug                

Tune : Polka Chinoise

The trug is a traditional Sussex wooden basket with a distinctive design. The dance, which was written for the Knots by Roy Dommett, is performed with eight dancers in a square with sticks (representing the basket) and one dancer in the middle with a garland (representing the handle). The traditional tune (Chinese Polka) was learnt from those maestros of fiddle and box Chris Wood and Andy Cutting, who in turn learnt it from a recording by Canadian squeezebox player Alfred Monmarquette (1871 – 1944).

Swallowtails

Tune : The Barren Rocks of Aden

This dance was taught to the Knots by Roy Dommett, although it was given the name Swallowtails by the Knots because of the way the raised sticks at certain points in the dance resemble the tails of swallows (albeit swallows with their bums sticking upwards). The tune is a well-known pipe march composed in the mid 19th century by army piper James Mauchline, who was delighted that his regiment was leaving the hot, dry port of Aden. The tune was later improved by another army piper Alexander MacKellar. Mauchline is said to have agreed that MacKellar’s version was superior to his.

Toast to Harveys

Tunes : The Laird O’Drumblair / The Dusty Miller / Elevenses (But I’d Rather be Drinking Harveys)

The year 1995 saw the Knots of May’s 21st anniversary and to celebrate it two important events took place. Firstly, Harveys Brewery of Lewes produced a new light mild beer named after the Knots of May and subsequently brewed every year during the month of May (and very good beer it is too). Secondly, Knots musician Keith Phillips wrote this dance and named it appropriately. Mischievously, he chose the three tunes such that the time signatures added up to 21. The first tune is a strathspey (in 4/4 time) composed by J. Scott Skinner in honour of William McHardy, Laird of Drumblair, who gave him a rent-free cottage in which to live. The second is a hornpipe (in 6/4 time) from the manuscript of the Welch family of Bosham, Sussex and the third is an 11/3 tune adapted by Keith Phillips from a tune written by Trevor Upham.

The Wain

Tunes : Kattenpolka / Meike Stout

A Flemish garland dance collected by Roy Dommett in 1977 at Sidmouth. Both of the tunes (which in the dance are alternated for the chorus and figures) are Flemish in origin and were unearthed by early Knots member Anne Loughran, who found that they fitted the dance perfectly. Kattenpolka has accompanying lyrics (in Flemish of course) relating to the time when Napoleon ruled the Netherlands.

Wishford

Tunes : Maggie in the Wood / Orlando’s Return

This dance was learnt from Roy Dommett, who collected it from a team who danced each Oak Apple Day at Great Wishford (formerly Wishford Magna) in Wiltshire. It was adapted for clogs by Gill and Keith Phillips (there being no tradition of clog dancing in Wiltshire).  Maggie in the Wood is an Irish tune from West Kerry. The polka version played here appeared in O’Brien’s Accordion Instructor (1949) and was popularized by, amongst others, The Chieftains. Various words have been set to the tune, including:

If I had Maggie in the wood
I’d do her all the good I could
If I had Maggie in the wood
I’d keep her there till morning

Orlando’s Return (sometimes known as Orlando’s Revenge) is a traditional English polka learnt from the playing of the band Gas Mark V.

Notes compiled by Dave Hood with much help from Knots dancers, musicians and the Knots archives.   May 2016