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Nick and the Morris

Page history last edited by Mary.Ellsworth 7 years, 9 months ago

Nick began to dance Morris about 1970 ...



Nick on concertina ....dancing with Hammersmith when John Kirkpatrick was with them (Foggy Bottom's first foreman, Roger Avery, was with Hammersmith at that time, too). He danced with both Hammersmith and Herga Morris, abandoning the former in 1973 (see the Herga Folk Club's history page for a little more about Nick and Herga). Tim Brooks, a rookie with Herga at the time, has written that


“Nick was one of a few amazing musicians playing for the side. We used to have three sides up at practice, and when we danced out, if you didn't jump in quick you might not get a dance at all. There was always a song session after any outing, and Nick was always there with great songs and faultless accompaniment.”


Nick and Terry moved to Frederick in 1980. But Nick did not join Foggy Bottom for several years. Our practices at the time he came were in Foggy Bottom or Georgetown. This was too far away. When we moved to Takoma Park, practice was still a long way away, but possible.


Not that we had no contact with him. Rock Creek had the pleasure of having him play for them in about 1985, at Schifferstadt in Frederick, MD You can see the park they danced in as you come off the Rosemont Avenue exit from US 15 on the northern side of town. That exit is the one you take to Nick and Terry's house on Pear Lane. It is just on the other side of the road as you take your right-hand turn. Nick's playing was distinctive, wondrous, from almost the first note.



Here are Rock Creek Morris Women, with Nick standing in the back, at Schifferstadt, circa 1985

From left to right: Mary Ellsworth, Mary Sing, Louise Neu, Jim Kelly behind Louise, Carol Kelly, Jill Lawrenz, Fred Streebe with yellow horn, Alice Taylor, Joyce Harrell, Nick Robertshaw behind Joyce, Martha Hayes, Mary Chor behind Martha, Liz Knapp, Jenni Voorhees, Robin Pratt-Corner (musician) and Melanie (wife of musician), their dog, and the Kelly's son, kneeling.


"We had to dance four separate performances at Schifferstadt. By the fourth performance we were down to six dancers and Nick’s playing was the only thing that kept us going." - Joyce Harrell, Nov. 2008


It was a long time after that that Nick finally came to Foggy Bottom. Sometime in the mid-1990s Nick came. It was not long before he became foreman. He changed the repertoire, as periodically happens with FBMM, and energized the team. We owe Bampton Speed the Plough to Nick. We had learned the basic Badby dances out of Bacon long before--Shooting (a.k.a. Beaux of London City) and Shepherd's Hey had been among the dances we learned from Roger Avery in our first year. Nick brought several more. Mrs. Casey and Sheriff's Ride (originally knows as Mr. Casey). The Cavalier--known by several other names, such as Three Musketeers, in other traditions. Following Nick, we dance our version to the tune of the "World Turned Upside Down."


Sheriff's Ride remains a favorite. The Foggy Bottom way of doing it contains a distinctive Robertshavian touch. When he first taught it, the choruses were done only by the first two corners. He immediately saw that this was unjust and added the music required to let all three corners dance. Problem found, problem solved. Presto.


Nick also wrote the dance "Noah's Morris," named after the son of Jim Lewis, the musician who wrote the tune. Jim and Nick shared a love for song; they formed the core of Foggy Bottom's music for several years. The dance, as you might expect, is like none other. The team does it on occasion, but neither the tune nor the dance have been written down. Jim also wrote the tune, Picking up the Meadows, that Nick chose for the Upton-on-Severn Handkerchief Dance, which he brought to us. (The title is Noah's.)


One night, in a sign of Nick's playful approach to music, we got six up to dance Badby Shooting. He launched into an incredible version of the tune, never before heard. It turns out that he had simply transposed it from major to minor, seemingly in the blink of an eye. Alas, that sound seems lost. No one can play it as Nick could.


The team had learned some Border dances before, but they never took. Nick brought us the combination of Dilwyn and Fanny Frail, one following the other, with Nick playing the segue from one to the other. He playing it inimitably, of course, well aware that the change from one dance to the next was magnificent theater. He also gave us Richard's Castle, the processional dance that started the routine.


Then there is the Mummer's Play. Foggy Bottom saw Wild Hunt dance "Fiddler's Rest" on their tour of England in 1995. Nick, inspired, taught is the dance, then wrote it into a mummer's play that fall, borrowing text from two or three traditional plays. After the dancers come on, the lead (it was always Nick) signs the calling on sing. The dance and play then alternate until Prince George is revived and dances off. (The prince's name echoes that of a county in the Washington area.) The play has been performed every year since.


Foggy Bottom toured Britain three times while Nick was with us. The first tour, when the team encountered Wild Hunt, was through England in 1995. The second tour, in 2000, took us to the wonderland of Caithness. After a delightful weekend with the St. Alban's Morris Men, we moved north to stay at the home--the big house--of an old friend of his at Thrumster. Under Nick's direction, we danced in Wick, combining with the Wick Pipe Band, and spent a day going up to Thurso, Dunnet Head (we "done it at Dunnet!" he exclaimed), and John O'Groats. That was followed by a memorable day dancing through Inverness. The last tour, in 2005, was heavenly. We stayed in Candy Valley, near Oswestry in Shropshire, at the bed and breakfast that Nick's brother Lindsay was establishing. Our dancing took us through Shropshire and into Wales, ever accompanied by Banks' Ales.



Foggy Bottom Morris Men in Avebury, England, 1995. From left, standing: Will McIntire, Jim Lewis, Rodger Sunderland, Bill Brown, Art Shaw, Bob Collins, Pete Brown, Paul Kalina. Kneeling: Dennis Shaw, Tim Shaw, Nick Robertshaw, Jud McIntire.



Tune: The Arethusa, played by Nick Robertshaw.  A Morris 'dance-off' between Jud and Thomas, dancing Princess Royal.  Springtime, probably taken during the Washington, DC Cherry Blossom Festival on Capital Hill. c.2003.


UK2K St Albans ; Bacca Pipes @White Lion

Bampton Bacca Pipes, Joe Shelby and Jud McIntire, music from Nick Robertshaw.  



UK2K Caithness, Wick.  Rose Tree

Foggy Bottom Morris performs The Rose Tree (our variation) in the streets at Wick, Caithness, Scotland.

Nick Robertshaw, concertina.  



UK2K Inverness Final Upton Stick 

Among our last dances on the UK2K tour, the Upton on Severn Stick Dance.  Nick Robertshaw on concertina.


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