I admire people who have an ear for music. It’s more than that, actually; I’m in awe of people with that particular talent. When I find a musician I like, I can easily become obsessed with their style, skill, and output. and I listen to them obsessively. I have no music talent whatsoever; I once tried – and failed – to learn the triangle. Seriously. The harmonica was a similar failure, and don’t even get me started on my time in the school choir; I’m still scarred by the experience 30 years on.
So yes, music is a skill I massively admire in others, and most types of music are an endless source of fascination and intrigue to me. Exceptions to that previous statement are rap (it’s just people speaking very fast; I could do that without even trying), slash metal (it’s blaring sound and people screaming into a microphone) and folk.
Now, it’s entirely possible that there are genuine fans of all of those types of music out there, and they’re not all figments of my imagination. Folk music in particular intrigues me, because of its ancient cultural associations with British music and summer traditions, but there so many different types of folk.
Normally, at this point, I would take some methodical care in outlining in the different types of folk music and their rather unique connection to British history, but I can’t here. I actually can’t because, you see, I just don’t like folk music. I wish I could find something in it I like, but I can’t – and, more than that, I can’t even bring myself to try. It’s a rather awkward admission to make, I realise; it’s undoubtedly rather odd as well, but let me explain the reason why.
It’s the morris dancers.
Now, I’m not stupid; I know that there’s more to folk music than morris dancers, but in the deepest, darkest recesses of my mind, there’s not difference. I just can’t split the two up, and that’s a weird convergence, because morris dancers are my real nemesis.
You see, I worked for a series of libraries for a few years back around the turn of the century (and, indeed, the turn of the millennium – what a heady time!), and I was predominantly based at Broadstairs Library. I loved (for the most part) working there, as it was at the top of the high street, central to everything you needed, and was right in the middle of my favourite town.
One of the very few downsides to working at Broadstairs Library was the yearly ritual of Broadstairs Folk Week. Ironically, I have always liked this annual festival because of its inclusivity, its friendships, and its dedication to loyal followers … but the morris dancers horrify / scare me in equal measure, and that mixes everything up in my head.
You see, Broadstairs Library sits on the direct path from the main folk week campsite down into the town, and that means it’s on the main – read: only – thoroughfare, and the library was a natural stopping-off point with a reasonably-sized square outside. As a result, a lot – a lot, A LOT – of morris dancers would stop outside the library every day for a week, untold times throughout the day, and practice their torture … err, I mean, their stick tapping, their bell shaking, and their hanky waving.
Of course, it’s an entirely free country, and the morris dancers were entirely welcome to do whatever they wished, but I quickly developed a Pavlovian response to the dancing and the music together – almost like a nervous tic that made me easily distracted, weirdly stressed, and panicked every time I heard those magical sounds.
Morris dancing is, of course, part of our national heritage, and I even know some morris dancers, so I can personally vouch for the fact that they are decent, upstanding members of whatever community they belong to … and then they join forces and form a troupe that end up terrifying me and making me feeling – even all these years on – oddly nervous and anxious. I’m 36, for heaven’s sake, and I haven’t worked in the libraries since I was 22 – yet these feelings persist and are reinforced by each passing year.
To be fair, it doesn’t inhibit me from living a full and productive life, and I can still even travel down to folk week and enjoy the atmosphere, catch up with friends, and just meander around. And then the morris dancers start up, my palms get sweaty, and I try to move away as quickly and as tactfully as possible. It’s entirely possible that I’m not always completely tactful.
I’m not telling you this necessarily because I want to be cured; every writer has to have at least one quirk, and at least it’s not an opiote addiction or a preference for odd – or indeed any – sexual peccadilloes. I just can’t bring myself to like morris dancing – I like the individuals when dressed in civilian garb; I’d even call some of them friends – and yet I almost deliberately subject myself to it every year. To be fair, that’s more to build up my immunity than anything else; it seems to be working, as the inoculation is about to receive its annual booster with the 2017 Broadstairs folk festival about to start, and I’ll be right there, seeing how long I can endure the exquisite agony before it kills me.