Rochdale Coconut Dance

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X:1 % T:Coco-Nut Dance M:4/4 L:1/8 S:Noted by Dr. Henry Brierley N:"Rochdale Rush-Cart in the (eighteen) 'fifties." M:4/4 L:1/8 B:Gilchrist - Journal of the English Folk Dance Society, No. 1 (1927, p. 27) Z:AK/Fiddler's Companion K:C c2e2c2e2|dcBc d2g2|c2e2c2e2|dcBA G4| c2e2c2e2|dcBc d2g2|egfe dfed|c2e2 c4!fine!|| |:ABcB A2e2|ABcB A2e2|fedf edce|dcBc A2G2!D.C.!:|]



ROCHDALE COCONUT DANCE. English, Country Dance and Morris Dance Tune (4/4 time). E Minor ('A' part) & G Major ('B' part). Standard tuning (fiddle). AAB {The parts and repeats are reversed in Raven's and Wade's versions, and the tune is heard beginning on either part in sessions}. The tune is used for a polka step in the North-West (England) morris dance tradition. The “Rochdale Coconut Dance” was published by Anne Gilchrist in her article “The Lancashire Rush-Cart and Morris Dance” in the Journal of the English Folk Dance Society in 1927. It had been sent to her by Dr. Henry Brierley, a native of the cotton-mill town of Rochdale, Lancashire, who said the tune was used to accompany the Rochdale rush-cart in the 1850’s. “The dancers held half a coco-nut shell in each hand,” writes Gilchrist, “a half-shell also being strapped to each knee, and clapped the shells rhythmically to the following unvarying tune, played by the band. The dance was stationary, but according to his recollection the coco-nut dancers preceded the drawing-team of young men, ‘prancing’ in the procession. The tune has a general resemblance to Mr. Cecil Sharp’s traditional versions of both 'Country Gardens' and 'Hunt the Squirrel'. I have seen no other record of this dance.” Simpson & Roud (Dictionary of English Folklore, 2000) identify Coconut Dancers as performing in the Lancashire town of Bacup on Easter Saturday. Bacup is a mill town near Rochdale, and the ‘coconuts’ employed by the dancers are bobbin tops from the mill which the dancers strap onto their hands, knees and waist. There are eight male dancers in the group, with a ‘whipper-in’ to help with clearing the space for the performance at each stop in the procession through the town. The dance itself is in the garland dance genre, performed with decorated semi-circular whoops, with dancers in costume and with blackened faces. Simpson and Roud date the tradition as starting at least as far back as 1857, although folklore investigations into the tradition date only from the 1920’s.

The melodies that accompany the dance (there are a half-dozen or so Bacup tunes, as well as the Nut Dance; see "Bacup Coconut Tune/Tip Top Polka"), from the Bacup Britannia Coconut Dancers and their Stacksteads Silver Band, have been popularized in modern times through the playing of the New Victory Band, Brass Monkey, and others. Folkopedia [1] records: "This tune entered the repertoire of The New Victory Band some time in the 1980s and has a rather unclear provenance. Although there is a coconut dance in nearby Bacup, there is no evidence to suggest that a coconut dance ever existed in Rochdale. If not, where did the tune come from? It is likely that it came from the pen of some northern musician and found its way by stealth into the greater repertoire via NVB. The band Bellowhead popularised the tune in 2004 but their version reverses the order of the A and B parts."

Although the coconut dance is associated with north west England, Cecil Sharp also noted seeing Coconut Dancers at North Leigh, Oxfordshire.

Additional notes

Source for notated version: -

Printed sources : - Raven (English Country Dance Tunes), 1984; p. 158. Townsend (English Dance Music, vol. 1), 1993. Wade (Mally’s North West Morris Book), 1988; p. 16.

Recorded sources: - BASH CD47, New Victory Band – “One More Dance and Then.” Fellside RECD 161, John Spiers & Jon Boden – “Through & Through.” Topic TSCD531, Brass Monkey – “Going and Staying” (2001).

See also listing at:
See/hear the tune played by Bellowhead [2]



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