John Graham Honoured
Ron Smedley (L) and Michael Heaney (R) present
John Graham (C) with his Gold Badge
( Photo: Will Partridge )
JOHN GRAHAM’S WELL DESERVED GOLD AWARD FROM THE ENGLISH FOLK DANCE AND SONG SOCIETY.
The Gold Award is not lightly given. It recognises at least 60 years contribution to English traditional folk dance, music and song. This article seeks to set out John’s life with Headington Quarry Morris Dancers, a Side that has a unique place in the Morris tradition and revival. John has also contributed much to folk dance music too.
John first learnt Morris Dancing at Headington Secondary School in 1953. The Headmaster of the day, Cyril Easton, was always keen on local traditions and arranged for William Kimber, with his son Fred, to come along to the school to teach the Headington Quarry Morris dances. William Kimber has a unique place in the Morris tradition of course; an accomplished player of the English concertina and, as any Morris dancer knows, friend of and collaborator with Cecil Sharpe.
Eventually William Kimber felt to old to teach and he retired. John, who was having private piano lessons at the time agreed to play the piano accordion. The local church organist, David Rendell, who also played the accordion agreed to teach John the new instrument and the journey had begun.
In 1956 John left school and, along with two or three other boys in that year, joined the Headington Quarry Morris Dancers. John began playing for the Side more or less straight away on their practice nights.
In 1958 Jim Phillips, one of the senior members, was elected Squire of the Morris Ring of England and he took office at Whitley Bay in Northumberland and the Side travelled up to support him with John playing at the age of seventeen. John recollects ‘I had learnt the Quarry tunes alright. We were with three other Sides on one of the Ring tours. There were no other musicians on the coach! Each asked me to play for them. I had no idea of their tunes so I asked them to hum. I picked up the tunes as best I could. I know them well enough now!’
Further highlights have included an invitation to Japan in 1973 together with soul mates Westminster Morris Men as a publicity vehicle for the Department of Trade and Industry. Three years later they travelled to Washington DC to help celebrate the bi-centennial celebration. They danced on 4th July Independence Day and afterwards they were presented to HM Queen Elizabeth upon her visit to the Lincoln Memorial.
John joined the Headington Quarry Handbell Ringers in 1957 and during the course of time, helped to develop the repertoire to include five – and six-part harmonies. The annual highlight is playing a selection of Christmas tunes in the Holy Trinity Church before the midnight Service which has spanned 62 years. They also accompany Mummers and Sword-dancers on the Boxing Day Tour. In November 1967 they were involved in Bruce Forsyth’s Generation Game for the Christmas show.
Also in November 1967 the Headington Quarry Folk Dance Club was revived after a break of five years and John became involved in forming a band to play for their weekly meetings consisting of accordion, guitar, fiddle and drums. Known as the “Quarry Turners” they have played at the Quarry Community Centre for 52 years to date.
Over the years John has assisted in the training of young dancers at the Royal Ballet School, White Lodge, Richmond Park by playing for their practice session.
To conclude, it is plain to see why John has deserved the highest honour from the EFDSS. Headington Quarry Morris Dancers still meet on Monday nights to practice and go out to perform, mainly in the Quarry. John is always there and, it is hoped, for many years to come.
Thank you John.