By MIKE GREENWOOD
Just about a twelve-month ago, I sat with Dave and Helen Parsons one Monday night in a northern Cardiff hostelry as we commiserated over a pint of good ale about the impending passing of the long-running series of ceilidhs that the couple were retiring from organising at Cardiff’s Heath Hospital Sports and Social Club, just a stone’s throw from where we were sitting. It was to be a case of RUFF Ceilidhs (1974-2013) RIP, with the final dance scheduled for Saturday, December 14, 2013. At the end of the night we cleared the table and pulled a shroud over what had been a legendary series of folk events in south Wales. The story was published in these web-pages last December.
Dance on: enthusiasts will organise the next round of Ruff Ceilidhs to show their appreciation for all the years of good work that Dave and Helen have contributed.
Pictures by Imogen O’Rourke
Well, let’s all sing Hallelujah! Just one year on from that sombre meeting, I sat down again just a couple of weeks ago – again on a Monday night, and at the same table, in the same hostelry, with the same interviewees. But this time the meeting was convened to celebrate the eleventh-hour salvation of the RUFF ceilidhs, pulled from the brink by an enthusiastic bunch of volunteers. In last year’s article, mention was made of the RUFF Folk Dance Club, first instigated by Dave and Helen in May 1989 on the back of the energy generated by the once-monthly ceilidhs. The Club has continued to meet on Monday evenings at St Andrews Church Hall in Birchgrove, independently of the dances at the Heath Hospital, and there have been murmurings amongst the regular attendees, as determined as the protagonists in the Stan Rogers song The Mary Ellen Carter who dreamed of the resurrection of a beloved sunken boat, that the RUFF ceilidhs couldn’t be allowed to die. And what’s more, they set out to do something about it!
Whilst there is as yet no declared formal structure to the assembly of dancers who will take on the baton from Dave and Helen, local whistle-playing sessioneer Denis O’Rourke acted as spokesman for my enquiries about the future. “We’re keeping the roles fluid, so no-one becomes indispensible”, he told me. The other core people involved – all regulars at the Monday night dance club – are Kevin and Jane Bush, Diane and Rob Moverly, Mic Spenceley and Lyndsay Bird, with Ian Lewis, who works in audio-visual communications, handling publicity.
“There are another dozen or so who are willing to do things on the night, such as looking after the door, running the bar and tidying up”, added Denis. Diane has recently retired from a school headmistress post, and is generally recognised by the others as the “organiser”! All except Ian were present at my meeting with Dave and Helen, who themselves will retain roles of “advisers” – including suggesting and providing contact details for bands and callers, and easing the new management team into the tasks ahead. Whilst I chatted with Dave, Helen and Denis, the others were busy discussing insurances, new bank accounts and such – each one careful to avoid being shoehorned into a cabinet post, and keen to maintain the fluidity of roles that Denis had mentioned.
Dave himself called the RUFF ceilidh on December 14, working with local band Juice, which features trac director, Danny Kilbride on guitar. The Christmas ceilidh had long been an annual fixture for Dave and Juice, and this one had a particular poignancy; it was the last ceilidh organised by Dave and Helen, and marked the hand-over of power to the new regime, whose members took over responsibility for running the following ceilidh on January 18 (the band will be Shropshire’s All Blacked Up, with their in-built caller, Baz Parkes.)
The spring series of dances is completed by Ceilidh Chasers, with Mic Spenceley calling on February 15, and Ceilidhography with Phil Bassingsale on March 22, before the usual summer break takes things up to next October. I’m sure many others will join me in thanking Dave and Helen for all they’ve done to promote social dancing in South Wales over these past four decades, and I wish every success to the movers and shakers at the RUFF Country