The Birth of the Southport Swords by Pete Mackie....
Way back in 1968 I came to Merseyside for a weeks holiday and for some strange reason
I decided to stay and have lived here ever since. I was always interested in folk
music and I soon became a regular visitor to the Bothy Folk Club, making many new
friends including John Smith and the others who went on to become founder members
of the Southport Swords.
The idea to form the swords came at Hexham Folk festival in 1968, when John and I
were sitting in a pub (where else ?), and in came a rapper team. It may well have
been Stockton Blue and Gold, who were from my home town, but at this age the memory
is not too reliable. Anyway, we were knocked out by their performance and John said
"wouldn't it be great if we could do that at the Bothy".
The next step was a month or two later when John and I went to the Keele Folk Festival,
which was being held at Loughborough that year. After recovering from John's hectic
driving down the M6, we went to a dance workshop where we learned the Flamborough
dance. Our team incidentally included John Kirkpatrick and Sue Harris. They obviously
decided that their talents lay somewhere other than dancing. After scribbling a few
notes on the weekends activities we came back home as the world's experts on longsword
and proceeded to gather a motley crew at the Bothy with a view to giving a performance
Apart from John and myself, the team consisted of Paul Watson, Mick Holding, Rick
Scott, Eric Jones, Dave Whitehead and Tony Stott. We practiced for a couple of weeks
in Tony Stott's back garden with the music provided by a record player or on at least
one occasion by Stotty's mum playing the grand piano through an open window. When
the big day came and the team danced out into the back garden of the Blundell Arms
to the strains of the Keel Row played by the Bothy Folk (Dave Boardman on guitar
and Stan Ambrose on Whistle), little did we realize what a monster we were creating
and how it would grow over the next 25 years.
We all became gripped by longsword and soon learned the North Skelton dance which
became the mainstay of the team throughout its formative years. As we ventured into
public more often more equipment was need. John had swords made by one of his engineering
contacts. The handles were made from a coffin lid, but I never did find out where
the coffin came from. Also I had a difficult time explaining to the pet shop why
I wanted four dozen budgie bells.
The team settled down with Paul Watson at no 1, because he was the only one who could
be trusted to bear the weight of the swords without dropping them after the necessary
pre dance lubrication. Eric danced 2, Dave 3, Mick 4, Rick 5 and I was 6, with John
as the Tommy and Tony Wilson providing a voluptuous Betty. The music was provided
by Pete Rowley on his melodeon. Practise proved difficult but eventually we settled
down in the garage of Eric's dairy. This was great even though on at least one occasion
the garage where we practiced was actually colder than the fridges where they stored
We danced at various places, ceilidhs, fetes, folk festivals and once even in a Mormon
church. The festivals were often the most memorable. No one who saw it could forget
the day at Stainsby festival when Pete Rowley had to be propped upright against a
pillar before he was able to play. There was also the occasion in Buxton where Dave
Morgan left his hotel room in the middle of the night to go to the loo and ended
up locked out of his room naked in the hotel corridor. Whitby was always our favourite
festival with incidents too numerous, too distant and too clouded by the alcoholic
haze to mention here.
As time went by many new faces became associated with the swords - Tom Davies, Tom
Brown, Pete Downes, Terry Binsale, Ray Cope, Bill Smith and many, many, many more.
Many, including myself, also dropped out only to be seen creakily going 'over your
neighbour's' as the nearest thing to the original team was reassembled at the various
reunions to show the youngsters how it should be done. In spite of dropping out as
a regular many years ago, I still have my original enamelled metal badge and I still
consider myself to be a sword.
I am very proud to have been associated with the swords and I am very proud to have
been associated with John in its conception. John was the driving force behind the
Southport Swords at the start and it was mainly through his effort ,energy and love
of traditional music and dance that the team was able to become what it is today.
I wish the swords all the best in the future and I am sure that they will continue
well into the next century as mainstay to traditional dance and as a fitting memorial
to our good friend, John Smith.
1st team 1968 dance out at the Blundell Arms ((Pete Mackie Ctr Left)
Our first Day of Dance in 1976, taken from the Ormskirk Advertiser.
1978: John Smith handing over Squireship to Howard Cooper after 10 years.