FORGET Burns Night – we’ve got Barnes Night, and if the inaugural Supper Celebration of William Barnes, The Dorset Poet, was anything to go by it should become as popular a date in the calendar for Dorset folk as Burns is for everyone who loves Scotland, poetry and a good time!
The traditions of Burns Night were reflected in the style of this new event, organised by Artsreach and the South Dorset Ridgeway Partnership, with poetry readings by Charles Buckler and Brian Caddy and music and traditional songs by the Ridgeway Singers and Band directed by Tim Laycock and Phil Humphries.
The hall was set out with long tables, decorated with spring flowers – snowdrops and daffodils – and pussy willow. The evening began with piping the Dorset Blue Vinny (a nod to piping the haggis), as a truckle of Dorset’s unique blue cheese was carried around the hall by two strong men.
The music for the evening came largely from the collections of the Hammond brothers who cycled round Dorset at the turn of the 19th-20th century. Tim Laycock is a music and folksong historian as well as an actor, musician, storyteller and artistic director of the New Hardy Players.
The programme also included Anna Everleigh-Morse’s In Praise of Dorset Apples and ended with a lovely rendering of Linden Lea, in Vaughan Williams’ setting.
Charles Buckler and Brian Caddy are both members of the William Barnes Society as well as well-known local actors. It was a real joy to hear Barnes’ marvellous dialect poetry read with such humour and verve – the audience rapidly fell into the rhythms with them and their comic duologue in the Eclogue: The Best Man in the Vield really brought the house down.
The evening, with a Dorset menu of watercress soup, blue vinny and other cheeses and Dorset Apple Cake, was a celebration of all things Dorset, with the extraordinary polymath figure of Barnes at its heart. It is all too easy to think of this remarkable man as a rustic wordsmith in the shadow of his greater successor Thomas Hardy. But Barnes is a towering figure in his own right, and Hardy was the first to pay tribute to him.
A prolific linguist (Barnes is said to have had a working knowledge of 70 languages!), teacher, inventor, parish priest, folklorist, artist, engraver, musician, prose writer and arguably England’s finest dialect poet – truly an amazing list of achievements for a man who was born into very humble circumstances at Bagber near Sturminster Newton.
Thomas Hardy wrote of Barnes that he was “probably the most interesting link between present and past forms of rural life that England possessed.”
This evening was hugely enjoyable but also reminded the sell-out audience, singers, musicians and helpers how important it is to celebrate the culture and voices of our own place – Dorset.