Country and Western Singing

The singing of sad songs has been associated with Morecambe in Lancashire for hundreds of years. These dirges were usually sung when someone had been drowned
in the dangerous waters of Morecambe Bay. These songs were sung so frequently that a competition was organized to see who could sing the saddest song of all. This contest
reached its zenith with the ‘Disaster’ of 1812, when a man called Yeoman Parslow sang about the drowning of his wife and children in the Bay when they were trying to take a
shortcut home after blackberry picking. His words were so heartfelt and his emotions so raw that two-thirds of the crowd were saddened to such an extent that they threw themselves into the sea too.

After this happened the contest was banned until 1963, when it was revived under the name the ʻCountry and Western Air Guitar Hoe-Downʼ. The contest is held in the third week of July, but only when the tide is out as a mark of respect to the events of 1812.

The format is quite simple. Every year 20 famous C&W artists are honoured in the contest. From Monday to Saturday two hours are set aside for three artists, whereas only two artists are featured on Sunday, again for two hours. The idea is that during these two hours people can sing one of the featured artist’s songs while playing the air guitar, or sing one of their own songs in the style of that artist. Judges wearing Stetsons and cowboy boots assess each performance – marks are awarded for the accuracy of the
finger work on the air guitar, the accuracy of the impersonation and, where applicable, originality of the contestant’s lyrics.

Few people will forget the poignancy of the following song written by Benny “Wail On” Lee in the style of Waylon Jennings from the Wednesday contest in 1987.

“My dogggeeeeee got run over by the undertaker,
Taking my wife’s body to the morgue,
Ah would have waved her goodbyeeeeeee,
But my arms got pulled off,
In a farm accident,
Last weeeeeeeeeeekkkkkkkkk,
My grand daddy’s heart broke in two
When the crops failed,
For the fifth straight year,
But despite all these disasters
I still go to church,
Even though I can’t pray now
Because my arms got pulled off
In a farm accident,
Last weeeeeeeeeeekkkkkkkkk,”

After Benny sang the song a large number of people were in floods of tears and heading towards the pier, but were stopped by the police who sprayed them with nitrous oxide.
Multiple winners at the contest include Roger Donnelly who impersonates Fatboy Slim Whitman, Wendy Berenson who sings the songs of Willy Nelson with a broad Yorkshire
accent and above all Timmy Waites, whose variations of Tammy Wynette’s song D.I.V.O.R.C.E have to be heard to be believed.

In the 1980s his winning efforts included the cunning protest songs
T.H.A.T.C.H.E.R.O.U.T,
S.C.A.R.G.I.L.L.F.O.R.E.V.E.R and the 17-minute long
S.U.P.P.O.R.T.T.H.E.M.I.N.E.R.S.A.G.A.I.N.S.T.T.H.E.F.A.S.C.I.S.T.D.I.C.T.A.T.O.R.T.H.A.T.C.H.E.R.

The Hairy Legs Contest – British Traditions

Excerpt from a book of British Traditions

When people were painting the town red in Melton in the 15th Century some of the locals started to compare various parts of their bodies with those of other people. Eventually, the comparisons turned to the hairiness of the legs and it was noticed that a man called George Loveless had ‘ye legs as hairy as that of a horse.’ Loveless proclaimed himself as having the hairiest legs in Leicestershire and defied anyone to be hairier. He challenged all comers to a contest on the fifth Wednesday of Michaelmas on an annual basis – this was 1456 and the rest, as they say, is history.

In the Hairy Legs competition there are a number of different sections to enter. There’s a prize for the longest leg hair, another for the most amount of hair, and yet another for the most artistic shaping of leg hair. There are separate sections for men and women.

The longest leg hair ever measured was 3 feet 4 inches in length and belonged to Gwendoline Jones, a visitor to Melton, who entered the contest while waiting for a stagecoach to Nottingham in 1753. Gwendoline’s legs were otherwise quite bare, but she did admit that this hair was a great source of pride to her and her family. She used to wash the hair in her monthly bath and treat it with sheep’s oil to ensure that it didn’t become brittle.

The men’s record was 2 feet 9 inches grown by Alan Peacock in the 1870s. The hair was used to help keep his left sock up and he admitted to greasing it with pig’s fat every night, which might explain why his wife left him for a pig farmer.

The hairy legs contest has changed with the advent of cosmetic surgery. People have been disqualified in recent years when the judges have discovered that tufts of hair have been grafted on to people’s legs, although this is more difficult to find than the amateurish attempts of Richard Davis in 1982, who, it was discovered, had glued cat hair to his knees. Davis was given a consolation prize of a tin of cat food and asked to pay his fine into the prize kitty.

For the genuine contestants, the judges comb the hair and discover the lushness and thickness of the fur. Contestants with fleas receive extra marks from the judges as this indicates genuine hair. The colour of the hair doesn’t matter so contestants who dye their grey hairs don’t impress the judges. The area the hair covers is also taken into account as is the location of the hair; furry knees, especially around the back, win high marks.

Competitors frequently use bizarre methods to encourage hair growth; Henry Travers, who won for 13 consecutive years from 1823-1835, swore by standing in a cow pat morning and night for 30 minutes – he is quoted as saying that “ye cowe patte contains growth – look how it makees the grasse become lushe.” Travers never married during his life and lived alone in a house without running water.

Matilda Grinstead, who won the women’s hairiest legs competition between 1901 and 1912, believed her success was down to bathing in baked beans every day – she ate the beans afterwards, which may explain why the judges inspected her legs through a telescope whenever possible.

Contestants’ imaginations run riot in the leg hair sculpture competition, which started in the 1900s when sheep shearer Alex Shepley thought he would start shearing his own legs. For years Shepley’s sheep had been the talk of the Midlands, with their immaculately shaped coats in three neatly trimmed lengths. Shepley had started out as a topiarist but was always disappointed that his hedges couldn’t move. He turned to sheep shearing only after a brief flirtation with hedgehogs resulted in him being hospitalized with multiple punctures to his face.

Shepley thought of the leg hair sculpture contest when he was trimming his toe nails one day and thought that he could do the same with hair. Soon he had a hairy representation of Queen Victoria displayed on his left calf. A pork pie was shaved into his right thigh and soon Shepley was the toast of Melton. He displayed himself at the 1901 contest and was surprised to find that he was not alone in his shaving exploits. Respectable ladies had Gladstone and Disraeli shaved on their thighs; polite gentleman had coaxed representations of naked women from their lower legs – one lovelorn footman had the name of his employer represented on his hairy foot using a combination of glue and flour. The leg hair sculpture contest was born.

Animal Gambling – British Tradition

Excerpt from a book of British Traditions

Another contest was ‘Attract the mouse,” which was played in the house of Martha Grable. She had a large mousehole in her skirting board. Gamblers placed their pieces of cheese around the hole and then crouched down behind the sofa to wait. The judge ensured that each piece was genuine cheese and hadn’t been doctored by a mouse attractant. The judge also ensured that each piece of cheese was exactly three feet from the hole. The winner was the person whose piece of cheese was first eaten by the mouse. A mouse sniffing at a piece of cheese didn’t count.

The most popular contest was “Guess the spots on the ladybird.” The ladybird judge would catch an insect and ask people to place bets on the number of spots. If the number of spots wasn’t guessed correctly all bets were carried over into the next guess. In 1763, an apparent plague of 10-spotted ladybirds was found to be a hoax perpetrated by Andrew Craig, the local painter, who was banned from all gambling events for 200 years.

Littondale Wall Building – British Tradition

Excerpt from a book of British Traditions

In 1842, Jeremiah Spalding built the longest wall in the history of the competition. It stretched 167 yards up the hill and was in a perfectly straight line. However, this wall didn’t win as it was just two feet high and one foot wide – the judges didn’t believe Jeremiah’s excuse that he was a grasshopper breeder.

The competitors mustn’t touch any alcohol during the contest – this was after an unfortunate situation in 1802 when Barry Cockerill consumed too much cider in the summer sun and started to build his wall across the path of the other participants. This lead to a sharp exchange of words and the cancelling of the contest until the following day, so that Cockerill’s wall could be dismantled.

Turtle Rinsing in London – British Traditions

Excerpt from a book of British Traditions

Once the turtle is observed by The Royal Turtle Deputy-Surveyor using a spyglass, the Royal Net Bearer apprehends the creature in a special Turtle net that’s over two hundred years old. Once clear of the water, the turtle in the net is raised to shoulder height. Using a 500-year old hose made from Staffordshire Boar hide, the Master of the Hose sprays the creature for “one round of ye reel,” which is danced by the Royal Turtle Surveyor and The Royal Turtle Deputy-Surveyor. The Royal Water Bagpiper accompanies the dance.

Once the reel is complete, the rinsed turtle is returned to the water. In the past, the turtle was observed swimming vigorously for the open sea; however in recent years they have mainly hung around HMS Belfast waiting for tourists to drop food to them.

Dancing around the Windmill – British Tradition

Excerpt from a book of British Traditions

Starting at 8 o’clock in the morning the contestants are presented to the watching crowds in their fool’s costumes. Each contestant is given a gallon vat of apple cider, which they must drink by nine o’clock or be disqualified from the dance. They are not allowed to eat any food during this time.

At ten past eight, the potential idiots start dancing through the sails carrying their vats with them. The contest is judged by three umpires who perform various tasks. The contestants are supposed to avoid the sails by either slowing down or speeding up their dance, but they must never stop or they will be penalized a point by an umpire. Dancers must not move more than 10 feet from the windmill or they will be deducted a point.  Contestants who are hit by a sail are either deducted a point if they remain conscious or disqualified if they have to be sent to the hospital by the umpire. If the umpires deduct three points from a contestant then their contest is over. The contest continues until there is only one person left who hasn’t been disqualified.

Hippos, custard and tapas: the 10 funniest jokes of the Edinburgh fringe

The comedy channel Dave asked the public to vote on the best gags to emerge from this year’s fringe festival, and here are the results