It was on 26th June 2009, that I first ventured onto the streets of Penzance for my Teazer performance under the tuition of Cassandra Latham Jones. I had previous experience of Morris dancing and performed at various folk festivals, however I mistakenly assumed the role of Teazer could be something similar.
It all began with a telephone phone call during November 2008 from an acquaintance who asked if I would be interested in training for the role of a Teazer. They briefly explained what it would entail and I agreed to try, as it would also provide an opportunity to join a community event after recently moving to Cornwall. I had visited the home of this particular acquaintance and their partner on a few occasions while they were in the process of creating a new Penglaz ‘Oss after the original ‘Oss retired. They were extremely excited about this project and I witnessed the gradual development of the new Penglaz creation. It was the first time I had seen a horse’s skull and heard about the folk tradition in which these skulls were utilised. Cassandra contacted me soon after hearing of my interest and invited me to attend the 2008 Montol festival near the winter solstice, so that I could observe her first performance with the new Penglaz.
The acquaintance who introduced us was also a photographer at the event and suggested I wore a mask and dark clothing, as the majority of people wore ‘mock formal’ attire.
On our arrival at the event I joined the back of the procession at St Johns Hall with my former husband and son. I then made my way to the front to observe Cassandra’s performance. Penglaz the ‘Oss did not appear during the first procession so I concentrated on Cassandra’s movements as she marched at the front of the band in time to the music and waving to people who lined the streets. At the hill fort we stood around a large fire beacon to warm ourselves and visited a pub with the photographer, their partner and one of their friends.
The crowd seemed to increase in number for the second procession and once again I followed at the back with my husband and son, then gradually moved to the front.
Cassandra and Penglaz appeared out of an entrance adjacent to a restaurant in Chapel Street and were welcomed by enthusiastic cheers from the crowd. The energy was wild and exciting.
When I had previously performed at festivals with my former Morris team, I was one of many performers, but on this occasion it was a little disconcerting to see that Penglaz and her Teazer were the main characters and focus of the event. This meant there would be greater pressure on the performance and I voiced my concerns to the photographer who assured me that it would all have a positive outcome.
During my interview with Cassandra on the 26th January 2009, I was informed of a second new Penglaz and an ongoing disagreement between the other ‘Oss rider and Cassandra, but she assured me I would not be involved in this matter. Cassandra and I met regularly for practices at a yard owned by an engineer known to the photographer. My son and husband both rode Penglaz and each of them had a unique interpretation which gave the ‘Oss varied personality traits within each performance.
My former husband gave Penglaz a cheeky character, while my son being only seventeen years of age, was unpredictable, mischievous and Cassandra states that he was and still is, the fastest ‘Oss rider she ever had!
Although I was an experienced dancer, I needed to develop a connection with a completely different type of energy to perform this role. Cassandra sent me explanations and descriptions of the Bucca elemental (of sea and storms) spirit that works through the ‘Oss and Teazer.
I modelled my Teazer kit on the one Cassandra wore, as the Teazer ‘cross dresses’ to represent the ‘male and female’ aspect and ‘topsy turvy’ Cornish energy. Cassandra attended a ‘guild meeting’ and presented its members with video footage of our practices, announcing that I would be her apprentice Teazer and apparently it had the guild members’ approval.
My first appearance was on Friday 26th June 2009 on Mazey Eve. My former husband volunteered to ride Cassandra’s Penglaz (the one and only time) and we were understandably a little nervous on our first appearance particularly within a community we were unfamiliar with. On reflection I am sure many were wondering who we were and why we had been placed into a ‘lead role’ within their community festival! Just before the performance I was instructed by Cassandra to wait outside a local inn while she attempted to locate someone. A local man approached me asking why I was there and when I explained, he stated that I would never be as good as Cassandra and continued to tell me how long he had known her and revealed rather personal details about her life! What an encouraging start to the evening!
We prepared ourselves and Penglaz in a room at the Barbican and Cassandra stood at the open top window waving at the gathering crowd who were cheering and looking up at her. We made our entrance from the large black doors to lively music provided by the Golowan Band and cheers from the crowd. Mazey Eve is a wild celebration and extremely crowded, so keeping near Penglaz and making one’s way through the crowd is quite a task! I watched Cassandra closely and on many occasions our movements were identical which boded well for future development.
Cassandra imbued a confidence and connection with the ‘Oss during her seventeen years of Teazing, something that would also develop within me after years of experience. One’s reflexes need to be quick due to the unpredictable behaviour of the ‘Oss and the crowd.
The Teazer’s role is to attempt to control the crowd as well as keep an eye on Penglaz, making space for her to move around and protecting her from over-enthusiastic intoxicated revellers who step into her path, or attempt to get too close, as this could result in injury. There were specific signals Cassandra used to direct Penglaz, to laugh, dance and also stand still if needed. The stomping and snapping move of the ‘Oss is one that takes practice as the timing of snapping the jaw and stepping need coordination. My son Rhys accomplished this move quickly and with a spectacular result.
After my first performance as Teazer, I received some positive feedback, plus a few criticisms from one, who thought I should teaze the ‘Oss in exactly the same way as Cassandra. At first I could not understand what he meant, however after years of experience I understood, as he advised me to watch her feet. Mine now move in the same way as the energy has ‘grounded’ within the performance. Another person did not agree with two Teazers being on the street instead of one, but Cassandra explained it was the best method for training. Whatever their viewpoints, I knew that I had done a good first performance for someone with no previous knowledge or experience of ‘Oss Teazing. My role with Cassandra and Penglaz in Penzance continued for two years and then Cassandra and I were dismissed from the festival over further political issues. (See Original Penglaz Reinstated). I was rather relieved to be out of this situation within the Golowan festival, as it allowed us freedom to perform in our own way. After leaving we re-named our ‘Oss Penkevyll and our Guise team Boekka.
Boekka has had three changes of colours, image, performers and riders throughout the years, however what remained constant was that Cassandra and I were united as Teazers. I performed alongside her for eight years and then, after twenty five years of Teazing, Cassandra handed on the role of head Teazer to me.
My Teazer role has developed over the years and the strongest connection and change within it occurred at the All Hallows Gathering in 2016 after my release from a situation that was, on reflection, draining the energies. The Teazer role needs total focus and I discovered dividing my energy between Morris dancing and Teazing did not work well.
I now have two apprentice Teazers as well as new ‘Oss riders. All are doing extremely well and Boekka is going from strength to strength. This year is our 9th year of performance (as our team first formed while our ‘Oss was still Penglaz during 2010). I also own and ride an ‘Obby ‘Oss by the name of Morvargh (Cornish for Sea Horse).
I have learnt some valuable lessons in the last ten years and am not the same person who moved to Cornwall eleven years ago, however I have some fond memories of those early days.
Cassandra has asked me to mention that I am the ONLY Teazer she has taught and I am proud of this fact.
It has certainly been an eventful but rewarding journey!
Our guise team Boekka had a wonderful time at our yearly visit to Chepstow meeting the fabulous Mari Lwyds and friends once again. This year the temperature was a little warmer without the frost of 2017.
We arrived on Friday and spent the evening in the atmospheric bar of the historic Greenman Backpackers Hostel. A warm welcome awaits and the staff made a concerted effort to ensure their customers were comfortable and content.
Mike who owns the hostel is also a member of the energetic Widders Morris and organizer of the Wassail event. This is an extremely busy weekend for him.
The programme for the day began earlier this year as the Maris met outside the Greenman Backpackers Hostel before processing to the castle. They performed their usual banter and song to gain entry to the hostel and participated in traditional song as their voices echoed with the marvelous acoustics in the basement of the ancient building.
My ‘Oss Morvargh’s debut was at this event, receiving a copious amount of attention and admiration. Our good friend Phil Larcher, rider of the Mari Lwyd complimented me on Morvargh’s decoration which is praise indeed from one who has a strong connection with the spirit of the Mari, her primitive energy and history.
The procession through the town was downhill, but with the weight of an ‘Oss, a slow and steady pace is needed for the riders when walking through the wet cobbled streets.
After the procession we gathered for the Wassail by the ancient castle. We had a little time for preparation to bring out the Lands End ‘Oss Penkevyll. Her rider this year was an extremely fit and muscular Welshman and his family were delighted to see this. He was a tall man, so Penkevyll had the best view of the event above the crowd.
We enjoyed performances by Widders Morris and Styx of Stroud. Morvargh danced to the music and I had a wonderful ‘work out’!
During the Wassail at Chepstow castle, Penkevyll remained on higher ground as the ground was extremely muddy due to a copious amount of rain in the days leading up to the event.
After the Wassail we made our way to the Chepstow Castle Inn where a Beauty Pageant had been arranged for the Maris. Penkevyll could not join us for this as she was too tall to enter the building.
Morvargh received a huge cheer from the audience on appearing and many journalists required information about her and how the ‘Oss connects with Cornish tradition. We informed them that owning an ‘Oss or a ‘beast’ has become a trend in recent years as many new ones have appeared in Cornwall. Penkevyll however was one of the first in West Cornwall after Penglaz in Penzance.
There were 21 Maris and ‘Osses in attendance this year, 10 more than last year. Even though the Beauty Pageant was arranged and each Mari or ‘Oss received a rosette they are so uniquely beautiful it would be too difficult to choose a winner. All of them were winners that day and a credit to their owners with the obvious hard work that had gone into their creation.
It was time for the meeting of the Welsh and English on the Old Wye Bridge by early evening. A projector screen was erected this year so that those who could not join us on the bridge were able to watch the ceremony. Boekka decided not to take our ‘Osses to the bridge as we took time out to enjoy this part without distraction. My apprentice Teazer had done a fabulous job assisting with Penkevyll and Morvargh during the day so we had earned the freedom to enjoy the atmosphere.
Scarlet certainly has the wild mischievous energy required for being a Teazer.
Our good friend Jason Semmens held our Cornish flag and did an impressive job of displaying it beside the Welsh and English flags.
After the bridge ceremony we arrived at Chepstow Museum for the Maris to once again sing their traditional Pwmco and gain entry. The handler of Mari Pontypwyl offered my apprentice Teazer the opportunity to guide her Mari into the Museum and I followed on as a guide. Earlier in the day Scarlet also had the opportunity to ride one of David Pitts smaller ‘Osses so it was an event full of new and delightful experiences for her.
The Chepstow Wassail event is a long and active day, but we enjoyed every minute. Team Boekka worked well together and I would like to thank Cassandra, Scarlet, our rider and John Isaac (who captured some fantastic images) for all their hard work.
The Boekka Guise team has experienced many changes since it first formed in 2010. A change in appearance meant the Teazers (who wore face masks) wore partial face blacking which is easier to wear and traditional for Guise performers. Penkevyll has had two changes of tatter and ribbon colours and now wears the traditional Cornish colours of black, white and gold.
We attempted to combine a Morris side with Boekka’s ‘Oss and Teazers as my son (our first rider) was eager to teach a Morris team. We had however heard from an experienced Morris dancer that when a group exceeds seven members, the group dynamics change and problems can occur. We found this to be the case, especially when recruits joined for reasons other than performance, so unsurprisingly they were not members for long. We also discovered it is not easy to recruit Morris dancers in West Cornwall as most local musicians and dancers prefer Cornish traditional performance and Morris dancing is considered an ‘English’ pursuit. Boekka eventually reverted to a Cornish ‘Oss and Teazer team and this works well.
We have three riders for Penkevyll the ‘Oss, two are local and the other lives further away. The rider who lives the farthest attended Sidmouth festival with his Morris team and then continued his journey to Cornwall to visit us. It was an ideal opportunity to get two of our riders together to practice with Penkevyll and the rider with more experience gave the newer one advice on ways of moving the ‘Oss to give her personality and character.
We also took the opportunity to photograph Penkevyll (Cassandra’s ‘Oss) and Morvargh (my ‘Oss) together.
I also had time for Teazing practice with Penkevyll. The energy of the ‘Oss is fast and wild and the Teazer blends with this energy incorporating fast, wild and ‘earthed’ movements. Slow movement with the ‘Oss can still have an edge but needs to be done in a certain way and Cassandra is the only Teazer who has accomplished this, considering some other performances I have seen.
This practice coincided with Boekka’s 7th Birthday, so we had a celebration together with Prosecco and cake.
After practice we spent the evening in our local pub the St Buryan Inn for music, singing and dancing which the locals and tourists enjoyed. Some of them moved from the lounge bar to the public one to listen and join in with dancing and singing.
We had a wonderful afternoon and evening. It is good to now have three riders (as well as my son who rode in the past) who not only respect but understand the spirit of Penkevyll. Boekka is now a small but happy group resulting in positive energies. Long may it last.