Nottingham History & Telling Tales with The Woolly Tellers
If you caught last week’s blog, you’ll know that earlier this month we thoroughly enjoyed ‘A Very Victorian Murder’ with The Woolly Tellers – an evening of suspense which brought Victorian Nottingham to life through the time-honoured art of spoken word storytelling.
Intrigued to hear more about these local chaps with a penchant for spinning yarn and unearthing local history, I spoke to Dave Brookes, one half of The Woolly Tellers, to talk local history, developing a performance, and keeping stories of Nottingham past alive.
VN: How did the two of you meet and begin performing as The Woolly Tellers?
Dave: We both met up when we were both attending the `Storytellers of Nottingham’ headed by the late Pete Davis. The group joined up with the Flying Donkeys from Derby, and were formed into the Tales From Two cities after we lost Pete. However, the groups have reformed into the The Storytellers of Nottingham, and Mick and I still attend and perform.
Pete encouraged us to step outside the norm. Storytellers often perform for storytellers. Some will tell traditional tales and nothing else. Both Mick and I like to explore, create and perform our own stories. Mick is a purist and only tells his own. I am a bit of a thief and steal the odd good tale, particularly traditional seasonal tales such as ‘Jack O lantern’ at Halloween. Pete Davis was an outstanding performer of the spoken word and I do tell some of his tales as I don’t think they should die, as I am sure they are not written down anywhere.
Mick’s style and mine are like chalk and cheese. I deliberate before and hone a tale, whilst Mick can fire off the cuff. We have been telling together for eight years or so, and we just hit it off, and have the same values. We’re very self critical, what we do is never good enough. We both desire to promote the spoken word to a greater audience.
VN: How do you come across the content for your shows?
We both pool ideas. They don’t always work. Some have been given to me as a gift. Sometimes with just a one line comment I have produced an entire story. I had a phone call from a masonic lodge and they asked ‘Have you any stories about the Masons?’. Of course I said yes and immediately telephoned Mick to ask if he had any. He replied, ‘No, not at all!’ Then they asked if I can make it a funny tale. Anyway I did perform and it worked! Mick’s tales just come constantly. He says he doesn’t know where they come from.
We love Nottingham history and the Saville story is a gift. This was a step up in many respects performance wise. We did it a few years ago when it was in a much different format. It has taken best part of a year and gone back to the drawing board a number of times. Then it just gels.
This performance we pulled apart and rewrote it completely. We take history and put meat on the bones. Add a couple of helpings of humanity, feelings and then create a story line. Take on the characters and deliver in first or third person, as it demands. The final ingredient is to believe the story, and deliver it well.
VN: What do you think sets Nottingham’s history apart?
Every town location in the British isles has incredible tales. Nottingham was a wealthy Georgian Market town with the largest market place in the country outside London. Its own bank (Smiths) stands on the corner of Exchange walk on the Old Market Square. The rich rural countryside was surrounded by estates; Charworth Musters, Willoughby Spencers, Duke of Newcastle etc and all these estates boundaries met. All rich agricultural land. Then came the industrial revolution and people poured into the city off the land and the population of Nottingham expanded five fold. The town could not spread and expand so they formed Narrow Marsh, Broad Marsh, New Sneinton. Built on marshy ground. House thrown up, five stories. Thirty to privy, little sanitation, even the human waste was collected and sold.
A hotbed of revolution and disorder with the burning of Colwick Hall and Nottingham Castle, which was stopped before they got to Wollaton Hall. The Luddites and their mythical leader Nedd Ludd emanated from Nottingham and spread north. Nottingham was believe the only town to come under martial law. Travellers often asked entering Nottingham often asked ‘Was it safe tonight?’ Byron said in the [House of] Lords that ‘Nottingham had the worst slums in the empire’.
VN: Finally, do you have any favourite historical sites within Nottinghamshire?
Mike will often reflect on the history of Sneinton as he lived there in the 40s and 50s and strongly believes the proper Nottingham accent emanates from that area and is unique. I am a born Derbyshire lad. I suppose Stapleford and Sandiacre where I grew up would be a place for me. Having lived on the borders all my life but worked in Notts all my working life, I have scattergun approach to favourite areas, which alters as you never stop learning. Its more of the period that appeals. What is frightening is now I go to a museum and see equipment I once used!
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Upcoming Woolly Tellers events…
- Dark Tales & Dire Deeds
The Malt Cross – Friday 27th October As Halloween approaches this will be an alternative performance featuring dastardly tales that take us to the darker side of human nature. Tickets are £8.00 and bookable through The Malt Cross website.
- Christmas Tales
The Malt Cross – Friday 8th December
Come along to the Malt Cross and listen to a performance of spoken word with Mick Waysall and Dave Brookes. Sit back and let The Woolly Tellers entertain you with humorous and magical tales from this festive time of year. Tickets £8.00 bookable through The Malt Cross.
- Christmas at The Hall
Wollaton Hall – Saturday 16th December
This will be the same performance as Christmas Tales, but in the magical location of Wollaton Hall’s grand hall. Tickets £12.00 (This includes wine, chocs and mince pies!)