Farewell flap from the Old Parrots

The latest line-up of the Old Parrot Band: from front ' Chris Dickinson, John Sykes, Bridget Skanski-Such and Paul Dickinson. Photo: SG151011-38MD
The latest line-up of the Old Parrot Band: from front ' Chris Dickinson, John Sykes, Bridget Skanski-Such and Paul Dickinson. Photo: SG151011-38MD
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THE Old Parrot Band’s farewell gig was held on Saturday when current and former band members, friends and supporters gathered at the Sugar Beet Club in Spalding for the final performance.

For the uninitiated, the Monty Python parrot sketch was first shown in 1969 and involved Michael Palin trying to persuade disgruntled customer John Cleese that a parrot in his shop was not in fact dead, but simply resting.

It made for hilarious TV at the time and provided a name for the band that was formed for one gig only back in October, 1981.

The band was put together to play at a ceilidh at Quadring Village Hall which was raising funds for Gosberton House School, where John Sykes had worked. When he was approached, John agreed to provide music and then had to set about finding people to play with him.

John and his former wife Penny ran Spalding Folk Club and so approached Patrick Purves, a folk club regular living in Crowland, who agreed to play the squeeze box, while Penny played the pedal organ. Penny persuaded Dave Jones, then head teacher at Weston, to be caller – on the understanding it was for one gig only.

It was Patrick who contacted Paul Dickinson, who recalls: “I said I’d do it just for the one booking. My take on it was I didn’t want my whole life taken over by going out every weekend and never being able to do anything else.” At this point both Paul and his wife Chris chortle because that’s exactly what did happen, as both of them have played in the band ever since.

“It was a fantastic success and we got offered several more bookings as a result,” explains Paul.

There have been changes in the band and the instruments over the years. Some of these include Dave Jones being replaced by Robin Gracey as caller, something he’s done for 15 years. John switched to playing electric guitar as well as melodeon. Patrick left and flute player Chris Drinan joined, adding sax to his repertoire in time. When Chris left, he was replaced by Judith Rousseau, who played clarinet and oboe. Penny, who got rid of her foot pumping keyboard and bought an electronic keyboard, eventually left the band in 2003, when Bridget Skanski-Such joined. The most recent Parrots were John Skyes, fiddle and concertina player Paul, Chris on percussion and Bridget Skanski-Such on keyboard.

The switch to electronic instruments reflected the changing ceilidh scene, according to Paul, who says it has become “more noisy and rocky” in later years.

Paul adds: “In the lifetime of the Parrot Band there’s been an emergence of English ceilidh dancing, a more vigorous and energetic style of dancing which I suppose grew out of the kind of country dancing we did at school.

“It’s for all ages and ability is not a requirement. It’s just fun. The caller tells you what to do and everyone expects to get the moves wrong.”

The gigs have changed too. Whereas the Old Parrot Band played for village hall committees, PTAs and charity events in the early years, a lot of the work in later times has been weddings and other private parties.

However, one of their regular gigs has been an annual booking for Hope and Homes for Children and The Old Parrot Band plans to re-form for that one night only next year – March 10 at South Holland Centre in Spalding (8pm).

That’s not the last we’ve heard of the parrots though because John and Paul have already formed a new band called Norweigian Blues – another reference to the parrot sketch. They are both song writers, winning individually and jointly in the Write a Lincolnshire Folk Song competition, and have both written dance tunes for the band.

The ceilidh work continues too with the Beltonas, made up of Paul, Chris and Penny as well as Andy MacKay and caller Sue Gray.

These parrots are certainly not dead, but it doesn’t sound as though they are resting either.