A SIDMOUTH LECTURE 1994
"YEARS OF MORRIS CHANGE & THE SIDMOUTH FESTIVAL"
This is a personal perception from forty years of involvement of the morris world. It is wider than most people's, although no one person has seen more than a small fraction of the morris, especially in recent years. There are many people who have made major or minor contributions to the modern morris. Although not many are mentioned here by name I would like them remembered and thanked. Typically, as most ultimately influential people have done, I started as a rebel and am now a pillar, and the consequential changes in my perspective may be also very significant to what I have to say. It has been seen from a point of view generated by a working class upbringing. It is intended to be interesting rather than profound, putting some happenings and insights into a context. One that ought to be obvious is that older people were young once, and have had similar concerns and frustrations, but they also have gathered other responsibilities and things that they have to do with their time. The young do not appreciate the consequences of an age gap and have not been around long enough to see that changes are actually occuring, although the pace will be necessarily slower than they would like. I want to draw attention to some of such tensions inherent in the history of the morris.
The SIDMOUTH Festival has reflected the changes in the attitudes that have developed over the years. It has been a showcase for new departures and a mecca for many fresh sides, especially since the advent of the massed performance on the esplanade at Sunday lunchtime. Unfortunately the growth in the numbers of Festival and of town visitors from 100 to 50,000 attendees has stressed the town's resources and forced many changes, no only in the moving to an ever widening range of sites but also in an erosion of freedoms for the morris.
At one time, not so long ago, the world was noticably different. The experience, roles and attitudes only three or four generations away were not as today, even the ordinary things which conditioned people, such as the dirt, the smells, the flies, the quiet, the being solitary, the limited horizons, and having no strangers but still having a crowded family life. We need to understand the past, or the why of what has been happening, in order to grasp the present. Much of what I mention is water under the bridge and not intended as a raking over of old sores or to imply criticism. It is interesting how well thought through attitudes were limited by the time and era and have had long term effects which we can only appreciate now with our greater knowledge of the world.
At the start of the growing wider interest in the morris there was a common belief in absolute standards, although for the morris this could only have been in the minds of the propagators because not one of them had seen a morris in its supposed "heyday". This attitude led to non-evolutionary and authoritarian concepts of dance interpretation, because no one knew what variation was tolerable, and to the disputes over authenticity, eg. between the Mary Neal and Cecil Sharp parties over William Kimber. Incidentally it is difficult now to appreciate the impact in London on the young women of both groups of his music, dances and appearance. It is easy to understand why he tried to keep the contacts within his own control. There was a later fear of the apparent simplifying changes that appeared to have been introduced even at the many traditional revivals which were found suprisingly common, and which presented intellectual problems against the strict interpretation of what tradition meant then current. There were serious attempts by Sharp to reconstruct and publish the oldest forms of the dances. Heated correspondance on the manner of the performance of the details of the morris appeared in the newspapers, eg. the Morning Post, which sheet incidentally survived for many years as the court page in the Daily Telegraph.
The EFDSS lived with the Cecil Sharp legacy. But how did he know what it should be? He knew what he wanted it to have been like, and it had to be so to make it generally acceptable in his time. He had no traditional model that he wanted to show other than William Kimber, and he made disparaging remarks about the current teams. He told his followers who had started the annual pilgrimage to ignore the detail of the dancing at Bampton, which even at that time was somewhat variable. Most of his sources were quite old men. Only Jinky Wells and Bill Kimber were middle aged. The then recently active younger people at Abingdon, Bidford, Bledington, Chipping Campden, Headington, Ilmington, and at Upton near Didcot (in the Sherborne tradition) were ignored. Maud Karpeles claimed that Sharp based his own views on the step and style of even older dancers such as Bampton's Charles Tanner! The approach gave Cecil Sharp and his heirs immediate control by eliminating the impact of any independent access to sources. Douglas Kennedy had said that this was Sharp's policy and he also made observations in interview on his own uncertainties about Sharp's interpretations of the movement actions of old dancers, eg. Taylor at Longborough and the team at Eynsham.
The collectors missed the significance of the traditional performance of the morris and it being properly a young men's activity with one or two older men to add responsibility and hence provide respectability. Its economic background has been recognised only recently, both as a source of income but also in the impact of the cost of suitable dressing. The popularisers had views about the role and use of the morris that may never have been true. We are today still seeking to describe the magic of the morris and the significance of maleness whilst simultaneously adapting to today's social mores. Age has different ideas as to what is acceptable behaviour and what are to be the reasons for performance. These issues can still be seen in the behaviour of new and of university sides. You have only to read the media discussion on the social background and history of yob behaviour to realise that the morris is a more self disciplined example of the young persons' culture, which has still to be studied properly rather than just complained about, even if whingeing is a traditional pastime. Unfortunately there is a thin line between modern yobbishness and serious criminal behaviour, which makes thinking about such linkages difficult for most people. In the past the wilder aspects of youth culture were only available and tolerated for the rich, leading to the double standards separating "yobbishness" from "high spirits".
We in the folk world with a concern for preservation perhaps should guard against ignorantly and unnecessarily suppressing any true folk life behaviour patterns and of deliberately or inadvertently changing the tradition by guiding it into new areas, particularly in this case of domination by older less sympathetic people. Historically in any field, control by councils, guilds or other elderly staffed bodies has led to eventual stagnation. It is all too easy for mature and dominant personalities to impose views regardless of their unappreciated long term impact. It is not our task to adjust society but to fit within it, but traditional behaviour was often a realistic solution to a real problem. Older people holding on to the morris in good faith but denying it to young persons contributes a little to society's problems with the teen and young twenties age group. To preserve this manifestation of our culture we continue to need enough sides with low average ages. But sides grow older because they don't give up and only recruit in kind. This should also be seen as natural and quite acceptable to the public, even though such "old" sides contribute to the overall poor public image of the morris. There is the compelling two way principle that people who want to express themsleves through dance should not be disuaded. It is always better than no morris at all. However we cannot be fixed. Society's appreciation of the value of what we do is constantly changing. Today the existance as well as the content of the media changes the balance of people's experiences of the world, so the morris has to respond to what are now different expectations. An obvious mechanism already exists to pass on the necessary performance skills to young sides without imposing on young people old role and body language models, although many older clubs do not accept or even recognise their responsibility to such sides. In looking forward it is dangerous to guess which of today's expressions of the morris will be that successful in the long term.
The problem of having middle class attitudes within the morris is that they are seldom recognised by their holders for what they are, and they do not provide a grasp of the culture from which the morris is drawn and so see no issues involved in its deliberate modification. This concerned point of view has been expressed over the years by a group which included such involved people as Mervyn Plunkett, Reg Hall and Frank Purslow. However there is not much that we can do about it, and thus it is not worth agonising over, no matter how much it is to be regretted. It has been almost seriously suggested that the role of the EFDSS was to give those who might interfere with the surviving tradition something else to do.
From Sharp's position the morris could not be allowed to be seen as popular culture as were the Kitchen Lancers and other village level Old Time social dances, partly because the EFDSS and its predecessors were dependent on gifts and government department grants and also because popular culture was subject to fashion. The older "folk" art part of folk culture had to be elevated. Missed in the arguements were the important differences between the survival processes of superstition, songs and social activities which exist because of the contrasting levels of community involvement. Most of the acedemic study of the "traditional process" has been related to the one-on-one transmission, not to activities involving a group who have to exist in the wider community with a role that is not perceived as essential by or for the responsible local hierarchy.
Instructional classes were the cry of the times, for the approaches available then to meet the challengewere still new and inevitably simple. We must remember that compulsory schooling for all had only started in Sharp's lifetime. One of his objectives was influencing the Board of Education to insert the more artistic "folk" material of both song and dance into the schools to catch the next generation. This was an age when there were many "do gooders" on both sides of the Atlantic. However my experience of talking to villagers on the receiving end was that to the villages the classes had a social not a revival or improving role. Unfortunately it was a movement started and dominated by women who had few other channels for active expression and it made prowess visible by badges, certificates and competitions. This is not to denigrate them as their position in society then was as much imposed as chosen, even if they did not then realise it, and as many had found ways to compensate it was not realised to be an issue. The EFDS structure involved many teachers, growing out of the early background of the Chelsea College of Physical Education, part of the South Western Polytechnic, the simpler material available being seen as suitable for use in schools. It was county organised and village based and worked hard to be true to its declared objectives, but it could only give what was acceptable within the opinions and prejudices of those with the ultimate local and national control.
THE BEFORE SIDMOUTH DAYS
On Festivals Rolf Gardiner's published view in the early 1920's was that the EFDS should become the English Festival Dance Society sponsoring displays by the best traditional performers. It took fifty years to happen! Gardiner had led the first public hikes across the Berkshire Downs after WW I. His 1923 Cotswold walking tour with his friend Christopher Scaife met a couple of the surviving dancers and was one major factor in initiating the first Travelling Morrice tour in 1924 following the collapse of a proposed dance visit to Germany. Believing in the need for a reconciliation between the peoples of the countries, he had a lifelong involvement with the countries around Northern Germany and called his later irregular magazine "North Sea and Baltic". He was seen to be in dispute with Sharp and his monstrous horde of women and was dropped from the stage performance of Sharp's "Old King Cole" at Cambridge. Despite this action, he was strongly and lastingly affected by having been dancing with the Travelling Morrice on the last day in Adderbury as Sharp died. He became involved with Mary Neal after WW I through the Kibbokift organisation and she passed to him some of her material to assist his arguements. Through his uncle Balfour Gardiner the composer, he bought Gore Farm in Dorset and then the Mill at Fontmell Magna and eventually formed the Springhead Ring from townee professionals who wished to rebuild roots with the land through work camps. An enlightened view for the time, but also adopted by the fascists. They were in some ways romantics but with nothing to do with the folk tradition. I remember an AIDA performance one evening where all shared the singing and the playing without any other audience and the gods descended by cable across the mill pond. He went with a coach party to sing privately in the churches along the west side of the East/West German border as a civilised protest. Rolf Gardiner was practical as well as visionary, the farm was as wood based and self sufficient as possible and he showed later his considerable skill in organising the countries flax production during WW II. The family was involved with farming in Rhodesia. His ambition to dance the "Gallant Hussar" on his 60th birthday was fulfilled.
The major and long lasting influence on men's teams has been the Cambridge MM, and its style was adopted by the new morris clubs with the titles of squire, bagman, and a feast, although the tradition mostly called them captain, secretary and substituted a share out. This remains an effective approach in today's world. It was found that having guests at the CMM annual feast was too slow even in those days to bring all morris dancers within a single organisation. Discussions led to the formation of the Morris Ring in 1934, self protectingly men only, involving most existing male groups. There were Ring meetings, always one each year at Thaxted where the morris had started under Mary Neal's influence. They were notable for the small numbers involved and the essential collective Saturday morning practice before the afternoon tour. At the Wargrave meeting in 1936, where all 38 attendees camped on Major Fryer's lawn which backed onto the Thames, Bill Kimber played for the instructional and Jinky Wells fooled on the tour. Henry and Percy Hemmings met them dancing in the Bury at Abingdon. The follow up party visited Tom Hemmings and also the Russells at Eynsham, and these contacts helped to spur their revivals in 1937. At Stow-on-the-Wold in 1938 surviving dancers were invited to the end of tour feast and a Bledington dancer spoke about the old days while Mary Neal, who had recently been made a CBE, was a guest of honour. Unfortunately little was noted or later remembered of what was said.
The inherent respectibility implied in the records from this period is now a little misleading. Any history, oral, files or the media is severely limited by its omissions. It was convenient to ignore such aspects as the public house culture into which few respectable women were allowed. The public bar male exclusiveness which could lead to embarrasing remarks aimed at any women died with the great pub rebuilding since the war to tap new markets. Saturday night fist fights were common, but the police's and populace's attitudes were more tolerant as they were still conditioned by an even older rougher and coarser age. Not suprisingly there was a greater sense of fair play around, which reflected into limits on violent behaviour which are now often ignored. Unfortunately every time any group or person pushes behaviour beyond its previously acceptable bounds it widens them for the rest of us, but this degradation is ignored by the perpetuators.
People had uncritical views on what was claimed about the tradition. They were ill-informed and little experienced and community value judgements were mostly against common culture. Most "research" was very limited and "authoritative" statements were mostly opinions. Even today people need very little evidence to support what they want to believe. What was said was determined as much by marketing messages as it could not be "popular", consequently there were many outside persons publically critical of the movement because of its inherent inconsistencies. Many of the views held until recently have proven by better founded research to be incorrect, arising often from the immature state of the turn of the century social sciences. The morris was mainly seen as dances, not as something that was to be performed but to be demonstrated.
Despite the widespread teaching and the grass roots involvements, a university class background and attitudes existed which dominated the movement's leaders. At Thaxted could be seen the vicarage lawn culture, and at the Cheltenham Summer School the public school. There was the goal of dancing complex Playford and Long Sword but not the traditional and more primitive forms of social dance which grew up later with the public dances following WW II and the arrival of the american string and square dances. Morris in the late 1930's was discovering that the "tradition" as it was then understood could still be tapped in the Cotswolds. But the existance of good mss sources were largely unrecognised. That there were traditional dancers and details of performance to find elsewhere from Yorkshire to Worcestershire and the southern counties was unsuspected. There was a hiatus in the morris during WW II and it was not until 1949-50 before it started up again in a big way and even then it took several years to settle down. Attitudes and possibilities were changing. The early 1950's was the time of Peter Kennedy, being groomed to follow Douglas and collecting songs and social dances, and involved in the weekly BBC broadcasts from villages. It had been the policy to minimise impacts on the tradition other than by giving encouragement as even well meaning advice influenced the tradition. Violet Alford persuaded Marshfield mummers that the indoor style of performance was traditionally correct for all circumstances, based on some theoretical judgement, whereas the uninfluenced Crookham Village mummers now use the outside style exclusively as indoor performances don't happen. Peter Kennedy told Bacup that their fourth quadrille garland figure was modern and they hardly ever perform it.
The impressive achievement has been fifty years of preservation. It was not really a revival, more of a transfer of interest from one section of our English society to another. We must be very grateful. There were too few numbers involved for there to have been a real impact on the wider world or on the interpretation of the roots material, although there was a drift in the stylisation of each Cotyswold dance tradition. Tgere was so little that morris was still unrecognisable by the public for what it was when seen on the street after WW II.
Before Sidmouth happened the pattern for participating events was set by the Stratford-on-Avon Festival and its programme of public displays and busking. But the initial freedom on the streets there was gradually curtailed, a trend that was to be echoed elsewhere. The attitudes of control and limitation showed an ignorance of the nature of the morris, for example in its role as a safety valve.
Inherently the morris is more than just a public display of pleasant movement to simple music. Yet after all these years we have not assembled the positive arguements in its favour but still treat them as self evident.
The festival started in 1955, run by the EFDSS with 100 attendees under Nibs Matthews as dance director. It started on the August Bank Holiday Monday.
Amongst the foremost teams in the late 1950's were the Beaux of London City, with Jack Hamilton as fool, who had an annual Thames Valley tour, and Greenselves with their influential Chipperfield weekend. They could do a little of everything known, eg. at the first Broadstairs Folk Festival in 1966, Greensleves demonstrated Cotswold, Winster, Rapper, Flamborough, Royton and social dances, all with appropriate costume changes, and were praised for it. Headington, Beaux and Westminster came to Sidmouth in 1966 and Hammersmith for the first time in 1967.
This was the era of the Friday evening phone round to complete a side for the Saturday. There appeared to me to be a peas-in-a-pod attitude which expected interchangability, although in practice integration was often difficult, because the more subtle points of timing and emphasis had not been codified. When there were very small clubs and much less personal mobility, dual membership and moves to other sides were frowned upon. At the Chichester Ring Meeting in the 1960's, the Martlett MM put up the then unheard of number of twenty one men. Some of today's sides complain if they don't have three sets up at practices. Their performance limitations often led new sides to the inclusion of singing, playing instruments, comic stunts, and to the use of jigs, all very traditional and a good step towards returning to what it should have been!
At first Sidmouth created displays from the paying attendees. A set of golden tabards probably still exists. After a Saturday evening get together they were formed into busking groups and had some rehersal each morning to ensure a common if limited repertoire. There were bus tours for the buskers and money collecting shows arranged in the neighbouring towns, and these trips included the foreign teams once they started to be invited from 1965. As East Devon was involved in its sponsorship, the Festival was seen as greater than Sidmouth. For two years, 1959-60, the Festival was taken to Exmouth. It was back again in 1961 with Bill Rutter as administrator and Tony Foxworthy as dance director initially, then Ron Smedley in 1965. There were also small shows away from the town centre for the local population, eg. at the recreational ground by the Cross below the Balfour Arms. Because there was so little motor traffic in the town the buskers could use the esplanade all day and dance in the roads outside pubs. Morris was even danced on the eastern shingle bank before the beach changes occured, as well as on the eroded western rocks at low tide! The crowd densities were much lower and major Festival shows could use the small Connaught Gardens site over by the western cliffs till 1970.
When the cohorts produced by the 1944 Education Act with its free Grammar School places had arrived in the folk world, the new professional people from the right culture rediscovered their roots. It appeared to coincide with a rapid growth in the numbers of new teams. We really need a histogram of the growth in the numbers with time to draw proper conclusions as to the timing of the influences.
There was an annual Ring Instructional Meeting at Cecil Sharp House, eagerly attended, covering new, for example Lichfield, living traditions such as Headington Quarry, and the best of the current interpretations. In the 1960's the older Abingdon men volunteered an instructional because they wanted their dances to be accepted into the common repertoire and not to be continually denigrated. It almost happened but failed partly because of problems in transporting the men to London after Major Fryer's vehicles were no longer available. The existing morris repertoire was the 80 Cecil Sharp dances plus Schofield's Bledington, Fieldtown, and Bampton notations : published to be consistent with Sharp books : Peck's booklet with a better approach to Bampton, Schofield's recollection of Quarry : Kimber had said that EFDSS did not want to know about Sharp's books errors : Hamer's articles on Adderbury and Brackley in the English Dance and Song Magazine, and then there was Maud Karpeles' Royton and Upton on Severn. There was the start of new thinking with the creativity from Westminster Morris. To be invited to their Day of Dance in central London was an accolade. Some notes and interpretation on Longborough and Fieldtown had limited circulation. They created "Old Harry" and a leapfrog to the "Golden Vanity" and worked up dances from the Butterworth mss. Odd dance interpretations existed in the Cambridge and Oxford sides which could have represented the start of a traditional process but these were eventually rationalised away, eg. Oxford's Badby, where in the crossing figures the dancers went as far as they could in the first half rather than returning to place. This was a negative aspect of making information available and of bringing it to everyone's attention.
Oxford University MM, who when they restarted after WW II found that they were already a member of the Morris Ring, their offshoot the touring Ancient Men, and Oxford City, who were devasted for a time when Headington Quarry formed, did much to encourage and sustain the recognised traditional sides through their common love of the dance. Although there were perceptive folk who saw this involvement as ultimately damaging to the surviving tradition because it would have to adjust. The Cambridge MM with their associated TM week long travelling two or more times a year, and at least to the Cotswolds every other year, built on the idea of the traditional tours of the 19th century, often visiting areas that were weakly populated by morris sides. I have thought about encouraging a dancing trip more closely simulating an old walking tour. The Ancient Men prided themselves on a very wide repertoire, and often had to practice new material all week to avoid repeating themselves! Not all sides with dance innovations were easily accepted. The Farnborough Morris from Hampshire were much criticised by some people for adapting dances from other traditions into the Bledington style and probably for being proud of it. This was basically a Ravensborne Morris idea, and encouraged by the then Ring squire.
Following the "discovery" of the Lichfield dances in the mid 1950's, they were interpreted and danced in the EFDSS annual Albert Hall show, at the Lichfield Ring Meeting, where all present danced the well remembered processional, and at several Instructionals. This was progress within the then current attitudes and a bigger step forward than was then realised as it opened the door to exploiting other material. The recovery of dances from the mss on the Cotswold traditions began about 1960. I was inspired to start by the Helm index to the Sharp mss at Clare College and finding access to a microfilm copy in the Vaughan Williams Library. Besides consulting the Sharp mss, I met various collectors including Carey, Karpeles, Schofield, and Hamer who were generous with access to their own work, and visited and talked with the survivors of the early TM tours and other key pre-war dancers such as Ralph Honeybone. He had been a young dancer under Tiddy at Ascott, his batman at one period in WW I, a post WW I scholar at Oxford and for a time a member of the HQ display team until he settled as a teacher at Evesham. The approach to the material that we had then still aimed for accuracy of reproduction in the dances rather than inspiration. The overall position was reviewed by the Ring Advisory Council who were provided with draft papers and lists of dances, tunes, titles, etc. but the attitude favoured was transmission only by word of foot. Dr Peck as Recorder kept all the copies of draft examples of publications. Via Arthur Warland I had seen an early version of Lionel Bacon's notebook, started in his Whitchurch days, when Arthur, an ex-Whitchurch man, was a Guildford Morris dancer and I had corresponded with Lionel about the dances I found.
The exploitation followed midweek Thames Valley Nights which started in 1961 at Jim Brooks' and then Chris Panton's houses. It led to Morris Ring Instructionals in Oddington and Wheatley. We were at Sheffield giving such an instructional the day President John Kennedy was killed in 1963.
In the 1960's in Bampton the weekend started with the shirt race and a barn dance on the Saturday, pub sessions and a practice on the Sunday, dancing all of Monday, ending with street dancing including social dancing outside the Horseshoe. They were so stiff on the Tuesday! The morris would stop in the late afternoon for milking until the key dancers took jobs at Smiths in Witney. It was in 1962 that I bought a cine camera because no one seemed to be recording any of the traditional morris and it was all on hard times. Later Bampton invited sides for the evening. Some dancers were so insensitive that they walked around all day in kit and often had to be shooed out of gardens well after the local morris party had left.
Until 1970 there were the annual Halsway Manor advanced morris weekends organised by Bob Bradbury, which influenced a whole generation of eventual leaders. Nibs Matthews led the first about 1964. There are many anecdotes of the Saturday nights and Sunday mornings. Bob used to arrange for a coach load of women for the Saturday evening social dance or party, but at the magic hour of midnight it would revert back to a male morris event.
Much new material was tried, including the known North West morris and what became the Border dances. Typical was Ascot-under Wychwood of which Hugh Rippon later took an interpretation to Herga and then another to Coventry. Later I found after a Blackmore MM workshop that Royal Liberty had had an independent start into this tradition, derived I think directly from the Sharp mss.
In my workshops I was exploiting the differences between the publications and the mss, even though I believed that the publications were probably the author's best views, although there was evidence of adjustment for consistency with previous publications and of Sharp's modifications to collected material for his later editions. The intention was to force people to choices rather than to repetition, so that it was not a museum morris, and it could become a question of interpretations rather than replications. It would then be closer to traditional behaviour, a continual rejuvenating of the heritage, and with the dancers being in charge of the dances not the reverse. Changes to the root material were not encouraged, particularly those appearing due to ignorance, but the possibility was admitted.
Morris workshops at Sidmouth started about 1970 and were confined to men.
I developed a personal style of a tradition per workshop session. In one and a half to two hours I found that I said all that was needed on a particular tradition without imposing styles that would be inconsistent with a dancer's club's practice. The detailed teaching of unfamiliar dances was not realised by many leaders to be a fraud as they could not know the detail, so that it became just an ego trip. There is a difference between classes and workshops, one is to hone a dance and the other for the formation of attitudes. Creative morris material was not yet available as it is today. I found that it was a mistake to try and make annual workshop contributions at Sidmouth, the Festival deserves the best to be inspirational, and freshness is important.
This was a time of defined Sidmouth Booking busking sites which were booked and often advertised in the Festival's daily newsletter.
A great long term influence from the 1970's was the morris at Bath University. I first met Eric Reynolds, known as Tubby it was said because of a resemblance to Tony "Tub" Hancock, in the first National Folk Week during 1967. He had danced with Bathampton and then Apley. That week I also talked with Hargreaves of Evesham collecting fame at Hereford while watching Chipping Campden, having seen earlier in the week the first public performance by Leyland. They were out with women doing country dances as well, so they were not drinking. Bath discovered that the folk world stopped for the Albert Hall Show so they created the "Albert Out of Town" weekend of workshops, dances and shows. He and I became a well known double act, influencing each others styles of calling, teaching and playing. My personal debt to him is enormous. Later I was able to work up with the Bath City men on an annual cycle the Cotswold traditions of Ducklington, Stanton Harcourt, and Ascot-under-Wychwood, leading to a Ring Instructional in Ducklington, a first for a young side from a university.
Halsway Manor became too expensive, so it was followed by the Cardiff Morris weekends at Boys Town, St Athan, near Cardiff Airport and Barry Island, and mostly held in an unheated gymnasium in the depth of winter.
How was it originally done? It is unknowable. One insight that I have gained through my failure has been that one cannot establish how it was done, how it was as collected, or even how it was taught from then onwards. No morris dancer appears able to show how their teacher moved, only how they do it themselves now. The dancing of some sides looks like that of their foreman, but also club style can persist for 25 years or more. This makes the current mature morris the reference for the traditions as there is nothing else to tap.
All the early collectors and interpreters of the 50's and 60's have gone or are now inactive and the next decade's are going.
The key step following the workshops was the BLACK BOOK written and produced by the late Dr Lionel Bacon and drawing on the experience of the interpretation phases. It would have been unacceptable coming from anyone else. We now had 380 dances. The book production had to be a several stage process. There was an uneven result as the first sections were committed for printing before the presentation style matured. The Abingdon, Chipping Campden and Evesham dances were omitted. The latter because Russell Wortley wanted to publish them first in English Dance and Song.
There were further publications around including audio tapes and printed tune books. These did not face up to the problems of the music and the dancers working together. Country dance musicians learn to lead the dancers, which is not desirable in the morris as the dancers have normally a greater understanding of what they want to do than do the musicians. Dance booklets addressed steps not style, and books like Tony Barrand's are still rare.
The Morris Ring archives produced several evidence summaries, some rather unthinkingly as with Stretton-on-Fosse and Lower Swell, which were Bennett's Ilmington and a Longborough respectively. These summaries could be the basis for a new interpretation of an existing tradition but not of finding new traditions from well worked over sources. The Fieldtown set was not a complete collection of available material. It would have been better if there had been some checking around before rushing into publication.
I circulated unsigned and undated mss on all the forms of traditional dance at workshops, Halsway and St Athan, and at any other opportunity. A set of early material was given to the Vaughan Williams library and to the Morris Ring archive. Then Tony Barrand in the USA published through the CDS of America a vastly larger five volume edited set of the material that I has passed to him, and which is still purchasable. I continue to produce sets of notations and essays based on lectures.
Sides are now producing publications of their own distinctive "new" traditions, not all of which are successful I have to admit.
I came in 1968 with Griff Jones to film on 16 mm the invited Loftus long sword team in a quiet spot, we could still do that in late 1970's. They had long and short versions of their dance, depending on the performance circumstances. Other sides came to Sidmouth just for the morris despite the wealth of other activities. They wanted the accolade of just being there, for example Adderbury, England's Glory, Shropshire Bedlams and Martha Rhodens Tuppenny Dish, and Windsor in skirts, came in the mid 1970's. Sidmouth Morris workshops were held in the Drill Hall and Ham Marquee. The informal Morris was performed in the ford, at the Ham turning, in the road at the Marine Bars and outside the Swan.
The EFDSS staff felt the pressure for something which would be widely accep[table for use in mixxed sex workshops and eventually in public performance. Bill Rutter's women's ritual dance sessions were initiated in 1972, although it involved neither ladies or ritual. The terms were chosen to avoid giving anyone offence but were still a little denigrating. They were presented with otherwise seldom used material, including 19th century dances mentioned in the Dorset Friendly Society lists, eg. Spithead Fleet, enthused over at the time by John Kirkpatrick. There was not a great deal of material in existance in the mid 1970's. It was a trigger. Women went home from Sidmouth, talked and formed the first women's clubs.
There were no precedents, and the women had little self confidence. It was not known what a feminine morris would be like. There had been children's and teenage teams, but most were thought then to be derivative from men's dances. The feminist position was only beginning to be appreciated. I am still surprised how we all accepted the previous position without question. To be as good as a men's side seemed an uninspiring goal.
The dances used included North West Morris (what we called Knutsford I believe was really the Leyland Junior dance as seen at Knutsford), Garland dances, the morris like Isle of Man dance Mona's Delight, Wheatley, and Sam Bennett's morris at Ilmington which had been done by women and then children. The use of this version as a starting point led eventually to a dispute between the revived Ilmington village side and England's Glory which reached the media. Ilmington also scuppered a proposal for a linkage between the Cotswold sides because it would have involved women's teams.
This was also the time of Whitethorn in long Laura Ashley dresses, but it did not take long for such mistakes to be rectified.
A number of dance tradition types were initiated about this time.
There was little North West and Garland dancing around : Bacup, Manley, Manchester, then Colne, John O'Gaunt and Garstang but the folk world ignored Carnival Morris, survivors such as Altringham and other relics. Recognised morris had to come from within the "folk" world. There was still a looking back in time. Welsh "Border" morris, not the Welsh "Marches" which would seem historically more correct, although the majority of the counties are normally grouped as the West Midlands, has existed in its modern form only since the Ledbury workshop in January 1972. I know because my youngest son Reuben was being born. That weekend involved Tubby and left Betty babysitting the Dommetts. I had published a set of notations called "Other Morris" because it included similar dances from elsewhere, such as Kimber's Headington Morris Reels and Steeple Claydon. Such had been used at an EFDSS weekend residential Staff Conference because of the already mentioned perceived need to have some easy morris that could be used in mixed sex situations. Then there were the Dorset and Wiltshire Friendly Society Stave dances taught to Bath by 1978, and worked up by Abercorn, but only Ursa Major have brought them to Sidmouth, although others eg. the mixed Dorset Knobs and Knockers have danced them on the front. The dances have not been workshopped at Sidmouth because of their limited regional interest.
One influential feature at this time were the half hour talks at the Bowd Marquee before or between the morris workshops. The pressure on the workshop programme has eliminated such possibilities. The more recent talks at less convenient locations and timings do not get to the same sort of audience.
There were now three national coordinating organisations, rather than regional ones. That in itself is not a problem, other activities, such as the Carnival Associations, have many more, for similar aggregate numbers The core of the men's problem with sharing the morris with the women appeared to centre on finding what was being lost rather than what was being gained. They had seen what had happened to the NW tradition when it had centred on the carnivals with their competitions for children and teenagers. The issues often arose because men had no relevant knowledge of our social history and therefore had a naturally inappropriate response. The issue was of history, based on facts, versus the past, which is the understanding in people's minds. Women as a group have now spent 25 years working on the issues and problems, but the men, perhaps not realising the significance of new perspectives, have hardly started into theirs. I expect to see change and progress occuring as the balance swings again.
There was a Morris Ring Advisory Council meeting, of ex and current Ring Officials, mostly elderly, plus area representatives, which discussed the attitude to be taken towards the imminent growth of women's sides. It was concluded that the constituent clubs would not welcome any compromise, despite the fact that all the members who spoke owed something about their morris to individual women as teachers, organisers or musicians. The Ring initially took a destructive attitude towards the Morris Federation and to avoid being swamped and closed down the Federation had to be centred on Women's sides. The Open Morris which formed later did not face an equivalent threat and never seemed to understand that initial condition, however it proved that a realistic third position existed. It has adopted stances very similar to those that have been found desirable abroad. Perhaps it is consequence of a greater dissociation from the past and it may well produce the healthier attitudes. The conflict still consumes some people. I believe that such internal dissent leaves self inflicted wounds that we still can't afford. Today the organisations interface well and are collaborating in a number of areas.
I believed that the attitude had to be that if anyone must dance, they should dance well and not be given second or third rate tuition, as poor morris reflected onto the standing of all morris. Times have changed, most formerly chauvinist sides in my experience now coexist with their neighbouring women's teams, although some people do not agree with me.
The so called Village revivals in the Cotswolds provided a new attitude to the handling of the available material. It had all to be exploited, interpretations rationalised and perceived repertoire gaps filled. We can see the wider effect of the Eynsham revival on the style of performance of their tradition elsewhere and no one ever dances Brighton Camp in the old EFDSS way.
The 25th Anniversary of the Sidmouth Festival occured in 1979, the year that Bill Rutter retired, and the organisers arranged for two dance platforms to be available by the arena all weekend for near continuous morris and many sides volunteered to come from both far and near.
COMPETITIONS & OTHER BENEFITS
They had occured regularly in the 19th century at Stow and occasionally elsewhere as discussed in Keith Chandler's book. Competition exists in achieving grades in Arts and Musical Festivals and even in the degree of needle when any sides meet to dance to each other. Probably there were always some competition as most people will try anything if there is the prospect of a reward at the end, as at the 18th and early 19th century ales.
The ritual competition at Sidmouth always produced problems with the judging as it is a premier competition, partly because of the spread in the standards of the sides who have entered such varied traditions. My experience of Llangollen was that there the judges were hot on authenticity and tore into the Scots for wearing unhistoric costume and the Israelis for inherently not having an old dance tradition. At the Bath Festival competition the majority of judges applied purely artistic standards knowing nothing of the tradition. How else could Bampton come last, just because they could not dance in shoes a very slippery ballroom floor and took them off!
The concept of "Meet-the-Teams" or "An-Hour-with" at Sidmouth has been stimulating, it stretching back in concept to the "Swappers Club" started in 1966. It has brought to our notice "ritual" material such as a Czech sword dance, the Flemish and Provence garland dances, the Italian Carnival dancers from Ponte Caffero with their longways dances in masks, many solo and group dances using sticks and the Basques of course with something of everything. Seen also have been the comic dances, the equivalent to the UK's morris skits and stunts and which has helped fill in what the earlier English collectors had missed or ignored. As the English role model was often old men, the young disciplined overseas sides appeared so stimulating. I have realised that dance body language depends more on age than on differences in a dancer's initial training. Although there are always a few older dancers around foreign groups, they are seldom prominent in the dancing.
For a while there was an English afternoon at the Connaught Gardens using small size stage which looked like those often seen for sideside perriots.
The discovery of creativity which was the aspect of tradition naturally ignored by the collectors has been a significant gain. Now teams teach from own repertoire which solves the problem of how to approach the finer detail of performance without imposing outside standards for the well known traditions onto clubs and it is a positive advantage in that the teachers are fully conversant with their material. With so much morris now around, hopefully regional versions of all the types of "traditions" will evolve, as with other performing arts which do not have nationwide exposure.
A significant impact of the SIDMOUTH Festival has been from the invited English teams which have all been of the highest standard and represented all aspects of the current interpretations of the traditions. We have seen orthodox Cotswold with Kennett, enterprising morrris with Great Western, revivals from Adderbury and Kirtlington, the old tradition from Bampton, the developed traditions from Old Spot, Jorrocks and Windsor and own traditions from Sheffield and Bantam Cocks amongst others in recent years. There have been border and street dance teams, and the unclassifiable Seven Champions and Lizzy Dripping. There have been North West teams from Lancashire, Cheshire and the neighbouring counties of Yorkshire and Surrey, both mens' and womens' sides dancing collected and newly created dances. The performance of invited sides at Sidmouth is more telling than at the other massed morris testivals and meetings or days of dance where sides are not really watched and thought about in the same way.
There has been some success in that dances have been given back to the people, but only as dance troupes, not to communities as part of their repertoire of means of expression, therefore there is still a need for historical research as to actual happenings as models and the need grows increasingly important, as society becomes more a set of loose network of contacts and not neighbourhoods.
Over time it has been obvious that side's standards plateau and their repertoires settle down after a few years. It became a good policy to see a new side in its second or third year while its initial impulse was still there. Another lesson has been in realising the different rate of progress as sides and people age. The urge to bring in new dances and traditions to a Cotswold side is perhaps a response to wanting to regain the early excitements. It is not driven by outside objectives such as a community interaction. In practice you don't need much variety but stamina for a one and half hour carnival procession.
I have been lucky to have had several morris orientated visits. I felt it to be important to see what is universal, what is dependent on local culture and what reflects greater social needs and activities. The first visit to each country occured at about the same stage of their development. Each country had a long history of morris teaching, but a recent morris culture, like a average age of four years at my first visit, and they were bootstrapping with a lack of good sides to emulate. I found that there was no experience around of workshops given at any real pace, and a general expectation of it providing dances rather than conveying ideas and concepts. Pleasurably I have brought back good dances from every visit.
I was in the USA in each of 1978-80 and then 1994. They have an old tradition going back to Sharp and Neal, and probably a better continuity than in the UK. Florrie Warren went out with Mary Neal before WW I in 1910-11, and she stayed and married an American in February 1912, who had followed and caught up with her before the return ship sailed. Her story was been established and published recently. She only came back to the UK for Mary Neal's CBE celebration in 1937. May Gadd has provided the continuity. She was invited out soon after Sharp died, and she was still active and in my first Christchurch Festival workshop on the Abingdon dances. She was a stickler and still teaching in her 80's, as she admitted to me to having lied about her age. Another key person was Mrs Storrow, after whom a room is named in Cecil Sharp House. She was like Gardiner with passion to involve the hearts and minds of young people.
The morris of necessity has to have two short seasons, which keeps it fresh. They talk of regalia not kit, which a healthier view. It could be quite different in odd ways. Berkeley practiced on a hired tennis court. At Knoxville I did a workshop on an empty building lot, which was advertised on the local radio! Tours can be difficult because settlements can be up to forty miles apart, except around Boston, with few or no pub equivalents. There are dry counties, including Beria where we had an ice cream parlour tour. Students there sometimes spread empty beer cans in the street in the small hours to upset the local law enforcers. Fall craft fairs can occur in woodland miles from anywhere. I saw on TV a stave dance with bamboos as a background on a Whicker's World broadcast. The dancing reaches high standards, perhaps they have not realised what we put up with in the UK! Perhaps also there are few authoritative voices to spread confusion. Costumes are good, there is more money around and they do not have such a penny pinching attitude. There is a current growth of clog and border but there not sufficient information available to their clubs and much is owed to videos of a few UK sides,
The annual Pinewoods Camp occurs near Cape Cod on a permanant site between two ponds and has several dance platforms. There is nothing like it and the experiences gained anywhere else. Each week has a different theme. But the children's programmes in family week are compulsory as my children found. This is where a small group of morris dancers, who met annually, became very skilled and danced uniformly, and in 1968 had the first tour of a USA club into the streets. The Pinewoods team joined the English Morris Ring at Nibs Matthews prompting, even though it did not meet all the admission requirements, and has toured around the UK.
By 1973-4 other sides begun to form, and in 1976 the first ales started. Often they were mixed sides. They failed to recognise value in single sex social functions. Perhaps it was for fear of being split and reverting to older cultural models. There was a strong interest in Morris because it was not competitive which made it a less usual activity in the USA. They did not want a Ring like super-organisation, a newsletter was enough. Perhaps the distances and isolation are important to forming their attitudes, leading to other modes of interaction. Even within the UK there are many sides who don't want to be in an organisation and others who are only there for the third party insurance. The audiences have no expectations. My own experience was of them offering helpful advice when they saw mistakes and giving very un-English vocal encouragement. The US lacked fools at the start, but now there are several even trained in the art of mime. Clowns and characters must be seen as an indicator of a stage of morris maturity.
From outside everything may be seen as a borrowing, but, if you think it out, the "borrowings" are extensive in both directions, various sports, cheer leaders and pom-poms, etc. They see the morris as part of their own heritage! But the public image is strongly influenced by the appearance and behaviour of the other ethnic groups that exist in the USA.
Flying visits do not indicate the local community involvements, although there are many communal procession opportunities. We need in the UK more understanding of the US morris viewpoint on audiences and street entertainment to help us discover the universal truths.
Australia in 1983. They were boot strapping with too few excellent sides to copy and being too far apart for any to make much impact. The sides seen were single sex. Their annual get together occured at Easter and I went to an Adelaide meeting and then to a following wine Festival. The massed dance used was the Abram Circle, and with the numbers available it was impressive! They have pubs, and in them we just cleared space for workshops. As major cities are five hundred miles apart they often travel to meet overnight, taking turns to drive and sleep.
New Zealand in 1990. Mr Reynolds had been there before me and was probably the best person from the UK to ever go there to encourage the morris. This is a country of mostly mixed sex sides, which has led to problems in associating with the Australian organisation a thousand odd miles away across the Tasman Sea. Their lively newsletter is called the Sphere and they list every dancer's address not just the club contacts. They get together at their new year although it is out of season. Distances are also a problem. Erehwon, from Christchurch on South Island, was started by an ex-Bath lecturer but they had no musician for three years and used UK supplied tapes. A success has been that morris was included in the opening ceremony at the Auckland Commonwealth Games. The morris world comradeship is unbelievable by English standards. There is steady flow of dancers to and from England.
I did one workshop in Scotland, for the Caledonian Morris in Edinburgh, made particularly memorable by teaching North West processional dances in a street in front of a cresent of grand houses.
I have talked to people about morris in Denmark, Holland, Hong Kong, South Africa, Abu Dhabi, a team of Lascars on a tanker with mahogony sticks, and on the Antarctic supply ship. This is only done going south. Perhaps there is a cove there full of penguins and morris dancers!
OBSERVED CHANGES TO THE DANCES and TRADITIONS
Much of what changed within my knowledge can be traced to the influence of Russell Wortley during his long period as Ring Bagman and then subsequently as an editor and publisher of articles in ED&S.
Many of us have looked at the village dancing and adopted to a greater or lesser extent the style, the jigs and the new or revived dances. Others have claimed authority for their style of Bampton in past sides, although it has been difficult to find evidence from village memories or on film for them. Perhaps the obvious choices are in turning in in Foot-Up, ending All-Up not All-In and in the manner of dancing sidesteps.
The Sharp published dances represent the early Bledington style collected by Butterworth and Tiddy and which Tiddy taught to his Ascot boys to the satisfaction of Miss Sinclair an early EFDS tutor. The Travelling Morrice contacts with members of the young Bledington side raised by the fiddler Benfield and the fool Hitchman had a significantly different style, dancing close to the ground in contrast to Longborough, having hook-legs instead of galleys and shuffles, flowing the arm movements through the dance and having markedly different slow capers. Russell Wortley introduced most of these changes beginning in the 1950's, but very few ever accepted "hooking-to-rule".
Fred Hamer widened the available repertoire by bringing out many of the notations in mss, Sharp, Schofield, Putterhill and his own collecting and by running stimulating workshops even after he was blind. He and the Bedford MM set the style and introduced long Jockey, Beansetters and Captain with his Whiskers and pioneered a flexibility of figure order.
Cecil Sharp's book made this tradition more like Fieldtown than it really was. Butterworth's and Sharp's mss was not clear on details, especially the back-step and the hey. Russell Wortley decided that one clue was that the major source had danced at No.2 not No.1. However once it became uncertain what was done, many sides found their own interpretations. The arm movements of teams do not match the descriptions of what was collected but show a considerable cross feed influence from other traditional styles.
It is clear from examination of Sharp's mss that his published notation is incorrent in that the figures were intended to be duplicated as the dance proceeds and not repeated from the beginning. The local style of stepping and the break does not appear to have changed over the years so it is not known where the EFDSS manner arose, except perhaps to make the dance more dramatic, as was done by the EFDSS with the Abbots Bromley Horn dance and some long sword. Some teams became convinced by Dr Bacon's 1937 film and adopted a similar style. Now that a fuller set of dances exists it is difficult not to perform in the current revived manner.
Henry Franklin told Sharp that he was uncertain of all the details and differences occured between collecting visits, eg. in whether there was a galley in Foot-up-&-down, and which dances had long figures, and whether they all ended on a chorus. Before WW II all sides danced the rounds rather as Bampton, backing round the set on the backsteps and not going into the centre which was only proper to The Rose, but this has now been widely adopted, even for stick dances.
The variety in dancing the slow capers that has proliferated has made it difficult to ascertain what was done originally in the revival let alone in the tradition. One certainty is that it was much more energetic than is often seen today. Ignored is the Sharp description of the backstep under the pressure of least common denominator morris. Also this tradition often suffers from dancers who confuse large arm movements with handkerchief movements, making the arm not the cloth do the work.
In the late 1930's it was discovered that Sharp's collection of Headington was not as accurate as it had been supposed. It had been published when Sharp had had less experience, and probably the arguements on authenticity had made him hestiate to make changes. The alternatives at the ends of his Morris Books are the correct versions. When the Quarry side was properly reconstituted after the end of WW II, Kimber inspired changes and additions which could not be argued with, eg. Getting Up Stairs which was according to Sharp-Kimber pre WW I letters was not a Headington dance, a two stick Constant Billy and a Princess Royal jig, which both appeared after being reminded by seeing a similar dance by another team. Of course Sharp's mss is not the only source for Headington pre WW I although the others have been little exploited in the revival.
The variety of historical Ilmingtons that have happened were not appreciated till recently. Sharp published a reconstruction of the morris as he believed it would have been in the 1860's based on oldest memories and this was the basis of all interpretations. Jockey MM were an influential exponent introducing a more effective cross-&-turn movement. Schofield taught Sam Bennett's final version to Oxford City but it did not spread far until it was taught to Morris Federation sides at workshops. The Ilmington village team has looked at the tradition as it was after Sharp's interpretation but before Sam Bennett's sides. The indication that the tradition once included galleys has led to exciting experiments in interpretation.
This was once considered the pinnacle of the morris for many sides. The spread in notation material resulted in Orange in Bloom replacing Lads a Bunchum in popularity, perhaps because of the lower demands on making good shuffle and sidestep movements. Mostly ignored was the Sherborne form of the galley, and seldom realised was the up and down nature of the shuffles rather than it just being a side to side wriggle. Russell Wortley interpreted George Simpson's arms movements as recorded in one of his jigs into the set dances which style has been followed by some clubs.
There has been a strong effect on modern morris of good interpretations, most of which have actually extended the stylisation of the traditions : Westminster for Longborough, Jockey for Ilmington, Ravensborne for Fieldtown were early ones. Much of the UK has been fortunate in having such a density of sides that no one feels isolated and all can be inspired by meeting others. A problem facing sides that work up the traditions with only small surviving repertoires is how many dances can be added before it becomes something different.
Besides the cross interactions on styles of dancing several traditions, even though we practice a stylisation of the traditions that probably was not there a hundred years ago, there is drift occuring in the manner of doing things, particularly hand movements, which is not towards aesthetic improvement but are the consequence of not thinking about overall appearances. The worst is the "dip-and-up" sidestep hand movement which must have appeared through laziness. Movements with body movement emphasis "into-the-ground" are poor and usually untraditional. Another is the use of a very high lift of the arms and stretching up before the drop in a down-and-up swing doing what was intended for the handkerchiefs with the hands and thus changing the timing of the movement and throwing the more natural body movement out. The striking appearance of the handkerchiefs from a long distance does not compensate for the other changes, especially as these are often carried over into other traditions. A further example is the degradation of the Ducklington show or salute from an expressive into a more rudimentary linear motion. If foremen are not following excellent models of the movements why not look, think and talk about what is being done, as these are the unrecorded aspects of the old tradition and it is foolish to follow some intermediate person's sloppy performance.
The most obvious difference between sides is in the speed of dancing. The old morris was sometimes recorded by uninformed spectators as ludicrous or grotesque so I deduce that some of the extremes of interpretation have always been with us.
Sides seldom hesitate now to introduce good new dance choruses into the traditions. I notice that there is a growing interest in formations that break away from the six in two columns.
There has been little added to the morris traditions in forty years other than new ground patterns. There are no really new traditions other than the music hallish Seven Champions, even though the performance of some of them might not be recognisable by the previous generations involved. The style of stepping and body movement seems to be wedded to each particular type of tradition, Cotswold, Border, Molly, Cheshire or Lancashire. It has proven very difficult to invent new slow capers for Cotswold traditions that don't have them, even though in other areas cheer leaders have a score of different jumps. Looking elsewhere at Scottish, Irish, English Step and Appalachian display dancing in groups is no guide, growing as they do from solo stepping and being rhythmic rather than expressive in movement. The modern ballroom Formation Dancing as seen on Come Dancing also emphasies steps and static not dynamic patterns. To grow the Cotswold morris in variety would require new step sequences as at Sherborne of four or even eight bars length. The Cotswold morris appears to be based on a rigid torso, but is this an English posture characteristic, or an effect of most of the sources having been old men? There has been much more posture variety at Bampton where young men have always seen young role models.
A problem arising from the transfer of leadership to a more middle class community has been an isolation of the morris from current cultural influences. In rhythm and movement the characteristic of the 20th century has been the off beat which has influenced the pulse of the stepping at Bampton and Chipping Campden, but by staying with the 19th century it has been difficult to fit to modern tunes and movements. A consequence is that the morris is and will be rejected by many youngsters and the commercial music and dance world influences will continue to dominate. Perhaps the modern Border dances show the way, with a freedom for individual expression, strong rhythmic movements of any degree of complexity and infinitely adjustable patterns. I would like it if the future of the morris grew out of what was considered by the early collectors as the degenerate morris!
Much has still to be written to put both the historical and the modern morris into their social context. Also to be addressed are the psychological issues, why there appears to be this need to relate to a near mythological past, what is ritual or magic about the performance of the morris, what should be the messages conveyed by body language. If one stops to think about it, the morris has always been in a state of change, at least as far back as we can examine, say to 1860ish. It is happening now as teams "improve" their repertoires. It must be a natural and a healthy characteristic.
To end, there has been nowhere quite like Sidmouth and long may it continue!
September 1994, R L Dommett V 1.0