The Forgotten Morris

There have been many exciting developments during the more recent years of the morris dance revival, no doubt driven by a number of differing desires: to retain the best of traditional practise to find and revive a tradition belonging to the locality of the team to innovate and develop, providing "new recipes but using the traditional ingredients" to raise the standards of dancing, musicianship and the performance as a whole to be different

Many teams have succeeded in their desires and some names spring easily to mind - Gloucester Old Spot, the Shropshire Bedlams, the Seven Champions and Garstang. They have set standards and styles which others follow.

In the early 1990's a group of experienced dancers, motivated by such factors already described, started to meet to discuss ideas for a new morris team and new style. The background of the participants included the Seven Champions, the Shropshire Bedlams, Wakefield Morris Dancers, Ripon City Morris Dancers and Betty Lupton's Ladle Laikers. These discussions usually took place over a meal and quantities of alcohol were consumed in the process! Many interesting ideas were turned up on dance style, music and dress. However, nothing came of this initiative, no doubt for a number of reasons. One of the reasons was the lack of roots or "traditional authority" for the ideas, which withered and then lay dormant.

A fresh impetus was given by the appearance of a booklet written by Paul Davenport entitled the "Forgotten Morris - An investigation into Traditional Dance in Yorkshire". This booklet describes dancing mainly in the Holderness area which does not conform to the normal expectations of Yorkshire ritual dance, that is Longsword. The theme is that these dances belong essentially to Plough Monday and the various associated customs of Plough Stotting, Plough Dragging, Longsword dancing and mumming. There was "no regular dance", but the main essence involved a single straight line of dancers performing reels and either rattling bones (or "knick knacks" as they were called) or waving small flags. There was also a solo dance performed over the poker and tongs from the fireplace in the manner of the "Bacca Pipes" jig.

The work was previously published in the Morris Dancer (Number 15 March 1983). A copy of this article was studied in connection with research into another Plough Monday custom - the Blue Stots plays from the Vale of York. Unfortunately the first details of these findings had already been in print - see "The return of the Blue Stots" in Tykes News Autumn 1982 . The opportunities this presented did not strike anyone at the time even when coupled with an appearance in January 1984 of the East Yorkshire Vessel Cuppers at the Derby-based "Dancing England" traditional dance showcases. Minds were focussed on different matters then!

A dance of some sort was performed at the end of the Marton-cum-Grafton Blue Stots Play. This feature was included in the revival of the Marton play by the Knaresborough Mummers. Subsequent revisiting of the Blue Stots play material reveals that, around Christmas and New Year, the "shepherds" of Roecliffe and Aldborough (near Boroughbridge) used to dance heys in a line. This type of performance seems to have the same roots, or at least spirit, as the dances described by Paul Davenport.

At last there was some basis to work on. Some of the members of the original "task force" had moved on. The remainder, based in Harrogate and Knaresborough area, with the help of a couple of people not actively involved in dancing began to study the material and put together some dances in the winter of 1995. There were some problems with kit. Some of the old teams blackened their faces and had strips of cloth pinned to their clothes and there was a desire to avoid any suggestion that this was yet another Border Morris side. Though there are some obvious parallels between the styles of dance. One idea was picked up from "the Fool Plough" in Walker's Costumes of Yorkshire. Let no more be said - judge for yourselves the effect.

In dancing with flags and bones, the tongue-in-cheek name "the Flag and Bone Men" was suggested by one of team. This was slightly modified the to the Flag and Bone Gang, since the original teams were often referred to as gangs.

For even more information see Morris Matters, Volume 20, Number 1 January 2001. Published by Beth Neill, 27 Nortoft Road, Chalfont St Peter, Bucks SL9 0LA 01494 871465

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