THE ORIGINAL BEDFORD MORRIS MEN PERFORMED WITH OUR FRIENDS THE LETCHWORTH MORRIS MEN AT THE DUNTON WASSAIL 2018. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED.
WORDS: PAUL CARTER
We assembled in Church Farmyard where the crowd gathered, and warmed ourselves with Franklin's mulled cider, then danced alternately:
Letchworth: Jubilee Dance (Ilmington), Valentine (Field Town), Lads A'Bunchum (Adderbury)
Bedford: Much Wenlock, Whiteladies Aston, Dilwyn, Fanny Frail
A fine performance with swagger and style led from the front by the Squire and Foreman in full-feathered headgear. Letchworth then ran an audience participation Shepherds Hey while our men repaired to the back of the barn to reappear shortly after as Horn dancers.
After a first meet in the farmyard, the men processed to the orchard with the crowd following to hang cider-soaked toast in the trees. Les lost the feeling in his frozen-out fingers but somehow Jeff kept on playing. After a second meet, the men disappeared at the far end of the orchard. As they made their way back to the farmyard, out of sight, the crowd were entertained by Singtastic, and then sang Apple Tree Wassail and Here We Come A Wassailing followed by the Wassail toast: Here's to thee, old apple tree.
Afterwards we repaired to The March Hare which was soon rammed. Music started up in a corner with Bill and Roger's daughter on fiddles, Adele on 32string harp, a couple of melodeons, Martin on accordion, a recorder player, and Les on concertina.
After a while the Brafront Guizers performed their play with only enough room to stand in a line.
Then the singing started with the three sides trading shanties, drinking songs and ribaldry in a succession of greatest folk hits.
Singing: Skinner, Daye, Carter, Cooper
It was Alison's birthday so we sang her Happy Birthday. As midnight approached and the pub emptied, we rolled home as much as we could remember, and that would usually have been it, but four men stepped up for Brimfield and then Angus, who had been keeping an eye on things, sang Abdul the Bul Bul Emir.
Drumming by toilet: Darling
Finally, a professional seed merchant demonstrated a rubbed out sample, leaving a scatter of husks on the floor. By the time we were on the road, tomorrow was already Plough Monday.
Drinking: Melvin, Durrant, Daye, Nicholson
Songs: South Australia, Khaki&Blue, New York Girls, Bring Us A Barrel, Yarmouth Town, Red Roses, Pleasant&Delightful, Lily the Pink, King, Fathom the Bowl, John Barleycorn, Those Were The Days, Liverpool Lou, Alchohol's Not Poison, Martin Said To His Man, When Jones' Ale Was New, Ro'me
Tunes: Rose Tree, Oyster Girl, Brighton Camp, Winster Gallop and many more.
Dancers: Durrant (S), Nicholson (😎), Melvin (Fm), Allsopp, Barnes, Besant, Cooper, Darling, Daye, Horner, Miller, Munnery
Music: Skinner (concertina), Towns (fiddle), Carter (melodeon), Darling (drum, triangle), Miller (melodeon), Besant (tambourine), Munnery (crossbow)
In the Winter the Bedford Morris Men retreat to the Welsh Borders.
Not literally, of course. We still practice in Ravensden Village Hall. But the dances we are performing now come from around The Marches - the Badlands of Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire. Frontier country.
As a newcomer to the side it’s all been a bit of a surprise.
In our Wednesday night practice sessions the measured stepping of the dances from the Cotswolds have given way to what seem like a series of violent altercations.
There is shouting. There is stamping. There is Priapic stick clashing. And that’s just afterwards, in the pub.
These are dances for the Festive season; the costumes are outlandish and colourful, the tempo is fast and furious. They fight against the deathly cold and dark of winter. It’s all a bit different from the white outfits and handkerchief dances you see in the Spring and Summer.
Border Morris has a sinister edge to it. Men in disguise, descending on pubs, brandishing sticks, handing round the hat. Traditionally, this was how seasonal workers, frozen out of their jobs in the depths of Winter tried to make a bit of money. It was always somewhere between busking and demanding money with menaces.
The dances are still joyful, though. They are full of life and energy, part of a tradition that goes back hundreds of years and, ultimately, to our pagan past. And although I am not yet, the Bedford Morris Men are really good at them. They’re skilful, funny and amazing to watch. Which is really the point. On the coldest, darkest nights of the year they’ll appear from nowhere in a blaze of noise and colour and put on a real show for you.
The Bedford Morris Men are always looking for new dancers to join us. If you want to come along and learn Border Morris, we practice every Wednesday at Ravensden Village Hall - just email email@example.com for full details.
Welcome to our new website!
Morris Dancers have been performing in Bedfordshire for at least 450 years. We're hoping we'll be around for another 450.
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