Author Archives: Andy Brown

Beginners Workshop

In 1599 when Shakespeare was building the Globe and writing Hamlet, William Kemp danced nine days of wonder, doing Morris Dancing from London to Norwich. 

In 1899 Morris Dancers entranced Cecil Sharp and changed the direction of his life and English folk traditions forever. 

Morris Still Lives.

  • Despite the peregrinations of our national story,
  • the vicissitudes of our relationship with the rest of the continent,
  • and even the egregious periodic infestations of sesquipedalians

Oh, come on… as Dame Edna said to Mr Archer: “I always say, if you can’t laugh at yourself, Jeffrey, you’re missing the joke of the century.”

Morris Lives On. Why has it survived…? What do people see in it…? 

This is your chance to find out… at our Beginners Workshop, Monday 7th October at Christ Church Hall, Sutton 20:00. Full details about the venue on the Join Us page of the website… https://www.esmm.org.uk/join-us/

But don’t come alone – bring a friend! 

Bob Davies: 1st September 1930 – 19th July 2019

If, as C.S. Lewis suggested, there is a joy too deep for laughter perhaps there is also a grief too large for tears. You might think so if you were watching the large crowd who gathered on a wet August Wednesday at the North East Surrey Crematorium as they moved back and forth between happiness to sorrow while gathering to say a final farewell to former Squire, Bagman and formidable Foreman Bob Davies. There was an irrepressible gladness at being among those family and friends that Bob had attracted around him over his long, rich life; and that mingled with the painful awareness of the great loss at the centre of the gathering. 

Among the strong turnout from East Surrey Morris Men – which included no less than eight who held or had held the title Squire – were those who had never known Bob during his dancing days, whose respect was based on his reputation both within the side and among other sides we have danced with over the years. Part of this has been communicated through the on-going commitment the side maintained to regular visits to see Bob in the years after his stroke. Also present was a strong contingent from Greensleeves Morris Men and Winchester Morris Men, a representative from Chalice Morris Men in Somerset, a former Treasurer of the Morris Ring from Ravensbourne Morris Men and a former Ring Bagman from Bedford Morris Men. Apologies were received from sides even further away.

The wicker coffin was borne into the chapel on the shoulders of six senior members of the side. If this seemed a physical demonstration of the burden of grief all carried, none bore it more so than Bob’s wife Pam who sat in the front row with their son, Ian and their daughter, Sue who was accompanied by her husband Roy and daughter Phoebe. But it would have been a poor reflection of our former Squire for the occasion to be marked only by solemnity. So it was an inspired choice by the family to play a recording of him singing The Farmer’s Boy which he had sung so frequently over the years that it will be forever associated with him. In true Bob style it caught the brief dispute with his larynx at the start over just where to pitch it, but once that was settled it was carried on without hesitation or ornamentation to completion. The assembly being provided with words, we all joined in from the second verse. A memory associated with Bob’s rendition of this traditional song was of the particular Rye weekend where, full of the local brewer’s cheer, he was observed steadying himself by holding one of the overhead low-ceiling beams. The side, which had often reminded him of the occasion by parodying the raised hand as he sang it, continued that tradition during the last verse in good-willed tribute to the rich repository of memories he has left us.  

After a moving summary of Bob’s life, which can be read here: Bob’s Story, the assembled mourners left to music played by the East Surrey Morris Men musicians. The specially chosen selection were songs Bob frequently sung over the years: The German Clockwinder, Spanish Ladies and Hanging on the Old Barbed Wire. The musicians continued to play a selection of Morris tunes as they led the crowd back outside into the rain. A symbol that the journey goes on, accompanied by song, for those of us left behind. 

And as if to confirm this, after the formal farewell the gathering transferred to the Jolly Coopers, a local pub in Epsom, where the family had arranged a fabulous spread for the assembled horde of well-wishers, mourners and supporters. And although the unrelenting rain prevented any outdoors dancing, there was music and singing a-plenty to celebrate Bob’s life. 

So perhaps we could leave the final words to the man whose ‘Immortal Memory’ is commemorated by Morris Men everywhere. Cecil Sharp, of course, passed away 6 years before Bob was even born, but to read his words it is difficult not to wonder if – in some way – he saw him coming…

The Morris Dance is essentially a manifestation of vigour rather than of grace… arising out of the life of man, as it is lived by men who hold much speculation upon the mystery of our whence and whither to be unprofitable; by men of meagre fancy, but of great kindness to the weak: by men who fight their quarrels on the spot… drink together when the fight is done, and forget it, or, if they remember, then the memory is a friendly one. It is the dance of folk who are slow to anger, but of great obstinacy—forthright of act and speech… The Morris dance, in short, is a perfect expression… of the English character.” Farewell Bob, a friend, a legend, an inspiration, and a fine English character. 

And if, as there ought to be, there is a gathering where we meet on the ledge, it would be only appropriate if Cecil himself were one of those who would welcome Bob to the Heavenly Ale. I would be the last to deprive you of any comfort you might find in the scene; but what I would caution, is that if a discussion arose between them about, say, exactly how Fieldtown Uprights should be performed… well, I wouldn’t be too quick to put money on who will be forced to concede they were wrong! 

Capital Capering

Well, what a brilliant Saturday with our friends Westminster Morris capering around the capital with sides who had assembled from around the country.

Here’s a few photos of the day, but they hardly do it justice. To dance in the shadow of the Houses of Parliament, and of Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey, and Nelson’s Column is blinking brilliant and really does feel like Morris is ‘coming home.’ Well… I say, ‘in the shadow of…’ and occasionally the sun came out and bestowed shadows. At other times we contended with torrential rain and even hail! Still, the lads soldiered on, without even a Foreman, much less Mr Bercow to call, “Order!”

To meet with friends, old and new, from around the country. To engage with the vibrant, enthusiastic London crowd, to join in massed dances in Trafalgar Square… this is all happiness indeed. Enjoy the pictures.

We danced with Jockey Morris from Birmingham. There is a picture of them dancing with Old Tom appraising their efforts. Because of the different styles of pavement, it does almost look as though Old Tom has stepped through a shift in the space-time continuum. The truth is more probably that he wanted to be pictured next to the Squire of the Ring (on the back left of the side).

The ladies side is New Esperance who link to the heritage of Mary Neal and the Esperance Club. They took great pride in finding themselves next to a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst, and copying the pose of the Burghers of Calais. But then, they are a little more photogenic than some of ours… The Burghers were interesting chaps, of course: six men who did what no one else would do. Not totally dissimilar to the six men selected to form a dancing set when bar is still open…?

In short, a good time was had by all. The picture outside St Martin in the Field is not perhaps the best one of the dancers but the position of the sun does seem to suggest we were subject to angelic visitation which is, in an inexplicable way, sometimes how it feels…

“For Folks Sake” – Morris Traditions On The BBC

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0003vhz/for-folks-sake-morris-dancing-and-me

“‘Ere, Mum, there’s some of them East Surrey Morris Men on the telly…” So must have rung throughout the land as TV schedulers finally gave us a serious programme about Morris Dancing. And, you have to say they did a good job. A balanced and warm analysis of the process in which the Morris Ring voted to accept women dancers into its… er, bosom, I suppose.

East Surrey Morris Men, it must be said, voted against the motion as we were hoping to see the Ring take a different emphasis. Some of this was summed up on the show by Barry Care, an old friend of the side from Moulton Morris: “If you put two women in a male voice choir, you change the intrinsic quality of what is coming across.” The fact that he was shown saying this dressed as a Betsy sums up everything about the earnest concern and maverick mayhem that we love in the tradition and share with other sides in the Morris Ring.

As one of the founder members of the Ring we care deeply about it. It was disappointing that more consideration wasn’t given to our proposal but we have no desire to dominate, just a concern to see it thrive and become the best it can. With that in mind we shall continue to be a part of it and wholeheartedly support the members decision and the officers.

But we do invite you to take some time to watch it on BBC iPlayer. It is well worth it. There some of the East Surrey lot on it, you know!

Farewell to 2018…

New Year

A happy New Year to all out fans! To those we have delighted, infuriated or bewildered this year, we wish the best and brightest 2019.

 

What a year it has been for dancing! The Prime Minister, Theresa May, became front page news by throwing a few moves on her African tour, a feat repeated when she danced on to the party conference stage to the tune of Dancing Queen! In the ballroom, the Strictly Circus roared through another triumphant series. While once again, the hills and valleys of Surrey rang again to the cheerful sound of Morris bells and the rhythmic clash of sticks interspersed by the occasional staccato expletives of the Foreman. In short, ladies and gentlemen, it’s been a brilliant year.

 

And bringing it to a triumphant conclusion was a glorious December. Our good friends at Black Swan Morris invited us to an evening of dance at the Hope. This has to be, even by the standards of morris dancing, one of the most surreal events on the calendar. In the first place it would be hard to imagine a side more different from us than Black Swan: they do Border, we are Cotswold; they are a young side, we are older (I think I’ll leave that slightly ambiguous!); they wear a ribboned and ragged black, we are neatly-pressed white. You could almost forgive the onlooker who asked if we were about to do Swan Lake. Almost… Nevertheless the friendships between the two sides become ever stronger each time we meet.

 

This particular evening a new wonder presented itself: a side whose name I’m afraid has been lost but whose impact will remain, despite having only two dancers and one musician on the side. It looked like border, but somehow managed to make even that look tame by comparison. The sticks flew furiously, several were broken, and as both dancers wore black masks that completely covered their eyes it was a wonder the sticks were all that was damaged. The final dance involved both dancers wearing an inflated ball, the size of an exercise ball, that completely covered their heads down the neck. It was, apparently, loosely derived from norse legends; but somehow a variation of Spock’s oft-repeated observation to Captain Kirk came to mind, “It’s Morris, Jim, but not as we know it…” When our next dance was announced with the introduction, “And now to restore some normality, here’s East Surrey Morris,” I knew we were in trouble: when normality depends on us you know we are in the outer reaches… But it was a cracking, hilarious and boisterous evening to end the season’s shared dancing with. It was not the end of the season, though. The following week saw us out Carol Singing.

 

Every year, and it often happens at the Woolpack, Banstead, we meet some local youths who seem to have been sitting listlessly awaiting an invitation to join in a song. They bellowed the words, standing on the chairs with arms around each others necks and cheering loudly as each Carol reached its glorious conclusion. If it conjured the laddish cheer of the shepherds more than the majestic adoration of the Magi, all we can say it that this, ladies and gentlemen, is the energy that Morris summons forth and it is a wonder to behold, a veritable star with royal beauty bright.

 

Our reception at the Woodman, Woodmansterne may have been less rowdy but was certainly was no less warm. The barman – God bless his pumping arm – had laid on a feast for Christmas revellers: breads, cheeses, crudités and crackers to cheer the heart and nourish the limbs. Strengthened and invigorated we pressed on to our last stop at the a White Hart, Chipstead, a place we had not danced at for many years. The crowd was smaller here, but the welcome no less enthusiastic from both sides of the bar. It was good to be back and their generosity overflowed from their welcome to their wallets, meaning that by the end of the evening we had raised over £200 pounds for our chosen charity. This year it was The Children’s Trust, Tadworth, and they kindly sent a couple of their representatives to join us in the singalong.

 

But even then the season had one last trick up her sleeve. On Boxing day the East Surrey Morris Men once again performed the world famous Mummer’s Play. Well, I say ‘world famous…’ Jon knows about it and he lives in Spain now. The BBC did a production of Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native just before Christmas which uses verbatim quotes from our Mummers Play… or do we quote theirs…? Anyway, the show must go on. With several new players taking the roles our first tentative but lively production at The Fox, Coulsdon went on to rapturous reception at The Harrow, Caterham. And then, ears a-ringing with applause, heads a-swimming with festive cheer, we rolled down the hill into Godstone for our final hurrah of the year at the Hare and Hounds.

 

And suddenly, it was all over. As the crowds dispersed back to their Christmas domesticity, and the bar became swollen with thirsty dancers, musicians and Mummers, as though it were a dam holding back the Tigris, the dancing year came to an end with many happy memories, new friends and that still unanswered question: “The lines haven’t changed in centuries, will they ever blinking well learn them…?”

 

Well… there’s always something to improve for next year. May it be a happy one. Thank you to all our fans, whether you’ve just accidentally bumped into us or you’re family and you’re just too kind to say you’re not really that into it, we appreciate your support and look forward to meeting you again in 2019. Happy New Year!

 

Feeling Chipper in Chipperfield

Well, it comes to something when even the local vicar comments on how well everyone gets on. We should start an argument about something, or she’ll be out a job: anyone want to discuss how to start a Bampton dance….?!! On a less surreal note, our links with the illustrious Greensleeves Morris who host this annual event go back over many decades. So it is no wonder that once the dancing is over, the food and ale are spread before us and the jokes, old stories and competing memories come out that there is a spirit in the air as rich as any peat-soaked single malt.

It is a privilege to be invited to attend an event where we are welcomed not just by Greensleeves but by the whole village. This year, where the prolonged summer weather has led to it been contrasted with 1976, we may admit to the level of dancing occasionally wilting like the flowers in a window box but the pleasure was as ripe as ever. Leaving us, as I say, feeling rather chipper in Chipperfield

Ramping it up Royally with the Roosters

Competition came into play tonight as we danced with our new friends, Dorking-based Rampant Roosters. With England playing Belgium in the World Cup the stark truth that more people were inside watching it was slightly diluted by the person who commented, “Right now the Morris Dancers are more interesting than the football!” Outside there was drama aplenty as the Roosters mix of borders and Cotswolds battled it out with our own dances and a few that we managed together in what turned into a good natured war of attrition. But the only victory we were pushing for of course is that by the end of the evening we’d definitely won some new friends.

Refreshments were obtained at the friendly Royal Oak. There is indeed a majestic oak just outside it. England has come a long way since royalty had to hide in oak trees, of course, and who wouldn’t be glad of that? It’s just a shame we have not come far enough to stop us losing to Belgium…

Top Form Atop the Surrey Hills

A regular and popular evening on the agenda, tonight’s visit was bathed in glorious sunshine, as seen by the sunlit common in the background of the some of the pictures.

Our first visit, at the Sportsman, had us dancing some old favourites starting with an Upton Stick dance, normally one we save for later in the evening when the blood has started flowing (and, let’s face it, so has the ale!). The energetic start set the tone for the evening as man piled in to be part of the action we actually had enough for two sets at one point.

We always get a friendly welcome at the Sportsman but it would have to be said that the evening was finished off in the grandest of styles at our next stop, The Tree on Box Hill. Now, we do usually get warm welcomes from most of the pubs we visit, sometimes a free drink or something to eat. Few landlords stretch to achieving what the gallant Kyle did at the Tree and come out from behind the bar and join in. I’ve attached a video of what was a remarkably proficient effort given that he’d never seen Morris Dancing before. (I should say in his defence, he doesn’t normally serve drinks in this attire, he was actually working outside when we arrived). Thank you to Kyle and Becky for being such great hosts.

Now here’s a thing…

You might be tempted to think looking at us that Morris Dancing is for (to use the delightful phrase from the Book of Common Prayer) “Such as are of riper years.” I mean, let’s face it, I’ve been asked to run this account as one the younger members – and I became a Grandfather last year!
But let us not forget that many of us started as young men and traditionally it is a young man’s sport. We had a great reminder of this recently. It was an utter joy to find ourselves joined by two men from the Buckland Shag Morris Men at the Skimmington Castle, and when they offered to do a jig…well, we certainly weren’t going to stop that kind of enthusiasm.
With their permission we gladly show the video here, and hope it serves also an invitation, for such as are of less-ripe years. Please feel free to come along, get in touch, try it out…
And thanks to John and Sam. Buckland Shag are best followed through their Facebook Account if you want to see more of them.