Interview with Kenneth Constable

On 4th April 1978, Ira Butler [TIB] visited Kenneth Constable [KBC] at his home in Chalfont St Giles and with Ken’s agreement, tape recorded some of their conversation. This is a brief extract from the transcript which Ira subsequently produced.

TIB           Who taught you the Morris?

KBC          Well, I would say the two chief influences are Marjorie Barnett and Will Kimber. This was in Oxford in 1919. At the beginning Oxford were well in the lead. You had dancers like Kiddy, George Butterworth, David Pye, and others very well known at the time who were really the living representatives of a new Morris tradition for England.

TIB           These were all people presumably who had been taught by Sharp?

KBC           People who had come under the influence of Sharp and Butterworth. Remember that Butterworth was as keen and great a collector as Sharp in his way, but he was also interested in outside music as well as folk music. He composed a lot of his own work and without Butterworth there would be far more gaps than there were. It was a great pity that he was lost in the War, because obviously a great deal that he knew was lost with him……

TIB           After the War Cecil Sharp continued.

KBC          He continued with Douglas Kennedy really as the sole survivor of the people who had been associated with him before….

TIB           …So, then you came to London in 1926 and then you were part of the establishment.

KBC           I came to London in 1926 and then I was incorporated into the establishment, you might say.

TIB           How on earth did you find your way to East Surrey then?

KBC           I told you – Grace Meikle coming up, putting her finger through my button hole and saying “Come along down here. You’re going to dance for East Surrey”. But I had no territorial kinship or any other connection as such with East Surrey at all – purely a beckoning finger you might say.

TIB           So we have a lot to thank Grace Meikle for.

KBC           You have a lot to thank, or to abjure, according to the way you look at it.

TIB           So, when you came, you would say there were virtually no Morris dancers in East Surrey.

KBC           There were two funnily enough. You’ve just called them to my memory. There were a father and son called Dixon, but they didn’t last. Although they had been doing it for quite a time, they moved on to other pastures and I haven’t seen them since certainly the early 1930s. They are my  earliest memories of dancers who were connected with East Surrey at my beginning. I have no idea from whom they learned it………..

TIB           After the War were there one or two East Surrey men about?

KBC           Oh yes. I took practices down in Sutton, Throwley Road, from about the late 1940s early 50s, and I didn’t give that up until 1960. As far as I remember, we didn’t do “Royton” again. It was too much of a good thing. My wind wasn’t good enough.

TIB           Or sword? Did you do any sword?

KBC           Oh yes. Sword isn’t really my strong line. For one thing people do find it very difficult. I remember, I think it was at Ham House at Richmond, I think it was one of Grace Meikle’s arrangements. At any rate, we were on special request to do Kirby – as simple a dance as that. Well, do you think I could get them to do Kirby? The only way (I could get them) to do it was to literally call every turn for every dance and every figure. I wasn’t suffering from fatigue at the end, but my voice was completely worn out! And then I said “Oh no, we’re not going to do that again”………………………….

KBC           I said I’ll go on (dancing) until I’m 60. The thing is, I will not dance unless I can caper full and flat out.

TIB           Like William Kimber.

KBC           Like William Kimber. And when the day has come, that’s the day I pack up – and I did.

TIB           But you had a good Morris life?

KBC           I had a good Morris life and fair value for it……………………………………….

If you would like a copy of the full transcript of this interview please contact our bagman (details at the top of this page).