One of the summer traditions in England is to see a group of Morris Men dancing in the yard or garden or car park of a pub, in fact such an event is happening on Thursday at our local the Dolphin, when the Chalice Morris Men will entertain us.
While we were at Nunney Fayre yesterday, the contrast couldn’t be greater between the reason we were there and seeing the Morris Men; we were there because my husband’s rock band were performing… Morris and rock and roll? Old and new, but both involve people making music and enjoying themselves! Whether your groove is hundreds of years old or from the 2000’s, it’s all about being with friends and music.
No-one really knows when, where or how Morris dancing started, or really what its name means. Some people think it comes from Moorish, or Moreys, or Moresco, but wherever the term originated, the first actual record is from the 1400’s, which doesn’t mean there weren’t dancers dancing with bells and ribbons and sticks and kerchiefs before then. Lots of stories have been written about the history, some saying it goes back to prehistoric times; well, really there is no evidence at all for that!
Every Morris troupe or group has its own musicians, and traditionally the instruments were the pipe and tabor (a small portable drum); these days you often find a whole array of musicians gleefully playing for the dancers; fiddles and concertinas and even accordions accompany the dancers and keep them in step. Sometimes a whole band of musicians will support the dancers. Just as many of the dances are old, so are the tunes which accompany them; some are traditional songs or popular songs from the past, some are even march tunes.
This entertainment was very popular in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, but it began to decline, as industry took over from agriculture as the mass employer and country traditions began to die out.However, in the 1930’s there was a new interest, and gradually the number of people taking part has increased, and now there are over 800 clubs and groups!
You can be sure of a joyful spectacle when the Morris are about, and after the ‘gig’ you will usually find the dancers quenching their thirst in the local pub. Morris and beer go hand in hand, or step by step!