So what do you know about Morris Men?
“They strike up the Devil’s dance withall: then martch this heathen company…their pypers pyping… their belles jyngling, their handkercheefes fluttering…like madde men…”
(Philip Stubbes, 1583)
Australia has a rich tapestry of folk history (mostly based on English, Scots and Irish tradition), and has many capable musicians and dancers – and if you have seen them, you know that the Sydney Morris Men (SMM) deftly combine all of these attributes.
The Morris comes to us through the mists of time and has been part of Anglo-Saxon life for at least seven hundred years and many scholars would argue that it is much older. The SMM have been a recognised part of NSW life for 28 years and they offer a similar yet refreshingly different style of music, and a very different dance to the more widely known Celtic forms. Did you know that the jig was played in England for 150 years before it was first recorded as being played in Ireland?
The SMM have danced in every state in Australia, and all over NSW. Regular “foot ups” include the Festival of the Four Winds at Bondi, St Albans Folk Festival, and the traditional “May Morning Foot Up” held each year at dawn at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair overlooking Sydney Harbour. The side dances out regularly at popular Sydney spots such as Hyde Park, Circular Quay and notably in and around pubs like the Lord Nelson and The Hero of Waterloo.
Perhaps the best-known variety of the Morris is that known as Cotswold Morris. The teams or sides consist of six dancers and a musician, and a Fool. The set dances include handkerchief, stick clashing and handclapping dances; as well as solo jigs. The white costume and flowered hats are symbols of fertility; the bells are to frighten away evil spirits.
The Border Morris is a variant from the border with Wales. Border Morris is danced by sides of four, six or eight men, who wear “tatters” or rags, and who black their faces (possibly because Morris is thought to be derived from “Moorish dancing”; the Moors were encountered by the Crusaders). The dancing is simple, vigorous; and often involves energetic stick clashing.
Six hundred years ago the common instruments were the pipe and tabor (small drum). In the SMM, these have been joined by the fiddle, concertina, and melodeon. Many Australian folk songs are based on old English tunes – Percy Granger made the Morris tune “Shepherd’s Hey” quite popular! Are you man enough to join the Morris?
What makes a Morris Man?
Well, a zest for life, a sense of humour and dry wit help; as does enthusiasm for the traditions of the Morris (which requires a certain consumption of ale in the company of like-minded fellows). What you don’t need is any prior experience or skill! The Side is always recruiting. We practise every second and fourth Tuesday night of the month in Rozelle and new men are always welcome. The Sydney Morris Men can be contacted via “The Squire” (Jeremy Tozer, otherwise known as Salty) on 0407 517565 or “The Bagman” (John Milce) on 02 9299 6900.
Interested in Morris dancing? Then head on over to www.morrisdancing.org and find hundreds, if not thousands, of online Morris dancers.
Canberra Morris Men is a great place for learning about the history of Morris dancing. They also have a huge list of Morris links.
Helsinki Morrisers for Morris dancing in Finland.