Wednesday, 29 December 2010

"Well bowled, Harold."

In 1958, in Montreux, Switzerland, a man in his late fifties died of lung cancer. In his later life he had loved BBC Radio’s “Goon Show”, and his family had often seen him double up laughing at its anarchic humour. After his death, his ashes were scattered on the summit of Cross Craigs, near Fortingall in Perthshire – although he had been born in India he was Scottish by his family heritage. His name was Douglas Jardine, and he is one of my sporting heroes.
                                                               D R Jardine, captain of England 1931 to 1934,
                                                               An amateur player who had to earn his keep
                                                               outside cricket, an outstanding if cautious batsman,
                                                               and a man of steel in captaincy.

On 14th January 1933 at the Adelaide Oval in Australia, Jardine’s men were in the field. Harold Larwood, possibly the world’s fastest bowler at the time, bowled to the Australian captain Bill Woodfull. The delivery was fast, banged hard into the track, and rose up at Woodfull’s body. Woodfull ducked under it, but somehow the ball was deflected from his bat into his body and he was struck a painful blow under the heart. He remained doubled up in pain for several minutes.
                                                                  Larwood to Woodfull with a conventional field setting –
                                                                  no “leg trap” of fielders.
The ground went quiet, no one on the field spoke, and then hoots and jeers came from some of the Australian spectators, angered at the aggressive bowling tactics. The verbal abuse rose in intensity. What then happened on the pitch? Did Larwood look at Woodfull in pain, and was there something in his eyes or in his body language which betrayed a moment of doubt about how he was being asked to bowl? Did Jardine, the captain to whom he was devoted and whom he admired so much, catch sight of this and feel the need to steady the nerves of his fastest bowler? Did he think to himself, “This is my responsibility. I won’t let anyone else carry the can.”?

“Well bowled, Harold.” He said, loud enough to be heard off the pitch.

With that remark he earned the hatred of the Australian spectators and a bogeyman status with Australian cricket fans which has lasted since then. But the encouragement made sure that Larwood continued to bowl as he, his captain, wanted him to. He could not have done it any other way. He could not have said nothing, thereby letting Larwood bowl without conviction. He could not have gone and have a quiet word with him – a “quiet word” was how a captain remonstrates with one of his team on the field. Encouragement is given out loud. Larwood’s intimidating bowling was exactly what Jardine had asked for, so Jardine took the responsibility upon himself and told Larwood “well bowled”.

Jardine was not out to be Mr Nice Guy in any case. He famously said: “I’ve not traveled six thousand miles to make friends – I’m here to win the Ashes”. This was in a period where batsmen, particularly Australian batsmen, and particularly the man who was arguably the greatest batsman of all time, Don Bradman, dominated the First Class game.
                                                                         D G Bradman, New South Wales and Australia
Prior to the Ashes tour of 1932-33, Bradman’s batting average was almost one hundred runs per individual innings, a phenomenal performance. He was a player of classic strokes “all round the clock”. It was Percy Fender, captain of Surrey CCC who alerted Jardine to a weakness in Bradman.
                                                                                P G H Fender, Surrey and England
Fender had spotted Bradman flinching away from one or two fast deliveries where the ball had reared up at him. Jardine decided that the only way to attack Bradman’s batting average was to attack this weakness. To do this he used a bowling strategy made up of elements already known in cricket – fast bowling, bouncers, “leg theory” bowling, setting a cordon of fielders close in on the leg side. It was called “fast leg theory”. Jardine didn’t invent it. It had been used to a certain extent before the 32-33 tour, although not with such consistency as Jardine decided upon. At the time none of the elements were against the laws of cricket, neither was fast leg-side bowling itself.

To carry out this strategy, Jardine called on two Nottinghamshire fast bowlers, Bill Voce and Harold Larwood, and the trap was sprung.
                                                                               W Voce, Nottinghamshire and England

                                                                             H Larwood, Nottinghamshire and England

Not everyone in the England team liked the idea. HH The Nawab of Pataudi disapproved, as did the vice-captain Bob Wyatt – although the latter made full use of it in a curtain-raiser match against an Australian XI in which Jardine did not play. Such was the loyalty that the steely Jardine inspired, however, none of his team criticized him in public. Australia hated “fast leg theory” bowling passionately, hated its deliberately aggressive and intimidating nature, hated the fact that it appeared to be aimed directly at the batsman’s body. A hostile Australian press called it “bodyline” bowling – the name stuck, and it was a byword in Australia for unsportsmanlike behaviour ever since.

It was aimed at the batsman, no question. It was deliberate, and it was ugly to watch, particularly if one had come to watch classic batting. It was designed to provoke one of three reactions in a batsman: firstly to evade it, or secondly to try to fend it off and risk being caught by one of the close fielders, or thirdly to try a rash shot. Bradman lost his nerve in the face of it; but having said that, his average for the series was still respectable despite being dismissed in one innings, first ball, by Bill Bowes, as he tried to hook a non-bodyline delivery. Other batsmen, however, didn’t. Another New-South-Waleser, Stan McCabe, simply took it on. He stood up to it and hooked the ball, making an outstanding innings of 187 not out in the First Test (in which Bradman did not play).
                                                                      S J McCabe, New South Wales and Australia
Another batsman who faced and dealt successfully with bodyline bowling was Jardine himself. In 1933 he faced the West Indies’ fast bowlers Learie Constantine and Manny Martindale. Martindale was about as fast and aggressive a bowler as Larwood. Jardine even hogged the bowling to save a colleague who was making heavy weather of it, and finished with an individual 127 runs. Jardine could take it as well as he could dish it out.
                                                                             E A Martindale, Barbados and West Indies

Jardine’s uncompromising captaincy inspired later skippers such as Australia’s 1971-75 captain Ian Chappell and England’s 1999-2003 captain Nasser Hussain. He is one of Chappell’s Top Ten Ashes captains – here’s what Ian recently had to say about him:

Jardine was a really smart captain. If you want to encapsulate what Test cricket is all about, just look at what Jardine did. The opposing player who was devastating all the opposition was Don Bradman. Bradman at that stage had an average of about a hundred. So what Jardine decided to do was to try to cut his average down. If you want to increase your chances of winning in a Test Series, you’ve got to try and disrupt the averages of the best players in the opposition. If you do that you increase your chances of winning – and that’s what Jardine did… I’ve always looked upon Jardine as a very smart captain and obviously a very good captain.”

Here is what some of his contemporaries said of him:

Pelham Warner (Middlesex and England. Tour Manager of the 33-32 tour): “If ever there was a cricket match between England and the rest of the world, and the fate of England depended upon the result, I would pick Jardine as England Captain every time."

Bill Bowes (Yorkshire and England): “To me and every member of the 1932-33 MCC side in Australia, Douglas Jardine was the greatest captain England ever had. A great fighter, a grand friend and an unforgiving enemy.

Sir Jack Hobbs (Surrey and England): “He was a great batsman – how great I do not think we quite appreciated at the time.

Could Douglas Jardine have done anything differently? At the time he led the Ashes Tour to Australia he had already had bad experiences in Australia and was not well-liked there. They had started in 1928 when a crowd of spectators began to barrack him about his Oxford “Harlequin cap”. He may have played up to it a little, but it was not long before the joke wore thin, and he came to the conclusion that Australian cricket spectators were boorish, unmannerly, and uneducated. The BBC’s Peter White suggests that as Jardine was known to have a sense of humour, he could perhaps have introduced a little of that into his on-field demeanour. But privately Jardine was painfully shy. He conquered much of that to become the man-of-steel that the team he led knew. However, there was a huge culture gap between him and the Australian crowd, a parcel of attitudes and misunderstandings which was never bridged either way.

It is not for provocative or partisan reasons that Jardine is one of my heroes – after all, not only he and Larwood are heroes of mine, but also Bradman and McCabe. I think it was that I was brought up in a cricket-loving family, first of all, and as a result of that I came to appreciate what made Jardine tick. I have always felt that posterity has been harsh to him, and I salute him as – if nothing else – a fellow Scot.



I have this to say, in fairness, to the Australian cricketers of the day. Though the hostile press called for retaliation in kind, the Australian team refused to do so. They regarded fast leg theory bowling as unsporting, and they stuck to that principle, though it might have cost them the Ashes.

One bowler the press suggested was Eddie Gilbert, the fast bowler from Queensland. Eddie was an Aborigine, only the second Aborigine to play First Class cricket. He was phenomenally fast, easily the equal of Larwood if not faster, and in 1931 had famously dismissed Bradman for a duck. Also, in a non-Test match during the 32-33 tour, he had struck Jardine and left a bruise the size of a saucer. Jardine was no stranger himself to getting hit by a cricket ball!

Eddie Gilbert never played for Australia, most likely because his bowling action was considered suspect by some umpires.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

The Five Champions

The Five Champions

Based on remembered fragments of traditional Mumming plays, with additions from my own imagination.

Father Christmas:
In come I, old Father Christmas, welcome or welcome not,
I pray old Father Christmas will never be forgot.
Room , room, good people give us room to sport,
For to this place we intend to resort
Five Champions never seen on stage before,
But we’ll do our best – the best can do no more!
Step forward King of Scots.

King of Scots:
Here come I, King of Scots, a soldier brave
Who’s traveled over hill and ocean wave.
I’ve fought Russians, Prussians, French, and Portuguese.
I made Old Boney tremble at the knees.
I’ve come here to challenge the bold Turkish Knight –
Who dares stand up with me and fight?
Step forward Turkish Knight.

Turkish Knight:
Next come I, Bold Turkey is my name,
I’m a warrior of great renown and fame.
I’ve fought the mighty Saracens of Syria,
And bloodied the nose of Venetians in Illyria,
I’ve been to Spain and fought King Ferdinand –
Now against the King of Scots I’ll stand.
Have at you, sir!

King of Scots:
Nay, have at you, sir!

They fight, and the Turkish knight is cut through and falls.

See now the valiant Turkish Knight fall!
See me, King of Scots, I conquer all!

Turkish Knight:
Alas, King of Scots, you have wounded me direly,
And I believe I am killed entirely!
Step forward Molly Turket.

Molly Turket:
Next come I, Molly Turket the bonny lass,
My hair black as jet, my eyes green as glass.
I have been wandering the world, or rather
Searching for the Turkish Knight, my father.
But oh, Alas! What is this I have found?
My dear father’s corpse here upon the ground!
Oh who is the villain who has cruelly slain him?
And who will cure the wounds that sorely pain him?
Step forward Doctor.

Next come I, the Doctor.

Doctor Who?

No – Doctor Black
With my staff in my hand and my bag on my back.
I can cure the itch, the stitch, the palsy, and the gout,
Every pain that’s within, every pain that’s without.
I cured Harry of a hangnail a hundred yards long!
To raise Turkey from the dead will not take long.
Take a little of my bottle,
Let it run down your throttle.

The Turkish knight rises

Turkish Knight:
What miracle is this? I am no longer slain,
I rise, I see and breathe, I walk again!
No more will I come out warlike from my nation
But live in peace and pious contemplation.
Thank you, good Doctor Black, for restoring my life-
King of Scots, you shall have my daughter to wife!
Take my hand, sir!

King of Scots:
Aye, that’s grand, sir!

Father Christmas:
Now good people our little play is almost done,
You have seen a great battle fought and won,
You have seen a man slain and brought to life,
A king without a queen gain a dear wife,
Two bitter enemies now are best of friends,
For peace shall reign when all warfare ends!

All (sing):
We are five champions bold
Never were on stage before,
But we have done our best
And the best can do no more

You have seen us all march round,
Think of us as you will.
Come fill the flowing bowl,
Drink up, and drink your fill.

We ask you for no reward
For our poor guising here
Save for six silver pence
And a glass of spicy beer!

Father Christmas:
Good mistresses, good masters, may your bounty never fail.
We wish you all good night, good fortune, and…



I wrote the play above, based on fragments of remembered mumming plays, first thing this morning and placed it on a poetry site, as a kind of Boxing Day present for all and sundry. Before I knew it, someone in Minnesota was offering to get her more enterprising nephews and nieces to perform it! I hope she does.

As I was writing it, an idea was already beginning to take shape in my mind about offering it to the annual Winter Words Festival at Pitlochry, as a kind of "interval entertainment". Performers do not have to be professionals, in fact mumming and guising (as it should be called in Scotland and Northern England) has always been an amateur thing - more ritual than theatrical.

Anyhow, I have always been in England a champion of things Scottish, and in Scotland a champion of things English. Let's face it, I'm bloody awkward. So when I read an article written by fellow Scot Magnus Linklater (actually an Orcadian and son of Eric Linklater, one of my favourite writers) celebrating the fact that morris dancing is dying, and using words like "feebleness", "mimsy", "wimpish", "wet", "anodyne to the point of narcosis", and "several clogs short of a fertility offensive" (Timesonline, Jan 6th 2009), I wonder how far my fellow-countrymen are prepared to push the more stupid manifestations of their anglophopbia. How such sniping sounds like a humdinger of an inferiority complex! Here's how wee Mansie finishes off:

There is hope, however. As morris dancing dips below the horizon of history, another national dance is ready to be claimed - full-blooded, sexually charged, competitive and deeply antagonistic. I refer of course to Strictly Come Dancing.

Reluctant as I may be to give any support to Linklater's racist sneering, he's right about this much - and I have said as much myself - more people are aware of things on the Haunted Fish Tank (the TV) than of their own folklore. Apart from that, Mansie - get over Flodden!


Now, where was I?

Oh yes, while I have Mansie Linklater's attention I would like to show my readers a link between a couple of traditions. Firstly, from Papa Stour, Shetland (further north than Linklater's birthplace) there is the Seven Champions sword dance. It is very unlike what you might imagine Scottish sword dancing to be - you probably immediately think of a person in Highland dress step dancing over a pair of crossed swords, such as in the picture below.
In fact it belongs more to a style of ritual dancing which has now died out elsewhere in Scotland, in which a group of dancers would link swords and weave around in and out of each other. As such, for the nearest-related ritual you would have to go to the English county of Yorkshire. Here is a link to the Papa Stour dance. You will notice how staid and prosaic it seems. The link I have given you is to a longish recording which includes the "calling-on" ritual, in which the master dancer introduces the other dancers one by one. They represent the "Seven Champions of Christendom", the master dancer being St George of England, and the others being St James (Spain), St David (Wales), St Dennis (France), St Patrick (Ireland), St Anthony (Italy), and St Andrew (Scotland). One reason why I looked for a complete clip is that so you will be able to hear the Shetland dialect of English spoken (I can cope with Orcadian myself, but find Shetland at its deepest a bit of an earful, but if you listen carefully you can hear nuances which a much more Scandinavian than Scottish). There is no further obvious link to mumming, no plot or action beyond the actual dance. But take a look at the Grenoside Sword Dancers from Yorkshire. Just as staid as their Shetland cousins, but with a ritual "death" in the dance.

It is not too fanciful to suppose a common origin for these two rituals and for the mumming plays as well. By the way, in many parts of Northern England and Scotland mummers are known as "Guisers" or "Guisards" ("guising" is still the term used in Scotland when kids dress up for Halloween or Bonfire Night). Amongst the papers of Sir Walter Scott at Abbotsford was found a manuscript bearing words from the local Guisards' play.

After I had written my "Five Champions" play I went looking for some old photographs of mummers and guisers, and I turned up some more examples of black facepaint.
These children are from Castleton in the county of Derbyshire in Central Northern England. They were known as "guisers", and went round singing the song about the "Old Tup" (also known as the "Derby Ram"), and their routine included the "killing" of the tup - usually a youngster in and upturned sack with its corners tied to look like sheep's ears. The photo below is a group of mummers, location unknown.
The characters are (as far as I know) from left to right: Scots & Scars, the Doctor, St George, Bold Slasher, Grandfather Christmas, Johnny Jack, and the Turkish Knight. As you can see, the Turkish Knight is wearing facepaint - this is the only example I have seen in an old photograph where the facepaint intentionally represents the complexion of a non-European, but I dare say there would have been other examples. The mummers in the two pictures below do not employ facepaint, although the character of the Turkish Knight is common to most ritual plays.
The Marshfield Mummers, also known as the "Paperboys", wore costumes decked with ribbons or strips of coloured paper. 
As can be seen from the troupe above, the presence of one or more characters where a man dresses as a woman were also common (hence the presence of "Molly Turket" in my play).

The origin of mumming is problematic. No documentary evidence exists for these rituals exists earlier than the 18c, although the word itself is very old and probably has a Viking origin. Comparisons can be drawn with death-and-rebirth beliefs all over Europe and the Middle East (Osiris, Balder, Christ - Balder or Baldur would have been known in England in Saxon and Viking times), but there is a later correlation to European commemorations of the Aragonese "reconquest" of Spain from the moors.

To Mansie Linklater all this might seem "mimsy", but then where does he get off snipping at other folk's culture? To me, it has recently become an endless source of fascination.

Marie's Christmas Jukebox

  1. Messiah (HWV 56), George Frideric Handel - London Symphony Orchestra & the Tenebrae Choir, conducted by Sir Colin Davis. (Recorded 2002, re-released 2007.)

What surprised me about my liking this recording of Handel's most famous oratorio was that the conductor is Sir Colin Davis. I have spent a lot of my listening years railing at this man who, to my mind, takes performances too slowly and is almost inarticulate when it comes to talking about music. However his interpretation here is spot on, relaxed yet controlled. I'm impressed. I suppose you could put an outfit as good as the LSO on autopilot, but still...

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

WWC♯D? Postscript

The picture above comes from the sleeve of the Watersons'  1975 album For Pence and Spicy Ale. The photo, as far as anyone now knows, was an old postcard from Hunstanton in Norfolk and was originally untinted. It shows a troupe of "Molly Dancers".

Molly Dancers were still fairly common across the East Midlands and East Anglia in the 19c, but the last 20c appearance of dancers was in the 1930s. Dancers were usually unemployed ploughmen, and they would come out on Plough Monday, in the gap between Christmas and Spring celebrations, to solicit for contributions. Little is known of what the traditional dances were - the last recorded performance included a tango between two of the troupe, one in female costume - but the dancers wore a variety of outfits and disguises.

Interestingly you will see that two of the characters in the photo have blackened faces. Whether this owes any more to "minstrelsy" than any other instances in England which I have mentioned I wouldn't like to speculate, but I would hesitate to jump to any hasty conclusions beyond allowing a possibility. Most historical prints of Plough Monday celebrations do not seem to include anyone in black facepaint
but on the other hand a 1932 photograph of George Green, the melodeon player who accompanied the Molly Dancers at Little Downham does show "blacking-up".
Interestingly almost all the speculative re-enactment Molly Dancing teams that have sprung up since the 1970s do use black facepaint, with the notable exception of the Hinkley Bullockers from Leicestershire who use red.

An unusual tradition existed until 1909 in the town of Whittlesea, when an over-zealous Police Inspector banned it on the grounds that it was a form of begging. The tradition was the parading of a "Straw Bear" around the town.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Odds and Ends


Your lasting legacy is this:

Before you came along there was one three-digit number we called if we wanted to make a directory enquiry. Now there are several six-digit numbers.

Since you made it illegal to smoke in pubs etc, I can't walk down the street without having to elbow my way through knots of smokers hanging around on the pavement. So because of you I have done more passive smoking over the past few years than in the rest of my life. If I die of lung cancer I hope my surviving relatives sue you into penury!



You were without equal, and the world is poorer without you to Boogiarize us. Rest in peace.



Tuesday, 14 December 2010

WWC♯D? No.3

What Would Cecil Sharp Do? No.3

Cecil Sharp with some folk-dancing friends, the women are possibly from the Esperance Club, the men are wearing Cotswold morris attire and are probably one of the early teams of enthusiasts (see “Re-enactment” below).

I have had some further thoughts about morris dancing since I last wrote.

Firstly my sweeping statement that girls’ teams in the North West of England came about because of the shortage of men to fill the traditional teams after WW1. It only took me a little further research to question that, even though the research was a quick look on Wikipedia1 and little of it was further substantiated.

There is mention of dances in Lancashire which involved mixed teams of young men and women, in particular there is reputed to be a painting of Eccles Wakes, which I have not seen and can’t find on the internet, showing mixed dancers in the late 18c. However, I do know that the Eccles tradition is for a rushcart procession, and whether the accompanying troupe were strictly speaking morris dancers is a different matter; all extant antique photographs of rushcart processions show them to be all-male affairs.
 A rushcart procession photographed in 1880

What is clearer is that girls’ troupes started to appear in the North West of England around mills and non-conformist chapels as early as the late 19c, although I maintain that the decline of men’s teams and the rise of girls’ post-WW1 must surely have been influenced greatly by war deaths. Surviving teams of traditional dancers in the North West, however, are exclusively all-male or all-female (I will say what I mean by “traditional” below) and each form, though still having mutually recognizable features, has developed along very different lines. Although I would still hesitate to cite American cheerleading as a direct influence2, a transatlantic observer would comment on certain similarities of dress and accoutrements. The “bunches” flourished by girls’ morris troupes are derived from the decorated sticks, “slings”, and garlands of the men’s troupes first and foremost, the modern (mid 20c onward) bunches bear too much similarity to those carried by American cheerleaders to prevent speculation about influence.

I have been able to find two pictures of a mixed boys-and-girls morris troupe performing at Goosnargh in Lancashire in the 1930s. As far as I can see they are holding Union Jack handkerchiefs.

Looking at morris dancing over the past 120 years or so, I feel I can divide the types of troupes, sides, and teams into the following categories and sub-categories. NB none of these categories includes a value judgment about the worth of each, the authenticity of each, or the motives of the creators or maintainers of each.

A traditional morris side is one which has an unbroken history in a particular place. Typical of this would be a side whose existence was recorded by Cecil Sharp and which still exists today. Examples would be the “Cotswold” morris dancers of Bampton and Headington. I would also use this term to include morris sides which had such an unbroken history when they were still active, such as the now defunct Chipping Campden side.

Although their history is patchy, their existence pre-Sharp places them within some kind of traditional matrix, for want of a better term. There is now a revivalist side in the village.

  • Adaptive traditionalThis is my term for dancing troupes and styles which have grown up and developed along different lines, sometimes radically different lines, due to various sociological circumstances. Typical of this would be the girls’ morris of North Western England, which has in fact flourished and grown.

As opposed to “adaptive”, this is my term for Morris dancing which has been adapted for purposes other than identifiably traditional ones. I would include in this category the teams found at girls’ schools which danced Cotswold morris, as collected by Cecil Sharp, as a kind of physical education.
 Cotswold morris being danced at a girls’ school in the 1930s

 Also I would include fanciful use of supposed (or even actual) morris dancing at village fetes and pageants at one time. As a possible example of this I am including below a photo of three girls and three boys at Chipping Sodbury in 1916.

Chipping Sodbury has no known tradition of morris dancing as far as I can tell, nor does the three-hand ring of each sex resemble any known one. The girls appear to have “Welsh” hats on, corresponding to the boys’ toppers; the latter may have been copied from the traditional attire of the men’s sides from Brackley or Bucknell.
 The traditional dancers from Bucknell

Arguably the use of morris dancing in the training of students at the Royal Ballet School could come into the Adapted category too.

This term covers revival of dances in villages or areas where they were performed previously, but where there had been a hiatus. To be truly a “revival” there would need to be some very strong source of information on performance – photographs of costume etc, dance steps noted down or retained in the memory of a former dancer, tunes still known, and so on.

  • Speculative Revivalist or Creative Revivalist. These are interchangeable terms which I would use to cover situations where people know that there was a now-defunct tradition in a particular area, but where there is too little information available to make an accurate replica of a bygone performance. In such situations an imaginative creation is arrived at. As an example of this I would cite the Shrophshire Bedlam Morris, who perform a “Border” style of morris but with a high degree of creative innovation. NB I will deal further with the use of “blackface” in morris dancing later in this entry.

In this category I would place any morris dancing group which performs a traditional dance as accurately as possible, but one which has no specific ties to the group’s location. Some observers could see this as presentation of morris as a museum piece rather than a living tradition. Into this category I would place “Morris Ring” sides, and other enthusiasts, who try to preserve mainly Cotswold dances as collected by Cecil Sharp. The value of this category is that they do allow us to see many types of dances which have died out in their previously traditional locations.

  • Adaptive re-enactment. In this category I would place groups of dancers influenced by the principle that things should not only be the preserve of male dancers. Since the UK folk revival of the 1970s pressure had been applied along the lines of this principle. It had been resisted, mainly by “Ring” sides, for the very reason that a conscious decision had been made to preserve a form of dancing as it had been collected by Cecil Sharp, and that the conscious decision to change it fundamentally was a destructive impulse rather than one based on fairness. Nonetheless since the 1970s a number of groups of women dancers have emerged dancing what have been hitherto preserved as male forms of morris, particularly North Western clog morris.

One thing I should say about all these different trends, strands, and categories. People do the dances their own way, and do them at all for their own reasons. Their reasons are important to understand and to note, and their dancing at all is a way of ensuring some link with older traditions. Who knows but that any or all of these strands could become, in time, recognizable as a tradition in its own right.

Another thing to remember is this. Traditional folk forms are not the be-all and end-all. It is a noteworthy fact that the majority of people in Britain are unaware of the traditions that they may have lost, let alone the ones they still have somewhere within the borders of their country. The majority of people in Britain are more familiar with “Chart” R&B and with the latest winner of “The X-Factor” than they are with British folk music3. This is just a sociological fact, a context, not a judgment.

“Blackface” in morris dancing.
A brief note about this phenomenon. Apart from one instance in Lancashire, in the small mill-town of Bacup, all mention of dancers with their faces blackened appear to be in the counties of Shropshire of Herefordshire, along the border with Wales (and their style is referred to as “Border Morris”). The fact that these places are all in remote rural areas, well away from the large towns which would have Music Halls, coupled with the fact that the blackening extended to the eye- and lip-surrounds, suggests that it is something different from “blackface” in American Minstrelsy.

Here is a clip of the Shropshire Bedlam Morris dancing with black faces. This side was formed in 1975 by folk musician John Kirkpatrick. I would put them in the Speculative or Creative Revivalist category, as they work from known fragments of Border Morris along with their own creative reconstruction, and dance in an area where the tradition was previously known. Interestingly they came under criticism from a resident of the small Shropshire town of Clun precisely for blackening their faces. “I have to put up with it every year,” he said. “Has anyone noticed how racist it is?” As a matter of interest they have a “sister” side of women dancers who do not wear blackened faces.

Below are two tantalizing pictures of now-lost Border morris. The first group is from Upton-on-Severn. Their faces are not blackened, but they wear clothes which appear to be decorated with rags and ribbons. The second is a glimpse of dancers at Much Wenlock. You can make out that their disguise covers the whole faces. Their attire appears to be like a clown costume, and they seem to be performing a stick-clashing dance.


I think I will now give this subject a rest, you’ll be glad to hear…

1 Much better to enquire of the EFDSS library at Cecil Sharp House.

2 There is no tradition of cheerleading at sporting events in the UK, in fact any attempt to organise the spontaneity of fans has always been resisted, cheers and chants being devised solely by the fans themselves. American games such as Baseball and (American) Football have never taken off in the UK.

3 Recently BBC TV televised a show in which featured a musician’s attempt to organize a “flash mob” of clog dancers in a square in the city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. In a pre-event “vox-pop” interview one member of the public adamantly and persistently corrected the musician when he referred to clogs, saying word to the effect, “If they have leather uppers and laces they are not clogs, they are shoes. Clogs are made of wood, have no laces, and would fall off if you tried to dance in them.” There’s an article about the programme on this link, including some video clips.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Marie's Jukebox, 3

  1. BBC Concert Orchestra, c Vernon Handley – Little Suite, III March, Trevor Duncan.
  2. Sheila Chandra – Nana (The Dreaming).
  3. Spike Jones – I Went To Your Wedding.
  4. Radiohead – Airbag.
  5. Beach Boys – Wouldn’t It Be Nice (Live).
  6. Chicane – Empires.
  7. Broadway Cast of “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum” – A Comedy Tonight.
  8. Oomph – Sandmann.
  9. Anthony Newley – What Kind Of Fool Am I?
  10. Mel Torme – Polka Dots And Moonbeams.
  11. Status Quo – Caroline.
  12. Stevie Ray Vaughan – Superstition (Live).
  13. Telepopmusik – Breathe.
  14. TranceSX – MLE-Tribute.
  15. Joe Brown – Well All Right.
  16. Sergio Mendez & Brazil 66 – Mas Que Nada.
  17. Jimi Hendrix – The Wind Cries Mary.
  18. Foo Fighters – Let it Die.
  19. Monsoon feat. Sheila Chandra – Ever So Lonely (Remix).
  20. Paul Brady – The Lakes Of Pontchartrain.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

WWC♯D? No.2


Here is a video clip from Mayday 2010. It was filmed at Padstow in Cornwall, a uniquely Celtic corner of England. The “Old” or “Red Ribbon” Hobby Horse (or “Obby Oss” as they call it in Padstow) is one of three horses which come out into the town on Mayday. First to emerge in the morning is the Children’s Oss. The second is the Blue or “Peace” Oss, and the third is the Old Oss.

In this clip the Oss comes out of the Golden Lion pub and starts the day’s dancing. The dance will take all day, and will process throughout the whole town of Padstow. Traditionally it is good luck to be barged by the Oss’s tarred skirts, and in this clip we see it actually seize a young woman. The Oss is usually accompanied by one or more “Teasers”, who dance before it carrying something that looks like a decorated bat or clapper.

Mayday is Padstow’s “Day”, the day when it does it’s own thing. But something nags at the back of my mind when I watch these clips. There was a big revival in interest in English traditions in the 1970s, and Padstow was a big draw for enthusiasts who wanted to see, and to participate in, something utterly unique in the world. The B&Bs and hotels became booked up for miles around. I met at least one Londoner who was a regular down in Padstow – he would go there, put on his white clothes and red necker, and dance along with the Old Oss – and he wasn’t alone. I heard (second hand, so if you quote me don’t quote me as Gospel), that as the B&Bs filled up, more and more Padstonians  booked holidays in Ibiza. Cornwall depends on tourism for much of its wealth, but nonetheless calls tourists by the disparaging name of “grockles”. Padstow would empty out its natives and become a town where outsiders performed the tradition.

So when I look at the clips, I wonder how many people I am watching, either as onlookers or participants, are actually Cornishmen and Cornishwomen from Padstow. Maybe things have quieted down. Maybe they have reclaimed their Day as their own, to some extent. Maybe what I was told was complete eyewash anyway.

But it all made me wonder this: Is an ethnomusicologist free to become an enthusiast, a participant, a revivalist?

Ethnomusicology and looking at folk traditions strikes me as being a little like particle physics. When a traditional display is observed it is, like the behaviour of a particle, somehow changed. This can’t be helped. It is a mater of context. To an extent, if only to a small extent, the display is for the observer, whose presence slightly alters the context of the display. When the observer becomes a participant, the context changes further.

This is the point at which one usually takes a moral stance and states a principle, draws a line at the place beyond which one promises not to “interfere”. But “interfering” and not interfering both have consequences, as surely as effect follows cause. Recognising this, and placing traditions within changing times (which is surely where they are anyway!) is part and parcel of being able to see people’s music and traditions in context.

A couple of words which keep cropping up in my dippings-into ethnomusicology are “etic” and “emic”. To me they are a couple of suffixes. Basically their purpose is to differentiate between outside and inside a culture. Neither viewpoint is complete in itself. Insiders can be subjective to an extent that outsiders often can’t. Outsiders can be objective to an extent that insiders sometimes can’t.

I have been told that I have a good appreciation of “context”, particularly historical context. I don’t know. Do I? I do know that I certainly ought to if I am going to maintain an interest in subjects like this.

Okay, I asked: “Is an ethnomusicologist free to become an enthusiast, a participant, a revivalist?” Well, why not? Who could resist the chance to dance through the streets of Padstow, or to play in a gamelan ensemble, or to join in a Sardana in the town square in Girona? Go for it, but keep a sense of what it is you are doing.


I noticed that the second clip had appeared on the web site of the BNP (British National Party), who are reckoned to be a Fascist organisation. That's an interesting phenomenon in itself, the appropriation of the images of a traditional event for right-wing political purposes.