These photos were taken sometime around 1994, give or take a year or two, and seeing the Morris dancers outside the local Old George pub in Seaton was a perfect opportunity to capture something that's quintessentially English.
Taken on b&w film, the above photo was the only one that I printed out, and subsequently scanned. The rest were scanned recently with a negative scanner...a break from the usual website stuff in order to add a bit of fun as well as documenting one of our wonderfully quaint traditions.
Having researched Morris Dancing, and reading a lot of different thoughts about it's origins, I decided to wing it and just write about the general basics. Apparently, it was first recorded in the mid 15th century as a folk dance. The name is thought to have originated from Moorish, possibly due to some traditional dancers blackening their faces rather than because it came from abroad. Some dancers still blacken their faces, mainly those in the North East.
From what I've read, I believe that these particular dancers in the photos used the Cotswolds tradition. Another tradition, the Border, is from the Welsh border country, which include the English counties Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire, and is a much wilder dance. Interestingly, having just read Phil Rickman's latest (at the time of writing) fiction called All of a Winter's Night, it may also be a darker kind of dance, and Phil makes some rather nice connections between the dance and the Green Man. Another novel highlighting the Morris is Terry Pratchett's book The Wintersmith, which opens with what he called the Dark Morris, heralding in the Winter, as opposed to the Maytime dances which herald in the Spring.
During my research I came across a wonderful YouTube video entitled Extreme Morris Dancing, in which two blokes bashed each other on the head with beer trays as part of the dance. A mild tap at first, but increasingly harder each time until the beer trays were bent out of shape! :) And which can be seen here...
If anyone's a fan of of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, then you'll also know what I mean by 'the stick and bucket' dance. Lords and Ladies is my favourite Discworld book...the blurb on the back of the book being 'lots of hey-nonny-nonny and blood all over the place'.
For those who don't know the story, the Lancre Morris Men woke up from a cider-induced sleep up on the moors to find that the Elves had broken through to their world from their own dimension (very bad elves in this story, in the traditional manner). To get back to their town, and to ward off the elves with music, which fascinates them, they decide to do the stick and bucket dance all the way, a dance which they've banned because it's too violent. From the book...
...''Seven pairs of boots thudded down...
...'one, two...spin...ready...one, two...back...back...one, two...turn...KILL...and back, one, two...' "
At least these blokes didn't use their sticks to kill anyone with. ;)
Loads more pics are available in the Photo Gallery album. And if anyone knows who these dancers are or where they're from, please let me know as I'd be very interested. Free piccies for them if they get in touch.