Tribute to Bryan Sheppard, 15 April 20

Without Bryan Sheppard, Adderbury Village Morris Men would, I believe, not exist. For 45 years he was an inspirational leader and dancer who had a clear vision of how the revival side should develop and insisted on the high standards of performance he demonstrated at all times, whilst never losing sight of the need for fun and laughter. In practice sessions he was quick to spot any drop in standards or stylistic blemishes, yet was always encouraging to newer recruits, perhaps realising that it would take a great deal of further practice, experience, improved fitness and not a little  talent to approach the exemplary performance standards which he exhibited for so long wherever Cotswold Morris was danced. For most of the early years of the revival side Bryan combined the roles of Squire, Fool, Master of Mayhem and star dancer. There have been four other Squires since Bryan stood down from this role, but no-one has tried to emulate his anarchic style in the role of AVMM’s Fool. Traditionally the best dancer in the side, the Fool in Morris circles takes many guises, but I have never seen one like Bryan who, sporting a huge range of costumes whenever the team performed, could draw and entertain a crowd whilst meting out summary justice with his bladder to any dancer who perhaps made a slight mistake.

Tribute to Bryan Sheppard, co-founder of the 1975 Adderbury revival side. Photo by Richard Ansett.

At the 2018 AGM, former Squire, Dave Reed, paid tribute to Bryan’s immense contribution to the side and in particular to his role as Fool and proposed that Bryan be given the title of Fool Emeritus. Here is an extract from his tribute:

In his early 20s through his interest in folk music, Bryan became involved with Moulton Morris and from Barry Care he acquired the revelation that there were Morris dances from Adderbury. For most people this would have been an historical curiosity but Bryan decided to do something about it. Through his initiative and great determination he persuaded his mates to set up a Morris dance side in the village. The Adderbury tradition has long been well known within the Cotswold Morris fraternity, but Bryan wasn’t content to mimic how other sides interpreted the dances. He set about going back to basics and his research led to the Blunt manuscripts, and he came up with a format that was different to the generally accepted Cecil Sharp notation. This was a really valuable gift for the village – Adderbury had reacquired its unique tradition of over twenty dances, more than most other village repertoires. The Morris sides who are dancing their own village tradition are held in high esteem by all Cotswold sides. Through Bryan’s efforts, the Adderbury Village side are Morris royalty. Throughout his involvement with AVMM there has been one constant – Bryan’s role as Fool. Usually dressed incongruously as a Victorian clergyman was his preferred method of cocking a snook at authority. But every Day of Dance he would give us a special treat – who can forget his Gorilla, Giant Chicken, Homer Simpson, Scuba Diver or Darth Vader? In acknowledgement of Bryan’s immense contribution to The Morris I propose that we bestow on him the honour of the title Fool Emeritus, to be held by him in perpetuity.  

Given the enormous esteem that the members of AVMM had and continue to have for Bryan, the motion was approved unanimously. A year earlier, perhaps realising that his own dancing days were starting to draw to a close, Bryan had encouraged the current Squire to take the side on an overseas tour in order to improve harmony and team spirit and to raise standards. It seemed entirely appropriate to repeat the tour of the World War 1 battlefields which Bryan had masterminded in 2008 and thus combine a tribute to the young dancers whose lives had been cut short by war over a hundred years ago with a homage to the man who resurrected our tradition in the village. That the side continues to flourish is, I believe, Bryan’s legacy to the village he loved so much.

John Ekers Squire, AVMM