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(Not) The Hobby Horse Festival, Banbury, 16 October 21

With the Hobby Festival once again being postponed for Covid related reasons, our Bagman had the inspired idea of AVMM filling the gap in the calendar by entertaining the shoppers and merchants of Banbury with the full range of our dances whilst introducing two of the finest ‘Osses in the land, viz. Charlie and Percy to the crowds that gathered quickly wherever we performed. Starting outside the White Horse we processed through the pedestrianised lanes of the town to dance whenever the mood took us. The weather was calm and unseasonably warm and spectators were happy to linger and show their appreciation for our unique repertoire. Starting with just six dancers we encouraged members of the public to join us on our audience participation numbers, which they did in good numbers. One such volunteer turned to be a member of the original 1970s revival side, Chris Taylor. After living in the Netherlands for a couple of decades Chris has returned to live in Banbury. He danced with us on Constant Billy and Shepherd’s Hey and then joined us for the rest of the afternoon enjoying seeing Postman’s Knock, Happy Man, Old Woman etc as well as our double double jigs: Shepherd’s and Jockey to the Fair. We were also privileged to have a Royal Academic of Music trained cellist, Matthew Forbes augmenting the wonderful sound of Donald’s melodeon.

Adderbury Village Morris dancers and musician (L to R) Troy with Luke, Richard, Owen, Donald, John, David and Ryan joined by Chris Taylor and Matthew Forbes – photo courtesy of Hannah Ekers

All in all it was a great day and I feel sure we made many new friends in the town. We certainly fielded more than the usual number of enquiries about our availability for future displays, the origins of AVMM and Morris dancing generally. My thanks to Ryan, David, Richard, Troy and Owen for dancing as well as to Dylan and Luke for helping with the horses and to Chris and others who joined us during the day. Last but not least, thanks to our musicians, Donald and for part of the day, Matthew. We’d also like to thank Hannah our photographer and Jacky and Sam for cheering us on.

Squire John Ekers

Action shot – literally – our horse riders Dylan and Luke with hobby horses Charlie and Percy, go to ground in Banbury market place. Photo courtesy of Hannah Ekers

(Not) the Day of Dance: Adderbury Community Day, 18 September 21

Brilliant sunshine was over Adderbury as the team of both old and familiar faces assembled outside the local library for what was a two and a half year in the making event. The Adderbury Community Day had invited all three sides in the village to participate in what was to be dubbed the (Not) Day of Dance, as the previous two Days’ of Dance had been cancelled for reasons I’m sure anyone reading this can probably guess!

Our day started off with our traditional ceremony in St. Mary’s Church, where we paid our respects to Charlie Coleman, the last surviving Morris Dancer to return from World War One, and whose vital knowledge helped to revive the side back in the 1970s. We sang our “Day of Dance” song written by our musician Donald McCombie, followed by Chris Garrett reciting “Adderbury Sunrise”, a poem consisting of verses written by Janet Blunt and Richard Thompson. These two parts of the ceremony have now been performed for almost ten years, and it was great to be doing them once again! Finally, Chris finished the ceremony by giving Charlie the first drink of the day, remarking that we hoped he wasn’t teetotal, or confused about the fact we were there in September, and not in April.

Our group, composed of both dancers, family and friends, made our way round to Church Lane where we danced our traditional starting dances, Sweet Jenny Jones and Haste to the Wedding. We were soon greeted with an audience of residents coming out to see the dances. We danced two sets for Constant Billy in the already gorgeous sunshine, and then made our way down to the streams running through Adderbury, passing TV’s John Craven’s home, who I can only assume we’d awoken from his Saturday morning lie in. Grateful of the shade, but perhaps not the uneven terrain, we started with Old Woman Tossed up in a Blanket in which we carried out our first call and response recital of the poem, as suggested by Donald. It worked wonderfully and was a great chance to practice before the bigger crowds later in the day. We then followed with Lads a Buncham – which I initially called Constant Billy by mistake as clearly, it was constantly on my mind.

Group photo courtesy of Hannah Ekers

Our first Jockey to the Fair of the day took place with myself, Troy, Raf and, for the first time in public, our Bagman David Snell – who decided to provide me the extra challenge of calling the jig whilst dancing it. It was great to see another member taking up what is one of our harder dances. We finished with the Bluebells of Scotland before making our way up to Rose Cottage – Charlie Coleman’s former residence in the village. The group decided our hobby horse Charlie (no marks for guessing who he’s named after) could serve as traffic warden whilst we danced, as he is currently unable to dance due to an injury at a previous event. Beaux of London City (a.k.a Shooting) and Hail to the Chief were performed before moving on.

We arrived at the newest addition to our dancing route – Colin Butler Green – where there is a tree planted in memory of Bryan Sheppard, the founder of the side and who was responsible for its revival back in the 70s, who sadly passed away last year. In his memory, we danced Postman’s Knock, an eight man Princess Royal, Happy Man and Roast Beef. Before we left, Chris Garrett suggested we also give Bryan a drink on this beautiful sunny day, a tradition I’m sure we will look to keep for many years to come, and one Bryan would definitely have approved of! Making our way back down the village, we enjoyed lunch served by the Coach and Horses before entertaining the crowds with Sweet Jenny Jones, Haste to the Wedding (did I mention we sometimes call that Flasher?) and Shooting once again. We finished our set with Shepherd’s Hey performed first by the side, and then with members of the audience.

Crossing the hazard which was the Oxford Road, we set up outside the Red Lion. After topping up on sunscreen, we performed Black Joke, Bluebells of Scotland (which Troy did an excellent job of calling for the first time), Haste to the Wedding, Postman’s Knock and Stourton Wake. I asked where the name Black Joke came from, and was told it was a bit inappropriate to explain in front of some of our younger dancers so the mystery still remains! Although if it’s as lewd as they say, perhaps I’m better off not knowing…

After walking down the village, and stopping to take some time to admire our stand beautifully put together by our Bagman David, the group arrived at our last stop of the day – The Bell Inn. Adderbury Morris Men had also joined us and we opened the turn and turnabout, with Washing Day. Following on from the other side’s rendition of a rather familiar, yet different, version of Happy Man, my calling was once again put to the test as two of our younger members Theo and Dylan were keen to perform Jockey to the Fair in front of the crowd which had gathered. With Troy guiding Theo and myself guiding Dylan, we displayed the future of both AVMM and the promise of a continuation of our long standing tradition, as the crowd was blown away by the performance – Theo and Dylan danced brilliantly. The day ended with a run of three dances once the other side had retired to The Bell. We concluded with Constant Billy, Old Woman Tossed up in a Blanket and our signature finale – Brighton Camp danced by ten members.

Dylan and Ryan dancing Jockey to the Fair. Photo courtesy of Hannah Ekers

Now for probably the most important part of this report – the thanks to everyone involved. Firstly, a huge thank you to everyone who attended. Without you, this event wouldn’t be possible so my heartfelt thanks to all the members who came along. Thank you to our younger dancers, Alfie, Owen, Dylan and Theo who are the next generation of the side. It’s your participation which will keep the tradition alive for many years to come. Thank you to our new members Chris and Matt. Your dancing looks better every time I see you, and I hope you enjoyed your first of many Days of Dance. To our Musicians, Jim Plester, Donald McCombie and Malcolm Wood as well as Dorset Dave Reed, who not only danced with us but also provided musical accompaniment with his harmonica. Your music is what keeps us going – quite literally! Thank you to our photographers, Hannah Ekers and David Reed and to the Adderbury pubs and landlords for hosting us. Finally, to our Bagman David Snell who was the producer of the day, having put together the schedule, provided the sticks, transported the Hobby Horses, waved the flags, constructed the display stand, arranged lunch and, most importantly, supplied the drinks. The hard work really showed as the day’s events went smoothly. All I did was turn up, shout a bit and dance with people!

Twenty-nine dances didn’t quite beat the numbers in previous years by our absentee Squire John Ekers, but overall the day was fantastic. On that note, to our Squire John, you were sorely missed and I don’t know how you do it! See you all at the next event.

Ryan Jamniuk

Bank holiday Dance Out 30 August 21

This is a good day for dancing!” exclaimed our Squire as we assembled outside the Tithe Barn by The Bell in Adderbury at noon on a grey but warm Bank Holiday Monday. And indeed it was. We were soon into our stride, with once again two sets of six men presenting many of the regular dances to a large and enthusiastic audience gathered around us. Probably because we were making such a noise dancing outside his house, we were joined for a while by our esteemed Adderbury friend Chris Leslie on the fiddle. We all had such fun that we found it hard to leave the spot just down the road from the Bell Inn. However as planned we then proceeded up to the Coach and Horses for another one hour set where we repeated some but also covered several of the dances we had not already done. Again the audience was very appreciative and seemed interested by the historic and cultural background that we gave them by way of introductions to the dances.

Donald, Malcolm and Chris playing outside the Bell, Adderbury. Photo courtesy of Hannah Ekers.

Having lost track of time in all the joy and merriment, we then headed over to Aynho and danced for a while outside the Cartwright Hotel to a smaller but no less enthusiastic audience. During the afternoon, our audience participation version of Shepherds’ Hey dance was particularly well received  with good numbers of volunteers keen to experience the delights of the Adderbury Village Morris tradition. During four hours of dancing we ran through pretty much the entirety of the AVMM repertoire with 15 dancers and three musicians, not to mention Charlie and Percy, our horses. We were very pleased that our ex-Squire and honorary Foreman Dorset Dave Reed was able to join us for a few dances later in the afternoon. Then it was back to Chez Ekers for tea on the lawn, where Mrs Squire had prepared a delicious and wonderful spread of cakes and sandwiches which we devoured with great enthusiasm and then we ruined the Squire’s lawn by rounding such a merry gathering off with a few of our favourite dances from the day. Tea, Hooky beers and soft drinks were available to slake the thirsts of the weary dancers and Dave Reed made a lovely speech congratulating the current side on the quality of its dancing. A very jolly day was had by all!

Tea time in Aynho and still dancing! Photo courtesy of Hannah Ekers.

One of our supporters told me at the end as we were talking “When you guys dance, it is the look of joy on all of your faces that is so infectious, and the audience notices this and absolutely loves it.” Praise indeed!

Our thanks to Hannah for her lovely photos and to Jackie Ekers for hosting afternoon tea and more. We look forward to returning to Adderbury on the 18th September to dance around the village once again.

David Snell, Bagman

Whitchurch Parish Fete, Warwickshire, 14 August 21

If you look on the OS map, the lost village of Whitchurch-On-Stour is a mere hump of raised ground next to a beautiful old church in the middle of nowhere, by the banks of the river. Being so remote, my expectations for the scale of this event were not great, but to my pleasant surprise the people from all around flocked to make this fete a great success, with the customary splat the rat, bric-a-brac, tea and cakes and other staple village fete fare.

We Morris men (two sets of six once again) seemed to be the main entertainment and were given free rein in the middle of the paddock. We must have danced continually for around an hour and a half! Some of our number had travelled a long way to get there, and all of us were rather hot and tired by the end. As were so close to the River Stour we had to include Stourton Wake in our set as well as most of the rest of our regular dances. The audience was very appreciative, and many of the locals cheerfully joined in with our audience participation version of Sheperd’s Hey. Involving the crowd has always proved a good way of promoting new membership: the young people dancing opposite me enjoyed it so much and said that they would have been interested in joining our side had they not lived in Bristol.

Shepherd’s Hey audience participation! Photo courtesy of Hannah Ekers

The clouds occasionally parted and the sun shone down. It was a beautiful afternoon with good dancing. New recruits, Owen, Matt and Chris are all making great progress. It was also good to welcome back Tommy, who had travelled from Weymouth via Essex to dance with AVMM once again.

Group photo courtesy of Hannah Ekers

We were also pleased to meet up with our old friend the Rev. Stephen Fletcher, former vicar of Adderbury and now plying his trade in the wilds of Warwickshire. As we drove away from the venue, we saw families from the neighbouring villages wandering wearily home down the quiet country lanes, the children’s faces covered in melted ice cream and the parents carrying all kinds of cakes, books and unusable items from the bric-a-brac store.

Our thanks to the Fete organising committee and all those who watched and appreciated our dancing.

David Snell, Bagman

Wroxton Village Fete, 7 August 21

Adderbury Village Morris Men were the star guests once again at this popular event held on Saturday 7 August. After last year’s Fete was cancelled because of the pandemic, the organiser, Chris May, was particularly keen to draw in a large crowd to raise money for local good causes. For the first time at Wroxton we were able to field two sets of six for the majority of our traditional dances. We danced continuously for two hours with just short breaks to take on water and to form a guard of honour for a young bridal couple walking through the village following their wedding. It turned out that the bride was a teacher at Christopher Rawlings School in Adderbury, which was particularly fortuitous.

Just Married! AVMM form an archway for the happy couple. Photo courtesy of Hannah Ekers

Following our traditional starting dances of Sweet Jenny Jones and Haste to the Wedding, we demonstrated Shepherd’s Hey dance to the crowd and then invited audience participation for a modified version of the same dance. Judging by the number of young volunteers who put themselves forward, this could be a very useful recruiting tool when we resume visiting local schools to demonstrate our tradition.

Haste to the Wedding. Photo courtesy of Hannah Ekers

We were lucky that the forecast showers hardly touched Wroxton and so we were able to dance without interruption, entertaining the crowd with most of the dances in our repertoire. Lads A Bunchum, Brighton Camp, Black Joke, Postman’s Knock, Happy Man and the very impressive double jigs, Shepherds’ and Jockey to the Fair were all performed to a very high standard. It is clear that the extra al fresco practices arranged  since the end of lockdown have paid off. A very experienced former dancer of the Longborough tradition who was watching, was keen to compliment all the side and was surprised both by the youth of some of our dancers and the fact that some of our members have only danced in public on a handful of occasions. I’m delighted with the way the current side is dancing and look forward to another successful and enjoyable afternoon next Saturday 14 August when we will be dancing in Warwickshire at 2.30pm, postcode CV37 8PD – come and join us!

Our thanks to Chris May and the Wroxton Village Fete organising committee and to Hannah Ekers for capturing AVMM in action!

Squire John Ekers

Hampton Lucy, Warwickshire 21 July 21

AVMM enjoyed a delightful summer’s evening of dancing and Morris chat at The Boar’s Head, Hampton Lucy last night. As guests of the fine Worcestershire Border side, Bow Brook Morris we were also welcomed by local side Shakespeare Morris. The three sides danced turn and turn about, although as the heat started to take its toll, and given our greater numbers (an impressive turn out of 13 dancers), we were given the chance to perform more of our repertoire than the other sides. For the first part of the evening before our youngest performers had to leave to go to bed, we fielded two sets of dancers and impressed with fine demonstrations of Sweet Jenny Jones, Beaux of London City, Roast Beef of Old England, Lads-A-Bunchum, Shepherds’ Hey, Blue Bells of Scotland etc.

All three sides and some spectators participating in Shepherds’ Hey, led by John

The Bagman of The Morris Ring, Pete Austin, was present in his official capacity as well as dancing with all three sides and demonstrating an impressive solo jig. He introduced himself to our Squire and congratulated AVMM on the strength of our turn out and the quality of our dancing: quite an accolade given that three of our dancers were each only turning out in public for the second occasion.

In the latter part of the evening Troy, Ryan, Raf and John demonstrated a double two man jig, Jockey To The Fair and the crowd enjoyed our traditional classics of Postman’s Knock and Happy Man. We were also reminded how different are our versions of Black Joke, Princess Royal and Constant Billy from most other morris sides.

All in all the team had a great night and entertained a good sized crowd, making many new morris friends in the process. Thanks to our hosts and to all the wonderful members of AVMM who have turned out so regularly for practices. It is certainly starting to pay off.

Squire John Ekers

AVMM dance again! Kineton, 12 July 2021

AVMM were delighted to be out dancing again, performing to a large and enthusiastic crowd in the beautiful setting of Kineton Market Square at the request of the local stall holders. Squire John was really pleased to be able to field a strong squad of 14 dancers including three new dancers, for whom this was a first public appearance. All the dancers have been attending Wednesday night practices regularly since lockdown measures eased and the level of performance was impressively high. In all we danced a total of 16 dances, fielding two sets for most of them and giving our horses, Charlie and Percy, a welcome opportunity to caper around the performers after a long period of being confined to their stables in a local village.

AVMM at Kineton Farmers market, 12 July, 2021 – photo courtesy of Hannah Ekers

As well as receiving our customary appearance fee, our dancers were supplied with samples of the finest ice cream, soft drinks and craft beer donated by the generous stall holders. Thanks to all those who have worked so hard in practices, to Donald our musician and to all the dancers, and in particular Chris Gasson, Matt Dodridge and Alfie Jordan. All our new recruits can be really proud to have learned so many of the dances from our fine tradition in what have been unusual and difficult circumstances.

Donald and Hats! -Photo courtesy of Hannah Ekers

Practice continues next Wednesday 14th July as we prepare for further displays at local pubs and fetes in the weeks ahead.

Squire John Ekers

Hail to the Chief!

We were delighted that former Squire, Dorset Dave was able to make last week’s practice (we had a total of 14 dancers!) and he took the photo of six of us practising ‘Hail to the chief’. Dave only managed one dance during which he damaged a leg and so Squire John, a regular at Yoga sessions is considering whether we should limber up with a few Yoga moves in future … Our bagman David is doing a phenomenal job making up bell pads and kit for our new dancers and in briefings for our first events of the year: Kineton Farmers Market on Saturday July 10th (10.30am-12.30 pm) and Wroxton Fete on 7th August starting (1-3pm). Meanwhile, we all hope that Dorset Dave will be dancing on both legs again soon.

AVMM practice ‘Hail to the Chief’ photo by Dorset Dave Reed

Remembering Bryan Sheppard

Bryan died on 29 March 2020 aged 67 and because of the pandemic his many friends were unable to attend the funeral. To compensate for there being no Wake at the time, his widow Gail organised a Memorial Gathering in Adderbury on Sunday 27 April 2021 to give people an opportunity to remember him in his home village. She intended this to be fairly informal, starting at the Lucy Plackett playing field with a lunchtime picnic. Those present were able to catch up with people who many of us won’t have seen for over a year.

Memories of Bryan were shared, and labels to write these on were distributed. In the afternoon everyone moved on to Colin Butler Green, for some words from Gail, Jack and Polly by the tree planted there last year dedicated to Bryan. There Gail paid tribute to her late husband, followed by moving recollections of their father from Polly and Jack. These short eulogies gave those of us who only knew Bryan through Morris an insight into how valued he was in his domestic life. Polly spoke of his insistence on good manners and giving people due respect. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one listening who found this at odds with his Morris Fool antics! Jack gave a very heartfelt picture of his relationship with his Dad in a poem he had composed for the occasion. Other memories were then provided by friends involving happy times of holidays together. The many memory labels were then tied to the Handkerchief Tree giving the impression of white blossom. We all toasted Bryan’s memory with flutes of Prosecco then gathered around the tree to read the tributes penned on the white labels.

Jack Sheppard reading his poem about Bryan, watched by Polly and Gail

The Adderbury Village Morris Men present then danced in honour of our founder. It was also good to see Ian Harris there representing the other side that Bryan helped bring into being, Sunrising Morris. Although only two of our men were in kit, we had enough in civvies to make up a side of six. The first dance was as traditional, Sweet Jenny Jones led by Dave Reed in kit with five in civvies – Raf Oya, Troy Daniels, David Davies, Chris Holmes and Chris Garrett with Jim Plester on fiddle. It felt so good to dance Bryan’s researched tradition in Manor Road outside Janet Blunt’s house again. Mark French was also present and it was wonderful to be together as a Side. Well done to David Davies, not seen since 2019 Day of Dance & Hornton May Day, who travelled all the way from Llandrindod Wells with his wife Jacky. For Shepherd’s Hey our Squire, the only other man kitted up, John Ekers took over calling duties, allowing Dorset to blow his harmonica alongside Jim in the Musicians’ Gallery.

AVMM dancing in memory of Bryan Sheppard

Our sincere thanks to Gail, Jack and Polly for a memorable day. Bryan is naturally buried in Adderbury Cemetery in Horn Hill Road. The grave is at the far right at the top if you wish to visit and see the newly installed headstone.

“Dorset” Dave Reed

16 June 2021 – AVMM in training!

Ten dancers and our musician, Donald met outside the Bell in Adderbury on Wednesday evening 16 June at 7pm. It is encouraging to see the great progress that our younger dancers and new recruits are making and we’ll continue to meet for practices outside at 7pm on Wednesdays in June and July. As ever, people stopped to watch and encourage us and who knows, we might be able to recruit a few of them!

As the photo shows, we take training seriously with careful water rehydration – before the beers arrive!

AVMM in training – rehydrating after a serious workout!