The Story of the Dancer is a unique blend of Morris dancing, music and storytelling written by AVMM musician Donald McCombie. It’s a fictitious tale based on a factual 1st World War event – the Christmas truce that took place in December, 1914. The story is dedicated to those who died and in that context, it recalls the fact that many Morris dancers perished and this nearly led to the end of the tradition. Most of the village of Adderbury Morris side (pictured in 1908) joined the armed forces and only one – Charlie Coleman – returned to the village in 1918 and so that side never danced again.
The story focuses on how singing briefly stopped a war and united soldiers from both sides in a shared vision of peace. It is also about a love of Morris dancing and the final part of the story describes the revival of the tradition by a new generation of young dancers in the 1970s.
AVMM performed the Story at St Peter and St Paul, the Parish Church of Deddington on Friday evening 10 November with contributions at the start and conclusion by the Deddington Parish Church Choir. The AVMM side of six dancers, two musicians and Charlie our hobby horse were supported by the Choir and a large, appreciative audience. Voluntary donations in aid of church funds were made over refreshments at the end of the performance.
Saturday 14th was a day of terrific dancing and joyful celebration for AVMM. At lunchtime we were joined by the men of Adlington Morris at The Bell, who were on their annual tour in the Cotswolds. Squire Duncan had seen us in action at the Day of Dance previously and had wanted to give his friendly and vibrant side a chance to dance alongside a traditional side from a village about which they had heard much. The home side fielded a strong side with a wide age range and were joined by fool Bryan Sheppard, looking resplendent in his bright green outfit (as seen in the photo below). Both sides gave excellent displays from their respective repertoires before Adlington adjourned for lunch in the pub.
The home side reconvened in the evening at The Institute in Adderbury for an Ale to celebrate Bryan’s magnificent contribution to the Morris revival in the 1970s. Guests included Barry Care MBE, former Squire of the Morris Ring and a brace of Moulton’s fine young team, Sunrising Morris and various friends, relations and original members of AVMM. Fellow founder of the side Jim Plester read out tributes from Chris Leslie and Tim Radford who were unable to attend, Barry Care spoke about Bryan’s contribution and Jim invited Phil Taylor to present Bryan with an engraved tankard to honour all he has done for AVMM. As well as country dancing with callers and musicians provided by both hosts and guest sides, Moulton, Sunrising and AVMM gave excellent demonstrations from their respective range of dances, showing the broad range of styles that are included in the term Cotswold Morris. A fine feast and plenty of Hooky were provided by staff from The Reindeer public house and dancing and merriment continued late into the evening. Special thanks must be given to the organising committee of Jim Plester, Phil Taylor and Chris Garrett who had worked so hard to make this event such a success and of course to our guests who made this such an enjoyable and memorable evening. Above all we must thank Bryan Sheppard, who has done so much to bring back the Morris to Adderbury and to ensure the continuing success of AVMM.
We had a wonderful time at the Banbury Folk Festival and Hobby Horse Festival. Appearing at five venues throughout the day in front of large, knowledgeable and enthusiastic crowds, we performed in excess of 20 of our dances. We met plenty of old friends and made some new ones including many strange hobby horses and beasts. We particularly enjoyed meeting folklorists, Fred Mead and his son Josh, who had come over from Essex to learn more about Cotswold Morris. (The photo below shows them joining John, Troy, Richard and David dancing Brighton Camp in front of The Reindeer.)
An action-packed afternoon ended at the Bandstand where we performed Black Joke in front of the other dance sides. After the final procession of beasts we danced Constant Billy and were joined by four of the splendid Broadstairs Hooden Horses (as seen in the photo below).
The weather was kind to us and this was the most enjoyable day I have had in Banbury for a very long time. Thanks as ever to our musicians: Malcolm, who combined whistle playing with riding Charlie the ‘Oss and of course to Donald. Congratulations to Troy, who has assimilated the AVMM dances in an amazingly short time and has quickly established himself as an essential component of the side.
On Saturday 23 September, AVMM members Donald, David and Richard sang, played and demonstrated the Morris tradition at the Apple Day, Tudor re-enactment, Mary’s Arden’s farm at Wilmcote, near Stratford-upon-Avon. Built by Mary’s father, Robert Arden around 1514, Mary Arden’s House has been significantly altered over time. Today, visitors to Mary Arden’s Farm can peek inside the chimney and the walls, discover how the house was built and imagine what life must have been like for Mary when she lived here with her seven sisters. Add to this, the Apple Day events with many demonstrations of traditional crafts, song and dance. As ever at this event, there were a lot of children who enjoyed interacting with Charlie our hobby horse (ridden by Liz, a visitor from the USA) and many of them joined David and Richard by participating in the Shepherd’s Hey. Our thanks to Donald for organizing an excellent day.
On a showery Saturday in September, 17 members of the side assembled from seven counties to pay tribute to two stalwarts of Adderbury Morris from different eras. After a moving ceremony to commemorate the centenary of George Robins’ death described previously by Dave Reed, we met at The Black Boy to celebrate our Treasurer and long-term supporter, Chris Garrett’s birthday. It was a great pleasure to mark the dancing debuts of two new members of the side, Troy and Dylan. The latter is John’s grandson; aged six, he has a great dancing career ahead of him. Dylan’s presence meant that Alfie Newman, Chris G’s grandson, who also danced splendidly, is no longer the youngest member of this side. Both of our latest recruits acquitted themselves very well dancing with great enthusiasm and allowing us to field two sets for most of the dances. The occasional showers which created natural breaks between sets of dances enabled those present to enjoy the opportunity to chat to friends, old and new, and feast on chips generously supplied by Chris. It was particularly good to meet up with Robin Wilkinson, the oldest member present, who travelled from Norfolk via Surrey to attend. It was also great to welcome back Bob Southern, fit again after injury and our old friend Nick Duxbury, who made a guest appearance on Brighton Camp before he embarks on a year of extensive travelling.
Thank you to all dancers, musicians, friends and family who made this a most enjoyable and memorable day of dancing.
Often known as the Third Battle of Ypres or Passchendaele, the offensive began with encouraging gains but terrible summer weather soon bogged it down. By August the offensive was clearly failing in its objectives and had descended into attritional fighting. New techniques by both sides led to agonisingly slow forward movement for the British at enormous cost in casualties to both sides. Bad weather in October led to the battlefield becoming an impossible quagmire.
The AVMM memorial ceremony to honour George Robins, a former Adderbury Morris dancer, was held on Saturday 9th September at 10:30 am. Private Edward George Robins (1st/6th Battalion, the Gloucestershire Regiment, 144 Brigade, 48th Division, Army no. 267404) died from his wounds on 9 September 1917 aged 23 – he has no known grave. His regiment had been fighting at Ypres. The son of Frank and Rose Robins he was born in Twyford and is remembered on panel 72 to 75 of the Tyne Cot Memorial.
St Mary’s Church bell-ringers rang a Quarter Peal at 10 o’clock, so we met at the lych-gate in Morris kit while this was still in progress. We gathered in the churchyard to plant a poppy cross in the Garden of Remembrance to the accompaniment of the eight half-muffled bells. Moving into church, we then performed a modified repeat of the ceremony we held at Tyne Cot. The proceedings were led by Jim Plester, using Bryan Sheppard’s text from 2008. David Reed read the poem Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen. The wreath provided by Edd Frost & Daughters was laid by Chris Garrett below the war memorial in the South wall, followed by a pause for silent remembrance. John Ekers read the poem Prelude by Robert William Service. The ceremony concluded with a celebration of the return of the Morris to the village through the efforts of Bryan Sheppard and Jim Plester among others, by us all singing The Happy Man. Six men then danced Shepherd’s Hey in the church aisle. This was preceded by the music once through on the instrument of the trenches, the harmonica played by David Reed. The main musicians were Jim Plester and Malcolm Wood. Men present were Troy Daniels, John Ekers (Squire), Christopher Garrett, Ryan Jamniuk, James Plester, David Reed, David Snell, Richard Teare and Malcolm Wood.
Afterwards we danced Beaux of London City, Black Joke and Lads a’Bunchum, outside the library in Mill Lane.
On Sunday 2 July, Adderbury’s three Morris sides gathered outside the Coach and Horses to welcome Minnesota Traditional Morris (MTM) a contingent of 19 dancers touring the UK. Founded in the autumn of 1974, MTM is based in the twin US cities of Minneapolis and St Paul and draws heavily on the Cotswold tradition. They told us that they share a large state-of-the-art meeting and training facility with other dance groups and that their building complex even has administrative staff. We told them that we practice in an ancient tithe barn with no heating or staff! They were impressive to watch and fun to chat with as they happily quaffed locally brewed refreshments with hip flask Laphroaig chasers.
For the record we danced Sweet Jenny Jones, Black Joke, The Buffoon and Brighton Camp (with novice Jake Sheppard) at The Green – our grateful thanks to Keith Norton for dancing with us – then Princess Royal and Shepherd’s Hey jig in Mill Lane. After lunch at The Bell, Dave Reed, our resident expert on all things Morris, joined MTM in Mr Softee (Bledington style), a dance invented by Kingsessing Morris of Philadelphia about 30 years ago. A happy afternoon for UK-US Morris collaboration (as can be seen in the group photograph below) and the sun shone too.
Saturday 17 June proved to be the start of a short heatwave and the hottest day of 2017 until then at 28C – that’s over 82F in old Morris money. For the second year we ventured into Flora Thompson country for a Beer Festival booking at her Candleford Green, in real life the village of Fringford. After a brief hiatus to muster the troops we put on a mercifully shortened set (in view of the strange burning thing in the sky) necessitated by the crowded entertainment programme laid on by the organisers. We kicked off with Sweet jenny Jones, then Constant Billy (it’s a swine on grass), Hail To The Chief and Roast Beef of Old England. Phil Taylor then volunteered to give us respite by doing a solo Jockey To The Fair – well played that man. We then finished off our first half with Shepherd’s Hey and Beaux of London City, before giving way to an interlude by the Fairground Organ. Its proud owner told us that the conclusion of “Tea for Two” was our signal to resume. There was just time for Haste to the Wedding, Washing Day, Lads a’Bunchum and Brighton Camp before the next singing act came on stage. Our thanks for assistance with dancing from beer-punter John and for photography by the stage soundman.
Cast and Crew:
Melodeon magic (Donald); Musical snuffling (Riley); I’m 71 You Know (Dorset Dave); Sticks driven from Leicestershire (Dave Snell); On loan from Kirtlington Morris (John Loudshirt); Founder Elder of the Tribe (Phil); Left New York 1am flying via Milan (Richard); Youthful exuberance (Ryan); Dog wrangler (Rachel)
AVMM had a busy day performing at three venues and completing 36 dances by the time we called a halt outside The Bell. David and Giles Snell, Ryan and John started the day at The Straw Kitchen in Whichford where Giles works. He was allowed to swap his apron for baldricks and a top hat and so impressed the patrons of the cafe and his boss, Maia, that she gave him the rest of the day off on condition that she and co-worker, Maya could join us on our last dance there.
There was another big and appreciative crowd at the Great Tew School Fete where we were joined by Dorset Dave and his family on the occasion of his 71st birthday. We danced three sets here interspersing our performances with music from a couple of local bands and our former Squire played along on his new harmonica while hiding behind the horse box which served as a stage. Our regular performers were joined for a couple of dances by whistle player, Malcolm. Later on we enlisted a member of the crowd to replace him on our final dance. Unfortunately, he had been sampling Old Rosie from the bar rather too enthusiastically and struggled to master the sticking or to dance in straight lines. Patrons of the Fete were much amused.
Our final venue was The Bell in Adderbury where we were due to be joined by Wyvern Jubilee Morris Men on their Cotswold weekend tour. They were running very late so we entertained the crowd with most of the dances from our repertoire and welcomed a most promising newcomer, John’s son-in-law, Troy. We also continued our policy of encouraging the youth wing of AVMM by introducing four of Dave and John’s grandchildren aged between four and seven to the joys of morris dancing in a slowed down version of Brighton Camp. By the time Wyvern finally arrived we decided to call it a day and leave the venue to our guests from the West Country who invited us for their 40th anniversary celebrations next year. Dave’s new harmonica was bedded in by this time and he managed a respectable Shepherd’s Hey alongside Wyvern’s accordionist.
All in all it was a most enjoyable day of warm sunshine in beautiful surroundings. Congratulations to Ryan and Giles who are improving all the time and many thanks to our superb musicians, Donald, Dave and Malcolm.
A cloudy afternoon in North Oxfordshire brought us to a regular annual booking in Wroxton, which despite the overcast sky was a throng of eager buyers at the many stalls. As usual we set up by the duckpond with its newly thatched duck-house and family of 14 fluffy ducklings hiding in the reeds. Kicking off with our traditional Sweet Jenny Jones, we followed up with nine set dances (Bluebells, Buffoon, Constant Billy, Flasher, Lads, Roast Beef, Hail to the Chief, Happy Man, Washing Days). Our mid-session refreshment was, for Morris Men, an unusual tipple of Pimms, and the second half included our Squire John Ekers and founder member Phil Taylor dancing the Jockey double jig. By this time, the rain was coming and prompted our fiddlers Jim Plester and Dave ‘Stovepipe’ Mortlock to case their instruments, leaving Malcolm on tinwhistle and Donald on buttonbox to brave it out. We finished up with an eight-man Brighton Camp including an enthusiastic enforced volunteer from Chicago who thoroughly enjoyed the experience despite acquiring some bruised knuckles. Our reception from the crowd was very rewarding and we have been re-booked for next year. Morris On.
Dancing the Adderbury tradition as recorded by Janet Blunt