Blackmore Morris Men celebrate their fortieth anniversary today. The side was formed on 14 January 1970, according to their website (http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/blackmoremorris/).
On New Years Day at lunchtime a large crowd turned up at the Leather Bottle, Blackmore, to watch the annual dance to celebrate the change of the year. Bells, handkerchiefs and sticks and Cotswold Morris tunes abound: ‘Speed the Plough’ and ‘Queen’s Delight’ being two now recognisable to me. Afterwards the group went into the pub for an impromptu and informal play and sing. Sitting in the middle of the room I was treated to a surround sound rendition as one by one other musicians and singers joined in.
Over the years I have seen Morris Dancing at local country pubs but it is only relatively recently that I have become a real listener to folk music. There is something strange about folk music in the sense that it is as if I have always known this music and it is not new to my ears. Perhaps the music says something about my roots. I have given much thought as to why that might be and why I think that way about this musical genre. I have four possible theories.
Firstly, when I was in the Junior School Choir we sang ‘Streets of London’, made famous by Ralph McTell. Then at Christmas 1975 Steeleye Span released a hugely popular single entitled ‘All Around My Hat’ which, although I did not get round to buying it at Martin’s Record Shop in (Market Place,) Ingatestone, I enjoyed very much. I recently learned that the chorus is a collected nineteenth century folk song. The 1970s was a time of a revival in folk music, not that I had any inkling of this at the time. As a family we bought the hit single ‘Portsmouth’ by Mike Oldfield. Lo and behold this was a tune played at the session at the Leather Bottle on New Years Day this year.
Secondly, I grew up in a Church of England school where hymns were part of the tradition. Some of the hymn tunes I now know to be arrangements of folk tunes.
Thirdly, I have been a lover of classical music for many years, particularly of Ralph Vaughan Williams who I discovered was a great folk song collector in Essex and elsewhere. His Symphony No 5, one of my favourite pieces, seems to have a folk song strand running through it.
Finally, one reason why I might know these tunes is perhaps because the chorus or refrains from songs are repeatable and fairly easily picked up. When I went to a concert by Bellowhead a couple of years ago, John Boden, the lead singer told the audience that “we are looking for volume rather than quality”.
I have checked with my family to see whether the folk tradition has somehow been handed down to me without knowing it. Apparently this is not the case.
I am not a performer so the notion of joining in Morris Dancing, other than the fun final dance with audience participation, or singing a solo is definitely something I shy away from. But I am more than happy to join in with an enthusiastic audience. So congratulations to the artistes who make up Blackmore Morris and thanks for keeping tradition alive.