Monday, July 22, 2013

Morris dancers of Mordor?

click photo to enlarge
Morris dancers seem to be like buses: you don't see a troupe for ages then along they come in a bunch, one after the other. At least that's how it's been with us in recent years. After a long period when we saw none of these traditional English dancers, lately we've seen them everywhere. I don't think it's to do with a sudden surge in the popularity of this old style of dancing so much as the places and events that we've happened to visit.

When we were in Herefordshire recently our son suggested we go to a "medieval fayre" that was taking place over a weekend at Tewkesbury. It sounded like somewhere I might gather a few photographs. So, in temperatures approaching 30 degrees Celsius, we set off. I've never attended such an event before so I had only a hazy idea of what to expect. There were jugglers, people in medieval garb, musicians playing old instruments and singing gentle folk songs, various olde worlde games, stalls with appropriate food and clothing, weapons and armour for sale and many more "new age" style offerings. All reasonably predictable with the exception of the new-old military equipment (of which more later).

As we walked among the tents and pavilions, from the distant edge of the site came the sound of thundering drums and electric instruments playing music in a style that I can only describe as "heavy folk-rock"; imagine Fairport Convention meets Black Sabbath. As we got closer I noticed dancers clad in what appeared to be black rags, ghoulish masks and Goth boots. Then it struck me that what I was seeing and hearing was clearly the morris dancers of Mordor, a troupe more usually associated with Sauron's hordes, perhaps entertainers of the orc armies having a day off at Tewkesbury. It's usual for English morris dancers to wear neat white shirts or blouses, jackets, waiscoats, orthodox hats, feathers, neckerchiefs, ribbons and bells, and the often black and white theme to be enlivened by plentiful dashes of primary colours: see examples here and here. The contrast with the dancers shown above couldn't be more stark. Those providing the music were equally "different". The usual array of acoustic instruments was augmented by a recorder, an electric bass, amplified acoustic guitar and a number of assorted, large drums. The whole effect was decidedly rhythm heavy. I loved it! Though it was hard to see through the masks I got the impression that this morris attracted a wider age range with more younger members than is usual. I could see why. As the morris men (and women) took a break from their exertions my wife went to ask who they were and was given their card. They styled themselves Mythago Morris and hailed from the village of Ashurst, West Sussex, not too far from Brighton. In fact, nowhere near Mordor!

I took my photographs in what can only be described as difficult conditions - the sun high in the sky, the grass turned brown and light coloured against which I sought to capture detail of the the dancers' black costumes. It took a few shots and some post-processing to extract these fairly ordinary record shots.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Sony RX100Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 22.7mm (61mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/400
ISO: 125
Exposure Compensation:  -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On