On a day out dancing around London, Ollie King of the Hammersmith Morris Men admits that Morris can be insular, and that contemporary Morris will need to adapt again. “Seeing where we fit and what we do in 21st century London is something we have to be conscious of,” he explains. “I feel like this is going to be the next thing in the Morris world. Are we relevant? How do we make ourselves relevant? There’s a deeper consciousness to be part of.”
It’s becoming a truism that, after Brexit and the pandemic, the English are looking for ways of dispelling isolation. Is folk, with its links to nature’s cycle, English identity, and the land where people will go to find a sense of belonging?
For Tom Merry, the Foreman of Miserden Morris who has been dancing since the 1960s, the beauty of folk is that “it was born and bred here.”
“It’s very easy to pick up and make your own because it’s homemade,” he explains. “It fits like a glove. It’s made for us so it’s got lots of echoes of all kinds of other things – the poetry and the seasons and the Christian festivals. So if people are feeling rootless, it’s there for us to use.”
Jon Wilks, musician and editor of folk culture site Trad Folk, has heard “multiple reports” around the country of large crowds gathering at 5am to take part in May Day rituals. “It genuinely seems to be a thing at the moment," he tells me.
But Michael Heaney, author of new book The Ancient English Morris Dance, is wary of pinning too much on recent politics and “hesitates” to mention Brexit, saying “it's the same kind of culture war as consumed England in the lead up to the Civil War, when supporting Morris publicly nailed your colours to the mast.
“But whatever side of the Brexit debate you're on, it gives occasion to be asking yourself what it means to be British/English, and ways of expressing it,” he continues. “All this new age is another way of reaching out to connections with the (imagined) past.”
At the May Day dawn dance-out in Gloucestershire, Boss dancer Katie Watton says of the surprisingly large crowd: “It’s mind-blowing but so special. It puts the pressure on because it’s becoming less of a private celebration, but we’re not an exclusive group. That’s the wonderful thing about Morris – it’s very accessible. You feel just like a kid dancing. It’s liberating.”
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