Exeter Morris Men

Exeter Morris Men – a review

Early evening, outside the Blacksmith’s Arms, Thursday 15th May. A rather small audience of Plymtree folk witnessed another annual performance of traditional English dance by Exeter Morris Men. Why is it that so few people choose to see this free entertainment?

There are plenty of reasons to explain why Morris dancers may not appeal. As a spectacle you need to be able to enjoy mature men display modest athleticism and ‘near-enough’ synchronisation of dance patterns. It is not exact, professional or glamourous, and does seem like an excuse for men and their camp followers to down a few pints. It’s handkerchiefs, sticks, melodeons, bells and sometimes a ‘fool’. But for me that is the beauty of Morris. It is all about Englishmen, and now increasingly Englishwomen, celebrating a piece of 600 year old English eccentricity. In days gone by it would involve young male farm workers, conscious of being watched by local young ladies. Indeed some of the dance steps are suspected to flaunt the dancers’ assets. The tunes and dances were rescued from near oblivion in the early 20th century by Cecil Sharp. Morris dancing was struggling to survive in an increasingly industrial world. But today there are hundreds of revival ‘sides’ performing in colourful robes, sometimes blacked-up, sometimes with clogs, sometimes mixed gender, and some outrageously extravagant. Exeter Morris Men are of the more conventional type, but are still very worth watching.

It is an unromantic heart that fails to be stirred by the sounds of Morris bells, the sight of swallows, the May sunset and the tradition of dancing outside a pub.