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The American Morris Newsletter

April, 2007 -- Volume 27, Number 1


The Morris Ring Archive (and what it can do for you)

Ivor Allsop

Before the black book was printed I remember Geoff Metcalf (a past Squire of the Morris Ring) saying to Lionel Bacon (another past Squire) that this would set the performance of the Morris in "stone". Lionel's reply was that the book was only an aide memoir and was't intended as a teaching book at all. Lionel was only partly correct! Some teams have used the 'black book' as a teaching book and it shows. But it set Alan Brown (past Squire) and John Wells, who was then, the Ring Bagman thinking about how do we best record what teams are performing now. The answer was to film teams! The Ring was fortunate at the time to have money on call with the English Folk dance and Song Society at three months notice, enough money to buy two Super 8 cameras, a Tandberg reel-to-reel tape recorder, most importantly of all, a Super 8 Sound Projector and all the necessary equipment to set up an Archival Film Unit.

Filming was the easy part of this. All they had to do was get the team being filmed to a suitable location point the cameras and on Alan Brown's instructions press the start button on camera one and wait for his instruction to press the stop button as camera two pressed the start button. This worked very well when fairly lengthy shots were taken on each camera but less well when the call was to change cameras every ten seconds or so as this made the task of editing the film that much more difficult. The sound was recorded as a continuous tape on the Tandberg, there pulses on the tape which coincided with similar pulses on the film, this was supposed to help whoever was editing the film. The editor had to splice varying lengths of film together and then try and synchronise the tape to the edited film. This was a bit hit and miss. It took considerably more time than the actually shooting of the original. But it was the beginning of what was ultimately to become the Morris Ring Archive. Various films were made which are still in the Ring Film Archive.

In 1980 Barry Care, the then Treasurer of the Ring, was researching some Morris at Cecil Sharp House when he came across a box of photographs showing unknown Morris teams performing dances, along with some negatives and a box of glass plates. These turned out to be Sharp's original plates for the photographs in the various Morris and Sword Books which he had published. A suggestion was made by Theresa Thom, the librarian, that it might be a good idea to have copies made of all this material and to catalogue it, which could be kept in a separate place away from the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. I contacted Mrs Ursula Vaughan Williams, who was the chairman of the Library Committee, with this suggestion. She and the Library Committee readily agreed so we made a start on the copying which was to occupy the next few years

Morris Sunderland and David Welti (both past Squires) felt that there was a need for more in depth instruction in the Morris Traditions and had organised several instructional meetings. It then fell to me as the next Squire to continue organising such instructional meetings as the members wanted. (I was once asked how I thought up all these and I must be an original thinker. As I pointed out I never had an original thought during the whole of my Squireship but what I did was to listen to what people said as I watched the dancing and they me what they wanted, so I got them to organise a venue whilst I found the instructors. I am told this was acting as a facilitator!) The Film Archive was getting 'bogged' down with all the editing that was piling up and I looked around for a different system which would largely do away with all the editing but would still allow us to film whole dances. The Ring was fortunate to have an anonymous donor who provided us with a Super 8 cine-camera which recorded the sound directly on to the film as it was shot; not only that but it would take 200 ft. reels which allowed for 13-14 minutes of filming which more than covered most dances even the sword-dances! The first film made was of Border Morris danced by the Silurian Morris Men, in their own home town of Ledbury. This was after a Border Morris Instructional taken by Dave Jones who was instrumental in popularising Border Morris. Because the sound was recorded directly on to the film this made editing difficult so it was decided that films would be 'warts and all', if mistakes were made then they would be on the film. (These films are now being transferred on to DVD which will in due course be available to purchase.)

The paper archive was started at the same time as the Border Morris Instructional. Dave Jones had gone to the trouble of making available to all the participants in the workshop a paper record of all that he was teaching together with many of the sources from which he had obtained material and it was decided that the Ring should make these available to anyone who wanted a copy. When I mentioned to Paul Davenport, he later became the Editor of English Dance & Song, that there was more information to be found he wanted to be involved. This proved a godsend as he ferreted out more and more information from libraries and institutions around the country about the Border Morris which was given to Dave Jones but was also issued as a folder of information to anyone who requested and paid the cost of producing it. It was at this point that we made the decision to make the Ring Archive a 'copy archive'. Other than our own material which by definition was original, all the other information we collected would be a copy with the original being kept in another institution but because we were going to offer copies made from our 'master copies' to the Morris world in general these had to be first class photocopies to start with. Once Paul had the 'bug' he went through The Morris Books Parts 1-6 and started making enquiries about other traditions which were then offered at cost to anyone who requested them. Over the years all the major traditions were researched and the various papers were found and copied, one has to bear in mind that the Archive was still regarded as a 'copy-archive', and the results were made available to anyone who wanted to research a particular tradition and who was prepared to pay the cost of production and post and packing as the Ring could not afford to give them away. (My one claim to fame, as Squire of the Morris Ring, was 'that I had nearly bankrupted them by using available funds to have a reprint of the Brochure and to part fund the Instructionals which the Ring organised.)

Whilst all this was going on the filming programme also continued. Being a sword-man my main interest was in the sword dances of Yorkshire and I filmed in 1979, all the South Yorkshire sword teams, Barnsley, Handsworth, both of whom had been filmed by Alan Brown in 1976, and Grenoside. These were followed by a film of Monkseaton New Year's Day 1980 performing the Ampleforth Play and Sword-dance. At the same time we were receiving films in different formats to our Super 8 format from other people who wanted us to have them copied on to Super 8. Lionel Bacon's 9.5mm films from before the war were the first that we copied; these were followed by Empire Day Celebrations at Whalley (Lancs) 24.5.1913 and Peace Pageant at Whalley 13.9.1919. This arrived as 35mm. nitrate, silent film stock which had to be treated very gently to avoid it exploding. Both showed a snatch of North-west Clog Morris.

The paper and film archives continued to grow whilst Barry Care was pressing on getting copies of photographs from the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library and adding them to the Photograph Archive, where they were being kept for safe keeping as a second copy away from the Library.

With the advent of relatively cheap video cameras the Ring was fortunate enough to have a generous benefactor who bought a Sony video camera and allowed the Ring the sole use of the machine which enabled us to film much more of the Morris and Sword traditions than we could possibly have afforded on Super 8. Over the years the Ring has moved from ordinary 8mm cassettes, to Hi 8 cassettes to Digital 8 cassettes; this enabled us to be able to copy them on to VHS using the European PAL system. (Unfortunately we were and still are unable to copy them on the North American NTSC system.) The latest technology over here allows me to be able to copy the video cassettes on to DVD which I know will work on computers and on European DVD players, but whether they will work on North American DVD players is unknown to me. This of course means that copying our video and film for you is some fraught.

Since the Morris Ring Archive started it has move forward and is now no longer a 'copy archive'. Chris Metherell, the Archivist, has made great efforts to 'up' the status of the archive and is trying to get as much as he can on to the World Wide Web. All, at the archive, are anxious that as much use as possible is made of all that we have to offer and it is always worthwhile asking if we have anything which you think might be of use to you. The corollary of this is of course that if you are looking for somewhere to deposit the results of your research(es) and want others to benefit from being able to use it, then please consider using the Morris Ring Archive.

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