American Morris Newsletter  

American Morris Newsletter

Volume 25, Number 3
October, 2005

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 AMN Article, Vol. 25, No. 3  

Duns Tew

Chapter 2--The Beginning of the End

Tim Radford

The 1986 Sidmouth festival workshop to develop a "new tradition," i.e., the origin of the Duns Tew Morris Tradition, was more successful than I ever thought possible. In fact, it went much further than I ever intended. My main motivation for the week had been to get dancers to think more about "their" morris; rather than using an existing tradition to help with this, the workshop helped to create a new one for which they had feelings of ownership, which they could then apply to their own circumstances.

When teaching any morris tradition, it is essential to know what choices you have to make in order to create a team style. If you start with something that dancers already know it is more difficult to get past their preconceived ideas. Starting with a clean palate makes this task easier and, in my view, more rewarding for the teacher as well as the dancers. Following Sidmouth, I was totally taken aback by the enthusiasm of the workshop attendees and how deeply they embraced the new tradition - both the style and the dances.     

It was only a matter of days after I got home that I received in the mail a written description of all the dances we had developed, with details of all the steps and movements. This note was later fleshed out by its author, Tony Forster, into an article that appeared in Morris Matters Vol. 9 No. 1 later that year. 

As I said in Part 1, all of us resolved at the end of the workshop to get together again and perform the dances, and I agreed to look into the possibility of the team dancing in Duns Tew itself. After much telephoning, correspondence and checking of calendars, we finally agreed to get together over the 1987 Midsummer weekend (June 19th-21st) to dance in and around Duns Tew. We planned to meet on the Friday night to practice the dances, dance all day Saturday and continue through Sunday lunchtime.

At that time I was living in the village of Barford St. Michael, which is over the hill from Adderbury and only a few miles from Duns Tew. The George Inn in the village was a regular Rock Music pub; I knew the landlady, and she allowed the team to camp in the field/back garden of the pub, overlooking the River Swere and its valley. The George also sold food and good beer, and the Village Hall is next door. So it was a great arrangement all round. At the appointed hour, everyone who had attended the Sidmouth workshop (and a few more!) turned up at the pub, with the exception of musician Alan Whear, who could not be there. So we used various team members as musicians: Andy Anderson, Sue Swift and Andy Slade come to mind. Tents were pitched, food was consumed, beer was drunk - and finally we got down to practicing the dances in the village hall.

The extra dancers who turned up were friends who had learned the dances from original Duns Tew members -- mainly Tony Forster, who was then teaching them to his team Yaxley Morris from near Peterborough and also to a team called Scratch Morris, of whom I know nothing. It didn't take too long to get through all the dances - they were only 5 in number - leaving time to examine several more I had "found" since the workshop.

These included: 

One of the features I introduced to the team was the concept of the "idiot card." This was a small plastic laminated card with a brief typed description of each dance that could be carried in one's pocket and judiciously referred to before dancing. It really helped - even for me! I still have mine, updated over the years with more of the "found" dances.

Saturday started with that quiet mood of preparation and reflection. Putting on kit, musing over the day and thinking about the tasks ahead. When everything was prepared all that was left was the short drive to the village. Prior to the weekend I had gone over to Duns Tew and made a small change to the signs entering the village. On most roads entering villages in England there is a sign with the village name. In the case of Duns Tew, under the name was an additional line that read "Please Drive Slowly." On all of the signs I changed this to say "Please Dance Slowly"; I am not sure to this day how many dancers actually saw this!

We started dancing at the Dashwood Rise on the road into the village from North Aston. After a couple of dances I was interviewed by Radio Oxford for their Folk Program, an audio copy of which I still have. We then moved towards the village center, dancing at The Green and the crossroads by the church and finally at the pub - The White Horse.

We seemed to be very well received by the watching villagers, none of whom knew of the existence of Morris dancing in the village in the past. They were interested in who we were and where everyone came from, and we were able to tell them that dancers had traveled miles just to be there at the weekend. I calculated that dancers came from 7 different English counties, and from as far afield as Newcastle and south Wales. As well as the villagers for audience, we were also joined by the redoubtable Roy and Marguerite Dommett with I am sure the ubiquitous video camera, although I don't really remember.

After a good liquid lunch at the White Horse, which as always slows you down, it was off to Steeple Aston to dance for Mr. Colin Meade outside his pub The Red Lion and drink more beer: and then process the several hundred yards down the street using the newly revived (or found) processional dance to the tune La Morrisque - called "Tew by Tew", to the White Horse. Yes, you have guessed right, for more dancing and more beer. After the pubs closed in the late afternoon, then it was all back to Barford for a well earned rest, before girding our loins once more at 7 pm for a trip to the neighboring village of Bloxham.

There we were scheduled to meet up with The Adderbury Morris Men and Kirtlington Morris. We danced there together at the War Memorial for an hour or more before back again to The George Inn at Barford for the final dancing of the day. I can just about remember dancing well into the night. I have little recollection of the evening other than that, but I was luckier than most because my own bed was only just up the street from the pub, and I got at least a few hours sleep before the Sunday lunchtime dancing at The George.

I can remember arriving at The George to find the team going through a new dance called Car Park & Gardens, named thus only because of the sign on the wall at the entrance to the pub. Most of that lunchtime is only haze to me, but I seem to remember that there were some very tired dancers by 2 o'clock on Sunday afternoon, when the dancing finally ceased and all the villagers had gone home; when tents had to be struck and goodbyes had to be said.

All agreed it was a momentous time and we vowed to do it all again next year, but first to meet up again at Sidmouth in August to celebrate our first birthday. Sidmouth 1987 was memorable for several reasons. I was teaching the advanced morris workshop again, this time focusing on unusual Stick Dances (from which the first glimmer of The Long Itchington Bedlam tradition was to emerge -- more on that another time, if pressed). And of course there was the Duns Tew Birthday Dance Out, which happened on Thursday evening (I think!) outside the Marine Bars on the sea front.

A couple of other dances had been found in the interim, including: the previously mentioned Car Park & Gardens - a name I never liked as I wanted to call it The Longest Day or The George to the tune Gallant Hussar - and Mrs. Casey to the obvious tune. The other thing that happened was the making of a Duns Tew Morris badge.  In June for the tour around the village I had designed a poster with a very simple White Shield with a diagonal Red Stripe as a team emblem. The members generally admired this distinctive emblem, and at the Sidmouth Craft Fair I asked a young lady who was making wooden badges to make one, with a Scroll under the shield saying DUNS TEW. This became a very important part of the team kit and was proudly worn by all the dancers on the left breast. I still have my badge today. I wonder how many others do?

The team carried on this yearly round of dancing over the next few years: Mid-summer dancing around Duns Tew with camping at Barford, etc. In fact we danced in most of the small villages within a five mile radius of the village over those years. And of course there was also the regular dancing at Sidmouth. That was essential.

One year we were invited to attend the Bucknell Morris Ale, and it was great to close the circle and finally dance with the other team the style was based on.

Another year - I think 1988 - the team entered the Sidmouth Ritual Dance competition and came 3rd, but I seem to remember there were very few entries!

On another occasion, I think our last performance at Sidmouth in 1990, we danced outside the Marine Bars with members of Thames Valley Morris (from Canada - before they added "International" to their name). They included as ringers for that week several English dancers from teams like Mr. Jorrocks, Windsor and Great Western, and went by the name of "The Otter Valley Irregulars".

As the years went by so the number of dancers in the team also increased. This was mainly from within the team, i.e., Andy Anderson's wife Sue Dover joined, as did my daughter Cat and Sue Swift's daughter Laurel. As an aside - Cat & Laurel are still dancing together in Morris Offspring - something readers should look out for. In addition several more members of Scratch Morris and Yaxley Morris joined in, and that is when the problems started at arise that finally put an end to the team meeting regularly. As other dancers and teams started to learn the tradition, so some prominent members thought that the tradition's style was losing some of its distinctive characteristics.

Changes to the way the backstep was being danced caused problems, as did the height of the hands in half capers and the speed of some turns and hand movements, just to mention a few examples, all added to some dissatisfaction and concern among longer standing members. When these newer dancers danced with Duns Tew, some of the old members did not like what was happening. Up to then the team had always allowed me to be boss and say what I thought was right and wrong, and they thought this was getting diluted. Consequently tension was creeping in that was pulling the team into different directions.

That Mid-summer 1991 was for me the least enjoyable event the team had ever done; and it proved to be our last performance. Coincidentally, it was also a very rainy weekend and we had to abandon the Sunday dancing before it even began. For me it was time to put the cap on the team. The experiment that turned into a phenomenon had run its course, at least as a dancing and touring team. It was now time to let the Duns Tew Morris Tradition take its place with the other dance traditions out in the big wide world. It would be interesting to see how it would survive and what the real legacy of the dancers was to be.

It seems very odd to recall that it was not a lack of dancers that killed off the team, but the opposite, too many dancers! I don't imagine this happened often. A split in the team would have been unthinkable and risked ruining many good memories and friendships. One thing I am sure of: by the end those who had been involved were better dancers who had a greater respect for and knowledge of Cotswold Morris dancing than they started the process with. For me it was a privilege to be involved with them all. It is humbling to think that nearly 20 years on we are still talking and writing about the team and its dances. 

I have a warm feeling knowing that there are a number of teams still performing the dances. I personally have had the opportunity in recent years to teach the Tradition at Pinewoods Camp and introduce the dances to people who had no knowledge of them before then. What happens from now on we can only guess. Duns Tew was the longest running Morris Workshop that ever emerged from the Sidmouth festival, and even that has had to change in recent years. Since there are dancers still performing these dances, then I suppose the workshop is still happening. Life and Duns Tew continue...

But who will write the next chapter?

 AMN, Vol. 25, No. 3, July 2005  ISSN: 1074-2689