Lines! by Banbury Bill

Also appearing in the show....

WHEN Headington Quarry Morris Dancers celebrate the centenary of William Kimber's famous meeting with Cecil Sharp this month, one man will take pride of place in the set. He is Chris Kimber-Nichelson, great-grandson of old Merry Kimber himself.

Though there are various members of the team with links to the man who became known as The Father of the Morris, Chris is the only direct descendant still dancing.

Other dancers have become connected through marriage .... and one or two, including the current bagman, Peter Davies, first experienced the morris in the classes Kimber taught at Margaret Road Primary School. Musician John Graham learned to play at Kimber's side, and based his style on that of the man whose tunes so captivated Cecil Sharp on 26 December, 1899.

Bill Kimber's only surviving daughter, Sophie Lynch, has been invited to attend the centenary celebrations, but she won't carry the same weighty burden of association as Chris, who's been dancing since the age of six.

He was called upon to perform a solo jig in May at the launch of the new William Kimber CD, Absolutely Classic. It wasn't an unusual summons. As he told BBC Thames Valley radio at the time: "You do get asked to speak and you do get asked to perform dances on a number of occasions and quite often people make a point of who you are, so it's a little bit of added pressure."

Chris, now in his mid-20s, was also in the set when Headington Quarry danced on the Arena Theatre stage at the 1999 Sidmouth festival, in a special production to mark the Sharp-Kimber centenary.

A large audience watched performances by the Quarry, Bampton Morris and the Handsworth Sword Dancers, as well as several of the most innovative of today's new sides.

The whole show was linked by two actors playing the roles of Cecil Sharp and Bill Kimber.

It was an unashamedly fanciful but highly entertaining telling of the story, with the two central figures wondering what to make of the dancing that, a hundred years on, has resulted from that first historic meeting.

Theatricals of this sort are usually accompanied by a printed programme, of course, revealing any fascinating snippets that don't have any place in the script. Not possible in this case, sadly.

Strange, though, for an audience to spend two hours watching an actor pretending to be Bill Kimber, without ever being told that right there on the stage, three generations on, was the actual flesh and blood of the man himself.


Living tradition finds a periodical home

WITH Christmas Day falling on a Saturday this year, it's worth checking whether your favourite Boxing Day tradition is actually taking place on December 26, or on the Bank Holiday Monday.

The warning is delivered in the December issue of the UK magazine, Period Living and Traditional Homes, which reports that the Marshfield Paperboys will be performing their famous mummers play on December 27.

Quite what the Paperboys are doing in a magazine largely devoted to interior decoration is as much a mystery to me as the origins of mumming. Perhaps it's to do with their costumes, which are made with hundreds of strips of newspaper - ideal loft insulation.

Of course, this is a magazine that celebrates "mock traditional" decor, and it could be considered slightly mocking of the Marshfield tradition: "a badly acted, nonsensical play", it calls it. Let's hope it doesn't receive an early visit from King William and Little Man John.

Despite this remark, though, it's an exquisitely presented piece that conveys the flavour of this Wiltshire tradition rather well. Recommended reading, in fact, though I'm not sure about the suggestion that one might be able to glimpse a snippet of 1930s newspaper in the costumes.

I'd say a few strips from Period Living were more likely.


Council fills the flowing bowl

AND SO, inevitably, to the coming of the new millennium.

I read that Heyford Morris Men have been awarded 420 of millennium funding by their local council in Northamptonshire, UK, to create a new dance and tour it round the locality. So says the council's newspaper.

It strikes me that by this reckoning, some of the more inventive sides could value their repertoire at something approaching 10,000.

This award is great news for Heyford Morris, of course - to say nothing of the lucky people of Northamptonshire - but is 420 enough? I doubt it'll even meet the cost of creative juices....


Dance for a thousand years

GREAT Western Morris, on the other hand, have created a fairly juicy Y2K dance without anyone throwing them a bung. Perhaps it should be regarded as a gift to the nation.

It's a very fine dance for eight men arranged in a square, and the hey, in particular, is an ingenious delight.

A glance through the index of Lionel Bacon's Big Black Book of Morris Dances confirms that Great Western have collared the only decent name offered by the traditional repertoire:

Maid Of The Millennium.

This is clever, but not as clever as the dance itself. I wonder if they'll ever manage to get it right in public....


Your starter motor for 2000

ACTUALLY, I can offer one other name for a millennium dance; one that may appeal to those with fond memories of a motor car produced only a mile or so from Headington Quarry.

Ladies and gentlemen, we present.... The Morris 2000.

Well, it's about time we had a gleaming new pun to replace the somewhat rusty one about young dancers being "morris minors".

But it strikes me this is too grand a name for a mere dance; rather, it should be applied to a new style of morris altogether.

I'm no expert on these things, but I believe there hasn't been a completely new kind of ceremonial dance in the traditional idiom for more than a hundred years.

And yet, it seems to me, the morris has entered a new era of confidence in the past decade, with people trying all sorts of clever ideas (some of them too clever, I fear). But these new ideas are generally only small departures from the tradition. No one's quite had the nerve to present something utterly, brazenly new.

Some teams have come close. The Outside Capering Crew has so altered the humble bacca pipes jig as to make it almost a dance form in its own right, and the Flag And Bone Gang has drawn much admiration for its work, derived from some obscure Yorkshire manuscript (or something like that).

But that's the point: both these examples are derived from existing forms.

It's possible The Incredible Mr Fox has come up with something truly original. I haven't seen this team, but I gather from its web site (also recommended reading) that its members dress up as foxes, dance about with fire, and let off pyrotechnics. I don't recall finding that one in the Black Book.

Maybe they've achieved it: a new dance for a new millennium. Otherwise, it looks like we'll have to fall back on The Seven Champions. Let's hope they can take our weight.

If ever there was a team in mass denial, it's The Champs. They may have taken East Anglian molly dancing as a starting point, but let's face it, what they do now is pure invention. Brilliant, yes, but according to people who know, not exactly straightforward molly dancing.

All they have to do, then, is face up to the truth, stop calling it molly and give it a new name of its own, and then - hey presto! - a new tradition in an instant.

Just add water and it's ready to serve (soap would be a good move, too).

Well, that's all from old Banbury Bill. I'll leave you with the words we always use at the end of a morris show:

Er - where's everyone gone?


Mr Fox

The Flag And Bone Gang

The Seven Champions

Headington Quarry Morris Dancers

Great Western Morris

The Outside Capering Crew


1999 Simon Pipe, Mark Rogers, The Outside Capering Crew