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'Morris won't last another century,' says Roy

Roy Dommett has declared that the morris in its present form won't last out the 21st century. "I give it fifty years at most in England," he says in the Winter 2000 issue of Morris Matters magazine.

His article - written in July, 1999 - reflects on the health of the morris, 100 years Cecil Sharp's discovery of the Headington Quarry side that led to the revival of interest in the tradition.

Roy makes a number of observations on the state of the morris today. He analyses the conservatism in much of the morris, but cautions against "the premature praise of new trends which after a few years are all but forgotten." He says innovators have long-term influence, but advises: "Leave the cutting edge alone, it will be naturally survival of the fittest."

Older team leaders fail to give newcomers the same exciting environment they had enjoyed at the start of their own morris careers, says Roy - who's widely credited with enthusing thousands of dancers and musicians as both a scholar and exponent of the morris.

Familiar gripes are issued against over-complex dances, unsympathetic music from massed bands, "often pointless" yelling from dancers, lack of showmanship, and ignoring the audience.

But a "major disturbing trend", he says, is the difficulty of finding audiences for the morris, a fact he blames partly on the changing nature of pubs. Once, the dance attracted interest because it was old; it's now become too familiar to command attention for its ancient credentials alone.

"The future of the morris is probably that it is to be ignored," he says, "so that the impulse to dance gradually fades. I give it fifty years at most in England, as so many folk activities appear to go in century-long cycles."

Roy doesn't write off the morris altogether... but if it is to have a future, he says, it must adapt.

The Donkey says: All morris performers who care about what they present to the public should read Roy's article in full. He has far more to say than is presented in this brief review. The Winter 2000 issue, renamed Molly Matters, also features George Frampton's extensive research into the participants in Cambridgeshire molly and straw bear customs up to 1939; an article by Anthony John Allen on the highly innovative Stepback show, which combines morris and Appalachian clog; and a penetrating review by Shirley Dixon of Flashback, Sidmouth Festival's commemoration of the Sharp-Kimber centenary. As with Roy Dommett's article, it contains a number of observations that many morris performers would do well to read.

Morris Matters costs 5 for two issues, published in January and July (7 outside the EU). Post subscriptions to Beth Neill, 27 Nortoft Road, Chalfont St Peter, Bucks SL9 0LA.

2000 Simon Pipe, Mark Rogers, The Outside Capering Crew

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