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Kemp’s jig heroes battle through the pain

Friday, 21 April, 2000: The dancers and musicians taking part in the gruelling Nine Daies Morris from London to Norwich have refused to give in to painful injuries and foot problems. One has told how he seriously doubted he could complete the journey, after sustaining an achilles tendon injury only two days into the re-enactment of Will Kemp’s original jig in 400 years ago.

Another dancer’s feet turned black at one point.

Pete Cole of Lichfield Morris says painkillers and “absolutely wonderful support from other teams along the route have kept the various dancers and musicians going.

He was speaking at the end of the seventh day on the road - with only six miles to go to complete the journey into Norwich.

At 47, Pete is one of the oldest of the six dancers who’ve kept going for the entire route. The others are Mark Jones of Golden Star (Norwich), David Marr of Coventry, Dave Stewart and Steve Conneely of Kemp’s Men of Norwich, and Jeffrey Evans of Brazenose Morris in Stamford, Lincolnshire. Golden Star musicians Bethan and Roddy McLachlan, playing recorder and melodeon, have also kept going the whole way. Tom Baxter of Upton On Calhoun Morris in Minnesota, US, has joined the dancers on several days, when not spending time away with his wife.

Conditions have continued to be miserable for much of the week, and two days across bleak countryside have tested the morale of all involved.

But with a large crowd of dancers waiting for them at Hethersett, just outside Norwich, the dogged travellers were in elated mood when Pete spoke of their experiences - and in particular, the achilles injury that so nearly beat him.

“It’s been quite painful, he said. “It was on Sunday that it went.

“I bumped into a doctor along the way and he said the outer sheathing of the tendon had swollen. He gave me some anti-inflammatory stuff, and after a couple of days it took the swelling down. I also strapped it up, as he recommended.

“It was actually grating for the first couple of days, but it’s just stopped doing that.

“I’ve been taking painkillers and putting on lots of Ibuprofen gel, though I managed to get by without today.

“On Sunday, when it first went, I didn’t think I could last the week out. Having strapped it up, I’ve managed to keep going somehow.

“I think everybody has had aches and pains, and particularly foot problems.

John Tarling, organiser of the southern section, has battled on through pain to stay on the road with the dancers, though he’s walked much of the way, rather than performing the processional dance devised specially for the re-enactment.

“His feet are in the most appalling state, said Pete. “His feet are covered in blisters. And Dave from Kemp’s Men, his feet are bad too. There was one night we didn’t think he would be able to carry on. One of his feet had swollen up and gone black, but it went down in the end.

“The two whole-route musicians have had similar problems. Roddy has had terrible blisters and Bethan has been having problems with her knees. She already had a knee problem and was having physiotherapy for it.

“I had a knee operation a couple of years ago and I was quite worried before we started out. You over-use the other leg and end up putting extra strain on it.

Part-way through the week the team discovered some “wonderful linament and switched over from using painkillers.

The dancers have generally been wearing trainer-type shoes, but for the start of the journey out of the City of London Pete used the black shoes he normally wears as part of the Lichfield kit. That may have brought on the achilles injury.

“I was going to do just the first stage out of London and then change shoes - it was only a few hundred yards and I thought it was important to wear black shoes at least for the start. But we got separated from the support van and I had to do the first three stages in black shoes [just over six miles].

“Maybe if I’d got into my running shoes sooner I’d have been all right.

“On the other hand, I’ve nearly worn them out in just a week. If I’d realised I was going to completely ruin the running shoes I could have painted them black to start with.

Pete says that the fact that no one has dropped out en-route has been down to the immense amount of encouragement they’ve received along the way.

“The support we’ve had has been absolutely fantastic, it really has - a lot of morris sides along the way. Some have danced part of the route with us, some have been waiting at pubs or in the middle of the market place, or wherever.

“You come round a corner at the end of a long day and in the distance you can see some morris team waiting... it’s a hell of a boost.

“There was one particularly nasty stretch, quite probably the most demoralising time we’ve had, and there was only a lay-by at the end of it and it was all pretty grim, and there wasn’t a living thing in sight. And then we could see something in the distance in this lay-by - it was a team waiting for us in the middle of nowhere. That was such a marvellous boost - it was unbelievable.

“The team was Green Dragon. There have been a lot of really great teams but that was a particularly memorable moment as far as I was concerned.

“The other big thing has been the support from the public. There have been the odd few motorists and so on who’ve been impatient. There was one who overtook the van and tried to drive straight through the set of dancers who were following us at that point.

“But the fact is I can remember every one of the bad ones, because there have been so few. The public have come out into their gardens or waved from cars or been waiting at the roadside to cheer us on. Lots have turned out specially to see us, and they’ve clapped and waved and said ‘Well done,’ and that’s helped get us through the week.

Even at the start of the seventh day, Pete again seriously anticipated giving up. “I had severe doubts about getting through the day, not helped by the fact I had a badly upset stomach, probably because of all the painkillers. I thought, ‘Am I up to making this?’ But as we got closer and closer to the end I could feel my morale lifting.

Several sides were waiting at the end of the days’ dancing - and all the pain was all-but forgotten, leaving just the short step into Norwich to complete an extraordinary enterprise.

It’s only six miles to do by three o’clock in the afternoon. If we have to, we can crawl that.

'Terrible' conditions for musicians on dance to Norwich

Eight dancers and two musicians have endured bitter weather on the first two days of their attempt to repeat Will Kemp's famous morris dance from London to Norwich.

But despite low temperatures, rain and a biting wind, the Nine Daies Morris has kept going largely as planned.

John Tarling, organiser of the southern half of the route, had special praise for the musicians when The Donkey contacted him at the Angel pub in Broomfield, at the end of the second day's progress.

"On Saturday it was so cold, it must have been terrible trying to play," he said. "A lot of the men are finding it very hard.

"There are only men dancing but there's one woman musician.

"Considering the rain and the cold it was very depressing. I have to admire the people who have kept going all the way."

The eight dancers are from Lichfield, Coventry, Stamford and two sides in Norwich - as far as John could remember at the end of a second tiring day, in which he'd managed to walk or dance the whole way. "I'm a lot older than most of the people trying to go the whole route," he said.

"We've also had one American - Tom Baxter of Uptown On Calhoun in Minnesota. He joined us for the first day and then took a day off to go sightseeing with his wife, but we're expecting to see him again, later in the week. He's combining playing and dancing."

One other man who'd been expected to attempt the entire 170-mile journey "just didn't show up."

Despite the weather, 13 sides turned out on the Saturday, mostly for the start at the Royal Exchange in the City of London. Another half-dozen performed at points along the way on Sunday.

It's also been well supported by civic dignitaries along the route - almost exactly the one followed by Kemp in 1599 (due to a quirk with the calendars, the 400th anniversary actually falls this year).

Several mayors have handed over scrolls to present to the Lord Mayor of Norwich at the end of the week - just as the Lord Mayor of London did at the start of Kemp's original expedition.

The scroll from the present Lord Mayor of London is written in "flowery language" and besides sending greetings, lists the names of all morris teams that were expected to take part - barring late additions.

"The one from the mayor of Brentwood was done in a very nice way - it looked like parchment, anyway," says John Tarling. "The one from the mayor of Newham was sealed so I daren't open it to see what it says."

About 50 morris teams are expected to be involved in the re-enactment during the course of the week, either with full sets of performers or represented by individuals. "We are trying to calculate the figure, but we think about 300 people will take part."

The procession is backed up by three support vehicles and a strong support crew.

Shave The Donkey hopes to provide regular progress reports. See our previous updates below:

Sunday, April 16: The Lord Mayor of the City Of London waved off the dancers on Saturday morning after a mass dance with other morris teams.

By the afternoon they were heading out into Essex, reaching Romford by 4pm. Colin Sleath, the northern organiser, says it's "so far, so good", with the dancers still full of energy and with no serious problems.

Drivers have apparently been unfazed by the sight of a group of dancers on the highway, says journalist and Kemp's Men fiddler Jill Bennett, who's been covering the event for BBC Radio Norfolk. Updates have been running on regional BBC news bulletins throughout the weekend.

Friday, April 14: One of the seven people dancing all the way between London and Norwich in the re-enactment of the famous Nine Daies Wonder has been telling BBC Radio Norfolk about his training schedule.

A number of sides are due to turn out for the big send off at 10.30am on Saturday, April 15 - recreating Will Kemp's celebrated morris dance, 400 years on.

Steve Conneely of the Norwich morris side, Kemp's Men, told his local radio station that the furthest he's danced up to now has been in processions of five or six miles. He's been running 20 miles a week in training for the re-enactment.

The dancers are expected to cover 20 miles a day, at three miles an hour - spurred on by local sides who'll take turns to accompany them.

They're taking with them a scroll from the Lord Mayor of London to the Lord Mayor of Norwich - just as Kemp did on the original journey.

Press Release from organisers
Re-enactment of The Nine Daies' Wonder

©2000 Simon Pipe, Mark Rogers, The Outside Capering Crew

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