The great Volcanic Ash Scare has now receded, gone the way of Bird Flu, the Millennium Bug and the many other scare stories intended to increase sales of something or other. Gone too, at least for the moment, seems to be the good weather, which was such a consolation after such an unforgiving, harsh winter. But what I will remember this April for, apart from my mum’s 90th birthday party, is Saturday April 17th, when Bury St Edmunds filled up with Morris Dancers. Apparently there were over 600 of them from all over the country. The town was invaded by strangely costumed men and women, with dancing taking place in almost any space available, including the Cattle Market, the Traverse and the Abbey Gardens. All day long there was a wonderful atmosphere in the town, music and laughter to accompany the dancing. There were accordions, melodions, banjos, drums and fiddles. No doubt there were others that I missed.
The idea was for the nation's Morris sides to gather in one place once a year to celebrate their exemption from the lamentable licensing laws that have proved to be such a blight on live music in this country. I note with regret this does not appear to be an election issue, which is a shame, but it has done so much to damage life in our towns and villages, as well as big cities, and has completely altered the policing agenda of most forces, that I'm sure it will be revised sooner rather than later.
Morris and Molly dancing has origins that are lost in the impenetrable mists – or myths –of time. I watched one particularly macabre dance with two hooded characters who ended up with nooses around their necks. Swan Lake it was not! Resonant with folk-lore and timeless stories, Morris is an endlessly fascinating well for the soul to draw on. A new book by one Cole Moreton even suggests Morris Dancing will take the place of religion in English culture in years to come. It’s certainly welcome back in Bury St Edmunds whenever they want!