The Albion Morris

From an article written by Tony for the London Music Advertiser September 1972

One could be forgiven for standing with one's mouth in the fly catching position during a performance by the Albion Morris Men particularly if their set of dances include's the 'Sherriff's Ride', danced to occasional bursts of vocal activity including the choruses from Ian Dury's 'Sex and drugs and rock and roll' and 'Hit me with your rhythm stick.' This delicate little piece may be followed by the 'Monk's March' danced to the tune of Scott Joplin's 'The Entertainer' with the dancers sporting a fine set of duck beaks and webbed feet (rubber gloves actually!). To conclude you might witness the traditional Rapper sword dance, done at twice normal speed, but to add to the degree of difficulty, wearing American football outfits.

Audiences accustomed to only seeing morris dancers outside village pubs at bank holidays could be forgiven for thinking that this strange chain of events has little to do with this ancient pastime, but they would be wrong.

The interest of many of Albion's members in morris dancing began as pupils at Chingford County High School, which was able to turn out a number of morris sides and their interest inevitably led to them joining the Chingford Morris Men in the early 1970s.

While Chingford established themselves as one of the country's most proficient sides, one Ashley 'Tyger' Hutchings was forming and disbanding groups with a frequency comparable only with Malcolm Allison's recent burst of activity at Manchester City Football Club. He had already formed and left both Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span and his current masterplan was the Albion Country Band, which despite its short life still managed a fair turnover of personnel including Carthy, Thompson, Mattacks, Nicol and Steve Ashley.

Hutchings was in urgent need of a morris team to dance on tour with the band, and through a rather tenuous connection namely that Chingford morris man Dave Busby was married to Dolly Collins whose sister Shirley was later to marry Hutchings, he approached the Chingford Morris Men. The interested parties called themselves - with a sparkling degree of imagination - Albion Morris Men, who eventually broke away completely from Chingford Morris. His bands my have changed but the connection with Hutchings is still strong, having danced regularly with the Etchingham Steam Band, Albion Dance Band and latterly with the Albion Band.

The esteem in which Albion Morris are held is such that over the years their own musicians - John Watcham (concertina) also a member of Mr Gladstone's Bag and Ian Cutler (violin) also with the Bully Wee Band are often augmented by a distinguished bunch of players. Aside from Hutchings they've been regularly accompanied on gigs by former Fairport Convention stalwart Simon Nicol, former Soft Machine violinist Ric Sanders, Dave Pegg who has just joined Jethro Tull and Gerry Conway session man and former drummer with Sandy Denny's Fotheringay.

Albion treasurer/secretary/bagman Pete Stowe tells me that they find themselves in a strange situation in that their success has in many ways been an embarrassment, in that they are now very seldom offered 'small' bookings. Albion Morris is a club primarily out to enjoy their morris dancing. The fact that they reap rich rewards from prestige bookings and Continental trips, particularly to Belgium where, for example, they are the only act to have been booked at the Dranouter Festival for each of  its five years, does not mean that small clubs, garden fetes etc are turned down. Far from it, because only recently they did one such rare booking at a street fair in Shoreditch.

I should make it clear, perhaps, that although there is a lot of humour in an Albion performance they are superb dancers whose approach is governed not as some rivals think by a desire to take the mickey, but a wish to enjoy themselves and to entertain others. Most of Albion's dances come from Cotswold villages such as Bampton, Bledington and Sherbone. And, as well as morris dances and the Rapper sword dance they offer long sword and clog dancing, the latter performed, generally, by Bob Daltrey who, I am reliably informed, is an expert.

The costume is (on the whole) a traditional one, and the Baldrick (the bands that cross the chest) carry on the front an English Lion and on the back a Tudor Rose, both reflecting the name Albion.

They have jingled away on 5 albums to date - 'Morris On' (as part of Chingford Morris), 'Son of Morris On', Hutchings' 'Rattlebone and Ploughjack' and two Shirley Collins albums 'Adieu to Olde England' and 'Amaranth'. TV audiences have also been amongst their victims appearing on a Steeleye Span series some years ago and subsequently on both Anglia and Southern TV, as well as general continental appearances.

It should be said, in an effort to get the odd pint or three out of 'em, that they are an irritatingly talented bunch aside from their dancing abilities. Included in their number is an engineer, a geologist, teacher, bankers, accountants, a National Theatre set designer, a computer consultant, and as Pete Stowe reported with a certain amount of satisfaction, they almost have someone on the dole. Michael Clifton who many of you may have familiar with is the distinguished proprietor of a tea and antique shoppee. Aside from Mr Gladstone's Bag and the Bully Wee Band connections, members also play major roles in three ceilidh bands, Good As Gold, Chingford Ceilidh Band and Parsons Hogg.

Morris Dancing - a note for the uninitiated - Morris dancing is an ancient English ritual, probably a fertility rite and is certainly pre-Christian. All the movements have a symbolic value ashave all he accoutrements. The dance is meant to be a virile expression of strength and fertility, full of aggression and vitality and in our opinion some humour. The bells make a noise that scares away evil spirits; the handkerchiefs represent purity and serve to emphasise the hand movements and the sticks have a more obvious if somewhat ribald symbolism.!

To Pictures of the Albion Morris at the Dranouter Festival in Belgium. August 2001Dranouter  To the "Dance of Albion"Dance of Albion Go to an Article on the Albion & their New Album. "Still Dancing After all these Years"Article 1