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Remembering the Life and Work of Tony Barrand: The 2003 Interview [Part 2]

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Two men sing into microphones
Tony Barrand and his duo partner John Roberts sing in their trademark harmony style at a U.S. folk festival in the 1970s. This photo by an unknown photographer comes from a private album belonging to Tony Barrand. We use it courtesy of Olivia Barrand.

In this post, we continue presenting Jennifer Cutting’s 2003 interview with Tony Barrand, a singer, dancer, academic, writer, teacher, historian, folklorist, curator, producer, and festival organizer, who died on January 29. Barrand donated the Anthony Grant Barrand Collection of Morris, Sword, and Clog Dancing (AFC 2003/005) to AFC in 2003. Barrand’s collection contains over 250 films of traditional folk dance, along with associated manuscripts. In the words of AFC’s Jennifer Cutting, “The Barrand Collection not only documents the American, Canadian, and English teams dancing at Marlboro Morris Ales between 1976 and the present, and Barrand’s own Morris teams performing on annual May outings over the same period, but is also very rich in sword dance, mumming plays, and old-style wooden shoe, or clog dancing. In some ways, the most important and distinctive aspect of the Barrand Collection is the way it captures many of the same Morris and sword teams dancing every year over more than a quarter century at the Marlboro Morris Ales and in other community performances. There are great possibilities for study given this kind of chronological documentation, as it is possible to watch the dancers progress from beginners to experienced performers, age, and then be replaced by a new generation.”

The interview was recorded to audio and video tape and is in the AFC archive. See the catalog record here. This post is the second in a series of posts, each of which will present a portion of the interview as transcribed by Jennifer Cutting. Find all the published posts here!  For more about Barrand himself, see the introduction to Part 1.

At the end of Part 1, Barrand had arrived in Marlboro, Vermont, in the early 1970s to teach at Marlboro College. At the beginning of Part 2 he backtracks a little to his time in graduate school at Cornell, to explain how his interest in folk dance began.

Two men stand side by side. One holds a banjo, the other a concertina.
John Roberts with banjo (left) and Tony Barrand with concertina (right) circa 1980. This photo by an unknown photographer comes from a private album belonging to Tony Barrand. We use it courtesy of Olivia Barrand.

Tony Barrand:  Okay, we can get to the dance piece now, you ready for that? John and I started singing together in nineteen hundred and sixty-nine. That was the first summer, and we immediately started doing jobs, much to the dismay of my dissertation chairman’s wife, who was also herself a famous perception developmental psychologist… Jackie Gibson, her name was.

Jennifer Cutting: Because she could see this siphoning energy away from your…

Tony Barrand: You’re a graduate student, you’re supposed to be a graduate student. And she thought that’s what we should be doing. But the key to it was that whenever there was a departmental party or a gathering or a picnic, John and I showed up and sang. That was okay, because we became the court jesters. So we traveled around doing gigs, quite a lot actually… We were doing that. But… so ‘69, too, and then 1972 and 1973, we were asked to go and do workshops at Pinewoods Camp of the Country Dance and Song Society of America. And in the summer of 19… Well, let me just preface this because this discovery is prefaced. One of the things that John and I had started to notice was that quite a lot of English folksong had something to do with visiting customs of some sort. Can I sing a quick one?

Jennifer Cutting: Yes! Oh, please!

Tony Barrand: It’s May Eve! [Sings]:
Arise, arise, my pretty fair maid, and take your May bush in
for if it is gone by tomorrow morrow morn, you’ll say we have brought you none
We have been wandering all this night, and almost all the day
and now returning back again, we have brought you a branch of May.
A branch of May we have brought you, and at your door it stands;
it’s nothing but a sprout, but it’s well budded out, by the work of our Lord’s own hands.
The clock strikes one, it’s time to be gone, no longer can we stay;
and bless you all both great and small, and send you a joyful May.”

[speaks] So I remember taking baskets of flowers around on May Eve, right? But I didn’t remember having a song for it. But John and I being academics, and getting interested in song, we started going, you know, researching and finding songs. In particular, obviously, we had come down here [to the AFC archive], but we had also gone to the basement of Kenneth S. Goldstein at the University of Pennsylvania.

Jennifer Cutting: Everybody eventually ended up at his door.

A man in a light-colored suit stands against a light blue wall.
Kenneth S. Goldstein, “Kenny” to friends and students, was a producer of hundreds of folk LPs during the 1950s and 1960s, a professor of folklore at the University of Pennsylvania from the 1960s until the 1990s, and a founder of the Philadelphia Folk Festival. His basement (and later his attic) contained an extensive library of books and recordings, which musicians like John Roberts and Tony Barrand would visit for research. In the 1970s and 1980s, Kenny directed AFC’s Rhode Island Folklife Survey. This is a detail from a photo by Henry Horenstein in AFC’s Rhode Island Folklife Project Collection. Find the archival scan here!

Tony Barrand: So, we had come across a lot of these sorts of songs… That’s clearly what that was about, was this going around taking May baskets to people.

Jennifer Cutting: That was in the Chambers Book of Days!  I think it’s listed as a Bedfordshire May custom…

Tony Barrand: Absolutely it was! So it’s like, what are all these things? I mean, I remember going around carol singing, at Christmas time, you know:

Knock at the door, ring at the bell
What will you give us for singing so well
If you ain’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do
Ain’t got a ha’penny, [raspberry sound] to you.

Etcetera. So, you know, clearly, you did that stuff. So it’s like, what is this? Well, 1973… When we were at Pinewoods Camp… They have a permanent crew at camp, and they have these week-long camps that are dance camps, as well as the folk music camp and they have a Scottish Music Week, they have… So there was some of the crew from a… Well, I was walking by one of the dance halls one time. And there were these six guys wearing bells, doing this look of dancing. It was another St. Paul-on-the-road-to-Damascus thing… It was like… Now, I was an old rugby player. And this was physical enough that it looked like something that I’d enjoy doing. And it’s like, I saw it… And that was it. That’s the stuff that goes with all these songs. Out of all these sort of dance songs, there’s the missing piece. It was like, there was it. That was my career. “You know, what are you guys doing?” “Well, it’s Morris dancing, this is called.”

Jennifer Cutting: Which Morris men were they, I’m just curious?

An LP cover showing five men in old-fashioned clothes, some of them with musical instruments. The captions read "Morris On" and "Ashley Hutchings, Richard Thompson, Dave Mattacks, John Kirkpatrick, Barry Dransfield.,
“Shelfie” of Stephen Winick’s LP copy of “Morris On.” This 1972 album was a catalyst for the morris dance revival of the 1970s, and influential on Tony Barrand.

Tony Barrand: They were the Greenwich Morris Men, who had just formed. And of course, what I learned — and I’m going to talk some about tonight — this was clearly one of these moments in the history of ideas. What had come out in 1972? Morris On. You know… this is happening in England. Ashley Hutchings… and clearly, people in England were sort of discovering Morris dancing, and it became a whole part of the whole folk-rock thing. And I don’t know whether any of the American people who got into Morris dancing in New York City knew about Morris On. What had happened with them was, they had been doing Morris in classes in New York City at CDSS. And something had happened. And it was maybe somebody from New York City that had gone to England and seen that there was a growth all of a sudden of men’s Morris teams happening in the late 60s and early 70s, had come back and said to these guys, “Listen… We should be out dancing in the street rather than here.” So when I saw them in 1973, they were just forming this team then. And so the next year, I came back to take a class in Morris dancing at Pinewoods. And that year, there was a women’s team starting: Ring O’ Bells, also from New York City. And they were at Camp and they were dancing. And this was clearly radical. Because, this is ‘72 and ‘73. Because in ‘72 and ’73, at Pinewoods, a team of women never demonstrated Morris: they would take classes, but a team never demonstrated. It was always only men that demonstrated the Morris dancing. So this was pretty radical. But what had been interesting was, that first year, that first summer in ‘73, when I discovered it, I’d gone up to two of the immediately former director, or maybe she was still director at that point, and the about-to-become director: Genny Shimer, who was English… and Jim Morrison, who was about to become the director of the Country Dance and Song Society. And I pestered them and asked them to teach me a Morris jig. And Jim Morrison had taught me the Fool’s Jig, from Bampton. And then Genny Shimer had taught me the Fieldtown Nutting Girl, which is a jig. Now what’s interesting about that was, at some point, I was looking through my old photographs… slides that I’d taken at Swarthmore College. And I find Morris dancing that I’d taken photographs of, at Swarthmore in 1967, that I had no memory of, and it clearly had no impact on me.

Jennifer Cutting: You know, I think maybe you were drinking that year because that’s the year you visited the archive, and you don’t remember that either! [laughter]

Tony Barrand: Oh, that’s true! But I did discover drink that year, because I’d grown up in a Salvation Army and Methodist family. So that was the year I started drinking, ’66. It might have been. So, I’d taken photos of Morris dancing, and I have no memory of it. And what happened was, the men, they were in this very historical costume with top hats, you know, and suspender-type things. And then they were dancing the set dances, doing Adderbury dances with sticks. And then there were also three or four women dressed all in white, with tiny little ankle bells, nice little ankle bells that they’re wearing around their shoes, doing Fieldtown Nutting Girl jig, and Bacca Pipes, dancing over the crossed pipes. It’s clear from the photographs. And I learned. So it was very common: the Fieldtown Nutting Girl was a dance that women were permitted to do, right?  So Genny Shimer taught me that. Anyway, that was 1973. That next year, I made John learn to play Anglo concertina. He had to. Well, if you’re gonna play for Morris dancing, you have to play Anglo concertina. ‘Cause he’d started on English concertina, which we’d got from Harry Crabb’s shop, and then he got his Anglo. They’re much bouncier, because they breathe in and out. And so, at every concert that John and I did, where there was an opportunity, I’d put bells on and I’d do these dances in our concerts, capering around people.

Jennifer Cutting: But wait a minute… You were doing it as only one person, so…

Tony Barrand: Me. Doing the jig. So, I didn’t know how to do the set dances. So I went to camp the next year… that was in 1974… went to camp and took a class, and then, that summer, started my own Morris team in Vermont, at Marlboro College, getting whoever I could get. And there were some local men, one male student, and then four women from the college. So I started with a mixed team. My very first team was four men and four women. I didn’t know any different.

Three men hold beer mugs. The man in the center drinks from his. The men on either side pretend t be offering the beer to a wooden stag's head. The men wear T Shirts for Newman's brewery in Albany, N.Y.
Tony Barrand (left) and John Roberts (right) share some Newman’s beer with the Marlboro Morris Men’s hobby horse, worn by Jonathan Morse (center). The photo was taken circa 1982 at the Old Songs Festival in Altamont, New York, probably by Emily Friedman. The photo comes from a private album belonging to Tony Barrand. We use it courtesy of Olivia Barrand.

Jennifer Cutting: So you didn’t come to it with any prejudice about women dancing the Morris whatsoever?

Tony Barrand: No… I saw that at Pinewoods and thought it was a bit funny, because I had actually been taught by a woman. So it’s like… not knowing anything about it in England or any of that. And, interestingly, of course, that summer of ‘74 saw the Ring O’Bells women’s team dancing, and they looked great. So it was like, this is good. But what I did do, as soon as I could, was make a men’s team and a women’s team.  As soon as I had enough women, and enough men.

Jennifer Cutting: Is that because you thought they looked more uniform?

Tony Barrand: Yeah. And I wrote about that in my book Six Fools and a Dancer, eventually about…There’s a team that has men and women in it, there are historical antecedents about what that means… you know, there’s a courtship piece about that. Whereas there’s something really interesting and special about seeing a single sex group dancing together. It has a different meaning. It’s not about courtship of any kind. It’s about something else. It’s about a display of some sort. And so I was really interested in that. And also there was a piece that I eventually came to call mirroring, that you, when you’re dancing opposite somebody who looks more like you, has more or less the same physique, has the same sort of body parts you do… Basically, there’s a commonality of movement to you produces, what you end up seeing as an audience is the set, rather than the individuals. You see a whole in that, for me, in my early teaching. And the other reason that I started the team in 1974 was not just that I wanted to dance, but in order to do that, of course, I had to become a teacher. So I really very early started, for me, my aesthetic. And…Ta-Da! That was the point very quickly, then, that I really needed to start going looking at some other really good dancing.

Jennifer Cutting: Now you say, “really good dancing…”

Tony Barrand: So I needed to go to England to the traditional teams. I needed to do that. I figured there’s something about people who’ve been doing it for a long time, there was something there really to learn from. And that was certainly the piece about listening to the traditional ballad singers for me. There’s something here that somebody’s been doing all their life, they’ve basically been singing these same songs. They’re not looking to kind of look to other different genres in music. There’s something that you can hear in the way somebody plays a fiddle like that, or sings a ballad that’s been doing that song for a long time. That bit. I mean, I could hear that very early on, and I wanted that. And I wanted to hear it in my own singing. There was a piece that I wanted out of that myself. So I discovered these ballads and then stuck with them, you know. So in terms of the Morris… well, here’s the thing. Beginning dancers at Pinewoods were taught Headington, and they were taught Adderbury.

A man dressed in white with crossed baldrics, a handkerchief in each hand, and a pad of bells on each shin. Behind him on a small table are a concertina and a stick.
William Kimber (1872-1961), known to his friends as “Merry,” was a musician and dancer for the Headington Quarry morris dancers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The musician and collector Cecil Sharp encountered the group in 1899, and consulted Kimber on the morris tradition for all his subsequent writings. Kimber also worked as Sharp’s assistant, demonstrating both the music and the dances for Sharp’s lectures. The meeting between Sharp and Kimber is considered an important turning point in the folk revival. Kimber was awarded the gold medal of the English Folk Dance Society in 1922. He continued to be an active dance teacher and musician until his death in 1961. This professional photo was published in the early 20th century and we believe it is in the public domain. The concertina behind him is probably the one Kimber gave to Rev. Kenneth Lovelace for the Cecil Sharp House museum, which was destroyed when the house took a direct hit from a German bomb in 1942.

So I’d been taught Headington. So what I taught my team to begin with was Headington Quarry dances, which, not coincidentally, was the first dancing that was observed and notated by the great Cecil Sharp. You know, what was the team that he sees in 1899 on Boxing Day? Coming up is William Kimber playing his Anglo concertina, and the Headington Quarry Morris dancers, and those were the first dances he published in The Morris Book. And by the way, at the time, that was the only published source of dance notations — of Morris dance notations — so I got a copy of that book. How did I get hold of it, because it wasn’t in print? I got a copy of it that I photocopied at, I think at University of Michigan Library in Ann Arbor… probably… and they had the tune books there, and I photocopied those. That was the only source. So one of the things that I’m really sort of excited about, of having my film collection in here is, if somebody like me shows up, now, they’re going to have this wonderful resource of moving images that was like the resource that I had of sound images that I could get back then if you want to learn to sing with it. So what should happen? Oh, by the way, two years after I start my team is 1976. 1976 was the Bicentennial year. What did they do in the Bicentennial? They brought a whole bunch of folk traditions over from all the countries that had formed this; who did they bring from England but Headington Quarry Morris dancers?

Jennifer Cutting: Was that on the Mall, here?

Tony Barrand: It was on the Mall.

Jennifer Cutting: It was the Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife; it was the longest folk festival they did… it was the Bicentennial.

Tony Barrand: It was amazing. So I got wind… and I’m not sure how I got wind of it… but I got wind that Headington Quarry… I think probably looking it was coming, we were clearly gonna come down and hear all these different singers and so on.

Jennifer Cutting: Wait, had you been over there to hear them and see them first?

Tony Barrand: No… no.

Jennifer Cutting: So you first saw Headington Quarry in Washington, D.C…

Tony Barrand: I had been back to England… I think I went back to England in 1972. Probably again in 1974, you know, visiting family… and actually going around doing singing.

Jennifer Cutting: You were concentrating on the music?

Three quarter length portrait of a man in a suit sitting in a chair.
Cecil Sharp was important in the revival of English folk music and dance at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century. His meeting with musician and morris dancer William “Merry” Kimber in 1899 is considered an important turning point in the history of morris dancing; Sharp later wrote “The Morris Book” and published many morris dance tunes. This photo was published in 1907 and is in the public domain.

Tony Barrand: It was the music. I wasn’t, at that point hadn’t gone to watch anybody do dance things. And so ’76, here were Headington Quarry coming. And I was, by that point, teaching at Marlboro College. And one of the things that I had purchased in order to do research on… to help with this research on these arts… the psychology in the arts thing… was we wanted to do things like shoot film of somebody performing or telling a story or doing a painting, and then get them to look at the video and talk about it. Get the artists talking about that. So I had video equipment that I got for this perception research. And it was portable. And back then, being portable meant it had a handle. [laughter] So I carried it on down here, and John and I came down here, and sure enough, there we are… we film. You know, that was my first film, was this black and white reel-to-reel video of Headington Quarry, and filmed a whole lot of dances. And much to my surprise — and this was truly a shock — they danced other things than Headington Quarry dances. They danced Bledington dances, they did some Adderbury, and they did rapper sword as well. Whew, this was weird, because everything I’d read was the traditional teams, they just did the dances from their own village… that’s all they did, was the dances they’d had for almost like… Oh, this is interesting… it’s like there’s something different going on here.

Jennifer Cutting: But I guess my question is, since they were representing England, and they’d come such a long way, were the inclusion of those other dances just so that they could, you know, deliver more bang for the buck, or represent more traditions, or was it a display thing…

Tony Barrand: Yes, the answer to that is absolutely. And I’m sure it still happens… English teams travel around Europe a bunch. It’s a way of, you know, traveling over continental Europe. And when you go there, they’re very much ambassadors and they take a variety of things. So yes, I think they had deliberately learned some other dances from other villages in order to represent the Cotswolds better, and they’d learned a sword dance. I have to confess from brief conversation… then later, going back and going to Headington Quarry practices, and getting to talk with them there, that… you know, these guys were not quarry workers. These were computer programmers and civil servants and desk workers. And so there was a piece that they were interested in the novelty of the other things. Having, as boys, learned from William Kimber, learned the Headington dances, they weren’t completely satisfied, but they like doing their own Headington dances, and they still danced in the same positions in the set that they had danced since they were boys, since Kimber had taught them. And that produced a quality of dancing that I was stunned by.

Jennifer Cutting: You mean, the corners were always corners?

Tony Barrand: They were always corners, and they had the movements in the set in their bodies completely. There was nothing up here that they had to think about, where do I go? Their body just moved through the figures in that way that was delicious to watch to me.

Jennifer Cutting: But were they what you might describe as graceful, or athletic, or physically… I mean, did they conform to a certain aesthetic standard?

A group of men in white outfits with bells on their legs pose as if dancing. One wears a helmet and carries a stick. A man in a conventional business suit plays a violin. There is a small dog with the men.
Headington Quarry Morris Men photographed in 1899 by Henry W. Taunt, a professional photographer based in Oxford.  The fiddler was Mark Cox and the dog belonged to him. The man in front next to Cox resembles an older Merry Kimber, and may be his father, William Kimber, Sr. (1849–1933), who was foreman of the team until 1887. In 1899, exposures were longer and “action shots” of dancers were impossible, so the athleticism Tony Barrand noted in their dancing could only be suggested by posing. Henry Taunt died in 1922, so his photographs are in the public domain. Source: Historic England Archive.

Tony Barrand: It’s probably not until 1979 that I ended up actually going to a practice of theirs. Headington Quarry is very graceful and smooth in their dancing. And there’s a phrase I came up with, eventually, that, for me was what the aesthetic of Morris dancing was about, which was about power and grace at the same time, interesting combination of the two. And when I went to their practice, they said to me, you know, do you want to get in the set? Well, this was what I was waiting for; I wanted to dance in the set with them at practice. So I said, “Can I dance in the middle? Because I feel like I can sort of see all around me better from the middle.” So they said, “Okay,” so we got up and we did Trunkles. So I get in the set.

And after I’d danced, they said to me, “Where’d you learn that?” And I said, “From film I took of you guys in 1976; that’s where I learned it, was from watching.” And they said, “Oh,” and I said, “Do you have any comments on what I’m doing wrong?” and they said, “Yeah, your arm movements are starting in your hands rather than your shoulders.” And I remember dancing in the set with them thinking, “These guys look like arm wrestlers.” There was some very strong, powerful movement that it was coming from a center here, you know… The movement was very graceful, but it was connected with their body. Whereas for me, it was very much, it was an arm movement, is what I think they were trying to say of it coming from my hands, but it wasn’t really connected with my body. And I remember thinking while I was dancing with them, “Wow, these guys look like they’re really strong, like arm wrestlers or something.” So that physical power and strength piece combined with the grace, it was as much as anything the Headington Quarry dancers that that really dictated that aesthetic for me.

Two men are leaping in the air. Two others look on. A fifth has his back to the camera.
Tony Barrand (center, facing camera) and Mark Wilke (center, back facing camera) do a Star Jump caper figure during the Bucknell Morris dance “The Queen’s Delight” while Frank Edwards (left) and David Lindsay (to the right of Frank) rest momentarily. John Roberts (corner right) accompanies the dance on concertina. The photo was taken around the mid-1970s at Pinewoods Camp. This photo by an unknown photographer comes from a private album belonging to Tony Barrand. We use it courtesy of Olivia Barrand.

Jennifer Cutting: And yet they were computer workers, they were white collar…

Tony Barrand: I think, yeah… how did they get that? It must have been…

Jennifer Cutting: Was it who taught them?

Tony Barrand: I would think it was Kimber, who was very interesting. At some point there’s one of the, you know, former squire of the English Morris Ring came over and came to one of our team practices and sort of watched me dancing and said, “You’ve got the same build, and you actually look like Kimber dancing,” and I sort of learned that really from being around Headington Quarry, watching their film and just absorbing it. And I think them either growing up as boys, of seeing there still were occasional teams in Headington at that time.

Jennifer Cutting: So you think there are actual differences between the way English dancers  move, and the way American dancers move?

Album cover showing a man playing a concertina and the words "The Art of William Kimber."
“Shelfie” of the American Folklife Center’s copy of William Kimber’s LP. The photo is credited to the Keystone Press Agency.

Tony Barrand: Nineteen hundred and… Let’s see when we go to Swarthmore, so it would have been right after, I think it would been like 1975 or ‘76. Right after I got just passionate about this dance stuff. I was asked to go down and do some workshops on perception and dance at the Labanotation Bureau in New York City. And while I was down there, they had just moved to a new offices that was on like the seventh or eighth floor, and you came out of the elevator. And there was then one of these dividers that they have in offices, you know, and you had to turn right out of the elevator. And you could see, it was a big room with a lot of secretarial desks in it. And you could see a lot of the secretaries that, you know, the people are concerned with dance notation. And you walked along this divider, and then you turned left and walked around to get to the reception desk, interestingly enough.

So I walked around, came out of the elevator and walked around. And the young woman at the reception desk said to me, “You’re English, aren’t you?” And I said, “Yeah… how do you know?” And she said, “By the way you walk. I can watch everybody; English people lift up from the center of weight as they’re walking. And I can see this because this divider is about waist height.” “And so,” she said, “I can see the center of weight perfectly doing this as it goes by. Americans come out of the thing, and the center of weight sinks when they come out of it.” And it’s like, oh, this is interesting, this is like this is that people can, is that there’s this way of moving. And one of the things that I that I love about this, you know, 26 years worth now of watching… you know, I have film of some people who came over from England and have joined American teams. And you can see their dancing changing from having learned with English teams, and as they start to dance with, they start to see American dancers, their dancing changes. There’s some qualitative things that change. And, the big field trip that I made in 1979, taking it with eight millimeter sound film because the video equipment, you couldn’t get enough batteries…

Jennifer Cutting: Was this the first sound…

Tony Barrand: No, the black and white reel-to-reel video was the first sound.

Jennifer Cutting: The Headington Quarry at the Bicentennial festival…

Tony Barrand: The Headington Quarry. That was the first sound film. And that same year, ’76, I went to England filming sword dancing because one of my teams in ‘75 had started a women’s sword dance team, and they were dancing Handsworth. And I was going to England with John doing concert-type stuff. And I decided I needed to go and film Handsworth dancing. While I was in Handsworth, I would go and film Grenoside, who dance on the same day. So at the time, I don’t think I could afford either sound film or a sound camera. But I was able to borrow a silent camera so I took some silent film then, but the first sound film was that was the first film I took which was a black and white reel-to-reel video. And then ’79, there still wasn’t light enough weight video stuff or with batteries that would last enough of the time. So I bought, I got a grant actually, from CDSS, to buy sound movie equipment that would take 1200-foot reels, so you could actually get 14 minutes worth of film.

A group of men in white outfits with bells on their legs pose as if dancing. One wears a helmet and carries a stick. A man in a conventional business suit plays a violin. There is a small dog with the men.
Headington Quarry Morris Men photographed in 1899 by Henry W. Taunt, a professional photographer based in Oxford.  They pose here at “sticks down,” as if engaged in a stick dance. The fiddler was Mark Cox and the dog belonged to him. The dancer closest to the camera resembles an older Merry Kimber, and may be his father, William Kimber, Sr. (1849–1933), who was foreman of the team until 1887. Henry Taunt died in 1922, so his photographs are in the public domain. Source: Historic England Archive.

Jennifer Cutting: Are those earliest recordings of yours coming to us with your collection?

Tony Barrand: Everything. Everything. It’s all coming.

Jennifer Cutting: Okay. So all the formats; all the different formats.

Tony Barrand: Yes, all the different formats.

Jennifer Cutting: It’s a good thing our lab here has so many players.

Tony Barrand: Beta, there’s VHS, there’s Sony reel-to-reel black and white video, there’s eight millimeter film…

Jennifer Cutting: Okay. And has your entire collection been digitized, or just parts of it?

Tony Barrand: At this point in time, all of the Morris and sword material is digitized, which is,..  let’s see… that’s about 200 hours. And then the remaining clog dance material that we’ll get to later, if we ever get through the early part.

Jennifer Cutting: Yeah, I’m jumping forward a little bit because I do want to talk to you about the idiosyncrasies of the collection. But where are we now… you’ve started your own team…

Tony Barrand: Started my own team. And, by then, by 1976, I’ve started the Marlboro Morris Ale.

Jennifer Cutting: OK. The first Marlboro Ale was 1976… Same year as the Bicentennial Festival… big year for you.

Tony Barrand: That year was a very seminal year for me. Saw Headington Quarry, I started the Morris Ale, I went collecting… I did my first fieldwork in England that year, filming Handsworth and Grenoside [sword dancers]. Yep.

A group of dancers surround one central dancer, who holds aloft six swords interwoven into a six-pointed star.
The Grenoside sword dancers in 2015. They are one of the best known sword dance groups in England, with a history going back about 150 years. Tony Barrand documented them beginning in 1976. Photo by Donald Judge. Shared to Flickr with a Creative Commons license.

Jennifer Cutting: So you came back from England and you had this footage. Did you then come back and try to teach some sword dancing after that?

Tony Barrand: Yeah. In particular, what was interesting about that was that the people who used the film of that fieldwork was not me, but the women’s team; they were being taught at that point, by Dinah Breunig.

Jennifer Cutting: So by then you had enough people to make a men’s and a women’s…

Tony Barrand: And there was a women’s. And the women, that not only had their own Morris team… I taught, at that point in time, taught both the men’s and women’s Morris teams. But they had a separate team that was taught by the women. And actually, by that point in time, we’d sort of meet together but go off to separate places and the women were being taught by  men and women. The sword team was being taught by Dinah Breunig, and the women at that point were being taught by someone whose name is now Andy Horton, but was my wife at that point. We’d married, my first wife, married in 1975, and she was teaching the women…Andy Barrand, at that point. But we very much thought of ourselves as sort of one team. And then there was another team called the Green Mountain Mummers, which was a men’s sword team and mumming team doing a dance that I had not filmed at that point. But, ‘76 started the Marlboro Morris Ale, and I had thought there might be…I knew of… maybe there was the Pinewoods Morris Men who had been dancing since ’69; people attached with the Pinewoods camp. And they danced at camp and then once a year, they did this little tour in Cambridge. But that was sort of all I knew, and then I knew there was Greenwich.

Jennifer Cutting: Where did you get the model, the whole model, for an Ale? Where did you see that?

Tony Barrand: That’s a nice story. Thank you for asking that question. In Marlboro, Vermont, which was first settled in 1750-something…1751… it was a part of what in Vermont and New Hampshire were called the equivalent lands. They were lands that were owned by the king. And they were claimed by York State and by New Hampshire. And Vermont was in the middle of both of them. So they were contested lands from what was this contested state, that led eventually to Vermont statehood when Ethan Allen and his radicals threatened to go and join Canada. So they decided to give them their own state in order to keep them in. But, in the equivalent lands, it was still governed by the king in the late 18th century. And the king passed a decree that, when it had 40 families in the town of Marlboro, they could hold a fair on the last weekend, starting on the last Monday in May. By that time, I’d of course  read the introduction to Sharp’s The Morris Book, where he talked about things such as the Kirtlington Lamb Ale, and Lamb Ales in the Cotswolds, which were held when? Whitsun… meaning, basically, the last weekend in May, the sort of real beginning of summer piece.

A team of men and women dressed in white with gray top hats on their heads and bells on their legs dance in the street, while a man in a black coat plays the accordion.
A team of morris dancers at the 2013 Kirtlington Lamb Ale in Oxfordshire, England. The Whitsun lamb ales held at various places in England were an inspiration to Tony Barrand in creating the Marlboro Morris Ale. This photo by Mike Finn was shared to Flickr with a Creative Commons license.

So it was like, “Oh! This puts you in contact with the history, with the tradition. And I was really desperate to link starting a team in America in this village that didn’t have one, really to find historical links that would… Oh, I suppose, validate it, right? That it wasn’t just me sticking this thing here, which is what it was [laughter], but was trying to find ways in which it would it clearly in some ways was a fit. So I grabbed that thing, but that was really a genuine one, in some ways, because it was like, the King had said to have a fair… Okay, let’s have a fair. So that was the obvious weekend to do it. And it was a long weekend, which was a great one when people had the extra day.

So at that point in time, I thought there were maybe four or five teams: there was the Pinewoods Men, there was my team, there was Ring O’Bells, and Greenwich… And I suppose I’m trying to think how I found out… Oh, and I’d been told about John Dexter’s team in Binghamton, New York. And people who had been part of a breakaway called the Village Morris Men. And there was this man, Roger Cartwright, was another important figure who became a sort of foundry of Morris teams, actually, all around New England: he’d sort of dance with them for two or three years, then move to a new town and start another one. And there were the New Cambridge dancers, but that was about it. So we put the word out that we were going to sort of have this…and 12 teams showed up!

Two photos side by side. Both photos show one man dancing with a push broom. In the photo on the left, a crowd watches the dancer. In the photo on the right, a toddler holds the man's hat.
The photo on the left shows Sam Bennett doing a broom dance in the 1930s, probably in Shipston-on-Stour in Warwickshire, England. It’s part of AFC’s James Madison Carpenter collection, and is online at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Find the archival scan here. The photo on the right shows Tony Barrand, doing a similar broom dance in the 1980s, probably in Marlboro, Vermont, as his daughter Olivia Barrand holds his hat. This photo by an unknown photographer comes from a private album belonging to Tony Barrand. We use it courtesy of Olivia Barrand.

Jennifer Cutting: You mean all the teams that existed?

Tony Barrand: This is this sort of “history of ideas” moments; like… A lot of people had, as I had, basically discovered the same thing at the same time. Its moment was right for it suddenly to happen. So at that first Morris Ale, unbeknownst, 12 team showed up. Now: here’s the difference between England and America. I had grown up playing Rugby, and I had grown up in England. As you know, the English compete over everything: flying pigeons; growing, you know, marrows; anything, you name it, right…we compete over everything. So I had read about how the Morris had got shaped. […] But it’s clearly these Lamb Ales, that there were many teams that showed up at these Lamb Ales, and competed for the right to dance at them. And you know, the prize was a blue rosette…blue ribbons! That’s what you give to the winner, right? As you would with horse jumping now. So, there were these clearly competitions, so I passed the word that this was going to be a competition, that there’d be prizes, you know, because one of the reasons I started the ale was that I wanted teams to see each other dancing, and be spurred to improve their dancing. Because you’d be seen by other Morris teams. And that was my main motivation for starting the Morris Ale, was to have a way of teams seeing each other and getting better.

Jennifer Cutting: So it was competitive right off the bat, from number one?

Tony Barrand: For me… but for everybody else, I was told in no uncertain terms, that there’s no way American teams would come and be in a competition. Two teams, two teams declared that they would not come if there was a competition. We’re here to have fun. Morris dancing is fun. It was like, Okay, I get it. We’ve got a little cultural difference here. For me, competition was what you do, you know, you compete, you win the blue ribbon, you go and buy each other drinks. That’s not the way people have grown up in American colleges. There’s winners, and there’s losers, and you don’t get together, you know, after the game. It was a real shock to me that cultural difference, but that’s the way it was.

So we had the Morris team. And the other thing that happened at that very first Morris Ale: all of the squires — you know, we kept the sort of word, you know, meaning that the head of the village then became the head of the Morris team. Actually, I think that was a joke, because it was usually the Fool, the most experienced dancer, who was the squire. And I think they liked that sort of “world turned upside down,” of having the Fool in the Morris team be the important, you know, labeled the Squire. So the Squires all got together to decide whether we were going to make a kind of Morris Ring, you know, or a Morris Federation of some sort. Everybody said, “Not bloody likely, why do we need anything? You just organize this, we don’t need anything…” We knew about the English Morris Ring and all that, and I said, “Should we have an organization?” And, in England, everybody organizes everything… makes a set of bylaws… elects a president and a treasurer and whatever, and you have minutes of meetings. Nobody wanted it, and there is still not one in this country. And there are about 250 teams at this point.

Jennifer Cutting: Don’t you think, though, that Pinewoods and/or the Country Dance and Song Society in some way functions as a kind of Morris Ring-like entity?

Tony Barrand: Mostly no, but yes, I know what you mean. And that’s a very sneaky question.

Jennifer Cutting: Not meant to be sneaky, but…

Tony Barrand: No, it is, it’s a very insightful question. Sneaky in the sense of insight. Because there are several Morris teams that are members of the Country Dance and Song Society.

Jennifer Cutting: Okay. And the big difference between teams that are members of CDSS and the ones that aren’t members…

Tony Barrand: I don’t think there are any. Attitude maybe. And I think the difference would be that the teams that are members have a lot of individuals who really like to go to Pinewoods. And there are a lot of Morris dancers who basically only do Morris dancing. You know, that’s what they do, they show up and they do Morris dancing. And they do what their team does… Well, they might be contra dancers, but they’re not going to go to Pinewoods to learn contra dancing. You know, if you live in New Hampshire…  Yeah, or English Music Week. So I think that the teams that are part of CDSS have a lot of individuals who are very much individually part of what happens with the Country Dance and Song Society, which is very wonderful stuff and CDSS was always… well, eventually, got to be much freer with their instruction than EFDSS had been, in English folk dance.

Though I do have to say, a major spur for me, in terms of making my collection, was that in 1979, it was decided… and I think during the ‘70s I was on the board of Country Dance and Song Society actually, and was really pushing to have an English Dance Week. And to do that, basically all of the sword dancing and Morris dancing had been taught by people who had learned all their Morris and sword dancing at Pinewoods. Nobody had gone and seen nor learned any English or any new material, it was all very much in house. And so I decided that I needed to go and get new information. So my first big field trip, which is about… it ended up being seven hours’ worth of film of garland dancing and Northwest Morris, and longsword and rapper and, you know, as well as a lot of Cotswold Morris… was basically to have a reservoir of information for my own teaching.

Jennifer Cutting: Right and what year was that?

Tony Barrand: That was ‘79.

Comments (3)

  1. Thank you, Jennifer Cutting, for making your terrific interview with Tony available for all to read! I was glad to see that Tony did mention Roger Cartwright as a seminal figure in the spreading of Morris dancing in the U.S. Roger was a passionate advocate for moving the Morris out of the “hothouse” of “only dancing it at Pinewoods camp”, and to really start local, community based, teams. He formed the NewCambridge team in ’73 and convinced a former teammate from the Villlage MM, John Dexter, to start the Binghampton team. Ring O Bells and Greenwich organized soon thereafter. Enough teams to make Tony’s first Ale a successful gathering. As Tony says, Roger went on to form a number of other teams, but by that point, local Morris groups were firmly rooted in this country. And the Marlboro Ale was vital to keep nurturing their growth and improvement as Tony states. Cheers again for sharing Tony’s story.

  2. To add to Mark Wilke’s comment about Roger Cartwright and flesh out the early “scene,” Tony forgot to mention that Roger organized and took to England the first American morris team, which inspired the creation of all of the teams Mark mentioned. We started dancing together in Fall 1972 and travelled to the Cotswolds the following spring to dance with and experience “English-style” morris. The dancers were all members of Pinewoods Morris Men, but it was not an official team of PMM so we called ourselves the Pinewoods New Englanders. On the trip were the founders of Binghamton (John Dexter), Greenwich (Karl Rodgers), New Cambridge (Roger Cartwright), and Ring o’Bells (Jody Evans—she didn’t dance, but was Karl’s partner). All returned inspired to create local teams. Dinah Breunig (Tony mentioned her) and I moved to southern Vermont and helped populate and expand Marlboro Morris and Sword. Later I formed the Putney Morris Men. So Roger’s efforts that year bore a lot of fruit!
    And I echo Mark’s thanks, Jennifer, for your labors in making this interview available!

    • Thanks to you for all your help, Fred!

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