They say the Morris dance is one of the few remnants of English folklore. Some say the dance is boring and old-fashioned, many believe it is a dying tradition that the youth don’t care enough about, to carry it forward. However the Sussex town of Eastbourne, a seaside resort carries on beautiful incarnations of this dance through its Lammas summer festival, an old harvest event that the city has revived and organised since 2001.
This year it took place on the weekend the 27th – 28th July, when it just happened I went to Eastbourne, completely unaware of the event. I was pleasantly surprised to discover it while walking along the beach and hearing a sudden drum beat. We (me and my friend) were fascinated by the vivid and powerful costumes and music, and found ourselves joining the carnival procession, with very rhythmic songs and dances.
I was told the predominant type of dance was Border Morris, originating from the Welsh border areas. However I could clearly see there were some alternative punk and folk influences in the style of some of the bands, there was a vibrant force in the show and I kept wondering why weren’t there more young people performing?
I have to say that the event is organised by The Eastbourne Lammas Festival Committee and run entirely by volunteers, raising money for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). Most of the local artists and performs were middle-age or over, and although there was a small group of children performing, I kept thinking what a pity there weren’t more teenagers or people in their 20s and 30s to hopefully keep this tradition alive!
Oh well, maybe they had left the little town, busy studying or working in London and nearby, or maybe they were just not bothered with this fascinating festival – but this is what I believe, as a foreigner and tourist, but maybe they have other thoughts. I think it takes a certain type of personality and dedication to get involved with such bands and maybe younger generations are more pragmatic, with different interests than their parents growing in the more affluent hippie times of the 70s.
Apart from the carnival parade along the sea front, there are various performances, music concerts, stalls with food and beer and of course many arts and crafts, including souvenirs and clothing (that some of them cost pennies, so would make good purchases). Since the event itself is free, all these help raising money for the volunteer artists and for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution they donate to.
At the end of the first day there is also a ritual celebration of Lammas, starting with the dance “John Barleycorn” performed by one local group of local artists, the Hunters Moon Morris, symbolising the cutting of the corn and showing the cycle of life, death and rebirth. The organisers warn though that this is a serious religious ceremony (spectators are asked to keep silent), so I guess the volunteers really take themselves seriously 😉
The bands of local dancers and volunteering artists all have really evocative names: the Hunters Moon Morris, the Blackbrook Morris, the Gong Scourers Manic Morris, the Royal Sovereign Morris, the Mythago Morris, the Steampunk Morris, the Spirimawgus Morris, the Pentacle Drummers and so on – worth checking their blogs if you want to know more.
In the video below I recorded a selection of some of the Morris dance groups, starting with the Mythago Morris, followed by children’s group Blackbrook Morris, the Punk and Folk group Steampunk Morris, then the Hunters Moon Morris and finishing with the Pentacle Drummers.