JOHNNY HASLETT'S MORRIS

LEYLAND MORRIS DANCERS.

It was at the local folk club in Leyland, Lancashire, one Sunday night in the early seventies and the resident folk group, The Farriers, had just finished their first half of the programme. I was getting the raffle tickets ready to sell to the punters, when Andy Anderson, a member of the group, approached me and said: 'Johnny babe! Fancy being a Leyland morris man?' 'Me? You must be joking!' I replied. 'You won’t get me dressed up in a funny flowered hat and silly trousers with bells on. Anyway, I was born in Scotland and brought up in Belfast; I've never seen morris dancers there.'

The following Sunday, another Leyland morris dancer, John Reeve, asked the same question: 'Come on, Johnny, the team are short of dancers. We need people like you who are interested in traditional music and singing. Why don’t you try traditional dancing?'

So the next night, off I went to have a look. The first time I had seen morris dancing was during the 1972 Preston Guild. The Leyland and the Garstang Morris Dancers danced in one of the processions.

'Hello, my name’s Roy Smith. Welcome to Leyland Morris’s practice night. I teach the dancing.' He gave me a small stick and said: 'We're going to learn a morris dance from Headington in Oxfordshire, called ‘Bean Setting'. This is the chorus; into line, chorus, half hey, chorus, full hey', etc., etc. That was my first experience dancing 'the Morris' and I fell in love with it right away.

A few more practices and Roy started teaching the new dancers the traditional Leyland dances. These were nothing like the dances from Oxfordshire. Roy explained that there were different traditions of morris dancing in different parts of England and that Leyland Morris Dancers danced two of them, namely the cotswold tradition and their own north west tradition.


John Rose
Leader Of Leyland Morris 1890

Some north west morris dance teams wore fancy clogs to dance their indigenous morris tradition but, unusually, the Leyland morris dances were danced in shoes. Some people believe that their dances came originally from Knutsford in Cheshire. This is a story I found in the Chorley Guardian of 3rd May, 1890:

'The Forthcoming May Festival. The committee appointed to carry out the arrangements for the annual May festival at Leyland are now taking practical steps in view of its approaching success. The ceremony of crowning the May Queen will be performed, as well as the plaiting of the Maypole, &c. The annual May festival took place at Knutsford on Thursday, when a deputation from Leyland attended for the purpose of obtaining information as to the Morris dancers which are about to be introduced into the Leyland festival.'

Leyland Morris
Wells, Somerset
1979

In the winter of 1973, the more experienced Leyland dancers wanted to learn some north west morris dances in clogs, so John Nicholls from the Beaux of London City Morris Men was recruited to teach the Royton and Mossley morris dances, both of which were performed in clogs. After a few weeks practice Leyland Morris Dancers performed their first Royton morris dance in public. If you booked Leyland Morris Dancers for a demonstration, you got cotswold morris, north west morris danced in clogs, plus their own traditional dances performed in shoes. Very entertaining indeed.

Sadly, after seven years dancing, it was time to move on. I enjoyed my time with Leyland Morris, for which many thanks to Roy Smith and the team for teaching me to dance and helping me understand what 'the Morris' was all about.

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