After a three-year hiatus from knee and back injuries, I'm back on a morris team, serving my three-month apprenticeship as the (non-dancing) Fool for Red Herring Morris (that's me in their team photo with The Fish Called Waldo). I'm honored that my new teammates and other fellow morris singers have recently been asking me for songs of the morris, including requests from Toronto Ale singers, Red Herring, Banbury Cross, and Cold Barn of Toronto to help promote singing among their new dancers, and to become stronger song leaders themselves. Thanks to all of you who have been so kind as to ask me to share my experience; it's made me feel immensely welcomed back to be so honored.

This provides the great opportunity to dust off my morris-song bookmarks and post them in so as to keep them updated. Check this link for periodic updates; here's my idiosyncratic collection of Songs of the Morris resources on the web.

So, how to get your team singing? It starts with one singer and one song. There is no single Ur-Songbook for the morris, although many teams have collected their own songbooks and some have published them (see links). Some teams (including Red Herring) include "singing practice," which is often congenially combined with "drinking practice" after dance practice. This is a splendid institution and should be encouraged.

How to start? PICK A SONG. Just one. If you feel you can't sing, pick an easy one. It should have a chorus and be one that you like; something that you've heard at an ale or on tour is good. Start yourself off with three or four verses; three is enough for people to get the chorus, four is enough for you to remember the verses. That's all.

I am often asked to recommend a First Song. I feel this is a very personal decision, so I do so one-on-one. It helps if I've heard you sing, but I'm game to work with you if you email me. Good first songs for a team include (but are not limited to) the "massed pub songs" like Country Life, Ilkley Moor Baht Hat, Let Union Be In All Our Hearts, or Pleasant and Delightful. Search for them in my links list.

But how do I teach everyone my song? (I hear you wail.) It's NOT that hard. And you don't have to have some fabulous and intimidating voice (in fact, having one can be a real drag when you want everyone to sing together, believe me). Here's how it starts.
  1. Get the words and the tune to your ONE SONG. Use my link list for starters.
  2. Sing your song by yourself, in the shower, at the bus stop, washing dishes, &c, until you feel like you can really get into it, singing it from memory and remembering all the words. You can TOO carry a tune, it just takes practice.
  3. Count the verses, so you can remember (ah yes, this one has THREE verses...)
  4. Ask your foreman for 5 minutes at the end of practice to sing your song. I recommend that you NOT hand out song sheets--after all, we don't hand out dance notes at practice. Just sing. Since you like it, people will join in. Sing the chorus a couple times, just like you dance the chorus a couple of times in practice.
  5. Think of a song as a jig or a corner dance, with a set dance chorus. Only the leader has to know the verses, which are the figures. Everyone dances in on the chorus, and then there's another figure.
  6. Sing your song every week at the end of practice. After a couple weeks, you'll have everyone singing the chorus.
  7. Pick someone else who thinks this singing stuff is really cool. Pass this info on to them, and coach them like I just coached you. Get them to pick ONE SONG. Now you have two songs at practice.
  8. Sing your song(s) at an ale or a tour. Since your team already knows it, they will join in. How cool! We know a song. We are a singing team. There you are.
If you don't already have one, start a songbook. Get a looseleaf notebook and start sticking song sheets in it. Concentrate on a FEW SONGS, so you don't get overwhelmed and start telling yourself you can't do it. After all, you don't teach 12 dances or 3 traditions at once. However, you may well teach three or four dances in the same tradition, so it's a good idea to have three or four songs in your learning repertoire. This is your own personal songbook. Eventually, you'll want to compile a team songbook (see links for examples), but beware of using it as a Rise Up Singing at ales.

My very personal and very strong opinion is that song sheets are about as effective for the morris as trying to dance by holding a copy of Bacon (or worse, handing copies out for everyone to hold). Alastair Brown made this point quite hilariously at a Toronto Ale about 10 years ago by doing exactly that--Number One read out the figures, and everyone danced clumsily along, while peering at their photocopy of the entire unwieldy book. Alastair's sober voiceover informed the howling audience that we had just witnessed a demonstration of Rise Up Dancing.

This is NOT why we sing. We love morris & pub singing for its spontaneity, its rich harmonies, its sweep-you-along sense of communal participation, and above all its energetic joy. This passion does not live on the printed page. Song begins and ends in the heart and soul of the singer. Find your song and nurture it in yourself--you can TOO sing! Once you believe YOU can sing, then you will believe that others can sing, and you will show them how. Then, quite effortlessly, you find you are a singing team.