Back to the Source: Online Links to Morris Musicians of the Past

Red Herring Morris has recently engaged in a typical fall discussion around morris musicians and their role on the team. Foreman and head musician Jeff Bigler has reminded us of two core "rules" (remember, they're more like guidelines) for the new musician. To wit:

1. Musicians should dance (health permitting) or observe for a few weeks before playing in. 2. Musicians shouldn't play in on a tune until they're off book.

Rule #1 is to ensure that new musicians have some idea of how the music fits with the dance.

Rule #2 is to ensure that new musicians know the tunes well enough that they can pay attention to ensemble, both with the other musicians and with the dancers.

I responded to the team, and then reflected that this was a common enough discussion that it might be of interest to other morris folk as well. Here's my post to the Red Herring list:


JB's Rule 1 and Rule 2 get it in a nutshell. What he said. Hasn't changed in thirty years, that I can recall. ;-)

I'd add two more rules, if I may, under the heading of "get a feel for the tradition." Meaning, learn the rules so you can break them intentionally and intelligently ;-). Listen to the old guys (and the old gals too).

Rule 3: Read about morris music.

Rule 4: Listen to morris music.


I attach links to a pair of "ancient" 1977 articles from Volume 1, Number 1 of the American Morris News (AMN) by Russell Wortley on "Music and the Morris".

I remember this piece as being most influential when I was learning the morris in 1979, and later in the 1980s with Ha'Penny, where Jan Elliott's playing so well articulated Wortley's ideas. I particularly love this quote:

" is vital that all stylistic frills, all the decoration and twiddly bits, should be made to subserve and not hinder the basic rhythm. At the same time, it is equally important that this elemental pulse shall not be wooden and unyielding but responsive to the dancers, strong but subtly pliable."

And DO read what he has to say on the subject of the musician and the Fool! :-D

I find Russell's writing still very relevant and thought-provoking (not to mention the entertainment value of reading that "Marlboro Ale doubles in size!") It's worthy of note, in fact, that

a) the very first issues of the AMN devoted so much space to playing music, and

b) the author considered "respect for traditional practice" to be part of an article entitled "Music and the Morris."

I would hope that new and current dancers consider subscribing to, or at least browsing the online editions of, both the AMN ( and the Morris Dance Discussion List (MDDL) (

MDDL is free, AMN is free online, and both offer RSS feeds. Both have LOTS of sound and fury, some of it most illuminating and/or instructive, on the subject of playing for the morris.


"We'll drink to John o' Gaunt, me boys, we'll drink to Jinky Wells

We'll drink to William Kimber, who was buried in his bells..."

Want to listen to the source musicians of the morris revival? Rare recordings of Bampton fiddler Jinky Wells and Headington concertina master William "Merry" Kimber have been released on CD by Topic Records and can be ordered online or downloaded:

RIG-A-JIG-JIG: DANCE MUSIC OF THE SOUTH OF ENGLAND Volume 9 of The Voice Of The People. A Series Of Anthologies of Traditional Music edited by Reg Hall


DOWNLOAD this, and the other albums in the VOTP series, from for a per-item fee.

This is a GREAT series of English trad, and I have a number of the albums on LP. It's rather wonderful, and revealing, that on the cut where Jinky Wells plays Flowers of Edinburgh and Bobbing Around (Bobby and Joan), you can hear him singing/humming the tune as he plays--clear indication that he knows this tune in his bones, and was almost certainly dancing it in his head as he played it (Wells was the Bampton Fool and Squire).

Both Wells and Kimber are classic examples of the "elemental pulse" inherent in the morris, and it's so great to be able to hear them "live".

I would also recommend another Topic CD, Hidden English, with more William Kimber, the Coppers, and other source singers of English trad.

Hard core box players, and musicians borrowing from this style, may also love the EFDSS CD, Absolutely Classic: The Music of William Kimber (

"First things first: William Kimber was a superb dance musician. His music is crisp, precise, controlled, dignified, unmistakable, and unerringly rhythmic. ... Listen to this music. Words can add nothing." ---Roger Digby

So please. If you're going to PLAY morris music: LISTEN to morris music. Steep yourself in the old stuff. Get a feel for it. Get a little recorder and collect tunes you like at Ales. Get other musicians to play with you, outside of practice, so YOU can practice. And LISTEN. There's never been a better time to hear the old music--for free/cheap on the Net!