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“Dalliance[s] with Dance … Clogs, Bells, Horns and Straw!” – a talk by Doc Rowe

Review of the talk presented by Doc Rowe on 26th March 2023 via Zoom.

Jane Cunio of Somerstep, from Crewkerne in Somerset, and past Technical Officer (Archive & Notation) of the Morris Federation writes:

There’s one big problem with Doc’s talks, and I’ve been to a few now.  They’re nothing like long enough.  You just now that he has enough material in his archive for a full weekend of entertaining and educating – and probably a lot longer.

“This talk, being for the Morris Federation, concentrated on dance, but did stray into other areas of the folk world, particularly calendar customs like the Padstow ‘Obby ‘Oss and Whittlesey Straw Bear.

“It started, however, with an introduction to Doc himself, and how he became involved with the folk world and its people and traditions.  It began in his native Devon, on Dartmoor, and a search for Bob Cann which led to a close friendship with Bob, Charlie Bate and others. 

Doc Row Padstow screenshot1“A visit to Padstow May Day in 1963  began continual annual visits and started an overwhelming involvement with seasonal events and popular cultural tradition.  Additionally, around the same period a chance meeting with Charles Parker, who produced the BBC “Radio Ballads” with Ewan McColl and Peggy Seeger led to a personal belief in the importance of recording technology and support of popular folk arts.  Parker became Doc’s mentor.

“Early interest in folklore led, as did many, to reading the then highly regarded “Golden Bough” by James Frazer but Doc quickly recognised its erroneous romantic antiquarianism by visiting ‘real’ events.

“An extraordinary bookshop in Exeter provided relevant books and photos, including a rare one of D’arcy Ferrers in Bidford.  Interestingly, D’arcy Ferrers later moved to Padstow, but did not influence the ‘Obby ‘Oss as he had the morris.  Newspapers gave different information of events such as a revel to be held at Fountains Abbey.  Otherwise, press reports were not always accurate, showing pictures of tourney horses next to a mention of Padstow, for instance.

Doc Rowe photographer screenshot“By this time Doc had discovered Cecil Sharp House (his name following those of Princess Margaret and the Spinners in the Visitors’ Book).  Doc later copied many of the glass plates and negatives for the Library which showed dancers and those who sang for Cecil Sharp, and Sharp himself in Winster.

“Doc’s archive does, of course, include film as well as still photos, and we were treated to some great examples from Abingdon and Abbot’s Bromley, among others.  There were photos of other friends, like Keith Chandler, Kenneth Loveless, Malcolm Taylor and Roy and Marguerite Dommett.

“Padstow is perhaps the most important event for Doc, and he’s been associated with it for many years.  Here, too, he collected photos from local residents, and copied them, putting them together into  a book “We’ll call once more unto your house”, which was sold as a fund raiser for a local community magazine.  A commemorative volume for the Morris Ring then followed, as did a series of educational resource books for the EFDSS for Malcolm Taylor, Librarian at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library and “Mayday” published by English Heritage.

“In recent years, Doc has noted an eclectic range of folk references in the media.  Winster Morris appearing in an anti-drug advert, or a Skol lager advert asking, “Did you enjoy your May Day celebrations?”

“Such a wide-ranging talk, where you just want to dig deeper and find out more.  One thing is clear: Doc is trusted by those he works in who are involved in traditional customs because he’s open with them, doesn’t run off with their photos and so on.  The fact that so many of those he’s met over the years were described as ‘close friends’ is telling.

Doc Rowe Bill Tidy Cartoon screenshot

by Jane Cunio of Somerstep, from Crewkerne in Somerset, and past Technical Officer (Archive & Notation) of the Morris Federation

Video Recording

The video recording is now publicly available on the MF YouTube channel (1hr 8 mins):

About Doc Rowe

For more about Doc Rowe and is archive collection, see: www.docrowe.org.uk

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