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JMO 20th DoD in Newcastle – a Review

Review of the JMO 20th birthday regional day of dance on Saturday 7th October 2023.

JMO Newcastle 2023 Group
Representatives of all Sides present

Written by:
Jessica Wharf, Border Reivers Morris, Glasgow, and
Rebecca Wharf, Black Diamond Mixed Cotswold Morris, Darlington

The Newcastle regional JMO was held over several sites in the city, ranging from the iconic quayside and a hop over the Tyne into Gateshead, to the Great Hall of the castle itself, and other locations in Newcastle’s city centre.

Despite grey skies, the dancing in the town started to lots of interested locals and plenty of enthusiasm from all sides involved. The city’s many pubs were welcoming and their patrons full of questions about the event, to which the correct reply was that it was a competition and that your side was definitely winning. It may be worth noting that drinking on the streets of Newcastle is expressly forbidden, even from a tankard: a local law we are certain all abided by.

For the Reivers, as lonely exiles of the Morris world up in Scotland, we were delighted to be dancing just over the border in Newcastle – a mere 3.5 hours’ drive away! The Baltic and Quayside spots were just beautiful, with the Millennium Bridge arching behind us as we danced. Another great spot was outside the Railway Station with always-welcome level ground – the people caught up in the train problems that day got some unexpected quality entertainment to cheer things up while waiting for their taxis! Reivers spent both afternoon spots at Old Eldon Square which gave us the chance to use the 15 minutes between spots to teach Tinners’ Rabbit to (mostly) willing victims. The famed friendliness of the Geordies was much in evidence as members of the public asked to learn dances, and kids asked to be face-painted in Reiver blue.

For Black Diamond, we joined Leeds Morris as a mixed side on the day, both sides being short of dancers. These sides have joined up before at Saltburn, with several dances in common. Of the dancing, there were some really excellent displays. Particularly noteworthy was the song-led Ulverston Clog dance to Byker Hill from Hadrian Clog in the Great Hall of the castle. Byker is just down the road, making this about as Geordie as it gets. Monkseaton, based nearby in North Shields, was dancing sword and Morris, changing kits and traditions with equal ease, and gave a particularly good showing at the quayside.

 As the drizzle came on during the last spot, we all scuttled to the finale with our rags dripping and our hair in rat tails. In between the Black Gate – from which our host team takes their name – and the Castle Keep, the teams huddled under a railway arch in the gathering gloom. Before the dancing began, Frank Lee received an EFDSS Gold Badge award and Honorary Life Membership of the Morris Federation with Burt Hunter giving an excellent account of Frank’s life and involvement in the folk world. The atmospheric setting clearly inspired the sides and they gave it their all. The railway arch above was particularly effective for those dances with a sung or vocal element. The booming voices of Hexham rang out to the tune of the Happy Man with their dancing described by one Reiver as having ‘objectively perfect form’, and the eldritch screeches of Wayzgoose echoed off the railway arch above during their excellent Twiglet. The Morris spirit also rang true with several spectating dancers adorably concerned when a Reiver lost our mascot, a toy Highland coo named Morag, mid dance. Despite the onlookers’ valiant retrieval attempts, Morag remained on the loose throughout the dance and it was sheer luck no one came to grief on this hairy trip hazard.

After the finale, there was a session at The Central, just over the bridge in Gateshead. With a great selection of real ales and lots of space, this pub was well suited to the hordes of descending Morris dancers. Several jigs were danced by an unholy combination of dancers from various teams, including Old Tom, Knuckledown (though the perpetrator of this jig insists he does not remember it), Nutting Girl, and Princess Royal, for which the dancers gave it absolutely loads. A very fitting end to the day, with representatives from all sides mingling, singing, dancing and slowly filtering home after a day of dancing with friends from all over the region.

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