watervole: (Poole Mummers)
Bear with me though my ramblings and I'll end up by recommending a book that you'll enjoy if you like Arthurian-style fairy stories... 

The Seven Champions is a subject that has caught my curiosity for a long time, ever since - many years ago now - I first saw 'Seven Champions' molly dancers and wondered where their name came from.  They had 7 dancers dressed as men and one dressed as a woman.

This is a far more recent clip of the side - Seven Champions tend to be the side that define molly dancing for me - perhaps because they were one of the first molly revival sides (and perhaps because they were the first molly side I ever saw).  More men here (this is actually a 'revival' revival side) , but still the man in drag - which to my mind is still definitive.  Molly sides, as the name implies, should always have at least one person in drag.  Notice that molly dancers are the only member of the morris family to dance without sticks.  (in one sense, molly is probably not morris at all, as its roots lie in parodies of social dances, but modern molly borrows a lot of concepts and culture from modern morris, so I'm counting it in for now)

But why the name?

The Seven Champions, as I was to eventually discover, years later, are "The Seven Champions of Christendom" :
St George of England
St Dennis of France
St Patrick of Ireland
St Andrew of Scotland
St David of Wales
St James of Spain
St Anthony of Italy (or Portugal)

These characters have crept into a couple of folk traditions.  There have been occasional (but not many) versions of mumming plays that use them - see http://www.folkplay.info/Texts/78hu16sw.htm 

Also from Papa Stour in the Shetlands, a sword dance.
 This dance dates back at least as far as 1788, but has links with Northumbrian Sword dances.

It has to be said that Papa Stour is probably an outlier in many ways.  A small island with a small population, though it must have been familiar to Sir Walter Scott as he describes the dance in his novel 'The Pirate'.  It may even be that the mention in the novel is part of what helped the tradition to survive.

I'm sure I've come across a least one other reference to the Seven Champions in a folk context (they also appear in ballads), but I
 can't track down the reference I'm looking for.

The earliest known occurrence of these characters is in a novel by Richard Johnson in 1596, which was adapted as a stage play by John Kirke in 1638.  There was more than one edition of the book and various chapbooks covering parts of the novel or related stories.

It seems likely that the popularity of the book caused the characters to spread out into popular culture of the time and to become (albeit in a very small way) a part of the folk tradition.

However, it's also possible that both novel and tradition drew on other sources.

A more modern version of the novel (but still old enough to be out of copyright) is available at Project
 Gutenberg - The Seven Champions of Christendom.  It's been downloaded a mere sixteen times and one of those is me.

I'm reading it at the moment and it's actually quite fun.  It deserves a wider readership.

It's a romance in the original meaning.  All the characters are noble knights in the best Arthurian tradition.  (This novel isn't set in Arthur's court, but he'd have taken on any of the Seven Champions in an instant)  They can hew the heads of monsters with a single stroke of their swords.  They meet enchantresses, good fairies, save maidens from danger, travel to exotic cities with walls of silver and streets of tin.  They eat magical banquets with wondrous foods and seek adventure in the best fashion.

The descriptive text is colourful and as vivid as a computer game.

 read Mallory's 'Morte d'Arthur' and gave up half way through from boredom.  
'Seven Champions' is far more fun.  It has no historical accuracy whatever, plays fast and loose with geography (though a real place name does creep in on occasion when it sounds exotic enough - Saint George visits Timbuktu), and doesn't take itself too seriously.

If you want to read a fairy tale set in the days when men were real men, princesses were real princesses and small green things from Alpha Centuri were real small green things from Alpha Centauri (I may be lying about this last bit), then go and read Seven Champions.

(but remember that it was originally written over 400 years ago and will thus not always be politically correct)

watervole: (Poole Mummers)
 Think of this as a living Christmas card!

There's two lines missing at the start, so mentally add:
"In comes I, Old Father Christmas,
"Welcome in or welcome not, I hope Old Father Christmas will never be forgot."

I find the ad libs and alterations are half the fun of performing this.

Our normal Turkish knight was ill, so we had a substitute. Paul came up trumps and did the part perfectly.  I loaned him an old brass envelope opener, and I love what he did with it.  Then Graham (St George) worked it into his routine - did you spot what he did with it?  None of these things were actually rehearsed, they just evolved spontaneously over a couple of pubs!

This was also the first evening we'd included the morris dance as the sword fight in the middle of the play, rather than adding it at the end.  We stole the idea shamelessly off the New Scorpion Band, and it worked very well.  (For complexities due to English licencing laws, Public Entertainment Licences, Insurance and the fact that the powers that be forgot to exclude mumming when creating laws to deal with loud music in pubs, we have to include a morris dance as part of the performance - because they did remember - after much lobbying - to exclude morris from the act.)

watervole: (Default)
Trying to find mumming venues.  Trying to make sure we don't get in the way of other mumming groups.

Yesterday, I thought Stourvale Mummers were the only other local group.  Turns out there are also Purbeck Mummers and Frome Valley Mummers.  (All linked into various local morris teams)  I wonder if there are others that I haven't found yet...

However, none of the mummers I've found so far perform in Poole.  I'm slowly working my round likely venues (and a few long shots).  The hard part is trying to catch the right person when they're not busy. 
watervole: (Default)
Fingers crossed, I think Anonymous Morris have our youngest dancer yet.

C is age 12.  We picked him up after we did a workshop for a local scout troupe.  He's keen, well-behaved, is already developing a good standard of dance after only two sessions and we're very pleased that we decided to break our minimum age of 16 to take him.

We're also working on a mumming play.  We tried to do one last year, but half the cast went down with flu, which rather put the kibosh on that.

So far, this year, it's looking promising.  We're well into rehearsals - or at least, as much rehearsals as mumming plays require.

We've had two run-throughs now and 2/3 of the cast have their words memorised.  Young C is playing the Valiant Solder and has got his part learnt (ran through it with his parents) and is acting with gusto.

Graham, our St George, makes me crease up with laughing every time he comes on (he has to tell me not to giggle) .  He's a gently camp St George with a slightly wistful look - reminds me of Sgt Wilson in Dad's Army.  Graham has done mumming before (a long time ago), and was keen to do it again.  He created his own approach to the part.

At practice we have plenty of sticks lying around and a broom that we use for Henry's broom dance.

When it comes to the lines:

"In comes I, St George!  A valiant man,
With naked sword and spear in hand,
I fought the mighty dragon"

- he promptly picked up a stick for a sword and brandished the broom as a menacing spear...

So that got a laugh and we've stuck with it.  The sword fight scenes are very entertaining!

The costumes are all very simple, as is traditional with mumming.  The Turkish Solder is Pam with a towelling turban.  As Beelzebub, I get a stick, a frying pan and a little party pair of devil's horns.  The doctor gets to wear a black hat.  Father Christmas gets a santa hat.  We'll all wear our normal purple tatter jackets and I may possibly put on some red face paint.

All I have to do now is to find a date when the entire cast are able to perform... And pubs that are keen to have us.  (Tried the Foundry Arms yesterday and they're fine, so that's one already.)
watervole: (Default)
See this page - http://ezinearticles.com/?Greek-Carnivals&id=987977 - for a play that bears resonances with the typical English mumming play. Note the role of the doctor in reviving the loser in the fight.  The Moor might be a relative of the 'Turkish Knight' in many English plays.
watervole: (mummers)
I saw this while browsing around and it amused me.

Someone has produced saucy, modern versions of mumming plays (which I'm sure will find a market somewhere).  Probably a tad too saucy for me, but I do feel from the extracts that they're pretty much in the style of the traditional ones and not far off the spirit either.

(cross-posted to [livejournal.com profile] mumming_plays )
watervole: (mummers)
Went out today to dance with a number of morris dance sides and a see a pace-egging play.

We had my old side, Dorset Buttons.  I did one dance with them - Gorton - which demonstrates that there are some dances that you never forget. It's a fairly straightforward dance and I got through it without a missed step (apart from forgetting that the star is right-hand only with no left-hand star to follow).  Dancers have a conditioned reflex to music. When you hear the right tune, you know what the walk-up (chorus) is, even though the mind was blank ten seconds earlier.

Bourne River were dancing in fine form. They're the only traditional Cotswold side around our area, and they're all men, but all getting on in years. Still, the best dancer among them retired from work five or six years ago - and you'd never know it to watch his dancing.

Quayside Cloggies (my current side) fielded more dancers than we'd been expecting, which meant we redrew the dance lists, but it was a good thing as we got to dance more variety of dances.

Bourne River double up as a mumming side, Stour Vale mummers.

They were in fine form with their pace egging play.  They'd cheerfully shifted it from Easter to celebrate St George's day.  What's a pace-egging play?  Remarkably like a Christmas mummers play, but with a few changes of minor character. Edit out Father Christmas and add an old lady with a basket of eggs.

The text was similar to, but far from identical to, this one.

The Turkish knight was inspired.  He had a costume that looked as though he was wearing a dome from Brighton pavilion on his head, robes made from exotic curtains, a scimitar large enough to be seen half a mile away and the most wonderful long, pointy-toed slippers.  He'd managed to fit some Christmas blow-out whistles at the end of them and conceal some air bulbs somewhere in his costume, so that he could make the toes of his slippers suddenly blow out several extra inches and make a noise!

When the Turkish Knight was killed, he managed it in true Shakespearean fashion with a dying speech lasting a couple minutes as he staggered from side to side across the flagstones while two other characters ran around behind him carrying a large tarpaulin to catch him as he fell.

The doctor made the very most of his role.

"What can I cure?  I can cure (the whole audience chimes in here - they know the words) the itch, the stitch, the palsy and the gout"

"I knew you were going to say that£", he says.  "I can cure more.  I can cure CJD, STD, HIV and DVD"

Which perfectly demonstrates how to have both the classic old lines, and bring them up to date so as to be both traditional and funny at the same time.

An excellent play, with superb over-acting from all concerned, a truely bravado St George, a doctor with more lines of quackery than a pond-full of ducks and even the minor characters being funny and engaging well with the audience.

watervole: (Cerne Abbas giant)
While pondering over the questions of the Cerne Abbas Giant, Beelezbub and frying pans, a phrase came into my mind: "the devil's frying pan"
The probable origin of the frying pan. )</td> </tr> <tr> <td> </td> </tr> </tbody></table>

And the final example of the model maker's craftsmanship is Beelzebub who is a dirty lookin clart.

"Here comes I Beelzebub,
And in my hand I carry a club,
And over my shoulder, a frying pan,
A'm'nt I a horrible old man,
And if you don't believe in what I say
Enter in the bold slasher
And he'll soon clear the way"

So, there we have what I've got so far.  The frying pan is for torturing the damned souls (and must have been used for commedy value to claim to fry other things on occasion).  'the Devils Frying pan' was a phrase with familiarity in some areas at least. The club (rather than pitchfork) is speculatively there because it rhymes with Beelzebub.

As you can see from the similarity of phrasing between the different mumming plays, they likely started from one original source and changed as they moved onwards.  The characters change and develop as they move (beelzebub isn't that common a character, I just happen to be focusing on him) and the script changes too, but the common elements of a fight between two warriors, a death and a cure by a quack doctor (and often an appeal for money) all remain as core elements of the play.

Where does that leave me with regard to the Cerne Abbas Giant?

It now seems likely to me that people at one time regarded the figure as representing the devil.  Probably at a time long enough after it was carved for it's origins to have been forgotten, and a time when all pagan-looking figures were associated with the devil.  If he was the devil, then the earthwork (also ancient and generally a bad thing, espcially with all those dodgy May Day revels) was obviously his frying pan.


Jan. 16th, 2009 11:03 am
watervole: (mummers)
The trouble with starting to investigate mumming traditions is that it's very addictive!

The more you find out, the more you want to know, and between 'Stations of the Sun' and the web, there's an awful lot of material out there.What connection is there between mumming and a chalk hill carving? )


watervole: (Default)
Judith Proctor


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