August 2010 update: Horse gallops off with a prize; the oldest winner wins again; the squire returns; Jack does a double; and thereby hangs a shirt tail. Now read on…
The first John Gasson Memorial Jig Competition, in 1988, was won by members of one of John’s own teams, Mr Jorrocks. Andrew Jones and Tim Bull won again in 1991.
There was an eerie moment during one early event, as organiser Tracey Rose recalls: “The competition was in the Council Chamber and we packed it. The spookiest bit was when Rob Pearson did the Nutting Girl. Rob did about four steps and the lights dipped and then came straight back up. The Nutting Girl was John Gasson’s jig.” As far as Tracey knows, no one had dimmed the switch. “I felt that it was John telling me he was there watching us and he approved of it.”
The term “morris jig” traditionally refers to dances by one or two people in the Cotswold morris style. The competition has also seen entries based on Molly dancing and North West morris, as well as a sailor’s hornpipe and several broom dances.
Tony Forster of Pig Dyke Molly performed the most unconventional broom dance: it also involved dancing with a dustpan brush and a toothbrush. Tony has written a short article about his various spoof entries.
Interestingly, the rules say only that the competition it is for English jig dancing – the word “morris” isn’t mentioned.
The rules also fail to specify whether dancers should be human. In 2010, the Audience Appeal Prize was won by a horse, called Horse (and two fellow members of Bristol Morris Men). The “horse wins dance prize” story got picked up by BBC Radio Bristol and BBC Radio Devon; unable to interview Horse over the phone, they interviewed the owner of his legs instead.
Lucy Cunningham and musician John Ede-Golightly have been the only people to have won one of the main prizes as members of an overseas team. In 1994, they took the John Gasson Solo Jig trophy home to Guernsey.
Lucy won the solo competition after being advised to switch to wearing breeches instead of the long skirt usually worn by members of her island team, Belles and Broomsticks. Jack Worth acted on a suggestion that he’d improve his chances if he could stop his shirt tails hanging out. He sewed morris wavers (giant hankies) to the hem so the shirt stayed safely tucked in when he danced. It worked: he won.
No detail should be overlooked by competitors. Compere Chris Rose announced that double jig dancers Barry Honeysett and Simon Pipe would lose points for having incompatible hairstyles. When Simon later performed his broom dance in the same year’s event, Chris said he’d get extra points for having the same hairstyle as the broom.
David Roodman’s Best New Entrant title in 2009 made him the first American prize-winner. He flew in from New York on the Thursday before the competition and flew out again the day after it. David came a very close third in the solo section (only one point separated the top three dancers). He and Mark Rogers practised together on opposite sides of the Atlantic, by emailed video.
David’s entry sparked a prolonged internet debate on the Morris Dance Discussion List (MDDL). The arguments about judging, American style and even the competition’s very existence can be followed in the list archives.
The first American entrants in the competition are thought to have been Steve Galey and musician Sherry Neyhus of Seattle Morris, in the mid-90s. Steve told members of the MDDL: “My performance went off OK – I didn’t win anything but most who saw the dance were quite complimentary and I feasted on free beer most of the rest of the week.” However, Sherry can no longer claim to be an American past-entrant: in 2010, she became a British citizen.
More than a decade after it happened, people still talk about an entry by Zhiggy Zhiggy Zhiggy, a duo from Wiltshire. They started with the final capers and performed the jig backwards – music and all.
By tradition, the Solo Jig Trophy is filled with a drink by the previous year’s winners, just to make the experience of winning even more intoxicating. Some winners get champagne (or fizzy wine). Darrell Hurtt complained that he and Ian Dedic got warm canned beer. A year later, they filled the trophy with a half-bottle of gin and “as much tonic and lime as it could take”, which probably wasn’t enough. Jameson Wooders and Jane Berrisford-Smith used the trophy as a trifle dish. Another year, it contained a “morris ale” that included hops (beer), capers and “slows” (sloe gin); one person joked that if some of the capers had been mouldy, there’d have been another morris step in the list of ingredients: furry capers.
At least one performer has danced to his own singing, and another to his own melodeon-playing. Matt Green of Bampton played fiddle while dancing a bacca pipes jig (a dance over crossed churchwarden pipes, in the manner of the Scottish sword dance). And Mary-Jo Searle and Penny Gillett of The Bee Team performed a fiddle jig in which each played while the other danced, and then both played and danced at the same time. Mary-Jo is the only musician to have played for a winning jig on pipe and tabor – the traditional instrument for the morris before the 19th Century.
In 2010, one dancer, Matt Morris, was disqualified for having multiple musicians who leapt out of the audience when the first musician got tired. It was very entertaining, though.
Mark Rogers, jobbing squeezebox player and taborer, is the only person to have been a winner in all five current sections of the competition (prizes are awarded to both dancer and musician). Bizarrely, he’d already got four of those titles under his belt when he won Best New Entrant, playing for David Roodman.
Jameson Wooders of Berkshire Bedlam Morris says on the Tips page of this website that it helps if jig dancers have a close relationship with their performing partners. He must be right: the Double Jig competition has been won four times by dancing brothers (2001, 2003, 2007, and 2009) and twice by father and son (2005 and 2010). The Solo Jig prize went to siblings in 2002, and to daughter and father in 2007. The Best New Entrant prize has been won by relatives six times, usually by siblings, and in 2005 by two brothers and their mother. The Audience Appeal Prize has been won by two sets of father-and-son dancers (all members of Great Western Morris), and by a husband and wife… and also by the Zeppelin Brothers, who aren’t actually related.
Here’s a neat statistic: generally speaking, dancers win the solo competition only once; in the doubles competition, only two winning dancers have NOT won twice. Spooky.
Of the 11 dancers who have won the Double Jig Competition, seven have also been winners in the solo. Laurel Swift of Morris Offspring was the first dancer to win both competitions in the same year, in 2006 – when her brother, Doug, also won the audience appeal prize.
Ben Moss of Great Western Morris matched Laurel’s achievement in 2009, when his brother, Dom, was his partner in the double. The two brothers also notched up a unique one-two in 2008 and 2009 by winning the solo title in successive years – the only time it’s stayed in the same family.
Their father, Duncan Moss, is the only person to have won a prize in the competition without having entered it, and the only person to have danced as a past winner without having won. In 2008 he had to perform the previous year’s winning Double Jig in place of Ben, who was abroad. So heroic were his attempts to match his remaining son’s athleticism that he was given a special prize, and rapturous applause (or should that be “rupturous”?).
Hattie Vale of Ditchling Morris became the youngest winner of the Solo Jig competition at the age of 14 (and the youngest winner of the audience appeal prize at the age of 11, when she was listed as Harriet). Mark Pinder, who jigged with his brother Alun in 2008, is thought to have been the youngest dancer in the competition’s history, at the age of ten; they were accompanied by 11-year-old fiddler Dylan Cairns-Howarth, who became the competition’s youngest-ever musician. All three were members of NYFTE, the National Youth Folklore Troupe of England.
John Maher of Bristol Morris Men is thought to have been the oldest dancer to take part: his daughter put him up to it, to celebrate reaching his 70th birthday. Sue Graham (Windsor Morris and The Outside Capering Crew) became the oldest dancer to win the solo competition at the age of 45, and won the doubles title the following year. Barry and Jack Honeysett (Great Western Morris) became the oldest and youngest winners of the Double Jig competition when they danced together at the ages of 47 and 17. In 2010, Barry and Jack won the double again, making Barry – at 52 – the first person over 50 to win one of the two main prizes (and yes, he got the over-40s prize too).
Julian Drury of Stony Stratford Morris is the only person to have won the Solo Jig competition as both dancer (1993) and musician (in 1995 – when he also won third place performing a broom dance, possibly making him the first musician to have competed against his own partner). However, Jack Worth may have outdone him when he won the solo as dancer, and the audience appeal prize as musician – both in the same year, 2010.
The late Roy Yarnell (pictured) of Jockey Morris may have started a tradition when he danced in the competition as squire of the Morris Ring. In 2010, the outgoing squire, Brian Tasker, of Hartley Morris Men, followed his lead. Given that Roy entered in the early 1990s, it should be some time around the year 2027 before a Ring squire enters again. The current president of the Morris Federation, Barry Goodman, has twice won as a musician, and former president John Bacon has also been a winning musician. So far, no Federation presidents have danced (we’re waiting for information about Open Morris officers who’ve competed).
Sue Hamer-Moss, who now sponsors the prize for Best New entrant, was also its first winner in 2000 – when she was also the only first-time dancer in the competition. She was told it wouldn’t be awarded automatically. When the now-defunct innovation prize was introduced in 1995, the judges decided no one deserved it.
The Outside Capering Crew, an innovative jig team based in central England, was formed as a direct result of the competition. Team members failed to add the main solo prize to their tally in 2007 but shamelessly claimed it anyway, by recruiting the winner, Emma Darby of Oyster Morris.
Barry Honeysett is thought to have come second in the solo contest more times than anyone else – he cannot remember how many.
Simon Pipe, who has won the solo competition four times, is also the only dancer to have won it at the first attempt – apart from the first victor, Andrew Jones, of course.
Andrew talked himself out of a hat-trick of wins in the earliest years of the competition. He won in 1988 with a leapfrog over musician Tim Bull, but was injured and unable to compete in 1990. The pair won again in 1991, but in 1993, the competition was won by Julian Drury. Andrew says he had persuaded Julian to enter, so was miffed to came second to him. The following year, Andrew moved to America and he has never managed to get back to try again. But the 25th competition is in 2012, so maybe…?
No one called Thorn has ever won a prize in the competition. On the other hand, it’s been liberally strewn with Roses. Saul Rose, a winning musician four times, is not related to Ben or Ned Rose, who won the newcomers’ prize with their mother, Mary Rose; and none of them are related to organiser Tracey Rose… who is, however, married to the compere, Chris Rose.
Would-be participants in the John Gasson Memorial Jig Competition should be warned: in 2010, for the first time, all the places in the competition had been booked (first-come, first-served) before the weekend of the event, probably as a result of online entry forms appearing on this website. Tracey is considering how to make sure people get a fair chance to register when entries are opened for 2011.
As with all the best folk traditions, there is a mystical formula for calculating the dates of future jig competitions. They always take place on the afternoon of the last Sunday before the first Monday in August. See you there.