Dancers at Dawn: Morris Dancing to Rave

Photo: Martin Green as captured by Sandy Butler

It is definitely the morning of my twenty-third birthday, the year is almost certainly 2000, though it may not be, some stuff in there is a little blurry.

I am walking home with friends over the Iron Age settlement of Wandlebury in Cambridgeshire. We have been in a rural warehouse at a night that was probably legal. Those nights were amazing, the perfect blend of small, wild and slightly daring. They were as close as I ever came to how I think it must have felt in the late 80s. Refreshingly diverse and non-commercial. Small enough that you might meet the same people if you kept going regularly. I entered into a ritual of a much more modern variety, of wonderful hedonism and repetitive beats.

The dawn, the spangled wonderment, the feeling that my limbs could take me forever if the music never stopped.

And I remembered something. Just one of a menagerie of colourful childhood memories, for I was blessed with slightly eccentric parents. I remember on this hill, that my dad had taken me to dance with the morris dancers at dawn, on May Day. This would have happened in 1987/88, somewhere round there.

And this bizarre seeming ancient ritual, that probably isn’t that old, although some bits of it certainly are. The thought struck me, I have thought a lot (even back then) about the history of traditional music, it is something closely connected to me and my self-identity, this idea of legacy.

But right then, in 1987 was the BIRTH of this remarkable social phenomenon I had just engaged in — rave.

We can see its history, all of it. Yet the origins of morris dancing are hidden, in truth unknown and contested by those that delve into it.

And that thought, or that moment at any rate stuck with me, one form archaic, conservative, yet eccentric, and the other once dangerous and underground, then shot into the mainstream to be the sound of clothes shops for a generation.

And then the underground shoots up again, lock down raves, even before, they began to bubble, a compacted youth sub strata ready to erupt.

Now…where did I put my bells….

Martin Green is one third of folk trio Lau, and created The Portal, a fictional podcast based on his experiences of both morris dancing and rave. A documentary exploring these themes can be heard on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Sounds from 29 April, 11:30am & Monday 3 April, 4pm

You can hear The Portal on all good podcast platforms or here:

Martin Green is an Ivor Novello winning composer, writer and one third of award winning folk trio Lau.

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