the Background: Dave Eyre

The formation of Sheffield City Morris Men (SCMM) dates back to 1975 when Bob Hazelwood came back to Sheffield from London. While living in London in the early 1970s, Bob had been associated with Chingford Morris Men and had been impressed by two things:

1. They were a very showy and entertaining team.
2. They had the beginnings of a tradition of their own.

Chingford’s foreman, Geoff Hughes, had taken the limited information provided on the Upton-on-Severn Stick Dance in Lionel Bacon’s A Handbook of Morris Dancing2and used this as a basis for devising a stick dance for the team. In fact it is worth noting that most teams that perform the “Upton Stick Dance” are actually dancing the Chingford version.

Sheffield City Morris was started, therefore, as an attempt to form a team which embodied the qualities Bob had found at Chingford. He wanted a team that would be, in his words, “fit, young, sexy, worked hard at what they were doing, and who would create something new.”3 Bob got together some people he knew through the folk clubs in Sheffield, and this embryonic team began practising on May 1st, 1975.

The first dances the team learned were based on those found at Bampton in Oxfordshire. There were primarily two reasons for this. The first was that Bob played the anglo-concertina and the melodeon and was fond of the tunes. Secondly, he believed that the single stepping central to this tradition provided a solid foundation for the development of a team style. Within a year the dances were Bampton in name, tune, and figures but “new” in style. There were certain minor adaptations, such as beginning on the right foot rather than the left, and quite deliberately maintaining the dancing momentum for the back step, rather than relaxing into the “rolling walk” style common to many teams. Bob also created and taught his version of what he thought the Upton-on-Severn Stick Dance would look like, based on his experience with Chingford as well as the available information.

This developing style was also informed by the fact that from the beginning it was obvious that the club would be an urban Morris team performing in city centres for the benefit of the public, rather than going around country pubs for the benefit of themselves. The style, therefore, had to be as showy and entertaining as possible. One of the ways in which it was thought this could be achieved was to emphasise the use of the handkerchiefs. Although an audience may be initially attracted by the sound of the bells and the music, what they see is not the feet but the hands and the handkerchiefs. This being the case, we decided to fully extend the arms, flick the handkerchiefs upwards, and then let them float down as slowly as possible. The stepping was built around this so that the coordination between the handwork and footwork is very exact.

This precision was an obvious focal point of the practice sessions in the early years, yet the weekly practices also involved rigorous physical training. Bob took the view that anyone who danced out with Sheffield City Morris would have to be very fit in order to sustain a long tour, so it was quite common to spend fifteen minutes at a time capering around the room!

While potentially making Bob unpopular, this kind of hard driving set an atmosphere of discipline and determination conducive to later repertoire developments. Bob had tried to start the best Morris team in the world. Second best would be a team that only occasionally hit “the high spots”. This took a tremendous amount of drive, initiative and, not to put too fine a point on it, autocracy. If the philosophy and objectives he established had any validity, the team would survive and grow after he had left.