Friday, 17 January 2014

England's Glory - Straw Bear Festival 5

While everyone else danced their way into the town's Market Place with joyful enthusiasm, one group chose to march in stony silence, their sinister bearing sending a shiver through the spines of any onlookers.

These are the men of Old Glory Molly Dancers. For the procession they are clothed in long black overcoats and have blacked up faces. Some of the men carry a stretcher or bier loaded with small toy bears. They are accompanied by similarly black-clad women with extraordinary headgear woven from copious amounts of ivy. These women carry small black cases.

When it comes their turn to dance the men take off their overcoats to reveal an array of old waistcoats and cord trousers worn over hobnailed boots. They look unlikely dancers and indeed they perform an unlikely dance!

With never a smile on their black countenances the men grasp each other and with ponderous, galumphing steps they proceed with their dance.

The small cases carried by the women turn out to contain their musical instruments. What an extraordinary sight, and sound, they make.

Three of the musicians with their instruments, one-row melodeons in the key of C, very like Cajun accordions, but with slightly different tuning and very different tunes. Their instruments also include whistles, drums and, believe it or not, a tea-chest bass.

For some dances they post "sentries" at the corners of the sets. They stare out unflinchingly at the onlookers with never a word or a smile. The overall impression is of grumpy and cantankerous old men being forced to do a thing which they are determined not to enjoy - I find the whole show completely hilarious! So here are a few more photos and then a video of these courageous upholders of English working-class cussedness in action.

In case you don't catch it at the beginning of the video clip the man tells you that the dance is called "The Buck" after their local pub in Rumborough, Suffolk. He also says it's nice to see so many smiling faces which, in view of their solemn demeanour, gets a laugh from the audience. At the end of the dance a man appears to be approaching the camera, he then veers to his left and plants a very sooty kiss on the cheek of one of the ladies in the crowd.

Here then are The Old Glory Molly Dancers:

Take care.


  1. I haven't been around for a while and seem to have missed much. I knew of some of these dances, but the reports really opened my eyes for the values and extent of English folk dancing. Very nice reports - photos and all.

  2. that bought a smile to my face; thanks for sharing that John, it was fun to see a little early days of boot-scootin! Sorry 'The Buck'. Seems you must've had your camera sitting on something, the video was seamless and just in the right place to see it all. So I trust you could sit/stand back and enjoy it all at the time too.

  3. Haha! Fantastic video John.. loved the galumphing :)

  4. Wow, the stretcher with the bears just made my day!.Oh, this and the previous video weren't playing for me (I think I'm having blogger issues), but I must try later on another computer. Thanks for another eye-opening post!

  5. So many posts to catch up on--haven't had much time at the computer this week.

    wonderful photos--so interesting to learn of all the groups!

    It reminds me a bit of the marching groups in New Orleans--with different costumes and traditions.
    Two of the them are the Half Fast Marching Club and the Phunny Pharty Phellows. There are various African American groups, too, who dress as Mardi Gras Indians.

    I really enjoyed these posts and learned some traditions I didn't know about.

    1. Aha, I've heard about the Mardi Gras Indians from a long-held obsession with the music of New Orleans which I blame entirely on a Dr John album I bought many years ago because I liked the picture on the cover. There is a certain similarity, isn't there.

  6. I've just been looking through your 'dancing' posts and didn't realise there were so many variations! Some are quite scary! Looking forward to reading more in the future.

  7. I'm so glad you included the video! The dancers did look solemn until I watched the video and realized they really were having fun.

  8. I hope 2014 proves to be a good year for you and yours!

  9. Words fail me! What fun and what fine humor!

  10. Have really enjoyed your posts showcasing the trad dancing. You really do take some smashing photos too!


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