Studio: British Film Institute
Length: 360 mins
Region: Region 0
Released: 18 July 2011
Cat No: BFIVD920
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Here's a Health to the Barley Mow: A Century of Folk Customs and Ancient Rural Games
44 short films looking at the folk songs, dances and traditions of Britain. Among the collection are 1912 Kinora reels, 1920s newsreels,... Read More
Taking in May queens and mummers, morris and maypole dancers, broom, step, sword, rapper and horn dancers, flowery men, bards and burry men, Here's a Health to the Barley Mow is a delightfully diverse and appropriately unruly collection that includes all manner of British customs, from the quaint and curious to the crude and boisterous.
Its earliest films, 1912 'Kinora Spools' of morris dancing transferred from wheel-mounted photographs on card, are mesmerising; its most recent, from 90 years later, of a scratch team of impromptu rapper dancers in a bar at The National Folk Music Festival, is exuberant and exciting. Along the way, one of the volume's certain highlights is Alan Lomax's vibrant Oss Oss Wee Oss (1953), about the Padstow May Day revels, a film set to a drumbeat's invigorating thump, while films of the step dancers, sword dancers and rapper dancers reveal an amazing intricacy of movement. And the existence of a series pre-Jazz Singer English sound films from 1926 of Morris Dancing and fiddle-playing (the comprehensively titled Dances by Ilmington Teams in the Grounds of Peter De Montfort's House 1220 A.D. Fiddler Sam Bennett) brings an obscure sense of satisfaction. It's not all dancing though, as the 'extreme sports' - from burning tar barrel rolling in Ottery St. Mary to Handba' in Orkney - show. There's football here too, but not as you might know it, the Shrove Tuesday rough and tumble free-for-all involving entire villages, no rules, goals three miles apart and plenty of dunking in the river.
There are plenty of images and scenes that remain with you after viewing this collection: English Folk Dance Society founder Cecil Sharp himself bumping into a fellow dancer during a routine in a Kinora spool, a sweetly smiling May Queen on Hayes Common in 1927 (Miss Nora Rowland, 13 of Acton), a dandyish Tommy holding his rapper like a cane (High Spen Sword Dancers, c. 1928), brylcreemed boys practising their 'oss dancing in the Golden Lion Inn in Padstow (Oss Oss Wee Oss).
Threats to traditional revels down the years have come from town councillors, church officials, the internal combustion engine (All Manner of Customs), dictates from the Health and Safety Executive and the juke box (Dick Hewitt 'The Norfolk Step Dancer') among others, but as this collection shows, traditions remain and are continually rebirthed. That a number of the featured traditions - mumming for one - are of a more recent vintage than is generally imagined is irrelevant, it is the marking of ancient seasonal urges and the affirmation of a communal spirit that is important.