Power and Grace, Time and Place: An Interview with Tony Barrand
By Susan Creighton and Pat MacPherson
CDSS joins the larger dance, music, and song community in mourning the passing of Tony Barrand, the 2008 recipient of the CDSS Lifetime Contribution Award. We’re lucky to be working with NARRATUS, who interviewed Tony last summer. Throughout this interview, Tony used the phrase “power, grace, time and place” as four essential aspects of Morris dancing.
Tony: …I forgot where I started in that story.
Pat: You were at Pinewoods.
Tony: I was at Pinewoods [in 1975]. So then I saw a group of men, dancing, and that was the first time I saw [morris dancing], which is always amusing to me, since I’m English but I had never seen morris dancing in England. Here was this fascinating thing with these men who had learned to dance, and the physicality of the dancing came through but also with seeming grace that came with that, which was a remarkable combination to me.
It was something I had to do. So I was at Pinewoods Camp—here was I, this Englishman, never seen this at all in England—and here I was catching it at this Pinewoods Camp.
Tony: Anyway, one of the teams that I went to visit on my field trip into England in 1979 was to go and visit the current Headington Quarry Morris men. What was interesting to me watching them dance, they all looked like arm wrestlers. They had strong arm movements, waving handkerchiefs, and it’s like—whoa! So this phrase came to me; this was “power and grace.” So this strange combination that was visible with these men who looked like they were arm wrestlers and yet they were waving handkerchiefs in a graceful fashion that was also strong and powerful, and it was like—whoa! Where else are you going to see that?
Tony: There are four words in the phrase that I got involved with. So, “power and grace” I’ve got, but as I got involved in trying to understand it more, I had to get “time” and “place.” So, people danced like the time of who they were at the time, and they danced according to their place, i.e. where they grew up and where they were actually dancing. Because it was clear that the dancing belonged to a particular village in England, or a town. As it turned out, there were all kinds of aspects to the story that I got involved with…
Pat: That is so fascinating.
Tony: Fascinating, it was fascinating. And I was like, I don’t know if I could ever explain any of that. But I didn’t really like explanations as much as I liked the questions. The questions were so exciting to me to try to understand why they look the way they do, you need to know how they grew up, what songs were involved, what work did everybody do around them, what was the place and the time, what was it about. So there was plenty to do trying to figure that out.
Susan: Quick question. This is reminding me of parts of things that Andy [Andra Horton, Tony’s first wife] was talking about in her interview: that initially there was no image of morris in the US and so the four of you that had founded the Ale, part of what was behind that, in her words, was trying to put out there an image of what morris could be at its best. Would you speak to that?
Tony: That was the whole point of gathering different groups of people doing it together. It clearly was something that had to happen in a place and in a time…
To me, there was clearly an aesthetic that was involved in it. This wasn’t just going to be something that would happen in classes. And so people had to see each other dancing and inspire each other to do dancing. The first thing that happened after we got the team started here, it was clearly something that had to happen where we were living. [...] So there needed to be a gathering of some sort…
And then, I had discovered that here in Windham Country and in Marlboro [VT] specifically there was an event that went on locally in the town, on the first weekend going into summer, or Memorial Day weekend, at the end of May. And that was clearly a time to do some gathering of people together because there was a local history of gathering together on Memorial Day weekend…
That was the time. And the place was because of where we were living. So that was the time, and we had the place. And we clearly needed the teams starting together. And because it was clear looking at what had happened for the growth of teams in England, that the men in England really had some bizarre way of thinking about whether women should do it at all. And because the first event [Andy and Tony’s wedding the year prior] had had a women’s team and a men’s team at it, that’s what we did. Because, CDSS through Pinewoods, women were just as much a part of the growth of the dancing that was happening, at least through camp. And CDSS camp was where we all learned. So, it was like, okay; that’s just the way it is. Then, because Andy and I were involved together in getting the groups together, it was going to be men’s and women’s teams. That’s simply the way it was.
Pat: So, in effect, you were creating a new tradition in a new place, which included women and men. This was the American story of morris. And, it reflected who you were.
Tony: But that’s how we dance and how we sing. You can only be who you are. And so that’s what we did.
Pat: So, we’re talking about “ale.”
Tony: What I encountered was that part of the Cotswolds, which I knew from basically growing up on their edge, was that they called, in the Cotswolds, a country village event an “ale,” as in a similar way to what in Europe, where they would grow a vintage of wine for a particular year or for a festival, in the Cotswolds country practice was that you could have a local event in which you brewed an ale. You could have a church ale; it didn’t matter what it was. An ale was simply an announcement of some event happening with some focus around it. So it can be the church ale. Interesting about that, basically the safe liquid to drink was an ale. Children consumed ale as a safe liquid to drink, because water wasn’t safe. So ale was something basically that everybody drank. [...]
Susan: Ale to me then also suggests that it’s for all ages. A town event to which everyone is welcome.
Tony: That’s exactly right. It was there for everybody to drink. Like, you would sell lemonade.
Susan: It was not an adults-only event.
Tony: It was not an adults-only event. [...]
Susan: So, I’m really intrigued by your phrase “Power, grace, time and place.” It’s getting me to think about morris differently. And my question about the history, I think your point is well taken. Whose history? Who’s defining it? But that’s making me think that there is at least, we talked about an aesthetic of morris that you were trying to capture, power and grace being part of that. Are there other elements of the aesthetic that you would describe that you felt were really important to capturing what morris was?
Tony: Well, (pause), that was real—using the power and grace, time and place thing really reinforced for me when we were getting started that not only came from the sort of mixture that happened at our wedding, but then it naturally happened the next year when we first put together an ale. An aspect of that that’s really interesting to me: everybody naturally picked up on calling a morris gathering an “ale.” There’s the Midwest Ale, there is a West Coast Ale, you know, so…
Susan: The Canadian Ales—the London Ale, the Toronto Ale.
Tony: Everybody. What it is! A gathering of morris dancers is now an ale.
Susan: So do you have time for just a couple more questions?
Tony: I do! Are we OK on time?
Susan: Yeah, we’re fine. As long as you’re good to talk.
Tony: I am. Try and stop me.
The excerpts in this article are from an interview NARRATUS conducted with Tony in August 2021. Click here to read the full interview. This interview is part of a larger project to archive the first 50 years of the Marlboro Morris Ale, and to create archival tools and resources for other morris organizations to use in a similar fashion. This interview will be part of the Marlboro Morris Ale collection that will reside in the archives at the Vermont Folklife Center in Middlebury, VT, and is reprinted by permission.
In 2025, the Marlboro Morris Ale, which takes place in Marlboro, VT, will turn 50. With funding from CDSS, NARRATUS (Susan Creighton and Pat MacPherson) has been engaged to archive the Ale’s history. This project has two goals: one is to create an archival collection of the Marlboro Ale’s history. The second goal is to create a process and toolkit that other ale organizers can use to create an archive of their ales. Once that toolkit is complete, CDSS will make it publicly available.
NARRATUS is collecting photographs, videos, t-shirts, posters, and stories from anyone who has attended the Marlboro Ale. We’ll digitize all the donated items and make them available on a public website. The physical archive will live at the Vermont Folklife Center in Middlebury, VT. Contact us at email@example.com.