Ramblings of a Blue Stotter

An article published in the Morris Federation Magazine in March, 2006


Now that the Christmas Mumming season is over, it is perhaps time to reflect on some of our experiences particularly in light of your recent editorial on audience behaviour.

Firstly though perhaps we should say a few words about PEL and how it has affected our tours.   The short answer is not at all.   Knaresborough Mummers take their Blue Stots play on 5 tours between mid-December and Twelfth Night, visiting around 37 pubs – the pubs are generally the same ones every year but in recent years there are casualties from the greed of PubCos resulting in pub closures, being sold as housing or a change of landlord who has different ideas on how a pub should be run (these factors very often go hand in hand!)   With the recent changes in legislation, I sought the advice of a long time friend and former Morris Dancer who is now the brains behind a local successful small pub chain.   Following discussions we considered that Landlords and Managers would have enough on their plates interpreting and filling in the extensive documentation required for the new licences, and that trying to pin down the person responsible to point out the intricacies and perhaps inadequacies of the new laws would result in them taking the easy way out and saying “No”!   I also consulted with the local Licencing Authority within the Council – after initially saying it was excempt and I pointed out it wasn’t, he went away to consult with their legal department.  When he rang back he said it was their considered opinion that it was part of a pagan festival and therefore excempt on religious grounds.  Beside that, there were elements of stand up comedy and morris dancing which I believe are also excempt.   When I tried to discuss it he said “You’re not going to argue, are you?!” – I got the message and proceeded to organise the tour as in previous years.

Suffice to say we did not encounter any problems arranging or performing the tours, indeed we even did a Sam Smiths pub, a brewery who seem to have inflicted serious folk club evictions due to the withdrawl of PRS payments; were we flouting the law – surely we owe the PRS nothing for traditional material?


In common with many other teams, I have always tried to keep performances to traditional pubs with real ale reputations in an attempt to reach a more appreciative audience.   However, there is an increasing number of conversions to “schizophrenic” pubs that masquerade as a traditional pub by day and YPMEADU by night (Young Persons Money Extraction and Destruction Unit) – one of our pubs this year has become like a barn inside with a scattering of about a dozen disinterested or bewildered youth inside, wall to wall televisions and a bouncer on the door (to keep them in?!)   It is quite intimidating in some of the pubs and we are quite wary these days following an incident one year when a group started throwing lighted matches on to the “dead” King George, which prompted others to start a barrage of verbal abuse.   It is pack behaviour – if one leads off, the others follow.  This year in what we would consider a “safe” quiet pub, there was a group of youths who just didn’t know what to do – it was if they didn’t understand the concept of having fun, having a laugh at these daft clowns with their bit of silliness.   Watching their faces and hearing their monosyllabic grunts it was as if they were waiting for some guidance as to how to behave – if I laugh and enjoy it will my mates think I’m not ‘ard enough?  I fear that many of the current younger generation have only a moral code learnt from an electronic box in the corner with it’s diet of such as Eastenders with its totally unacceptable idea of family values.   I regret to say that the answer to Doug’s editorial is that it is getting worse and if someone has an idea how to overcome it, tell the Government, as it is not only folk activities that are suffering – it is becoming the way of life!  Having got that off my chest, I do have to say that overall I think this year we were made to feel more welcome than ever in the pubs that do appreciate us!!

Changing the subject entirely, I regret to have to write an Obituary to an old friend that has been with the Mummers for around 25 years.   My Blue Stots jacket was considered earlier this year to be unwell and, indeed when being retrieved from the garage in preparation for this year’s tours, the unpleasant aroma which it gave off after being resident for a few hours in a warmer environment, confirmed indeed that it was well and truly dead.  The jacket started life in the early 1970s, manufactured by Himal of Huddersfield and purchased from Greenwoods in Harrogate’s fashionable Parliament Street.   For many years it gave warmth to a railway clerk, travelling daily to and from York thus acquiring a unique patina of pre-Beeching Diesel Multiple Unit lubricating oil and seat cleaner.   On its retirement in the late ‘70s, rather than been thrown on the scrap heap, it was “refurbished” for further use by turning it inside out and decorated with tatters for its new use, that of King Slasher in our latest production – the Blue Stots.  It has served faithfully in this role since 1980 absorbing the atmospheres of 971 pubs; aging like a fine wine with a nose of tobacco, ale, gent’s toilets and sweat – indeed one could almost trace the changes over time, the coming into the area of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, the demise of Capstan Full Strength, the Fish Quay at Whitby…aaah!  The tatters themselves tell their own story – wonderful patterns by Laura Ashley to remind me of my wife’s maternity dresses for three little babies now grown into young women (wipes tear from eye).  This year’s tour would have clocked up 1000 performances for the jacket but alas this was not to be.  My dear wife was quite insistent that it was in advanced state of decomposition and there had been warnings from last years tours that I would have to travel alone in future if I insisted on wearing it.  So – farewell old friend – may you forever adorn the great Mummer in the sky.   At least it will not be entirely forgotten - there is a lasting memorial in that the jacket is featured on a pumpclip for the Knaresborough Mummers 30th Anniversary Beer - Rooster’s King Slasher (see Chas Marshall’s website).

Finally anyone who knows me will be aware that I have always tried to keep pretty accurate statistics of our plays, performances and personnel over the last 31 years.   Well this year I was given a Pedometer for Christmas and just for interest I wore it on our Marton tour.   Between 7pm and 1030pm I clocked up 1902 steps – and this was excluding the dance at the end of the play.   Now if every performer in the play was fitted with one, I could work out a work rate for each part in the play and thus monitor whether every mummer was putting in a robust performance or not!!  You can imagine the potential there is for pie charts and graphs! (sorry – just wipe the drool from the keyboard) We could also add to our workshop repertoire: Mumming Performance – Statistical Analysis.  My wife says this is a recognised medical disorder and that I can get treatment………

A personal view by Knaresborough Mummers leader,

John Burrell

10th January, 2006

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