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Flagcrackers Bordering On Furious At Racist Allegations
George Speller and his his daughter Lucy, from the Flagcrackers
The Flagcrackers of Craven is among many Morris teams reacting angrily to Shrewsbury Folk Festival having to capitulate to a small group of 'politically correct' individuals calling themselves Fairness, Respect, Equality Shropshire (FRESh) who demanded that the folk festival should stop booking black-faced Morris teams to perform in the future, as they deemed the practice to be potentially racially offensive.

There are several styles of Morris dancing each with distinctive traits from particular regions, such as the white dressed hanky wavers of Cotswold Morris, the flower garland band cloggers of the North West and the bendy rapper swords of the North West, and it is particularly ironic that the black-faced stick-clashing style in question is known as Border Morris originates from Shropshire in the Welsh borders; the very place where the local festival has made this controversial decision.

The Border tradition can be traced back as early as 1584 with a revival growing in strength since the 1960s. While the origins have been greyed rather than blackened by the mists of time, early references to the blackened faces suggest they were used simply as a disguise and there is unanimity in denying any racial slight in the costumes today.

The subject has become a hot topic for debate amongst the Morris community throughout the UK, with social media rife with passionate comment as dancers defend their right to perform in a traditional style while others wonder if, purely on the basis of potential offence, the practice should evolve.

The Skipton-based Flagcrackers of Craven have been entertaining street audiences at home in Yorkshire and performing at festivals across the UK and internationally for nearly 30 years.

They are adamant that they will continue to do so with their distinctive black faces and will continue to welcome other Border Morris teams, including the celebrated Shropshire Bedlams, to their dance events.

The mixed family side has members spanning the generations, with musician George Speller playing alongside his daughter Lucy while her children dance with the side along with Dad and Grandma.

It's an all embracing and welcoming side which is angry at the implications of racialism inherent in the news from Shropshire this week.

Alan Perrow,a long-standing member of the team commented "Festival organisers do their job for their love of folk music and dancing - there is no money in it, indeed many have gone bankrupt supporting this tradition. It is unfortunate that FRESh - a tiny self-appointed grouping of PC followers - appears to have hinted at litigation in this context to the Festival organisers, apparently frightening them into removing a 500 year old tradition from its birthplace.

"There is no racism in Morris, either dancing or music, and FRESh has looked for devils when there are none. They would do better concentrating on real racial matters in UK society, such as FGM and enforced marriages, both of which have real evidence of occurrence."

Squire of the Flagcrackers of Craven, Julie Greenwood added "We plan to continue to give pleasure to audiences wherever they will have us and sincerely hope that FRESh, and other well-meaning but misguided individuals, concentrate the fight against racism on cases where individuals or groups are genuinely racially offensive and dangerous, rather than entertainers whom crowds of all race and creed enjoy watching. It's fair to say that WE are 'offended' at the implication that we, and other teams, are racist!"

It seems to be a view reflected by the wider populace, in the borders at least; The Shropshire Star conducted an online poll with 90% of the 3800 respondents in favour of the teams keeping their blacking.

Flagcrackers Bordering On Furious At Racist Allegations, 30th August 2016, 9:54 AM