The Molly Parade! Easily one of my favourite things of the whole year. And, like the blackthorn blossom that marks the end of winter, or the returning swifts heralding spring, the extraordinary sight of several hundred Morris dancers weaving their way through the narrow streets is a signifier. Another year has passed, and high summer is upon us.
It isn’t so much the music, or even the dancing for that matter – to be honest, when it comes to Morris, I can take it or leave it. No, the thing that I like about the Molly Parade is the occasion and the spectacle. Fifteen to twenty sides in a wonderful array of outfits, some traditional, some less so, all playing and dancing at the same time – it is a glorious cacophony of noise, movement and colour. I love it.
There is a generosity at play – perhaps something to do with the collective efforts of people whose sole aim is to bring joy to a place. Not necessarily in a wholly altruistic manner – many of them are here for the laughs and the beer. But it is, almost entirely without exception, a cheerful thing (how can it be anything else when they have bells tied to their trousers!) and I find it strangely moving.
And the sheer variety! Traditional Morris dancers, all handkerchiefs and bells, sword dancers, stick wielders clacketty clacking, and the more local Molly dancers. No Lancashire clog dancers this year, with their knee breeches and natty hats, but plenty of the more modern sides. A team of aging bikers, clad in leathers and feathered caps, boom out a dub beat and don’t so much as dance but prowl. A terrific looking bunch celebrate the Green Man whilst another side, monochrome in black and white, perform an oddly dainty dance with brooms and brollies. Fools, steampunk, witches and wizards, several beasts too – they are all here in one form or another.
There is the odd plonker that takes things a bit seriously, maybe slightly resentful at having to take part in this cavalcade that they might feel denigrates their art, but for the most this is a joyous thing, and my heart soars at the sight and sound of them. There has been controversy this year – a supercilious council employee briefly banned the parade on spurious grounds, but the outcry was loud and the decision quickly overturned. And this in turn led to something new – instead of the usual slightly bewildered response, the crowds applauded, grateful that this bonkers explosion of chaos is to continue its merry dance through the town for many more years to come.