Amble Sword – the Revival of the Tradition
A hundred years ago Amble had a tradition of sword dancing. This year a man called Tony Urwin moved back to Northumberland having spent the previous 30 years in Kent; over half of which he had spent as a member of Bishop Gundulf’s Morris as a Longsword Dancer. He brought with him a set of longswords, lent to him by Gundulf’s, with the aim and ambition of reviving the tradition and bringing sword dancing back to Amble.
In the UK there are 2 traditions of Sword Dancing, Longsword and Rapper, both of which are known as Hilt and Point dances ie you hold on to both ends of the sword. The old Amble side (led by the Flanighan family) danced the Rapper tradition, which was common in most pit villages in the early 20th century.
Rapper sword dancing is a slick, fast-moving dance form with 5 dancers linked in a ring with a sword handle in their right hand and the next dancer’s handle in their left. The swords are about 0.8 metres long and made of spring steel so that they can bend and have a handle at either end. The Longsword dance is related to the Rapper Sword Dance but the character is fundamentally different as it uses rigid metal or wooden swords with a single handle and a sword-like point at the other end.
The dance is basically 6 or 8 dancers in a circle, each holding the end of his neighbour’s sword. They perform circling and intertwining “figures” without breaking the circle or letting go the swords, except at the climax of the dance when the swords are interlocked to form the “lock” which is then held aloft.
Tony’s aim was to start a side teaching them the slightly easier alternative of dancing Longsword and moving on to the more complex Rapper dancing once the side had been established. He found a couple of musicians, Jamie Robb and Sandra Kerr, in the area who were keen to play if the side got up and running. Tony then met another Morris dancer, Geoff Roberts, who also expressed interest. He was fortunate to be put in touch with a Sword dancer, Michael Dawson, who was moving back to Amble.
Tony arranged to meet Michael in the Masons Arms in Amble and by sheer coincidence he discovered that people in the pub, including the bar staff, were members of the Flanighan family and could remember their grandparents taking about Amble Sword Dance. The Landlord, Nigel Wilson, was pleased to consent to the back room of the pub being used and a date of 6 February was set for the inaugural meeting and practice. Before that meeting took place Tony had another stroke of luck when he ran into John McDermott, Amble’s sword-dancing vicar, who also said he would be interested and would come along.
On 6 February approximately 12 people turned up and most of these still form the core of the side. Amble Sword are still welcoming new members whether they be dancers or musicians. Meetings are every Tuesday evening at 7.30 in the Masons, although there will be a break during August.
The aim, right from the start, was to have a dance ready for the Amble Puffin Festival, and so on Monday 28 May 2018 at 1230 in the Town Square, Amble Sword danced the Amble Longsword Dance, bringing back the tradition to the town for the first time since 1931.