Huginn and Muninn are a small but perfectly formed group of Border Morris dancers based in South London. We caught up with them to get the low-down about what it’s like to be a two-person Border team, the relationship between Morris and metal, and their somewhat unlikely billing at a pub in Camden…
Hello Huginn and Muninn – good to speak to you! Firstly, let’s start with the story behind your name…
Huginn and Muninn are characters from Norse mythology. They were the dark ravens of Odin who flew about the world each day bringing him news and insight. As we are a two-dancer Border Morris side (a rare beast), and the dancers (plus our musician god – of course, called Odin) enjoy a bit of mythology, we felt it was appropriate.
This is reinforced by the fact that Odin plays a nyckelharpa (the Swedish national instrument, played with a bow), and several of the tunes we use are Swedish or Finnish so we probably have a Scandinavian sound too.
You mention you only have two dancers – I assume that’s by design and you have no plans to grow bigger?
Well, we have two dancers, plus our musician god, Odin, and we also have some wonderful Valkyries from time to time. We are all good friends who go back over 10 years from our time in the Wild Hunt (an awesome bedlam side based in Croydon). One thing about the world of folk dance is friendship! So we figured, since we are all good mates, let’s make a side just with the two of us dancing where we can experiment with crazy aggressive dances and bring out our own interpretation of Border. So that’s just what we did. And then we have Odin and his Nyckelharpa – which sounds so different. We are very happy with our team dynamic.
One of the unexpected side effects of being a two-dancer side (besides not taking up much space and needing a smaller touring van) is that when we dance out with other sides, it’s so much easier to get chatting with them and make more friends – which is what folk dancing is all about.
It certainly is! Plus you’d have to invent some more raven names. So Huginn and Muninn will remain a duo?
We do have some three-person dances where we get the audience to dance with us, but we wouldn’t want to do any more than that. Both dancers also dance for the wonderful Black Swan Border in Carshalton – a fantastic side who put up with our ways well, so we do get to dance in bigger sets.
We would like to expand the Huginn and Muninn entourage – more drummers as well as having people dressed as trees in the background or palm frond wavers for Odin. It would be great to have this massive, massive group of people but with still only two people dancing.
How does only having two dancers work? Are you essentially the Border equivalent of a Cotswold jig side?
Well, two mortal dancers, and our musician god, Odin. The secret sauce is the two-person dances. This means we always have impeccable lines (although not always great angles).
From a technical dancing perspective we need to be innovative, so, for example, in one dance when we do reels up and down the set we throw shields onto the ground and reel around them. It does make things easier when throwing sticks, which we do a lot in our dances, because there are only two people who can drop the stick at any time. Our musician god also plays an important role, both musically and in terms of calming us and providing sage advice.
That said, although we may be the Ryanair carry-on-luggage-size version of a large Border side, we would probably regard ourselves more as a contemporary, surrealist Border side, mainly because some of our dances are a bit more… experimental.
Experimental? For instance…?
Like this dance, filmed at the recent Morris Men movie premiere…
The other groups don’t have a musician god playing nyckelharpa, so we fancy our chances.Huginn and Muninn
That certainly is different! Tell us about your latest entry into the world of metal. What does it entail, and what will you be performing?
We are competing in heat six of the London region of Metal to the Masses (#m2tmlondon), a national competition to find and promote new metal acts.
The other three bands we are competing against (Halberd, Ygodeh and Thrasherwolf) are really, really good, and have achieved a lot in the competition before – so we are up against it! That said, the other groups don’t have a musician god playing nyckelharpa, so we fancy our chances.
We have to do a 30-minute set on the night, which is unusual for a side to do in one go, so we have been working on our fitness, mixing up dancing and theatre, and, of course, ramping up the music. We also have a couple of surprises up our sleeve – so the best thing to do is come and see us.
Both the 20-something metalhead me and the mid-30s morris dancer me is very intrigued! Did you have any problems entering? What did the organisers say/think?
The local promoter, Mick Wood, is a legend in the London music scene and really committed to growing bands. We sent our videos to him and he accepted us, so we presume he didn’t have any problems with us – I guess we will find out more after we have danced! He is a very professional guy though and expects a lot from those who compete, so we appreciate we need to put on a very slick show.
We have had a lot of support from local metal bands who we have performed with before, though, so I think this may have helped with our entry. We are also a member of the London Metal Coalition, a group of local metal bands committed to networking and growing the London scene. They have been really accepting of us and a number of them are really keen to see us next week.
So is Morris dancing generally received well by metal audiences?
Metal audiences are amazing. They are keen to interact with us, cheer loudly, and are generally surprised, but interested, in what we are doing. Metal music lovers are often very open-minded, and the darker type of Border Morris around nowadays (the type where Morris dancers dance wildly, run around with Mari Lwyds and visit stone circles for fun) resonates with them. Metal music is often very energetic and a little aggressive, so it’s natural that such an audience would like high-energy Border Morris with violent sticking.
I had a Kerrang!-themed party a few months back and it was full of folkies in baggy clothes, metal T-shirts and eye make-up. I think there are definitely similarities between Morris and other sub-cultures, and perhaps a natural progression from one to the other?
Very much so – I think both groups are quite misunderstood. Metalheads (like Morris dancers) are generally very friendly, passionate about what they do, and like beer. One can generally spot some pretty good beards too.
Border Morris has even more similarities to metal, since both groups wear a lot of black, have been known to use face paint, and scream during performances.
And this isn’t the first time you’ve done something metal-related, is it?
No, we danced at a one-day metal festival called the Festival of Dance and Death in 2019, where we proved popular, although we may have hit someone on the head with a stick while dancing – but it wasn’t our fault…
In the same year, we had one of our maddest shows performing two sets at Club AntiChrist, a large fetish club that plays a lot of metal and industrial music.
In 2022 we were lucky enough to perform at Renaissance Alternative Festival, and most recently we supported local metal bands Bring to Bear and Enquire Within at the New Cross Inn. We got an amazing response from the crowds, so much so that we decided to enter Metal to the Masses.
What’s the next stage if you get through this round? Where might the competition take you?
There are around 10 rounds of heats in the London Metal to the Masses this year, plus quarter-finals, semi-finals and a grand final, so it’s a long journey to the top. But the winners of the London leg get to perform on the New Blood Stage at Bloodstock – one of the biggest metal festivals in the UK. To perform at that would be pretty special.
But it’s not about the destination – it’s about the journey. If, as part of this competition, we make new friends, generate good publicity for Morris, and help shift the perception of our art, then that would be a win. We would also love to get noticed and get on more gig lineups.
That sounds like a great way to approach it and a really interesting way to change the image of Morris. I also think it’s a pretty brave thing to do. What more do you think the Morris world could and should be doing to change its image and attract new dancers?
We don’t think Morris dancers “should” do anything. Each side can do what is comfortable for them. Not every Cotswold side should, or would want to be, a Boss Morris, for example – although it would be excellent to see more contemporary sides about.
That said, I think all sides could listen more to younger members and encourage them to provide input. They also definitely should not be afraid to try something new – some of our best adventures have happened because we decided to try something different. There are a lot of sides out there who do what they have always done before, and while that’s ok, maybe they are missing out on a lot more if they try something new.
Morris dance and music is performance. So why do sides not do more performance at other venues and events? I know a number of sides that have danced at major music festivals – other sides could try the same (at least for the free entry!)
Even if there aren’t suitable festivals, think about the average grassroots live gig. Three bands, with 20-30 minute changeovers between bands – those changeovers are a perfect time for Morris dancing.
That is really sound advice. Our Morris side did a corporate team-building event once. It was great fun and I think definitely changed some perceptions amongst the group of hotel managers we were entertaining. I assume you also do the ‘normal’ morris events too?
Yes, absolutely. With all this talk of metal and fetish, we should point out that – first and foremost – we are folk performers and absolutely love Morris dance-outs and festivals. We also dance regular Border dances, too. In 2019 we got to dance at the Dark Gathering in Cornwall with Beltane Border Morris [winners of our recent Morris performance of the year award] and Wreckers Border Morris – a huge highlight! We look forward to making new friends this year too at whatever dance-outs we do.
We are also excited for our second trip to an international folk festival called Europeade, which usually has 5,000-6,000 folk dancers and musicians performing. This year it’s in Gotha, Germany and we hope to showcase Morris dancing and cause a stir amongst the rest of Europe.
You can see Huginn and Muninn battle it out alongside Halberd, Thraserwolf and Ygodeh at Metal 2 the Masses at the Devonshire Arms in Camden on Sunday 22 January (7:30pm). Tickets are available here. Follow Huginn and Muninn on Facebook, Instagram and TikTok (although they point out they’re not on OnlyFans… yet.)
As a fan of Amon Amarth and Tyr, Border Morris sounds just up my street!