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Boss Morris dancing in Whitchurch, Hampshire, with Hooty. Photo credit: Jon Wilks

Who are the Morris dancers dancing with Wet Leg at the Brits?

You'd be hard-pressed to recall a time that Morris dancing infiltrated the Brit Awards. Here's how Boss Morris did it.

Wet Leg crowned their Grammy-winning month with an appearance at the Brits this evening. The Isle of Wight band needs little introduction to fans of indie music, but many may be wondering who the Morris dancing side is that accompanied their performance of ‘Chaise Longue’. Allow us to help you out.

You have been watching Boss Morris.

In this article, you’ll find…

We didn’t sit down and say, “Right, we’re going to change how people perceive Morris dancing”.

Alex Merry
Boss Morris dancing in Whitchurch, Hampshire, with Hooty. Photo credit - Jon Wilks
Boss Morris dancing in Whitchurch, Hampshire, with Hooty. Photo credit: Jon Wilks

Who are Boss Morris?

Boss Morris are an all-female Morris dancing side (groups of Morris dancers are often called ‘sides’ rather ‘groups’) from Stroud, Gloucestershire. Formed in 2015, they are known for their exuberant dancing, their costumes, their avant-garde face paints, and the Morris beasts that they dance with. They are led by the folk artist, Alex Merry, a woman who was introduced to the tradition by her father. “My dad did Morris dancing when he was a young chap at university,” she told us in our Boss Morris interview last year, “but never when we were growing up. We wouldn’t have allowed him!”

“We’re a group of female creatives who share an artistic and progressive vision of Morris dancing,” she tells us a couple of days before she takes the stage at the Brits. “We work hard and take joy in both learning and sharing traditional Cotswold dances, and we also choreograph our own dances inspired by modern music and electronic tracks.”

Aside from Alex, tonight’s dancers were Lily Cheetham, Josie Wickes, Katie Watton, Madison McLeod, Mila Harris-Mussi, Rhia Davenport, Lily Doble, Sasha Seaward, Ema Thistlethwaite, Mary Eddowes and Rebecca MacMillan.

Who are Wet Leg?

OK, this one is more for our regular Tradfolk readers… Wet Leg are an indie band from the Isle of Wight, based around old friends (and former folk musicians), Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers. They wrote their first album as a band, Wet Leg, during lockdown, and released it to great acclaim in 2022. In early 2023, they won two Grammy Awards, one for Best Alternative Music Album, and one for Best Alternative Music Performance (for their song, ‘Chaise Longue’).

Wet Leg won Best New Artist and Group of the Year at the Brit Awards, 2023.

How did this partnership come about?

Alex Merry received an email in January by Domino Records, Wet Leg’s record company. “It was totally out of the blue,” she says. Cue several sleepless nights as the size of the task ahead dawned on the side.

How did they create a Morris dance for ‘Chaise Longue’?

“We’ve had a handful of requests over the years to choreograph Morris moves to modern music and electronic tracks,” says Alex. “It’s always such a fun challenge and it’s surprising how the stepping seems to work over most music. As soon as we were told that ‘Chaise Longue’ was the track, we tested the tempo and wrote down the structure of the dance into verse and chorus. We started to build up a dance as a side, incorporating traditional patterns and stepping.”

Any particular challenges? “The stage we’re performing on is huge, so we’ve had to tailor-make the dance to work with the space. We’ve had several days of rehearsing and fine-honing – we must have listened to ‘Chaise Longue’ hundreds of times, but we still love it!”

What’s with the crazy makeup?

Lilly Cheetham in a crazy outfit - white with ribbons and outlandish face paint
Lilly Cheetham of Boss Morris. Photo credit: Gareth Iwan Jones

With the makeup, I feel that it’s permission just to go a bit nuts.

Lilly Cheetham

Do the costumes and makeup have any traditional significance? “There are definitely nods to things in our costume designs,” dancer, Lilly Cheetham, told us in our Boss Morris interview last year. “As we’ve gone on, we have definitely become a bit more conscious of what they represent. We’ve looked at the history of Stroud’s textile industry, and we’ve made references to that in some of the patterns. That kind of thing has definitely become a bit more considered. With the makeup, I feel that it’s permission just to go a bit nuts. It’s like having permission to be silly with it: to have blacked-out teeth, to kind of look ridiculous, and to be a bit of a tribe.”

What are the beasts for?

Boss beasts on May Day, 2022. Photo credit: Jon Wilks
Boss Morris beasts on May Day, 2022. Photo credit: Jon Wilks

There’s a long association with beasts and Morris sides,” explains Alex. “They bring an element of chaos and surrealness to what we do. The beasts dancing with Wet Leg at the Brits this evening included Hooty, Ewegenie, Minotaur, Jacky in the Green – and our hardhat heads were hopping on stage, too. We also had a few guest beasts joining us for the Wet Leg performance – the Miserden Morris Boar and also Coppin, who is stabled by chief beast maker, Steve Rowley.”

The people inside the beast costumes tonight were Sam Sweeney, Kate Merry (founder of The Wad, an all-female Morris side based in Cornwall), Noni Morrison (the maker of Boss Coffee) & Emlyn Bainbridge (of Orbury Common).

Who was inside the big owl?

Sam Sweeney, English traditional fiddle player, photo by Elly Lucas
Sam Sweeney, or Hooty the Owl. Photo credit: Elly Lucas

Following in Peter Knight’s Womble-dancing footsteps, we can reveal that the dancer inside Hooty, the big owl, was none other than Sam Sweeney, one of the country’s foremost folk fiddle players. Sam usually plays with Boss as a musician; clearly, his fiddle playing was considered surplus to Wet Leg’s requirements.

What is Morris dancing anyway?

Morris dancing is a traditional form of English folk dance, based on choreographed steps, hops and leaps. Sides are often made up of six or more dancers, although solo jigs are also common (the John Gasson Jig Competition, held at Sidmouth Folk Festival every summer, is where you’ll see some of the finest dancers). Although it is often derided as being old fashioned, more and more younger people are getting involved, partly through an interest in their own ancestry and folk history, partly through its connection to a more organic, sustainable way of living (Boss Morris are involved in the Right to Roam movement), but also because it’s a proper workout.

There are different styles of dance, the two most common being the Cotswold tradition (exemplified by Bampton, Oxfordshire, where the dancers can trace their dances back around 400 years), and Border (a more boisterous, rowdy form of dancing – the winners of last year’s Morris Performance of the the Year was won by Beltane Border Morris). Boss generally dance the Cotswold tradition.

Want to get into Morris dancing? Here’s how…

White Rose Morris dancing at dawn on May Day, 2011, at Castle Hill in Almondbury - Photo credit Bryony Griffith
White Rose Morris, Castle Hill, Almondbury. Photo credit: Bryony Griffith

You get the most amazing satisfaction from being out in nature and dancing with your friends. You can’t buy that.

Alex Merry

The first step is to look for your nearest side. You can do that by using the Morris Team Finder website. Tradfolk also has a big list of Morris sides that dance on May Day, which may be a way to tag along and get inspired.

Alex says the easiest way is to, “ask around your local area and see if there are any existing sides and kind of quiz them. Maybe think about starting something up yourself. There’s nothing really stopping you. You just need a teacher and someone to help you set up the main structure of it.”

Another useful resource is the English Folk Dance and Song Society, based at Cecil Sharp House in Camden, North London. They regularly run Morris dancing classes, and anyone is free to go and look around their library and find out a bit more about the tradition.

How to follow Boss

For more info on Boss Morris, head to bossmorris.com. You can also follow them on their Instagram channel, and their TikTok page.

Now, go on… hop along.