Kemp’s Men of Norwich… are named in honour of Will Kemp, colleague of Shakespeare, fellow shareholder in the Globe Theatre, Europe’s most famous comic actor and Morris dancer extraordinary. Eventually, in 1599, the two Wills fell out and Will Kemp went on to dance the Nine Daies Wonder from London to Norwich as a sort of bet in 1600.
In the year 2000, to celebrate this, many morris dancers from all over the UK re-enacted his great feat, dancing the 120 miles from London to Norwich. Two of the dancers and two of the officials who walked with them were Kemp’s Men (Dave Stewart, Steve Conneely, Peter Salt and Colin Sleath). Soon after a statue was erected to Will Kemp in Chapelfield Gardens in Norwich, carved by Suffolk sculptor, Mark Goldsworthy.
Kemp’s Men have a reputation for longevity. Near-founder member, Tony Gomme, (he joined in 1956) is still out dancing regularly.
Kemp’s Men dance a wide mixture of Cotswold Morris from a number of traditions but have also a repertoire of local invented dances, composed by the Men, often given names related to local people, places or events and based on the Norfolk longdance; the music for these is generally based on local tunes. Our musicians include a number of “honorary” men, i.e. women, and we have a range of expertise and instruments to call upon. Many of the dancers can also play music themselves so the pre and après dance session is a part of Kemp’s culture.
Occasionally Kemp’s Men are also accompanied by one of our Dragons, either Eric or Snap, who are favourites with the crowds. Snap, in particular, is very fond of Nuns and Policewomen! As may be expected, the club colours are very similar to those of a famous local football team. Despite Eric and Snap, Kemp’s Men remain a popular attraction and are regularly asked to dance at special events, particularly around the May Day period, although recently St. George’s Day has also become a popular time for dancing.
The club members are all from the Norwich area and come from all walks of life. The Men vary in age from youngsters in their teens up to and including Tony, now well into his 90’s. Some dancers started with the club and others joined it when they moved to the Norwich area. Men have also moved away from Norwich to other parts of the World so we have a wide network of friends. Our web site contains a list of as many former and current members as we can remember and know about.
Being a physically strenuous activity, Morris dancing requires men to be well hydrated and, in recent years, we are pleased to have been sponsored by two local breweries. Firstly, from 2005, Kemp’s Men were sponsored by Buffy’s Brewery and now, from 2011, by Beeston Brewery.
We are a friendly and welcoming side, enjoy a laugh and a drink and have an extensive programme of dancing throughout the summer months. Our dance season traditionally starts on Mayday, when we greet the dawn with other local Morris sides on top of Mousehold Heath, and finishes in September. The season’s activities usually involve at least one weekend with our friends in other clubs somewhere else in the country or abroad and we practice throughout the winter (usually starting in October). We are, of course, always looking for new members of any age and level of experience. If you fancy a go then please grab any one of us when we’re out and about or drop us a line through the contact form.