A found rapper team:
The Men of Sweyn's Ey

I guess that not many people will have heard of The Men of Sweyn's Ey as a rapper side. This is not really surprising, as we are based in Swansea, well off the beaten track in wild and wet Wales, and havenít travelled to many away events recently.

The side was started in 1966 by Laurie Moseley, who moved to Swansea as a lecturer at the University. Laurie had danced rapper with Durham Rams and lived in Llanmadoc, a small village on Gower. Here, he persuaded half a dozen teenage lads that their unfulfilled ambition was to dance rapper. He has my great admiration for this – an incoming Englishman getting local teenagers to dance rapper. Not easy. Initially known as “The Mighty Men of Madoc,” the side danced at local pubs and events.

About three years later, the side moved to Swansea, and became “The Men of Sweyn's Ey”. Sweyn's Ey is old Viking name for Swansea. The main reason for the move was that several of the original Llanmadoc side left the area. In addition, the repertoire was expanded to include morris dances (I know that this is a sword dance magazine, so I will use the M word as sparingly as possible). This was something of a natural progression; as a rapper side invited to an event, a repertoire of only one dance is somewhat limiting. And so we have continued ever since, dancing both morris and rapper, and mumming at Christmas.

I moved to Swansea in 1971, have been dancing with the side ever since, and now hold the dubious honour of being the longest serving (but not the oldest) member. I remember being greeted with glee at my first practice. Most of the members of the side had unusual surnames; Coggins, Ims, Threadgill, Jardine, Olekchinski, so my surname, Lascelles, fitted in well. A further plus was that I was an experienced dancer, having danced with Manchester Morris Men, so my first practice on a Monday was followed by a rapper tour of three pubs on the Tuesday.

I was told that the version of rapper that we dance was from Thornton (or was it Thornley?). Apart from the first four or five figures which are always the same, figures are as called by number one. With Laurie as number one, this was a challenge as he was a pipe smoker, and often smoked his pipe whilst dancing, pipe held in his clenched teeth. It was therefore a guess as to what the next figure was when the call sounded like “wayee.” We still dance the same figures, with the exception of Granny knot (because itís not very exciting) and bulldog (because we kept breaking swords).

As a university town, the side attracted a steady flow of students, and there are many dancers out there who started with Sweyn's Ey. Musicians too – Mary-Jo Searle as a fresh-faced undergraduate, in nineteen seventy something, to mention but one.

Of the away fixtures that I can remember, we danced rapper in the main square at a Thaxted Morris Ring meeting. Dancing at a huge festival in Brittany, you got a distinct lift from the smoke from whatever the members of the audience were smoking.

More recently, we danced at Lichfield Ale, with a couple of youngsters in the set. Shortly before we were due to dance, one these came to me and said “I can't do it.” He was overawed by the large audience of very experienced dancers, and several civic dignitaries. A walk through some of the trickier figures calmed his nerves.

Other reminiscences are probably much the same as any rapper side, for example the skinned knuckles and blood spread over white shirts. We had a number of dancers who were less than successful at tumbling (the back somersault), and their efforts became known as piledriver. Often this was due to beer, usually consumed, but in one case there was a lot of spillage of beer on the floor at a beer festival and the man slipped on take-off. The most spectacular failure was in a double tumble; two dancers were in mid-air when the centre dancer suddenly cringed downwards, claiming that his sunburnt shoulders hurt. The result was a predictable collapse of the whole set. The doleful landlord of one pub where we danced told us that we had brought down the cellar ceiling, and in another pub the movement of the floor fractured the chimney of the stove.

In recent years, we have had trouble recruiting youngsters. I can cope with the fact that I was dancing before they were born, but itís harder to accept that I was dancing before their fathers were born!

Keith Lascelles