A Rackaback is “A monster with six eyes, three mouths, four arms, eight legs, five on one side and three on the other, three arses, two tarses, and a **** upon its back; a man on horseback, with a woman side saddle behind him.”
According to the Grose's 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. A Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit and Pickpocket Eloquence.
200 years after the word ‘Rackaback’ appeared in the Grose's Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue a local concertina player gave the name to a tune he had composed. Along with a few friends realised it would be a good tune to dance to. After reading the description of a Rackaback with its numerous arm and legs it was decided that it did sound like it could describe a Morris Team. The name attached itself to the beginnings of a border morris team which started to take on an identity all of its own.
We dance in black with purple and a splash of gold reflecting the association of past Royalty with Hull - Kingston Upon Hull, the Kings Town of Hull.
Our Rackaback tag is based loosely on the pirate's skull and crossbones, as Hull is a city associated with sailing and all things watery.
We are a small team, supported by the enthusiasm and contributions of our members and a willing audience.
In 2013 Rackaback Morris was honoured to be asked to take on the traditional very early start that is Sunrise on May 1st as Green Ginger Morris after well over 40 years of dancing in and around Hull decided to go into retirement. We are pleased that supporters of the Green Ginger Morris Men still set their alarms to support us in their stead.
Green Ginger Morris (full title Green Ginger Morris & Sword team) was based in Kingston upon Hull, UK. It was formed in 1968 from the longsword and rapper team of Folk Union One, the folk club at the Blue Bell Hotel, Lowgate, Hull. The side was admitted to the Morris Ring in February, 1971.
Excerpt the Letter from the final Squire of Green Ginger Morris & Sword
"It is the end of an era for us here in Hull but we hope that the Morris will go on from strength to strength throughout the country and that a new and vigorous generation of young men, rejoicing in their youth and vigour may carry on the tradition for many years to come.
Thank you again, one and all, and may the spirit of the Morris live on in you all.
formerly Squire, Green Ginger Morris and Sword."
There are several types of Morris dancing, each with their own characteristics - Cotswold with its smart costumes, fluttering hankies and intricate leg waggling; Northwest Morris with its clogs and almost militaristic marching patterns; Border Morris from the border between England and Wales, with its rag jackets, blackened faces, wild stick clashing.
Rackaback Morris are a Border Morris team. The tradition evolved as a begging custom being performed around Christmas time when work was scarce. Costumes were typically coloured ribbons or rags attached to normal clothes, though even rags made from shredded newspaper were employed and in the latter days of the tradition the dancers simply wore fancy dress costumes. Faces were typically blackened to mask the identities of the dancers as this type of custom has never been much approved of. Dances were usually very simple and were only ever practised for a week or two before the actual performances which usually involved quickly doing the dance, making as much noise and spectacle as possible, collecting money then moving on to another spot to do the same.
These days Border teams meet to practice throughout the year, so dances have evolved to become much more complicated and a team would develop a repertoire of a dozen or so dances, so that we can do displays lasting some time. We don't really go in for begging either, though we've kept the tradition of face painting using coloured face-paints.
The Morris Federation
Rackaback Morris are proud members of the Morris Federation. The Morris Federation is one of the three existing umbrella organisations for morris dancing sides in the United Kingdom. It was officially founded as the Women's Morris Federation in 1975 as a direct response to the long-existing Morris Ring which did not allow all-female or mixed sides to join and was, as the original name suggests, limited to all-female teams.
In 1980, the Federation opened its doors to mixed teams, and two years later adopted a policy of allowing any team to join, regardless of gender - it was at about this point that the third umbrella group was founded, the Open Morris, which adopted this policy from the start.
The Morris Federation's aims are as follows...
- to encourage and maintain interest in the practice of morris dancing by men and women of all ages.
- to provide a channel of communication between member sides.
- to encourage the improvement of standards of dancing among its members.
The Federation takes the view that the dances themselves are more important than the gender of the dancers who perform them. It seeks to encourage all who are interested to experience the pleasure of morris dancing and to strive for the highest standard of execution of which they are capable.
Rackaback Morris is fully covered by public liability insurance issued as part of its membership of the Morris Federation and The Joint Morris Organisation.
Joint Morris Organisation
Rackaback is a member of the Morris Federation one of the three UK morris organisations the other two are the Morris Ring and the Open Morris. All three organisations are linked in a group called the Joint Morris Organisation.
The Morris Ring was set up by the men at Cambridge in 1934 to encourage the performance of the Morris, to maintain its traditions and to preserve its history; to bring into contact all the Men's Morris Clubs or Teams. It is now an association of 150 Men's Morris, Sword and Mummers Clubs and Teams.
Open Morris began in 1979 as a loose organisation of East Anglian dancers, following efforts by one of the (then) few mixed Morris sides in the country to find local friends and sympathisers. At that time there was much rivalry between members of the all-male Morris Ring (founded in 1934) on one side and the Women's Morris Federation, which came into being in the mid 1970's on the other. Both organisations agreed that Morris Dancing shouldn't involve a mixing of the sexes! (Later the "WMF" became the Morris Federation and now includes male and mixed groups.)