"I am the Lord of the dance said he"

There is probably no better known folk-arts person across East Suffolk than Des Herring. We hear "where's the little man in the horse?" when out with East Suffolk Morris Men (ESMM), or "do you know the man who stands on a chair and shouts the call at our village barn dances?".

Des was involved in Folk Dance in Swindon before moving to Ipswich in the mid '50s when he joined the Ipswich Folk Dance Club. At that time the indigenous Suffolk Morris Men had declined after WW2 years but Leslie Ford (a local teacher) was running a boys' morris group with some school graduates dancing as the Ipswich Morris Men.
In 1958 Des formed the East Suffolk Morris Men connecting interested people from the Ipswich Dance Club and alumni from Ipswich Morris Men. His wife Shelagh helped design the distinctive sailor costume of whites, blue jacket and straw hat, with an insignia representing Saint Felix's ship taken from local coats of arms.

Through his country dancing interests Des teamed with Charlie Taylor (accordionist), Ivo Barne (concertina and drums), John Runnacles (banjo) and later with Chris Dawkins (fiddle) to form The Cornhuskers Folk Dance band. For decades this band was a mainstay of barn dances in the area - so much so that Des's habit of standing on a chair to shout his dance calls became a legend, and his cross-handed do-si-do can still be seen today.  For some of us, the Cornhusker legacy was the opportunity to join in and learn the folk dance band craft on-stage. Several local prominent callers and musicians cut their teeth with Des and Charlie and are forever grateful.

About the horse. The hobby horse "Constant Billy" was created for the Suffolk Morris Men in 1935 by George Parsons - a teacher at Summerhill School in Leiston. Billy was lost during WW2 - then found in 1968 in Derby and reclaimed by Des for ESMM. Since then he has ridden the hobby horse and, with his two-faced rag doll Lucy, became the most distinctive icon for ESMM, interacting with the audience - especially children, whose cry of "BILLY!" often interrupted the music and dance.

In later years Des realised an era was passing and it was time for renewal. A new foal was commissioned - "Young Bill" and the old and young danced together at the Museum of East Anglian Life at Stowmarket before old "Constant Billy" was put out to pasture.

Billy and Des were well travelled worldwide with both ESMM and Chameleonic Morris Men, overcoming the difficulties of taking a horse onboard an aircraft. He even met his counterpart Lajkonik in Krakow - Poland, Queen Noor in Jordan, and in the USA we were all taken for bullfighters - he the Picador. In recent years ESMM have travelled on a spring trip to Europe and arranged visits to local schools (thanks to the help of the British Council) where Constant Billy demonstrated his international appeal.

Des was a keen historian and we shared a common interest in archaeological excavations and local history. He also took himself off regularly to walk the Pilgrim routes across Europe. It was his habit at rest stops on these trips to dance a Morris jig to the hymn  "I am the Lord of the dance said he". I can't help feeling he is now standing on a chair lining up a set of Angels.

We shall certainty all miss him down here.

Dick Thornborrow
for East Suffolk Morris Men