May 1, 2015 by tommy
After what seems a lifetime of dancing, playing and making dancing wands, Frank Lee was recognised in front of his peers for his rather sizable contribution to the sword dancing world.
A section of DERT’s Showcase was allocated for a reading of the citation, delivered with remarkable brevity and wit by Phil Heaton (transcript below).
I think you’ll join us in saying “congratulations” and “a job well done” to Frank on being awarded his SDU medal.
Suggestions for more worthy awardees always gratefully received, please send carrier pigeon to Phil via the Midlands (East of).
Frank Lee – April 2015
Citation for the Sword Dance Union Medal
Frank Lee has been watching Rapper for so long that his memories are all coloured Sepia! His father, who’s own father had been a a colliery engineer, in Co Durham, took him along to see the very first King’s College Morris (the original Kingsmen,) dancers when they first appeared at the Newcastle Student’s rag in 1949.
He remembers that the stepping rhythm was the main attraction because it sounded like the steam trains which ran through Durham, (which he sometimes was allowed to drive) where the family lived.
His other memories of Rapper are vague ones of teams glimpsed through the crowds at the Durham Big Meeting or to give its proper name; Durham Miner’s Gala (Gayla).
Moving into Whitley Bay in Northumberland, with the family, Frank, aged 12, just happened across a team, probably from Backworth practicing and who most likely were Royal Earsdon.
Frank recalls that he was too young to join them since they practiced in a pub, but such was the attraction of the dance and the team that it stuck in his mind and without realising it his future was set.
A few years later Graham Binless, then Northern Rep of the EFDSS, set Frank on his way and gave him a sword at a workshop in Lambton Castle and he began his dancing career as a Number 4.
With a qualification in Industrial Design, Frank began work at various jobs; such as labourer, cable jointer, Fairground Mechanic and eventually a technology teacher along the Roman Wall in Carlisle where he joined the newly formed Carlisle Morris Men in 1975.
Dismayed that they didn’t do rapper, but heartened that they wanted to, he encouraged them by making a set of rappers from bandsaw steel blades, and then cajoled Newcastle Morris Men into teaching Carlisle at The Cumberland Arms in Byker. They learned Winlaton and Newbiggin and soon gained a massive reputation in Britain and abroad as excellent performers of both Longsword and Rapper.
Meanwhile other teams spotted the home-made rappers, wanted similar sets, and having purchased about a mile of steel Frank began, somewhat in vain, to try to satisfy the exploding market. Frank’s workmanship and the quality of his Rappers and Longswords, began to accelerate his sword making production and a handy redundancy from a school that didn’t then value his skills and ability to pass them on to youngsters, led him to becoming almost a full time maker.
Frank now exports his swords around the globe. He has to describe them for security reasons as ‘dancing wands’ when posting Rappers out to the States where he has a great reputation. To this day the work is very much a matter of good old-fashioned hand work and ‘elbow grease’. Well over 300 teams now use the swords.
Frank Lee has been dancing and playing for Rapper and Longsword, as well as most styles of morris for all of his adult life. He is also a regular Judge at the DERT Rapper Dance Competition and lives and works in Brampton, Cumbria.
The Sword Dance Union has great pleasure in awarding the Sword Dance Union Medal to Frank Lee; dancer, musician and especially Sword Engineer because frankly, without him the modern Rapper dance as we know it would not exist.