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Rapper Swords by Frank Lee

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Rapper Swords by Frank Lee

Frank Lee is an engineer from Newcastle and has been making Rapper and Longswords for over 30 years.  He he 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 International Rapper Dance Competition

Frank lives and works in Brampton, Cumbria

The ‘Raptism’ of Frank Lee

My first experience of rapper was in 1949 when my father took me to see the students' rag in Newcastle. All I remember about it was the rhythm they beat out with their feet - same as the steam engine that pulled the trains from Durham, where we lived, to Newcastle. I vaguely remember seeing rapper teams at a distance while being tugged along at many Durham Miners’ Gala days, an annual ritual for us, but didn't get a chance to absorb what was happening until 8 years later. By then a 12 year-old, we had moved to Monkseaton; I was aimlessly following my nose on my bike and came across a group of men running through a dance outside The Cannon at Earsdon. They weren’t in kit, but it's very likely they were the Royal Earsdon Sword Dancers. Whoever they were, they were impressive enough that from then on I was determined to get involved somehow or other. My father explained they'd be from the pit at nearby Backworth, and he'd seen these rapper dancers before when he'd lived at Hetton-le-Hole as the son of a colliery engineer.

A chance to hold a rapper for the first time came in the early '60s while on a pottery course at Lambton Castle in Co. Durham. Graham Binless (of Monkseaton Morris Men) was running a folk dance course there the same weekend; I wasn't particularly interested until I saw him grab a bunch of rappers from the boot of his car, and that was that. I absconded from the pottery course and 'volunteered' as a number 4.

Fast forward ten years - I had taken a degree in industrial design in Newcastle, worked as a labourer, a cable jointer, a fairground mechanic, and a technology teacher until teaching work took me ‘along The Wall’ to Carlisle, where I joined the newly formed Carlisle Morris Men in 1975. Dismayed that they didn't do rapper, but heartened that they wanted to, I made a set of rappers from bandsaw steel, and cajoled Newcastle Morris Men into teaching us at The Cumberland Arms in Byker. Having 'worn grooves' in the A69 we emerged as a creditable team with Newbiggin and Winlaton dances. Other teams spotted the home-made rappers, wanted similar sets, and having purchased about a mile of steel I began, somewhat in vain, to try to satisfy the exploding market.

Production techniques improved and work speeded-up somewhat, but 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.