THE clash of sticks and the clatter of bells reverberated across the riverside during a popular folk festival.

Thousands lined the bustling streets of Upton-upon-Severn to watch morris dancers from across the country perform in their vibrant, eerie and outlandish costumes over the weekend for the town’s folk festival.

One group, Wreckers Morris had travelled up from the Tamar Valley in Cornwall with their distinctive black and gold costumes.

The group consists of men and women and enthusiasts of all ages from the retired to a boy of 10.

Riley Brightwell, aged 10, who performed as their drummer, said: “It’s really energetic and this is memorable for me as it’s my first public performance.”

Martyn Harvey, aged 41, foreman of Crook Morris based in Kendal in Cumbria, whose hat was adorned lavishly with flowers said the group had only missed three festivals in 30 years.

He said: “We like it here because it’s relaxed, there’s a river and lots of dancers, there’s a superb atmosphere and the people are friendly. The theory is that the bells and sticks frighten away the devil or other bad spirits. We wear white because it represents purity and the flowers represent crops.”

Organisers have sold more than 1,000 camping passes and 700 tickets for the festival, now in its 22nd year, although chairman of the festival Richard Hannah said many more people turned up out of the blue.

He said he estimated the event would bring in between 1,500 and 2,000 people to the town.

Morris dancing is not without its rebels and its renegades, among them the Widders Welsh Border Morris dancers from Chepstow who with their sinister attire and black, skull-like face-paint resembled gothic clowns.

The black paint was originally used to mask identities from the church, whose officials often disapproved, or to hide the fact the dancers once performed as beggars to supplement their meagre incomes.

Mick Widder, the foreman, said: “We’re from the dark side of Morris dancing. We’re the punk rockers of the morris world. We are drinkers with a dance problem.”

Although groups came from afar there were local groups, among them Fox’s Border Morris based in Cookley, near Kidderminster.

The five-day festival included various types of folk music, dance, evening concerts, ceilidhs and stalls.