Bardic Picnic, Northampton 2nd August
This was the third year I was invited up for the Bardic Picnic at Delapre Abbey (a very special place for me) and the first year it was a real success. After the groundwork of previous years (John Morrisey declaring the Chair in ’07; last year’s slightly bigger, but not very well-attended event) my old home town finally ‘got’ the notion of the Bardic Picnic and it was a great day, thanks to the hard work of the 3 J’s: Justin, Jimtom and John – and all the crew behind the scenes. I was asked to judge the contest again – last year I came up but no entrants came forward on the day (shoe town got cold feet)! This year half a dozen had put their names forward. I rode up on the Saturday afternoon – waiting for the rain to pass – but it stayed with me most of the way there, so the usual run over the Cotswolds wasn’t as much fun. I was told crew were gathering there around 4pm – I got there about 7pm and things were still very ‘in utero’. I ended up helping putting the marquee up with a good crew of about 20 volunteers. It was great seeing people working together in Northampton. Justin and Jimtom had been running a monthly event called Raising the Awen, and this has built up a groundswell of support and performers. Finally, the marquee up, the promised BBQ got going (when the forgotten grill had been collected), beers were bought and we could start to relax. It was nice to hang out with my old friends and new there on the eve of the event, and to be able to stay over at the ‘Green Abbey’, as I called it in a poem of mine, which was a real highlight. The next morning, after waking up in a sunny glade to the strains of a harp (Justin in Alan a Dale mode) I popped over to my Mum’s to freshen up and have some breakfast (hooray for mums!), before returning to rehearse in the glade. I was ready to start at midday (I had arranged an early slot) but unfortunately the festival wasn’t. The scene before was looking pretty desperate. Stages and stalls were half-up. A broken white gazebo (the backstage) blew across the site, rolling towards my friends car until I stopped it and it was all looking like it was going to be disaster – but finally it came together and people started to arrive. Two hours later then announced, the Bardic Picnic commenced and I went on after the 3 J’s announced the start.
I started my set with my old green man poem, ‘One with the Land’, connecting it to the theme of the festival: ‘Northampton, my home in the heart of England.’ Then, warmed up, I recited ‘Dragon Dance’. I finished with my version of the Taliesin story, which seemed apt for a bardic contest. After this I was able to relax – I grabbed my complimentary veggie burger and beer from the bar tent and hooked up with my fellow judges, Caroline Saunders and Jimtom, both old friends. The contest was in three parts: a general performance; statement of intent; Northampton piece. Between these were some great bands and other performers including the psychaedelic prophet, the ‘Shaman of the North’. On the open mic stage, hosted by Rippin Pages, other spoken word performers got a chance to do their thing. The day was blessed with glorious sunshine and there was a lovely atmosphere as family and friends picniced and enjoyed the bardic entertainment – this is what bardism is, for my money: the arts accessible for all. Everybody there could see the Bardic Tradition in action – celebrating the cultural biodiversity of the community in an engaging way. We had to go and deliberate, then make the announcement. I was asked to speak on behalf of the judges and comment on each participants’ performance, before finally declaring the winner: a ‘blow in’ from Wolverhampton, Donna, who won the final heat with her great praise song to Northampton, ‘Finding my feet in Shoe-town’.
Afterwards, there was a great band, which got everyone dancing. Then … it was over, officially. People helped tidy up the site. The core crew stayed on site, looking after the marquee and PA. Folk stayed around chatting, glowing in the buzz of a good event. Finally, some veggie chilli was warmed up and we chilled out, enjoying the dusk at Delapre with a glass of wine. An Asian doctor called Azam strayed upon the event by accident and stayed behind, sharing our supper. It turned out he was a singer and I encouraged him to sing for us – and so we ended up having a comic version of X Factor, with folk impersonating the different judges. I ended up being Piers Morgan! Azam said he had been waiting for this for twenty years and had a truly great day. This sums up the bardic way – it’s for everyone. We all should be able to express ourselves and be heard. Three cheers to the Three Jays, the new bard and to next year’s Bardic Picnic.
Northampton has talent!