Monthly Archives: July 2011

Bardic Picnic

Bardic Picnic
24-27 July

Bardic Picnic, Delapre Abbey, Northampton July 24 2011

Went up to the annual Bardic Picnic, in my old stomping ground of Northampton. The 3rd ‘official’ Bardic Picnic (actually the fifth) was held in the beautiful grounds of Delapre Abbey – the green heart of the town. This is a very special place for me – I grew up just over the road and would walk my dog here everyday. It was the ‘nursery of my imagination’ as I say in my poetic tribute to this personal soul place, ‘The Green Abbey’.
I rode up on Saturday evening, catching the last rays of the sun as I blatted up the Fosseway, over the Cotswolds. This is one of my favourite runs. I arrived in the dark, just in time to share a few beers with my old buddies, Justin and Jimtom, the co-organisers, along with the crew – who had been working hard all day, putting up the marquees. The boozing and buffoonery carried on into the night, but I needed to crash. I wanted to be fresh for my performances the next day – but since I was camped right next to the fire, it wasn’t easy to go to bed!
Nevertheless, I awoke the next morning feeling refreshed – it was a beautiful sunny morning. One of the highlights of this event is being able to stay over in Delapre Abbey. What a place to wake up! The place is looked after by the Friends of Delapre Abbey and is an important community asset. Its great to see stuff happening here – long may it be run by the people, for the people!
After breakfast I went to rehearse amongst the ‘oaks of my Arcadia’. I was on early – scheduled for 12.30pm – but I ended up being the first act on after Justin introduced things. I performed a set of nine poems from memory on the main stage – it was nice having my sister’s family in the crowds who had gathered on the lawn, picnicking in the sunshine. There was time for a quick sandwich and a drink, then I was back on – to do my storytelling set in the ‘secret grove’, a new and welcome addition to the stages (storytelling always works better acoustically). This seem to be well-received, and I encouraged others to have a go afterwards. Bill, from the Flying Donkeys, a storytelling group in Derbyshire, rose to the challenge admirably.
My bardic duties complete I could finally ‘let my hair down’ – (not so much these days!) and enjoyed a pint while listening to some of the excellent acts on the main stage included Donna Noble (former Bard of Northampton); Ian Freemantle, the Bard of Stony Stratford; Jimtom Say!; & Enki. It was also a chance to catch up with old friends and hang out with my sister and her brood – my great-niece adopted me and clung on ferociously.
The atmosphere was very chilled and family friendly. The weather could not have been better – it was an idyllic summer’s afternoon. The gods smiled down yet again on the Bardic Picnic, and it really feels like the town has got something special going on – there’s a creative buzz and strong community spirit. Everyone pitched in – notably the Umbrella Fayre – and made it happen.

The New Bard of Northampton, 2011

The Bardic Finals took place throughout the day – culminating in the ‘Bardic Statements’ and the Judges’ Decision. The winner was a popular choice – and feels the Bardic Chair has been accepted by the community – and is truly representative of the town and its diversity, as it should be. As the poster says: Spoken Word, Northampton style!
As the sun set we danced to the ever popular Celtic Rasta – a storming end to the best Bardic Picnic yet. Well done, guys!


Web of Life

Web of Life 13 July


On Wednesday I took part in an inspiring event in Frome – the Web of Life Community Art Project, part of the Frome Festival. I travelled down with my fellow performers from Stroud and we navigated our way to the backstreets of the charming Wiltshire town to find the Sun Street Chapel – beautifully transformed by curator and eco-poet Helen Moore and her team of artists and volunteers. In each of the corners was an altar dedicated to four elements and themes based upon The Work That Reconnects of Joanna Macy. The centre piece was a purple coffin decorated with icons of extinct species. The previous Saturday an ‘artistic funeral‘ was held in the town – with a procession in masks up St Catherine’s Hill, which culminated in a service led by Charles in the chapel.

The majority of performers were part of ‘The Rolling Tyger Revue’ – a loose affiliation of poets, musicians and storytellers who take their inspiration from the life and work of the Bard of Lambeth, William Blake. Niall McDevitt introduced the evening with a triptych of Blake songs – accompanied by the ‘Flies’ or ‘Flyettes’ as his impromptu backing vocalists called themselves (John Gibbens and Amorel Weston, who performed later as The Children). Next, John impressed everyone by reciting a small set of poems from memory. Helen Moore followed with an impassioned performance, accompanied at times by her partner, Niall. Jay Ramsay finished off the first half with a similarly heartfelt performance, ably assisted by Herewood Gabriel on flute, djembe and ballaphon – hypnotic and haunting.

After the break I was on – and I decided to throw in a story for contrast – my Garden of Irem tale – a strategy that seemed to pay off. Then I performed my Breaking Light poem – as the focus of the evening (for me) was Awen’s eco-spiritual anthology, ‘Soul of the Earth’. Afterwards, I was able to relax with a glass of wine and listen to Niall’s set; followed by the ever-dazzling Rose Flint; and finishing off with a sublime set from The Children. It was an impressive line-up and the attention to detail in the exhibition was exquisite – the chapel felt re-sanctified, restored as a place of worship dedicated to Mother Earth and all her children.

Priddy in Pink

7-10 July

Priddy Folk Festival

Priddy Folk Festival July 2011

One of the joys of the English summer is the plethora of fabulous festivals around. One of the woes is the weather – a glorious Spring has made us complacent, and Mother Nature has decided we needed April Showers after all … in July. Yet, despite heavy rain on the Friday, (raining ‘old women and sticks’) it turned out to be a delightfully sunny weekend at Priddy Folk Festival, set up in the early Nineties by the PTA committee. Focusing on the village green with its famous stack of sheep hurdles (the originals dated back centuries to when the Priddy Sheep Fair was moved to the village on the edge of the Mendips in 1348 after the Black Death made it too hazardous to hold in Wells). The folk festival isn’t quite so old, although some of the veterans look like they’ve been coming here since then. The performers more than compensated – with a legion of dazzingly gifted young folkies taking to the stage over the weekend. The children of first generation folkies, they have suckled folk music from wee bairns – had a fiddle or guitar thrust into their hands and cut their teeth at many a session they were dragged to from a young age. To some this would be aversion therapy – but fortunately for British folk, it has spawned a vibrant new generation: young, pretty and sickeningly talented (as opposed to old, withered and envious ;0) Damn their ouds!

On Friday, before things got under way in earnest we went on a soggy walk to the stunning Ebbor Gorge, going back to the ‘early Neolithic’ as we scrambled up the narrowing defile – the result of an underground river gouged out by the erosion of rainwater on limestone that had collapsed in on itself millennia ago.

We returned to find food and to check out some of the bands. First we thawed out in the Queen Victoria, where we enjoyed some hearty fare, and a pint of Butcombe before venturing out into the damp night. We caught a bit of a band called the Blue Mosquitoes – and there followed a beer-bellied beardy behemoth of folkiness over the weekend. Bands that stood out in the programme (for me) included the sublime Emily Portman, Fay Hield Trio, Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin, Moore, Moss,  Rutter, De Fuego, Elfynn … in short, every act I happened to catch – climaxing with Jamie Smith’s Mabon, the closing act, who got the whole marquee dancing (having heard how there is a cave system underneath Priddy I was beginning to worry if we’d suddenly find the ground beneath our feet giving way with so much stomping – certainly it woke the worms up!)

I enjoyed the archaeological walk on Saturday afternoon, led by a local expert – a group of about fifty of us were shepherded, like some Biblical exodus, up Nine Barrows Lane, to the ridge where the high status burials lay, distinctive against the skyline (like a vacationing party of flying saucers – or satellite-receiving platforms, as one lady discovered: ‘This is the only place on site I’ve been able to get a signal!’ she said, holding up her phone at arm’s length).

The personal highlight was simply to sit in the beer garden of the Queen Victoria, basking in the sun, imbibing the convivial atmosphere and a pint of something dark with my friend Marko and other characters. Now and then a song would catch on and the whole pub would be singing it. The true spirit of the folk tradition was alive in these informal ‘sessions’.

The only thing that was missing was some storytelling (for adults). There’s such an obvious overlap between folk music and storytelling (both draw upon the oral tradition and similar source material) but they seem to exist in separate worlds. Perhaps they’ll ask me back next year (I performed there a few years’ ago with my fellow Fire Spring member, David Metcalfe, up in the school)!

Everything packed, it was time to go. It was nice to ride back home across the Mendips in the gorgeous afternoon sun. I was looking forward to hot bath and a soft bed. Unfortunately the folk tradition hadn’t stretched to our campsite where we were kept awake half the night by our noisy neighbours, who felt the need to inflict their questionable music tastes on everyone via a noise-distorted radio station. Peace descended when a friend finally went and turned off the Abba blasting out from an empty caravan at 4am. Then, at first light, a dawn chorus of kids began. The joys of festival-life!

Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable weekend and a lovely way to celebrate the birthday of someone special!