Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Golden Room – Inspiration

The White Horse or 'The Inn with No Name', Hampshire, where Edward Thomas composed his first poem, 'Up in the Wind'.

And still, whenever men and women gather
for talk and laughter on a summer night, 

shall not that lamp rekindle; and the room 

glow once again alive with light and laughter;

and, like a singing star in time’s abyss,

burn golden-hearted through oblivion?

Wilfrid Gibson, The Golden Room

In the summer of 1914 a group of friends gathered in the village of Dymock, Gloucestershire to write and share poetry, drink cider, go on long inspiring walks, and support one other in their creative journeys. This brief flowering of fellowship was captured in Wilfrid Gibson’s poem, ‘The Golden Room’, long after the tragedy of the so-called Great War had scattered them, exactly a deadly toll.

2014 is the centenary of the start of the First World War – when there will be a plethora of events exploring this devastating conflict. It is also the centenary of when the Dymock Poets gathered together in the eponymous Gloucestershire village – moving there with their families, to write and share poems, publish, go on ‘walks-talking’ rambles of the area, and enjoy the bonhomie of a brief, but important creative fellowship. From out of this coterie of six poets, comprising Lascelles Abercrombie, Wilfrid Gibson, John Drinkwater, Edward Thomas, Robert Frost, and Rupert Brooke, came some of the most loved poems of the English language (e.g. Adlestrop; The Soldier; The Road Not Taken, etc). Thomas and Brooke were to die tragically young in the First World War, while Robert Frost was eventually to become the grand old man of American poetry, living into his 80s and winning the Pulitzer Prize four times. He always talked about the special friendship he had with Thomas (‘The most important creative friendship I ever had’). The Golden Room celebrates the legacy of the Dymock Poets and creative fellowship of all kinds.

See you in The Golden Room

See you in The Golden Room

Later this summer I will be co-hosting a celebration of the Dymock Poets (26 July Subscription Rooms) with my friend Jay Ramsay. There will be talks, performances, film, art and discussion about their legacy – and, critically, an acknowledgment of writers living and working in Gloucestershires in the present day, who continue the Tradition.

Whenever a creative gathering takes place – when artistic kindred spirits break bread and share ideas, enthusiasm and inspiration – I believe a ‘Golden Room’ is created. Developing this notion, I have created a radio show of the same name – inviting writers into the studio to share their words and dreams. It was planned as a series of six monthly programmes – each one with a theme. The first one (‘Inspiration’) was due to be broadcast on Tuesday 25th February at 4pm – it was pre-recorded and edited – then last week I was notified the station (Stroud FM) was shutting down unexpectedly. It had gone bankrupt! As they had only green-lighted my show a couple of weeks before this seems like catastrophically bad planning.  However annoying and frustrating this set-back (the challenges of running a community radio station on a shoe-string…) I decided to keep going with my Golden Room project as a podcast (for now) – so here it is!

See you in The Golden Room…

Listen to The Golden Room Podcast # 1 here



DJ: Kevan Manwaring

  • La Celtie et L’infini, Alan Stivell/Intro – KM
  • Chanty’s Welcome (song)
  • Yirdbards – Tramp Song/Why is Stroud inspiring?
  • Nobody’s Business/A Tale of New York – Tim Bannon Poetry
  • Poor Boy – Nick Drake
  • Robin Collins – Woven in Stroud/Time Raft
  • Black Bird – Rachel Unthank and the Winterset
  • In My Craft or Sullen Art – Dylan Thomas (read by Peter Adams)
  • Featured Writer – Denis Gould, Letterhead Press Studio, Cycling Haiku
  • Up on the Ridgeway – Ridgeriders
  • Poetry – Pablo Neruda (read by Gabriel Millar)
  • Caroline Herring – Black Mountain Lullaby
  • Pitchcombe House – Gabriel Millar
  • Bees Wing – Mad Dog McCrea
  • WB Yeats – The Song of Wandering Aengus (read by Tim Bannon)
  • White Birds – The Waterboys
  • HSL, La Zag/Diary – KM
  • Uffington – Chantelle Smith
  • Thought Fox – Robin Collins
  • Featured Writer interview – Denis Gould
  • May You Never – John Martyn/Farewell – KM

Let me know what you think,

and look out for future Golden Room podcasts…

You never know, a radio station might pick it up!


Tree of Leaf and Flame

On Saturday last (8th Feb) I went to see a fantastic storytelling performance in Postlip Hall, just north of Cheltenham with my partner Chantelle. It was a suitably dark and stormy night when we set off – and the venue added to the atmosphere of the show as well… Negotiating a long rutted, tree-lined track we arrived at a country manor (now a community of shared home-owners). Inside a stone-hewn hall a large fire crackled in a capacious burner. A makeshift bar in the kitchen served very reasonably priced wines and ales, plus a table for CDs and books. The resident cat – a dashing fellow with a white flash on his chest – was doing the ‘meet and greet’. With my pint of Gem we settled down as the show began.

Daniel Morden is one of Britain’s top storytellers – performing with master teller Hugh Lupton in epic retellings of The Odyssey and The Iliad (which I saw in a packed Guildhall in Bath as part of the Literature Festival) as well as with his ‘Devil’s Violin’ troupe (the last time I saw him was performing their eponymous show at the Cadbury’s Factory social club in Keynsham). Tonight he graciously introduced himself and his fellow performers (Oliver Wilson-Dickson on Violin; and Dylan Fowler on Guitar) as a ‘three-headed, six-legged storyteller’, i.e. it was a team effort, and the tales they would weave were to be told as much through the music as through his words. And weave a spell they did – in a mesmerising first half. Daniel’s powerful, punchy delivery related the dark tale of Llew Llaw Gyffes and his flower-bride, Blodeuwedd – a tour-de-force which played well on the merciless symmetries of the material. Every action has its consequence – and the karmic clock kept on ticking throughout the other stories – the main sequence relating the travails of Pwyll and Rhiannon, from their wooing to their woe. This multi-layered story (one of the Four Branches of the ancient collection of tales popularly called the Mabinogion, or Y Mabinogi, in Welsh) was split across the break – allowing the audiences to recharge their glasses, stretch their legs (or wait out in the chilly rain for the gents), and chat (I said hello to Daniel and he remembered me from the ‘chocolate factory’ – ‘Must be a storyteller,’ I quipped. What a memory!).

After the break, the musicians led us back into the magic with a haunting song. Daniel got the audience laughing as the protagonists Pwyll and Pryderi tried their luck in mean-hearted English towns – some welcome comic relief in this dour material. Before the break, a war-torn survivor of a massacre expressed sentiments which echoed down the centuries – especially in the year the First World War centenary commemorations commence. Such stories are universal and timeless and don’t need contemporising to have relevance Daniel and I both agreed afterwards.

When these obscure, ancient stories are told this well they shake off their dust, untangle themselves, and seem lucid and vital. Any good performance of Shakespeare does the same.

Seeing such high quality performances re-energises my belief in the power of the medium, and rekindles my interest in these dark Welsh tales – the very first ones I learnt. It feels like coming home.


The Devil’s Violin Co. are touring The Tree of Leaf and Flame – catch it while you

Bringing tales of folklore back to life

Bringing tales of folklore back to life

Article from:

St Mary's Church, Orlingbury is mentioned in one of Kevan's folklore tales from around Northamptonshir.e

St Mary’s Church, Orlingbury is mentioned in one of Kevan’s folklore tales from around Northamptonshir.e

Have you heard the story about the last witches killed in England? Or the one about the man who bravely fought down a wolf to protect his Northamptonshire village and was buried at 
Orlingbury Church?

To those who have been born and bred in Northamptonshire, there is a chance the answer to these questions might be ‘yes’, as these – and many other – tales have been woven into the folk history of this county.

Describing stories to willing audiences may be a pastime commonly connected with centuries gone by, before the age of computers and TV, but it seems to be having a resurgence, with increasing numbers of storytelling events cropping up in Northamptonshire.

Northampton-born Kevan Manwaring is a professional writer, teacher and storyteller, who also teaches creative writing for the Open University and Skyros Writers’ Lab.

His most recent book, Northamptonshire Folk Tales, has seen him draw together, repeat and sometimes embellish the stories which have been told as folklore in Northamptonshire. Some will be familiar and some less so. Some have seen gaps filled in with imagination and others rely on records of eye witness accounts still in existence.

Kevan, who now lives in Gloucestershire, said: “I was born and grew up in Northampton, in the Delapre area, and I would go for a walk there once or twice a day with my dad and the dogs. He used to tell me about the grey lady of Delapre and that is the first story in the book.

“I used to go on lots of walks and that is when I would daydream and have lots of little adventures. I used to like reading comics and that got the juices flowing. This is something that started from an early age so I have been gathering stories all my life.

“I moved to Bath 20 years ago, but grew up researching this book. As a storyteller rather than a historian, my remit is to tell stories that are worth telling. There are plenty of fragments of folklore, but not all of them make for narrative.

“It is a combination of folklore, local history, archaeology and personal anecdotes. There had to be something there that people find intriguing.

“In all folk tales, the common factor is that they are attached to a strong location; does the story evoke the spirit of the place?

“Because it is attached to a particular place, there is usually a grain of truth which started it all off in the first place.”

Although stories used to be spread through oral tradition alone, social media like Facebook has replaced some of the ways in which people share narratives with one another, Kevan explained.

He said: “Oral tradition was broken up by two world wars but with modern technology it carried on in many different forms, even Facebook has multiple narratives.”

He continued: “I have noticed a real resurgence in storytelling. It has been over the last 20 or 30 years. There has been a revival in this county as story circles have started up. There are hundreds of them around the country. It is a great thing to do; it is very liberating and it builds your confidence up in speaking in public. I encourage people to give it a try.

“Storytelling is a massive reaction to our overly-digitised lives. We spend so much time at a computer or with some kind of device, it is lovely to experience something low tech.

“It is a good thing to have in terms of our mental wellbeing. Stories give you a holiday from your life for a while and it is quite entertaining.”

Kevan’s research has seen him visiting locations mentioned in the book and delving into existing records, for example eye-witness accounts of certain dramatic events.

He explained: “Whenever I have gone to a place I have tried to talk to local people and asked them if they know a local story. They used to say things like ‘that is where the castle used to be’; these things do linger in the consciousness of the area.

“Sometimes in local stories it is not always possible to get continuity, but I find that new stories develop. If people don’t know the history they fill in the gaps.

“With the Great Fire of Northampton, there were eye-witness accounts that I could draw on from the Local History section of the Central Library, but you can’t always get eye-witness accounts or you have to take them with a pinch of salt.

“It was the same with the Last Witches story, there were eye witness accounts of that too.

“The last witches were burned and it was a nasty way to go. Reading the accounts about those poor women, it is really terrible, you get the impression they were forced to sign these confessions, coming up with stuff to feed this appetite for details.

“I got the impression the two women we talk about were pretty feisty.

“Hopefully the story captures the spirit of these women and the rabid nature of the time.”

Extract from Northamptonshire Folk Tales: The Last Witches:

The last two women executed as witches in England are believed to have been Mary Shaw and Elinor Phillips, from Oundle. The pair are said to have been burned alive on the corner of The Racecourse in Northampton.

Kevan described: “It was Saturday, March 17, 1705. Two women in chains were carted to meet their fate at Gallows’ Corner. There was a wildness in the air, whipping the still bare branches into life, reflecting the mood of the crowd which converged the fateful corner, a humming mass, greedy for spectacle, driven by fear and bloodlust…

“Mary Shaw and Elinor Phillips were taken in a cart to their final destination. The crowds were desperate to catch a glimpse of them, at the same time as crossing themselves in fear.

“The doomed pair should have made a pitiful sight – shaven heads, threadbare and filthy smocks, sunken cheeked and hollow-eyed from who knows what unspeakable cruelty, and yet they stood defiantly, holding each other, fending off the scraps and insults thrown at them with dignity.

“Some said they appeared so calm because they had boasted that their master would not suffer them to be executed…”

The work is available in bookshops priced £9.99.

Or direct from The History Press here

Kevan hosts the Stroud Story Supper, last Friday of the month, 7-9pm, Black Book Cafe, Silver Rooms, Nelson St, Stroud. Free. All welcome. Have a go (10 mins or less, without text) or sit back and be entertained.

Story Supper

Stroud Story Supper, 31 Jan 2014 - hosted by Chantelle Smith

Stroud Story Supper, 31 Jan 2014 – hosted by Chantelle Smith

Friday (31 Jan) saw the return of Stroud’s Story Supper at the fabulous Black Book Cafe.

It was an auspicious night – not only was it the Chinese New Year (The Year of the Horse, which we marked with some equine-related bardism & general horse-play), but also Imbolc (the Celtic Festival sacred to Brighid the Goddess of Poetry, Smithcraft and Healing), and the eve of National Storytelling Week!

The stars were clearly in our favour – for we had a great turn-out with folk coming from as far as Bristol and the other side of Swindon. It was hosted by the talented songstress, Chantelle Smith. The quality of the contributions was high and it was a great atmosphere.

Kat from the Bristol Storytelling Festival offered one of her ‘fractured fairy tales’. We had a lovely rendition of ‘Wee Mousie’ by local Burns fan Jo Woolley, Jim Pentney told us about his love of 1000 year old women, Kirsty Hartsiotis bequeathed us an epic Breton tale about St Melor, Chantelle herself gave a spirited performance of Talis Kimberley’s ballad ‘Uffington’, Kevan pitched in with his version of the Scottish Border Ballad ‘Thomas the Rhymer’ and ended the night with his lively retelling of Pwyll and Rhiannon. Other contibutions were equally as scintillating.

The Story Supper is a Cotswold Word Centre initiative set up by Kevan Manwaring late 2011. It runs on the last Friday of the month, 7pm. Future dates: 28 Feb; 28 Mar; 25 Apr; 30 May; 27 Jun.

All are welcome – storytellers, poets, singers & listeners. Arrive early for a floor spot (less than 10 mins – performed without a text only). Hot drinks and cakes are available – you are welcome to bring a takeaway!

Join us in the Palace of Memory next time!