Category Archives: Spoken Word

The King of Stonehenge – a Winter Solstice story

A story for the shortest day of the year. Happy Solstice!

Bush Barrow Man is one of the richest Bronze Age burials ever discovered in Britain. Dating from 1900-1700BC, the middle-aged man found has been called the ‘King of Stonehenge’. Bush Barrow – a kilometre SW of the stone circle was excavated in 1808 by William Cunnington, a wool merchant who worked with a small team. Cunnington reported to Sir Richard Colt Hoare, the owner of Stourhead and a member of a wealthy banking family. He financed the excavations, and published the results in his book, Ancient Wiltshire. In September 1808 Cunnington reported – “I have now the pleasure to inform you that our discoveries are truly important. We found the skeleton of a stout and tall man. On approaching the breast of the skeleton we found immediately on the breast bone a fine plate of gold. This article in form of a lozenge was fixed to a thin piece of wood, over the edges of which the gold was wrapped, it is simply ornamented by lines forming lozenges, from which and its high preservation it has a grand appearance.”

My story imagines the life and legacy of this evidently important and much-loved man.

Smooring the Hearth

‘Bank the fire down, my friend,
before going to bed.’

A poem about the inbreath of midwinter, the embers of the year, and tending the hearth.

LISTEN TO THE POEM READ BY THE POET

Smooring the Hearth

The clock ticks towards

the midnight chimes.

The sands of the year drain away.

Sip your anaesthetic,

reflect upon all that has gone,

the deeds un/done, the words un/said.

Bank the fire down, my friend,

before going to bed.

The memories glow and fade

like the coal, slow time

locked in its fossil heart.

Each a dream, once cherished,

come morn, a pail of dust

to be scattered on the dormant earth.

The day a squall of rain,

the nights come as fast.

The solsticed sun instructs us

to hiatus, to put down our tools.

Endless struggle, surrender arms,

as the Christmas ceasefire commences.

For a while we no longer

have to be anything.

Merely drop down into our being.

It is okay, friend, we can stop buying.

We can stop pretending to be nice,

so desperate to be loved back,

to be popular. For surely,

this is the measure of success.

That, and how much you own.

What you can show off to visitors,

the guests guessing your soul

from what’s on your shelves.

Shallow the depths of society’s

criteria. As though our lives

are no more than a lifestyle magazine,

a trending meme.

The fire dies down,

and what is discarded

slips through the bars of the grate.

Leaving the sine qua non of embers –

the truth only found

at the eleventh hour,

say, on the eve of execution,

when we face the cold, naked fact

of our mortality, our swift sparrow-flight

the length of a mead-hall.

Yet still, we bank the fire down –
thanking the warmth and light it has

bestowed, its borrowed grace –

in the hope that come dawn,

the last star can rekindle

our wintering king,

before it winks out.



Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring, 2014

If you like my poems, feel free to support my work via Ko-Fi

Jupiter the Great and the Little Women

Once there was a great king

…at least he was great in terms of his size and ego. He was known by many names but let’s call him Jupiter. King of the Gods (he acted like a petulant god so hell he must be!) Jupiter had usurped his father, Saturn (some said killed, but those voices were hushed up) from the throne, and lorded it over all, the most important man in the solar system, galaxy, universe – at least he liked to think so. He had a pet eagle, a shield called Aegis. Shiny thunderbolts made by his son, Vulcan. But he was particularly proud of his swirling orange hair – he thought it made him irresistible to women.

giuseppe-cades-juno-discovers-jupiter-with-io

Giuseppe Cades, Juno discovers Jupiter with Io

He loved the women, or the girls, as he liked to call them. He like to talk to them, he liked to touch them, and loved it when they stroked his … ego. But, stop right there – he had a wife, lest we forget – Queen of the Pantheon to his King, her name – Juno. Jupiter thought her oblivious of his shenanigans, but on the contrary, she knew alright, and kept a close watch on him.

He loved to conceal his infidelities in clouds of mist – sometimes he descended on unsuspecting nymphs in the form of a golden shower – but Juno was able to pierce through his miasma.

One day Jupiter having developed a soft spot for a beautiful young nymph called Io, went a-calling, hoping for a bit of frolicking. He wooed her, her fondled her – thinking he was the one doing the seducing … But his wife was swift to follow and nearly caught them at it – but he was quick. He turned Io into a cow. ‘Husband! Husband! What are you up to!’ Jupiter feigned innocence. ‘I’m trying to get back to nature. I’ve been too high and mighty. I wanted to shed the trappings of power and taste the life of a cow-herd. And look at this lovely heifer. Her beautiful udders. Her smooth horns. Her big dark eyes. The swish of her tail.’

Juno, this time accepted these alternative facts, though in her heart she knew she’d been deceived. So she left.

Another day, Jupiter’s eye fell upon another lovely nymph, skin like alabaster, called Europa. She refused his advances, and so he came to her in the form of a bull – and carried her off to have his wicked way with her. Some say to Crete, some say to a crate.

But Jupiter’s good luck ran out one day when he was cosying up to another nymph called Callisto. Juno appeared, and this time there was no hiding – her husband just shrugged ‘What can I say. She was a five!’ – In her wrath Juno turned Callisto into a bear, and stormed off.

Finally Jupiter took a shine to a handsome young lad from Troy called Ganymede – he had if nothing else Catholic tastes. The lad was a bit reluctant to accept the advances of the horny old goat, I don’t know why. And so Jupiter descended upon him in the form of an eagle and carried him off to the stars to be his cup-bearer, or so he says.

Well, Juno had had enough. She decided to teach her pathetic husband a lesson. Instead of confronting her husband directly, which she knew would be pointless. He was so self-deceiving he wouldn’t realise he’d done anything wrong. So she went to Io, Europa, Callisto and Ganymede. They were frightened when they realised who she was. But she said, ‘I’m not angry with you, only my stupid husband – are you happy being treated this way?’ They all felt they had been wronged – but at the time it was hard not to be swept along by Jupiter’s magnetic personality. They agreed to help teach the king a lesson. Yes, he had thunderbolts – but Juno made some powerful allies.

She recruited Venus and Mercury to her cause – love and eloquence. War-like Mars, with his buzz-cut and PTSD twitch, was Jupiter’s right-hand man, so no luck there. Saturn certainly had a bone to pick, but was bit of a deadweight. Neptune, who ruled the sea, and Pluto who ruled the dead, also joined their cause. Together, led by Juno, they caused chaos in the heavens, disrupting the cycles and orbits, with their non-violent direct action, until enough was enough!

The allies confronted the bully – who turned out to be nothing more than a gas giant. All bluster. As they confronted him with his misdemeanours and crimes, he started to shrink. He spewed out toxic cloud in his defence, but got smaller and smaller. One by one his layers of deceit were stripped away, until there were none left – and what did they find behind it all? A Little Boy sitting on a rock, sulking, sticking out his bottom lip. He tried to throw his thunderbolts, but they were like sparklers now. He had a toy shield and stuffed bird. So much for Jupiter the Great.

After that Juno and the ‘girls’ took over running the Heavens and they did a far, far better job of things. The Solar System became a lot more peaceful, pleasant and respectful place to live.

Jupiter was given a nanny and a nice big play pen, where he could build imaginary walls all day long without causing any harm.

The End

 Kevan Manwaring © 2017-01-27

If you are interested in the real Jupiter and its amazing moons then check out my science fiction novel, Black Box, forthcoming from Alternative Stories.

Black Box has been adapted into an audio drama by the amazing podcast team at Alternative Stories. The first three pilot episodes are due to be launched 20th November, 27th November, & 4th December. FFI: https://alternativestories.com/

Road Ballad of a Vagabond King

Road Ballad of a Vagabond King

sleeping_king_1 David Wood art

Sleeping King, David Wood FFI: http://davidwoodart.com/

Arthur stretched out

his scratched and golden limbs,

matted head of wheat

pillowed upon the Polden Hills,

the Levels below

a damp cloak steaming.

Leaking boots drain into the Sedgemoor.

Fallen rain runs down the rhynes

of his ribs.

Cattle habitually give him

a lockdown haircut.

A king on the road,

footsore and boneweary,

long has he journeyed

the obscure ways of myths,

the hollow lanes of legend,

wearing the oak-leaf crown of his belief –

a fool on the wend,

stepping out of the way

of drivers rushing nowhere.

He has slept in the bleak leeward

of niches facing down

the grey gauntleted

fist of Tintagel,

the fastness of the forest perilous,

the moon-furnished margins of the Tamar.

St Bridget’s Well is off limits,

only bus stops and church porches

offer shelter to the vagabond king.

Lonely as a bedraggled buzzard

sitting on a stump in drizzle,

eyes in the back of his head,

a shiver of feathers

his rain dance.

He lugs his broken

kingdom on his back,

hoping somewhere he will

be able to unroll it and

raise it again.

Grey and hard are the roads,

his blister-scalloped feet prefer the verge,

the scratch choir of birdsong from

the eavesdropping hedgerows

to the rumble and hiss of passing machines.

He avoids the drilling gaze of curious drivers,

except to acknowledge when one acknowledges him

for stepping in – hedge backwards amid the nettles.

Sometimes, he sings as he goes

or walks for hours in brooding

silence. On greener byways,

sun-buntinged, river-garlanded,

a friendly stranger

receives a smile, a blessing, or

cheerful greeting. For we

are all on our way –

moving inexorably in one direction,

the universal terminus.

What we do with each step,

each moment, is the constant

fork in the path we should

ponder and savour, delaying

the need to be anywhere

else but here.

 

Inspired by walking the King Arthur Way 

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020

Bardfest 2020

BARDFEST 2020 POSTER update

Saturday, 22nd August, 2020, from noon til late

BARDFEST 2020

Poetry*Storytelling*Music*Talks

A day of vibrant voices celebrating the living Bardic Tradition in the British Isles and beyond. Join us to be entertained and stimulated by our inspiring line-up of poets, storytellers, musicians, and speakers. After each slot there will be a chance to discuss, make comments, and ask questions.

CONFIRMED CONTRIBUTORS

Nicola Chester – Berkshire-based nature-writer, Guardian Columnist, Author, Wild Writing Workshops.Blog: https://nicolachester.wordpress.com/  Twitter @nicolawriting @JogLibrary

Kirsty Hartsiotis – storyteller and art-historian.https://www.kirstyhartsiotis.co.uk/

Daru McAleece – druid, bard Website – https://tracscotland.org/storytellers/daru-mcaleece/  Website for anthology – https://www.hauntpublishing.com/books/haunted-voices

Paul Flinn – runner, poet

Rob Farmer – singer-songwriter https://robertfarmer.bandcamp.com/

Charlotte Hussey – Canadian poet (Glossing the Spoils; Soul of the Earth from Awen)

Helen Moore – ecopoet, writer, socially engaged artist & outdoor educator https://www.helenmoorepoet.com/

Peter Alfred Please – storyteller and writer http://www.peteralfredplease.co.uk/

Kirsten Bolwig – writer & storyteller Linked In profile

Brendan Georgeson – pop poet

Richard & Misha Carder –  Gorsedd of Caer Badon (Bath),  co-ordinators of the long-running ‘Poetry and a Pint’ night in Bath.

Henk Vis – druid, Avebury gorsedd

Gordon Rimes – musical bard of Avebury gorsedd

Scott Freer – banjo-maestro

Simon Andrews – singer-songwriter

Svanur Gisli Thorkelsson – Icelandic writer and tour-guide

Marko Gallaidhe – Irish musician and writer

Kevan Manwaring – author, lecturer, and storyteller

& more

Online via Zoom (100 maximum – booked early to guarantee a space).

Donations invited to the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and the Trussell Trust.

Please make a donation, then contact Kevan for Zoom details.

https://www.wiltshirewildlife.org/

https://www.trusselltrust.org/

Contact Kevan: kevanmanwaring@yahoo.co.uk

 

 

By the Living Voice

Diary of a Viva Ninja: Day 9 

Beard Pullers by June Sheridan

Beard Pullers by June Sheridan

Although the commonly accepted definition of the doctoral rite-of-passage, the ‘Viva Voce’, is an ‘oral examination’, the one that appeals most to me is ‘by the living voice’. As soon as I came across this I suddenly felt a quantum of reassurance – for I have made a lifetime’s study of the performance of bardic skills and development of the bardic tradition (2004; 2006; 2008; 2010; 2012; 2013; 2016; 2018).  The Viva is conducted not within the oral tradition but within an extremely rigorous academic frame, of course, and it is important to understand that it is ‘a new form of high-level communication, [one for which] you need to gain some advanced rhetorical and performance skills’ (Murray, 2015: 2). Nevertheless, there are some interesting overlaps (eg variants of the ‘skills’ Murray mentions), and considering the Viva in this way, reframing it as a bardic endeavour, means I am not sticking my neck out, but drawing upon years of informed creative-practice and research.

Forms of oral examination have been around for a long time, most famously in the Socratic Method of question-and-answer. Here the questioner hopes to catch the recipient out, sometimes by performing a disingenuous ignorance: Socratic Irony. My preference is for the less hierarchical and mutually empowering colloquy one comes across in the Celtic tradition. The finest example of this is known as ‘The Colloquy of the Two Sages’ in which the young budding bard, Nede, is challenged by a senior bard, Fercheirtne, whose chair he wishes to claim (as the descendent of the previous incumbent, his father). Through an intense series of ritualised questioning, Nede (wearing a mock beard of grass) has to defend his claim to the chair. His examiner ‘pulls his beard’, that is tests his knowledge and the authenticity of his claim. Critically, the questioner’s role here is not necessarily antagonistic. Fercheirtne is questioned in return by Nede and his answers seek to ‘outbard’ the challenger, like some Iron Age rap battle. But in the process, both ‘combatants’ display their skill and their answers encode great wisdom and poetry power for future bards to learn from and even perform (as Williamson memorably does in an epic feat of bardic skill). The outcome of this is for the young bard to become, eventually, an ollamh, a Doctor of Verse – so in it we can see a direct analogy to the Viva. A translation of it by no less than Robin Williamson (Incredible String Band; Honorary Bard of OBOD, etc) graces the end-pages of my Bardic Handbook.  Here is a taster:

The Colloquy of the Two Sages (extract)

A question, o young man of learning, what art do you practise?

to which Nede replied:

not hard to answer
I bring blush to face
and spirit to flesh
I practise fear’s erasure
and tumescence of impudence
metre’s nurture
honour’s venture
and wisdom’s wooing
I shape beauty to human mouths
Give wings to insight
I make naked the word
In small space I have foregathered
The cattle of cognizance
The stream of science
The totality of teaching
The captivation of kings
And the legacy of legends.

And you my elder, what are do you practise?

to which Fercheirtne replied:

 not hard to answer
sifting of streams for gold of wisdom
lulling of hearts from the fires of anger
captaincy of words
excellency of skill
putting feathers in kings’ pillows
I have acquired a thirst that would drain the Boyne
I am a maker of shields and wounds
a slicer of pure air
an architect of thought
I can say much with few words
I can sing the long miles of great heroes’ lives
I am a jeweller of the heart.

(From Irish tradition, translation by Robin Williamson, The Bardic Handbook, 2006).

Apart from the sheer beauty of the poetry, the colloquy teaches us to hone our own powers of communication to their highest level, to love language and debate, and to (hopefully) savour the experience of discussing one’s major research project with highly-skilled and experienced academics. To have such a level of critical attention should be seen as not a painful, compulsory final hurdle but as a privilege. After all, it is what you have worked towards for so long. It is your ‘opening night’, academically. First night nerves are inevitable, but rehearsal and classic performance techniques can help mitigate those nerves.

In performance the more relaxed one becomes in front of an audience, the easier it gets – certainly, the more likely it is for the ‘awen’, (Welsh, f. noun: inspiration) to flow. Nothing can replicate ‘live experience’. In the folk world it is a truism that you need to ‘fail’ in front of a real audience with  new song, then ‘fail better’ next time.

The aim is, through practice, to become habituated to the rarefied climate of high academic discourse, to a sustained critical debate:

‘Students have to understand the components of communicative strategies, customize them for their own examinations and practise them well in advance, to the point where the strategies have become part of their rhetorical repertoire.’ (Murray, 2015: 90)

And so … practise, practise, practise!

Works by Kevan Manwaring on the bardic tradition:

Fire in the Head: creative process in the Celtic diaspora, Awen 2004

The Bardic Handbook: the complete manual for the 21st Century bard, Gothic Image, 2006

The Book of the Bardic Chair, RJ Stewart Books 2008

The Way of Awen: journey of a bard, O Books, 2010

Oxfordshire Folk Tales, The History Press, 2012

Northamptonshire Folk Tales, The History Press, 2013

Ballad Tales: an anthology of British ballads retold (ed.), The History Press, 2016

Silver Branch: bardic poems and letters to a young bard, Awen 2018

Other works cited

Murray, R. (2015) How to Survive a Viva: defending a thesis in an oral examination, Open University Press

VivaNinjadoodlebyKevan Manwaring.jpeg

Honouring

The friends in our life are a true measure of success – the harvest of a life well-lived.

I am fortunate to know many talented people who I find inspiring and good company to boot. To be around them is a buzz, and their achievements mutually empowering. We raise each other up by stepping into our own power, by not being afraid to shine. I love seeing my friends do well. I praise their successes, cheer them on. Because I know something of their journey, of their struggles and sheer effort. When I am with them I feel more complete, because in some mysterious way they ‘hold’ something for me, an aspect of my own personality that they manifest in full. They are fully themselves, of course, but something in them draws me to them. I sense a kindred spirit. We share common ground – interests, experiences, obsessions, ambitions, sense of humour, wounds, or beliefs. They may just make me smile, make me feel alive, or make me feel more like me. I can be myself around them. The conversation flows. I feel listened to, received, and reciprocated. Seen. Heard. Held. They catch me when I fall, and without a second’s thought I do the same for them. I feel ‘greater than’, instead of ‘less than’, in their presence – not diminished or undermined, but raised up – not in an egotistical sense, but in an ennobled one. In such company I feel somehow things fall into place: a little piece of the universe’s puzzle slots home.

And so I wish to honour these friendships that I feel so honoured by. There are many ways of doing this – by baking a cake, singing a song, writing a letter, handcrafting something, or simply spending quality time with them. Last month I celebrated my 49th birthday in Stroud with ‘A Night of Bards’ – a gathering of storytellers, poets and singers to ‘wet the baby’s head’ of my new book, Silver Branch: bardic poems (published by Awen Publications), launched on that date. It was a special evening, brief but heart-warming and flowing with awen and camaraderie. I took photos, as did my friends, and I’ve used some of these to recreate some of the performances in what I call ‘bardic portraits’, intended to capture not an exact likeness but the energy of the performer, their presence. I incorporate a key phrase from their contribution, and have slowly worked my way through the dozen or so performers over the last month. It has been a nice way to remember the evening, enjoying it again like a fine feast, but in particular, a chance to focus in on each bard’s unique quality and talent. To bring awareness to these remarkable friends and the skein of friendships that we share.

Other friends who weren’t present on the evening but who have performed at other events I’ve organised over the years I may get around to also. They all deserve to be celebrated. Collectively they represent an inspiring microcosm of contemporary bardism. Who knows, maybe my sketches may provide a record for posterity; but more importantly they are intended to honour the subjects while they are here – to give thanks for their being vibrantly alive at this time and place in human history, and for touching my life.

Kevan Manwaring, 23 September 2018

Bardic Portraits from ‘A Night of Bards’ (Stroud, 19 Aug. 2018) by Kevan Manwaring

 

 

Earthwards by Kevan Manwaring

 

Lighting Bríghíd’s Flame

 

WP_20170624_006

In the Old Chapel, St Briavel’s, Midsummer 2017. Photography by 2017

The inspiration for our new show – Bríghíd’s Flame (we pronounce it ‘breed’) – came when Chantelle and I explored Ireland back in the summer of 2015. Our 2500 mile road trip (much of it on the back of my Triumph Legend motorcycle) took us to many places associated with Irish myths and legends: Croagh-patrick, Tara, Knocknarea, Carrowmore, Uisneach, Newgrange and Kildare. The latter inspired the spark of our show – to visit a site associated with the blacksmith goddess Brighid and the sacred flame of St Brigid was thrilling. As was the extra-ordinary ‘Cave of the Cat’, accessed via a small hole beneath a hawthorn tree, this intense, visceral place is associated with the Morrighan and boasts an ogham inscription in its lintel stone claiming it to be the burial place of the son of Medb, the great queen who haunted WB Yeats and whose mighty mound can be found dominating the coastline of his beloved Sligo. By the time we left Ireland we knew we’d create one of our distinctive ‘ballad and tale’ shows around the sites and their mythos. It would take a couple of years and alot of effort (far more than perhaps some realize), but we finally achieved this dream – on Saturday 24th June, 2017, with the premiere of our show at ‘Tales of Witchcraft and Wonder’, a launch event organised by Inkubus Sukkubus for their new album, Belas Knapp, as the atmospheric setting of St Briavel’s, a haunted Norman castle deep in the Forest of Dean.  We started seriously discussing the show around Samhain, but it was at Yuletide that I came up with the post-apocalyptic framing narrative that would provide the ‘spine’ of the show, with its 4 main tales (Finn and the Salmon of Wisdom; Cuchullain and the Warrior Women; Oisín and Niamh; the Children of Lir – told uniquely in my way, with my words); 5 beautiful new songs and arrangements by Chantelle; new poems by yours truly; and incidental music on harp, bodhran and shruti box (once again by the talented Ms Smith). Both of us really pulled out the stops, creatively. Then there were the rehearsals, the costumes, the poster, the promotional copy … and the logistics of getting bookings and so forth. If it was all for one event it would have been too much really – insanity, even – but we have a small tour lined up and hopefully other dates that will materialize. St Briavel’s was the start – but what a start! It was great to finally share the show – and with such a well-informed, attentive, and appreciative audience. The Old Chapel looked fantastic – low lighting, candles, fairy lights draped from ancient beams … Atmosphere like that does half the work in a performance. But midsummer day was hot and there was no real seating in the hall until I gently insisted on some. Benches were brought in from the banquet room, but still it was standing room only for some. Yet the amazing Inkie audience stuck with us (and perhaps literally to each other)! Afterwards we got lots of great comments – such as ‘utterly amazing’; and ‘thank you – your stories unlocked the symbolism and wisdom for me’ – people had clearly ‘got’ the show and lapped up its magickal imagery, music, narrative and verse. We look forward to bringing Bríghíd’s Flame to more audience this Spring and beyond.

***Thank you to Candia and Tony McKormack of Inkubus Sukkubus & our fellow Fire Springs Anthony Nanson and Kirsty Hartsiotis for providing support & a space to glow***

 

WP_20170624_011.jpg

Chantelle ready for action, St Briavel’s Midsummer 2017. Photo by K. Manwaring 2017

 

BRIGHIDS FLAME POSTER new

Forthcoming dates in 2018:

For updates, see website: http://brighidsflame.co.uk/

 

Wetting the Baby’s Head

A Review of the BALLAD TALES launch showcase, Fri 9 June, Open House, Stroud

WP_20170609_008

What is the usual format and purpose of a book launch? The author talks a little bit about her latest work, they read a sample extract, maybe answer a few questions, then sits behind a desk to sign purchased copies and exchange a few niceties with the book-buying public and, perhaps if they’re enjoying some success, fans. So far, so banal. The culmination of a couple (or more) years of effort and the collaborative ‘ecosystem’ of writer/s, commissioning editor, copyeditor, designer, illustrator, indexer, etc, is worth celebrating (and valuing – as those who casually ask for freebies should bear in mind).  And yet the book launch should be about more than just merely ‘pushing ink’. Yes, it’s nice to start generating sales, but those who organize such an event with just that in mind are often disappointed. It’s more about wetting the baby’s head – blessing the new endeavour with good vibes – and giving all those involved a collective pat on the back. If this can be made enjoyable to the general public, then they get something out of it as well – otherwise it’s just a mutual ego massage. And the meaning is definitely not the massage! It is about conjuring up some of the ambience of the book, some of the spirit in which it was born – remember that initial flash of inspiration? The excitement as you scribbled down that idea? The adrenalin rush of getting the proposal accepted and seeing it start to come together?

What all that in mind I put together a launch showcase (one of many I’ve done over the years) for Ballad Tales: an anthology of British ballads retold, published by The History Press. On Friday 9th June I gathered with a dozen of my fellow contributors in what used to be called the ‘British School’, Open House’s hall-for-hire, tucked away behind the arts cafe, Star Anise, the very sanctum sanctorum of Stroudiness. My partner and I, Chantelle Smith, started setting up and were soon joined by other willing hands. The secret of these events is to make it a team effort, to ask for volunteers and not to try and carry it all by yourself. One wants to be able to enjoy the evening after all, and it’s hard to do that if running from pillar to post, sweating buckets, and doing an impression of Roadrunner-meets-Inspector Gadget. Clipboarditis is best avoided. Do your bit and trust everyone else is doing theirs. Try to stop and chat to people, exchange a joke, perhaps have a drink or just simply take a few breaths  – relax and enjoy yourself and others will to.

So, the doors were open and folk started to drift in – in typical tardy Stroud style. Fortunately the room started to fill up, and around half an hour in I began the evening with my introduction. This included the usual housekeeping, which, for some reason, folk found amusing. In such situations I open my mouth and it’s like a trapdoor to my subconscious – all kinds of stuff comes out. I had a ‘plan’ of what I wanted to say (mainly the ‘thank yous’ and toast) but it’s good to be spontaneous and add a bit of levity to the proceedings. The serious stuff is in my written introduction to the anthology for those who want to read it (and maybe they’ll just skip to the stories). Anyway, my intro served to warm the crowd up, and then I went into full MC mode, introducing each of the respective acts as they took their turn.

The showcase got off to a powerful start with Candia and Tony McKormack of Inkubus Sukkubus performing their song ‘Corn King’ from their Heartbeat of the Earth album. Their latest (Belas Knapp, Tales of Witchcraft and Wonder volume 2) is out 24 June, continuing their evocative exploration of ‘Gloucestershire horror folk’. I had invited Candia to write the foreword for the collection after listening to their Barrow Wake album last year. Next up we had Horsley-based storyteller, Fiona Eadie, performing an extract from her iconic version of ‘Tam Lin’. Travelling further north, we then had Chantelle Smith read some of ‘The Storm’s Heart’ followed by her version of ‘The Grey Selkie of Sule Skerry’. Then fellow Fire Spring David Metcalfe performed ‘The Three Ravens’ and ‘The Twa Corbies’ back-to-back, which was fascinating, as the latter seemed to be a satire of the former. Nimue Brown (of Hopeless, Maine fame) offered an impressive blend of story, song and exegesis on her ballad choice ‘Scarborough Fair’ and her prose retelling ‘Shirt for a Shroud’. And Kirsty Hartsiotis (Fire Spring spotting – gotta catch ‘em all) finished the first half with flair, with her spirited 20s retelling of ‘The Famous Flower of Serving Men’, ‘There ain’t no sweet man’. She dressed in Flapper style for the occasion.

After the break, Laura Kinnear continued on the style front, in vintage fashion, as she read out her retelling of ‘The Bristol Bridegroom/The Ship’s Carpenters Love to a Merchant’s Daughter’, ‘The Shop Girl and the Carpenter’, which is set wittily in homefront World War Two.  Then we had Karola Renard’s powerful reimagining of ‘Sovay’, ‘A Testament of Love’ (with the ballad sung magnificently by Chantelle); followed by her husband’s version of ‘Barbaran Allen’, ‘The Grand Gateway’ (with Mark on vocal duties for that).  The final story of the evening was from Anthony Nanson (Fire Spring #5!), who performed an oral version of his ‘King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid’, which felt incredibly resonant after that day’s general election results. Indeed each of the stories had impact, felt engaged with the world and the issues that face us (while avoiding any heavy-handed didacticism or proselytizing). As the evening drew to a close I performed a lively duet of ‘The Twa Magicians/The Coal Black Smith’ (one of the two ballads I adapted for the book) with Nimue – the audience spontaneously joining in the chorus. Then I invited Candia and Tony back on stage for one of their powerful pagan anthems to round things off. The evening had been a great success, and I got all the balladeers up on stage for a final photo opportunity – a lovely souvenir of a splendid gathering of talented folk.

One can usually tell if an evening has gone well by the atmosphere in the room afterwards – there was a lovely buzz as folk lingered to chat and make connections. I heard one person say that it was the best book launch they had been too. This confirmed to me that our creative, collective, bardic approach, paid off.

Let the awen flow and good things will result.

BALLAD TALES NEW COVER

The next Ballad Tales event (hosted by David Metcalfe) will be on Monday 19 June – Bath Storytelling Circle, upstairs at The Raven, Bath, from 8pm. All welcome.

http://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/publication/ballad-tales/9780750970556/

It Takes a Village to Raise a Story

WP_20170609_046

Ballad Tales contributors perform at the Launch Showcase, Stroud, 9 June, 2017

The well-known African saying ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ can be applied — as an extended metaphor — to almost any creative project, for it is through the cross-fertilisation of ideas and grassroots collaboration (rather than neo-liberal competitiveness) that often the most sustainable art is born: art that is not the manifestation of a solitary artist/writer/musician ‘making it’ (picture a tall, spindly and ultimately unstable structure that so often collapses), but the flowering of an ecosystem, with healthy roots and branches that enrich and empower all who are involved. The whole forest benefits.

This is how I conceived ‘Ballad Tales’ — a book that is a showcase that is a community. Ostensibly, it is ‘an anthology of British Ballads retold’, published by The History Press and available from all good bookshops. But in truth it is so much more. Conceived in a flash whilst walking the West Highland Way back in the summer of 2015, the vision that came to me on my solo trek culminated in a book featuring 20 talented artists, writers, storytellers and musicians.  Many more could be involved in future iterations. We celebrated our mutual achievement with a fabulous launch showcase featuring a ‘bardic dozen’ of the contributors (see above) — Tony McKormack, who accompanied Candia, made it up to 13 and their fabulous songs began and ended the evening with a bang.

I believe it is important to celebrate creative labour, to wet the baby’s head, and this we did with a superb revue evening that was so much more than a mere book-signing (‘The best book launch I’ve been to’, said an audience member). The buzz of this — the warm response of a good audience — can help reciprocate a little of the effort involved — and the ‘feelgood factor’ it generates ripples out into the community, inspiring future projects and cultivating a sense of living in a place ennobled and enchanted by artistic activity.

Whether a book, a story (or collection of stories), an album, or an exhibition, art produced with the love of shared endeavour continues to be ‘raised up’ by its village — whether that is a physical community or community of intent — by those who view, buy, read, listen to, discuss, and contribute to its artosphere, for, truly, the story never ends with the last syllable or the song with the last note.

Read next: Nimue Brown’s account of the launch showcase on the Awen Publications blog: awenpublications.wordpress.com

Next Event: Bath Storytelling Circle Ballad Tales special, Monday 19 June, The Raven upstairs, Quiet St, Bath, 8pm, free.

Buy the book: http://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/publication/ballad-tales/9780750970556/

Ballad Tales final cover

A BALLAD is a poem or a song that tells a popular story and many traditional British ballads contain fascinating stories – tales of love and jealousy, murder and mystery, the supernatural and the historical. This anthology brings together nineteen original retellings in short story form, written by some of the country’s most accomplished storytellers, singers and wordsmiths. Here you will find tales of cross-dressing heroines, lusty pirates, vengeful fairy queens, mobsters and monsters, mermaids and starmen – stories that dance with the form and flavour of these narrative folk songs in daring and delightful ways. Richly illustrated, these enchanting tales will appeal to lovers of folk music, storytelling and rattling good yarns.

ISBN: 9780750970556

192pp, £9.99

Published by The History Press