Tag Archives: Chapel Arts Centre

April Tricks & Easter Fools

April Tricks & Easter Fools

1-5 April

Tricks & Fools at the Garden of Awen, Easter Sunday

The lead up to Easter has been a busy time, with the completion of teaching commitments and publishing projects and the tying up of loose ends. Good Friday serves as a severe deadline – the hiatus of Easter is imposed on us, whether we like it or not, as everything shuts down for at least the Easter weekend, although the holiday can stretch over one or two weeks. As with Christmas, it has become a national time to ‘down tools’ and after the hectic Spring term it comes as a blessed relief – thank God (or maybe we should thank the Romans, that ‘great civilisation’, for nailing a 33 year old from Bethlehem to a cross).

The Little Mermaid April Fool Copyright AFP 2010

The morning of April Fools Day has become a time to take everything with a pinch of salt, for it is the customary time for pranks, practical jokes, hoaxes and general foolery. The media ran there usual brace of dubious ‘news’ items – the Circle Line is to be used as a substitute for the Large Hadron Collider; ferrets are to be used to deliver broadband cables; AA men will use jetpacks to beat the traffic jams; Shakespeare was French; England didn’t win the World Cup in 1966… My favourite was in Denmark – recently the famous Little Mermaid statue had been removed to be displayed in the World Expo in Shanghai, leaving her rock bare – someone had replaced it with a mermaid skeleton.

David Lassman - The Art of Self-publicity

We joined in the spirit of this by announcing the launch of The Art of Self-publicity in the Bath Chronicle (‘Hungry for Self-publicity? Then this is the book for you’). In the Editor’s column, (‘Spotted our April Fool yet?’) Sam Holliday asked: ‘…perhaps you are convinced that our April Fool joke this year is that we have given publicity to a man who has written a book about … how to get publicity’. Actually, the book is genuine (the latest title from my small press – under the imprint, Writers Workshop – the first in a series of practical guides) and we decided to use April Fools to gain some publicity – and it worked! It was due to be launched on Easter Sunday and we wanted to let people know about the event in advance – part of my Garden of Awen. Typically, we were on tenterhooks about the books arriving on time (no matter how well-planned our new books are this always seems to happen). Yet by Thursday I had the first batch arrive from Stroud Print – phew!

We weren’t the only ones launching a book that day – controversially, Philip Pullman was in town talking about his new book at Topping & Company: ‘The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ’.

This is territory I am familiar with. While studying my Fine Art degree I got obsessed about the Fool archetype and made a film called ‘My Life as a God’, which had a main character who was part-fool/avatar/insane/even an ODed drug addict having a near death experience. Alot of it was filmed in guerrila style around the mean streets of Northampton. I remember one scene where my fool character dragged a ladder up the street as though he was carrying the cross up Golgotha. A black woman harangued me – probably justifiably. It wasn’t very subtle satire on religion – a low budget Life of Brian. Yet behind it was ideas influenced by my research into mythology and Jungian psychology. Cecil Collins’ book My Life as a God was particularly inspiring. This project culminated in a free May Day festival I launched called the Fools’ Fete in Abington Park – this I saw as the completion of the Fool’s Journey – from setting out like Chaucer’s pilgrims at the start of April, to becoming feted as king-for-a-day, Lord of Misrule. Thousands of people attended the Fools Fete, which ran for three years, with the help of the Umbrella Fayre people, who have since gone on to run the Green Fair which happens in September. Yet I started the ball rolling – I recall walking by the bandstand one day and thinking: ‘this would be a great venue for a festival’. I came up with the name and format of the first Fools Fete, booking the bands. All creativity starts like this – with an act of awareness. Blake said: ‘If the doors of perception are cleansed, man will see things as they truly are – infinite.’ Being a big fan of LA psychaedelic rock band The Doors at the time (who took their name from Huxley’s book The Doors of Perception, inspired by Blake) I identified with this, perhaps too closely!

Good Friday came along and I found myself munching on a hot cross bun, like alot of the population – a strange custom to remember a crucifixion. My friend, Kevin Williams, RNR officer, shared with me a wonderfully quirky custom which takes place on this day:

The History of Bun Day (as related by Kevin Williams to me in the beer tent of Mells Daffodil Fayre, Easter Monday 2010)

A young sailor went to fight in the Napoleonic Wars – wrote to his mother asking her to save him a hot cross bun for Easter, when he plans to be home. Alas, he fails to return – but the mother dutifully saves a bun for her son that year and every year since, until her death. The pub goes through various phases – from The Bun House to the Widow’s Son, named in honour of the woman. It is pulled down and rebuilt, burnt down and rebuilt, mirroring the resurrection connected with that time of year. Every year Navy personnel gather to honour the tradition with alot of drinking and singing (including the modern ‘tradition’ of karaoke) and the ‘hanging of the bun’ when a bun is ritually placed, by the youngest sailor present, in the net above the bar. The bar is in the east end of London, in the Stratford area – rough-and-ready locals and Navy guys mix together.

The following day, Easter Saturday, I loaded up the Triumph Legend and set off over the Cotswolds up to Northampton – to visit my Mum and sister, whom I haven’t seen since last summer (Winter isn’t the time for long bike rides). It was great to catch up with them and my friend Justin, that night down the Malt Shovel – we opted for a relatively quiet pub because we too had alot of catching up to do. Earlier that evening I had sat down with a meal cooked by my Mum (a rare treat) and watched the new Doctor Who – starring Northampton-born Matt Smith – it felt like being a child again! Watching Doctor Who Saturday teatime was a childhood ritual for many of my generation. Who would have thought it would become popular again? I can’t say I’m wildly keen about the new incarnation, but for one night it was heart-warming trip down memory lane.

The next day, after visiting the memorial tree planted in memory of Dad in Delapre Abbey with my sister and her toddler, (and enjoying a mighty Sunday lunch cooked by my dear Ma) I bid farewell and set off – roaring back over the Cotswolds. I decided to break the journey about halfway at a place of literary significance: Adlestrop, one of the soul-springs of England. Here, in June 1914, Edward Thomas, on a train (possibly to Dymock) paused and made some notes – later, when he started to write poetry, encouraged by his friend Robert Frost, he wrote ‘Adlestrop’ which has become a classic of English verse, much anthologised and imitated. It was very poignant to stop there, kill the engine and hear the birdsong he wrote about. I sat in the bus stop which has a large station sign and Thomas’ poem engraved on a brass plaque, and soaked up the peaceful ambience of this quintessentially English hamlet, a corner of England which motivated men like Thomas to go and fight – to live and die for.

Stopping at Adlestrop - one of the soul-springs of England

I returned home in time to listen to a Radio 4 feature on the Blakean poet Michael Horovitz, who has recently turned 75. Hearing his antics inspired me to make the Garden of Awen a lively ‘happening’ later that evening – after I had ‘regenerated’. Somehow I summoned a second wind and set off to the Chapel, bag bulging with books and goodies.

The theme of the evening I had chosen was ‘Tricks & Fools’ – this was probably tempting fate (in my intro I talked about the Fairy Tradition wisdom: Never test the Crew that Never Rest). The trickster was making his presence felt when I arrived to find the place locked up. We were told somebody would be there from 6pm – it was 6.30pm. David and Terry arrived – we sat over the road in the Lamb and Lion and anxiously waited. I had tried to ring the director, but he was away on holiday in Cornwall. He had left his team in charge… Fortunately the bar manager turned up at 7.15pm, and let us in. We hastily set up – doors opened at 7.30pm – and the evening kicked off. Phew! We had a good crowd – the place was packed – almost standing room only, until they got some more chairs. I had arranged some champagne (well, Prosecca) to toast David’s new book, and there was free chocolate on the tables. The atmosphere was great – there was a colourful crowd of creative types present, including a group of girls from Glastonbury all dressed up as Victorian harlots!

Victorian harlots at Garden of Awen!

I kicked the evening off with my mobile phone poem ‘Phone Tree’ (asking people to leave their phones on for the performance), then David gave a talk about his book – regaling us with Adventures in Media. There followed an open mic section – with some excellent contributions from the floor: poems and songs.

During the break David signed copies of his book. I put on Patti Smith’s classic ‘Horses’ (starts infamously with: ‘Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine’). A friend of an older member of the audience asked me to turn it down because she had a hearing problem!

I welcomed people back by asking for forgiveness for playing the Devil’s music on the Lord’s day – save our souls! Then I asked for a moment of silence – as I recounted my visit to Adlestrop earlier in the day, before sharing my version of Thomas’ famous poem (with apologies). The second half formally started with a fabulous set from Crysse Morrison, poet from Frome. More open mic, including an improvised shambles from Ben and friends – Ben was going around Britain recording songs, a kind of British songline. It was a brave attempt at something experimental, which is what I love to see. Afterwards, I said: ‘Creativity is an act of folly – a leap of faith. You step off the cliff and hope for the best.’ I observed how many great artists and poets of history have been perceived as foolish, even mad in their day – and to emphasise this I shared my poem, ‘The Man from Porlock’, written in the voice of the personage who notoriously interrupted Coleridge while he was working on his poem Kubla Khan. Such people are always there to test your tenacity! A pox on doubters and critics! Blessed are the doers, the finishers.

We finished the evening with a sublime set from singer/songwriter/guitarist Ali George (whom I discovered one night in The Star – he was jamming in the corner with a friend, playing a Van Morrison cover). Ali treated us to new songs – he’s a talent to watch. This is exactly what I want the Garden, and Awen, to be for – a platform for up-and-coming talent. Grassroots genius – happening without the ‘filtering of the Fat Controllers’, as I put it – right here, right now. It was a great night – my folly had paid off for once!

Ali George plays at Garden of Awen

One of those attending (and contributing a poem) Lizzie, said afterwards: Congratulations on creating a lovely, fun evening at The Garden of Awen event last night. I am so glad to see this happening in the heart of the city at a community space.. It is what our city needs!’

Another successful Awen launch

The following day went to the Mells Daffodil Fayre with a couple of friends. Kevin drove us over in his 1985 Mercedes SL ‘panzer’ with Creem blasting out – very Withnail-like but not doing much good for my hangover. Still, it was a merry way to travel. Pulling into the carpark we were let in for a quid as a ‘classic car’. I got us all a hot drink and we took in the atmosphere – everyone and their dog was out, gorging on chips and beer, listening to the bands in the marquee, or elbowing their way down the packed narrow streets lined with stalls. I showed Kevin the grave of Seigfriend Sassoon, First World War poet and personal hero. Then I took them into the church to show them the Burne-Jones designed tapestry. Mells is such a charming, unspoilt village – preserved in a kind of time-warp: a perfect setting for a Hammer House of Horror episode (a couple lose their way in the fog…). Today, it couldn’t have been merrier, or more picturesque – the grassy banks glowing with daffodils. In previous years the daffs have often passed their prime by the time of the Fayre – but with the late Spring this year, they were in their glory. We supped beer, browsed the stalls, missed the Morris Dancing and checked out the lovely Manor House Gardens. As the afternoon progressed we become ‘daffed’ out – I offered ‘tea and buns’ back at mine, so off we set, finishing off the last of the hot cross buns. Agreeably bulging, I found it hard not to nod off on the sofa. The week/end had taken its toll, but it had been a memorable Easter. Thank Christ we don’t have to do it for another year!

Making Bread

21-28 Feb

Another busy week… Busy is good, I suppose, but …

A storytelling friend of mine from Chagford (a creative little community on the edge of Dartmoor) Austin, a fabulous puppet-maker and keen baker, once said to me: ‘If you’re too busy to bake bread, you’re too busy.’ It’s true. Boy, how I wish I had time to bake bread – alas, I’ve too busy making dough – but at least this week I managed to do a couple of things to just nurture myself (my Shiatsu masseuse said I should treat myself – so I did, with a shiatsu massage). I also went for a much-needed haircut – my annual crop – my barber was a friendly young guy with an Elvis tattoo called Joe. We talked enthusiastically about films and books. He’s very fond of the Gangster genre (The Godfather series; Scarface, etc). Eastern Promises, (Kronenberg’s London Russian gangster movie starring Viggo Mortensen) we both agreed, was unjustifiably neglected (Viggo has recently done another star turn in The Road – which has incredibly lost out on the gongs so far). At one point he was singing the praises of American Psycho while wielding a cut-throat razor behind me… Anyone with a nervous disposition might have felt justified in worrying at that point, but all I left with was a great barnet, my head considerably lighter!

Apart from the ubiquitous OU marking quota, there was the following to keep me out of mischief…

Monday was my last session with the Saltford Older Learners (a six week stage two course entitled ‘Keep Going in Creative Writing’).

Tuesday it was my novel writers. It’s going well, but there’s the inevitable tailing off of numbers – a fact of life in the Adult Education sector. It always baffles me why people who sign up for these courses – parting with good money – often drop out. It shows a real lack of staying power. Their writing dreams are hardly likely to manifest with such poor self-motivation. How many hours of practise did our local Gold-winner Amy Williams put in? An inspiration to young and old alike. If you want your dreams to come true you have to work at them – hard.

On Wednesday Susan Mears, literary agent (and, as it happens, mine), was the guest speaker at Bath Writers’ Workshop, which I co-run with David Lassman. Susan gave fantastic, informative, practical and inspirational talk about the Business of Writing.

I gave a one-to-one consultation with a woman working on a screenplay. Her comments were positive afterwards:

I felt your feedback was constructive and has helped me sort out the starting issues. I came away thinking the project’s achievable, worthwhile and could work very well as a 90 min feature.

I was sent a link to the short film Rob Farmer made of the Bardic Picnic at Delapre Abbey – my old haunt – last Summer in Northampton. I was one of the judges and performed the opening set. It was a creative, successful day – made especially poignant being in the place I spent much of my childhood, where my fledgling bardic self was born. It shows what can be achieved when folk work together – a testimony of the vision and effort of the 3 J’s – Justin, Jimtom and John – well done guys!

Thursday, it was my evening class in Trowbridge – riding home in the lovely lashing rain!

Saturday I ran a creative writing dayschool for Wiltshire College in Devizes. It was a lovely run and back again in the Spring sunshine and it was nice to browse in the local bookshop during my lunchbreak.

The week ended with another great night at Chapel Arts Centre – the new programme is out and looks very impressive. Looking forward to the next Garden of Awen there, in a week’s time. Here’s to the green fuse!

Tiger Heart

Lion Dance at Assembly Rooms, Bath, Sun 21 Feb 2010 by KMCrouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

14-21 February

St Valentine’s Day happen to be the same day as the Chinese Lunar New Year – the Year of the Tiger, auspicious, but not for the faint hearted!

On Valentine’s Eve, Chapel Arts Centre held a great ‘Valentine’s Day Massacre’ party – everyone was dressed up as ‘mobsters and molls’ and it was a brilliant atmosphere with music from the Good Fridays. Another successful night from a venue that is rapidly becoming the best night out in Bath.

The following day I performed a mini set of poems at the Bath Storytelling Circle in the Raven to celebrate Lupercalia, the pre-Christian origins of Valentine’s Day: a Roman festival of fertility sacred to the she-wolf who suckled the twins Romulus and Remus. I did my ‘Wolf in the City’ poem in honour of the wolves of love!

The following Sunday, I attended the event below…(traditionally the Lunar New Year falls between 21 Jan and 21 Feb).

Lunar New Year Celebration

21 Feb, 2010

Today I went to the Lunar New Year celebrations held by the Museum of East Asian Art in the Bath Assembly Rooms opposite – the Regency splendour providing a surreal but splendid context for this Oriental Hogmanay. Tables were arranged around the main hall, more used to Jane Austen era glamour, offering a colourful assortment of activities: make your own money bag (used to gift money to family and friends); have a go at a tiger mask, origami, or paper cuts – a traditional Chinese New Year decoration. Before the afternoon programme got under way I popped over the road to the Museum for free Chinese tea and saw many impressive examples of these paper cuts by contemporary Chinese artists. Apparently at this time of year, the old ones would be taken down, to be replaced by the new ones, displayed fresh in windows. A far more creative and environmental way of getting festive than our Xmas excess.

Last Sunday was the actual New Year – it fell auspiciously on St Valentine’s Day – but according to the Chinese astrology website I viewed, Wayangtimes.com (found after a brief google) Years of the Tiger are often times of war, not love:

Drama, intensity, change and travel will be the keywords for 2010. Unfortunately, world conflicts and disasters tend to feature during Tiger years also, so it won’t be a dull 12 months for anyone.

It sounds like we’re in for ‘interesting times’. ‘Far reaching changes for everyone’ it predicts, rather broadly – basically, the only certainty is uncertainty, the only constant – change.

Back in the Assembly Rooms, I pulled up a chair and watched some poetry reading by a Chinese poet, who read her work in English and Mandarin – it was fascinating listening to the soundscape of her poetry – a very different set of phonemes to English ones. It’s great to see poetry being an important part of cultural life – over the Lunar New Year celebrations, homes are often decorated with paper cutouts of Chinese auspicious phrases and couplets. Can you imagine people decorating their homes with poetry in Britain? The common theme to the poems she recited involved reflections on time and good fortune. She mentioned a great Chinese saying: ‘An inch of time, an inch of gold: an inch of gold cannot buy an inch of time.’ A good message – time is infinitely more precious than gold, which is merely a naturally occurring ore. (Our time is priceless yet we sell it cheaply in the market place – a buyer’s market). Yet the Chinese, being shrewd in business, place great importance on it – the accumulation of wealth – praying for wealth and wearing red for luck. I recall in South East Asia – Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia – the symbolic bank notes they would burn in the temples.

Next there was a sample of Chinese opera – two members of the London Chinese Opera Society, looking splendid in their costumes, performed a shy, gentle mating ritual on the stage – like two birds in the Springtime: the male making his advances, the female coyly dismissing them… The man sang in a falsetto to symbolise the fact he was on the cusp of adolescence! It was charming, but after a tiring ride back and a fitful night’s sleep I struggled to keep my eyes open.

Chinese Opera performerI went for a walk outside in the lovely spring sunlight to try and wake up – wandering to the Royal Crescent and back. Then I girded myself for the final events with a pot of lapsang souchong and a couple of stem ginger biscuits in the Assembly Rooms cafe. This helped to keep me going for the grand finale – the magnificent lion dance, followed by the letting off of fire crackers. There were two ‘lions’ on stage, operated by two guys each. Both were decorated by ‘fur’ and lots of gold, one was red, the other white, and they lively cavorting reminded me of the rival ‘osses’ of Padstow. They wove their way through the crowds, to the delight of the children, who followed them, Pied Piper-like outside, where gunpowder awaited! The event certainly ended with a bang – in fact several, leaving a strong Guy Fawkes-like odour in the air. Of course, the Chinese invented gunpowder, as they did paper – centuries before the West cottoned on. They are a remarkable civilisation – it’s such a shame that their current regime has so poor a human rights record. I cannot forgive them for invading Tibet – something that seemed to be conveniently overlooked at the last Olympics –  but this was all forgotten today. It was a joyous occasion and quite rightly so. Beyond their oppressive government, they are a polite and cultured people, and on a beautiful sunny day they brought a cosmopolitan richness to our sleepy city.

The following day I used the Chinese Zodiac in my Creative Writing class at Saltford Library – getting my Older Learners to write a poem in the voice of their respective ‘animal’ – a cultural transfusion that enriches the heart and broadens the mind.

Licking Honey from a Thorn

Licking Honey from a Thorn

Garden of Awen: The Thorny Rose, 7 Feb 2010

1-7 February

A busy week – mainly taken over with teaching and marking. Mondays, Saltford with the older learners; Tuesday, my novel-writers at Bath Central Library; Wednesdays, Bath Writers Workshop; and now, on Thursday, running a new creative writing class now for Wiltshire College in Trowbridge. And this week – if that wasn’t enough on top of running three online courses – a dayschool on Saturday in Bath for the Open University.

But it wasn’t all pedagogical grind. Monday visited Glastonbury for the Imbolc Ceremony at the Goddess Hall – for the new book. It was great to roar down to the Tor on the Triumph – it’s first outing of the year. Then at the weekend I took the Legend up to the Edge, the stunning hills passed Stroud – and visited the beautiful rococo gardens near Painswick to see the snowdrops with a mate.

snowdrops at Rococo Gardens, PainswickSunday I ran the third Garden of Awen, exploring ‘The Thorny Rose’ of love, with excellent contributions from poets, storytellers and musicians. I launched my new collection, The Immanent Moment, with a set. I introduced the evening by citing a Welsh saying: ‘loving a woman who scorns you is like licking honey from a thorn’ – as I wanted to set the tone of the evening: a ‘sharp and sweet’ look at love. It wasn’t going to be all ‘Mills & Boons’. But this marvellous spiky metaphor might sum up one’s relationship with work and what we have to do to earn a buck. It drains us as we draw nourishment from it, and we hope that the gains will outweigh the losses. Last night, Anthony congratulated me on being such an inspiration to people. I said I felt like a rotting log – a tree that that falls, giving life to many other organisms in its decay! I had exhausted myself putting on a fantastic night of bardic entertainment – the atmosphere was great, the acts were fabulous, and we had a healthy turn out, but not enough to break even, or reciprocate the effort that myself and Svanur, the centre director, had put into it. However much it might all be worth it in the grand scheme of things, unless it sustains one while doing it, it can lead to burn out or bankruptcy. I get a buzz out of encouraging creativity in others and providing a platform for them to shine – but I still have to pay the rent. Would it were otherwise. That one’s efforts were reciprocate by qualitative rather than quantative value – I would be a rich man! But I guess one gains a different kind of capital. It all goes in the karma bank, I suppose…

As with love, we cannot see it as a strict return investment – measure for measure – we just have to trust in it as it is shared. A tree gives selflessly and is all the more glorious for it – even if it ends up home for fungi!

words, words, words

31st January

Making the most of a precious window of opportunity (a window amidst the marking) I’ve been working flat out finishing off my screenplay this week  – and sent it off yesterday. Can’t say more than that!

I have other play projects in the pipeline as well…

My novel class on Tuesdays is going well – I look forward to resuming work on mine this May when I’m writer-in-resident at El Gouna, Egypt. Starting a raft of new classes for Wiltshire College from next week. Along with my work for the Open University and the Community Learning Service, I’m a busy bunny.

All work and no play can make Jack a dull boy, so this weekend I was determined to have some fun. Went to a fabulous event at the Chapel last night – Coco Boudoir. Since my friend Svanur has taken over running the venue it has really blossomed – and, by the looks of the place yesterday evening, has turned into the place to be  – full house, great atmosphere. There was a swish crowd there, dressed in their glad rags. Top hats and corsets. Outstanding!

Looking forward to the next Garden of Awen, next Sunday 7th Feb, Chapel Arts Centre, Bath, where I’ll be launching my new collection, The Immanent Moment. The theme is ‘The Thorny Rose’, love, and we have superb line-up including Matt Sage, singer-song-writer from Oxford; Bristol slam-winner Rosemary Dun; Wayland the Skald, mighty smith of words; Widsith & Deor, story theatre; Saravian, the girl with the voice from the other side; and Jack Dean, the new Bard of Bath.

Walking along the Kennet and Avon today, saw not snowdrops – but, can you believe it, daffodils!

Here’s to Spring – bring it on!

PS if you hungering for the sun as well, you might want to check out the Skyros blog – where I’ll be running writing workshops late summer http://theskyrosblog.blogspot.com/

Mistletoe, Roses and Thorn

5-8 December

Mistletoe the Line

Yesterday decided to visit Tenbury Mistlefest – Britain’s only mistletoe festival. This came about when the old mistletoe auctions were under threat. They had taken place in Tenbury for a hundred years. Tenbury mistletoe is exported all over the country and is renowned for its quality.

I waited to see what the weather was like before committing to going. I checked the BBC weather on my laptop and the forecast looked good – at least for the first half of the day. I decided to risk it and seize the day – I chucked what I needed in a daysac, togged up and set off. The run up to Tenbury through the Welsh Marches was beautiful in the winter sun – I felt glad to be alive and living in such a lovely country. This part of the land feels very special – an artery of quintessential ‘Englishness’, deep England, ironically on the border of Wales – and originally of course belonging to Wales. I can see why Tolkien was so inspired by it – it did have a Tolkienesque quality to it. Deep wooded vales, timber-framed houses, mysterious knolls, brooding hills – old Brythonic bears, licking their wounds. I made good time on my Triumph Legend – the roads were clear and it was sunny and dry. The 85 miles passed in a pleasant couple of hours. It was only when I reached the Rose and Crown, just outside Tenbury – where the druids were gathering for the procession – that I realised I had left without my wallet! I had about a seven pound’s worth of change in my pocket – enough for lunch and not much else. I put this problem to one side – there wasn’t much I could do about it – as the procession was about to start. There was a brief briefing in the pub and I was designated ‘hop carrier’ in the ceremony – my role was to pass around a bottle of beer!

Rose and Crown carpark, Tenbury - the druids gather for the procession

About twenty of us set off from the Rose & Crown carpark – some in full robes. Suzanne from Cransfield Bardic Arts led the way, leading us in a chant – (‘All Hail the Mistletoe, On the sacred tree does grow, Our blessing we bestow, All upon the Mistletoe!’) which we sang in a half-hearted slightly embarrassed English way as we crossed the bridge from Shropshire to Worcestershire into the town. The high street was lined with stalls – a Christmas market to coincide with this, the biggest day in Tenbury’s calendar. It wasn’t exactly buzzing, but the atmosphere was congenial. We passed a couple playing medieval instruments, all dressed up. minstrels, Tenbury MistlefestThey attempted to join our procession, but we were walking too fast! In previous years, the mistletoe ceremony had taken place in the heart of the town, but this year it took place in the gardens, under a lime bearing mistletoe overlooking the river Teme, flowing vigorously after the heavy rains recently – very much like Eliot’s ‘strong brown god’. (Tenbury has been badly affected by the floods in recent years).

The previous Tuesday a small contingent of the local druids (Cornovii Tribe) went to the Mistletoe Auctions and performed a discreet ceremony incognito (plain clothes druids!). In other years this has been more visual – in full regalia – to varying degrees of reception. Some traders claimed the blessed mistletoe did especially well, whileas others disagreed!

Mistletoe Foundation

We gathered in a circle by the Mistletoe Foundation banner, as a small crowd of curious and amused public looked on. Suzanne had a gentle touch and conducted the ceremony with grace and humour. Although the celebrants had to read from scripts it was done from the heart, albeit in a slightly ramshackle way. I did my bit – the ale is normally passed in a horn, but because of health and safety they were forced to use plastic cups – but they were forgotten! And so I had to simply pass around the bottle of local ale (Hobson’s Town Crier), saying to people to drink at their own risk – all the druids did! Folk were asked if they wishes to say anything about mistletoe – I said: ‘Our ancestors called this All Heal – may it bring healing to all who need it, especially to the planet – and may it bring wisdom to those in Copenhagen who are deciding the fate of the planet.’ After we blessed the mistletoe with water, fire, hops and apple everyone was offered a sprig of mistletoe. At the climax of the ceremony, the mistletoe was cast into the Teme. Suzanne said after: ‘words cannot describe how it felt to see the mistletoe taken by the river. So I won’t try.’

We then wended our back to the Rose and Crown for lunch. It was nice to chat to the celebrants. Later that evening there was going to be an ‘eisteddfod’ in the lovely old pub, but unfortunately I had to give it a miss, as I had a certain rendezvous with a troubadour! Saying farewell to these new friends, I left the warm embrace of the pub, with its crackling fire and good beer and put out into the drizzle of the chilly afternoon. I went back into the town to look around. By now it was grey and miserable. It was about 2.30pm – the crowning of the mistletoe queen wasn’t until 4pm (I missed this, although I did catch a glimpse of her, hanging about with her mates, browsing the stalls). I didn’t fancy hanging around for a couple of hours in the rain, so I decided to head back and make the most of the remaining light. I rang my friend Miranda in Stroud to say I would be passing her place around 4ish and would it be okay to drop by for a cuppa … this turned out to be a wildly optimistic ETA and travel plan!

Lighting the Darkness

6th December

Speaking from Inner Roses - Irina Kuzminsky, Dancing with Dark Goddesses

Garden of Awen on Sunday at Chapel Arts Centre was a magical banquet of bardism in the heart of Bath. To celebrate the solsticey theme of ‘Lighting the Darkness’ I had gathered a constellation of shining talent: sublime wordsmiths from Stroud, a jazz duo and a Bard of Bath, a troubadour from Paris and a Russian ballet dancer/poet from Australia.

This was the second Garden I had organised with playwright, novelist and all round Mr Fix it, Svanur Gisli Thorkelsson, whose Icepax Productions made it look so professional.

After a much needed lazy Sunday chilling out at home with my guest Paul we made our way to the venue laden with musical instruments, books, CDs and stuff! Svanur was there, co-ordinating the sound checks and attending to final details – he’s a wizard!

I MCed the night, introducing each act, assisted by ‘the lady with the satin larynx’ Anna D. – who recited the odd arcadian quote to punctuate the proceedings. First up was Jay Ramsay, poet of the heart, and Hereward on percussion – performing a deeply felt set of beautiful poems. Next was fellow Fire Springer, Kirsty Hartsiotis, who did a rivetting version of Pandora’s Box. Master Duncan, 13th Bard of Bath, followed – with an impressive triptych of poetry and song. We ended the first half with jazz duo Venus Eleven. Tracey Kelly ethereal vocals, accompanied by some mellow guitar enchanted the audience.

After the break, we had extraordinary poet, Gabriel Millar – our third guest from Stroud. She delivered a wise and spell-binding set of poetry. And then we had Irina Kuzminsky, the Russian-emigre Australia ballet dancer/poet, who performed her blistering ‘Dancing with Dark Goddesses’ set: a performance of complete commitment, passion and technical brilliance. Hereward and Jay came back on for some drumming to warm us up for the final act, Paul Francis, Le Troubadour, who ended the evening with a splendid set of songs that took the audience to an absinthe-soaked Left Bank for an all but brief time. Paul ended with a personal request – his magnificent song, The Sailor and the Magician, which has a chorus of fine sentiment: ‘May the Peace in East; Peace in the South; Peace in the West by the river’s mouth; Peace in the North; Peace across the Land; Peace, Love and Harmony…‘ I’ll drink to that – and we did!

I ended the evening with a quote from Scottish novelist and playwright Sir James Matthew Barrie, who once said: ‘God gave us memories so that we might have Roses in December … ‘ I think all who came to the Garden that night left with a bouquet.

Head Gardener, Uncle Kevanya

Cutting the Thorn

8th December 2009

Today I attended the annual cutting of the Glastonbury Thorn at St Johns, on the High Street. The Glastonbury Thorn is said to be a cutting from the very tree that apocryphally sprouted from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea – Jesus’s uncle or brother (according to the vicar of St John’s, David) – plunged into the good soil of Somerset (traditionally on Wearyall Hill – appropriately named, as his journey’s end) when he made landfall here after his long voyage from the Holy Land, with or without a certain young messiah under his care (a new film is coming out that explores this, ‘Did Those Feet in Ancient Times?’) All rather dubious, but a wonderful notion – Glastonbury is obviously very proud of its its famous ‘roots’: a headline on a newstand read ‘Did Glastonbury Druids Teach the Young Jesus?’! And the brush with fame, albeit on a merely national level, continues. Every year a sprig of this tree is sent to the Queen, who has it on her Xmas table at Sandringham (apparently it is sometimes spotted in the background of her Christmas Day broadcast).

Cutting the Glastonbury Thorn, St Johns, 8 Dec 09 KM

Arriving in good time, I wandered up the High Street, browsing in the shop windows, until I was caught up in the ‘crocodile’ as hundreds of pupils from St John’s, St Benedict’s and St Dunstan’s converged in the grounds of the church, lining up in ranks of descending size in front of the Thorn. Local worthies were gathered in their finery. The town crier started proceedings in a typically stentorian manner, then Rev. David Mced the event, with contributions of cute songs from the local schools before the moment we had all been waiting for occurred. The ‘oldest pupil’ of St John’s cut the thorn, with a little assistance from the Town Crier and her mum. As the thorn sprig was held up, they were cheers – and the little girl, looking like a wee brownie in her pink woolly hat, beamed.

It was a heart-warming community event – a lovely way to mark the ‘first shoots’ of the festive season.

Here’s to a Merry Yule!



Stories to Save the World

26-29 November

A flurry of fabulous events over the last few days – a feast that I’m still digesting…

Thursday I was invited back to be a guest panelist in the Cafe of Ideas, this time held in Bath at Chapel Arts Centre – once again discussing narrative and its impact on things. The audience was ‘intimate’ – it was hard to compete with a Hollywood movie star turning on the lights – but it was a quality event nonetheless, with a thought-provoking discussion evolving from questions from the host, Pete, and the audience. I talked about one of my favourite themes, the Hero’s Journey, and cited as an example the event up the road: the celebrity switch-on of Bath’s Xmas lights, relating it, with a nod and wink, in mythic terms (the discussion had been largely dominated by economics – perhaps not surprisingly as a banker was on the panel)… A benighted land devastated by the great dragon, Recession, needs a hero – fortunately one lives close by (until recently a house in the Circus, and Midford Castle). A man called Cage comes to aid of the townsfolk, who have gathered together in anxiety – hoping their prayers will be answered. Cage is the Lightbringer – with his electric power he banishes the night and, all hope, the dragon Recession, bringing prosperity and happiness to the town once more. The tills rang out and the shopkeepers lived happily ever after. The end.

Narrative is all around us – the myths we live by, the consoling fictions, the grand narrative that dominate the Way Things Are. By being aware of them, we can work with them, even change them. Certainly change our own. The world needs different ‘stories’ to live by, because the ones we have are clearly not working.

And without narrative, life is meaningless – we are storytelling creatures, pattern-makers. Story is how we make sense of the world, our messy lives.

And even the storyteller needs to be to told a story now and again – to simply listen and be held by another’s narrative.

On Friday I went to see a play of my friend and fellow gardener, Svanur – a two-hander called The Big Deal, followed by a play called The Small Print – a brilliant ‘double-act’ (the two talented actors played different roles in each – a suicidal woman and an ‘angel’; a Council worker and an inquisitive old woman). As great concept often are, it’s very simple – a play in a pub – but I haven’t seen it done so well before. The staging, production and direction was all professional. The show is going to Clifton, Bristol, later this week – the Lansdown Inn, Thurs-Sat. Worth catching!

Saturday was the event of possibly the year – Heaven’s Gate, Stroud’s first festival of storytelling, poetry and music, co-organised by my friend Jay Ramsay and Rick Vick to celebrate William Blake’s birthday. It was a night of a thousand bards (but only one bar – which unfortunately closed before I could get a well-deserved beer … waiting til after my set, which wasn’t until gone eleven! It had been a long-haul – a Bard Day’s Night) I was performing along with a fantastic line-up including Robin and Bina Williamson (they bumped into me while looking for the venue); Phoenix (the supergroup of Stroud – Jay and friends); Kirsten Morrison; Aidan and his lovely pianist companion from Prague; Anthony Nanson, storyteller; William Ayot; Paul Matthews and a host of other poets – plus, most magnificently of all, Irina Kuzminsky, who had come all the way from Melbourne to launch her book, Dancing with Dark Goddesses, published by my press, Awen, with an incredible dance-recital tour-de-force. After the gig, I popped the champagne to wet the baby’s head with Irina and Angela, the designer – a fab team effort, as was the evening in a larger sense, a collective act of art. Everybody shone and the audience were very supportive and appreciative – the Sub Rooms, a large venue, were packed out. A fantastic success!

I performed a story I wrote especially for the event, The Gate, inspired by Blake’s phrase – Heaven’s Gate (reclaiming it from its associations with Michael Cimino’s ‘disasterous’ overbudget flop). I responded to Rob Hopkins challenge in a recent Resurgence:

there are a paucity of stories that articulate what a lower-energy world might sound like, smell like, feel like and look like. What is hard, but important is to be able to articulate a vision of a post-carbon world so enticing that people leap out of bed every morning and put their shoulders to the wheel of making it happen.

This, coupled with Blake’s gate, was my inspiration, and that is what I set out to do with my simple parable, which I kept deliberately ‘light’ (following the notion that we can enter the kingdom of heaven as children – by letting ourselves be ‘held’ by a story, in a state of Keatsian negative capability, or Blakean innocence). The response was very positive. I believe art, at its best, is a gateway (rather than a mere mirror of the world) and get us closer to achieving this goal. We need stories of hope and deep beauty to defeat the gloom, the paralysis of despair, and the denialists.

The next morning we had a post-gig breakfast in Costa (the only cafe open in Stroud on a Sunday. We would have preferred lovely independent wholefood eatery, Star Anise… Instead, we turned this chain into the Left Bank of the Cotswolds for a couple of hours, as the surviving bards gathered). We were all wiped out from an epic night – but this broke down any remaining barriers. There was warmth, there was awen – and something wonderful happened. For a little while, the gate opened… Such a huge act of love will not go unnoticed by the universe! Well done to Jay, Rick and all those who performed and made it happen. Absolute stars, all of them – shining beyond the light pollution of the mainstream, the gaudy dazzle of the Media. Blake would have been touched by such a show of artistic solidarity … the City of Art descended and Albion’s children shone.

Bards and the Bees

16-22 November

It’s been a week of inspiring eco-artiness and inspiration.

Eric Maddern - eco-storyteller

Monday I went to see the fabulous show by Australian storyteller, Eric Maddern, What the Bees Know: Songs and Stories to Sustain and Restore the World – an engaging and galvanising blend of story, poetry, song and environmental awareness raising. I saw a preview of this at the Ecobardic Minifest at Cae Mabon, Eric’s amazing eco-retreat centre in North Wales way back in May, but it was well worth seeing the full show, which had so much more in it. Eric’s charismatic presence filled the Chapel Arts Centre and took the small but committed audience on a 2 hour ‘bee-line’ from the malady to the remedy, honey being a traditional cure-all, and one of the rich gifts these industrious pollinators bestow upon humankind: beeswax, royal jelly, mead, various medicines, and most of all – the pollination of plants. The UK bee population dropped by 30% in 2007 – in Spain, it was 50%, and the USA is experiencing similarly sobering trends. Without these key pollinators, the cycle of life could grind to a halt (25% of the global species depend on plants pollinated by bees). Uber-brainbox Albert Einstein once said: “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination … no more men!”…Despite the gloomy predictions, Eric’s show left the audience feeling uplifted – the creative act is affirming in itself, and is another example of the remarkable power of the human imagination, with which anything is possible – including solutions to these mounting environmental problems. Homo sapiens may be the problem, but is also the solution – and has proven over the millennia, since it first discovered fire, flint and the paintbrush back in the caves of our ancestors – that it is nothing but ingenius.

There are various good folk offering ‘plan B’, notably The Global Bee Project. We can all do our bit (eg plant bee-friendly flowers in your garden).

Eric is still touring his show – catch it next Spring, or even book it for your venue or group. Next month he’s off to Copenhagen – the place to ‘bee’ for such a committed eco-campaigner. Long may the story-honey flow from his lips.

it's been a long time coming ... Image from Home, words from Eric Maddern

On Saturday I went to the spectacular setting of Bath Abbey to see a film by Earth from the Air visionary, Yann Arthus-Bertrand called Home – deeply beautiful and moving. The Abbey was packed out with nearly a thousand people. It was very forward-thinking for the Abbey to allow this film to be shown. It was an interesting experience – the large screen in front of the altar, the haunting music drifting up into the vaults, hushed reverence, enduring the discomfort of the hard pews … a kind of surrogate religiosity pervaded the film – I would argue a genuine one, based upon awe of Creation, the miracle of this precious and fragile planet we live on. Perhaps if they had more events like this the Church would find its houses filled once more. Many are overwhelmed and despairing at the crisis facing us. Is it time for eco-churches – centres of energy descent, where folk can ‘pray’ not for their own salvation, but the salvation of the planet? The consolation of faith perhaps has its place – life without a spiritual dimension is shallow and ultimately futile – but we have to act now, before it’s too late. A good place to start is the Transition Movement, as mentioned last week. Read about the burgeoning Transition Culture here

In a week of extreme weather ravaging Britain, this seems more poignant than ever.  The flood gates are open.

Blazing Bright in the Year’s Midnight

28th October-2nd November

James Hollingsworth setting the night on fire at the first Garden of Awen - photo by Crysse Morrison

Now the light falls

Across the open field, leaving the deep lane

Shuttered with branches, dark in the afternoon

(East Coker, TS Eliot)

Finally have a chance to catch up after a hectic few days of bardic busyness – it’s that festival feeling again, as a flurry of events occur around Halloween, the deadline of the year (in Celtic Tradition the festival was celebrated as Samhain, summer’s ending, and Celtic New Year – for Celts, midnight was considered the middle of the day, and so the ‘midnight of the year’ – as I feel Samhain is, more than the Winter Solstice, which has a glimmer of light, as the sun is ‘reborn’ – would similarly be its negative axis – the dark pole around which the wheel of the year turns).

As Mary Queen of Scots put, stitching the shortening threads of her alotted time: ‘In my end is my beginning’ and as TS Eliot added in The Four Quartets, ‘In my beginning is my end.’  It is an Alpha/Omega time of year (although in truth, things are always ending and beginning – it just depends on when our awareness starts). With the nights drawing in, it feels like a shift of focus, a turning inward – nature hunkers down – but life, alas, has other plans for us human animals! Hibernation is not an option!

Wednesday saw another Guest Writers in Conversation with fabulous female poets, Helen Moore and Rose Flint talking at Bath Writers’ Workshop, the event I co-run with screenwriter David Lassman. Helen and Rose’s work and ethos shared some common ground but also has interesting differences – teased out through the insightful talk and critical response they gave. They both performed a selection of their work and answered questions from the audience. Another superb evening – it was fascinating to hear the poets talk about the evolution of their work and themselves as writers. Lesser know writers rarely get a chance to discuss their work in such depth and have a fellow writer interview them and offer an insightful response. Both are great poets – check them out!

Thursday, after an exciting test run of a beautiful Triumph Legend – my next bike! – I went to Bristol with David for the Cafe of Ideas, a monthly forum. I was invited to be on a panel discussing narrative with a bank manager, professor and BBC presenter. Held at Co-exist, an arts collective based at Hamilton House, the space was transformed with performance poetry, music and a buffet. A sister event (same theme, format and panel) will take place at the Chapel Arts Centre, Bath, on November 26th.

Friday I was a guest performer at What a Performance! – a monthly open mic held at St James Wine Vaults, Bath. MCed by Richard Selby, keeping the spirit of Dave Angus (it’s founder and original host) alive and kicking. The evening was dedicated to the writer Moyra Caldecott – in her eighties and now unable to perform her work due to a stroke. Moyra has been a great influence and inspiration on me – she has supported my work for the last ten years – so it was a pleasure to participate in this event to honour her. I read out 3 of her poems as well as my own 14 page epic, Dragon Dance (from memory). My fellow guest performer Kirsty was on form with her three fabulous tales – and there were many other great contributions.

A Bard and a Druid at Stanton Drew by Helen Murray

Talking to Ronald Hutton at Stanton Drew

Saturday I attended an OBOD open ceremony at Stanton Drew, a stone circle not far from Bath. It was very moving, as we were asked to think about those we have lost, and what we wanted to let go of. A pint in the Druids Arms afterwards  helped to bring us back into the land of the living! Later, for something ‘completely different’ I went to a ‘Halloween Chic’ party. It was interesting – two very different ways to celebrate the same festival!

into the barrow by Helen Murray

Entering Stoney Littleton long barrow - something watches from inside...

Sunday looked like it was going to be a washout but the skies miraculously brightened after midday and I went for a quick rideout to Stoney Littleton long barrow, travelling back five thousand years as I crawled into the narrow Neolithic burial chamber to remember my ancestors at the time of Samhain.

PB010811

Anthony Nanson launches Garden of Awen with a spooky tale - Chapel Arts Centre, Bath, 1st November 2009

Later, I hosted the first Garden of Awen at Chapel Arts Centre, Bath – an event I put on with Svanur Gisli Thorkelsson, whose Icepax Productions did the business once again. A guest, Rosie, said she had never seen the venue look so good. A Bath Spa art student, Jennifer, painted two great backdrops to help create an Arcadian feel. Foliage was festooned on screens. Green candles and poem flowers decorated the tables. Chapel technician Jonathan provided some snazzy lighting. Svanur brilliantly choreographed the acts: Anthony Nanson, storyteller, got things going with a gripping and stylish start with an atmospheric tale about a vampire. Nikki Bennett launched her new poetry collection, Love Shines Beyond Grief, with a bang (or a pop and a fizz – as we wet the baby’s head with flutes of Cava). David Metcalfe ended the first half with a powerful set of British death ballads and his spine-tingling poem, The Last Wolf. The second half started with a tune from Marko Gallaidhe, just back from Bampton Festival, but with still enough puff in him for a song. Richard Austin shared his poetry with aplomb. Marion Fawlk, also from Stroud, looked regal on the stage in her lovely velvet dress – sharing her deeply felt goddess poetry. The evening ended with a blistering set from guitar-shaman and sublime songsmith, James Hollingsworth. He was ‘resurrected’ for a stunning encore of Led Zep’s classic ‘In My Time of Dying’ – a suitable way to end our evening themed on ‘Death & Rebirth’.  And so, the 1st November, Celtic New Year, saw the birth of a sparkling addition to Bath’s literary firmament – a professional spoken word showcase on the first Sunday of the month. Writer Crysse Morrison, in her blog said: ‘

‘Great to see such an atmospheric venue join the local network of alternative entertainment.’

The Garden will return with its ‘high quality diversity of spoken word and music’ on the 6th December with an amazing line-up. Check out www.awenpublications.co.uk for details.

Meanwhile, I’m going to get me some quality zeds…

Bardic Birthday Bash

40th Birthday Bardic Showcase

22nd August

the green man at 40 - birthday bash, Bath

the green man at 40 - birthday bash, Bath

Oh, my head…!

I turned forty last Wednesday (had a lovely dinner party in my garden with close friends) and decided to push the boat out with a big bash at Chapel Arts Centre on Saturday. Having had a few quiet birthdays, I mulled over how I would like to spend my fortieth and decided that I could think of no more agreeable a way of celebrating than having a bardic showcase featuring my friends, and so, with this in mind I set to work.

I planned it months in advance, but as ever, everything seemed to need doing at the last minute. After a fraught week it all fell into place.

My good friend from Iceland, Svanur Gisli Thorkelsson secured the venue, prepared the buffet and MCed the evening – what a giant! He had returned from his homeland the day before (I half expected a beard rimed with hoar-frost, fresh back from the ‘land of ice and snow’ but he was, as ever, freshly shaven ;0) We caught up over a quick drink at the Brazz and then…we set to work.

While we ‘hunted and gathered’ for the buffet in the sterile wilderness that is Sainsburys, Jonathan the venue manager for the night set up the sound and lights.

Everything was prepared, ready – and looking great (cabaret style seating, atmospheric lighting, a showreel of embarassing photos, good tunes…) by the time the first guests arrived.

And the party began!

Svanur introduced the evening and got everybody to sing happy birthday to me in Icelandic!

Happy Birthday in Icelandic - courtesy of Svanur

Happy Birthday in Icelandic - courtesy of Svanur

Then I came on and did a couple of ‘old classics’ of mine: Maid Flower Bride (for all the women who’ve blessed my life – and had to put up with me!) and One with the Land (my green man poem – for all the guys). I got everyone to join in on the second one – and it seemed to work. Relieved of my bardic duties, I then got down to the serious business of making merry.

I sat back and was entertained by my dear, talented friends…

Jay Ramsay, poet and psychotherapist from Stroud, did some wise and heartfelt poems, delivered with complete authenticity and passion.

Brendan the pop poet, and 6th Bard of Bath did a couple of his classics on request.

Brendan the pop poet rhymes again

Brendan the pop poet rhymes again

Saravian, sexy jazz siren performed some lovely cool numbers.

Anthony Nanson, fellow storyteller of Fire Springs, performed an amazing feat of memory with his wonder voyage of Bran mac Ferbal. A lost island myth close to my heart!

Then … no Bard of Glastonbury, (lost in the mists of Avalon…?) and so we went straight to the break, as we were running a ‘bit behind’.

This was fine – allowed people to chat, for me to mingle with my guests and be inundated with more presents, rapidly filling up the front of the stage. Oh, and drink more champagne (mixed with mead in a dangerous concoction called ‘Druid’s delight’ – although after the hangover it gives me I think it should be renamed ‘Bardic blight’)!

Things were going swimmingly –  the second CD had kicked in, ‘Dancin’ Pants’ and the atmosphere was buzzing, the hall looking pretty full  – there had only been a couple of technical hitches. We couldn’t get the Chapel’s system to play my first prepared CD, ironically it was called ‘Let the Ceremony Begin’! And the projector proved temperamental – at one point the photo showreel disappeared completely and Jonathan struggled to get it back. He finally gave up, but suddenly, during the second half we had my desktop projected onto the stage. I struggled to relaunch the showreel – my cursor wavering behind the heads of the performers. Hilariously, I wasn’t able to see the image clearly as I didn’t have my glasses – so I just had to hit and hope and fortunately, it kick-started the photos again.

There was a fantastic crowd, but also absent friends – and I missed my dear old Dad (rest his soul), brother and sister not being there – but many of them were represented in the photos, which was an inadvertent portrait of my relationships/friendships over the years as much as anything.

Marko - a man you don't meet everyday

Marko - a man you don't meet everyday

After the break we had Marko Gallaidhe, a man you don’t meet everyday. He was somewhat caught on the hop and in the gap – while he made his way to the stage – everyone sang me happy birthday, which was very touching. I felt truly blessed.

After Marko did a couple of fine tunes (‘Danny Boy’ and ‘Between the Tweed’) Richard Selby came up and did a great story.

Another Fire Springer followed, Kirsty Hartsiotis, with a tale and a beautiful poem by her mum, inspired by me called ‘Bard Song’ (below), which blew me away.

Then, it was the turn of Wayland, who was delighted to see had made it down from his Smithy in Oxfordshire to perform a fine story. A former bardic student of mine – he has come into his own as a good performer.

The first of a pair of friends from Northampton came next, Jimtom Say – a true shaman bard who shared some of his incredible poetry and a song.

Peter Please was next on, but was nowhere to be seen – but then he turned up right on cue, just arrived from his singing group … and, a true pro, was able to go right on stage and deliver his great stories.

Finally, it was the turn of my oldest friend, Justin, who delivered a blazing set of poetry and music, culminating in a poem especially written for me, for my big day – based (bizarrely, but brilliantly) upon the Billy  Joel tune ‘He Didn’t Start the Fire’: ‘2009: A Kevan Odyssey’! Hilarious and impressive:

‘He didn’t start the fire, but he his Bardic learning helped me keep it burning.
He didn’t start the fire, but he helped me light it … though I tried to fight it.’

(J. Porter, after B. Joel)

Justin gets his groove on - Birthday Bash, Bath

Justin gets his groove on - Birthday Bash, Bath

I thanked everyone and then … it was time to dance! I was looking forward to this and it was great to ‘cut some rug’, even if we risked looking like the adults that were embarrassing to watch dancing when you were a kid! But that’s was all part of an old git rites-of-passage I guess!

It was great to get down with my friends.

you can dance if you want to...

you can dance if you want to...

Alas, all good things …. after a few stomping tunes, we’d passed the curfew and the music was turned down – but I had allowed for this, arranging to go around the corner to the Lounge. About twenty of us left for this ‘promised land’ – Sara insisted I led my merry band, mead horn in hand. We piled downstairs, where we took over the room. Unfortunately the music was rather jarring – hard techno – so I went back to get my CDs only to discover their machine ‘couldn’t play them’. Instead, Marko did a rousing ballad after I had revived him with a glass of wine. And then Justin led the Southern Baptist song ‘Down to the River’, which we all joined in with in a drunken religious fervour! It felt like the foundation of some kind of guerilla folk republic – but it was short-lived, as the music came back on. Fortunately, this time it was decent Latin Jazz, and suddenly we were up dancing. It was a great way to end the evening. After that, things went downhill – J got a round of tequilas in, then knock them over before we could knock them back. Maybe should have seen that as a sign…It was definitely the straw that broke the camel’s back. I had to be helped home – the guys managed to get a taxi to take me after some difficulty. I somehow got home and into bed – it’s all a blur…

The next day, I suffered…In the immortal words of Withnail ‘I feel like a pig shat in my head’. A weak, pathetic bed-ridden thing unable to hold anything down or even hold a conversation for long, I wallowed in my self-inflicted misery. Fortunately, the guys got it together (three of them had crashed in my living room). My old friends Justin and Jimtom went back to clear the place and collect my stuff – stars! – amazingly I hadn’t lost anything in my drunken stumblings. They dropped Wayland off at the station – and hit the roads themselves … onto another party!

I went to bed.

Yet, despite my sufferings – it had all been worth it. Without a doubt, one of the best night’s of my life. I glow with happiness at the memory of it all. Never had I felt so truly blessed. It felt like the first forty years of my life had … meant something.

That evening, slowly recovering, I savoured opening the many presents I had been showered with. I have a pile of beautiful things, for which I am deeply touched, but, of course, true friendships forged (old and new) are the greatest gift of all.

To all those who made the effort to come, and made it such a success – thank you!

PS there were many talented friends there at the Chapel – not all of them could perform, but I would like to share some of the beautiful words they gave me (stars all):

To Bardic Kevan

Shaman of his clan,

word spinner,

story weaver

from the warp and weft

of Celtic love.

Miner of the Loadstone

of Arcana,

May you wear

your star studded

cloak of wisdom

with youthful ease,

even as this birthday

heralds a milestone

in your timeline.

Brian Goodsell

Stuff and Nonsense

‘They’ say that life begins at forty

but ‘they ‘are really rather naughty

for life, we know, starts on day one

and only ends when all the fun

and games are well and truly done

No-one can say when that will be

It is the greatest mystery

of many that elude our knowing

so all our days can be spent growing

and intimations of mortality

serve just to make us feel more free

forty’s not old if you’re a tree!

‘live in the moment’, ’embrace the now’

though nobody can tell you how

it’s no rehearsal one time show

you write the script, as you well know

So I hope today we’ll celebrate

and dance and sing until it’s late

and night brings sleep and golden dreams

and all that is and isn’t seems

to melt into a tale of things

yet to be told by Kevan Manwaring…

…within these pages perhaps

Happy Birthday!

Yvonne (accompanying a lovely journal)

Bard Song

He sings the song of the earth.

Finds among the rocks a small seed,

nurtures and tends

and from it grows

The tale.

Rooted and strong limbs stretching,

Reaching, unfurling.

The words seek out the shy creatures,

Give colour to the flowers

And music to the hum of life.

He sings the song of the sea.

Words like waves

Rolling, flowing,

Tell the tale.

From deep and secret caverns

The bubbles rise and burst,

Rush to the shore

and sparkle, glowing.

He sings the song of the air.

Flying free, words like wings

Tell the tale.

Up over the green earth

Over the blue, grey sea.

As one.

He sings the song of the world.

Brings life into the earth song,

Finds depth in the sea,

Spills light into the air song.

And gives, of himself,

The tale.

To Kevan, Happy Birthday from Cherry Wilkinson