Tag Archives: Eisteddfod

Bard of Hawkwood 2017

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Centre – Madeleine Harwood, Bard of Hawkwood 2017

3 years ago I set up the Bard of Hawkwood contest to promote community creativity. This, along with Stroud Out Loud! – the monthly spoken word showcase I founded – offers a way for budding bards to hone their fledgling talents in an inclusive, supportive way. It is not the only way of doing things but it works here in Stroud and the Five Valleys, where there is a wealth of local talent and traditions of artistic heritage, alternative lifestyles, radical thinking, and grassroots activity. The Bardic Chair tradition and revival is something I have explored in my book, The Bardic Chair: inspiration, invention, innovation (1st published by RJ Stewart Books in 200, a new edition of the book is forthcoming).

RJ Stewart Books, 2008

The revival of English Bardic Chairs is largely down to one man, Tim Sebastian. The Arch-Druid of Wiltshire and the Secular Order of Druids. I had the pleasure to know Tim during my time in the city of Bath. I won the Bardic Chair he set up in 1996 (becoming Bard of Bath in 1998). He died in 2007 and the book is dedicated to him. This book, and the others I have written about the Bardic Tradition (Speak Like Rain: letters to a young bard, Awen, 2004; The Bardic Handbook, Gothic Image 2006; The Way of Awen, O Books 2010), as well as my training and experience in Arts in Community Development, inform my endeavours – providing platforms for creativity that celebrate local distinctiveness, diversity, and transcultural empathy. Now more than ever we need to hear one another’s stories and sing the songs of soil and soul.

 

Here’s the Press Release announcing the new Bard of Hawkwood – feel free to reblog, tweet or share….

The New Bard of Hawkwood Announced

After a gripping contest at the Hawkwood College May Day festival Monday 1st May, the new Bard of Hawkwood has been announced: Madeleine Harwood, who won with her original song, ‘Right Way Up’.

Madeleine said afterwards: ‘I shared the room with some extremely talented individuals and so I am very humbled to have been chosen as this year’s Bard. I look forward to working hard over the coming months to really promote everything the the Bardic Chair stands for.’

The Bard of Hawkwood contest – an annual competition for the best poet, singer or storyteller in the Five Valleys area – was founded in 2014 by Stroud-based writer Kevan Manwaring (a previous winner of the Bard of Bath contest). The theme, chosen by the outgoing bard, Anthony Hentschel, was: Contentment (or Resistance). Each entrant also had to read out a ‘bardic statement’ describing their plans if they were to win. The role lasts for a year and a day.

Madeleine will get to sit in the Bardic Chair of Hawkwood – an original Eisteddfod chair, dating from 1882, kindly loaned by Frampton-based solicitor Richard Maisey, in whose family it has been for generations. It is on permanent display at Hawkwood College. The new bard will get to set the theme for next year’s contest, announced in the winter. Future contestants then have until 23 April to enter an original story, song or poem, and must be able to perform at next year’s Hawkwood May Day Festival.

Kevan says: ‘The Bard of Hawkwood becomes the ambassador for the Bardic Chair, Hawkwood College, and their area. Having been a winner myself I know how empowering it can be – not only for the individual recipient, but also for their respective community. It is about celebrating local distinctiveness, fostering civic pride, and loving where you live.’

***

If you would like to be involved in the Bard of Hawkwood contest, Stroud Out Loud! or creative community in the Stroud area, get in touch.

If Your Memory Serves You Well…

Poetry By Heart

MC Kevan Manwaring and Joy-Amy Wigman, poet and workshop leader at Poetry by Heart Gloucestershire Finals, 29 Jan 2015

MC Kevan Manwaring and Joy-Amy Wigman, poet and workshop leader at Poetry by Heart Gloucestershire Finals, 29 Jan 2015

Last night I had the pleasure and privilege of MCing the Gloucestershire finals of the Poetry by Heart competition. This is a national initiative set up by former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion. It is a poetry recital competition for 14-18 year olds. The contestants must choose 2 poems from the fat anthology containing a timeline of verse from Beowulf to 21st Century poetry: a pre-1914 and post-1914. And this year they were asked to select a third poem, from a First World War anthology. With these three poems committed to memory they must first compete within their schools, in front of class mates; and then the school winners must compete with their county. The winners of these heats get to go to Cambridge in March to perform in the regional and national finals.

The learning of poetry by heart is a great way to build confidence and self-esteem, improve public speaking skills, and foster a deeper understanding of language – transferable skills that can help in many ways; and the poems can become wise friends for the reciter – guiding through life. And you’re never short of a party-piece!

The essence of the contest is very bardic and similar to the Eisteddfod system of which I am very familiar – having entered, won and judged several Bardic Chair contests (the latest being the Bard of Hawkwood which I set up last year). Any initiative that encourages the Bardic Tradition is good by me and this is a particularly well thought out one.

To warm the audience up I offered my comic poem, ‘Phone Tree’, and later on, a couple of my favourite poems, ‘A Musical Instrument’ by Elizabeth Barrett-Browning, and ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’ by WB Yeats.

I was relieved not to be judging last night – always a tricky thing to undertake, especially when the quality is so high. And it certainly was in the Gloucester Guildhall. The five contestants (all girls, sadly, as the only boy dropped out at the last minute – but well done to the girls for being so brave!) were all of a very high standard. I was deeply impressed by all of them – bringing alive some of my favourite poetry (Kubla Khan; Dover Beach; Lights Out; Journey of the Magi).

There were three judges – all experienced in poetry and drama. We had a guest poem from artist-scientist, the Purple Poet; and a set from Joy-Amy Wigman, the ‘red haired pixie of doom’, who entertained the audience whilst the judges deliberated.

The Guildhall is a great venue – a classy old building which is now an arts centre, with cinema, bar, hall and workshop rooms. It looked like alot was going on.

The judges returned and the winner was announced – Sophia Smout – who will go onto Cambridge. Prizes were handed out – and all those who took part achieved alot by just stepping up the mark. They deserve our respect. As do their parents and teachers for supporting them.

Tim Shortis, from Poetry by Heart, said after that I ‘…did a great job as MC, soothing and encouraging and generally wafting people towards the light.’

I’m a good wafter!

Whatever age you are – it is always worth learning a poem: a friend for life.

http://www.poetrybyheart.org.uk/

Hedd Wyn and the Bardic Chair of Hawkwood

The Bardic Chair of Hawkwood - an original Eisteddfod Chair from 1882

The Bardic Chair of Hawkwood – an original Eisteddfod Chair from 1882

Hedd Wyn & The Bardic Chair at Hawkwood 9 November 2014

 A review by Katie Lloyd-Nunn

Kevan Manwaring, Cotswold Word Centre volunteer co-ordinator and former Bard of Bath (1998-1999), introduced the evening. His intention in organizing the event was to honour Remembrance Sunday and to generate interest in the new competition for the Bard of Hawkwood. This was launched at Hawkwood Open Day on Monday 5 May 2014 and this evening is almost exactly half way through the year which will culminate in the competition and adjudication on Monday 4 May 2015 at Hawkwood Open Day. The theme of the competition is FLOOD and competitors must be “within a day’s walk of the Chair” i.e. and inhabitant of GL5 or GL6 postcode, as winning the Chair includes responsibilities related to the Chair and its location in GL6 at Hawkwood. Each applicant is to perform an original poem, song or story of less than 10 minutes duration.

Richard Maisey, Holder of the Bardic Chair, talked about the Chair, saying how it has been in his family in South Wales near Neath for a long time. The plaque reads Eisteddfod Denbighshire 1882, but no name is assigned (as no Chair was awarded that year). It’s tremendous that now this unclaimed Chair will have the opportunity to be won by a local talented wordsmith.

Kevan explained how the current revival of Bardic Chairs came about. The eccentric antiquarian Edward Williams (Iolo Morgannwg) ‘found’ a list of 30 English Chairs, several of which have now been revived including Bath, Exeter and Glastonbury thanks chiefly to the vision and initiative of the late Tim Sebastian, who started the Bath Eisteddfod in 1996. New Chairs are being created, eg Northampton. What is a Bard? The Bard kept remembrances and genealogy of the tribe and shared stories of wooing, wedding and funerals. They were not Druids, though.

[Katie adds: In 1998 I met Donald McDonald, the Bard of South Uist. He wrote poems about all sorts of events, between thatching his own roof aged late 70s, including Camilla’s marriage to Prince Charles. It was huge privilege to meet him!]

A Laureate is appointed by the Queen and has officialdom attached to him/her. In contrast Bard is elected by their community, and needs to able to perform and connect to an audience, not to be just a “page poet”, e.g. performance poet, singer, storyteller.

The Cotswold Word Centre honours all the word activities in the local area.

The Chair, as its living symbol, will foster community arts engagement. It will support local creativity as each Bard represents a particular locality.

We then watched Hedd Wyn film, a 1992 Welsh-language film. Its title is taken from the bardic name of Ellis Humphrey Evans, who won the Bardic Chair of Birkenhead of 1917 posthumously, having being killed at the Battle of Passchendaele. ‘Hedd Wyn’ means ‘Blessed Peace’.

(see separate notes)

 13. Hedd Wyn

After the film, John Xavian, Bard of May Hill spoke:

“I am a Celt and this film upheld all the Bardic Traditions and we need to look ahead and get working on it [the 2015 competition for the Bard of Hawkwood] now! We want to see young people writing. We need to get into the schools. Spread the word from this gathering! We needpeople to respond. This is a live heritage. Everyone is capable of creation. Like painting, we can write with the Pen – we have the English Language full of shades and colours, tones, depth. Artistic creation is within everyone. Recognise what’s in your heart. People need galvanizing. By freeing the Spirit in each of us, the stupidity of war can be challenged. When the Spirit is bound, the Human is led by aggressive acquisition and short-term gain. Let us remember that music and art meet in poetry.

We want to see a Bard at Hawkwood and we want to see people who want to be the Bard at Hawkwood. The Chair is the symbol for the Spirit unbound in creativity.

Kevan added the tragedy in this film was the silencing of all the voices. The Ellis chair is known as the Black Chair and the 1917 Birkenhead festival is now referred to as “Eisteddfod y Gadair Ddu” (“The Eisteddfod of the Black Chair”). A powerful symbol of all those silenced voices. Winston Churchill was asked about cutting arts budget and he said: ‘Then what are we fighting for?’

Josie Felce: It was an honour to work for 20 years in the peninsulas of Wales; to help to stimulate people who are not used to expressing themselves is inspiring. The Bard has the job of inspiring others for one year. There should be performance skills offered.

Kevan: Anyone can perform at the contest at Open Day on Monday 4 May 2015, they don’t have to compete. They will still be part of the ‘Gorsedd’ (the Circle for all those who wish to be involved in supporting the Chair).

Ways to hone performance skills:

Last Friday of the month – Black Books Café Story Supper (next 28 Nov).

Green Words – 10 week Tuesday evening writing course at Hawkwood, starting in January.

Late January – Inklings of Spring Bardic Showcase, an ideal way to savour the “Awen” spirit of inspiration.

Bardic Boot Camp – 28 March, 2015.

Further reflections on the film by Richard Maisey: In the Valleys if you went into the non-conformist chapel, it was to sing. Fewer chapels and no singing now, so singing at Rugby matches is no good – has no “Hywll” no heart / soul / heat/ passion. I wonder if the wood of this chair might have some resonance? Has it soaked up some of those voices?

****The Bardic Chair of Hawkwood is going to Malvern Writers Circle to be blessed by Gillian Clarke, national poet of Wales.****

£44.50 was raised for the Peace Pledge Union from donations.

HEDD WYN – THE FILM

It was the Best Foreign Language Film in 1992 (in Welsh with English subltitles). Also won several BAFTA Wales awards.

Kevan chose to show this film on 9 November on Remembrance Sunday

  1. Set at the beginning of WWI. Ellis Humphrey Evans entered the Eisteddfod under the nom de plume Fleur de Lys. We are showing this film to honour those who have been impacted by war in whatever way.
  1. Also, it’s about a Bard. It’s one of the things that made me [Kevan] want to be a Bard. It’s not just about the Celts ~ it’s about what we do now to celebrate being alive.

Katie’s review:

It is a relatively simple story of a young man wedded to his Muse who sadly dies in action in the early months of WWI. Driven by his need to write and leading a relatively undemanding farming life, Ellis Humphrey Evans is shown writing in the landscape and getting help from a more educated friend in polishing his work for submission to local Eisteddfod competitions. His poems evoke the beauty of his native land and are infused with unspecified feeling, perhaps hinting at and matched by the sensuality of the Welsh landscape and his own susceptibility to the charms of womankind.

The pace of the film is unhurried and could possibly do with cutting by 20 minutes or so – I didn’t feel the relationship with older woman Lizzie really added to the plot. The disturbing reality of the War gradually oozes into the life of Ellis and his family in parallel with his growing ambition to win the national Eisteddfod. As Kevan says, “The film illustrates the complexity, the forces bearing down on the individuals and the community portrayed.” The anguish and confusion of the mother is well portrayed and echoed by the new young school teacher who urges Ellis to write about this, saying,” Ellis we are all affected by this war.”

The camera plays upon actor Huw Garmon’s handsome sensitive features, his beauty enhanced by the fact that most of the other Welsh-speaking actors seemed to have unusually wobbly Celtic faces.

After months of inertia and avoidance, despite a visit by a War Office official, he is finally brought before a tribunal and deemed fit for war. His tendency towards being a bit of a slacker (according to younger brother Bob) and womanizer is now redeemed by his set-jawed decision to go to war instead of 18 year-old Bob in an act of maturity and honour.

He is then flung into the violent, de-humanising war machine yet still manages to make friends with his fellow Welsh tommies, write letters home and to submit his poem Armageddon to the Bardic competition.

His fatal injury occurs fairly early in the film and the clever use of flashbacks brings a subtle poignancy to the narrative. The staging and direction is beautifully done and though grueling is never gross. The mystical Celtic soul shines through in the lush green landscape and full flowing rivers paralleled by the occasional appearance of a shadowy figure representing love, conscience, Nature or perhaps Arianrhod the once-virginal moon goddess whose boat carried the dead into the afterlife.

Is there Peace?

The Arch-Druids calls out “A oes Heddwch” - Is there Peace?

The Arch-Druids calls out “A oes Heddwch” – Is there Peace?

As we commemorate the centenary of the First World War there is a hyper-abundance of media-attention and a plethora of TV dramas, documentaries, plays, albums, shows, and so forth, flogging a dead war horse… One could be forgiven for a certain fatigue – and we’ve got four more years of it to go! Yet there are some stories that break open the heart.

An especially resonant one for me is that of Hedd Wyn.

hedd-wynn

‘Hedd Wyn’ was the bardic name of Ellis Humphreys Evans, a Welsh farmer-poet, who won the 1917 Bardic Chair of Birkenhead posthumously (a prize given in an Eisteddfod, the original ‘Game of Thrones’ if you will). Having had some success in previous eisteddfodau (but not the National Welsh one – the most prestigious) Ellis enlisted, having resisted the Call Up for three years. He was not opposed to War, he said, but didn’t relish the thought of killing a man. Because his parents had four sons of age, it was decided by the War Office that one of them must be sent to the Front. Although Ellis, the eldest, did not want to go, he couldn’t bear his younger brother going in his stead. Ellis felt it his duty, as big brother, to step up. Tragically, he was slain in action, but not before he had submitted a long poem to the National Eisteddfod. Fortunately the censors let it pass (though it was initially suspected of being written in code and revealing sensitive information – in fact it was a cri-de-coeur against the inhumanity of all war). The adjudicators decided that it was the best poem, and awarded the Chair – a beautiful carved ‘throne’, to the poet known only under his pseudonym, ‘Hedd Wyn’. He was killed in action before he was able to claim his Chair, but it was awarded post-humously in his honour and became known as the Black Chair.

In 1992 a moving film was released of his story – Hedd Wyn — and it went on to be Oscar-nominated for the Best Foreign-language Drama (it is in Welsh, with English subtitles), as well as winning a BAFTA for Best Picture, and a string of other awards.

Hedd Wyn film poster

Last night, a special Remembrance Sunday screening was held at Hawkwood College, Gloucestershire. The Bardic Chair of Hawkwood was present – an original Eisteddfod Chair from the 1882 contest in Denbighshire. This has been in the family of Richard Maisey for decades, and he has kindly lent it to Hawkwood for the contest, which is to be held at the Open Day, May Day Bank Holiday Monday 2015. The theme is ‘Flood’ and any original poem, song or story by a GL5 or GL6 resident is eligible. Richard said a few words about the Chair, and I introduced the film. Afterwards we had a discussion about some of the issues raised by the heart-rending drama. Considering the countless voices that were silenced by the vast tragedy of the Great War – all those who didn’t make it back from the Trenches, or were injured beyond repair mentally or physically – it was felt that our opportunity to express ourselves creatively is a ‘sacred gift’ that shouldn’t be squandered. Many good men and women have died so we can have that freedom. Peace always comes at a price – and this time of Remembrance is a poignant moment to reflect upon that. To pray for peace. Watching Hedd Wyn I once again felt how could we possibly have let this happen again? Such an exercise in futility as the ‘War to End All Wars’ was, the obscenity of war should not be allowed by civilized people to ever happen again – and yet it has, again and again. By telling these true stories I hope we can make people say No! to all acts of aggression, to the Arms Trade, and the whole industry of aggrandizing War and those who fight in it. Violence is never the solution. There is always another way.

And if we forsake our creativity in the face of conflict then we have forsaken our humanity.

y-gadair-ddu

Observe the 2 minutes’ silence at the anniversary of the Armistice, 11th November, 11am GMT, and remember all victims of war. Make a donation to the Peace Pledge Union to support the ongoing campaign for peace.

Bard of Hawkwood

The Gorsedd - with me on the far right

The Declaration of the Bardic Chair of Hawkwood at the Open Day, May 2014 

 

 

The search has started for the Bard of Hawkwood 2015. The annual competition was launched at the Hawkwood College Open Day, 5th May, with a traditional ceremony called the ‘Declaration of the Chair’. Bards of Bath, Malvern and Stroud gathered to recite their poetry before the Open Day crowds on the sunny lawns of Hawkwood. The competition is an initiative of the Cotswold Word Centre, launched at Hawkwood on World Book Day, 6th March, earlier this Spring. Co-ordinator Kevan Manwaring set the theme for the contest: ‘Flood’ and explained the rules of entry: an original song, story or poem of 10 mins or less, on the given theme; plus a 300 word statement of intent describing what you would do as your time as the Chaired Bard. The winner will be Bard of Hawkwood for a year and a day and set the theme for the next year’s contest. They will get to sit in the Bardic Chair of Hawkwood – an original Eisteddfod chair, dating from 1882, kindly loaned by Richard Maisey, in whose family it has been for generations. The deadline for entries is the 18th April 2015. 5 copies of the entry, plus the statement, and a SAE to be sent to: K. Manwaring, The Annexe, Richmond House, Park Rd, Stroud, GL5 2JG. Entrants must be able to perform their entry at the Hawkwood College Open Day, May Day 2015, and be a resident of GL5 or GL6.

Kevan says: ‘The Bard of Hawkwood would become the ambassador for the good work of Hawkwood College, the Cotswold Word Centre, and their area. Having been a winner myself I know how empowering it can be – not only for the individual recipient, but also for their respective community. It is about celebrating local distinctiveness, fostering civic pride, and loving where you live.’

Writer and storyteller Kevan Manwaring moved to Stroud in late 2010. He had been a previous resident of Bath, where he won the Bard of Bath contest in 1998. He became involved in the annual contest there, helping to judge future competitions and set up ones in other communities. He is the author of The Bardic Handbook and The Book of the Bardic Chair. He teaches creative writing for the Open University and locally at the Subscription Rooms. He is running literary walks and a workshop on ‘Landscape, Memory and Imagination’ for Creative Arts Week at Hawkwood College. He is the host of the monthly Story Supper at Black Book Cafe – last Friday of the month – an ideal place to hone those bardic skills!

A series of events are planned for the Autumn/Winter in the lead up to the contest – to raise awareness about the contest and the Bardic Tradition. 

Sunday, 9 November
Hedd Wyn & the Bardic Chair of Hawkwood
Remembrance Sunday screening of Oscar-nominated film about a First World War poet who wins the Welsh Eisteddfod, plus a discussion about the Bardic Chair of Hawkwood (an original eisteddfod chair from 1882). 
Hawkwood College, Painswick Old Road, Stroud GL6 7QW
email:info@hawkwoodcollege.co.uk tel:01453 759034
 
Friday 19- Sunday 21 December
Rekindling the Light
‘firelight, starlight, storylight’
A weekend workshop exploring the myths of winter through creative writing, poetry, storytelling and song, with a special solstice sharing and a chance to walk the solstice spiral. With Kevan Manwaring, author of The Bardic Handbook and others. Fee: non/residential options – contact office.
Hawkwood College, Painswick Old Road, Stroud GL6 7QW
email:info@hawkwoodcollege.co.uk tel:01453 759034
 
Saturday 31st Jan
Inklings of Spring Bardic Showcase
(Kevan Manwaring with special guest bards tba). 
Come and find out about the Bard of Hawkwood contest, hear fine examples of modern bardism and celebrate Imbolc, the festival sacred to Brighid, Celtic Goddess of poetry, smithcraft and healing. Bring an Imbolc wish and sow your seed for the coming year. Bring a candle to have it blessed at this traditional time (Candlemas).
 
 

 

 

Warming of the Chair

Richard Maisey talks about the Eisteddfod Chair (1882), at Hawkwood Open Day

Richard Maisey talks about the Eisteddfod Chair (1882), at Hawkwood Open Day                                  Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2014

On Bank Holiday Monday (5th May) I organised the ‘Warming of the Chair’ – the Declaration of the Bardic Chair of Hawkwood, as part of their lovely annual Open Day – when the Gloucestershire College (dramatically-situated on the Cotswold Edge) opens its doors to the public and gives folk a taste of what is on offer throughout the year, with free taster workshops, stalls, walks, demos, delicious food and entertainment.

Hawkwood was originally called The Grove, and there is the possibility that once an avenue of yew trees led to the ancient spring which still bubbles there, these days at the foot of the massive sycamore tree. It has been a centre for holistic, creative endeavours and kindred-spirit gatherings for decades (and perhaps even longer, going by its old name) so it seems the perfect place for the location of a Bardic Chair, which is traditionally sited on a Gorsedd mound.

The Bardic Chair of Hawkwood - an original Eisteddfod Chair from 1882

The Bardic Chair of Hawkwood – an original Eisteddfod Chair from 1882 Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2014

The idea for the Bard of Hawkwood came to me through a conversation with Richard Maisey – who interviewed me for the Five Valleys Directory just after I moved to Stroud. He mentioned he had in his possession an original ‘Bardic Chair’ – from a Welsh Eisteddfod. It turns out this precious family heirloom was passed down through the Welsh side of his family and was made for the 1882 Denbighshire Eisteddfod (as the plaque on it states). Having founded the Cotswold Word Centre  (CWC) at Hawkwood College last Autumn, I thought the title of Bard of Hawkwood would create a great platform for promoting the good work of the College, the CWC, and the local community. And the Open  Day seemed like the ideal day to do it. With the blessing of the Principal Alicia Carey and Education co-ordinator, Katie Lloyd-Nunn, I set to work.

The newly formed Gorsedd of Hawkwood, 5th May 2014

The newly formed Gorsedd of Hawkwood, 5th May 2014 Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2014

I invited fellow Bards to help in the ‘Warming of the Chair’ – a year and a day in advance of the actual contest – each contributing their ‘bardic bottom’ to the proceedings! In the end there were eleven of us – the first eleven as it were – who came out to ‘bat’ for ‘Bardic College’ on a fine sunny day at the start of summer, wearing our finest clobber. I dusted off my Irish Piper’s cloak for the occasion.

The Gorsedd - with me on the far right

The Gorsedd – with me on the far right Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2014

It was a bit touch and go as the key people didn’t turn up until 1pm – when we were due to start – but it all came together at the last minute. We processed onto the lawn before the May Pole, forming a half-circle around the Chair. Then  John Xzavian, Bard of May Hill, blew his horn to announce the start of the ceremony. I introduced the proceedings – announcing the search for the Bard of Hawkwood (the contest will be held in a year’s time at the 2015 Open Day – as is the tradition, the Chair must be announced a year ahead). There will be an adult competition and one for children (5-10;11-15 yrs). The theme for the adults is ‘Flood’; and for the children ‘Summer’. It has to be an original song, story or poem 10 minutes or less. The adult entrants must provide a 300 word statement of intent, about what their plans would be if they won the contest. They would hold the title for a year and a day and be expected to fulfil that role with their bardic skills, e.g. writing and performing poems for special occasions. To qualify the entrants must be residents of the area (with a GL5 or GL6 postcode). I then invited up Richard Maisey to talk about the Chair and he read out a little of ‘What is Poetry…?’ Then I asked Sulyen Caradon, Druid of Bath, to lead us in Raising the Awen and reciting the Druid’s Prayer. Together we formed the Gorsedd of Hawkwood – whose job is to look after the Chair and organise the competition. Next up, was John Xzavian again to recite his satirical verse about poetry. He was followed by Mark Westmore, the new Bard of Bath, who belted out his Beltane poem. Then we had a trio of Stroud poets – Gabriel Bradford Millar, Peter Adams, and Robin Collins (who will hopefully enter next year as they’re all strong candidates). Richard and Misha Carder from the Bath Gorssed then offered their eco-poems. I followed with my ‘Song of Taliesin’ poem – honouring the Penbeirdd – and the Eisteddfod part of the ceremony was finished off by Jehanne and Rob Mehta’s beautiful ‘Corn King’ song. We finished the ceremony with the Blessing of the Chair, scattering it with water from the Hawkwood spring. I joked that anyone who won the Chair would become the Soggy Bottom Bard! Once more I encouraged folk to enter. Then John blew his horn and we processed out. Job done. The crowds on the lawn seemed entertained – many no doubt being exposed to a modern Bardic ceremony for the first time. Hopefully, some will be inspired to enter the contest. Stroud has plenty of opportunities to hone bardic skills, with the numerous open mics and workshops – Hawkwood College of course running a comprehensive programme in tandem with the Cotswold Word Centre. Budding bards have a whole year to sharpen their quills and practice their projection.

May Pole dancing at Hawkwood College Open Day

May Pole dancing at Hawkwood College Open Day Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2014

Afterwards, catching my breath, I was able to grab a ‘bardic burger and beer’ and enjoy the sunshine on the lawn, chatting to friends and watching the May Pole dancing.  It felt like we had successfully ‘warmed the Chair’ and announced publicly, in the ‘eye of light’, the competition. Until we get a winner I am acting Bard of Hawkwood and the Founder of the Chair. If no one comes forward I automatically become the reining Bard – but I hope we get plenty of entries. May the Awen flow and the best Bard win!

Bardic Yuletide

Yuletide Gathering at the Cauldron, Dec '09

Yuletide Gathering

19th December

Although I am not a Christian (but not un- or anti-) and Christmas means little to me in terms of its specific religious symbolism I can appreciate the wider mythic meta-tropes at work in narratives about the return of the light in the depths of winter – be it in the form of an avatar, sun king, solar deity, or simply the sun itself – and I enjoy Yuletide with all its festive trimmings. I love the holly and the ivy, the mistletoe, the tree, the candles, the wassailing, the rosy-cheeks of the carol singers, the shining eyes of the children and most of all – the gathering around the hearth and connecting with loved ones. Beyond all the consumerism and emotional blackmail (the Scrooge story hauled out every year to make curmudgeonly humbugs buckle) this is ultimately what the season is all about, as encoded in the message that is often forgotten in the stressful run-up to the big day: Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all Mankind. A message often drowned out in the endless partying, the booze-ups and bust-ups, the relentless television and shopping frenzy. Yet I decided to try and ‘do my bit’ and acquit myself socially by opening my doors to friends last night for my Yuletide Gathering.

I spent the day preparing the house – cleaning, decorating (with holly and ivy I had gathered outside), making food, sorting out music and so forth. It was quite relaxing – especially the cooking: nothing elaborate, just a vegetable winter stew, mulled wine and mince pies. Once the fairy lights were up and I had hung the mistletoe and lit the candles and some frankincense and myrrh, I felt I had created a lovely Christmassy ambience. All I needed now were some guests … I guess I shouldn’t have expected anyone to turn up on time, but when it was 7.30pm and still no one had arrived I was starting to feel a little anxious … the nasty goblin in my head telling me ‘you don’t have any friends, nobody likes you!’ – then I heard footsteps and they all started to arrive. Suddenly the party was happening!

I served up goblets of mulled wine as folk arrived – wrapped up on a chilly night (it did try to snow earlier; and the country is beset with wintry conditions – flurries of flakes on the tracks!) and offered them some stew. Folk brought offerings and soon the kitchen surfaces were overflowing. After the majority of the guests had arrived and made themselves comfortable I asked for some peace to start a session of sharing – beginning with a poem about stillness, to tie in with the time of year. I talked briefly about how the solstice means stillness: the atmosphere changed, became ‘sacred’ – just through the simple act of going round in a circle and sharing. People offered poems, songs, anecdotes. There was a poem in Icelandic by my friend Svanur and a song in Korean by Jin (a government-censored protest song about ‘dew’). I ended the first session by getting everyone to read out a verse of Carol Anne Duffy’s poem, The Twelve Days of Christmas, from the Radio Times – very topical and amusing in places. It allowed those who didn’t have a chance to join in.

Later, I asked people to sit round once more to share the meadhorn – an ‘old tradition’ of mine, which actually has precedents dating back to the Dark Ages. It’s mentioned in Beowulf and in the 13th Century a custom was observed that involved toasting ‘Wassail!’ and replying ‘drink hail!’ before passing on the wassail bowl/meadhorn – with a kiss. Everyone joined in this with gusto – the first time, folk were a little embarrassed and came out with relatively trivial toasts, a little glib or silly. The second time it got a little bit more authentic, and the third time, folk were being far more genuine. It worked its simple magic. A powerful but effective way to create sacred space.

And then the partying started in earnest – whether it was the mead, or the tension release, but suddenly, dramatically the atmosphere changed to something far more merrier than before. Songs were sung and everyone joined in – corny Christmas carols, but good fun. There was some Icelandic blues (!) from Svanur and other ‘campfire classics’ like the Pete Seeger song, ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone?’ It turned out to be truly great night. There was the perfect amount of people there, and a good mix. Everyone seemed to get on and didn’t seem to want to leave…

The best sign of a good night is the atmosphere of the room afterwards. There was a lovely warm glow. Good vibes. Everyone was said goodbye with hugs and kisses. There wasn’t too much to clear up – the worst was tidied away, the washing up left til morning. It was late. Went to bed in good spirits and awoke with fond memories. – and a head not too fuzzy, considering. A good fry-up and a walk in the winter sun and I was feeling on top of the world.

Changing of the Bards

20th December

Jack Dean, the 14th Bard of Bath

On Sunday night I went along to the annual contest for the Bardic Chair, this year held at ‘Back to Mine’, a nightclub – another first! Each bard gets to stamp their identity on it. Master Duncan, 13th Bard of Bath, being our youngest to date (until tonight!) has appealed to a younger demographic with his hiphop style and topical lyrics. Tonight he pulled out all the stops to create an entertaining night blending poetry, music and dance.

The dancefloor ‘well’ was transformed into a grove with Christmas trees from the farm of one of Duncan’s contacts. Birdsong was piped through the PA, creating an effect very similar to my Garden of Awen, started two months before… Ah, well – a sign of flattery I suppose. The first half consisted of a cabaret of various acts: a powerful singer-guitarist; a rapper; a flamenco guitarist; and a rather raunchy dance troupe called Nice-as-Pie.

swansong - Master Duncan, 13th Bard of Bath. Final performance as Bard

After the break, MC Duncan performed a couple of his poems as his final performance as Bard of Bath, before the contestants were called up. A coin was tossed and called. ‘Tails never fails’, said Jack Dean, and sure enough it was, though Duncan thought it was ‘heads’! Perhaps he had a suspicion that it would have been easier on Dave Selby, the other act, because Jack’s blistering tour-de-force was a hard act to follow. Not wanting in ambition, he interpreted the theme, ‘The Last B—-‘, in a Biblical sense, telling us he was going to do a version of the Bible! Although this wasn’t strictly the case, he did cover the history of the universe up until 2012, ending in a kind of armageddon – the finale being an ‘8 Mile’ rap battle between Jesus and Jack! Funny and technically impressive, as he performed over his backing track in perfect time.

The other contestant, Dave Selby, had a tough job following that, but soldiered on like a trooper. Although hampered by a Withnailian weakness, he entertained the crowd with a grim fairy tale delivered in a louche Dave Allen style. Quite distinctive! He made people laugh, and it help make it a contest – and should be applauded for his contribution.

Throughout the performances, Richard Carder, chief druid, held his hands over his ears, sitting next to the other two judges, like one of the three wise monkeys (hear no evil). The effect was unintentionally hilarious.

While the judges deliberated the dancers came on – like a pared down Pan’s People – doing very well in such a small space!

Then finally the judges returned and Master Duncan announced the winner – milking it for dramatic effect, X-Factor style – no surprise to hear it was Jack! He was called up, stumbling over a stool (life is full of unintentionally comic moments, don’t you find?) Duncan handed over the robes and Jack performed a poem, receiving a warm round of applause. He was clearly a popular choice.

Then the Bards of Bath present were called up – which I wasn’t keen to do, being ‘off duty’ and because the ceremony is so naff. We stood in a circle, held hands and Richard half-heartedly took us through the Druid Vow (x2) and an awen (x1). It seemed ludicrous in that setting, but has become ‘tradition’. Lords know what the crowd there thought of it all! The day after we perform a proper inauguration ceremony at the Circus – noon on the solstice: this is the time for ritual, not a night-club. It was a very poor attempt to create sacred space, and I suggested to Richard the next day that we skip this element.

Miranda, who embroidered the Bardic robes and Chair backing, said to me it had lost its spirit – no mention of the solstice, or what it all means. A fair point. Tim, its much-missed founder, had a knack of relating to widely different audiences. Richard, who took over as Chief Druid, should have gone up at the start and introduced things, put it into context, but he was late arriving. I wonder how many people who came along that night realised what it was all about…? In hindsight I could have done some leaflets to place on the tables – a little background about the Bardic Chair, or had my Book of the Bardic Chair on sale… (if I hadn’t been stupidly busy over the last few days). Still, it was a ‘successful’ night – a good atmosphere, some great performances, and a promising new bard. Whether we like it or not, the Bardic Chair has a life of its own now – and looks like it will continue, in one form or another – with new blood revitalising it every year. And since the next generation are our future, garnering their interest is essential for the Bardic Tradition’s vitality and longevity.

If Dr Who can have a young actor fill the role (Matt Smith hailing from my old home town, Northampton) then perhaps we can too! As with the super-annuated Timelord, the subsequent inheritor’s of the title, have become increasingly younger (like Merlin, or Benjamin Button, living in reverse). Our annual ‘changing of the bards’ has become as much a part of the modern Yuletide celebrations (in Bath) as RTD’s rebooted Who has on Christmas Day telly – but of course, our entertainment is live, grassroots and community-focused. Long may it continue.

As I left it started to snow.

***

Jack Dean, the new bard, and Master Duncan, outgoing bard

The following day – the ‘official’ solstice – a small group of us gathered in the Circus in the centre of Bath to hold our traditional winter solstice ceremony and inauguration of the new bard. It was freezing and icy underfoot as I made my way (carefully) to the Circus, through the crowds of Christmas shoppers. I got there at noon to find Richard the druid and the two bards, outgoing and new. That was it. We were joined by Thommie Gillow, the 12th Bard, her wee bab and a couple of her friends from Cardiff. So, our small and merry band set to work. Richard led the ceremony of ‘Alban Arthuan’, as modern druids like to call it, and kept it mercifully brief. We used scripts, which isn’t my preference, but they helped since most of the participants had little experience in such things, but they all joined in in good spirits. We called the quarters: I had to call the east, my usual (Richard didn’t even ask, knowing that’s my preference – although on such a chilly day, calling the fire in the south would have been a better option!). We recited the Gorsedd Prayer and did an awen. Jack was welcomed to the Gorsedd and asked to perform a poem. Master Duncan also shared one. Halfway through the ceremony, Thommie suddenly dashed off, as though filled too full of awen – a traffic warden had spotted her car! She caught him just in time, but had to move it. All the while, her little toddler never made a sound but just stood there, with enormous gloves on, looking astonished (the default look of toddlers). Richard brought the ceremony to a brisk end … I suggested three cheers for the new bard (although in the cold, it came out as ‘three chairs’!). I took a couple of photographs for the press release and archives and then we separated, leaving only Richard and I to decamp to the Chequers for some much-needed refuelling… It’s been a Bard Day’s Night!

Sulyen Caradon, Druid of Caer Badon

***

And the bardism does not end there – tonight is the tenth anniversary of the Bath Storytelling Circle, which should be a special evening. I am going to be one of the three hosts, as one of the organisers of the circle (along with Anthony, its founder, and David, its current ‘chair’). There should be a feast of fine storytelling, poetry and song … what better way to spend the longest night of the year?

The oral tradition is very much alive in Bath … but don’t tell anyone I told you so ;0)