Last weekend saw the farewell performance of our Song of the Windsmith tour which started last Autumn in a castle in Scotland (The Castle of the Muses, Argyle and Bute). We were scheduled to perform on the final day of the Bath Fringe, in the amazing setting of the Masonic Hall (the Old Theatre Royal, built in 1750). Here, on a stage graced by the talent of Sarah Siddons – famous Regency actress – and frequented by the great and the good of Society (Royalty, literati, aristos, politicians and sundry bigwigs) we were joined by the talents of Miriam of Munich, dancer extra-ordinaire, and Sean McBride of SanFran on flute and sax. We made the most of the main temple space – projecting images onto the walls, and performing in proscenium fashion, amid the front rows. To drum up business we went around town on Saturday and some of Sunday, handing out flyers and giving folk a flavour of the show with our windsmithery. This was quite fun, if eventually tiring in the glorious sun. A pint at the Coer de Lion, Bath’s smallest pub, with my old friend Marko was most welcome after a day of barding about. There were two performances – matinee and evening – and both were filmed for posterity. We hope to release a CD or DVD eventually. The second performance really clicked – the magic happened, I felt – so it was a great note to go out on. Windsmiths, I salute you!
40th Birthday Bardic Showcase
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!
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.
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.
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)
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.
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,
from the warp and weft
of Celtic love.
Miner of the Loadstone
May you wear
your star studded
cloak of wisdom
with youthful ease,
even as this birthday
heralds a milestone
in your timeline.
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
Yvonne (accompanying a lovely journal)
He sings the song of the earth.
Finds among the rocks a small seed,
nurtures and tends
and from it grows
Rooted and strong limbs stretching,
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
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.
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,
To Kevan, Happy Birthday from Cherry Wilkinson
A Feast of Friends
Ruskin Mill, Nailsworth
This event was organised by poet and psychotherapist Jay Ramsay, whose seminal Psychic Poetry I read long before I actually met him. In the Eighties he held an event called Angels of Fire at the Albert Hall – which might be seen as influential as the Beat readings there in 64. He performed with his poetry group, Phoenix, at the first Bardic Festival of Bath in a freezing Walcot Chapel – it was amazing their harper, Fred Hargender was able to play, consider his fingers must have been numb! This event was far cosier, in the beautifully renovated old paper mill – we were in a downstairs which had a real fire roaring in the corner. This was to be another ‘fiery’ combination, between Phoenix, and our group Firesprings – a fecund meeting of bards. The line up was going to be Firesprings members Anthony (who started the evening with an ecobardic epic called ‘The Story of People on Planet Earth’), David (who offered a spine-tingling trio of ‘death ballads’), and myself, plus Bath-based poet and Awen author, Mary, who performed some of her ‘Iona’; the second half was predominantly Phoenix poets Jay, Gabrielle, Ella & her partner, Sam, playing didgeridoo, plus Geoff offering us amusing Andalucian tales to end with accompanied by flamenco guitar from his friend Dave.
I had had an exhausting week – with all of my teaching, with a new class starting Friday afternoon, with 5 new students to add to my other 114! When I got back home I was shattered, and just flopped. When I awoke it was practically time to go out again, with no time to eat. I was hoping to grab some chips on the way, but didn’t think I had enough time. I should have made time, as my energy levels sank dangerously low before the performance. Fortunately, Jay offered me some chocolate and I had a can of Red Bull, which was just enough to see me through the first half. Luckily, my fifteen minute slot was then. As always I got nervous before hand – worried that my fatigue would impair my performance, but as happened once in the Bath Literature Festival, during our ‘Voices of the Past’ show, when I was spaced out with a cold, I turned in one of my best performances. With nothing left to lose, I tapped into something real, something edgy.
I had rehearsed down by the water in the moonlight, which helped to centre me and to evoke the atmosphere I wished to evoke. I performed my ‘winter set’ – wolf in the city, the wicker man, wild hunt, one with the land, and finishing with the ‘Prophets of Los’, which I preambled by saying with imagination anything is possible (as the events earlier in the week had proven). I had been deeply inspired by Obama’s winning speech on Tuesday, which showed the power of the spoken word. I was feeling perhaps less noble though and less on an even keel than ‘No Drama Obama’ – my separation from Jennifer had left me feeling miserable, wounded, and like a wounded beast I snarled and bit back! My wolf poem performance is always a crowd-pleaser, but tonight it had real bite – at one point I made a girl in the audience gasp with shock (although afterwards she came up to thank me for my poems, and roared – she had got in touch with her own beast). I introduced my set by saying ‘There’s an animal inside all of us, and sometimes it comes out!’. Bang – straight in. A short, punchy, pithy, preamble like that is far more effective than the flabby openings I hear some people come out with – sometimes longer than the piece itself, deflating any tension it may have, making it a long-winded affair. I kept my links to a minimum. I made sure I really connected to the audience – looking at them hard in the eye, defiant, prowling, like a cornered wolf. Unashamed of what I am or what I was offering them. A performance is not the time to hide one’s light under a bushel (or as I like to say, it can ‘set your bushel alight’). You should blaze – but not at one pitch. Like a fire, vary your radiance. Flicker and glow, flare up, die down, blaze. This keeps the attention up – makes it unpredictable. Spontaneous composition.
I had set a book stall up upstairs – Awen’s titles nearly covered the whole table, with the addition of the newest titles, Simon’s poetry collection, The Book of the Bardic Chair launched the previous weekend. I sold some, which helped to make the event even more worthwhile. But what made it a buzz was the full house – the energy was reciprocated, unlike the gig at the Victoria Art Gallery the week before. A small audience, however willing, is harder work. Your get less energy back for your efforts.
We all ended the night feeling on a bit of a high – Jay was keen for us to keep the flame burning. This kind of creative collaboration we felt to be the way forward. A new working model, which we expound upon in our manifesto – due to be launched at the end of the month. It would have been nice to have had a drink with folk afterwards, especially since it was Kirsty’s birthday the next day and it was nearly midnight, but I had a face-to-face tutorial with my Advanced Creative Writing students the next day and David was the driver. Plus I was starving, and there was a chance I might catch a takeaway on the way home, which I gratefully did. It was nice to have time to chat with David, a very decent bloke, an excellent bard and a true professional.
This latest experience has renewed my enthusiasm for Firesprings, which I admit was flagging. Joining forces with Phoenix, in these irregular events, has given it a new lease of life. The next one is due the end of the month, on William Blake’s birthday – Blake being another rallying point, the ‘William Blake Congregation’ as Felicity Bowers and Helen Elwes like to call it. ‘Hear the Voice of the Bards!’