Tag Archives: William Blake

Visions of Albion

William Blake in Sussex: Visions of Albion

Petworth, 25th March.

Blake Another Sun

‘Visions of Albion’ offered an excellent overview of Blake’s time in the county (when he stayed at a cottage in Felpham on the south coast, 1800-1803), in the handsome surroundings of Petworth, now a National Trust property, and formerly the home of Lord Egremont and his wife, the Countess (who were both patrons of Blake and his widow).

 

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Blake’s Cottage, Felpham, Photo by K. Manwaring, 2017

 

Facing increasingly financial difficulties in London, Blake took the suggestion of the poet William Hayley to move to the pleasant cottage on the coast (‘the sweetest spot on Earth’, as he described it) as a lifeline. Hayley helped secure him the accommodation and provided him with several commissions for engravings and paintings. At first these were a great boon, but Blake started to see them as a bane, draining his creative energies and distracting him from his own visionary work. Yet he was not unproductive on that front. While at Felpham he wrote and illustrated two epic poems, ‘Milton’ and ‘Jerusalem’. In the former he penned the then untitled verse that was set to music by Parry in 1917, going on to become an unofficial national anthem (what Blake would have made of Tories, Last Night Prommers and WI members singing his invocation to the spiritual city of Jerusalem, which he saw as an emanation of the giant Albion, we can only speculate). In the latter epic poem, Blake wrote, ‘In Felpham I saw Visions of Albion’, and clearly it was a stimulating time for him, reflected in the artwork and writing on display at Petworth.

 

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The Last Judgement, William Blake, 1808

Chief among these are the three paintings commissioned by the Egremonts: ‘The Last Judgement’ (painted for the Countess, who was suffering her husband’s many infidelities and was perhaps considering his fate… In the painting the Countess herself is depicted rising to Heaven with her children); Lord Egremont was to request ‘Characters from Spenser’s ‘Faerie Queene’ and paid Catherine Blake (by then Blake’s widow) a princely sum of eighty guineas for the painting on muslin. Also on display are the luminous watercolours Blake undertook for his friend and patron Thomas Butts of Biblical subjects – the graceful lines are clearly those of a trained engraver, and the colours of muted greys perhaps reflective of the Sussex coast (they vary dramatically from the intense, infernal palette of his London engravings). His three years on the coast (the only time Blake lived away from his beloved city) lingered in his artwork – nearly twenty years later his was to limn ‘The Sea of Time and Space’ (1821) which visibly draws upon remembered seascapes. The wild seas are perhaps indicative of the fact that Blake’s time in Felpham was not all idyllic. It was punctuated most violently by an altercation in his garden when he found two soldiers (invited by the gardener) who he forcibly ejected. He frogmarched one (Schofield) to the nearby pub. Hot words were exchanged, which landed Blake in court, charged with sedition (and physical assault). The latter charges were dropped (Blake initially defended himself), but the former could have had him doing the gallows dance if not for the intervention of Hayley’s solicitor. He was acquitted, but the incident left him badly shaken, and soured his time in Sussex. Even in Arcadia the iniquities of life had found him. It was time to return to the land he knew, London.

 

 

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Elizabeth Ilives was a remarkable woman, by all accounts. K. Manwaring, 2018

 

The small but fascinating exhibition displays the legal proceedings of Blake’s trial, plus his handwritten descriptions of his commissioned work, a letter from Catherine thanking Lord Egremont and other archives – rare editions and prints, alongside Blake’s originals, still luminous and arrestingly strange after all these years. Thomas Philips iconic portrait of Blake from 1807 portrays him in a borrowed studio coat and packages him as the romantic poet, eyes fixed on higher things, pen ready to channel the divine downloads from his angelic Muse – his lightning rod to the gods of his very singular pantheon. For a brief while, during his Felpham years, patronised by nobility, Blake tasted their ambrosia.

 

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Illustration for ‘Northern Lights’, by Philip Pullman

 

Alongside the Blake exhibition is a small display of Philip Pullman ‘lantern slides’, the illustrations the author provided for ‘His Dark Materials’. Pullman, a dedicated Blakean, is the president of the Blake Society. As a writer-artist he qualifies himself to join a rarefied fellowship that included Blake, Rossetti, Peake and few others who achieved excellence in both. Pullman makes no bold claims about his own artistic ability, but the metonymic motifs are strong designs that adorn the text handsomely. They are perhaps closest too Blake’s wood-cuts, a series of which are displayed at Petworth (a commission by Dr Robert John Thornton of ‘Pastorals of Virgil’). As a carpenter, Pullman no doubt found an affinity in this exquisite working of his dryad material. Elsewhere in the North Gallery of the main house – a sizeable hall filled with statuary and paintings there are works by Turner and Fuseli (a kindred spirit in his use of symbolism). The house itself is packed with social history, both upstairs and down; the Capability Brown gardens extended as far as the eye could see but farther than legs wanted to carry; the daffodils and follies made us linger awhile but eventually we departed, knowing other treasures await for future visits.

 

Rotunda at Petworth

Ionic Rotunda, 1766, Petworth, in the Capability Brown gardens, K. Manwaring 2018

 

 

 

The Visionary City

William Blake’s London

Another England there I saw,
Another London with its Tower.
Another Thames and other hills,
And another pleasant Surrey bower.

 

London 1803

Wapping Docks, 1803

 

 
In April 1803 the visionary artist and poet William Blake left Felpham and returned to London. He wrote to his patron Thomas Butts that he was overjoyed to return to the city: ‘That I can alone carry on my visionary studies in London unannoy’d, & that I may converse with my friends in Eternity, See Visions, Dream Dreams & Prophecy & Speak Parables unobserv’d & at liberty from the Doubts of other Mortals.’ For Blake, London was his dreaming place. As a youth he was said to freely wander the streets of his beloved city and ‘could easily escape to the surrounding countryside.’ And in one famous incident (related by his early biographer Gilchrist) the young Blake was startled to ‘see a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars.’

There are many Londons. The visitor can choose which one they wish to slip into – whose skin, eyes, feet to experience it through. For me there is only one choice. The London of Blake, who lived and died within its purlieu...

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(to be continued on http://immanencejournal.com/blog/ soon… )

Kevan Manwaring Copyright © 2017

Web of Life

Web of Life 13 July

Weboflife

On Wednesday I took part in an inspiring event in Frome – the Web of Life Community Art Project, part of the Frome Festival. I travelled down with my fellow performers from Stroud and we navigated our way to the backstreets of the charming Wiltshire town to find the Sun Street Chapel – beautifully transformed by curator and eco-poet Helen Moore and her team of artists and volunteers. In each of the corners was an altar dedicated to four elements and themes based upon The Work That Reconnects of Joanna Macy. The centre piece was a purple coffin decorated with icons of extinct species. The previous Saturday an ‘artistic funeral‘ was held in the town – with a procession in masks up St Catherine’s Hill, which culminated in a service led by Charles in the chapel.

The majority of performers were part of ‘The Rolling Tyger Revue’ – a loose affiliation of poets, musicians and storytellers who take their inspiration from the life and work of the Bard of Lambeth, William Blake. Niall McDevitt introduced the evening with a triptych of Blake songs – accompanied by the ‘Flies’ or ‘Flyettes’ as his impromptu backing vocalists called themselves (John Gibbens and Amorel Weston, who performed later as The Children). Next, John impressed everyone by reciting a small set of poems from memory. Helen Moore followed with an impassioned performance, accompanied at times by her partner, Niall. Jay Ramsay finished off the first half with a similarly heartfelt performance, ably assisted by Herewood Gabriel on flute, djembe and ballaphon – hypnotic and haunting.

After the break I was on – and I decided to throw in a story for contrast – my Garden of Irem tale – a strategy that seemed to pay off. Then I performed my Breaking Light poem – as the focus of the evening (for me) was Awen’s eco-spiritual anthology, ‘Soul of the Earth’. Afterwards, I was able to relax with a glass of wine and listen to Niall’s set; followed by the ever-dazzling Rose Flint; and finishing off with a sublime set from The Children. It was an impressive line-up and the attention to detail in the exhibition was exquisite – the chapel felt re-sanctified, restored as a place of worship dedicated to Mother Earth and all her children.

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!

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.

Bardic Busyness

dancing-for-the-earth 

 

25 Nov-30 Nov

 

A triptych of bardic engagements this week. The first one was at St Andrews Primary School, Congresbury, on Tuesday afternoon. I was to perform Greek Myths with two classes of Years Five and Six. One of their teachers, Dan Wilson, had booked me after finding my website via a search. (It’s nice to know the website pays off now and again!)

I had to go by train, still being bikeless – shame because it was a beautiful cold, clear sunny day. Dan picked me up from Yatton station at lunchtime. I grabbed a roll from a nearby shop, ate it on the way back, and prepared myself for the first class, warming up in a spare classroom.

 

I performed three tales: Phaethön and the Sun Chariot, The Judgement of Paris, and Jason & the Golden Fleece (approx 30 minutes in total) before fielding general questions about being a storyteller. Then I repeated this all over again for the second class (about 30 each time). The kids were respectful and pretty attentive, although it was the afternoon, and energy levels/attention spans were probably not at their best. Still, they asked some good questions. Some were clearly in awe of me – sitting wide-eyed at the front, right under my feet!

 

I had to get a taxi back to the station and the driver asked what I did. Sitting at Yatton station, gazing at the tracks, diminishing to their vanishing point into the west, I had time to reflect upon my life as a bard on the road. It was good to be getting gigs again, although the teaching is demanding virtually all of my time and energy, and so I’m not at my best when I perform at the moment – I’m low on battery and virtual memory!

 

The teacher sent me this email message later: Thanks for coming today – the kids really enjoyed it. I’ve had a look at the resources that you sent – they look really useful, thanks very much! 

 

Dancing for the Earth, an event co-organised between Jay Ramsay and Anthony Nanson, took place on Friday, 28th November – in honour of William Blake – at the ‘Bristol Old School’, Stroud. There were a plethora of performers contributing: Fire Springs – Anthony, Kirsty, David and myself. Phoenix members – Jay and Gabriel Millar. Plus Helen Moore, a fellow Bard of Bath; a poet called Jeff who recited his ‘Valentine’s to Albion’, and Kirsten Morrison, who performed a 20 minute set with her brother – a showcase for her extraordinary operatic voice. There wasn’t a huge turn out (the hall was half full or half empty depending on your point of view, although we did get a few more in the second half) but it still felt worth it – a coming together of bardic kindred spirits and ‘Children of Albion’. We ended with dancing, with music supplied by Jay’s partner, Christina McLaughlin. It was a great chance to ‘shake the feathers’ and to break down the artificial demarcation of audience and performers. It helped to ‘shift’ my mood a little – releasing some endorphins. Alas, it was over all too soon, and the music wasn’t all my cup of tea (lots of frantic trance stuff). It was bit like being at a school disco, being a wallflower, waiting for a good track to come on! Oh, for some good ole’ rock and roll!

 

I got a lift back with David and despite both being tired, we had one of our lovely chats – one of the joys of such ‘adventures’. When he dropped me off I gave him a wee present to show my appreciation – he has been a rock to Firesprings, and as a friend, throughout all of life’s ups and downs – The Drovers’ Roads of Wales (in our first show, Arthur’s Dream, he created a framing narrative about Dafydd the Drover who stumbles upon the once and future king and his knights, slumbering under a Welsh mountain until Albion needs them once again…).

 

Afterwards, Anthony described it thus: “Every act was magnificently professional, passionate, and committed. Despite the small and delayed turnout of the audience, I think we did something really significant together. I hope the relationships between us all will continue to deepen and lead to other things.”

I had to get up early the next morning (6.15am) to catch the train to my next engagement – a big stately home called Compton Verney – which involved catching three trains to Banbury, then a taxi, shared with Kirsty Hartsiotis, my co-performer, who had set these gigs up (3 weekends worth – I was standing in for her partner Anthony today who had a prior engagement in Yate, at the Heritage Centre, where I’ve performed before).

The themes of the stories were meant to allude to the various exhibitions in the house. We had plenty of scope…North, Winter, hunting, animals, forest, etc. I focussed on tales from the North, and animal tales. I did three sets – Mabon and the Oldest of Animals in set one; Raven’s tale and Fenris the Wolf in set two; then two solar myths, Bladud and Baldur in set three. The first two went well, but the third was disappointing – we were down to two by the end (a mum and her five year old son) although Bladud and his swine went down well. The problem with all of the slots was the really young members of the audience – five and under (!) playing on the ‘Once Upon a Time’ rug like it was a kindergarten. It is difficult to perform to under sevens, you have to do something especially tailored for them (e.g. balloon-puppetry, clowning, tricks, etc) and we are not trying to be children’s entertainers. Time and time again this has happened, despite us pointing out the fact we offer entertainment for adults and older children. We happily accommodate a mixed age audience, as long as the majority are adults, and children are seven plus. Otherwise, you’re just wasting energy trying to fruitlessly engage the youngest and end up losing the rest of the audience. I spent the majority of my performance time staring down at the carpet of toddler, trying to keep them interested – rather than maintaining eye contact with everyone. It’s hard to, as you can in a normal mixed audience.

 

Kirsty was better at engaging the really young ones – perhaps less scary than a tall, shaggy man! She is really shining these days. And to think how nervous she had been when she first performed at the Bath Storytelling Circle eight years ago, when we did Thomas the Rhymer and Tam Lin together (after I had persuaded her to give it a go – it was to be her first storytelling performance). And now we’re professional storytellers – Kirsty mainly performing with her partner, Anthony, the founder of the circle.

 

We were both tired afterwards. I was glad not to be doing it five more days, to be honest – although Compton Verney staff looked after us, and the place is very impressive. The gardens were designed by Capability Brown and it was a shame there wasn’t an opportunity to explore them.

Our erstwhile taxi driver turned up – we were relieved to see him, thinking he may have got lost again! – but it was merely the time of day and the conditions. I was happy not to be riding today, as it was a real pea-souper outside, like some Hammer horror story about a couple who take a wrong turning and end up in a village that doesn’t exist… The taxi driver made his slowly cautious way back along the narrow windy lanes, each turn giving us palpitations as he seemed to only notice it at the last minute! Finally arriving at the station he asked if he should make the receipt out for £30 not £27 (the actual fare), but Kirsty refused. He had charged us £30 before on the way there, after getting lost, so he had conned us out of a tip anyway (we had been quoted £25). Good job Compton Verney were paying travel expenses – but the taxi cost as much as the train, more in Kirsty’s case. Fortunately, Anthony will be driving the rest of the time.

By the time I got home I was too tired to go out again, or even do anything much at home – I had popped into On the Video Front on the way back from the station, and just stared at the rows of films like a zombie. Uninspired by any, I left. The storyteller had wanted a tale told to him for a change… Instead, I went to bed early with a good book – the most reliable entertainment!