About Damh the Bard

I am a modern-day Bard whose spirituality, and love of folk tradition, is expressed through my music, storytelling and poetry. Drawing on the Bardic traditions my performances are both entertaining and educational, weaving a tapestry of myth, peace, and anthems that speak directly to the heart, but never without a good splash of humour.

Daily Spiritual Practice

Time and time again I hear spiritual teachers saying that a regular daily practice is one of the most important things we can do to maintain our connection with our spiritual path. It needn’t be long or involved. It can be as simple as a sitting meditation each morning before work, or a breathing exercise to help make that connection with all life. The effectiveness lies in its daily regularity.

It’s true. Many of the people I know who have had a kind of spiritual crisis are often the ones who haven’t made space in their lives to regularly connect with their Source. It’s something that is so important to me that there is now a void when I don’t make that commitment each day. I know that finding time is hard, but I think most of us find time for Facebook, or TV, so why not replace some of that time, just 5 or 10 minutes each day, for our own spiritual well being?

I created a very simple movement prayer that I’d like to share with you here that I do every morning to greet my day. It’s simple, quick, yet deeply effective in making that daily connection. I go out into our garden, and take a conscious deep breath of the fresh air. Then:

I face the east and say, “I face the east, place of air. Bring me inspiration and clarity of thought on this day.” I acknowledge the east with a bow.

I turn to the south and say, “I face the south, place of fire. Bring me passion and intuition on this day.”  I acknowledge the south with a bow.

I turn to the west and say, “I face the west, the place of water. Help me to understand my deep emotions on this day.”  I acknowledge the west with a bow.

I turn to the north and say, “I face the north, the place of earth. Bring me stability, and groundedness on this day.  I acknowledge the north with a bow.

I turn back to the east, place my hands on my heart, close my eyes, and say, “And in my Spirit, where they meet, may I be blessed, may the Earth be blessed. So may it be.”

A few moments feeling and acknowledging that connection, and I’m ready for the day ahead.

With all of the other things in our lives that pull us, and demand our attention, make sure you make your spirituality as important, and create your own simple daily practice.

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DruidCast – A Druid Podcast Episode 64

Shownotes for DruidCast Episode 64

Spirits of the Earth – Spirits of the Earth – Spirits of the Earth on Facebook

Interview with Selena Fox – Circle Sanctuary

‘Gift of the Blogs’ – My Friend got Stuck in Winter – Teo Bishop, Bishop in the Grove

Bagabi – Tuatha Dea

DruidCast theme – Hills they are Hollow – Damh the Bard

‘Gift of the Blogs’ theme – The Voyage of Bran – Damh the Bard

For more information about the Druid Tradition – www.druidry.org

Direct download: http://traffic.libsyn.com/druidcast/DruidCast_SHOW64_OBOD.mp3

New Lyric – The Dreaming

I first went to Australia in 2009 just before the launch of Tales from the Crow Man. I went to play music at a concert/festival called The Druids Dreaming near Adelaide and I fell in love with the country immediately. I’ve been back twice since to tour with Spiral Dance and each time I have brought a little more of Australia home in my heart (or maybe I’ve left a little bit of me in the land). Australia is alive and infectious. The Spirit of the Land and the people get under your skin. The history and spirit of the native stories still sing from the land, from The Dreaming.

The seed for this song was planted back in 2009, when I saw my first Roo, when I met Old Gum Tree, and walked in the warm waters of the ocean. The shoots and leaves unfurled on my next two visits when I learned more of the land and its stories, and now the flower has taken full bloom.

So this song is dedicated to all of my Australian friends, to that glorious land, to anyone who has been there and knows what I’m singing about, and to anyone who dreams of the long trek down under.

The Dreaming – Damh the Bard

Verse 1:

Welcome now a visitor to your shore,

Following a dream I can’t ignore,

From a distant land you may never know,

Of sun and rain and snow.

Here where the endless skies reach for the sun,

The Gum trees stand like the Oaks of Albion,

And the land sings in lines of ancient song,

For the soul to sing along.

Chorus:

And the Southern Cross shines down on where I stand,

And I hear the voices from the Singing Land.

Verse 2:

Here where the land still is king,

Beneath red sand the Ancestors are dreaming,

And a Mother knows which song will be sung,

When a new life has begun.

A serpent made a path across the land,

Formed the rivers and mountains where they stand,

These songs are in the kookaburra’s call,

But she’s laughing at us all.

Chorus:

And the Southern Cross shines down on where I stand,

And I hear the voices from the Singing Land.

Bridge:

Oh I can feel you dreaming,

Oh I can feel you dreaming,

Oh I can feel you dreaming, Oh.

Verse 3:

Familiar stars now shine from up above,

I’ve returned to the land that I love,

But my heart must try to understand,

It’s now shared by another land.

Beneath the Plough I look to the setting sun,

As I stand once more on the land of Albion,

But the Southern Cross will guide me to your shore,

To hear you sing once more.

Chorus:

And the Southern Cross will shine down on where I stand,

And I’ll hear the voices from the Singing Land.

Oh, can you feel me dreaming?

Oh, can you feel me dreaming?

Oh, can you feel me dreaming, oh.

A Story of Pagan

Pagan loved the Sun. No one could doubt that. And she loved the Moon too, and each night she would lie on the grass in a field just outside her house and look up at the stars that shone like tiny pin-pricks in the black velvet of the universe. There she could see her children marked in patterns across the sky. Gods of a land that was caressed by a warm near land-locked sea, and others too, gently moving in the night. Pagan loved the Earth too. She could see the shapes of giants in the rocks, and the Goddess in the rolling chalk hills.

Everyday she would go for a walk across the countryside and into the woods and sometimes, if she was lucky, and in the right place at the right time, she would see a group of deer, or a fox. And sometimes if she was luckier still she would catch the eye of the great stag that lived in the forest nearby and, just for a moment, she would feel its Spirit. And as the stag returned her gaze she could feel that the animal knew and understood her inner being too. These connections reminded her everyday that she was a part of the web that connected all life.

Nobody knew how old Pagan was. She had certainly been here since the first humans painted images of animals and dancing horned figures on darkened cavern walls, creating colour from minerals found within the bones of Mother Earth. And here she was, still looking at the Sun, Moon and Stars, still understanding her connection to all of life. The only person who really knew where she had come from was Pagan, and she was keeping her secret. Sometimes she felt bad about this. She knew that people longed to understand her more. When she occasionally went into the town she could see all of the books that had been written about her. Hundreds of books. All telling the story of her life, what she’d done, and what she believed. And she could see the people reading these books and she felt bad for them too. She wasn’t sure when it had happened but people had begun to look into the mirror of life and believe that what they saw there was the truth. If she could only smash those mirrors! Then people might look at each other more, and see their own reflection in the faces of their kin, not the reflected and reversed image of their own face. Just a face. Just a face. So she watched as people read books to try to understand exactly what it was that she believed.

And some of them argued too – about the right way to do things. About grades, levels of experience, whether the Elements really existed and, if they did, what made them correspond to particular directions. Were the Gods real? That was the one that upset her the most. Were they real? She could still remember the first people who, when hearing the sound of thunder, began to make offerings. She could still remember the hunter whispering words to an unseen power. And as years went on she thought of those days, and watched as those same people, years later, raised mighty earth tombs in honour of their dead, and still those lips moved in prayer. To what? She would never say. She never had to. Ever. But that seemed to be the missing part of the mirror people. She shook her head. The first people had no books, yet they knew. They had eyes, and ears.

Pagan loved to play. She would dance and sing, laugh and run about. She loved her circles, her elements, her patterns in the sky, the Sun, the Moon, the tales she told of ancient gods and heroes. She loved peaceful ritual, and ecstatic trance. She loved the simplicity of prayer and meditation, and the complexity of ceremony. She loved being with groups of people, and with the solitary on the hill. She knew all of the Gods by name, and she knew they were inside, outside, and nowhere. She knew with all of her heart that there were no secrets, but there were mysteries. And she also knew that each revealed mystery would be different for every soul that ever lived. And that is why sometimes she cried when she heard voices that tried to dominate with only one truth.

Pagan sometimes wondered why she was still a child.

Tales from the Road – Pagan Spirit Gathering 2012

The last couple of months have been pretty intense when it comes to travelling. Only a week and half after we got back from Australia we were heading off to the Pagan Spirit Gathering in Illinois. I went to the PSG in 2010 when it was in Missouri and, apart from the intense heat and humidity, I had the most wonderful time with this community, so I was really looking forward to this event. I left the UK in full rain-weather gear, to be met in Chicago by 30 degree heat and sunshine. Lovely! We were picked up at the airport by Shaun, who had just picked up Crystal, one of the other presenters – while they were waiting for us to come out they said they were looking for a Pagan-looking musician – obviously they had no trouble finding us and soon we were on our way to the site.

This year’s PSG was being held at Stonehouse Park, a wonderful space with a swimming pond, showers, static trailer caravans, a shop, a great stage area, and SUNSHINE! A few people were complaining about the heat but after what we’d just been through in the UK I loved every minute of it and soaked it up. On the first night we watched Arthur Hinds (from the Pagan/Celtic band Emerald Rose) play a great unplugged set. Then it was up in the morning for the Town Meeting to play my first song to the community. This camp really does try to create a cohesive community and the morning Town Meetings are a good part of why this works. It brings everyone together, and prepares them for the day ahead. I was due to play my first gig that night so had been asked to play a song at the meeting. I have to say I was pretty nervous. But I stepped out and played Green and Grey. This song, probably of all of my songs, seems to be one that really speaks to the heart of Pagan people. By the second chorus the crowd were singing along – a great start to the day.

Evening came and I went to the stage area an hour before I was due to play for set up and sound check, but there was no sound engineer there. He was coming and 7.30, half and hour before I was due on stage. Okay, I thought, it’s only me and a guitar, that should be fine. But I had also asked Arthur Hinds to join me on drums for a couple of songs… Anyway, at 7.30 the sound engineer arrived. Got the guitar working, but no vocal, then got the vocal working, and lost the guitar, then got Arthur’s Bodhran working, but with a half second delay coming through the speakers, oh, and then neither my vocal mic, nor my guitar worked. We carried on like this for 25 minutes and people were arriving. I hate sound checking in front of an audience, but I had no choice. Arthur decided that it was far more important to get my vocal and guitar right, so left the stage – sadly we weren’t going to be playing together tonight. At 5 to 8 both my vocal and guitar were coming out front of house speakers, but no foldback, so I couldn’t hear what I was playing. But by then it was too late, so I had to start. In the end the gig was amazing. The people were amazing. Since my last visit to PSG in 2010 something must have happened as lots of people knew the words to the songs and we had a great night together, with everyone joining in at the end to Wild Mountain Thyme – I had to take a photo from the stage.

I did have help from another musician on stage that night… while I was in Australia I was given a little cuddly duck called D. D. Rock, complete with a travel diary. The idea was that D. D. would travel with me to the USA, appear on stage with me, I would fill in the travel diary, and then I would pass him onto Celia who would do likewise and pass him onto another Pagan musician. D. D. would travel through a lot of hands, with each musician/band filling in the diary. When he makes it back to Australia he’ll be auctioned off and the proceeds will go to Doctors without Borders. A great idea and a great cause. So he jammed with me onstage, and later I passed him over to Celia. From there he went to Arthur Hinds, then to Beltana Spellsinger, and from there, who knows.

Over the week I played an unplugged night set, and another set at noon on the last day. Each one was great fun. For the last two songs of my noon set I was joined on stage by Arthur Hinds, Celia and a band that will be huge in the Pagan community in coming years, Tuatha Dea. It was an amazing jam session with the most awesome energy raised! I think some people caught in on video so hopefully I’ll get the chance to see one of those. I also took part in a men’s ritual (whilst the women of the camp were exploring women’s mysteries). I won’t go into detail here, all I can say is that it was an honour to stand with maybe 200+ men in circle, and take an active part. There seems to be a lot of opportunities for Pagan women to meet up for magic, but not so many for men. I think this is something we should explore more within our communities here in the UK.

Another wonderful event was the Pagans around the World Panel. These  panels are very popular at camps and conferences in the USA, and are becoming more so here. For a couple of hours the panel were questioned about the differences and similarities between Paganisms around the world. My music has taken me to many places and many communities and the one thing I’ve realised is that there is a massive area of common ground between Pagans worldwide. When we work from this place of common ground great magic happens. Trouble only seems to occur when we are working from our own personal ‘detail’, trying to get others to think, feel and act in the way we do about our own Gods, practices etc. Open rituals and camps that come from the place of common ground really take our community as a whole forward together. So I was standing on the stage with Selena Fox and Margot Adler – two huge influences on my Paganism in my early days. It was a great honour for me, and these two powerful women continue to be such a huge inspiration.

So much more happened during the week, but I think I’ll keep those as memories. Saying goodbye was hard, but I hope that this wasn’t my last visit to the wonderful PSG. I now have a month in the UK with gigs here, then it’s off to play my first gig in Canada in August.

Australia Tour 2012 Part 2

“I don’t want to worry you Damh but I’ve got a scratchy throat,” Adrienne said, peering over the bar in the Kitchen. I was sitting at their table and had just thought the same thing about mine. I looked up.

“I think I’m going down with something too…”

It was Monday morning and me and Cerri were due to run our Sacred Poetry workshop that night. As the day moved on both me and Adrienne started to feel worse. The evening went beautifully as I said in the previous blog post, but when Tuesday morning arrived Adrienne was close to losing her voice. I was not as bad, but with me colds often move onto my chest and cause my asthma to come on.

I think I spent that Tuesday in denial as I was due to play the concert for all of the sponsors who had clubbed together to raise the money to fly me and Cerri all the way our here. There was no way I was not going to play that gig. It was being recorded for a live CD to be given to the sponsors at a later date. Now I was a little concerned about that to be honest. I knew I could play and sing well enough to entertain these lovely people, but I wasn’t sure how that CD would come out. In the end we all had a great evening at the wonderful Wheatsheaf Hotel (The Wheatie) and I think, apart from a couple of places where my voice croaked, the CD will be fine.

However, when the next morning came I could feel that familiar feeling that told me the cold was on the move and irritating my lungs. With the three-cities tour approaching there was no way I could risk it, so I managed to get an appointment with a local Doctor and went straight on the antibiotics. It was the right thing to do. That night me and Cerri were due to go to the Pagan in the Pizza bar moot, but neither Adrienne nor myself thought it would be a good idea for us to go, so Cerri went on her own. I was sad to have missed the night, particularly when I saw the video of William’s poem and the gift of P.Uke (the Pagan Ukelele group) who had practiced a version of my song Noon of the Solstice.

The next morning we were off to Melbourne for the concert at Bar 303. I loved this gig last year. The venue is a back room, painted black, with sofas all around the edge, and amazing modern art posters everywhere. It’s the kind of venue you would find in Brighton to be honest. Bohemian, and, well, groovy. Sadly Adrienne had still problems with her voice so Spiral Dance had to do a tune set for this gig. But they did brilliantly, and everyone had a great time dancing to their music. For me, this year had the same vibe as last year and it was another wonderful night. In fact, during my song The Wheel I invited the audience to add some harmonies to their singing, and what I heard gave me goose bumps. You can hear it in this video from the night, a wonderful moment. After the show I was introduced to Kebabs Aussie style. I made the mistake of opening mine up, a lesson learned for another night… Sleep, then up to get to the airport to fly to Sydney.

We arrived at the Bald Faced Stag Hotel with plenty of time. This was another venue we played last year. Adrienne was feeling a little better this night and took the stage to sing with the band, and it was great to see and hear them all together again. It seemed that over the year a lot of people had heard my music in Sydney, and the response from the audience here was simply magical. I took the stage with Spiral Dance again to sing their version of my song Spirit of Albion (at the two Adelaide gigs I had broken a string when I played Spirit of Albion during my set. I started to think that maybe I should leave this song for Spiral Dance, as this land and this audience knew their version, not mine. So I didn’t play it at Melbourne or Sydney, and I didn’t break a string…) and I really wanted to have a beer to celebrate, but I was still feeling a bit grim, and was on the antibiotics with another gig to play, so I just stuck to the water.

Another kebab, bed, then up to catch a plane to Brisbane.

It had been raining most of the trip. It had been raining when we left the UK (although while we were away Britain had its Summer…apparently) but Brisbane was gorgeous. We were met at the airport and taken to the hotel which was just a short walk from the venue. This was the Brisbane Witches Ball. The venue was a large bar with a good sized dance floor. It was quite a rush to set up the gear and sound check and then pretty much straight away people were arriving. Now on the whole my music isn’t background music. I do play some songs that people can dance to, but for me it’s more about engaging and entertaining an audience, going on a sacred journey together. As people arrived for the Witches Ball I could feel that we might have a mismatch. This event was a social event where people were going to to catch up, talk to each other, have a social drink, and party. I took the stage and although I had the attention of a good number of people, to be honest, most didn’t really take much notice of what was happening on the stage and carried on with their conversations. So I turned my attention to those who had come to sit and listen and we had a lovely evening together. In the future I’d love to return to the Brisbane Pagan community and play a concert for them to enjoy as a concert. Hopefully next year!

The next day the weather was lovely. We took a walk along the river and stopped at a bar for a little drink. We thought we’d only be there for a little while. There were no more concerts, so I decided to have a beer, or a number of beers. I was introduced to the Fat Yak, a lovely Aussie beer, while others were drinking Dirty Grannies (a lovely Aussie cider). Well, we sat down for a drink, the Nick ordered more drinks, I bought a jug of drink, the we all sat down and had a drink… A band turned up and played some classic tunes. We all sang along. And had another drink. It was sunny, warm, with good friends, and good music. The perfect way to end a great tour.

We had a couple of days free before we had to leave to return to the UK, so on the Monday we met up with Louise and little Maddy so I could take Maddie’s cuddly duck D. D Rock on the road with me and pass him, and his travel diary, on to other Pagan musicians in the USA to help raise money for Doctors without Borders (see the video below) .

Then on the Tuesday we went on another tour of some of the South Australian vineyards. Yum.

As I write this I’m returning in my mind to the goodbyes at the airport. I love Australia, and I love the Aussie people. They are a breath of fresh air to this Brit who has a hard time with all of the UK’s health and safety laws, and the way that political correctness has taken some of the soul out of our character. With that Aussies that edginess is still there. Each time I go to Australia I get reminded to chill out, relax and don’t take stuff so personally.

As they say – “No worries, it’s all good!”

I really hope we are back again sometime in 2013.

Australia Tour 2012 Part 1

I’ve just returned from another wonderful tour of Australia.

After being collected at Adelaide airport by the lovely Adrienne and Nick from the band Spiral Dance we headed into the Adelaide Hills to try and stay awake all day to beat the impending jet lag. We managed until 9pm which was pretty good and woke up at a very respectable time (clog-dancing possums on the roof  at dawn not withstanding).

Friday was set up and sound check day for the English Ale festival at Mylor Hall. I played this event last year and had the most amazing time, and I was really looking forward to being there again, and also knowing the running order of the day. Set up done we headed home and this time I woke up at 5am and just could not get back to sleep. Mind was ticking over adjusting set lists and other details, but I knew that if sleep didn’t come it would be a tough day as I was due on stage at 10pm the following night. But it remained illusive.

The day of the English Ale began with morris dancing at the local pub. The enthusiasm for the English country dance here in Australia is palpable. It seems to have much more respect than it does here in the UK where it does seem to be on the receiving end of jokes. By the riverside that morning though each dance was given due respect, and I for one was so pleased to see this. And to add to the authenticity of the morning, it began to rain. It felt just like home.

Time next to go to the hall where the bar was being set up ready for people to arrive for the festivities of the day. More morris dancing and music rang out across the Mylor Oval, and it was only when the Galahs called and flew through the branches of the huge gum trees that I remembered I was in the southern hemisphere. In the afternoon Cerri and I took part in a Druid Gorsedd meditation, then it was preparation for the procession and wicker man ritual.

I had the honour of leading the procession last year and was asked to do the same this time. So with massive blazing torch, and about 300 people following, we set off in procession to the waiting figure. Giants, ‘obby osses, morris sides with musicians, masked figures followed. It felt like a scene from the wicker man last year, and this year was even more so. We paced the oval, then walked under the trees to the figure.

This year instead of a wicker man a dragon stood before me. I led people into the circle as the drummers played under a star-filled sky – the Southern Cross shining high. Silence fell and I was handed the Gorsedd sword. Facing the east and just pulling the sword from the scabbard slightly I welcomed the east and asked if there was peace. There reply was that there was peace. Walking sunwise (anticlockwise) to the north I handed over the sword and fire was called and honoured, then to the west, and finally earth in the south. I returned to my place.

From behind me a flaming figure walked forward. Blazing with a flaming sword. “Hail to King George!” was called as the figure walked forward. Now I have a strange relationship with the English Patron Saint. His history just doesn’t sit well with me, and killing dragons also doesn’t endear him to me much either. But this is just my own ‘stuff’, so I dropped it to be in relationship with all of the others who entered into the spirit of the ritual as his sword touched the waiting dragon and the heat spread out across the cheering crowd. Drums began, dancing began, and I slipped away to the hall ready for the evening of entertainment.

A mummers play, traditional English music hall entertainment, a punch and judy show, then Spiral Dance, then me. From 7pm until midnight about 140 people who got tickets (some couldn’t get into the hall) had a great night. It was so good to hear Spiral Dance again who played a great set. Then it was me. I was actually a little nervous to begin with, but the love I felt coming from the audience in great waves just dissolved that fear, and pretty quickly we had that performer/audience wave to rapport that just goes from me to them, then from them to me, and round it goes. When this happens, magic happens. It was such a great night, and my set ended with a surprise. Spiral Dance had learned my song Hills they are Hollow, so at the end of my set the band joined me and we played it together. I haven’t played with a band on stage since 2000 and this was a real treat for me. The audience were up and dancing, singing and shouting the lyrics. A wonderful moment I will never forget.

Sunday led us into Adelaide to have Yum Cha, a meal I had looked forward to all year. The most glorious Asian food in abundance. Yum Cha indeed!

Monday me and Cerri did a poetry workshop where about 100 people together wrote about 200 poems in about 2 hours. But it was on Tuesday morning, with the sponsors concert approaching, and then the 4 state concert tour on the horizon, that both me and Adrienne, the two singers, developed colds, with Adrienne losing her voice, and me developing a chest infection.

To be continued…