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.

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Stillness and the Born Survivor

When we moved into our home back in February 2001 there was a massive shed in a pretty small back garden and trapped behind the shed was a very sad and misshapen Willow. The deconstruction of the shed brought more space, but when it had gone we saw that the fence that had been behind the shed was rotten, so that had to be replaced. When it came to taking away the old fence it became apparent that the roots of the small Willow had grown through the concrete of the original fence post. It all had to come out, and subsequently even the roots of this poor tree took a beating. When it was finally out of the ground it looked like a couple of branches with a ball of root. Both me and Cerri were really sad as there seemed to be something about this poor tree that held the Spirit of Place. The new fence was put in, and we re-planted the Willow, giving it pride of place in our newly developing garden. Although at the time neither of us new if it would survive, or wither and die.

I’m sitting on our sofa now, and as I type this I can see the Willow. Bird feeders hang from its branches, and blue tits, starlings, sparrows, blackbirds, doves, and even the occasional peregrine falcon and sparrowhawk, have hopped around in its branches. The bare branches have now been covered in big seed pods that attract bumble bees in the early Spring. And soon, as I sit in our garden, the wind will blow through a canopy of leaves that give off the sound of the forest in our little suburban patch of Tir na Nog. And although we have 12 Ogham trees in our little garden, to me it is the Willow that stands as sentinel, as Guardian of our home.

As Druids we know we can learn much from the example of trees. The Willow is a born survivor. Yet it remains still, allows the birds to run through its branches, is caressed by the wind, and is kissed by the Sun. And as I stand outside each morning during my daily meditation, it is this lesson I take from my friend. That some of the greatest lessons come from stillness, from observation and inner contemplation.

Let the rest of the world move around us. For a while each day be a Human Being, not always a Human Doing.

New Lyric – Antlered Crown and Standing Stone

I found the tune for this song when I was ‘noodling’ on my guitar in the most beautiful chalet overlooking Loch Ness whilst Cerri and I were on holiday in Scotland last April. It was a cracking anthemic tune and it needed lyrics to back that up. So over this and last year, a few sets of lyrics for this song bypassed the blog, straight into the bin. For the past two days I’ve been writing these, and I knew that finally I’d hooked the right words and the Awen was flowing.

This is a devotional song, an anthem to the Pagan Horned God. Yes, I know, I’ve written about him a few times before, but to me he is the male principle of Nature, and deserving of praise and reverence many, many times.

I hope you enjoy the lyrics, and the song, when it is released later this year on my new studio album.

 

Antlered Crown and Standing Stone – Damh the Bard

Verse 1

I am the face within the leaves,

I am the voice within the trees,

I am boy, I am man,

The face of the changing land,

And I have been your constant guide,

From your caves on the mountainside,

We have walked hand in hand.

Verse 2

Everywhere that I have been,

My passing turns the grey to green,

The birds sing to the dawn,

And the land has awoken.

Now my Lady lays with me,

Our love weaves its tapestry,

Eternal threads, unbroken.

Chorus

I am lover, I am father,

I am Horned God and King,

I’m the life in all of Nature,

That is reborn every Spring,

Call of stag and cry of eagle,

I am Child of Barleycorn,

And I am the Antlered Crown and Standing Stone!

Verse 3

I am the oats, the corn and grain,

A bearded man with a crooked cane,

Cut me down, I must die,

For the land to be born again,

But don’t you cry and don’t you grieve,

For soon the Wild Hunt I will lead,

On the night of Samhain.

Verse 4

The air is cold,

The sky is grey,

Where am I this Winter’s day,

Bones of trees, fallen leaves,

The time of the Winter Queen,

But through the wind and snow and rain,

Know a part of me remains,

The Holly stands, evergreen.

(Copyright Damh the Bard 2012)

New Lyric – Branwen’s Lament

I was ‘noodling’ on my guitar and found a sequence of notes that I knew were going somewhere but couldn’t quite find my way into their meaning. I played them to Cerri and we both agreed that it sounded like a lullaby. But then in one of those special moments when the Gods just open their mouths and whisper into our ears Cerri said, “It’s Branwen’s tale.” We sat in silence for a while as it sank in, and both of us found our eyes welling with tears.

Branwen’s story from the Mabinogion is one of the saddest tales we have within the mythology of the British Isles and I felt I had to give her voice the respect and honour she deserved, but sadly did not receive in life.

I wrote these lyrics yesterday and just played the song to Cerri. I didn’t make it all of the way through without tears.

Branwen, White Raven, I offer you this song,  so you know that the Bards still tell your story.

So mote it be.

Branwen’s Lament – Damh the Bard

(Branwen sings)

Dearest Brother hold me here,

Safe in your embrace,

For I feel, death is near,

Her breath upon my face,

Across the Irish sea, you came to rescue me,

Leading an army to avenge my shame,

Two islands torn apart, like my broken heart,

From your army just seven remain.

(Bran Sings)

Sister I heard you calling to me,

O’er the Irish sea,

I brought a war to those foreign shores,

For to set you free,

Now I feel I’m dying poison in my veins,

But for you my dear Sister I’d do it again.

(Branwen Sings)

I can hear as I close my eyes,

The screams of my young Son,

Cast into the burning fire,

By Efnysien,

After death I’ll find  peace, all of my pain will cease,

Brother you are my dearest friend,

Now I will welcome death, I will draw my last breath,

And this Raven will fly again.

(Bran sings)

Lay her body within the Earth,

In this four-cornered tomb,

So her Spirit will know rebirth,

From our Mother’s womb,

And though you lie in the earth so cold,

Know that your story will forever be told,

Bury my head facing over the sea,

And while it remains this land will be free.

Proof and Faith

Yesterday I read with interest a blog post by my friend and Druid author Kristoffer Hughes and it got me pondering my own relationship with Celtica and Druidry. The original blog post is here. 

I too was originally drawn to Druidry through its connection with the ‘Celtic’ world. It seems to me these days that it’s so hard to say things like ‘Celtic’ because there is always the person waiting on the sidelines to ask exactly what you mean by Celtic, that there was no Celtic race, that it was a culture, that the perception that the Welsh, Irish, Breton, and Cornish are the inheritors of this Celticity is wrong, and that there is just as much ‘Celtic’ DNA in the English as there is anywhere else. In fact I’ve recently read an article that suggests that the Irish are more Spanish than ‘Celtic’… That the Druids never wrote anything down so how can I call myself a Druid? Etc etc. So open your mouth and say the word Celtic at your peril! But I’m going to say it anyway, as it was this that was a big contributing factor that drew me to Druidry in the beginning.

It is also the Brythonic Deities that have always made my blood pump harder. Another historical hot potato that one. Mention the Mabinogion and the Gods from that wonderful book of tales, or the themes from the poetry of Myrddin or Taliesin, and once more you may find yourself being cornered to produce evidence that the ancient Druids even knew the name of Gwydion, Blodeuwedd, Rhiannon, and that is as difficult as proving that Jesus actually existed.

So already if I say something like ‘I am a modern day Druid who seeks to follow in the footsteps of my ancient ancestors and revere the Gods of this magnificent and magical island in the form of Rhiannon of the Horses, Blodeuwedd the Lady of the Night Sky and the Spring Meadow, Mryddin of the Druid Way’, there are many ready to question that, as much as they might question how someone can be a Christian Druid, or A Buddhist Druid, they ask how I can be a modern Pagan Druid.

My answer? I can’t prove it, nobody can, but I don’t need a history book to confirm my inner connection has that validity – I guess the person asking the question might but not me. See I have something that I’ve noticed some people find quite hard to say let alone admit. I have a faith. At some point I had to let go of searching for an accurate history of Druidry, and begin a deeper, less intellectual but more intuitive, quest.

I have never wished, nor needed, to find my personal spiritual connection to my Path through history books. If I did there are far easier options for a Pagan to follow than Druidry! My connection comes from our songs, our stories, our folklore. When I hear these old myths spoken by a master storyteller, they draw me into an inner experience, and it is there that I meet my Gods. Then, when I return, I find their same faces in the trees, in the mounds of the Hollow Hills, in the cry of the Owl, or the thunderous pounding of hoofs.

I love archaeology and history, and if I wanted to know the history of a site these would be the people I would ask, but if I wanted to know the local folklore, the stories and myths that were told about a certain hill or woodland copse, I wouldn’t necessarily go to a historian, for those I would seek a local Bard, a storyteller, a poet. No proof necessary, just take me on that journey.

Spirit of Albion Fan Music Video

I love it when I see how my music has been used in other peoples’ creativity. Here’s one I was sent recently that I hope you enjoy. I love the sparks coming from Rollo and Arthur in Stonehenge!

Antlered Crown and Standing Stone

Writing and recording an album is quite some undertaking. Each of my albums have taken on their own personality as each note has been played and recorded. During Herne’s Apprentice I was excited and nervous to see how my music would be received by people. Hills they are Hollow was probably the most gentle ride of all, as I’d found my feet and was thoroughly enjoying finding my way around the recording studio. The difficult third album was not so difficult in the end and, on the whole, Spirit of Albion flowed beautifully.

It was my fourth album The Cauldron Born that gave me my biggest challenge. Songs were coming that were deeply personal (Imramma – A Soul Quest), some political (Only Human), some written with an aim of putting the record straight (Green and Grey), whilst others told of a deep inner need to reconnect to the natural world (Land, Sky and Sea). The Cauldron Born lived up to its title as it felt like it was torn from my very soul, as I looked back into the depths of the Cauldron, and saw my own reflection.

I think it might have been this experience that led me to change direction with my next studio album by recording an album of classic traditional folk songs in Tales from the Crow Man. Some people ask why I did that, and the truth is that I really felt the need to give something back. I’d recorded a few folk songs on my previous albums (such as Raggel Taggle Gypsies and John Barleycorn), and each time I played these songs I became aware of a huge pyramid of ancestors stretching back behind me made up of all of the people who had sung these songs over the centuries. Nobody knows who wrote them, and that to me is part of the magic, but they are still being sung. These old folk songs tell of our human experience, and a folk song has to do that otherwise people will stop singing it, and it’ll disappear. So I chose the songs that had moved me the most over the years and went back into the studio.

I quickly realised that I didn’t just want to re-record covers of these songs, I wanted to really get to know them, explore them, feel them, then make my own mark on them, and that’s what I did, and that’s why Tales from the Crow Man was the hardest album of all. There was a pressure and a responsibility there that I wouldn’t deny. So it took a while, and it also took Cerri coming up with the concept of the Crow Man, this mysterious figure in the field outside the village that had seen the events of all of these songs happen. So he told his tales, and in the end I was really pleased with the result.

Last year I released my first live album As Nature Intended, and it is really lovely to have that available for those who simply cannot get to one my shows, and for those that can, but want to relive the experience.

So where next?

I am now halfway through recording my latest album, and it has already taken on a life of its own. It has taken this amount of time to tell me its name – as I’ve recorded the songs I’ve realised that it is a return to my roots. I am writing and singing about our myths, the land, and the Greenwood again, and it feels wonderful. This return to my roots led me to think about what it is that keeps drawing me to these subjects, and it is the mysticism, the spiritual connection to the beliefs and ways of our ancestors. And when I look into the mists of the green I always find the Lord of the Wildwood staring straight back at me.

So this album will be called Antlered Crown and Standing Stone. I said I was aiming at a March release but as usual I’ve been a little optimistic… So I will keep writing, and recording, and when it’s ready, it will be born.