Tales from the Road – To Mercia!

IMG_0359Last weekend me and Cerri went to the Mercian Gathering near Coventry. I had a gig on the Friday night, and Cerri had the opportunity to have a stall outside our tent where she could sell some of her artwork. Last year I had strained my back so barely made it up there to play the gig, and then it rained solidly all weekend and some people had to be towed from the field. This year some kind of Karmic debt needed to be paid and sure enough the weather was lovely. A few little sprinkles of rain, but nothing like the deluge of last year.IMG_0362

We had a pretty good drive up and arrived around 4pm on the Friday, to be greeted by members of the Mighty Dagda security team. These people give so much to the Pagan community in Britain, camping by the gates of most of the festivals and keeping the participants safe. They are a Pagan National Treasure! Hugs a-plenty with the Dagda crew was followed by tent pitching, and a brew. It was chilly, and a little gusty, but the weather report said that would clear over the weekend.

We gathered around the unlit Labyrinth for the opening ritual and it was then I realised just how many people were there. 850 apparently, which has to make it one of the biggest, if not the biggest, Pagan camp in the UK. It was amazing to see, and stand in Circle, with so many other people. The opening ritual dance through the Labyrinth hailed the beginning of the festivities, so I headed back to the tent to get my instruments, and made my way to the main marquee. I was due to play at 10.30pm after my good friends ScoIMG_0369tt Jasper and Susan Garlick (AKA Dragonflymoon). They did a great acoustic set to a packed house ending with some rousing chants. Groovy!

I tuned up pretty quick and dived onto the stage area. The applause was loud and immediate. I could tell straight away that we were in for a good night together. I’ve tried to open with other songs, but Song of Awen always sets the tone so well, after that I went into Green and Grey, but pretty much after that requests started to be shouted out, so the set list went out of the window very early! It was lovely to just play what people wanted, with a new tune here and there too. I didn’t take a break, just played through about 90 minutes before I said goodnight. Not… so… fast… An incredibly loud cheering audience could keep me playing all night, and they almost did! I probably played another 30 minutes, so it was about a 2 hour set in the end. But eventually the last note was played. I could still hear the audience in my head for most of the night, reliving moments we shared together.IMG_0378

The next day I noticed a lot of missed calls on my phone – I’d forgotten to take it off silent mode. When I called I found out that Zakk, my eldest Son, had fallen off his bike and had a compression fracure on his wrist. He was in hospital awaiting an operation. I found out about 2pm. I really wanted to go straight home, but everyone said that it was all under control, so with reluctance I stayed put. About 30 minutes later my Mum phoned and said our dog had lost the use of her back legs after taking a tumble chasing a ball! I sat for most of the day worrying until I heard that Zakk was out of surgery and the dog was back home. When you travel as much as me it’s always possible that things like this could happen, but it was really hard being so far away, and not being able to do anything. We spent most of the day by the tent and Cerri’s stall, which was a lovely distraction – meeting people as they walked by, and watching the Witchmen Morris. The wind had dropped too, so it looked good for the evening Labyrinth and Wickerman ritual.

At 7.30 we all gathered once more by the Labyrinth as it was dowsed in lamp oil by the crew. Dusk soon fell. It was lit anIMG_0393d looked amazing. Some fire dancers walked through with poi and then we were all led through in a mass of 850ish chanting Pagans. As we walked out we were guided to walk to the field where the Wickerman had been prepared. All day people had been placing wishes, prayers, burdens, on him, and now he stood proud, our proxy sacrifice, ready to send these to the Old Gods. We stood in a horseshoe shape before him, and flaming arrows were fired. He lit well, and soon 20-30 foot flames were sweeping into the sky. A great cheer sounded as finally he slowly began to keel over, and tumble in a mass of flames, to the earth. The Circle span, drums pounded, energy was raised, and then the fire-jumping began. Our messages sent to the Old Ones to do with as they wished.

I love the way that spectacle and drama have returned to Pagan camps, and the Mercian crew of the Hearth of Arianrhod do it so well. All of the profits from the Mercian Gathering go to their chosen Wildlife Charity, and they’ve raised something like £11,000 so far. Such amazing generosity. Anna, Sue, Oliver and their crew are wonderful! As we left I managed to have a hug with Anna who booked me again for 2010, and I tell you what, I can barely wait to get back in that field again!! To the Old Ones!

As soon as I got home I went to see my Son sporting his new fashionable arm wear. Here are the pictures of the injured pair!



To the realm of Mercia!

Last Friday afternoon I stepped into my car and began the journey to the land of Mercia. I had been booked to play at the Mercian Gathering that was being held on a farm just outside of Coventry. I’d heard a lot of great things about this camp so was really looking forward to it.

The journey went well and I arrived in plenty of time. I got to the village where the camp was being held and found no signs anywhere. I drove around for about 30 minutes, up one lane, down another, trying to find the roads that were shown on the little map that had been sent out with the tickets, but I couldn’t find them anywhere. In the end I saw a postman who pointed me in the right direction – I have to say that if I hadn’t found him, I might still be looking now! I was told that the camp had suffered in the past from a number of gate-crashers, so they don’t advertise the location.

When I finally pulled into the farm I was met by the Dagda – not the Giant Celtic God, but the tribe who provide added security to almost all of the Pagan events in the UK. What a welcome too! I love these guys and we mutually love-bombed each other before I was pointed to the area I could pitch my tent.

The first thing I noticed was how many people were there! I was told that there were about 500 attending. That has to make it the biggest Pagan camp in the UK. The organisation was superb, with a cafe, a very large marquee, a few smaller tents, some tee pees, and some of the most luxurious toilets I’ve ever seen. Once the tent was up I took a wander around the site, found the venue for my concert – the labyrinth was already set up ready to be lit, and as I walked into a neighboring field I met with the Wicker Man, standing tall and awaiting his fate. People were already placing items on him as wishes for the Gods.

My performance was part of a Bardic evening. the first up was my friend Kevan who performs under the name Tallyessin. Stories and poetry told with eloquence and passion, wonderful stuff. That was followed by Gary Breinholt, a Bard I met years ago within the Stone Circle at Avebury. Again, a wonderful storyteller who held the audience spellbound. I was due to start my set at 10pm, so I took the opportunity to just step outside and take in the vibe of the camp, and its central fire. After such an awful rainy Summer, this felt like a magical early Autumn evening. When I got back to the marquee it was full of people! I’d never played this event before, so I thought I would have to gradually draw the audience towards singing, but how wrong I was! From the opening chords of Song of Awen it was obvious that almost everyone in the audience knew my songs, and they were singing along, not just with the choruses, but with the verses, from the off. I was very humbled by the experience; and the love I felt from the people there, it was quite overwhelming. It’s a performer’s dream when this happens, because you feel the love from the audience, they feel the love you have for your songs, and for them, they feel that back and sing and cheer louder, which then makes you work harder, and on it goes. Within the set I played about three new songs, and they were even joining in with those after a verse or so! A truly magical night, a real treat, if you were there, thank you. It was one of those concerts that will stay with me.

The next day brought more sunshine, talks, conversation, and peace. I spent the day just wandering, spending some time by the fire, some time in the cafe, sitting by the Wicker Man, and just playing music in my tent. The evening seemed to arrive very quickly, and in no time we were all gathered at the Labyrinth for the evening’s ritual. As darkness fell, the labyrinth was lit, and we all made our way through, chanting, spiraling and drumming, then we walked in procession down to the Wicker Man. We stood in circle singing as the archers raised their flaming arrows and fired them into the pile of wood beneath him. Flames grew higher, and cheers rang out into the night as he was slowly engulfed in fire. Dancing, drumming, wildness, chanting. I stepped out of the melee for a moment, just to take in the sight, just as the Moon rose from behind the clouds low on the horizon. People look to the past to see a Pagan Golden Age, but at times like that I realise that we are actually living in it now.

They’ve booked me to play again next year – I can barely wait!