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.

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…

Final Spirit of Albion Movie Diary

Well, it was a year in the making and nearly three years from conception to the finished film, but just about a week and a half ago we went to the southern premier of the Spirit of Albion movie and it was such a wonderful night. The support this film received from so many people was really quite overwhelming, as the 5 minute credits of the end of the film will attest.

I opened the evening with a 30 minute set and then we all sat back to watch the film. The atmosphere was so wonderful and at the end there was a standing ovation from the audience to Gary and the cast and crew.

It was such an amazing and at times quite surreal experience to have been involved with, and I’m so proud to have been a part of this project. I really hope that this film will inspire more films with a Pagan theme. So it has begun, here’s to the Spirit of Albion movie, and to the other creative projects it might inspire!

Here is the final movie diary from that night. Enjoy!

http://youtu.be/JbvhVoUDXVI

Update on the Royal Albert Hall concert

A couple of months ago I set up a Facebook page for a concert at the Royal Albert Hall. The idea came as I looked at the 7500+ likes on the my music page and thought I wonder if we could do this? So I created the Facebook page asking people to like the page if they would come along. The page got over 800 likes on the first couple of days, then levelled out as I updated it less and it now stands at just over 1000 likes. Which is a good start, but we still need more if the idea is to become a reality.

Obviously the first thing that happened, and I’m not at all surprised it did, is that I was inundated with offers from musicians to play at the gig. There were a few other enquiries that came up so I thought I’d better address some of them in this post so we know we are on the same page.

The main thing to bear in mind is that we would only have the hall for the evening. It wouldn’t be an all day festival. Just to have the hall for 3 hours of music between 8pm and 11pm is going to cost around £28-30,000. Doors would open at 7.15 with access to seats at 7.30. The concert would begin at 8pm. So realistically there is time for one, at the most two, performers on top of my own concert for you all. Right now I have been speaking with Spiral Dance from Australia in the hope that they will be one of the bands performing on the night, but this is obviously in the very early stages. As for myself, I’ll be putting together a full band for this one-off concert with some very special guest musicians along the way. Whatever happens it’s going to be a great evening of music.

So the next stage is to begin to raise the finances for the concert as the Royal Albert Hall requires all of the money in advance for people hiring it for the first time. Here’s the plan…

I would like for the Facebook page to get to at least 1500 likes before Samhain this year. The Albert Hall holds 3929 people, so if each of those 1500 likes brings one guest we are close to a sell out. If we reach 1500 likes on the page I’ll then take that as a good omen and open a Kickstarter fund raiser page. Kickstarter is a safe and secure online service that allows people to raise money for artistic projects. I will set the target figure to £28,000 and ask each of you who want to be at the event to donate a minimum of £30. That £30 donation will buy you your ticket, but at the time of donation you won’t know the date of the event as I won’t be able to book the hall before we raise the money. Kickstarter only charge the donation if the project reaches its target by the deadline. If we don’t reach the target by the deadline no one will be charged and the project just doesn’t happen. If, however, we reach the target, or go beyond it, on the deadline date the donations are taken, we get the finances, and can write the Albert Hall a cheque and book the date for the concert. So the success of this event lies with the community. If we want this to happen, it will. I’d love the concert to happen next year. So if the Kickstarter fundraiser page goes live this Samhain, and we set the deadline for, maybe, Imbolc 2013, we can then look at the second half of the year for the concert itself.

How exciting would that be!! Imagine the Royal Albert Hall heaving with your friends and people you’ve yet to meet, all gathering to celebrate together and be entertained. Even if I wasn’t playing I’d want to be there. To have come from the early 90’s newspaper slandering to a concert at the Royal Albert Hall would really show just how much our community has grown. So I ask you to tell your friends, talk about this at your moots, in your magazines, on your Facebook groups, in your podcasts. Share the Facebook page and let us see if together we can do this.

Obviously none of this is written in stone and things can change, but If you’ve any questions. Do ask them!

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.

Major Influences Part 3 – Dougie Maclean

Well, not so much an influence, as a Kindred Spirit.

Me and Cerri were on holiday in Scotland, travelling to some of the Herbidean Islands when, at breakfast time in one of the B & Bs on the Isle of Skye, I heard this song being played. It was a lovely B & B and I had fallen in love with Skye, but it was to give me an even greater gift on that morning. As I listened to the song I simply fell in love with it.

I write songs that I would listen to myself, I mean, if I wouldn’t listen to it, why would anyone else right? And here, drifting though the speakers of this B & B was a song that was about the closest I had ever heard to the kind of music I was trying to create. I asked the waitress who it was and she told me it was a Scottish folk singer/songwriter called Dougie Maclean.

When we left the B & B for that days trek, one of the destinations was a music shop to see if I could find a CD from this man. There, hidden in the rack I found his album Roif. I popped it into the car’s CD player and I knew I’d found a musician that spoke my language, he even sang in the same key as me. The themes of his songs were certainly rural, and some also held within them a Pagan edge too.

I played that CD all over the rest of our Hebridean holiday (Cerri was admittedly a little tired of it by the time we got home…) but then I bought the rest of his albums, and fell in love with each and every one. A few months later I saw he was playing at a small venue near us in Sussex so I bought tickets, and when I saw him live he even entertained and communicated with the audience like I do!

His voice and songwriting is a joy, and his love of the land, and old traditions is palpable. If you like my music, you would love Dougie. So have a listen and watch these videos and, like me, I think you’ll be drawn into his world, and fall in love with his music too.

Sacred Sound – The Tale of Oak Broom & Meadowsweet

(I wrote this article some time ago but I thought I would post it here on my blog as, to me, it illustrates some of the ideas of surrendering to my faith I wrote about in my previous blog. I hope you enjoy the tale!)

There was a time when music was seen as a sacred thing. Consider for a moment a deep, reverberating musical note. A constant sound; a vibration that is contained within all life – within the very fabric of the Universe itself. This sound exists. It is the note at which the Universe vibrates. Scientists now have equipment that can tune into this note.

Consider another thing. Why is it that our major scale is made up of 7 notes running from A to G, and once we reach the eighth note of a scale we have reached the same note, eight higher? Why is it that the first, third and fifth notes in a scale sound beautiful to our ears and form the major chords, yet a first, second and fourth are horrible? Why is it that most songs are written around the same first, fourth and fifth chords of a scale? This is the basis of folk music, blues, twelve bar, and most modern pop tunes. To me this science is truly magical, the foundation of the Bard’s Magic. By placing note, next to note, we are weaving a magic that is in tune with the Universe, and with the Gods. I’d like to take you on a journey, to the place and time when I first experienced this power.

I was sitting with my back against the trunk of an old Oak. It was early May and the bluebells carpeted the woodland’s sun-dappled floor. I took a deep breath of air, filling my lungs, a sensation that was as sensual as tasting the best Champagne. It was my lunchbreak, and I was lucky enough to work so close to this special place. My spaniel dog sniffed around, then came and lay down next to me. I was here to commune with the Spirits of Place. One of the things that had attracted me to the Druid path was that it didn’t view this Earth as a place to escape from. The idea that life was something evil was totally alien to me. The thought of reaching a state of enlightenment that meant I no longer had to return to Earth for future lives I found terribly frightening. It was days like these that I lived for.

I know that some people find silence the trigger for their connection to Spirit, and there are many times when I too find this the case. But on this occasion, I had brought my mandolin with me into the woods. I felt totally at peace, with the world, with myself, and with Spirit. I closed my eyes and began to play, not to anyone else but to the Spirit of this mighty Oak, and the nature Spirits whose space I was sharing. I played a D minor chord. Minor chords sound mystical, sometimes sad, and you’ll find that most chants have been written in a minor key. A minor key can shift our consciousness into a place where we are open to the unseen world. I just picked around this chord for a while, listening to the notes as they carried on the wind, occasionally humming along, caught up in the moment. Another magical thing that music does is to bend time. Time becomes something very different whilst in this space. I’m not sure how long I was sitting there, just playing around with sound, but after what seemed like both a couple of seconds, and yet hours, I sang a line.

Gather round people, let me spin you a tale,
Of a Mother’s anger, and a curse doomed to fail.

I didn’t stop playing the mandolin, but I did open my eyes. For a moment less than a second I saw faces looking at me from within the bluebells. Tiny shimmering lights sparkled, then were gone. Yet their impression was still there in my mind. Although I could no longer see them, I knew they were still there. I closed my eyes once more, a sweet sensation within my chest. I sang the line again….

Gather round people, let me spin you a tale,
Of a Mother’s anger, and a curse doomed to fail.
Arianrhod’s baby, whom she did disown,
And Gwydion stole him, to raise as his own.

A song was forming from the moment. The sacred sound of the mandolin was blending with the note of the Universe, and voices were whispering to me, voices that seemed to come from both outside of me, yet I was hearing them inside my mind.
“Tell my story,” She said.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“I am your muse, I am the Lady of Flowers, the May Queen, the Queen of Death, and the ghostly Owl of the night sky”.
I closed my eyes, and felt the power of the Oak behind me, heard the whisper of the breeze within the branches, and within those whispers I heard Her voice once again.

Now the boy he grew to be strong and brave,
But his Mother cursed him not to be given a name,
When he cast a stone where a Wren it did land,
She said, “The Young Lion has a Steady Hand!”

Then instantly, a chorus sang within my head. A chorus of voices that rang through the woodland, a chorus that I knew must be there.

Call the May, Call the May, Call the May, Call the May!
Gather round people and Call in the May!
Call the May, Call the May, Call the May, Call the May!
Gather round people and Call in the May!

I had only written two other Pagan songs at this time, one had come to me whilst driving, the other as I walked through the woods like an ancient Bard, playing my mandolin, once again to the Spirits who would listen to the gift I offered them. This one, once more, came as if from nowhere. I knew the story that was being told. It came from the Fourth branch of the ancient Welsh book called the Mabinogion. I had learned the entire Four Branches by heart, to be able to tell them around campfires, under the stars, as part of my Bardic training. Now another aspect of the Bard was emerging, the telling of the myth, in the form of song.

The voices were singing once more. It was a cacophony of sound. I played along to the singing, and tried to listen for words within. A word here and there, but nothing to draw from, then…

So she laid upon him a new destiny,
You shall never have any weapons unless given by me!


A great and powerful man then came into my awareness. “This will not be!” he shouted.

Then a mighty army by Gwydion’s charms,
Forced Arianrhod to give Lleu his arms.

A seething woman’s face, twisted with rage. Turned to face me, her arms outstretched.

Then in rage and torment she laid down this curse,
“He shall never marry a woman of the race of the Earth”.


Two cloaked figures entering the deep forest.


So Gwydion and Math planned to foil her hate,
And with the herbs of the forest, they twisted his fate
.

Again the chorus rang out within the woodland. A thousand ethereal voices singing in total harmony.

Call the May, Call the May, Call the May, Call the May!
Gather round people and Call in the May!
Call the May, Call the May, Call the May, Call the May!
Gather round people and Call in the May!

I had to open my eyes once more. I was exhilarated, I felt completely at one with the Spirits of the Woodland. The place felt joyous, the air was electric, it felt like something was changing. I played with the chords, keeping the energy flowing, sensing the dancing figures just outside of my awareness, within their realm. In a place where the sacred sounds of our worlds combine. I closed my eyes once more….

I saw a Grove deep within the woods. It was the dawn of Beltane, and around a vast cauldron, two magicians were chanting, occasionally one would add another herb into the brew.

So they gathered from the forest, from the Grove where they meet,
Flowers of Oak, Broom and Meadowsweet.
And uttering upon them a verse of power,
A figure began to form from the flowers.

From within the cauldron, new life was forming. A woman of such beauty and radiance whose feet would bring life wherever they fell upon the Earth.

Oh rise and wake fairest Lady of Spring,
Come and be wed to the Forest King.
‘Flower Face’ is your name, sweet Blodeuwedd,
You carry life, within your breath!

And she danced within the Grove, feeling the warmth of the dawn’s rays upon her skin, a Goddess within the body of a human, her senses reeling with delight, as the voices chanted the verse of power.

Come Oak Broom and Meadowsweet,
Come Oak Broom and Meadowsweet,
Come Oak Broom and Meadowsweet, come Hawthorn, come May!
Come Oak Broom and Meadowsweet,
Come Oak Broom and Meadowsweet,
Come Oak Broom and Meadowsweet, come Blodeuwedd, come wake!
Come Oak Broom and Meadowsweet,
Come Oak Broom and Meadowsweet,
Come Oak Broom and Meadowsweet, come Hawthorn, come May!
Come Oak Broom and Meadowsweet,
Come Oak Broom and Meadowsweet,
Come Oak Broom and Meadowsweet, come Blodeuwedd, come wake!

Then joining in a chorus of celebration.

Call the May, Call the May Call the May, Call the May!
Gather round people and Call in the May!
Call the May, Call the May Call the May, Call the May!
Gather round people and Call in the May!

The song was finished. I stopped playing the mandolin and let the final chord ring out into the woods, and fade away. I sat for a little while, eyes closed, just taking in the peace of the moment, as my awareness returned to the outside world, to the calling of the birds, and the smell of the earthy air. I open my eyes, the sun’s glare blinding me for a moment, until I re-adjusted to the brightness that surrounded me. I never wrote down a word of that song, I just knew it, and would write it down later when I got home. I kissed my hand, and placed it upon the earth just at the base of the Oak, giving thanks for the gift of Awen, the gift of Bardic inspiration. Then after a short time, I began to walk back – I had to get back to work.

The Awen isn’t like the Life Force. It isn’t with us all of the time. It comes in flashes of radiance, it is the quest of the Bard to bring more into their lives, to drink from the cauldron that creates the Fire in the Head. I’ve found that to sit and try to write a song is impossible for me. I cannot force inspiration, it simply is there or it isn’t. I have only rarely found it in my home. Most often it is found in the wilder places, on the moors, in the woodland, or upon the Hollow Hills where the Faerie dance on Midsummer’s Eve. And the key I have found is the use of sacred sound, whether that is a drum, mandolin, guitar, or the celtic harp. The Gods gave us music, and when we play in their sacred places, they listen.