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.

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 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

It’s a boy, no a girl, no – It’s a film!

On the 30th April 2011 the cast and crew gathered in a woodland in Sussex to begin filming Sprit of Albion, the Movie. Before we did anything else we held hands in a circle and asked for the blessings of the Spirits of the Land and of the Old Ones to see the film through to completion. We took some deep breaths, then the filming began – the first shoot being my performance of Pagan Ways, then I watched my song Green and Grey come to life before my eyes. It was an amazing moment I will never forget.

A year on to the day and there are two premiers being held in the UK tonight, one in the north of England which still has a few tickets left, and one in the south at the Hawth in Crawley that is sold out. Then tomorrow the DVDs go on sale. I can barely believe it’s actually finished.

I know that there have been independent films created in the past that have held magic in the hearts. The films of Kenneth Anger spring to mind, and I know that many Pagans (me included) love the old 70s horror film The Wicker Man, but that has really been adopted by us, and the final scene isn’t exactly the best publicity message for the Pagan community. I think with The Wicker Man it’s the magical vibe, and the songs, that we love.

Well, now we have a film that is truly ours, and I hope it will be loved just as much as Anger’s and The Wicker Man. A film that is about magic, and our relationship with the Land and it’s old myths and legends. It will take people on a journey, and there is one message held at the very heart of the film, a message that we don’t get very much from our regular TV, movies, or other media.

The message is one of hope.

Happy Birthday Spirit of Albion – The Movie!

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)

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.

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.