Tales from the Road – Here be GATORS!

It probably seems like a crazy idea to go to Florida for a long weekend, but that is what we did. Hopping on a plane at 9.30 on Wednesday morning we flew to Chicago, then on to Orlando where we were met by the lovely Ashley, one of the crew for the Samhain Florida Pagan Gathering. We arrived at the campsite in the dark, but I couldn’t help but notice the ‘Beware of the Bears’ sign as we drove in. We were shown our cabin which we were sharing with the author M R Sellars and his lovely wife, took some dinner, then headed straight to bed as the jet lag just caught up with us.

When we got up the next morning (after waking up at around 5am wondering where I was, remembering, then going back to sleep – something that’s happened quite a bit this year) we opened the door to the cabin and took in the sight that greeted us. The venue was beside a big lake, and on this morning it was so still as to be mirror-like in its splendour.

After breakfast we took a walk around the site, and down to the lakeside where we saw the Warning Alligators sign – not a sign I’ve ever seen at our UK Pagan festivals! We spent Thursday meeting up with new friends and old, and chilled under the Florida sunshine.

Friday was different. A chill wind had blown in and the lake was no longer its mirrored self. We held a poetry workshop by the windblown lakeshore, and then in the afternoon I led an Ogam workshop, also somewhat colder, but both a delight to lead. Then I began to prepare for my evening’s concert. The venue was perfect, and Paul, the sound engineer was a delight to work with. In no time I had the sound I liked.

Now, I have to say that I don’t like waiting to play. Once I’m ready I just cannot wait to get on with it. But before long people arrived and I was ready to start. I took the stage, and, said “Hello!”….. and every light in the entire venue went out. I was in pitch darkness. I thought it was part of the show, and other lights would come on, but they didn’t. So there was nothng else to do but to play a bit with the situation. I got really close to the mic and in a deep voice that boomed out of the darkness I said. “Welcome to the Underworld, did you think it would look different?” Some giggles from the audience in the blackness, then a few turned on torches to light me up. I could see a few people rushing around at the back of the venue, and thought I’d better start – I could just see with the audiences’ torchlight. So I opened with Song of Awen, and during the song the lights came back on, and the show continued. What had happened was a lady with a mobility scooter had plugged her vehicle in outside the venue, couldn’t see a charging light, so flicked the switch above the plug, and in doing so she turned off all of the lights in the venue. She was so apologetic afterwards, but it really wasn’t a problem – things like that often give me the opportunity to play the fool a bit more, and certainly keep me on my toes. We all had a wonderful evening together, as did those who came along for the encore concert on Saturday lunchtime.

There were times when I was sitting with friends, and I felt the Sun on my skin, so I just soaked it up. I knew that it would be the last time I felt that warmth until maybe April of May 2012, and those of you who know me will know I am a true Sun worshipper, and miss the light and heat deeply. Sharing the campsite with beautiful red-cap cranes was quite an experience, and I marvelled at the aerial acrobatics of the black wing and turkey vultures, but I almost cried when the bald eagle flew overhead.

But soon it was Sunday, and so early in the morning we left with our friends and headed to a Cracker Barrell before being dropped back at the airport.

We had the most wonderful time at the Florida Pagan Gathering. The organisers, the other headliners, and the visitors were so lovely, and I just know it won’t be our last visit there. Thanks to everyone who made our trip, the workshops, and the concerts, so enjoyable. Oh, and thanks for all the mead too!!

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Tales from the Road – He was searching for the Grail. I told him we’d already got one.

A very short flight took us from Prague to Frankfurt airport where we were met by Petra and then taken to a lovely German coffee house in her home village. A quiet night in led to us travelling the next day to the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids German Mabon camp.

The venue was beautiful. A YMCA centre with lovely chalets surrounding a gorgeous green where we would hold our rituals and workshops. The weather was still uncharacteristically warm for October so a great weekend was in store.

As dusk fell on that first night we walked into the woods, set our circle, and prepared for some Ovate initiations. The Moon shone through the treetops, owls called somewhere in the forest, we were blessed by a cloudless, star-filled sky. One of those skies that remind you just how small you really are. The initiations were magical. We walked back to go to sleep to awake at 6am, just before sunrise, for the Bardic initiations.

I have trouble getting up in the morning. I admit it. I have real trouble getting moving at 6am. But once dressed in my robe I opened the door and was caressed by the most delicious air that just filled me up and drove away any tiredness that was still hanging around.

We walked to the same location as before. Just over a stream, and into the woodland. We set the circle and the initiations began. What I haven’t told you is that we were sharing the site with a group of Live Action Role Players (LARPers). They were all in the next field. As the Sun rose bathing us in the most glorious early morning light, and the Bards saw the first dawn on their new Journeys, we were about halfway through one of the initiations when we heard a metallic stomping sound. I’d never heard this sound before, and it got closer and closer. We all stopped, there was a silence and stillness in the circle as the sound got louder, and we waited in anticipation, all wondering what would appear. We turned to see a knight in full plate-mail walking up the forest path towards us. Now I’ve seen some weird stuff in my time as a Druid, but this was about the most surreal.

Our gatekeeper walked over to him, obviously asked him to avoid the circle, and he dropped his shoulders in a rather dejected manner, turned, and stomped away with that same crashing sound. It was like a knight searching for the Grail, coming upon a group of Druids in the forest who told him ‘He Shall Not Pass This Way’ or like Monty Python, “well old chap, we’ve already got one.” It probably fitted his role-playing perfectly. The initiations were beautiful, and what a memory for that initiate to hold!

After we then found ourselves with some free time. Me and Cerri added our wishes to the ribbons, pictured below.

On Saturday night I played my concert. People gathered in the concert hall and I just couldn’t wait to get playing. This was my second concert in Germany and I could tell from talking to people at the camp that they were all up for a great evening. There was no need for translation here, people just understood the words of my songs and just joined in with me. By the end people were up and singing at the tops of their voices with a good number dancing in the isles. Apparently this is quite unusual for a German audience. It was s great night.

On the Sunday Cerri held her Awen workshop, and I did a talk on the Ogam, and a tree identification walk. More sunshine, more smiles. Then on Sunday morning at dawn we were once again up at 6am for a lovely naming ceremony. We had already packed our stuff as immediately after we were in the car, and on our way to Frankfurt airport to hop on a plane for the last leg of the tour. To Milan.

Tales from the Road – Damh karaoke in Prague

After the Austrian Broomstick Rally our next port of call was Prague in the Czech Republic. I remember a good number of years ago meeting Eurich and Jo whilst they were in the UK. They came to one of our open rituals at the Long Man of Wilmington and Eurich shook my hand enthusiastically saying “you’re Damh the Bard! Your music is HUGE in our country! We all sing them around our camp fires!” and I remember thinking, “But I’ve only sold one CD to the Czech republic…” and now I was on my way to play my third annual concert in Prague. Selling that first CD and having it passed around the Czech Pagan community led directly to these concerts. It’s a funny old way to make a living is music.

The Monday before the concert we met up with people at the Prague pub moot. The Czech people have a seemingly endless energy and zest for life and being around them this feeling is infectious. The beer flows, the folk songs are sung at the tops of their voices, they seem to have no fear of judgement or inhibition when it comes to singing, and dancing their traditional dances. It’s a delight to be around. And by the way, I have to say that Czech beer is some of the best I’ve ever tasted! Miraculously I awoke the next morning hangover free.

Before the concert we made a visit to the Mucha museum. Art Nouveau is one of Cerri’s favourite periods of art history. I must admit that I’ve never really understood the attraction. My favourite period of art is probably the pre-raphaelites but this gave me the opportunity to take a good look at it, and Mucha’s work. So what did I think? Well, I understand it a bit more. It doesn’t fill me up like it does Cerri, but at least I can appreciate it more, and a couple of the posters I found incredibly moving.

Later we made our way to the Mandragora Bar, the same venue I played last year, and I was so happy to meet friends there, old and new. Some of my concerts I know that people will remain seated and listen to the words and sing along. With the Czechs I know this is never going to happen. By halfway through the opening song of the first set I could hear them singing, and by halfway through the dance floor was full and the singing had moved up a number of notches in volume. By the end of the concert I was being beaten in volume, and for Lughnasadh I stopped singing altogether and just played along with them in a groovy Damh karaoke. As the organiser of the concerts said, the first concert was a one-off treat, the second was an encore, the third makes it an annual tradition. I do hope so, and look forward to playing again in Prague in 2012.

The next day I hadn’t managed to entirely avoid a hangover having indulged in some very fine wheat beer and mead after the concert, so after a little bit of a lay in we made our way to Prague’s finest monastery to visit it’s gallery and library. I love being at places of faith, and I really enjoyed the architecture, but by the end of the monasteries gallery I had really had enough of seeing paintings of Christ on the cross, and the torturous deaths of myrtyrs. I found myself wishing to see a painting of a positive point in Christ’s life, some point of celebration, but then the culmination of his life was his dying for the sins of the people, so I guess that’s why most of the images portray his death. It obviously works for many people as an image of faith, but it doesn’t for me. Each to their own. The library was fascinating though, and I would still recommend a visit to both.

So the next day, and after another wonderful trip to Prague, we found ourselves at Prague airport heading to Frankfurt for the OBOD Germany camp. But that, as they say, is another story for another blog…

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Tales from the Road – live video Prague 2011

Excerpts from last night’s concert in Prague. What a fantastic, enthusiastic audience!

Tales from the Road – Oh Vienna!

Vienna is one of my favourite cities. It seems to have such a relaxed atmosphere, and I adore its relationship with the Arts. I guess having such famous offspring helps, and it seems to value the Arts extremely highly, and I have never felt that being a musician is an undervalued profession here. This would be my fourth annual concert in the city, and my third visit to the Austrian Broomstick Rally.

We were collected from the airport by our dear friend Siggy, the person mainly responsible for my connection to the harp, and taken into Vienna to chill out for a few hours before going to the concert venue. I’d woken up at a Premier Inn at Heathrow at 4.30am so needed a power-nap before the gig that night. So rested we made our way into the city.

There was a buzz in the air that night. Everyone was in high spirits and the evening was opened by the Pagan Piper Project, a mass of singers and musicians who I had seen play a few songs at last years Broomstick. They were wonderful. Check them out atwww.paganpiper.com . The venue was full, with a few standing, and the atmosphere this year was fantastic. From the opening song we were all singing together and I don’t know if I was imagining this but it felt like there was some release of tension in the air – our lives do seem to be complicated right now with work, and the political climate – it just seemed like we were all thankful of the opportunity to just let go for a few hours.

The next day we hopped onto a tiny train that took us into the Austrian mountains. As each mile passed we were taken deeper and deeper into the countryside, and what countryside! Eventually we arrived at the tiny village of Anneberg and picked up from the smallest station I’ve ever seen to be taken to the new location for this year’s Broomstick Rally. It was pretty dark by then so I couldn’t see what was surrounding us, but when I got up the next morning I found that we were surrounded by mountains, held in a kind of natural cauldron. Again I felt that the atmosphere of the Broomstick was filled with joy and that same feeling of letting go.

On Friday afternoon I helped Cerri as she took the participants through a two and a half hour workshop and ritual based on the Taliesin poem The Spoils of Annwn. Then in the evening there was the annual Broomstick Eisteddfod with music, storytelling, poetry, and dance. Yes, dance. Great Breton dancing to harp. Wonderful.

On Saturday morning Siggy guided us through a brilliant candle decorating workshop, and then later there was a fantastic Pagan Treasure Hunt, and the traditional game of Pentacle Rounders. As night fell we once more gathered around the fire for more music and story, under an amazing star-filled sky.

The Sussex Broomstick Rally was the first Pagan camp I ever attended, back in the early 90s. The Austrian Broomstick Rally was start by Karen, a woman with a vast amount of energy who attended one of those early camps and took the format to Austria when she later moved there. The Sussex Broomstick Rally hasn’t been held for a number of years but it is wonderful to go to another country and go to workshops of depth, and also take part in some of those crazy games I remember with such fondness.

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Tales from the Road – To Europe!

On Wednesday morning I’ll be travelling to Austria to play a concert on Wednesday evening in Vienna, then on Thursday I’m off to the Austrian ‘Broomstick Rally’ in the mountains for the weekend. Then on Sunday driving to Prague for a moot on Monday, and a concert on Tuesday. After that it’s to Frankfurt for the OBOD Germany camp for the next weekend including a public concert, then on the Monday off to Italy for a concert in Milan on the Tuesday.

So I’ll doubtlessly be blogging about our adventures, but if you are in or near any of those places check out my gig listing below for details, and come and say hello!

 

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In an alternate Universe, yes…

Last Sunday, after the Anderida Gorsedd open ritual at the Long Man of Wilmington, many of the people stayed behind to be extras in the Spirit of Albion movie. It was an amazing day, and here is a short interview conducted by my friend Greg while I had a little time out of filming, and had the opportunity to watch a scene from the film develop.

Tales from the Road: Trains,1937, and a Storm

I’ve been back in the UK for just under a week and my thoughts are turning back to the time we spent at the Michigan Pagan Festival. The flight over from Sydney to LA was pretty bumpy but nothing compared to the one from LA to Detroit. When the plane finally landed safely all of the passengers cheered – I joined in too, I was so happy to be on the ground! We were met at the airport by Diane and David and soon we were on our way to David’s home for a night before the Pagan festival began. David is a fascinating man, with stories of when he used to hang out with Johnny Cash, he is a well-known lyricist, an ex-cop, was a member of Silver Ravenwolf’s Coven, a paramedic, and an all-round wonderful man. I could have listened to him talk all night, but it was a long flight from Australia to the USA, longer than I thought is was going to be, and once again I found my time clock weirded out, so an early night was in order.


We had a free day the next day so David took us to the Crossroads Village, a reconstructed village made up of buildings from the early 1900s, plus a railway, and David’s baby, the Genessee lake paddle boat. It was wonderful to step onto the steam train (being a travelling musician from the UK obviously has its perks!), walking into an old bank and barbers (I sat in the barber’s chair and the barber held my hair for a photo, scissors very close, and wondered how much I trusted them… But the locks survived). Everyone there was so friendly and keen to share the stories of their buildings, and the people who had lived there.

The next day we made our way to the Michigan Pagan Festival but on our way we stopped at the memorial for the 1937 Sitdown Strike – an amazing part of the local history of Flint and its relationship with the General Motors plant. David had written the lyrics to a song called 1937 (the music being written and performed by his musical buddy Dan who we later met at the MPF) so once more we found ourselves being drawn into the local history of the area by a man who so obviously loves living there. Always the best way to learn.

We arrived at the MPF and  were shown the showgrounds and then our hotel room. The festival is held at the Wayne County showgrounds and whilst the festival is taking place on the showground, the speakers, musicians, and many of the stall holders and participants stay at the Holiday Inn on the edge of the showground. So it was incredibly civilised, and a shower was never too far away!

My first appointment was at the ‘Meet and Greet’ panel where people at the event could fire questions at the speakers. I love this kind of thing as it really keeps me on my toes and makes me think – not a chore for a Gemini! After that I could just talk to people and mill around until my gig on Saturday night. Saturday morning I did a workshop on the Ogham, and then the time for sound checking had arrived.

The venue for the concert was a very big tin barn, but with the help of Diane’s partner, Patrick, who was the sound engineer for the event, we got a great sound, and the gig was great. It was dark of the barn, but I could still hear everyone singing, and shapes at the back in the darkness dancing.

The next morning was sunny and clear, but really humid. It was a lovely day, so I was surprised when I got to the venue to see everyone moving the merchandise stalls from the field and into one of the barns. Apparently a storm had been forecast for 3pm that afternoon. I did an encore acoustic concert in the barn, then in the afternoon me and Cerri ran a Sacred Poetry workshop, and it was towards the end of this workshop that the storm arrived. A couple of hours earlier David had said that the weather office had now said that conditions were ‘favourable’ for a Tornado. When the storm finally arrived we were all asked to go into the barn together, but before that I joined a circle to place a Ward over the site and protect us from the storm.

I was excited and terrified all at once. The excitement wore off pretty quickly though, when I looked around and saw the worried faces of the locals. That made it very real. The clouds above seemed to part to create two distinct layers, one very high the other almost low enough to touch the clouds. I could see small twists in the clouds around us, then an air raid siren went off and my heart began to race even more. But pretty soon after that it began to rain, and that was apparently a Good Thing… I didn’t know, I was just mesmerised by the whole experience. The storm passed, but all through the day I could hear the sound of distant thunder.

That evening we took part in a Peruvian fire ceremony. A simple, yet powerful experience. While I was in Australia David Garland had done a palm reading for me during which he told me I had two distinct life lines. I knew this was true, and so my work is to bring these lives fully together. That was my focus during the fire ceremony, and will be my focus all year until they are one.

To round off the weekend I found myself on one more panel, this time discussing ways to promote community. It was a fascinating panel discussion and I hope to have the audio from it for a future DruidCast podcast.

The worst thing about making new friends on trips like these is the leaving, and just as we had to say goodbye to our friends in Australia, so the time came when we had to do the same with those we had met and connected with in Michigan. Again I found myself thinking about those people who say we do not have a worldwide Pagan community, and once more I found myself wondering what they meant. My music is taking me into Pagan communities all over the world, and every time I find the same vibe, the same love of the earth, the same love of myth, or ritual, of Magic, of the animals, birds and plants whom we share this planet. And the same love of music, story and tales that bond us as humans, living on one rock, turning in space.

Tales from the Road: Three States and the Bad Bard


A couple of days after the wine tasting in McLaren Vale we spent a lovely day being looked after by Tamzin and Tom, then it was the Pagans in the Pizza bar night. We had been asked to talk to the Adelaide Pagans about the OBOD, our Anderida camps and Gorseddau, and about our spiritual paths in general. It was great to meet up for a moot that wasn’t in a pub. Everyone munched down on some lovely food before the evening began which created a great atmosphere. We were asked some really in depth questions, and then we acted out the Taliesin story. After a short break we were invited to sit on a couple of decorated chairs and were given the most lovely gift as some of the Adelaide Pagans dressed up as Ogam trees and they performed a dance to my song The Greenwood Grove. It was so lovely and we were both deeply moved by what we saw. Again, such lovely folk!

On Wednesday it was Adrienne’s birthday. We stayed at home and the fizz was opened at about 1.30pm and continued like that well into


was popped at around 1.30pm and flowed all afternoon and, well, deep into the night really. I was introduced to gorgeous home-made smoked salmon Nori Rolls (something I know I’ll be eating back home) and various Australian sparkling wines. Then in the evening we headed off to what has to be the best pizza parlour I’ve ever eaten in. It was a great night but then, in the car on the way home, Adrienne was introduced to The Bad Bard… Don’t worry Adrienne our secret is safe!

I did think that I’d be battling a hangover on the morning of the gig at the South Australian Folk Centre but although a little muzzy, we were all fine. The venue was fabulous with a great atmosphere and posters of past performers all around the walls. Spiral Dance opened the evening with a 50 minute set, then I did a 90 minute set and then Spiral Dance finished the night. I wondered if people would come out again after the English Ale and then the Pagans in the Pizza bar, but I needn’t have


worried. It was a great night and a good last gig in Adelaide before we headed off the next day to Melbourne.

We were up early and dropped at the airport, met by Tamzin and Evelyn who saw us off. And we were later met by members of the OBOD Melbourne


Grove who took us into the city to a lovely ecology centre before moving on to a coffee bar just along from the venue Bar 303. As I walked into the venue I just knew this was going to be a great night. The bar was just like a Bohemian bar you’d find in Brighton and Prague. The seating was sofas, the


stage was small, the beer was organic and cold. Mmmm.

Some amazing things happened that night. I was met by people I’d met here before, others who had seen me play in the uk whilst on holiday and had come out to see me play in their country, and during the half time break a man came up to me and said, “Do you recognise me?” I had to say I didn’t. Then be said, “Delney Avenue?” That’s where I lived when I was about 5 years old and then it clicked! This was Ross, an old friend of mine from childhood! We had connected on Facebook just before he moved to Australia, he had seen I was playing tonight and had come out to see me play! It was amazing. Ross, if you’re reading this it was great to see you again.

The gig was great and by the end we had the most raucous folk version of Anarchy in the UK I’ve ever played. The bar was heaving and I don’t think you could have fitted one more person in. We tried a different format to the evening this time with me opening, then a set by Spiral Dance, then me again, and ending with another Spiral Dance set, each set being 45 minutes. It worked a dream.

We were taken back to the home of one of the Melbourne Grove and woke up to beautiful scenery. Trudy lives on a farm in the country with a stone circle and a noisy, but lovely, pet sheep. It would have been great to have spent a bit more time with the Grove but soon we found ourselves back at the airport and heading off to my final gig of this tour in Sydney.

We were met at the airport by David and Kerry, facilitators of the Pagan


Awareness Network (PAN) and soon found ourselves at the Bald Faced Stag hotel in Sydney. Through the bar we found the most well-equipped music venue of the tour. A massive PA, mixing desk and lighting rig. Paul made me laugh when he said, “I’m not sure the world is ready for 4000watts of accordion yet!” but the sound was amazing. The audience sat at the tables at the back of the hall then others just sat on the floor and we took


the journey together. My last set ended with a heaving dance floor and it was a great and fitting end to the tour. Later me and Cerri joined Spiral Dance on stage for their version of Spirit of Albion and then it was over. I can’t tell you how emotional I felt when we finally had to say goodbye to the members of Spiral Dance, but I know in my heart this won’t be the last time I play music with them here on the Singing Land.

We had a couple of days in Sydney but this has already become a long catch up blog so I’ll leave that to write on the plane tomorrow on our way to Michigan for the Michigan Pagan Festival. I hope I find a wifi spot so I can upload it!

To Greece!

Tomorrow me and Cerri are off to Greece. I’m playing a gig there on Sunday evening, and Cerri also has an art exhibition in the same hall in Ioannina.

When I started writing music I had no idea that it would lead to overseas concerts, I didn’t see that coming. But Paganism has a worldwide community, and songs that speak to Pagans in Britain will in all probability speak to Pagans in the USA, in the rest of Europe, in Australia and all over the world. Not only that, but I’m finding more and more that spiritually-based music, not matter what it’s path, brings people together, and I think quite a number of the people there on Sunday won’t actually be Pagans. Another thing I didn’t see coming.

This part of my work as a musician is such a gift, and I now am lucky enough to not only look forward to playing music for people in the UK, but also more and more places around the world.

Going to Greece is very special as Cerri can ultimately trace her ancestry there, and I cannot wait to touch the earth of one of the birthplaces of ancient Pagan philosophy. I wonder how the Spirits of the Land will respond to my songs? We shall see!

I’ll try and blog during the trip to Greece, but in the meantime, if you want to keep in touch, I’m sure to be tweeting on Twitter and on my Facebook page.