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.


Live concerts on film

My Dad accompanied me on a couple of my gigs during November, and being keen on videos and keeping records of his holidays etc, he brought along his camera and filmed the shows.

It’s been great look at the footage as you are the performer you will never see live. I’m gradually editing the films and will be putting the individual songs up on YouTube, but in the mean time here’s the first one. Lady of the Silver Wheel filmed live at Witchfest International, Fairfield Halls, Croydon, November 2007.

From the Cauldron 1

Last time I recorded a CD I didn’t have a blog, so I thought this time I would write up the progress here – thoughts on recording, the songs I’m working on, that kind of thing. Each post will be a From the Cauldron post.

I’ve laid down tracks for a number of songs so far:

Pagan Ways
Lughnasadh DanceOnly Human
Green and Grey

None are finished so as I add to them I’ll write about it here, until the album is mixed and sent off to be pressed.

This evening I put down the first tracks for Lughnasadh Dance – a song written by American Bard Gwydion Penderwen who sadly died in the 80s. I first heard this song performed by my friends The Dolmen back in the mid 90s on their debut tape (before indie bands could produce their own CDs!) On their album it was called Child of Barleycorn and I loved the hook immediately. This evening I put down the 6 string guitar tuned to DADGAD, and another track of a regular tuned guitar; I then put down a scratch vocal (a vocal just so I know where I am in the song); then Bass and Drums followed (I had great fun putting down the drums on this one!); finally a strummed mandolin.

The lead instrument still escapes me at the moment. I’ll just let the song rest now, and then see what comes when I go back to it.

To the realm of Mercia!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pagan Prison Perfomance

So it was in March that I got a phone call from one of my friends in the Pagan Federation. She is a Pagan Chaplain for Channing Wood Prison near Newton Abbott and works with Pagan prisoners there, teaching, organising rituals with them, and one day played them some of my songs. They really liked them, and asked if I might play a concert at the prison – hence the phone call.

Now when you’re 8 years old and you decide to learn to play guitar you can never know where that simple decision might lead in the future. For me it’s led to some amazing experiences, playing at conferences and camps, concerts in the USA and Europe, and now to play a medium security prison. Of course I said yes straight away.

I set off at 7am and got to the prison about midday. I must admit that I found the building very imposing, and the security quite intimidating, but I was met at the ‘air lock’ and shown to the prison chapel where I was due to play two 45 minute performances. I’ve seen prisons on the TV, but I don’t think that can prepare you for the atmosphere of the place. The very fact that this small few acres of brick and concrete was the prisoners’ entire world really hit home when we walked through what seemed like locked gate after locked gate. No prisoners in sight, they were all at lunch.

The chapel was a beautiful space with fantastic acoustics (I’ve played in a couple of churches now and they are great venues for acoustic music šŸ™‚ ), and the staff were all extremely friendly and caring people. I spent some time tuning up and warming up my voice before the audience of 50 prisoners arrived. I found myself feeling a little nervous, not knowing what to expect, but in truth I needn’t have worried at all. The guards took the names of the people there as they came into the chapel and one by one they sat down. About a third of the audience was Pagan, the others had just come to hear some live music (a rare commodity by all accounts) and be entertained. I quickly got the vibe of the audience – it wasn’t difficult – they were all men, so a blokey set was called for. I didn’t know whether they would sing along with me or not. I started with Song of Awen and the cheer at the end was deafening – it was going to be a great gig. I thought we’d try the singing on the second song, so went into Domeanna, introducing it as a ‘Dirty old sailor gets the posh bird’ song, which went down very well. Now when people sing along to this song they are often polite and gentle – not this audience, it was like playing to a load of football fans singing along at a club match. They sang with gusto. It continued like that for the rest of the set really, and I was blessed with a standing ovation at the end, and an encore. They’d also sent around a card which they’d all signed, a momento I will treasure.

As I drove home I reflected on how much the prisoners seemed to support each other, and how generally happy they were. I’m sure it’s not like that all of the time, but it reminded me of when I was an agricultural trainer and used to go to Africa quite regularly. The tribes I visited were subsistence farmers, and in truth they didn’t know if they would survive from harvest to harvest, which seemed like it should cause a great deal of stress, but it actually had the opposite effect. It meant that they lived completely for the ‘now’. There was no point worrying what the future would bring or climbing any social ladder, they could never afford a fast car, bigger house etc, so didn’t think about it, and they almost seemed happier for it. It felt similar with these men. Take away a person’s freedom and liberty, their possessions, their immediate future; and these walls, their fellow prisoners, and a few treats are all they have. To fight against that day in, day out, would send a person mad, so the only way to survive must be to surrender to the process and accept the situation. And there lies some kind of peace I guess.

I don’t know what any of them had done to end up in prison. It wasn’t my place to judge anyone, the courts had already done that. I was just a part of their lives in that small acreage of land for a couple of hours, and I had the opportunity to walk out, back into the everyday life, and freedom I seem to take so much for granted….