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.

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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.

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!!

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 – 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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