Tales from the Road: The English Ale

I’m writing this on the plane as we leave Adelaide and head towards Melbourne. I had planned to post a regular blog but things became really busy, really quickly!

The English Ale festival was amazing. We started early joining a few of the Morris sides at the local pub for some dances before people gathered at the Mylor Hall. The scene could have been from any English Morris festival. Sides dancing to accordion, fiddle, drum and flute; May pole dancing, cider, sunshine, laughter and singing. A wonderful day. And as dusk fell, so we gathered in the field opposite the venue beside three giants, as the ‘Obby ‘Osses chased and masks were placed. The sun set, and torches were lit for the procession to the Wicker Man. I was honoured to have been asked to lead the procession with Cerri, so with dancers flowing, and about 200

people behind, we slowly set off. Again, as I looked back and saw the torchlit procession it could have been from Lewes, Hastings, Padstow, yet here we were in Australia with some of the most passionate dancers I have ever met.

We arrived at the Wicker Man and formed a great circle. Then a horn was blown and I turned and declared peace in the east. I then walked sunwise (which in the southern hemisphere in anticlockwise) as peace wasdeclared in each direction (with fire in the north). The differences feel completely right

when here on this land. Drums started as a rope fire puppet began to dance around the circle, finally falling, and embracing the Wicker Man, setting him alight. An awesome sight that I’m sure we will being back with us to the UK!

More Morris followed, but I made my way back to the hall as the evening music was about to begin. The concert went really well with some amazing harmonies coming from the audience during The Wheel an Wild Mountain Thyme. I felt humbled to come half way around the world to find people who knew my songs.

It was an amazing day and it all felt really familiar, and the dancing a music was performed with a love and passion that showed a deep love and respect for English traditions. I was incredibly moved by what I saw, and all of the sides would have been at home at the Hastings Jack in the Green festival. I took some video clips during the day and dropped them into a little video that you can find here

I’d hoped to do regular blogs during my tour, but time and Internet connections have made that difficult, but I’ll keep trying!!


Sources of Inspiration 2 – Places of Peace

The Quest for the Awen, yearning for those three sweet drops to fall upon my tongue, to open my eyes and see the world through the eyes of a poet is still a Quest that drives me every day. Nature is the world’s most intoxicating drug and the great thing is that in all of my encounters with her, the side effects of this particular addiction have all been, without exception, completely positive.

I am blessed by the fact that my chosen medium, acoustic folk, is infinitely portable – from an acoustic guitar or for even more portability, the tiny mandolin. I have written many songs in the quiet of my own home, but a number of the songwriting experiences I remember with most fondness are the songs that I caught whilst playing outside.

Some people find inspiration in conflict. Friction can be a wonderful source of inspiration and it has been for me a couple of times, Only Human instantly springs to mind, a song that I had to write after watching a program about animal experimentation, but for me the main source of inspiration is peace. I guess some may find no inspiration in peace at all, finding it too dull, still or quiet, but I have always known that I have within me an inner hermit who yearns for that sacred solitude that opens us up to the Divine.

Oak Broom and Meadowsweet was written in a woodland near Beltane, the floor covered with bluebells, and the voices of the Faerie almost dictating the words; Noon of the Solstice was written in the same woods, near the time of the Solstice, singing the words to the Horned God standing with my back to a mighty Oak; Hills they are Hollow was written in the stone circle at Merrivale with the ‘Tors standing as Guardians to the rites to Nature’s Gods of darkness and of light’; and Grimspound was written in the large roundhouse at the site listening to the calling Ravens and the voices within the fallen walls.

Other sites have inspired songs that have arrived some time after getting home. Land, Sky and Sea was inspired by a visit to St Ninian’s cave in Dumfries and Galloway where every day St Ninian used to make a pilgrimage down to the sea, to sit in this tranquil cave, and here he said he could talk to God and hear his reply. When I went to the place I also sat and spoke aloud, possibly to different Gods, but still there was a sense of connection that I can vividly remember whilst writing this. It is taking these experiences and putting them into words that have been a large part of my songwriting over the years.

So what to do? Well, I get on my walking boots, go outside, take my instrument with me, and a pen and paper. Choose a site that I love, and make a sacred pilgrimage to the place, making my intent the connection to the Site, not writing a song – the song comes from the connection.

When I get there I open up to the spirits of place, sit and open my senses – look, listen, smell, and touch deeply. A technique I learned from my Bushcraft training was to see with the eyes of the deer, listen with the ears of the hare, feel with the skin of a new born baby, smell with the nose of the wolf. This intense opening to the senses quiets the voice that chatters in my mind about the washing up, the bills to pay, that I am wasting my time and shouldn’t be here, that kind of thing. If I turn my attention away from that voice and solely to my senses, that
voice cannot get through. Combine this with conscious breathing and the connection with the place, and its energies, open to me, and then, sometimes, something wonderful happens, and I begin to hear the words of the Ancestors, then voices of the Faerie, the stories of the Stones.

Usually I just ‘noodle’ on the guitar, playing the words I hear with notes. We know that sound is vibration, that music is tuned vibration, and notes do not end after the string is played, but rather carry on out into the universe, and endless space. That is the space I get into, and if I am lucky I will catch a word or two, and begin to sing over the tune, and sometimes these words become a song.

It is the sense of peace I feel at these places that lets me open up to the flow of Awen. It is when I allow my inner hermit his space that the songs I feel most connection with are given voice. Do you have an inner hermit/monk? Do they get enough space? If not, try to give them time and space, and there you too might find peace, and taste the Awen.

Tales from the Road – To Mercia!

IMG_0359Last weekend me and Cerri went to the Mercian Gathering near Coventry. I had a gig on the Friday night, and Cerri had the opportunity to have a stall outside our tent where she could sell some of her artwork. Last year I had strained my back so barely made it up there to play the gig, and then it rained solidly all weekend and some people had to be towed from the field. This year some kind of Karmic debt needed to be paid and sure enough the weather was lovely. A few little sprinkles of rain, but nothing like the deluge of last year.IMG_0362

We had a pretty good drive up and arrived around 4pm on the Friday, to be greeted by members of the Mighty Dagda security team. These people give so much to the Pagan community in Britain, camping by the gates of most of the festivals and keeping the participants safe. They are a Pagan National Treasure! Hugs a-plenty with the Dagda crew was followed by tent pitching, and a brew. It was chilly, and a little gusty, but the weather report said that would clear over the weekend.

We gathered around the unlit Labyrinth for the opening ritual and it was then I realised just how many people were there. 850 apparently, which has to make it one of the biggest, if not the biggest, Pagan camp in the UK. It was amazing to see, and stand in Circle, with so many other people. The opening ritual dance through the Labyrinth hailed the beginning of the festivities, so I headed back to the tent to get my instruments, and made my way to the main marquee. I was due to play at 10.30pm after my good friends ScoIMG_0369tt Jasper and Susan Garlick (AKA Dragonflymoon). They did a great acoustic set to a packed house ending with some rousing chants. Groovy!

I tuned up pretty quick and dived onto the stage area. The applause was loud and immediate. I could tell straight away that we were in for a good night together. I’ve tried to open with other songs, but Song of Awen always sets the tone so well, after that I went into Green and Grey, but pretty much after that requests started to be shouted out, so the set list went out of the window very early! It was lovely to just play what people wanted, with a new tune here and there too. I didn’t take a break, just played through about 90 minutes before I said goodnight. Not… so… fast… An incredibly loud cheering audience could keep me playing all night, and they almost did! I probably played another 30 minutes, so it was about a 2 hour set in the end. But eventually the last note was played. I could still hear the audience in my head for most of the night, reliving moments we shared together.IMG_0378

The next day I noticed a lot of missed calls on my phone – I’d forgotten to take it off silent mode. When I called I found out that Zakk, my eldest Son, had fallen off his bike and had a compression fracure on his wrist. He was in hospital awaiting an operation. I found out about 2pm. I really wanted to go straight home, but everyone said that it was all under control, so with reluctance I stayed put. About 30 minutes later my Mum phoned and said our dog had lost the use of her back legs after taking a tumble chasing a ball! I sat for most of the day worrying until I heard that Zakk was out of surgery and the dog was back home. When you travel as much as me it’s always possible that things like this could happen, but it was really hard being so far away, and not being able to do anything. We spent most of the day by the tent and Cerri’s stall, which was a lovely distraction – meeting people as they walked by, and watching the Witchmen Morris. The wind had dropped too, so it looked good for the evening Labyrinth and Wickerman ritual.

At 7.30 we all gathered once more by the Labyrinth as it was dowsed in lamp oil by the crew. Dusk soon fell. It was lit anIMG_0393d looked amazing. Some fire dancers walked through with poi and then we were all led through in a mass of 850ish chanting Pagans. As we walked out we were guided to walk to the field where the Wickerman had been prepared. All day people had been placing wishes, prayers, burdens, on him, and now he stood proud, our proxy sacrifice, ready to send these to the Old Gods. We stood in a horseshoe shape before him, and flaming arrows were fired. He lit well, and soon 20-30 foot flames were sweeping into the sky. A great cheer sounded as finally he slowly began to keel over, and tumble in a mass of flames, to the earth. The Circle span, drums pounded, energy was raised, and then the fire-jumping began. Our messages sent to the Old Ones to do with as they wished.

I love the way that spectacle and drama have returned to Pagan camps, and the Mercian crew of the Hearth of Arianrhod do it so well. All of the profits from the Mercian Gathering go to their chosen Wildlife Charity, and they’ve raised something like £11,000 so far. Such amazing generosity. Anna, Sue, Oliver and their crew are wonderful! As we left I managed to have a hug with Anna who booked me again for 2010, and I tell you what, I can barely wait to get back in that field again!! To the Old Ones!

As soon as I got home I went to see my Son sporting his new fashionable arm wear. Here are the pictures of the injured pair!


From the Cauldron 9: Naked for all to hear

Well, the sample songs are up on my site, and I’ve placed one on my MySpace site too. That’s it, it’s out there. This is always a time when I have very mixed feelings – on the one hand I can’t wait for people to hear the songs, because that’s what they are for, to be shared and enjoyed. On the other hand it’s like I’m walking naked into a room full of people, letting them all see me as I really am, not dressed up, just me. The songs are from my soul, they let people in to see the world through my eyes. I would like to invite you to have a look around.

From the Cauldron 8: The music is done

I’m sitting here listening to the finished new CD, The Cauldron Born. I thought I had so much more to do, but after Eala came over here on Friday night and put down her vocal on Willow’s Song, I realised that all I had to do was a couple of my own vocals, and then mix the album. I tend to mix as I go along, so by Sunday night the music was finished. the next job is for Cerri to design the album cover, and she’ll do that over the next couple of weeks. Then we’ll send off the masters around the 12th February, and 10 days later we should have the finished album to send out. I can’t wait. I’m really pleased with it.

It’s a weird feeling, sitting here, typing these words, knowing that it’s done. Having said that, I’ve already found myself planning the next one. It’ll be a selection of my favourite traditional folk songs, ones that have a spiritual edge, or that I just love. At the moment the working title is Lore, but that could change… But hang on! I’ve only just finished this one 🙂

There’s a couple of songs from the CD on my website at www.paganmusic.co.uk, so go and have a listen, I hope you like them!


From the Cauldron 6: Willow’s Song

Yesterday I had the best afternoon of recording I’ve ever had. I decided to get on with my cover version of Willow’s Song from the film the Wicker Man. I’ve been mulling over how to approach this song for a long time. The version in the film, in my opinion, is perfect, so I didn’t want to simply copy it. Then the inspiration struck.

It’s such a sexy song as it is, but what if it was sung as a duet with lines for the male coiling around the lines for the female. Teasing, sensual, yearning. Phew, it’s getting hot in here! So I recorded two acoustic guitar parts, a scratch vocal, and a very subtle, dark bass line. The final musical part came in a beautiful flash of Bardic Awen. The rhythm is so sensual, so erotic, that I thought I’d try adding a very slow trance drum beat. Oh…..my…..Gods…..! It worked.

Musically the song is complete. All it needs now is the proper vocals to be added, and the female voice will be Eala’s, who has already joined me on two of my songs, Samhain Eve, and Morrighan. I’m so looking forward to hearing the completed song. The sound, with the trance drums sounds a little different to my usual folky style, but I do like to push my boundaries, and it is definitely what the song needed.