A Feast of Friends
Ruskin Mill, Nailsworth
This event was organised by poet and psychotherapist Jay Ramsay, whose seminal Psychic Poetry I read long before I actually met him. In the Eighties he held an event called Angels of Fire at the Albert Hall – which might be seen as influential as the Beat readings there in 64. He performed with his poetry group, Phoenix, at the first Bardic Festival of Bath in a freezing Walcot Chapel – it was amazing their harper, Fred Hargender was able to play, consider his fingers must have been numb! This event was far cosier, in the beautifully renovated old paper mill – we were in a downstairs which had a real fire roaring in the corner. This was to be another ‘fiery’ combination, between Phoenix, and our group Firesprings – a fecund meeting of bards. The line up was going to be Firesprings members Anthony (who started the evening with an ecobardic epic called ‘The Story of People on Planet Earth’), David (who offered a spine-tingling trio of ‘death ballads’), and myself, plus Bath-based poet and Awen author, Mary, who performed some of her ‘Iona’; the second half was predominantly Phoenix poets Jay, Gabrielle, Ella & her partner, Sam, playing didgeridoo, plus Geoff offering us amusing Andalucian tales to end with accompanied by flamenco guitar from his friend Dave.
I had had an exhausting week – with all of my teaching, with a new class starting Friday afternoon, with 5 new students to add to my other 114! When I got back home I was shattered, and just flopped. When I awoke it was practically time to go out again, with no time to eat. I was hoping to grab some chips on the way, but didn’t think I had enough time. I should have made time, as my energy levels sank dangerously low before the performance. Fortunately, Jay offered me some chocolate and I had a can of Red Bull, which was just enough to see me through the first half. Luckily, my fifteen minute slot was then. As always I got nervous before hand – worried that my fatigue would impair my performance, but as happened once in the Bath Literature Festival, during our ‘Voices of the Past’ show, when I was spaced out with a cold, I turned in one of my best performances. With nothing left to lose, I tapped into something real, something edgy.
I had rehearsed down by the water in the moonlight, which helped to centre me and to evoke the atmosphere I wished to evoke. I performed my ‘winter set’ – wolf in the city, the wicker man, wild hunt, one with the land, and finishing with the ‘Prophets of Los’, which I preambled by saying with imagination anything is possible (as the events earlier in the week had proven). I had been deeply inspired by Obama’s winning speech on Tuesday, which showed the power of the spoken word. I was feeling perhaps less noble though and less on an even keel than ‘No Drama Obama’ – my separation from Jennifer had left me feeling miserable, wounded, and like a wounded beast I snarled and bit back! My wolf poem performance is always a crowd-pleaser, but tonight it had real bite – at one point I made a girl in the audience gasp with shock (although afterwards she came up to thank me for my poems, and roared – she had got in touch with her own beast). I introduced my set by saying ‘There’s an animal inside all of us, and sometimes it comes out!’. Bang – straight in. A short, punchy, pithy, preamble like that is far more effective than the flabby openings I hear some people come out with – sometimes longer than the piece itself, deflating any tension it may have, making it a long-winded affair. I kept my links to a minimum. I made sure I really connected to the audience – looking at them hard in the eye, defiant, prowling, like a cornered wolf. Unashamed of what I am or what I was offering them. A performance is not the time to hide one’s light under a bushel (or as I like to say, it can ‘set your bushel alight’). You should blaze – but not at one pitch. Like a fire, vary your radiance. Flicker and glow, flare up, die down, blaze. This keeps the attention up – makes it unpredictable. Spontaneous composition.
I had set a book stall up upstairs – Awen’s titles nearly covered the whole table, with the addition of the newest titles, Simon’s poetry collection, The Book of the Bardic Chair launched the previous weekend. I sold some, which helped to make the event even more worthwhile. But what made it a buzz was the full house – the energy was reciprocated, unlike the gig at the Victoria Art Gallery the week before. A small audience, however willing, is harder work. Your get less energy back for your efforts.
We all ended the night feeling on a bit of a high – Jay was keen for us to keep the flame burning. This kind of creative collaboration we felt to be the way forward. A new working model, which we expound upon in our manifesto – due to be launched at the end of the month. It would have been nice to have had a drink with folk afterwards, especially since it was Kirsty’s birthday the next day and it was nearly midnight, but I had a face-to-face tutorial with my Advanced Creative Writing students the next day and David was the driver. Plus I was starving, and there was a chance I might catch a takeaway on the way home, which I gratefully did. It was nice to have time to chat with David, a very decent bloke, an excellent bard and a true professional.
This latest experience has renewed my enthusiasm for Firesprings, which I admit was flagging. Joining forces with Phoenix, in these irregular events, has given it a new lease of life. The next one is due the end of the month, on William Blake’s birthday – Blake being another rallying point, the ‘William Blake Congregation’ as Felicity Bowers and Helen Elwes like to call it. ‘Hear the Voice of the Bards!’