King Bladud’s Pageant
Yesterday I took part in King Bladud’s Pageant, celebrating the legendary founder of Bath, and the centenary of the original Bath Pageant. I had been asked by the organiser, Richard Carder, to run a series of creative writing workshops in King Edward’s School with Year 7, leading up to the event. I got the kids to write stories based upon the local legend and poems based on flying. On the day I was heavily involved in performing – the event began at noon in The Circus with a simple public ceremony. Medieval minstrels (Sulian Early Wind Quartet) played catching the attention of tourists, the sound of the pipes skirling around the incredible space with its triple echo. I had to read out some writings from its architect, John Wood the Elder, from 1749. Not very exciting! Then we proceeded down to the Abbey Churchyard in a raggle taggle procession, led by the musicians and Rob in his white stag head-dress. We turned some heads as we wended our way down Milsom Street, the main shopping artery. We snaked through the milling shoppers, passed the busy busker-pitch outside the Pump Rooms and rendezvoused with the Natural Theatre Company, who had been hired for the event – dressed up as Queen Elizabeth I, Beau Nash, a Roman senator and King Bladud. They looked impressive between the massive ‘chess pieces’ of bull-man and hare-woman created by artist Sophie Ryder. Here I had to read out the whole of the Elizabethan charter, which bequeathed the waters of Bath to its citizens. Unfortunately, Thermae Bath Spa and the council seem to have ignored this fact. It was hard work, getting my way through the chewy Elizabethan legal English to say the least – projecting as best I could in the noisy public space. I found it tedious to read, so no doubt the audience did to listen – but this was what I had been asked to recite. And it was probably the first time in four hundred years Bath’s charter had been heard in its streets. Afterwards the Natural worked the crowd while I caught my breath, chatting to Sheila who did the poster. As we talked a bird crapped on my leg! A sign from our winged king? Or just bloody annoying. I was given tissues to wipe the worst of it off, but my trousers were ruined and I had to go home to change them. On the way back I was struck again – on the shoulder of my nice summer jacket! I must be very lucky! I had to laugh at this, but by the time I got to the Parade Gardens where the picnic was taking place I wasn’t in a great mood – and I needed to just sit down and eat something, so I missed my slot (to read out some of my own work). Fellow poet, Rose Flint, had read some of her work out and with participants placed ricepaper blessings in the Avon, where the hot springs flow out – to counter-act the curses written on lead-scrolls cast into the sacred spring by Roman bathers. People in the park joined in, including the Mayor – who had come down to judge the banner contest (unfortunately there were only 2!). A little restored I made my way to Chapel Arts Centre, where the main concert was due to start at 3.30pm. Here, Richard had ensembled an impressive woodwind orchestra and choir. After some Purcell, I was called up to recite Canto X, Book II of Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. It went better than I expected after the dreary Wood and Charter – Spenser’s lyric were far more oral, designed to be recited in court, methinks. The jaunty rhythm made it rattle along at a fair clip and the saucy allusions made more than the ladies of court giggle. Next, came the main event: Richard’s impressive cantata, especially composed for the event, ‘Bladud and the Goddess’. He used some of the verses from my Spring Fall, and it was amazing hearing them set to music and sung out by an impressive baritone (William Coleman). Rose had her words recreated in similar fashion by Pamela Rudge, mezo. They made an excellent Bladud and Sulis. Before the finale I was asked to read out some of my Bladud and Sulis colloquy from Spring Fall – I enlisted the help of fellow ‘Bladudian’, Caroline Gay Way (middle name after her ancestor, the poet, John Gay, of ‘The Beggar’s Opera’ fame), who read the voice of Sulis. It was a poignant and pleasant surprise to perform with her – she had directed the original production of Spring Fall which one me the chair in 1998. It hasn’t been performed publicly in its entirety since, although I brought out a tenth anniversary edition last year. Richard’s Cantata ended with a stirring finale – and I thought it was a splendid achievement. ‘Bladud and the Goddess’ deserves to be heard more widely – and performed in Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths. Carder is a local ‘Birtwistle’, in what he has accomplished, our own folkloric cycle.
The second half started with some suitably mythic Purcell (The Gordian Knot and the chacony from King Arthur); followed by poems from Rose Flint and her workshop participants; then a stirring new piece composed by Michael Short, which captured the soul of water; local harper, Jennifer Crook, followed with two divine pieces, Lady Marion (Clannad) and Minerva (one of her own). Some more Purcell finished the proceedings.
Afterwards, the core crew – by this time very thirsty – decamped to the Hobgoblin for a much needed and well deserved pint.
Feeling relaxed and in the festival spirit, we decided to check out the play in the park, The Raven and the Rose, which was a good team effort by community theatre Fullsail, and pleasant to watch, though a little chilly and damp – sitting in the rain! But since the play was about the Deluge, and what happened to Noah’s avian emissaries, perhaps the rain was part of it and at the end, though we weren’t treated to a rainbow, there was a lovely sunset. A fitting end to the ‘solar day’ of King Bladud’s Pageant, but …time to thaw out and – find some food!