November 18, 2012

Bound For Jamaica Press Release

West Norfolk ex-teacher Gareth Calway’s first children’s novel is published this November. Bound for Jamaica is part of the new Collins Education Read On series whose aim is to encourage reluctant readers to get excited about written fact and fiction. Bound For Jamaica is both, combining an exciting story about a young African boy’s kidnap and transportation into slavery with a real history of the Atlantic slave trade in supporting non-fiction chapters.
“This is the book I left teaching in 2007 to write,’ said Gareth (56.) ‘It needed full time research and rewriting– including many days at the British Library (and meetings with the CRE*) - which went on for literally years longer than I envisaged. I supported myself in the meantime by writing and series-editing the highly regarded best selling KS3 English text book series – Aiming At Level ... - but finally got the vast and tragic subject matter of Bound For Jamaica into its final shape as 4000 words of fiction and fact this year.” The final book is as distilled as a film script – maybe it will become one!
Gareth first got interested in challenging received views of history while a student of English and American Studies at UEA in the 1970s and married an Ely woman (and fellow UEA graduate) in 1979. They moved to Sedgeford in 1986: their daughter was born at QEH at the end of that year. Gareth taught English and History at KES from 1986-1994 and later at Smithdon High School, Hunstanton, until retiring to write full time in 2007. During his teaching career he had written and published seven volumes of poetry and a comic schooldays novel River Deep Mountain High which has also sold well.
“The main thrust of Bound For Jamaica is to tell the truth about a period of British history we understandably shrink from owning. While a teacher, and as a parent of a daughter motivated by a strong social conscience, I noticed that our history curriculums and stories tend to examine endlessly how we licked Hitler ( yes we did and I’m as proud of it as anyone but...) and avoid how we behaved during the 100 years when we led the slave trade. I wanted to emphasise that while Bristol for example earned 40% of its great wealth in the 18C from the slave trade, there were also heroically moral battles fought against it by Bristol people like Hannah More and John Wesley as well as by English-based Africans like Olaudah Equiano. Also, (what I never realised) the research revealed that it was Africans who were selling other Africans into slavery in the first place, however appallingly racist and inhuman the treatment of slaves once they were on white ships and plantations. And (despite the way the word is often used as synonymous with slavery) under our Empire (as opposed to the unregulated horror of colonial exploitation by individual entrepreneurs buying and selling human beings as cargo) the trade was made illegal and the British Navy actually spent 50 years blockading the slave coast to stop other countries continuing a slave trade that by 1800 had sold 12 million into slavery. Finally, I also derived some satisfaction from the fact that men and women from places like Heacham, Norwich and Lynn were signing anti-slavery petitions as early as the 1770s.


* The CRE was engaged in a completely new initiative at the time - it was part of their work to promote teaching and learning on the Transatlantic Slavery Trade in the school curriculum. My contact was Sharon Walker who read every draft of the present book and continued to advise and encourage me for the 5 years of its composition.

September 04, 2012

Cromwell's Talking Head launched.




My new book 'Cromwell's Talking Head' was launched to a sell out (plus a few more) at Oliver Cromwell's House last night, his lucky day and anniversary September 3. The sun shines on the righteous and everyone else gets their heads chopped off! A fascinating tour with a costumed guide of the house as well. Stay tuned for news of how to buy the book.

August 31, 2012

Review of Cromwell's Talking Head (Siren FM podast)


I'll just pick a sentence at random from this thoughtful and perceptive review shall I?

'Calway's performance was a triumph of narration and vocal colour.'

The link is: http://www.radiodramareviews.com/id1161.html

'I look forward to listening to further monologues.'

Laurence, good to make your acquaintance and before we get on to any further ones, you can hear this one live at the Cromwell House Museum, Ely at 7 pm on Monday night Sep 3 if you're in the area. You will be particularly welcome!

August 27, 2012

Cromwell's Talking Head























Press Release

Cromwell's Talking Head Diggers ISBN 978-0-9573960-0-5

Book launch of Cromwell’s Talking Head by Gareth Calway at the Oliver Cromwell House museum in Ely, 7 pm Monday Sep 3. The true ghastly story of what happened to Cromwell’s severed head after his body was dug up by vengeful Royalists in 1661. Told by the head itself!


History lovers, families, kids both big and little, come and hear a tale that will make you squirm. This is history as you have never heard it before!!

Norfolk based children’s author Gareth Calway is reading his new story, Cromwell’s Talking Head, the gruesome tale of what happened to Oliver Cromwell’s head after his death, at the Cromwell House museum in Ely on 03/09/12, the house where Cromwell actually lived. Included in the evening will be a tour of the museum by museum staff. This horrible history tells the true but bizarre story of Cromwell’s head in his own voice with his own unique take on the events that lead up to his death.

Gareth has been writing for many years and has seven books of poetry and a novel published. His children’s book, a story of the transatlantic slave trade ‘Bound for Jamaica’ is due to be published by Collins later this year.

The live reading at Cromwell’s House is also the launch of the book ‘Cromwell’s Talking Head’.

Cromwell’s Talking Head was also broadcast by Siren Radio and is available on a podcast at www.garethcalway.co.uk

July 25, 2012

Balls

(thinking about forthcoming Olympic football and the different meanings of the word 'balls' - with reference to the first ever Women's World Cup and two unforgettable occasions Stuart Pearce has been on the spot in the men's game)

Football is balls: needs pumped up balls to play
And all the hype comes down at last to balls
And as that US star Reveals Her All
(Well, sponsor-labelled sportsbra anyway)
To breathless world photographers, to say
WE’VE WON THE WOMEN’S FIRST WORLD CUP! it’s all
The culture of the buck, sharp market stalls
Of bluff and thrust, done derring deals, wha-hae!

But, O, when Stuart Pearce was on the spot
He’d failed to hit in World Cup Italy
(His name in running blood on England’s walls)
And flew across the Wembley turf and shot,
A nation’s trembling heart in mouth, to see
The world he kicked thump in, what - massive- balls!

July 08, 2012

Fiddlers' Hill Binham






From the Bronze Age to the Ballad Age was a very creative and collective event. It started with a new ballad written by me and Adrian Tebbutt. It led to the formation of a lively new folk band, The Fried Pirates, who now have their own website and itinerary - and to many other creative partnerships, books, songs, dramas and radio concerts featuring the participants for the rest of the year, and also to my new folk ballad about Binham Priory (below) which was retrospectively commissioned and is now part of Binham PDC's guided tours.


The Ballad of Fiddlers Hill


Ye feasters up on Fiddler’s Hill

Where crossroads meet the harrow

Take care you don’t disturb the sleeping

Bronze Age burial barrow.

 

O shun this ground between dusk and dawn

Or live a dreadful tale

Of a Black Monk at the tunnel’s mouth

To turn your red lips pale.

 

Don’t follow the fiddler and his dog

To Walsingham under the hill

To lay the foul Benedictine ghost:

That fiddler lays there still.

 

“I will play through the tunnel!” cried the jolly fiddler

To the cheering local crowd,

“Stamp time and follow my tune above,

For I play both brave and loud.”

 

And so he fiddled and so they stamped

His three mile course underground

But his fiddle stopped under Fiddler’s Hill

In the silence of the mound.

 

Each dared the next down the tunnel’s mouth

But none would dare themselves

And at midnight the fiddler’s dog emerged

Like a hound bewitched by the elves.

 

His tail thrust down between his legs,

His frame a shivering wrack,

He howled and pined at the dreadful hole

But his master never came back.

 

“I will play through the tunnel!” cried the jolly fiddler

To the cheering local crowd,

“Stamp time and follow my tune above,

For I play both brave and loud.”

 

A violent storm drove everyone home

And when they awoke from sleep

The entrance was gone, the fiddler too,

Into a Nameless Deep.

 

The moral of this, and it’s old as the hill,

Is that mounds aren’t for tunnelling,

If a grave tune plucks the strings of your heart,

Keep the devil under your chin.

 

In this county of beet and barley and beer,

This county of fish and farrow,

There’s folk you can trust, there’s London folk,

And there’s folk who come out of a barrow.

 

“I will play through the tunnel!” cried the jolly fiddler

And half his boast came true,

“Stamp time and follow my tune above!”

But he lost them half way through.




© Gareth Calway 2011

Dissolution Row: The Ballad of Binham Priory

Call their names from the rubble: Alexander de Langley,
Mad as a scholar – ‘here’.
William de Somerton, William Dyxwell,
Priors and bad boys - ‘here.’

A mad monk in solitary’s dungeon-chains,
Tortured to brake his devil;
Alchemy funded by holy sales,
Sieges, arrests and trouble;

Monks eating bran and drinking rain
Till King John raised the siege;
A wanderlust prior, administ-truant,
Deposed and then reprieved.

As the leaves of summer break in spring
From forest, field and tree
So let the spirit’s freedom burst
From the walls of this Priory.

The peasants were revolting here
In 1381
When Master Lister led the charge
And derring does were done.

‘Enough!’ he cried, ‘of fattened bishops
Fed on Priory rolls,
Enough of tenants, rents and lords
And serfdom’s heavy loads.’

‘I’ll join that fight!’ said Binham John Lister
To his name-sake of Felmingham
George whose Norfolk Peasant Spring
Brought mayhem into Binham.

‘As the leaves of summer break in spring
From forest, field and tree
So let the spirit’s freedom burst
From the walls of this Priory!’

In Norwich, the Bishop Dispenser caught wind
Of the peasants’ merry fire,
And the Fightin’ Bishop’s fist of stone
Killed it with his ire.

‘Lister of Felmingham, for sins against
Your betters and your King,
I’ll have your guts for my Bishop’s garter
And the serfs can kiss my ring.’

‘You can have my neck and guts’ said Lister
But my soul flies straight to heaven
When Adam delved and Eve span, ‘lord’,
What rents were recked in Eden?

‘As the leaves of summer break in spring
From forest, field and tree
So let the spirit’s freedom burst
From the walls of this Priory.’

The old order stood another six generations,
A flint face carved in art
Then Lister’s spirit came back to haunt
The Priory’s stony heart:

He laughed as King Henry’s Inspectors Called,
‘Found fault’ with the Priory rolls,
‘Down with these rood screens, saints and crowns
And idol Gods on poles;

‘Whitewash these saints from the walls of the nave,
A clear new page for the Word,
Your bishops’ bank is ruined now
There are no serfs to herd!

‘As the leaves of summer break in spring
From forest, field and tree
So let the spirit’s freedom burst
From the walls of this Priory.’

This high Notre Dame of Norfolk shrunk
To a nave-sized Parish Church,
Abandoned wings sold off for stone
To men scarce more than serfs

But when Paston quarried the haunted pile
To build a house in the grounds,
A wall killed a workman and none to this day
Will build in Priory bounds.

Three miles to the West, Roman relics and smoke
Rise again from Celtic Earth
Like the re-appeared saints whose rooted gaze
Reclaim the walls of this church.

As the leaves of summer break in spring
From forest, field and tree
So let the spirit’s freedom burst
From the walls of this Priory.

Let the holy rain of autumn fall
From the solitary tree
And the grass grow wild and the four winds blow
Through the grounds of this Priory.

© Gareth Calway 2012


From The Bronze Age To The Ballad Age (original Press release of the event)

Bronze Age burial mound plays host to new music and art

A fortunate break in the weather allowed a long-planned collaboration between archaeologists, artists and musicians to finally come to fruition at Fiddler’s Hill, a prehistoric barrow mound on the boundary between the parishes of Binham and Warham in North Norfolk, on the afternoon of 8 July.

From the Bronze Age to the Ballad Age: Digging the Folk Roots of Norfolk was the brainchild of West Norfolk poet and author Gareth Calway. Gareth had been asked by folk musician Adrian Tebbutt to write a lyric about the legend of Fiddler’s Hill which he could set to music as a ballad.

The evocatively-named Fiddler’s Hill was recently acquired by the Norfolk Archaeological Trust and is now open to the public daily, free of charge. Its name comes from a local legend which tells how a tunnel once ran from Walsingham to Binham Priory. A brave fiddler named Jimmy Griggs entered with his dog, Trap, while others followed his music above ground. But silence fell as their course drew near to the mound and the fiddler was never seen again. People feared that the ghostly Black Monk had taken Jimmy and his dog, and henceforth the barrow was known as Fiddler’s Hill.

Time passed and the project grew as other people became involved: musicians, poets, an actor, a performance artist and a local prehistorian. All of them were fascinated by different aspects of the 4000-year-old burial mound. Their work together culminated not only in a live art event on the mound itself but also a public concert at Binham Memorial Hall that same evening. This allowed a longer programme celebrating different aspects of North Norfolk’s history and folklore to be presented.

On the mound, under skies that threatened rain, folk music trio The Fried Pirates (Adrian Tebbutt, Roger Partridge, Katy Fullilove) gave the first public performance of The Ballad of Fiddler’s Hill, which features the refrain:

‘I will play my way’, cried the jolly fiddler
To the cheering local crowd,
‘Stamp time and follow my tune above
For I play both brave and loud.’

In the lead-up to this big moment, Reepham prehistorian Trevor Ashwin recounted the Fiddler’s Hill legend and gave a short history of the mound, and Gareth Calway chanted two of his poems - chosen to relate to the site and the occasion - The Ballad of Fiddler’s Hill and the Iceni Chorus from his performance-poem Boudicca. Artist Imogen Ashwin had devised a new site specific performance piece, Bridge, which took place on the burial mound itself, accompanied by Katy Fullilove’s haunting lone fiddle.

That evening, the performers played to a full house at Binham Memorial Hall, with sets by The Fried Pirates and by singer/songwriter Mark Fawcett who was mesmerising as he performed Norfolk-themed historical ballads co-written for the event with Gareth Calway. Trevor Ashwin gave an illustrated talk on the prehistory of Binham and surrounding area and Imogen Ashwin showed a digital projection based on her performance piece Bridge accompanied live by Katy Fullilove’s solo fiddle. Gareth Calway and actor Dawn Finnerty brought the house down with a vibrant two-person performance of Gareth's drama Boudicca - ‘ the punk version of what happened in AD 61’! The duo also brought their magic to a ‘synchronised’ reading of Wood Dalling poet Kay Riggs’ English Heritage, a poem about Oxnead Hall.

The evening had commenced with the chanted lyrics of The Ballad of Fiddler’s Hill, and the ‘journey’ was brought to a close by The Fried Pirates’ performance of the ballad complete with its haunting tune.

Both events were filmed by Emma 'Captain' Withington, the hill event in an artful black and white collage.




July 03, 2012

My Heaven Ten: Top Ten Poems Ever...


1. The Lucy Poems. Wordsworth. Poems that lament the death of a girl Wordsworth loved, 'But she is in her grave and oh/ The difference to me.' Perfect, profound simplicity. They have everything, even the romance Wordsworth doesn’t often share with the Byron generation. Published in Lyrical Ballads, 1798, and the Lucy Poems really are: a revolutionary combination of lyrical and ballad. She was all the lovelier and vividly present for being elusive, quiet. He compares her to 'a violet by a mossy stone/ half hidden from the eye.'
2. A Nocturnal On St Lucy’s Day by John Donne. Complex and deliciously devious where my No. 1 is simple and direct but if you want poetry that f***s with your head, this is the way to do it. It’s not just a counter-language, it’s a counter-culture. And the depth of the ideas and feelings are worth the fiendishly playful and complex expression, not always the case with linguistic shock tactics. Enough linguistic clues to solve a murder.
3. The Sonnets. Shakespeare. I read Let Me Not To The Marriage of Two Minds at our wedding, and 35 years later at my Best Man's. Many of the Sonnets, especially the first group of 18, play with the Matthew text, ‘He who saves himself, loses himself’ and if I’ve got to choose one, ‘From Fairest Creatures We Desire Increase’ quibbles on this in recommending children. It was written for a young Tudor nobleman yet uncannily addresses the latest young generation, contracted to their own bright eyes. Genius.
4. Not My Best Side UA Fanthorpe. Funny, accessible, clever, erudite, sincere, anguished, steeped in tradition, muckily modern and uprooted, feminist, unsectarian, lesbian, universal, Christian, foul-mouthed faithless, pitiless yet compassionate, a noble heir to Browning’s dramatic monologue and a shabby mate of the free verse yob in the A & E waiting room. The fact that it comes off the page as easy as music or a TV screenplay doesn’t mean it isn’t also shot through with ironic complexity and a glimpse of the abyss. I heard her read many times (and also exchanged letters with her) and that humane un-exasperated voice still comforts my ear every time.
5. They Flee From Me That Sometime Did Me Seek. Thomas Wyatt, the flower of the Tudor court in every way. A tender, exquisite, musical evocation of his love for Anne Boleyn under the shadow of King Henry's rivalry. The treacherous mutability of fame, fortune, power, glory, idols and idylls, Love versus duality, then as now. Since posting this ten, my play about Sir Thomas and Henry VIII has been written and begun touring and includes a reading of this poem at the start, along with a ballad which riffs on some of Wyatt's most ravishing lines. It is a joy to perform They Flee From Me thus: like being back at UEA but with 35 years of life experience under my chastity belt.
6. Green Shirt by Elvis Costello. He later apologised for the high-speed word play of these early lyrics but I never enjoyed his later plain style as much. The distilled paranoid viciousness is delivered through tight lips and clenched teeth but on a crooning Buddy Holly melody that melts in your mouth. Soft as porn yet hard as the drumbeats that coffin-nail it between the verses. ‘You can please yourself but somebody’s gonnageddit.’ I recently performed it (with a bodhran) in a night club under the streets of Norwich I once walked as a punk.
7. The Journey of the Magi T.S. Eliot. The Age of Doubt meets the Age of Faith without losing the glorious emotional charge of either in an angst that transcends both. The magnificent rhythmical grumbling of his early ‘April is the cruellest month’ Waste Lands remains but the Easter serenity of the later Quartets is also present: the paradox of Christ’s birth being a death is the closest and most exact description I’ve heard of what a lived religious experience is actually like.
8. The Lady of Shallott Tennyson. A heart-sore, heart-soaring pre-Raphaelite word painting of such sustained beauty and high emotion you wonder whether modernism chucked out the Romantic baby with the soapy Victorian bathwater. We need this sort of everyman's poetry in our pubs and clubs and lives.
9. The Stare’s Nest By My Window Yeats. His golden apples of the sun rooting and blossoming in the (all too) real world of the Irish Civil War. The verse is no less free (and conversational) for being in a tight form with a masterly and timeless use of the refrain.
10. The Whitsun Weddings Philip Larkin. The great Onanist comes to the wedding and blesses it with one of the tenderest, most elegantly crafted epithimalions of our less deceived age, or ever.

The picture: Still life of Spain's poetry in motion. July 1 2012.

June 24, 2012

Writing Day At Shrewsbury Sixth Form College June 22

A second fabulous Friday with these Shropshire lasses and lads. Even the midsummer monsoon which doused the bright lights of the magical Tudor town I remembered from my first (winter) visit could not damp the creative spirit of this college. The day began in a lather for me as when 50 yards from my destination at 8.20, I was mis-directed half a mile out of my way up a steep hill to Shrewsbury (Public) School, also made of red brick but otherwise an altogether wrong location. They were in the midst of exam invigilations and very curious to know who I was and what I was up to at the rival establishment. I said we were having fun with words.

The morning session was poetry and prose. We started with Drunk Texts From Famous Authors and the (mobile phone) texts my student authors came up with - first a text that could only be from them, second a text from them at the end of a long night in the pub - with appropriate drunken markers (which they very conscious and proficient at, including 'Bert'! - she knows who she is!)and finally such a text gone to the wrong recipient and the consequences - not only promised some great starts to stories, but often completed a story already in three brief texts, leaving the reader to infer the rest. We then explored the dramatic monologue and the ballad form (root of popular music lyrics that tell stories) and the idea of knowing about what you write - ie research - as the converse of writing about what you know, so that we don't all just write about ourselves all the time. We looked at how some famous attempts to do this - like Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code - can comically overload the story with (as one sharp student noted ) 'too much information'. And explored how to make the research sing (as attempted in the Ballad of Anne Boleyn, sung with haunting beauty by Mark Fawcett) or come alive in the story (as in Cromwell's Talking Head, performed live by me as I thought it would be better to create this in the moment with the students - and not at all because I'd left the CD of the forthcoming Siren Radio production at home!)

The afternoon began with a a clip from a Third Year student film set in a Norwich 'Middle Earth' (Mousewold Heath last January) where an unforgettable experience of lying in the snow in degrees of minus 15 degrees during filming provided first hand (or arse) evidence of what the implications are of screenplay as opposed to writing a novel or a poem, where the act of writing and reading remains in the same place, on the page and in the mind. Every stroke of a pen in a screenplay involves someone driving somewhere to find locations, an army of film crew following them later, as well as actors finding various methods to live the dialogue through every one of 58 takes. Phillip Shelley's Channel 4 screen play support website
www.screenplay-consultant.co.uk
was referenced for his excellent weekly practical tips. The supreme importance of the idea you're pitching, the power of a single look being worth a page of dialogue, what you're writing about being more important than how brilliantly you write it [so that's what I've been doing wrong!:-)] were just three of the gems I quoted which are thrown down every week by this expert practitioner. Finally, as it was Friday afternoon, we finished with some drama. An extract from Who Killed Rosa, which combines various genres, notably the detective thriller and the gothic, along with some use of non-realistic form like tableau and mime. I noted that, like screenplay, what is written involves a team to bring it alive rather than just a reader - albeit only a company rather than the army needed for a film - and the fact that you are writing practical guidance to (as well as inspiring) a producer and actors not just creatively for an audience was I think experienced. More interestingly, the way this multi generic play-script engaged participants as actors and producer was a delight for me, as was the sporting - and splendid - guest appearance by the teacher as Sgt Wally. There might not be so much money - any money - in theatre but after a long day in which they'd worked long, hard and well, perhaps covering too many new things for one day, these students seemed to me to give an energy and enjoyment to this activity that topped the rest. Ah! The magic of theatre.

These students are wonderful and talented. But there were many signs during the day that their talent had been nurtured and guided by a friendly, supportive and inspiring staff. It's a long way to Shrewsbury for me and that return train journey through the Midlands rush hour was murder. But I'd go every Friday if I could! Thanks Bert! x

May 25, 2012

100% Norfolk


I can hardly believe it was only a week ago since 100 of us were in 100% Norfolk at the Theatre Royal, Norwich. I have never felt so rooted in this beautiful and diverse county. Arf - Lloyd - (88%) snapped this one of my bald pate (82%) between Melanie (84%) and Kate (70%) while simultaneously concentrating 100% on his own performance...

April 20, 2012

Star Teacher

Look at the sky, child.
That's Sirius (the Dog),
Orion (the Hunter),
There's the Plough.
That's how, according to our lights,
We know.
Now reach.
Isabelle Madeline Izod's father (pictured above, the one in the suit) gave an ego-less reading of this poem at his daughter's Christening last Saturday. It blew 'me' away also, as I watched from pew 2 on the right. I've never liked the traditional Anglican service about casting the Devil out of the (surely innocent) child - and if not then, when? This service was rewritten in the original spirit of 'suffer the children to come unto me' and said thanks for all things bright and beautiful and Isabelle in particular. Every birth is a miracle: this one especially so, and late in the day for the old man. All of this and much more came through the reading. And Helen - the Mum in the middle - really is as lovely as she looks. That baby's a lucky girl. But she deserves it.
Oh Death where is thy sting-a-ling!

March 14, 2012

Fairport In A Storm










Fairport on ice: 45th Anniversary tour date Cromer Pavilion Theatre, Sunday March 4

Fairport Convention played in an arctic blizzard at the end of Cromer Pier last night. The journey there and back was terrifying, the breakers hitting the beaches were like a set from The Cruel Sea and inside the pier was like an interior from Titanic ! However, if we were going to go down, we would go down singing. Fairport roadies apparently couldn't even drive the gear to the bottom of the hill and had to skate it in by hand along the boards of the pier. But 45 years on from the summer of love this is a band for all seasons and their fans are too Blitz-spirit-British to let it stop them clapping their gloved hands for long. When they did those old elemental ballads about arctic seas, believe me, we were there with them!

The general tone of the show – let’s take the multi-skilled musicmanship and inspired ensemble playing as read, as they do - is light, the wearing lightly of immense skill. It is a warm fusion of folk, rock and fun warming the cockles of the one’s heart – even the ones under that pier’s glacier bridgehead that night. But there are also moments where the elemental roots of the music lift the audience into an epiphany, awesome in the old sense of that word. This is folk Britannia in all its stoical storm-tossed glory, our ‘long island story’ re-rooted by seasoned minstrels turned on by the hippy experience 45 years ago and still making it new. If I missed anything here in this show, it was the darker elements woven in by Richard Thompson and the ghost of Sandy Denny - of course, who wouldn’t miss those – but Fairport have preserved these in another way– and not on ice, despite the temperature inside the theatre. They know they are part of something bigger and include songs these Fairport legends made great during the 45 years. Nicol doesn’t sing like Sandy – Leslie in one harmony vocal actually does – but he pays the Sandy songs due honour and no-one – no-one - sings group vocals better (and more like a concert of strings) than these guys.

Can't wait for Cropredy.

February 24, 2012

Writing For The New Humanity














for the indignatos (especially Emma)

If, instead of cowing and naying a sheepish congregation,
You beef so divinely it makes them feel human;

If you can tongue and bell with golden flesh a word
That tolls heaven back to earth, like the Eden in every bird;

If you can string the bow of learning to the arrow of intuition
And keep a faith that’s unafraid of critical reason

And score your heart in blood and swear it aloud
To a backwards-saddled, blinkered, farting holy-cattle crowd;

If you can shake the hand of the Am-Dram-thank-you-ham
Who lifts your tragic laurels with his prat Fall of Man;

If you’re wise to the one-book-brain of Simple Simon
Yet lost in the heart of a rose, not the tongue of a shaman;

If you can whittle your stake to an instrument that plays
A song beyond itself, not a reed that measures praise;

And forget yourself, and the long quest to get it,
In one divine delicious self-annihilating lyric;

If you can follow Hafiz, not twisting as others have
The mouth of God to a trap of lies, yet be roasted as if you had;

The hart of love will lead you tripping lamb-like to the Psalter
And, what is more, you’ll be a writer, my daughter.

February 10, 2012

Knocking on hell's door













A still from Katie Smith's film The One They Seek

The One They Seek












I travel with haste. I remain a shadow to everyone in my footsteps.


Yes it was as glamorous as it looks. And 7 hours in that snow was well worth all the attention.

February 07, 2012

Cold Moon


















Coldest night of the year? And naturally shooting on location tomorrow. Wot, no caravan? Pass me the thermos, Stan.

This image taken on a temperamental Sony Mavica MC CD500. It still uses discs and because this was taken on a night setting, it took about an hour to get off the camera and onto the PC. I'm the other side of the camera tomorrow being a baddie so none of this sort of thing will bother me. All I've got to do is act hard.

February 01, 2012

Grandfather Christmas
















Horse-sensible and risk-foolish,
A gold-domed Grandfather Christmas
Stocking my boyhood with footballs
While fagging yourself to untipped death,
You forged your family chain of shops
Like a rosary of straightness and self-belief
Against the odds, as true to your Book
As your working day was long.


Note: There comes a point in your life when you start to look like your grandfather. Or even your father's grandfather. I remember all these domed patriarchal heads in a permanent blue smoke of family gatherings, sounding off at the world in West country or Welsh accents, Judges and Kings. They grow more like me every day. The caption describes Wellyn, my Welsh grandfather,who was a bookmaker, in this extract from a poem called 'Llewellyn the Great'.

The painting, by Howard Hugh Scott Thomas, notices the bald dome looking out from behind a curtain too, though in a very different context. Howard did my lights up in Edinburgh last summer and watched me sweat blood onstage. He photographed me doing it and he filmed me doing it and finally he painted me doing it. That's him at my shoulder, anxiously overseeing the bard's artistic progress and/or crucifixion. Get those feet dancing, Granddad.

January 25, 2012

Seemab is God



















Either peel off the layers of wounds of the heart and throw them out of sight
Or accept the wounds (of separation from the Beloved) as positive indications of love.

from a ghazal by Seemab.


I love these Urdu lyrics that are both gnostically profound and as catchy as an early Seventies chart-stormer. But then, as Keats mused once with a wild surmise, the truth - if it's really true - will be beautiful and the beautiful true. As light as it's heavy. When I was a kid I used to hear this kind of hymn-like truth in every rock song and poem, even some that were actually about Jagger's stash or Paul McCartney's dog or Clapton being God, but I was still right. And yet the above is the real McCartney, the real Keats. St John of the Cross without the two hundred pages of exegesis, with a singing Harrison guitar. All the hurt that's ever been done to you - forget it, don't dwell in the past - or see it as an honest mistake by someone who tried to love you by their own lights but got it wrong. As we all do. If I ever write two lines that beautiful and true, it will all have been worth while. Meanwhile, I might see if I can carve that transliteration into a proper modern English couplet and then spray paint it over every city hall, church, mosque, synagogue, temple and message forum in the country.

January 21, 2012

Return to Cardiff































Photos taken by Donna Calway aged five of Frome. No, hang on, that was a hundred years ago. We're both in our fifties now. The painting is in City Hall, Cardiff, the most magnificent building in Wales and quite possibly Europe or the Universe. Built when Wales was coal-rich and Victorian mighty in a style that sort of combined the French of our diminished Enlightenment rivals with the opulent glory of our Indian Jewel in the Crown. Plus a bit of Gothic in there too just to remind the Germans who was boss. And lots of white and ivory. And washed by a century of soft, refreshing Welsh rain. And inside, free to anyone who wants to pop in, a set of Welsh national treasures including a series of white marble statues of Welsh greats and this painting of a reprobate's return which the little sister has expertly framed me into.