Stroud Out Loud! – the monthly open mic event I set up a couple of years ago at Mr Twitchett’s, the café – bar of the Subscription Rooms (having moved there from Black Book Cafe, where it was known as Story Supper – itself a ‘reincarnation’ of a previous Stroud event, Story Cabaret…) has moved to a new venue, and a new slot – the last Sunday of the month. The Little Vic, as it’s fondly known, is the ‘function room’ of the Queen Victoria pub, found at the bottom of the High Street, the main artery of Stroud’s throbbing metropolis.
Weighed down with an enormous pumpkin, backdrop, candles, flyers, horn, and other bardic miscellany, I arrived early to set up; hanging, with help from Team Brown, the drapes and putting out chairs and lights in exactly the same kind of way we used to set up the long-running Bath Storytelling Circle (founded by Anthony Nanson) which started off in the skittle alley of a backstreet pub before I found its current and long-standing venue, The Raven, where it’s been ever since. Finding the right venue is critical to a story circle’s success – it needs the right acoustics, the right ambience, and the right location. In the Little Vic, I think we’ve hit paydirt. With the room ‘dressed’ it looked splendidly atmospheric, and in a story performance, atmosphere does half the work. In a heritage venue that’s usually easy, but in a more modern space, often with harsh lighting, that can be harder – but the Little Vic was already half-way there, with beams and low-lighting. It is a very adaptable space as well, enabling different set-ups – which is partly why it finds itself hosting regular folk music, singers, stand-up, and now storytelling nights, as well as the odd Halloween disco (though somebody had run off with one of the life-sized skeletons the night before!). Our fabulous new banner was hung pride of place – the result of an enjoyable ‘art party’. After the logo was created by Tom Brown from a sketch-concept by his partner, Nimue, the banner was painted at Becca’s, with Kirsty Hartsiotis and myself adding the borders. Pumpkin pie and other snacks kept us going – and the result shows what can be achieved. Running a regular event like this can be a thankless task. You don’t get anything for it, and it can often feel like you’re doing all the hard work for everyone else’s benefits – providing a free, supportive and creative space for folk to flourish in (yes, you get to try things out as well, but you’re still doing the donkey work, and MC-ing well can be tiring, especially if you’re not feeling ‘entertaining’) – but the banner, and the resulting evening, shows what can happen when it becomes a truly team effort. It feels far more fun, fluid and enjoyable. I doubt I would have carried on the evening without this support, but this has given it a new lease of life.
And the awen flowed!
After I introduced the evening, the Browns evoked the perfect ambience for Samhain, the Celtic New Year (more commonly known as Halloween) with a fantastic rendition of ‘The Lyke Wake Dirge’. Then we had poems from the current Bard of Hawkwood, Anthony Hentschel, which explored and expressed the ‘shadow’. Next, veteran actor Paul regaled us with a fantastic Jewish tale, accompanied by his fiddle. We had poems from Terry Custance about his trip to the USA; followed by a personal anecdote by a visiting American, Robin O’Flynn. The fact that Robin felt welcome to walk in off the street and safe enough to share with complete strangers the story of her life was proof of the pudding, as far as I was concerned, that we had created the right kind of space. Then we had Wayland who had come up from Royal Wootton Bassett to share his tale of the Moddey Dhu, the Black Dog that haunts Peel Castle on the Isle of Man.
It was great to have a cross-section of storytelling styles and other art-forms, including acapella singing, music, stand-up and poetry. I invited young James, of the Browns, up to share his song, ‘Three Drops’, which we all joined in with, and this led nicely into my version of ‘The Battle of Brunanburgh’, adapted from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, which I performed accompanying myself with shruti box and bones. After the break we had an amusing stand-up routine from Peter Adams, a vivid poem about a fox from Robin Collins, which inspired me to relate my Oxfordshire story of ‘The White Hare’(featured in The Anthology of English Folk Tales, published by The History Press on 1st November); and this, in turn, inspired Nimue to share her song, ‘The White Hare’ … I love it when such spontaneous connections emerge. Then we had Fiona Eadie’s tour-de-force, her version of Tam Lin, which she always likes to perform at Halloween – a prose version of this is featured in Ballad Tales: an anthology of British Ballads retold, which I had been slaving away at for the Halloween deadline (it is due out, also from The History Press, next July, and features myself, Nimue, and other SOL! regulars like Anthony Nanson and Kirsty Hartsiotis and Chantelle Smith among others). We had a comic song from James about David Attenborough, a final poem from Anthony about ‘the Owl Lady’, then I shared my version of another Anglo-Saxon poem, ‘The Ruin’, a suitably melancholic meditation on mortality and impermanence for Samhain. Nimue offered a great closing shanty, which got us all singing along, then I sent everyone on their way with a traditional Celtic valediction. Everyone went home with a bit of magic and a warm glow in their hearts. As Peter Adams quipped: ‘a Little Vic is good for you!’ It was an excellent evening and hopefully the first of many at our lovely new home.
Stroud Out Loud! returns on 27 November, 7pm for 7.30pm start. Arrive early for a slot. 3 mins if reading, up to 10 mins if performing from memory. Little Vic, Queen Victoria, 5 Gloucester Street, Stroud GL5 1QG. (NB the December SOL! Will be on the 18th).