Tag Archives: storytelling

The Rebirth of Stroud Out Loud! 30 October 2016 – by Kevan Manwaring

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.

 

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Kevan with the banner and seasonally appropriate vegetables…

 

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!

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Tom and Nimue Brown with James Colvin singing the Lyke Wake Dirge

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.

 

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Robin tells her anecdote!

 

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.

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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).

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Tales of Witchcraft and Wonder – videos!

Those lovely folks in Inkubus Sukkubus recorded the whole show on 9 September 2016 and are releasing videos on You Tube! Here are a selection – watch this space for more as they come up.

Kirsty starts the whole thing by telling The Deerhurst Dragon:

Ronald Hutton introduces the band in his own inimitable style:

And here’s one of my all-time favourite songs, the Witch of Berkeley:

Tales of Witchcraft and Wonder in Gloucester

1-iksu-pic-by-mick-robertsOn Friday night I had an absolute blast! I had the privilege to take part in an amazing show, Tales of Witchcraft and Wonder with the incomparable Inkubus Sukkubus, as their storyteller. This was part of Gloucester History Festival – so it was great to introduce a bit of folklore to all that ‘real’ history. We were telling the histories we all want to believe are true! The stories that are true at gut level … the kind of stories that make you nervous when you go are out into the darkness at night … and in some places, during the day as well. And though I might have been the official storyteller, Candia, Tony and the band were telling tales too … tales that ranged from local folk tales like the Witch of Berkeley (one of my absolute faves in song and story!), to witchlore to, er, activities on a certain local landmark to personal tales to touch the heart.

Inkubus Sukkubus have recently released a new album, Barrow Wake, an acoustic album full of the dark tales of Gloucestershire – and beyond (there’s an allusion to my original part of the world with Hopkin’s Man, Matthew Hopkins, the foul Witchfinder General, denizen of Essex and my native Suffolk. I’m so proud. Sigh.) It’s a great listen – sample it here, and then you know what to do!

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So, they decided to play a gig in their home city as part of the History Fest, and donate the proceeds to the lovely folk at Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust who manage the Barrow Wake nature reserve. They wanted local stories to go alongside the music, so they approached Anthony and me. Candia McKormack, the lead singer of the band, also happens to have her pulse on the county – she works for Cotswold Life, and as a pagan, a nature lover and a folklore aficionado, she knew about Anthony’s Gloucestershire Folk Tales and our follow up, the Ghost Tales book. Anthony’s away right now, on a research trip for his new novel, in the South Pacific (poor thing!), so it was me. I offered a selection and Candia and Tony selected.

Two of the stories I was expecting – the Deerhurst Dragon and the Fairy Horn – but the third, the Seventh Bride, was a surprise. I was really pleased to do the Deerhurst Dragon in particular. Dragons can be seen as representative of all large predators, and our reaction to them – fear and the urge to destroy – we see even with what scraps of large mammal life we have left in Britain, such as foxes and those goalpost moving badgers. Several people came up to me afterwards to say how affected by the story they’d been – exactly what you want. It breaks my heart, too. But I also love that story because it taps into my old love – Anglo Saxon architectural sculpture. Deerhurst has some of the most intriguing in the country. Fitting for a medieval themed history festival, though a little early. The actual beast heads there are probably 9th century, and thus very rare. Nearly as rare as dragons, these days… The Fairy Horn, set in the heart of the Forest, is a classic fairies’ revenge story, and encourages you to show respect for the forces beyond your ken … like nature, like the spirit realm. The third story is a Gloucestershire Bluebeard tale, a fable to encourage young girls not to trust strangers, something we still sadly feel we must do to this day, but this tale also shows how powerful you can be in extremis – and has an unexpected long barrow with unusual and grisly inhabitants too. Dark tales…

The Inkies music was incredible – I was captivated from beginning to end. I didn’t want it to end. Candia and the band had invited fiddler Nick Gibbs from Folklaw and cellist Abigail Blackman to play with them, and I loved the acoustic sound they created together. Particular favourites were Woman to Hare (and the cat, don’t forget the cat!), the Witch of Berkeley, the title song Barrow Wake (tho’ it makes me smile when I think about the lovers in question!), and the beautiful song about the love spell that made me think, moist-eyed, about my far away love. Go to the Inkubus Sukkubus facebook page to see some clips from the night – I hope to pop some up here soon, too. I’d love to see this combination again – and in fact Candia is going to be guesting at the upcoming Folklaw gig at the Sub Rooms in Stroud 24 September. I shall be there!

20160909_195320-cropAnd all of this in the most amazing venue, Gloucester Blackfriars. Hard to believe the difference in the site from when I worked in Gloucester 10 or so years ago. I worked in the Docks, a bare hop (not even a skip and a jump) away, and although I knew it was there, of course I never went in. Now it’s a fantastic venue, perfect for storytelling and music. So atmospheric … the courtyard magical with little lights and the sound of the superb Gwilym Davies on pipe and tabor ushering in the guests with music, and the thrill of being in the building with all its layers – the great fireplace hanging above us as we performed, that strange combination of church and home. A friend and I were wondering what ghosts marched above our heads, pacing out an afterlife on lost floors… The Inkies had made it beautiful, too, and I particularly loved the film of the Forest with fairies playing above me – what could have been more fitting for the Fairy Horn?

Image credits:

  1. Me in full flow at Blackfriars, Friday 9 September 2016. Picture © Mick Roberts
  2. Inkubus Sukkubus at Blackfriars, Friday 9 September 2016. Picture © Jack ‘Pyromancer’ Howard
  3. Gwilym Davies piping in the hordes! Picture © Kirsty Hartsiotis

 

Welcome to Suffolk Folk Tales

Suffolk Folk Tales coverOn the 31st May 2013 this book will be published by the History Press.  It is what is says it is – a book of folk tales, thirty of them all told, from the English county of Suffolk.  It is part of a series started by the History Press in 2009 with this book, Herefordshire Folk Tales, by my good friend David Phelps.  In 2011 I wrote Wiltshire Folk Tales and by now the ball was definitely rolling.  My husband’s Gloucestershire Folk Tales, and my Fire Springs colleague Kevan Manwaring’s Oxfordshire Folk Tales were published last year, and at the time of writing most of the English counties have either been published or are in production, and the Irish, Scottish and Welsh counties are progressing.

All of these books are written by storytellers.  Well, you might say, all writers are storytellers aren’t they?  But we are something slightly different.  We are oral storytellers, working in the tradition of oral storytelling that probably stretches back to when we lived in caves.  All we need to tell a story is a story to tell, our voice and an audience.  This kind of storytelling as at home in pubs as in theatres, in bed at night or in school.  Since the 1980s there has been a revival of storytelling in Britain, headed by figures such as Hugh Lupton and Ben Haggarty.  The History Press decided to invite storytellers to capture and share the folklore of the English counties after David approached them with his idea.

We are not necessarily folklorists – we may have collected the story, or we might not.  What matters is that we have a passion for telling the tales so that they engage the listener – and now the reader – and tell them a fine yarn.  These stories might be fairy tales, they might be local legends, about historical characters or a nameless everyman or woman.  They might be ghost stories, funny tales, saints lives, desperate romantic tragedies, or tales of trickery or the devil.  What matters is that the folk – rich or poor – told these tales about the places they lived in and knew.

I’ve been a storyteller since 2000, mostly performing with my storytelling group Fire Springs, a collective of storytellers – some of whom are also poets and musicians – comprising Kevan Manwaring, David Metcalfe, Anthony Nanson, Richard Selby and me.  We’ve worked together on shows such as Arthur’s Dream, Robin of the Wildwood, Return to Arcadia and Voices from the Past.  I now live in Gloucestershire, but I grew up in Suffolk, and my parents are still based there.  I have thoroughly enjoyed revisiting my home county and I look forward to sharing its tales!

Over the next few months I’ll be looking into some of the tales in my book and drawing out the stories behind them and my own personal journey around Suffolk and around the tales.