I’ve just returned from another wonderful tour of Australia.

After being collected at Adelaide airport by the lovely Adrienne and Nick from the band Spiral Dance we headed into the Adelaide Hills to try and stay awake all day to beat the impending jet lag. We managed until 9pm which was pretty good and woke up at a very respectable time (clog-dancing possums on the roof  at dawn not withstanding).

Friday was set up and sound check day for the English Ale festival at Mylor Hall. I played this event last year and had the most amazing time, and I was really looking forward to being there again, and also knowing the running order of the day. Set up done we headed home and this time I woke up at 5am and just could not get back to sleep. Mind was ticking over adjusting set lists and other details, but I knew that if sleep didn’t come it would be a tough day as I was due on stage at 10pm the following night. But it remained illusive.

The day of the English Ale began with morris dancing at the local pub. The enthusiasm for the English country dance here in Australia is palpable. It seems to have much more respect than it does here in the UK where it does seem to be on the receiving end of jokes. By the riverside that morning though each dance was given due respect, and I for one was so pleased to see this. And to add to the authenticity of the morning, it began to rain. It felt just like home.

Time next to go to the hall where the bar was being set up ready for people to arrive for the festivities of the day. More morris dancing and music rang out across the Mylor Oval, and it was only when the Galahs called and flew through the branches of the huge gum trees that I remembered I was in the southern hemisphere. In the afternoon Cerri and I took part in a Druid Gorsedd meditation, then it was preparation for the procession and wicker man ritual.

I had the honour of leading the procession last year and was asked to do the same this time. So with massive blazing torch, and about 300 people following, we set off in procession to the waiting figure. Giants, ‘obby osses, morris sides with musicians, masked figures followed. It felt like a scene from the wicker man last year, and this year was even more so. We paced the oval, then walked under the trees to the figure.

This year instead of a wicker man a dragon stood before me. I led people into the circle as the drummers played under a star-filled sky – the Southern Cross shining high. Silence fell and I was handed the Gorsedd sword. Facing the east and just pulling the sword from the scabbard slightly I welcomed the east and asked if there was peace. There reply was that there was peace. Walking sunwise (anticlockwise) to the north I handed over the sword and fire was called and honoured, then to the west, and finally earth in the south. I returned to my place.

From behind me a flaming figure walked forward. Blazing with a flaming sword. “Hail to King George!” was called as the figure walked forward. Now I have a strange relationship with the English Patron Saint. His history just doesn’t sit well with me, and killing dragons also doesn’t endear him to me much either. But this is just my own ‘stuff’, so I dropped it to be in relationship with all of the others who entered into the spirit of the ritual as his sword touched the waiting dragon and the heat spread out across the cheering crowd. Drums began, dancing began, and I slipped away to the hall ready for the evening of entertainment.

A mummers play, traditional English music hall entertainment, a punch and judy show, then Spiral Dance, then me. From 7pm until midnight about 140 people who got tickets (some couldn’t get into the hall) had a great night. It was so good to hear Spiral Dance again who played a great set. Then it was me. I was actually a little nervous to begin with, but the love I felt coming from the audience in great waves just dissolved that fear, and pretty quickly we had that performer/audience wave to rapport that just goes from me to them, then from them to me, and round it goes. When this happens, magic happens. It was such a great night, and my set ended with a surprise. Spiral Dance had learned my song Hills they are Hollow, so at the end of my set the band joined me and we played it together. I haven’t played with a band on stage since 2000 and this was a real treat for me. The audience were up and dancing, singing and shouting the lyrics. A wonderful moment I will never forget.

Sunday led us into Adelaide to have Yum Cha, a meal I had looked forward to all year. The most glorious Asian food in abundance. Yum Cha indeed!

Monday me and Cerri did a poetry workshop where about 100 people together wrote about 200 poems in about 2 hours. But it was on Tuesday morning, with the sponsors concert approaching, and then the 4 state concert tour on the horizon, that both me and Adrienne, the two singers, developed colds, with Adrienne losing her voice, and me developing a chest infection.

To be continued…