It would be impossible and wrong to write about my album Spirit of Albion and not include my band from the late 90s Spiral Castle. I wrote my first Pagan song, Tomb of the King, after attending a Druid ritual at the Newbury bypass demonstrations. I tell the story of that song here. This initial creative urge opened the flood gates to a series of Pagan songs that I tried out with on my friends, and people seemed to like them. I had a little Fostex 4 Track tape recorder and started to lay down a few tracks and they sounded pretty good.
So I kept writing.
Imbolc 1998 was the tenth anniversary of the re-founding of the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids (which is why they have two sets of anniversaries!) and they had organised a party in London near Primrose Hill. One of my Bardic heroes, Robin Williamson (co-founder of the Incredible String Band) had been booked to play and Philip asked me if I would like to play support. Silly question really. I jumped at the chance, but I also thought that these songs I had been writing would sound great with a band behind them. So, on New Years Eve 1997, at a party at a friends house, amongst much celebratory booze, Spiral Castle was formed. Four musician Pagan friends who loved music.
I still remember the first time we played together. We stood in a circle and asked for the blessings of the Old Gods, and we began to play. The atmosphere was magical, and the songs just seemed to slip into place. We never called those meetings ‘rehearsals’ – they were sacred rituals. We played that first gig and loved it, so decided to stay as a band and record the songs. Over the course of about three months the album None but Seven was recorded. It had six of my songs – Spirit of Albion, Taliesin’s Song, Noon of the solstice, Oak Broom and Meadowsweet, The Wheel and The Winter King; one written by our drummer Chris called Wendel’s Mount; and a cover of the classic song She Moved through the Fair. For an independent album recorded in a bedroom it was pretty good. We burned 100 copies and went off to play some Pagan festivals, those first 100 copies sold pretty quickly, so we burned another 100.
We would still get together to play music just for the enjoyment of it, and I have wonderful memories of those early days, but bands are bands, and eventually one of our number moved from Sussex to Yorkshire. We tried to replace Rob, but to me the vibe and atmosphere of the band was never the same after he left, and when our drummer moved to the New Forest I felt the heart of Spiral Castle had died. It became almost impossible to get four people together at the same time and in the same place on a consistent basis. This was the catalyst that turned my gaze back to being a solo musician and performer, and thus the birth of Herne’s Apprentice in 2002.
None but Seven sold about 400 copies in all. After the band split I was asked by one of the members of the band to just let the album die and to not press any more, which is what I did. But it left six of my songs unavailable, six songs that were very important to me. I recorded Herne’s Apprentice and Hills they are Hollow before I went back in the studio to record my third album, and made the decision that the time was right to put those songs back into circulation. It was like greeting old friends again. The title track was always a real rocking anthem, and it was great to breathe the life into it with powerful drum rhythms. The other five songs also just fell into place.
There are two cover songs on the album – the classic folk song Domenna (sometimes Do-me-amma) and When I become the Moon, a song I had heard on a tape produced by the OBOD called Barddas played by Eliza Gilkyson. I loved this song and wrote to ask her permission to record it which she thankfully gave. Morrighan, Save Me, Sun and the Rose and Isis Unvelied were all new songs.
2006 saw my first gig overseas. I went and played at a Pagan camp in Alabama, and while I was there everyone asked why I wasn’t on this new platform, MySpace, or on iTunes. I had no idea what MySpace was but joined up as soon as I returned to the UK. I also found a way to get my current three albums onto the iTunes store. This is when things really started to change for me. Suddenly there was a platform where people could find me, and then, no matter where they were in the world, they could get my music from the Apple iTunes store. Bless Apple. They gave me worldwide distribution without the need to sign my musical rights away to a record label. That simple act changed things for so many musicians. Then Amazon and Google followed.
So 2006 was the year everything changed. I had only been dabbling with my music until then, and things had begun to take off without me really trying. Like many creative people I had held back from giving it everything. All the time it was a dream there was the possibility that it could happen. If I gave it all I had I might fail, so better to keep it a dream. In 2006 I changed my mind. I didn’t want to get to my last breath and think, What if I had tried harder? Could I have lived my dream of becoming a professional musician? That image broke my heart, so I thought, better to try and fail than to not try at all!
So I did. By the time The Cauldron Born came out in 2008 I knew I had made the right decision.
But that’s another story…