I last played in Canada in 2012 in Ontario at the Sparks Symposium so was really looking forward to getting back to that massive and beautiful country. This time I was heading west to a venue about 45 minutes outside of Edmonton. I landed at Calgary airport and was picked up by the lovely Bill and Karen. I’d met them a good few years ago at Witchfest International and Bill swapped one of his hand-made bronze stag broaches for a CD of mine. For years that broach was attached to my guitar travel bag. It was great to see them again.
A night to get over the jet lag and it was off to the venue. A five hour ride in the back of an RV, looking at the passing countryside with good conversation. Then a BBQ at Terry’s before finally landing at the festival venue. A beautiful space of about 6 acres, complete with music field, a woodland, and its own modern stone circle.
I’d been listening to the Wigglian Way podcast for years and was so happy to find out that the hosts of the show would be at the festival. Mojo and Sparrow’s voices had been coming out of my car stereo for years, and it’s weird when those voices have people attached. But there they were. It was like meeting old friends, and we sat and spoke for hours.
On the Friday night a fire walk was on the bill. I did my first fire walk many years ago and have done it another two times since. I knew it could be done. But when the wood in the pit is burning down, and those hot embers are glowing red before you, it still takes some inner strength to take those steps. I knew I would have to dig deep again.
But as I walked with Mojo to the stone circle and the burning fire I noticed something else happening. There was a long box filled with broken glass, and people were walking across it. I get the fire walk. I get the physics. But this was broken glass, and glass cuts skin. As I watched I saw people digging deep, challenging their perceptions of what was possible. I wasn’t going to do it. It was a step too far (if you’ll excuse the pun), but then I found myself walking towards the queue. I mean, when would this opportunity arise again?
So I took off my shoes and socks, moved towards the pit of glass, and took that first step.
The glass breaks under your weight, and that sound only adds to the weirdness of what you are doing. Another step. Feeling the glass under your bare feet, yet somehow it doesn’t cut. Another step and the glass breaks even more. One more step. I’d done it.
I posted the photo below that someone took of me whilst doing the walk onto Facebook the next day. Although the vast majority of the comments were supportive, there were a couple of people who thought it deeply irresponsible. I kind of get that. I had stood for a very long time before I took the decision to do the walk. However I don’t agree that challenging our perceptions of what we think is possible is in any way irresponsible. Some spiritually and physically challenging acts can change our lives for the better. It helps us to think, well, if I can do that, what other things that I think I can’t do can I do? A good thing.
The response from the people at Sunwheel was quite overwhelming. I did a couple of workshops and was billed to headline Saturday night’s music. The evening opened with the lovely Vanessa Cardui, who played a wonderful solo set of acoustic self-penned songs. Mojo followed Vanessa, his bluesy voice and rock-influenced guitar got many around me singing along. He played a mixture of older songs from his time with the Pagan band Chalice and the Blade, but for me it was his newer songs that stole the show. Looking forward to that new album Moje!
I took the stage around 8pm and I could tell as soon as I stepped out that it was going to be a great night. I was greeted with smiling faces, and I invited everyone to move a little closer to the stage.
There is a circular vortex of energy that is built up between an audience and performer. I give, then the audience gives back, I pass it on, and so the vortex spins and increases in energy. I love it. I played for about an hour then just had the idea to invite Mojo to play djembe on stage with me. I’d heard him play at the fire walk the night before and could hear that he more than knew what he was doing. So between us, for the rest of the set, we got people up and dancing.
It was a great gig.
It looked like the music was going to end on the Sunday a little earlier than we thought so Bill and Karen suggested that we leave the festival a little early so we could be back in Calgary late Sunday night, ready to get up on Monday and take a drive out to the Bannf National Park. My flight wasn’t until 10pm so we had some time. This was such a lovely and unexpected bonus for the trip. I didn’t think I’d get to see the Rockies but it looked like things had conspired to make that happen. So on Monday morning we set out for the hour and a half drive to Bannf.
Calgary and Edmonton are out on the prairie. Endless flat land giving huge skies. As we drove the Rockies literally jutted into the sky. There were very few foot hills, they were just suddenly there, and you were in them. I love the moors, Cumbria, the Highlands, Snowdonia, the South Downs. I love hills. I’m not sure I could ever live in a flat landscape, so when these mountains appeared they took my breath away. When I wrote the line “You are the rock, and you are the stone, rivers your blood, mountains your bone” in Land, Sky and Sea that is truly how I feel.
We took a cable car up Sulfur Mountain and I felt like I was standing on the vast bones of the Mother. The silence was palpable. Such peace. Broken only by the call of the occasional eagle flying below.
This moment was a gift.
So I took that gift and just let the visual champagne fill my soul.
Every gig I play, every country I play in, and every time I get the opportunity to experience something new through my music, I thank the Gods for this gift.