Last Friday afternoon I stepped into my car and began the journey to the land of Mercia. I had been booked to play at the Mercian Gathering that was being held on a farm just outside of Coventry. I’d heard a lot of great things about this camp so was really looking forward to it.
The journey went well and I arrived in plenty of time. I got to the village where the camp was being held and found no signs anywhere. I drove around for about 30 minutes, up one lane, down another, trying to find the roads that were shown on the little map that had been sent out with the tickets, but I couldn’t find them anywhere. In the end I saw a postman who pointed me in the right direction – I have to say that if I hadn’t found him, I might still be looking now! I was told that the camp had suffered in the past from a number of gate-crashers, so they don’t advertise the location.
When I finally pulled into the farm I was met by the Dagda – not the Giant Celtic God, but the tribe who provide added security to almost all of the Pagan events in the UK. What a welcome too! I love these guys and we mutually love-bombed each other before I was pointed to the area I could pitch my tent.
The first thing I noticed was how many people were there! I was told that there were about 500 attending. That has to make it the biggest Pagan camp in the UK. The organisation was superb, with a cafe, a very large marquee, a few smaller tents, some tee pees, and some of the most luxurious toilets I’ve ever seen. Once the tent was up I took a wander around the site, found the venue for my concert – the labyrinth was already set up ready to be lit, and as I walked into a neighboring field I met with the Wicker Man, standing tall and awaiting his fate. People were already placing items on him as wishes for the Gods.
My performance was part of a Bardic evening. the first up was my friend Kevan who performs under the name Tallyessin. Stories and poetry told with eloquence and passion, wonderful stuff. That was followed by Gary Breinholt, a Bard I met years ago within the Stone Circle at Avebury. Again, a wonderful storyteller who held the audience spellbound. I was due to start my set at 10pm, so I took the opportunity to just step outside and take in the vibe of the camp, and its central fire. After such an awful rainy Summer, this felt like a magical early Autumn evening. When I got back to the marquee it was full of people! I’d never played this event before, so I thought I would have to gradually draw the audience towards singing, but how wrong I was! From the opening chords of Song of Awen it was obvious that almost everyone in the audience knew my songs, and they were singing along, not just with the choruses, but with the verses, from the off. I was very humbled by the experience; and the love I felt from the people there, it was quite overwhelming. It’s a performer’s dream when this happens, because you feel the love from the audience, they feel the love you have for your songs, and for them, they feel that back and sing and cheer louder, which then makes you work harder, and on it goes. Within the set I played about three new songs, and they were even joining in with those after a verse or so! A truly magical night, a real treat, if you were there, thank you. It was one of those concerts that will stay with me.
The next day brought more sunshine, talks, conversation, and peace. I spent the day just wandering, spending some time by the fire, some time in the cafe, sitting by the Wicker Man, and just playing music in my tent. The evening seemed to arrive very quickly, and in no time we were all gathered at the Labyrinth for the evening’s ritual. As darkness fell, the labyrinth was lit, and we all made our way through, chanting, spiraling and drumming, then we walked in procession down to the Wicker Man. We stood in circle singing as the archers raised their flaming arrows and fired them into the pile of wood beneath him. Flames grew higher, and cheers rang out into the night as he was slowly engulfed in fire. Dancing, drumming, wildness, chanting. I stepped out of the melee for a moment, just to take in the sight, just as the Moon rose from behind the clouds low on the horizon. People look to the past to see a Pagan Golden Age, but at times like that I realise that we are actually living in it now.