Category Archives: Bardic

The Woven Threads

To my great delight, someone came in on the comments this week with a wonderful thing to share. I love it when that happens. If you see something go by on here that’s relevant to something you’re doing, please do say. If it makes sense for me to give you a shoutout, I’m always going to be up for that. With close to 6k subscribers, and over a hundred hits a day, there’s a decent chance of guest blogs and content reaching a few people who might not otherwise have seen it.

Today I’m delighted to share this hypnotic song written in protest against fast fashion. Do check out he Oblivion Scepter blog for the lyrics and the thinking behind the song.

Looking at their work, it is clear there are a lot of eco themes and political themes influencing the writing.

You can also find The Oblivion Sceptre on bandcamp – https://theoblivionscepter.bandcamp.com/
And on Youtube – https://www.youtube.com/@theoblivionscepter/playlists


Bard life

This viola came to me maybe fifteen years ago, and previously belonged to another Druid. In its previous life, this viola went to The Albert Hall as part of Portsmouth Sinfonia, so it has quite a history of its own.

I started learning the violin when I was about ten – the two are similar in that the interval between the strings is the same, although the viola is lower. They have different clefs for musical notation so while I can in theory read for viola, I’m not very good at it! My brain was, for many years, entirely wired to the violin. However, for some years now the state of my shoulders has meant there’s been no way of playing a violin.

Being bigger, the viola requires a different hand and shoulder position, which is more viable for me. After some months of work, I’ve built up so that I can play for half an hour without too much pain. Relearning tunes on a bigger instrument with all the wrong muscle memory has been a bit of a fight, but I’ve got some of them back under my fingers and they don’t sound too shabby.

In the photo, is the viola in its new hard case. Getting the case is is act of faith and hope on my part. I should be gigging a bit this winter with a local folk outfit called The Jovial Crew – hopefully I’m ready and equal to that. Beyond that lies a project I want to use the viola for, but it’s early days and there’s a lot to figure out. Somewhere on the distant horizon is the vague shape of a third musical possibility for which being able to be out and about with a viola would be a great help.

Part of the bard path is about putting creativity into the world. Part of it is about the quest for inspiration so that you have something to share. The third key strand is about doing the work so that you have the skills set you need. All three are vital. I find it difficult to keep any of that moving without also having somewhere to take my creative output. An audience of one is enough to make it worth striving. What works best for me is having people to interact with, who can be motivation, inspiration and reward all at the same time. I’m really blessed with regards to my current creative collaborators – around music and writing alike. I get to do things with some tremendously cool and interesting people.


Repairing and re-enchanting

Some years ago, I made a cloak out of tiny wool scraps. I dug it out because I wanted it for an event, and found it had suffered significant moth damage. I wasn’t sure it could be saved, but decided to get in and try, taking one damaged section at a time. It worked. While I was repairing and stabilising the cloak, some words came to me, and then a tune. Of course it’s not just about fabric, it’s about a way of being in the world, which is where the re-enchantment comes in.

Threadbare

When everything’s worn out

And falling apart

I’ll be there with my scissors

My will and my art

And I’ll salvage the pieces

And patch up the rest

Remaking, restoring

Is what I do best.

I won’t throw anything away

If I can help it

I don’t give up in any way

If I can help it

I won’t stop trying if I can,

I’ll repair and rebuild 

This is who I am.

I’ll bring my needle

And I’ll bring my thread

I have glue I have patience

To raise up the dead

I’ll take the discarded

The lost and forlorn

Make something new

Where the fabric is worn.

I’ll bring my patience

And I’ll bring my heart

I have time and ideas

When things fall apart,

I can see futures

When threads come undone

Pick up the stitches

Where the knitting has run.

All I do is keep trying

Nothing too wrecked to be darned

All it takes for the mending

Is to undo the harm

Life wears the edges

I put them back in place

No one too worn to be rescued

Repair and rebuild, don’t replace.


Drained – a guest poet

Keith Errington is no doubt best known in steampunk circles for his comedic work. He’s performed with the Hopeless, Maine crew on a number of occasions, the first of which was right at the beginning of our figuring out how to get Hopeless onto a stage. He’s previously written a novella in the Hopeless setting – The Oddatsea and has been working with me on another Hopeless novella we hope to get out into the world next year.

It gives me great delight to be able to share some of his more serious work here. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this sort of thing.

Drained


When the tide is low, and the lake’s water has returned to the air

When the river can flow no more, and the spring bubbles its last

There is no more.


When the sea is calm, and the wind has all blown out

When the clouds have turned to grey, and the sun rises no more

What is left?


When the child has cried every tear, and the artist can no longer express grief

When the Nurse is out of care, and the mother can tend no more

Where is the love?


When the trees have withered, and the grass is returned to soil

When the flowers are weeds, and the fields are sand

What will grow there?


When the deer is slain, and the last rhino dead

When the birds are grounded and fly no more

Where can you go?


When the heron is dying, and the snake is withering to skin

When the horned god has not the strength to carry on

What can he do?


A glint.

A sprout.

An egg.

A raindrop.

A breath.


A smile.




Keith Errington


Making a set list

When you start out as a bard, the odds are you’ll only play one or two songs at any given event. However, if performance becomes important to you, then you may get to a point of doing more than two pieces. Once there are more than two pieces, a set list becomes a consideration.

The order in which you perform pieces, and the pieces you select for your setlist will have an impact on how people experience your work. There’s no magic formula here, but there are some things that are worth considering.

Picking your setlist should be about deciding what you think will best fit the audience, the event and the space. This gets easier with practice. Early on you may be performing everything you know and not be able to pick and choose. When you’re going into an unfamiliar space, this is only ever a best guess, but it does always help to think about what might work best.

The first consideration is your voice, or in the case of other kinds of performance, whatever it is of what you do that is most vulnerable. Give serious thought to how you are going to manage your personal resources as you perform multiple pieces. This is much easier if you aren’t solo, because you can take it in turns to do the heavy lifting and give each other breaks. A minute off while someone else introduces the next piece makes a lot of odds.

Your most showy pieces are also likely to be the most demanding ones. It is worth having some easier material in your set so that you get breaks, especially if you are a solo performer.

It’s a good idea to start with something attention grabbing. Put more ponderous pieces, and pieces you are less confident about in the middle. End with something you are totally confident you can do well even when tired.

Practice your set in order, before you do it live. It’s worth checking how things fit together and making sure you can do what you intended. Also check the timing and make sure it fits the time slot you have. Have a plan for if you need to cut your set, and a plan for if you need an encore. If you come in a couple of minutes under your time slot you’ll be far more popular than if you over-run.

Ideally your set should maximise diversity to make it interesting for people, while balancing the need to make things smooth. If people have to watch you tune a new instrument ahead of each song you’d better be able to engage them by talking while you do it. Maximum showing off doesn’t always make for the best set, and it is important to remember that entertaining people comes ahead of impressing them. Focus on giving your audience a good experience and a lot of other things will be easier to figure out.


Call yourself a Bard

Do it. Call yourself a Bard. Or take the other names that appeal to you but seem too big to even try on. Poet, author, Druid, Priestess, healer, oracle, mystic… There are a lot of powerful words out there that can be used to describe who a person is and what they are doing.

Of course there are far too many people who take titles they don’t really deserve. You’ve probably run into that. You may well be afraid of looking like that if you claim the names for yourself. That might not just be a spiritual path issue. That might be about identifying as disabled, or queer, or neurodivergent while a little voice in your head says ‘yeah, but you’re not really queer enough, are you?’ Pick up the name or the label you need and there are reasons to fear someone else will tell you that you aren’t entitled to those words.

Try them on for size anyway. Test how they sit in your mouth. Explore the ways in which you might understand yourself on your own terms.

Too many of us are taught to make ourselves small and not to make a fuss. Too many of us experience being invalidated and not being allowed to express who we are and what’s going on for us. Some of us have family and cultural backgrounds that treat difference as shameful. We may need to reclaim the truth of who we are, and the acceptability of who we are. 

On the inside, some of us are still a small child who was told to shut up and sit down and stop being so attention seeking. Some of us were told that our aspirations were foolish and unrealistic. I see enough people around singing activities who were wounded by being told that they could not sing by people who had no idea what they were talking about.

If you’re on the bard path, call yourself a bard even if you only do that in your own head.

Call yourself a bard when you’re waiting to go out onto the stage, say it to yourself because you are the one person who needs to hear it.

You don’t have to be small. You don’t even have to be sensible. Call yourself a bard to honour the most preposterous parts of yourself. Use the word to reclaim all the not-sensible bits of you that don’t fit neatly into the demands of a dying capitalist society. Call other people bards, too. Call them heroes and goddesses and miracle workers if you can. Call the people around you visionaries and marvels, call them courageous and generous and mighty. Tell people they are powerful and remarkable. Tell them they are valid, and support the ways in which they want to express who they are.

Use your bard skills to lift people out of their feelings of ordinariness and insignificance. Tell people who they really are and tell them how greatly they matter.


At the limits of language

Traditionally speaking, language is the bard’s tool. Even if we aren’t being deliberately bardic, language is a key part of how most humans get most things done. It’s also an incredibly limited tool to use in some ways, especially English which is a terrible language for anyone trying to talk about complex emotions. Just having the one word for love is extremely limiting for a start.

For some purposes, the kind of writing I’m doing in this post is the best way to get things done. I’m aiming for clarity and I’m talking about the kinds of concepts that are pretty easy to talk about. When it comes to spiritual experiences, it can be very hard to find words with enough power to express what’s happened.

I could, with regards to yesterday’s blog post, have written a more coherent description of what happened. But I don’t think I could have done that without sacrificing the impact. The intensity of the experience is at least as important as the events – and without conveying that, none of it makes sense. I can tell you that I’ve had an intense experience, but that probably won’t be enough to make you empathise much – unless something similar has happened to you.

Talking about magic and deity with people who have similar experiences is easier because you can assume they have some idea what you’re talking about. But even in that context, it isn’t easy. Trying to talk to anyone who doesn’t share your frames of reference can be hard.

Poetry doesn’t work for everyone. It requires that you think in a different way to dealing with prose.It’s a side step from everyday language and reality, and sometimes that can really help when trying to express the kinds of things that regular language just can’t handle.


Bard or Performer?

What you think it means to be a bard probably has everything to do with what you think historical bards were. I’ve seen people say that if you’re interested in your own fame and fortune and if there’s any amount of ego in it then you aren’t a bard. I guess these are people who have not considered the implications of being a court bard (Taliesin) or the kind of bombast and self promotion that figures in Welsh and Irish mythology tend to go in for. Scotland’s Thomas the Rhymer is hardly a self-effacing figure, either.

You can of course serve the gods, spirits and whomsoever else you wish to serve with secret, private bardic activity. But for anything involving people, being a bard really does involve being good at grabbing, and keeping people’s attention. 

Being larger than life, charismatic, and compelling are all good qualities to try and develop in yourself as a bard. There is magic in enchanting people, and there’s a lot to be said for having no qualms about putting yourself centre stage and demanding people pay attention. Of course if that’s all you’re doing, people will soon lose interest. Whether a performer intends to be a bard or not, they need to have something going on beyond a desire for attention.

The idea that wanting to be popular necessitates being crappy comes up a lot around ‘literature’ as well as bardic pursuits. To be serious, worthy, high brow one must also (according to some people) be elitist, obscure and write things that aren’t accessible to people who don’t already know all the things you know. I think this is by far the bigger ego issue than the natural human desire for attention. People need good art. There are a lot of people who want good art. Trying to make things for a larger audience doesn’t invalidate it. There is no conflict between trying to do something a lot of people will like, and trying to do something substantial and anyone who says otherwise is either a snob, or trying to justify why their work isn’t much appreciated.

What makes you a bard is that your work is driven by ideas, the need for beauty, principles, vision, inspiration and a desire to make the world a better place. If people pay you for that, you are no less of a bard. If you see creative work as a quick way to earn a lot of money… this is mostly not how anything works anyway. It’s surprisingly hard to have a creative career as a soulless mercenary who only cares about the bottom line.


How to Make Bone Soup

How To Make Bone Soup is an ebook poetry collection that can be picked up for free from my Ko-fi store. I can’t do much to help people with the greed crisis making life unaffordable in the UK, but I can and will keep giving stuff away. https://ko-fi.com/s/333a79c6be Do check out the other free books in my store, too.

When times are hard, the first thing to go is likely to be the leisure budget. This inevitably makes creative stuff the most precarious line of work to be in. Although honestly nothing looks secure anymore and I can’t begin to imagine how this winter is going to play out.

I’m not especially affluent in terms of income, but we’re hugely insulated by owning our small home outright. Without that, it would be challenging to make all of this work, but not being at the mercy of mortgage fluctuations or landlord greed is a massive blessing and a privilege. I owe a lot to my ancestors.

It helps a lot that I have Patreon supporters. Having a monthly income from Patreon makes it easier to spend time on creative projects. Which in turn makes it feasible for me to just give ebooks away. If you would like to be part of that, please wander this way – https://www.patreon.com/NimueB

One-off ko-fi donations are also much appreciated. https://ko-fi.com/O4O3AI4T/

If you are one of the many people struggling to make ends meet right now, please help yourself to the free amusements I have on offer. There’s lots more content over on my youtube channel – https://www.youtube.com/c/NimueBrown as well. 


Musical plots and plans

At the moment, a lot of my time and creative energy is going into a project called The Ominous Folk of Hopeless, Maine. We’re a four person singing group, doing a mix of original stuff, covers and folk.

This all started some years ago when the Hopeless, Maine graphic novel project was invited to participate in the local book festival. What do you do with a graphic novel on a stage? We put together a mix of stories and folk songs, because folk traditions have always been a big influence. James and I have been singing together his whole life. We added Susie to the mix and last year took our first Hopeless, Maine show out into the world, debuting it at Festival at the Edge, in 2021.

We’re gigging a lot – at Steampunk events, folk things and local stuff. We’re now in a conversation about recording an album in October, which is an exciting prospect.

This isn’t my first musical project – I played in a blues rock band in my teens, gigged as half a folk duo in my twenties and have been involved in assorted things that were mostly for fun. I love performing. I love how this group works – the balance of silliness and gothic, folk horror vibes, the getting to play with kit, and the ways in which we can increasingly do things by magic.

This is performance with no safety net. We sing unaccompanied, so there’s nothing to refer to for pitch. There are also quite a few songs that start with two of us singing in harmony, and we’ve got to a point where it just happens, we simply hit the notes. We’ve learned to breathe together, and to be able to make sense of what we’re each doing even when we are stood in a line far enough apart not to be able to easily see each other in peripheral vision. I get a massive kick out of this. It’s definitely magic, no two ways about it.