Thursday, July 05, 2007

midsummer adventuring

After a few more sessions in Exeter with Henry, Keith and various Droners, I bought myself a new (!) bike, the old one having been pretty well done in by the journey to Canterbury some weeks ago - it's called a "Presidio", which turns out to be the name of the place in San Francisco where the Internet Archive is based (and hence where all my archive recordings live).

I did the usual midsummer pilgrimage up to the Avebury area. The first evening I'd reached Glastonbury (having visited the old yew tree at Creech St. Michael, and climbed Burrow Mump, as usual), and remarkably hadn't been rained on, despite the terrible forecast. I stayed at Sam's new house - she and Sym and just about everyone else 'round there being in the midst of preparations for the Festival (Green Angels playing a few gigs there this year). I'd reached Windmill Hill by the next evening - Solstice eve - and, like last year, spent a far-out evening 'round the fire with Andy Bard, discussing various cosmic matters, making endless pots of tea, playing twinkly saz-and-mandolin music and waiting for the dawn...

Dave (NuSphere) and Candy joined us on the one of the barrows for sunrise, which (again, remarkably, considering this awful weather) we actually saw, followed by a vivid double rainbow that (without any actual rain) that stayed in place for a good twenty minutes, accompanied by a super-intense symphony of skylark song (so impressive that it felt almost rude to play our instruments).

Andy and I up on Windmill Hill (the year before)
Andy and I up on Windmill Hill, exactly a year earlier - photo by Darsha Doublespoon

Andy's just submitted a proposal for his second book A History of Alternative Avebury, which should be a very interesting read. Stef turned up a bit later that morning and between us, we dredged up all sorts of obscure anecdotes, literary references and bits of cultural trivia for this project. One thing I didn't know, which Andy mentioned, was that Roger Dean's cover for the Yes's Tales from Topographical Oceans double album contains an image of one of the Avebury standing stones. I haven't heard that (much-ridiculed) record for years, but it sounded like the music of the spheres to my teenage brain. Turns out Andy, Stef and I were all Yes fans at that age - in fact Stef had even been inspired to visit Yes Tor on Dartmoor by the cover of the (truly dreadful) Tormato album.

A vague plan is now afoot for a joint gig at the Glastonbury Assembly Rooms sometime this autumn - Andy's Oxford-based psych-folk band Telling the Bees together with Orbis Tertius? (and perhaps a local act?).

Andy had to head off, Stef and I spent the whole of 'the longest day' up on Windmill, making tea, discussing the issues of the day and noodling on our instruments (he's just got a new roundback mandola - and my saz, during the night, had developed a weird, multi-coloured set of concentric rings, the size of a penny, as if a tiny crop circle had appeared on it - possibly caused by an ember from the fire, but no indication of burning..."Perhaps it was a plasmic ember," suggested Stef, being familiar with the wackier end of the speculative cerealogy).

We reconvened over at Knapp Hill, tried to find the bee orchids which grow on the hillside - no luck there, but found an amazing selection of downland wildflowers which made the search a joyous failure. Then down the last bit of The Ridgeway to Alton Priors, to check out the 1700 year old yew (which Stef had somehow missed, all these years) and record a couple of hours of improvisations inside All Saints church. For the first time, it occurred to me to actually look for the trapdoor I'd heard about - the one in the floor with the giant sarsen beneath it - and it indeed exists, and is unlocked. We left the trapdoor open while we played, and a ray of sun came in through the window and illuminated it for a while - nice.

Listen Here

Camped up on Golden Ball Hill that evening, under my favourite old hawthorn tree up there, then recorded some more sounds over in the ancient beech grove on nearby Furze Hill the next day before I headed off down The Ridgeway. I stopped off at The Sanctuary, Fyfield Down (recorded a bit there) and Barbury Castle before stopping for the night at Wayland's Smithy. The next day I recorded some more solo saz in the little chambers there, and then further down The Ridgeway atop Dragon Hill (looking up at the White 'Horse' of Uffington,the body of which, I'd noticed on my way down, was awash with pink and purple orchids).

Listen Here

The rains really came in after that, and I had a long, wet, muddy ride down The Ridgeway into the evening. Comfort came in the form of a pint of ale, some surprisingly good chips and a rare kind of rural pub hospitality at The Four Points Inn in Aldworth, where they insisted I get my saz out and play for them (while I was still dripping all over the floor).


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