Monday, June 29, 2009

summer solstice '09

Another musical summer solstice adventure...

Friday 19th: I spent the afternoon cycling the ancient Ridgeway track from where it begins near Goring, met Jim (he of Red Dog Green Dog) at Wayland's Smithy after stopping at Uffington White Horse and Dragon Hill to play a bit of contemplative saz. We camped in some nearby woods with Paul, another Ridgeway pilgrim we met there, sharing food, drink and music (saz and concertina jams).

Saturday 20th-Sunday 21st: Jim and I cycled rest of Ridgeway to Avebury, bumping into Nathan (also on a bike) in nearby East Kennet. We met Stef (with several instruments) and Rosie (without her harp, unfortunately) in the stones as people were starting to gather for the evenings spontaneous festivities. Eventually, we all trailed up to Windmill Hill to find Paul (who'd walked in on the Ridgeway) with Andy Bard, his druidic doctoral supervisor Graham, girlfriend (g)Nomi and a Finnish activist friend called Mikka.

There was a great vibe and some celestial jams that night. Nathan played some gorgeous folk guitar and sang a couple of songs in Welsh, Andy got out his numerous solstice/sunrise songs and Stef led various modal ("Dongoid", in Nathan's words) jams - mandolin, saz, mandola, two concertinas. At one point during the night, we processed back down the hill to check out party in the stones, playing the Cornish tune "Constantine" (twin concertinas and saz) the whole way, for some reason. Stef got into piping in the stones, but it was all a bit hectic for me with the chaotic drumming and alcohol. I orbited the henge and ended up playing a bit for a friendly couple chilling out under a blanket by a big quiet stone in The Cove. Then back up to the fire. Dave "Nusphere" Prentice had arrive, but unfortunately had to leave shortly before dawn. Before leaving he gave me a CD of some of his latest work (psy-trance, and his own eclectic mix of electronic styles, including something really gentle and beautiful with a tinkly piano line, that reminds me of múm). This also included a couple of tracks involving my saz (recorded when he visited last December) mixed with his friend Paul's didg and his electronics.

the round barrow on Windmill Hill
the barrow from which we attempted to watch the sunrise (photo by S. Greville)

The merriment and music continued until dawn, when we headed out onto one of the hilltop round barrows for a very subtle sunrise (a little rose-tinted cloud was all we got). Andy, Jim and I were jamming on some modal psych-space groove (based on Andy's song "Waiting for the Dawn"), wondering where Stef had gone...then he appeared, processing up to the barrow playing his pipes ("just when you thought it couldn't get any better," said Paul, who seemed pretty blown away by the whole experience). Nomi passed on greetings from Sharron Kraus, her housemate in Oxford (who I saw play in Canterbury last year, and subsequently got to know via an ongoing email philosophy discussion). The whole of Sunday - the longest day of the year - was spent, as with last year, making tea and philosophising round a little fire with Stef and others (a bit of music, but talk dominating).

Monday 22. Stef, Paul and I gradually headed over to Fyfield Down (everyone else having drifted away), via Avebury. Stef and I ended up jamming with Pixie, the wild Cardiff minstrel, and Lynn (playing cello) outside the pub. It felt particularly good to be playing with Pixie again (Inge and I met him in that very pub 14 years earlier). And it was great to see a cello being played outside a pub (in a stone circle!). He was delivering passionate versions of his own songs, also The Levellers' "Sold Down the River", a brilliant "One More Cup of Coffee" (with his own lyrics interpolated), a sort of hymn to the land (which he claimed to be a Nick Drake rewrite, although I'm not sure about that), Zep's "Over the Hills and Far Away", etc.

Niall, an old face from Avebury gatherings, was outside the pub interviewing people for his "Shamanic Freedom Radio" podcast which he presents under the name "OpaqueLens". You can hear a little bit of me and Stef playing in the background of this episode from about the 30-minute mark, then me be interviewed about the so-called "Watkins Objection" while Stef carries on playing.

We then met Daygan (of Dragonsfly) and a friend who had turned up for the afternoon on their motorbikes, and end up in stones with them having little jam, he on borrowed mandola, Stef on concertina, me on saz. Up on Fyfield Down there was more fireside tea and chat in a little hawthorn and elder grove, a little bit of jamming and a mysterious buzz that eventually transpired to be a little bumble bee colony right next to our fire.

Daygan, Stef and I jamming by a stone in Avebury

Tuesday 23rd: We went our separate ways - Stef back to Wales and Paul over the Marlborough Downs to get a bus home. I cycled along the Ridgeway, past Pixie and co. in what looked like a little pirate encampment, past the Sanctuary, stopped at the incredible beech grove on Furze Hill to play a bit of saz, then went for a long walk on the Wansdyke to Tan Hill and Cliffords Hill and back again, stopping to jam on Adam's Grave. I slept under a gnarled old hawthorn tree on nearby Golden Ball Hill that night.

Wednesday 24th: Coming down of Golden Ball Hill and down the side of Knap Hill, I was asked about my instrument by a friendly Scotsman, then recognised by someone I'd met below Silbury Hill three or four years ago. She then introduce me to Kirsty Morris from the downtempo electronica duo Life Audience who went and got her guitar - I jammed along with their song "Blue Skies Indeed", and she seemed sufficiently into what I was doing to start making plans for some studio work (I've since listened to a load of their tracks, and it's lovely, dreamy, floaty chilled music - reminds me of what I used to hear on Gilles Peterson's Worldwide radio programme when I was a regular listener some years ago). I then walked down to Alton Priors to sit and jam inside the 1700-year-old yew tree and record a bit inside the church. Then it was back on the bike, up over the Wansdyke and on to West Kennet Long Barrow. I recorded a few minutes of freeform saz in there between tourist incursions, then had a good look at Silbury Hill, pushed/cycled over Waden Hill, headed up The Avenue to meet Vicky, who'd come up from Devon for a couple of days (and brought a bicycle, usefully). We ended up cycling out on the Ridgeway and camping in a lovely beech copse on Hackpen Hill.

Thursday 25th. We cycled to the Uffington White Horse and back, via Waylands Smithy (stopping to have tea on the barrow). I jammed a bit on Dragon Hill and beside the 'Horse' (I'm sure it's not meant to be a horse!), looking out over the incredible land formation known as 'The Manger'.

I've compiled the small amount of material I recorded with an edit from one of Dave's aforementioned saz/didg tracks and a couple of recent overdub experiments (one involving Andy Ra's gorgeous 12-string guitar and the other involving Jim's concertina and some ridiculous 'statistical funk' vocalising!)

Listen Here


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