The Open Gorsedd of the Bards of Ynys Wytrin was held on Saint Dunstan’s Day, the 19th of May, with a preliminary round on the 17th. Entrants were invited to contest for the Chair with its current incumbent, Tim Hall. The theme specified was ‘Gwyn ap Nudd, the King of the Fairies’.
A panel of judges was recruited from the Glastonbury cultural Establishment, consisting of Jo Waterworth, Sonia Guinnessy, Oshia Drury, Tony Thompson and Matt Tweed. The Bardic Council is deeply obliged to the judges, who took on this onerous task generously and, in some cases, at short notice.
The Bardic Trials
The preliminary round was held at the Glastonbury Assembly Rooms, which provided both their usual high standard of informal comfort and two of their permanent staff, Paul Perry and Liz Gilbert, as MCs.
After an introductory song from Tim, the twelve candidates were invited to perform. Each was allowed fifteen minutes, at the end of which a timekeeper would, if necessary, sound a gong. The order of performance was determined by drawing names from a hat.
Jamuna, a well-known local bard, delivered a complex and carefully-timed recitation on the specified theme, its quietly hypnotic verse-forms accentuated by the accompaniment of his Mbira, a small Central African instrument resembling a hand-played musical box.
Tony Atkinson, new to the Gorsedd, introduced a note of classical rigour by reciting four sonnets of his own composition upon the theme, being one for each of the four Seasons, and, as a technical tour-de-force, each representing one of four classical sonnet forms (Tony adds the Wordsworthian form to the usual three).
Bryan Holder performed a most unusual (and untitled) work which he describes only as ‘sound and motion’; essentially a vocal tone-poem or song without words, in which his voice, interacting with the room acoustic as he moved slowly around the whole venue, produced quite unprecedented effects.
David Reakes recited a finely-crafted satirical ballad, using a carefully-chosen verse-form and contriving not only to follow the prescribed traditional theme but also to send up the whole Glastonbury magickal scene; his line ‘It makes all the people wear crystals, and purple’ reduced some of the audience to tears of laughter.
Michaela, by far the most gorgeously-attired bard of the evening, accompanied herself on a Native American medicine-drum and performed two quite different chant-sequences, demonstrating the potentials of her instrument, her voice and the dramatic language in which she works.
Brian Conquer, a bard of long standing, firmly maintained tradition by avoiding modern, experimental forms and delivering a ‘proper’ acoustic-guitar-accompanied, singer-songwriter’s ballad, his kindly voice and gently humorous lyrics providing a fine start to the proceedings.
Dearbhaile Bradley performed an impassioned poem on the theme of the banishing of Gwyn ap Nudd and his courtiers from a hilltop by former Abbot of Glastonbury, St Collen. This poet did a fine job of showing how with early Christian myths like this there are ‘two sides to every story’.
Willow, a bard of great experience, delivered an intense and demanding dramatic recitation in a free-verse form, its force and power greatly enhanced by his voice, upon the theme; he then returned to a lighter note with a ballad, accompanying himself on the octave mandola.
John Johnson, possibly the youngest candidate, stuck to traditional ways and delivered a fine ballad, accompanying himself on the acoustic guitar, his style being refreshingly light and informal.
At this point the judges retired, to consider a short-list of six candidates who would proceed to the final. During their absence, a number of fine entertainers who, for various reasons, were unable to contest the Chair, generously gave of their time and talent.
Pok, the Bard of the Loyal Arthurian Warband, delivered an exquisite recitation in which he combined what seemed to be the verse-forms of Chaucerian Middle English with word-forms and phonetic values reminiscent of Anglo-Saxon or even Old Norse, without sacrificing for a moment the comprehensibility of the modern English in which, in fact, he works. This spectacular piece, which few but he could deliver, remains unpublished, though there are hopes that the artist may in the future allow publication.
Haylee, who is 10, and who had not, it seems, arrived with the intention of taking part, confidently took the floor to declaim a poem in eight parts, relating to the eight major Celtic festivals, which she had written entirely during the course of the evening. This impressive standard of creativity and drive surprised many older and more experienced bards.
Emma Harper, widely-known singer/songwriter, was able to find time in her busy schedule to perform several of her impassioned and heartfelt songs. Kev the Poet, of the LAW, and Singing Horse, who recites in the Lakota language and had travelled all the way from Oregon, also provided excellent entertainment.
On the judges’ return, it was announced that Willow, Dearbhaile Bradley, Michaela, David Reakes, Tony Atkinson and Jamuna were to be the six finalists.
The Open Gorsedd
The final round was held at the White Spring, the Guardians of which most generously allowed the use of this unique, and only recently restored, sacred space for this purpose. The Bardic Council, somewhat surprised at the numbers of people who attended, would like to thank the Guardians for their patience with and tolerance of a much larger audience than was expected, and to confirm that next year’s final will, in the light of this, be held at the Assembly Rooms in order to accommodate more people comfortably.
Before proceeding to the White Spring, a Gorsedd circle was held in the Fairfield (beneath the Tor). All of the candidate Bards, members of the Bardic Council and many of the audience attended. Dignitaries present included the Maenarch of Avalon, the Faerie Queene of the Glastonbury Outer Order of Druids, and Mr. Tim Sebastian, Archdruid of the Secular Order of Druids, present in his capacity of Elder Bard of Caer Badon. As part of this ceremony fourteen of the candidates and the Council accepted formal initiation by the Chaired Bard of Ynys Wytrin.
- Dearbhaile Bradley :: Elder: Bardic Chair 2007-8. Secretary of Gorsedh Committee 2010-2013
- Tony Thompson :: Chair of Gorseth Committee 2007-2009.
- Chaz Heritage :: Secretary and Chief Scribe to the Gorsedd 2007-2009.
- Petra Cook
- Lydia Lyte :: Sword Bearer to the Gorsedh
- Jo Waterworth :: Tim Sebastion Memorial Trophy 2009 and previously acted as Judge at the Bardic Trials 2006
- Oshia Drury :: TSMT 2011 and a regular Bardic Trials Judge.
- Viv Andreae
- Jamuna Jivana
- David Reakes :: Elder: Bardic Chair 2009. Crown 2008-9.
- Tony Atkinson :: Elder: Bardic Chair 2010; Crown 2009. Treasurer of Gorsedh Committee 2011-2014
- Dreow Bennet :: Honorary Elder Bard. Maenarc of Avalon.
- Theo Simon :: Tim Sebastion Memorial Trophy 2008-9.
- Sonia Guinnessy
- Raga Richie
- Willow Seeger
- Brian Conquer :: ArchDruid of Hibernian Order.
- Yanni :: Lady of Avalon. (2009)
The artists appearing in the final did not alter their performances significantly from those given in the preliminary round, though it was clear that the latter had been substantially polished during the intervening days. Denny Price acted as MC, managing as well as did the performers the White Spring’s strongly ecclesiastical architecture and acoustic.
By the end of the finalists’ performances so many people had come to listen that there was nowhere left at the White Spring to which the judges could retire; accordingly they retired to a private house. The audience were then treated to a repetition of Pok’s fine recitation; Pixi, the famous Glastonbury singer/songwriter, arrived and, despite an unfamiliar guitar, produced a fine rendition of some of his memorable folk repertoire.
Sarah Curtis, lead singer with folk band Savernake, performed a beautiful song written specially for Mayday. Entitled ‘Bear and Swan’, the lyrics had no specific reference to the ‘King of the Faeries’, but the image of the banishing of the darkness by the light was perfect for the time of year.
Theo, from ‘Seize the Day’ sang one of the band’s more mystical numbers, ‘Child of the Universe’ and Nathan Williams, a local musician and teacher who also gave many hours of his professional time to the task of organising the Gorsedd, delivered in both Welsh and English ‘Propaganda’r Prydydd’, translated as ‘The Poet’s Propaganda’, by R.Williams Parry, a sonnet on the qualities of a true Bard, and sang ‘Woven are the Ways’, a song from Penmaenmawr; Merlin also performed a lengthy incantation to the Goddess Bridgit (or Brigit, or Bridie, or Her other names).
Eventually the judges returned, looking somewhat worn, and amid a frenzy of excitement it was announced that Tim Hall’s tenure as Chaired Bard of Ynys Wytrin was to continue; none of the candidates were judged to have exceeded the standard of Tim’s winning performance.
The formal Chairing then took place. Denny Price and Oshia Drury robed the re-Chaired Bard then the Silver Branch was presented by Shamus Joy as Honorary Grand Bard on behalf of the late Richie Bond and representing the lineage of Bards of Ynyswitrin, Tim Sebastion then completed Tim’s formal initiation as Grand Bard with the presentation and recitation of the Qualification of the Bards, following which Tim played the winning song,
The Ravens, as an encore.
The event being officially over, the informal entertainers once again took the floor, Pixi forming an impromptu duo with Helen Tucker, a fine local folk violinist; the entertainment did not stop until the venue finally closed.
The Bardic Council are deeply gratified with the response to the Open Gorsedd and once again would like to thank everyone whose time, effort and talent went into making it such a fine event. We all look forward to next year’s Gorsedd, which we hope will be even bigger and even better.