2007′s Open Gorsedd was organised in conjunction with the “Megalithomania” conference, which was also being held on the same weekend at the Assembly Rooms. Our thanks go to the Megalithomania team for helping to promote the Open Gorsedd along with the conference. It was with the greatest of sadness that this year’s proceedings had to be conducted without the presence of Tim Sebastion, former Archdruid of Caer Baddon and prime catalyst in the re-establishment of the Bardic Chairs of Albion, who died earlier in the year. This event became quite a moving memorial to his vision.
With the theme having been announced by Tim Hall , residing Bard of Glastonbury 05-07, as “Nine Maidens”, the competition was opened to ten contestants each performing for up to fifteen minutes and being judged on the following qualities : Inspiration; originality; working with the audience; presence; emotive appeal; spontaneity; artistry/craft; wisdom and/or foolishness and of course, relevance to the theme.
These qualities certainly were in evidence on Tuesday night, creating quite a task for the five judges, Tony Thomson, Denny Michell, Oshia Drury, Thalia Brown and Taruna Das, who had to choose six finalists from amongst them for the final on Saturday night.
First to take the stage was Merlin of the Woods, with his beautiful nine part symphony of the Tale of Nine Maidens. As he spoke his story unfolded, he sang his words and played his lute, and the magic of the evening immediately came to life. A true minstrel and storyteller in our midst, really, one thought the evening couldn’t get much better.
Ezmerelda Sanger, an artist who entered the competition as a result of a broken arm, came up with a wonderful performance, the story beginning with the virgin Mary, who gives birth to hope, and then wended her magical way, to bring us up to date with the birth of her own daughter. Her impersonation of Margaret Thatcher being a particularly funny and unexpected note in this gem of a piece.
Craig presented a forthright interpretation of the nine-fold theme with his own brand of high performance poetry.
Marco Koppenhagen gave us a whimsical, bittersweet folksong and a rather humorous treatment of the theme.
Dearbhaile Bradley,who originally had thought the theme to be the number nine, had clearly researched her subject thoroughly and as a result brought to the Gorsedd a most thoughtful piece of poetry, â€œThe Power of Nine,â€ full of power, stunningly written, and delivered with a passion that had the entire audience hooked.
David Reakes, the Fiddler; told his tale in the style of the Pied Piper, disturbing, original, brilliant. The tale of a wedding, the guests transfixed by a spell, they danced till they became stone. Unfinished was his tale on Tuesday, but still remarkable enough to get him through to the final, we had to wait in anticipation to hear the end of his story.
Tony Atkinson took the theme of Nine Maidens to a genuinely Bardic level, creating his poem “999” with nine verses, nine lines to each verse and nine syllables to each line. His tale of classical allusion was a remarkable structural achievement.
Michaela, a true Bard in the making, has clearly worked really hard on her performing skills since entering last year, and brought us a ballad of the maidens, alluringly sung and accompanied by Merlin, a beguiling performance.
John Johnson’s contribution seemed a little ill-prepared, although pleasant enough, it didn’t really touch on the given theme.
The evening of profound entertainment was wonderfully wrapped up for us by Rohini, who unfortunately had not realized there was a theme for the competition , but was still kind enough to entertain us with his talking drum and his beautiful words. He began with a Sanskrit invocation which then led into a song of three parts. The first part tells us how the sound of nature inspires the song writer, the second of the appreciation of mother earth and the nurturing and shelter she gives us, and finally in the third part talks of the spiritual world, that as we roam the physical world we are each making our personal journey to our spiritual world. This piece was possibly not quite what the judges were asking for, but nevertheless a fine reminder of what we were doing there and a fitting end to the evening.
We were back to the Assembly Rooms on Thursday for open mike night where artists who did not wish to enter the competition were invited to take to the stage. We were treated to a wealth of talent which included more from the fabulous Tim Hall, still the chaired Bard,performing alone as well as with the uber talented Oshia Drury, who also performed solo this evening. Beautiful guitar playing from Tony Thompson, bespoke guitar maker and chair of judges, the deeply haunting sounds of Brian’s vocal improvisation. Kevan, the third Bard of Bath, treated us to his version of the story if Taliesin’s birth. A memorable experience and an honour to be present.
The traditional open air Gorsedd ceremony was held at the Fairfields on Glastonbury Tor and four new Bards: Merlin of the Woods; Ezmerelda Sanger; Craig and Bryan Holder were given the Awen initiation and admitted to the order. We remembered Tim Sebastion and gave thanks for his life and closed with the cry for peace, then the newly initiated bards along with the Elder Bards and the judges made their way back to the Assembly Rooms for the final heat.
We were again treated to the six finalists performing their entries, starting off with more wonderful songs from Tim on this, his final evening as chaired bard.
Guest performances included:
Ash Mandrake, Bard of Caer Baddon (Bath);
Mark Lindsey Earley, Bard of Caer Wyse (Exeter);
and Bryan Holder, demonstrating the art of the Awenyddion.
After much deliberation the judges returned with the verdict being eloquently pronounced by the leader of the panel, Tony Thompson.
The Tim Sebastian Memorial Trophy was awarded to Stevie P. and received by Nathan Williams in his absence.
The Deputy Bard’s Crown was awarded to Merlin.
and Dearbhaile Bradley won the Chair
All hail the Bard!
Story: Jo Raphael
Photos: Barnaby J Hodges & Jo Raphael