Thursday, February 19, 2015

In Search Of Dion Fortune.

I had been getting in a real rut recently. Drinking and smoking too much,going to the pub every night and staying in bed till the afternoon because I had a hangover. I felt really uninspired and knew I had to snap out of it. On Monday morning I was lying in bed as usual and reading a book I had found in a charity shop which was called 'The Battersea Park Road Road To Enlightenment' by Isabel Losada. I had only bought it because it was a signed copy and I thought it might be worth a few quid. I found it very funny and readable. In the first paragraph it said,'I want to find out how to live life completely, abundantly, joyfully, stupidly. This is my quest, Enlightenment. I'm not doing very well so far'.
         The words struck a chord with me. It seemed to be about me. It was all about this adventure of self discovery and personal growth involving Insight Seminars,Ta'i Chi, Astrology, Tantric Sex, Re-incarnation, Hypnotism, and loads of other stuff. " I want some of this", I thought to myself. I was thinking more of the tantric sex. Anyway I decided that if the weather was nice on Tuesday morning I would get out of Westbury and where better to go to than Glastonbury, the world centre for spiritual growth and new age alternative life-styles. I only live 25 miles from Glastonbury and I have been there loads of times so I needed a new reason to go. To do something that I had never done there before.Then I remembered another book I had read a couple of years ago called Glastonbury,Avalon Of The Heart by Dion Fortune. I had discovered this book because of being a Van Morrison fan. On Van's album Enlightenment  there is a song with a similar title and I am convinced that the book was the inspiration for the song. Glastonbury is situated in the Vale Of Avalon which was a huge influence for Van in the 1980's. Dion Fortune lived in a tiny house at the foot of Glastonbury Tor and when she died in 1946 she was buried in Glastonbury cemetery. I decided that I would go and see if I could find her grave. I put my copy of the book in a plastic bag and  and put a little note in it saying whoever finds the book is welcome to it and I sealed it with sellotape to keep out the rain. This is what I was going to leave on the grave of Dion Fortune. Crazy I know but as Van might say, " It ain't why, it just is". If you have never heard of Dion Fortune then I suggest that you read about her on Wikipedia, I can't be bothered to tell you all about her here when you can find it all at the click of a mouse.
 I stayed out of the pub on Monday night and woke up Tuesday morning feeling really good and the sun was streaming through the window. It was a beautiful day as I set out for Glastonbury. I arrived there about 11.45 and I couldn't check into my hotel till 2.00 so I wandered the streets taking photos of the crazy shop signs. One shop was called 'Enlightenment' which reminded me of the Van album. Glastonbury has a very strong feminine vibe to it. Lots of goddess's walking around dressed in hippy type garb. One or two smiled at me. "I bet they are getting loads of tantric sex", I thought to myself wistfully. Then I had a look in a museum that I had never visited before. It was really interesting, all about the Iron Age people that used to live around here. Some of the pottery and tools they used were amazing and they even had an Iron Age canoe which had been discovered locally. The Tourist Information Office was in the same building and I asked the lady if she could direct me to the cemetery. She gave me a bit of a funny look. I think it is because tourist information ladies usually get asked about hotels  or bus timetables, not cemeteries. Anyway,she told me to go to the top of the High Street and turn left and it was about half a mile.

          Fifteen minutes later I arrived at the cemetery entrance. Inside the deserted graveyard there was a really peaceful atmosphere, not a cloud in the sky and just the sound of birdsong disturbing the tranquillity. I had expected my intuition would lead me to the grave like a holy magnet but after a few minutes I realised that I had a major problem. There were hundreds of graves, a lot of them covered in lichen and so worn that you couldn't hardly read the inscription. I wandered up and down the rows for about half an hour looking at graves that looked about 70 years old. "This is impossible", I thought to myself and was beginning to despair.
                                                                             Then I noticed a van parked nearby with a man in it eating sandwiches. " He must be a gravedigger or a sexton or whatever you call them", I thought, "He might be able to help". He put down his sandwich and gave a cheery smile. "I wonder if you can help me, I'm trying to locate a grave but I don't have a clue where it is. Violet Mary Evans better known as Dion Fortune". " I know exactly where it is", he replied, "You're not the first person to ask me about that grave,I'll show you it". " Oh brilliant, thanks mate".

 He led me up towards  the far end of the cemetery and then down a few rows and there it was, my quest was over. I had found the grave of Dion Fortune. I thanked him and shook hands and he left me alone at the graveside. Even after 69 years she obviously still had visitors because there were recent flowers left there and various trinkets and things. I took a few photos and then I noticed just a few feet away the grave of  her patron and secretary in the Fraternity Of The Inner Light Charles Thomas Loveday who died in 1948 so I took a photo of that as well.

 Then I got the book out of my bag and placed it on Dion's grave. The book she had written all those years ago. I hope somebody finds it soon and enjoys it. Then I made a little video which you can see below if you scroll down. I left the cemetery feeling quite pleased  with myself. Mission accomplished. Walking back down the High Street I spotted a second-hand bookshop and thought I would have a look in. There was a huge range of books on all sorts of topics such as the occult, mysticism,theosophy etc and guess what was almost the first book I saw in there?. Yes,Glastonbury, Avalon Of The Heart by Dion Fortune. The rest of my 24 hours in Glastonbury was good fun. The 15th century hotel The George And Pilgrim is nice. Kim and I stayed there a few times previously. I had a nice meal and saw a band in the hotel next door. Next morning I climbed the Tor which was beautiful and then I sat in the Chalice Well gardens for about an hour basking in the sun which was amazing for February and I had a drink of the cool water to quench my thirst and then I hopped in a taxi to Castle Cary and caught the train to Westbury. Today it is back to being dark, rainy and miserable so I am really pleased I chose the best two days to go away and I have even started writing again so thank you very much Dion Fortune for inspiring me from beyond the grave.

The Grave Of Dion Fortune.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Review: Fairport Convention, Cheese & Grain Frome 3/2/2015

I had a great time seeing Fairport Convention in Frome last night. This is what happened. My friend Jacquie called at mine at 6.00 and we had a bite to eat and then got a taxi to the Cheese & Grain in Frome. I have seen some great acts here over the years but I think last nights show was one of the best ever. The venue has been refurbished since I was last here two years ago with a new foyer and bar and cafe area which is really nice. It was more or less a full house for Fairport and promptly at 8.00 Ric Sanders came on to introduce the support act who were Rosie Carson and Kevin Dempsey. Rosie hails from Cincinnati I think and Kevin comes from Coventry.Rosie is tall and beautiful and plays violin and sings exquisitely and Kevin is a superb guitarist. They played instrumentals and songs such as Green Grows The Laurel, The Music Ringer, a song about making shoes which might be called Peg It All. Kevin gave the guitar players in the audience a handy tip, " Don't buy your guitar strings from Aldi". Ric and Gerry joined them on stage for their last song All For You and by the end all the members of Fairport were on stage.
The current line-up who have been together a long time by Fairport's standards are Gerry Conway, Dave Pegg, Chris Leslie, Ric Sanders and Simon Nicol.
 Rosie & Kevin then left the stage after their warmly received set and Fairport sang Sir Patrick Spens from their Full House album. It was great but they were not here tonight to just relive old history, no siree, the band were here to promote their new album of new material called Myths & Heroes. I am listening to it at this very moment and I must say that it is a great album.They performed the title track next which rocked at a frenetic pace.Chris Leslie excelled on this one and Gerry Conway and Dave Pegg showed what a great rhythm section they are. A Ralph McTell song Clear Water was next with Simon Nicol  taking the starring role on vocals and acoustic guitar. The next song was very moving and called Weightless and written by James Wood and Chris Leslie who sang the lead vocals. Another Ralph McTell song followed which I think is called Around Wild Cape Horn and is the true story of an American man  called Irving Johnson who sailed from Hamburg on a four-masted Tall Ship around the world and filmed the voyage.
Ric Sanders then introduced his own new composition called The Gallivant which was brilliant. On the new album the band are joined by seven members of Joe Broughton's Conservatoire Folk Ensemble on this tune and it is great. The following song is very poignant and called John Condon who was an Irish soldier who was believed to have been only fourteen years old when he was slain in the first world war. Being from an Irish background his story intrigued me so I looked him up on Wikipedia and it said that it is now thought that he was actually eighteen when he died in Belgium but that doesn't make the song any less powerful. Simon did a great job singing on this one. After that sombre melancholy song the mood was much lighter for the last song of the first half  Bring Me Back My Feathers written by Anna Ryder which is a very catchy jolly song with Chris excelling himself on vocals and banjo.

                                                                                 In the interval I knew I had to get the new CD in case I didn't have time at the end. Having played it three times now I must say it is a labour of love, not only in the great,well produced music but in the whole design and artwork and a brilliant booklet with all the information you need. At the back of the hall we met Simon Nicol who was kind enough to let us take a couple of photos. All the band were chatting to the fans which is great of them.You would think they would prefer a bit of a sit down in the interval.
                                                                        The second half began with Peggy and Chris Leslie starring in The Fylde Mountain Time and Roger Bucknall's Polka. The tunes take their name from the Fylde Guitar Company who made Peggy and Chris's bouzouki's. The Wassailing Song was next featuring Chris Leslie. If you don't know what wassailing is look it up on Wikipedia like I did. It's all to do with going from house to house singing Christmas Carols in the winter or singing to trees in cider apple orchards in the summer. Mercy Bay was the next song. It is all about Lord Frankin's doomed expedition to the icy wastes of Canada in 1850 and I thought Gerry Conway on drums who had kept a great rhythm all night was really brilliant on this one. Love At First Sight written by Chris was next and is a song about a girl who disguises herself as a man to join a Morris Dancing team. A song from Liege And Lief, one of the best albums ever made followed which is Crazy Man Michael.
 I did my best to film this one but it was difficult filming between the heads in front and impossible to get the whole band in shot. Still, I think the sound is quite good. You can see the result below. Festival Bell  followed with Fairport trying to get the audience to join in with the one word chorus of  'Jack' which was quite good fun. Also they told us about their annual festival which is held at Cropredy and amongst their guests this year is Emmylou Harris. I would really like to go to that because Emmylou is great and I have never seen her live but I have made lots of other plans for the summer.
                                                                   Then disaster struck, Jacquie pointed to her watch. It was 10.30. Two and a half hours had shot by and I had ordered a taxi thinking it would be all over by now.It's my own fault for going to all those 90 minute Van Morrison shows. It was too late to cancel the taxi, he was already waiting. We heard one more song which was called Home and written by PJ Wright. Simon did another great performance on this and then we had to drag ourselves away. I bet Fairport played on for at least another half an hour. They looked like they were enjoying themselves. I wasn't familiar with a lot of the songs but I didn't mind one bit because I don't like bands that live in the past. Fairport Convention are alive and well and coming up with great new music.We headed home in time for a last drink in The Ludlow Arms after a great night. Thank you very much Fairport Convention and I urge you to see them on this tour if you get the chance and buy the new album because it is great.

                                                                      THE END.                         

Crazy Man Michael. Fairport Convention.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

The Belfast Cowboy

I was just looking through Steve Turner's biography of Van Morrison called It's Too Late To Stop Now published in 1993 and on page 24 there is an interesting photograph. It shows young Van dressed in a cowboy outfit that his dad brought back from America for him ( See picture). That must have fired Van's imagination and affected his sub-concious because the lyrics of his songs are littered with references to Cowboys and Indians. One of Van's earliest groups was called The Sputniks and they used to entertain the other kids in the intermission at Saturday morning pictures at a local cinema that I think was called The Strand. No doubt Van got a good education in Westerns and Zorro flicks there. Also some of his early music influences such as Jimmy Rodgers and Hank Williams must have fired his western imagination and interest in Country music.I think the first time last Van was called ' The Belfast Cowboy' was when he appeared on an album called Cahoots by The Band on a track called 4% Pantomime which Van co-wrote with Robbie Robertson. In the lyrics it says,
"Oh Belfast Cowboy,lay your cards on the grade,
Oh, Belfast Cowboy can you call a spade a spade?.
Oh, Belfast Cowboy lay your cards on the table,
Oh Belfast Cowboy do you think You're able?"                                                                  
                                                                       The first time I ever heard Van called 'Van the man' was when Robbie called him that at the Last Waltz concert so maybe Van can thank The Band for two of his nick-names. So what are all these Cowboy lyrics that I am on about?. I can't be bothered to wade through all of Vans lyrics now looking for examples but just off the top of my head: In the song Beautiful Obsession on the Wavelength album Van repeats, "Let the cowboy ride", and on the same album in Hungry For Your Love he sings, " I love you in buckskin,yeah yeah". On the Veedon Fleece album there are two songs where someone is 'living with a gun'. One song is Linden Arden Stole The Highlights and the other is, 'Who Was That Masked Man?', the title of which comes from the Lone Ranger TV show. The Lone Ranger's horse Silver even gets a mention.'High Ho Silver'. Geronimo pops up in that song as well. Meanwhile back at the ranch Broken Arrow crops up on Astral Weeks.On the Street Choir album in Crazy Face Van sings,"As he stood outside the church yard gates,and polished up his .38 and said, I got it from Jesse James".The Tupelo Honey album has always seemed very Western to me with Moonshine Whiskey and Texas sweethearts etc and the gate-fold picture of Van and Janet and the horse and the Western garb.
 On the cover of Pay The Devil as well Van looks like an old gunslinger playing cards in a saloon. Come to think of it the photo of Van on the back of A Sense Of Wonder wearing the cape and hat is very Zorro-esque although I'm getting off the point a bit because Zorro wasn't a cowboy, he was more of a rapier man. I can't think of any more examples.He does quite a few cover versions of Western type songs though such as Western Plain which you can see live below, Dead Or Alive, Muleskinner Blues, Jesse James etc ( Can you think of any more examples?) Maybe when Van returned to England after a sojourn of  nearly 20 years in America and started writing more pastoral lyrics he lost interest in that sort of imagery.
 Playing live though, the fascination with cowboys goes right up to the present day. When Van sings Rough God Goes Riding live he often mentions Jesse James, Wild Bill Hickok, Billy The Kid and even does an impersonation of Clint Eastwood. Anyway, I'll keep following the adventures of the Belfast Cowboy all the way along the trail until he rides off into the sunset.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Tuesday, December 30, 2014