August 28, 2019

The Winter King (We're Only Making Plans For Nigel)

pic by Kevin Fackrell

Far away and long ago, the land was divided and leaderless. Barbarians invaded from north, east and south. A May king – a dragon head - was needed to unite the people and drive out the invaders. Such a king could prove himself by drawing out a wondrous sword from a weathered rock. Many years passed and many strong men failed. At last, a boy succeeded. His name was Nigel.

Nigel built a great fastness called Camelottery and trained a band of mounted warriors, called the 52 Brexiteers, employing the White Knight Sir Bors as his faithless deputy. And all we know who wears the jodhpurs in that marriage. Together, they drove out the invaders and the land grew in peace and plenty. Nigel married Gwenhwyfar, white phantom, first lady of these islands, the most beautiful woman in the world. And the people loved him.

But the traitor 48 and the witch Sturgeon tore the land apart again. It was no ordinary armed rebellion. There was a fell Celtic magic at its root. Aided as always by the wizard Murdoch, and bouyed up the far white Trump of Freedom, Nigel overcame even this but was mortally wounded and escorted from the field in the 120th minute by three blind maidens just before the penalty shoot out. 

Nigel's last request was that the brand of Britain, which gave him great power, be cast back into the faery lake from which it came. He was last seen being shipped out by the maidens beyond the red dragon sunset of Breck's Isle to the lunatic isle of Elba, where he will live on as a Maimed King and return to slave us in our darkest hour.  This one.

July 20, 2019

The Phezant's Tale (Goodbye Cruel World) - Live at SHARP July 5 2019 REVIEW

A folk music/ storytelling concert in a boneyard in Norfolk prefaced by a radio interview about it in Cambridge

Review: It’s not all that often that a band can say that they played an Anglo-Saxon cemetery but last Friday the Penland Phezants added Boneyard Field, Sedgeford (summer home to the Sedgeford Historical & Archaeological Research Project) to their list. In fact there is a motif that brought the group of local folk/storytellers to the historic site. Friday 5th July marked the bicentenary of the remarkable death of Sedgeford resident Susan Nobes, who was killed by a lightning bolt in the vestry of St. Mary’s Church, Sedgeford; part of the band’s set was dedicated to commemorating her death with The Ballad of Susan Nobes.
The Penland Phezants, comprising of poet and percussionist Gareth Calway, Andy Wall (lead vocals & guitar) Vanessa Wood-Davies (harp & backing vocals) and Melanie Calway (vocals) have for the past few years been performing a lively set of musical local histories. What the Phezants have managed to achieve through their well-researched and finely crafted songs and poems is the voice of the ‘Commoner’; words from those who were at the sharp end of history and in many cases have had their voices erased. 
From the 1816 Littleport and Ely Bread Riots, Hereward the Wake and Margery Kempe of Lynn, the songs and poems of the group display a sensitive and well-researched retelling of local history from the ground up. A fact that I am sure that the Anglo-Saxons (who loved a good story themselves) buried nearby would have no doubt appreciated as well.
Gary Rossin, Sedgeford Archaeological and Historical Research Project

July 18, 2019

Conversations with Writers: Interview _ Gareth Calway

Conversations with Writers: Interview _ Gareth Calway: Gareth Calway is a published poet, novelist, playwright, lyricist and member of folkband, the Penland Phezants . His works include Doin...

Bhas Allan's pic of my "Bollocks to Brexit" workbooks with European cheeses 

April 15, 2019

Desperately Researching Susan: The Thunderstorm at Sedgeford July 5 1819 by Gareth Calway and Tim Snelling

“The evening (July 5, 1819, in the pretty Norfolk village of Sedgeford) was most beautiful. The birds sang sweetly. People were busy working in the fields, men and women with hooks around bundles and sheaves of corn and all was peace and quietness… The schoolmistress saw Susan Nobes remarkably active and happy...” Religious Tract (British Library)

On July 5 2019 a group of artists, historians and archaeologists - including the village historian, poet and harpist - will mark the 200th anniversary of a natural catastrophe that not only brought a Norfolk village to its knees but kept it there in a severe trial - and then a rather stony re-assertion - of its traditional beliefs.  "The Thunderstorm That Took Place in Sedgeford in the County of Norfolk on Fifth July 1819" not only found its way into the Annual Register of World Events 1819-20 but recurred as the subject of mainstream Judgement Day religious tracts published in 1819, revisited in similar millenarian vein in the then Curate's brief history of Sedgeford in 1895 and finally again in a family account published in 1914, over a century later. 

This might be because the Thunderstorm's main target was the 14C Church tower - in which lightning scorched a yard-wide hole - and its tragic victim a member of a Monday Night Bible Class. Susan Nobes, the 14 year old daughter of an agricultural labourer housed in the village's Poor Housing, not only lost her life in terrifying circumstances but suffered the later indignity of being remembered only as the moral point of a lecture about the need for children to live in perpetual readiness for Death and Judgment. Nowadays we might remember her - and the storm - with awed sympathy and a plaque on the church wall but, apart from the present writers,  and even in a village with a resident historical and archaeological dig of 20 years standing, her story is still a surprise to locals.

Historian Tim Snelling and Poet Gareth Calway came across it during separate village searches in the British Library and compiled it in their respective ways - Snelling in a historical record, Calway in "The Ballad of Susan Nobes" since set to music by folk-harpist Vanessa Wood-Davies, his bandmate in the four strong folk/storytelling band The Penland Phezants, (featuring veterans folkie Andy Wall on guitar and vocals and Maz Calway, vocals, alongside poet/drummer and harpist/vocal harmonies) who will perform The Storm at Sedgeford in 1819 and Other Stories at the Sedgeford Archaeological Dig on Friday July 5. 

Tickets -

Words and music of "The Ballad of Susan Nobes" were published in "Doin' Different- New Ballads From the East of England" (Poppyland 2016.) A recording has since passed a thousand plays worldwide on Soundcloud; a bi-centenary film got a hundred views on You Tube in its two weeks. But it was only when the poet contacted Snelling to ask if he could perform a private memorial for Susan on his farmland adjacent the church - at the Ladywell, a probable Saxon holy site - that each realised the other had plans to remember July 5 1819. 

How we think about such natural events seems a world apart from then. Not many now would view Susan's death as an Act of God, at any rate not a Christian fire-and-brimstone kind of God. We might be more inclined to interrogate the Sunday School's Health and Safety Policy and the actions of the teacher in loco parentis and feel the father's tragic loss of a beloved daughter cut off in her prime before we made a moral lesson of it. We also might worry more about climate change and how well our fire and rescue service is funded than we might about our children's 'sinfulness' (playing around in the graveyard before school rather than saying her prayers.)  

1819 was no stranger to climate change, however.  In 1816, the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia sent thick volcanic dust across the whole of Europe and America, causing massive crop failure, floods, hailstones and 'orange snow in July." (The early industrial revolution and the unprecendeted amount and power of sustained artillery fire released during the decades of Napoleonic Wars were also key factors.) Lord Byron famously described a gothic "darkness at noon" in Switzerland and his fellow author Mary Shelley's stormy 'Frankenstein' was also partly written in response to that dismal "year without a summer". The volcanic turbulence and wintry summer was also generally interpreted then as God's wrath rather than as Man-created climate change.

A comparable event in recent years would be the May 2007 deluge day when the entire village of Sedgeford (pop. 613) was cut off after a sudden, once-in-a-lifetime downpour that, within 15 minutes, brought the village to a standstill with roads cut off by hillwash and mud slides and all access roads flooded with waters amassing at the lowest point of Cole Green, submerging the ground floors of roadside cottages. Four fire engines spent hours at the scene and some cottages were still being restored a year later. 

But in July1819 the villagers were dealing with something even more ferocious. Calway's ballad sets the tragedy in the still feudal village society of the time and keeps to the facts, only framing these as a ghost story and adding a contemporary slant by identifying Susan's former cottage as a modern holiday home. "Come out in the dark lane" - experience the 'real' Norfolk - calls Susan's ghost to the holidaying teenager within. She then relates the events leading up to the storm and her being struck by lightning. 

The following detail is drawn from the two known contemporary sources:
            1. A short newspaper report in the Ipswich Journal dated July 24th 1819. (In an age before local and regional newspapers, Ipswich - a distant county away from West Norfolk - was the nearest 'local' coverage.)

 2. a religious tract written shortly after the event for and published by the Religious Tract Society. (1819) 'The Thunderstorm That Took Place in Sedgeford in the County of Norfolk on Fifth July 1819 with Remarks and Observations for the use of Sunday Scholars, and other young persons.' 

The Ballad of Susan Nobes (video of bicentenary performance) was based on a critical reading of these 1819 primary sources (notably a questioning of the religious tract's fire and brimstone assumptions) which slightly disagree. 

Harpist Vanessa Wood-Davies and Poet Gareth Calway, composer/ writers of "The Ballad of Susan Nobes": a screenshot from the film of their January 2019 performance.

Any smugness at my apparent scholarly 'exclusive' (an accidental one, while searching the British Library's Sedgeford annals for the construction date of our cottage) was conditioned by an anxiety that I had imagined it. So I was actually relieved when Tim  mentioned his own plans to feature the 1819 Thunderstorm in the village newsletter this summer; then proceeded to share a wealth of documents (including copies of BL and county records pertaining to the storm and local evidence of where Susan lived, names of parents, siblings, classmates etc which I had only half established in my own researches.) He also unearthed some verses his mother Janet had written about the storm and Susan's demise which long predate mine.

Tim also had hard evidence (which I hadn't been able to find) of where Susan lived - in the village's Town House (Poor Housing) a row of four tiny houses opposite 'the Washpit'.

The Town House of Sedgeford (extract from)

Janet Hammond
In 1960, in pursuance of a Closing Order, the greater part of what were then known as Numbers 3 and 4 Washpit Cottages, Sedgeford were demolished.  The remaining part was retained because the west gable of the condemned cottages was the east gable of the adjoining pair of cottages. These were not tied into the gable just butted onto it.  For this reason planning permission was applied for, and obtained, to leave sufficient of the walls under a sloping lean-to roof, in which to house a garage and downstairs bathroom; these would act as buttresses to the gable end.  So by chance about a quarter of the seventeenth century Town House was saved.
Towards the end of the reign of Elizabeth the problem of the poor was becoming urgent and in 1601 a law was passed which remained the basis for administration of Poor Relief until the nineteenth century.  One of the provisions of the act was the encouragement to build a Poor house where indigent parishioners could be housed and work found for them to do. These Town or Alms houses were frequently built by wealthy philanthropic landowners.  The Town house of Sedgeford was built by Richard Stubbs just before 1617, as in his will dated 1617 he leaves money to the poor of Sedgeford living in his alms house newly built. This house remained the Town House until 1837 when it and the Pest House (formerly standing on Goodmins next to the cottages opposite the church gate) were sold to defray Sedgeford's expenses in providing the new Docking Union Workhouse at Burntstalk1.  At this time the Town House was described as being two cottages and the Pest House as four cottages. Looking at early maps it would appear the latter was still standing until the early part of the twentieth century.

During the two centuries of its existence as a Town House odd glimpses can be
found of it in the manuscripts of the Le Strange and Rolfe families and the Parish. One is
a copy of a letter to Sir Nicholas LeStrange - a great grandson of Richard Stubbs - as
May the 29th day 1687
"We the Minister, Churchwardens, Overseers and Chief Inhabitants of the Towne
of Sedgford in the County of Norff whose names are hereunder written doe humbly
testifie unto the Right Worshipfull Sir Nicholas LeStrange of Hunstanton in the
County aforesaid Baronet that we have placed in your Almes howse in Sedgford
aforesayd during you worships pleasure theise persons whose names are hereunder
specified as followeth
Alexander Pawle and his familie; wid(ow) Robinson and her cripple; Anne
Bullocke and Alice (? ); Elizabeth (Tusnt?) Wid(ow) Minne: Alice Minne and
Mary Rice

Willi~ Waters, Vic(ar) Will Palmer ) Churchwardens
Edw. Smith ) Overseers Robt Collen )
Adam Roythorn ) Tho. Rose, ffra Holland. 2
Another was a small book made by Neville Rolfe in 1829, which, although called
a Census of the Poor, 3 seems to have listed all the inhabitants of Sedgeford except the
larger freehold and tenant farmers. In this several households are described as living in the town's houses rent free.

This gave me a clearer context for the rapid swelling of floodwater along the valley coming off Dove Hill in my Ballad (as well as down the steep slope of what is now Goodminns estate). (A context still current; notably in the storm of 2007.) Susan's father is unnamed in the tract but is called Robert (Nobbs) in the news report.  Janet's copy of the records has him as Henry, Susan as Susannah and her mother as Mary. 

Janet Hammond's copy of the Sedgeford Church baptism records.

Tim Snelling, Sedgeford Village Historian, with some of Janet's many documents pertaining the storm and Susan Nobes.

The backdrop for the private bicentenary performance The Ballad of Susan Nobes scheduled for July 5 2019. The church tower is to the left of the picture, mostly concealed by trees. Note the spooky shadow-cross!

An Elegy for Susan Nobes, written in 2019 and based on the verse form of Janet Hammond's poem (see above), will also be performed at the location photographed below, the Ladywell
The Ladywell in March (GC)

I also asked Tim if there was any evidence that the Ladywell had a sacred function in pagan Saxon times.

"there is no evidence as such, but I think Mum assumed it would have been 
regarded in such light given that the Well spring was marked by an erratic 
boulder that must have been hauled and brought over from some nearby ice-age 
glacial deposition site. But the Ladywell as we know it today would not have 
been the pond it is now - that has been widened out both in the past and in 
more recent times. It would have originally been a little spring fed rivulet 
meandering down to the main river course. Mum also wrote a poem about the 
Erratic Boulder in the vein of Beowulf." (Tim Snelling)

The Ladywell and Erratic Boulder in April (Tim Snelling)

South view of Sedgeford Church and the tower. Susan died in the vestry below it.

The most significant divergence between Religious Tract and 1819 news report is that the Tract describes Susan's death as "there were black zig-zag lines on her side where the lightning had stuck her" and the newspaper suggests she died of fear. Either has the elemental implacability (death, fate, wild weather, human littleness in a vast universe) of the ballad form but I, like Janet, followed the (locally written?) religious tract. A lightning strike fits better the tract's sense of a vengeful God - Tim is more inclined to trust the 'detached' news report  than a polemic - but  I'm not sure the local Curate Dr Bacon (assuming it was he who wrote it) would get away with falsifying a detail that bereaved and grieving (albeit low born and unnamed) parents among his parishioners might dispute; whereas the Ipswich Journal was then an awfully long way away. But let Tim now summarise the complete story with all the documentary evidence and different possibilities we have-

Storm 200 by Tim Snelling

The 5th of July 2019 will mark the 200th anniversary of a catastrophic event that all but brought the village to its knees and sorely tested their faith. 

The following detail is drawn from four known sources:
                  1. A short newspaper report in the Ipswich Journal dated July 24th 1819.
                  2. 'The Thunderstorm That Took Place in Sedgeford in the County of Norfolk on Fifth July 1819 with                          Remarks & Observations for the use of Sunday Scholars, and other young persons', a religious tract                            written shortly after the event for and published by the Religious Tract Society.(1819)
                  3. Sedgefordiana' - a brief history of Sedgeford by Rev. A. Ogle, (c.1895).
                  4. Rolfe Family Records Vol.II - compiled by RT & A Gunther (1914)
These four accounts in general agree, but with the odd glaring discrepancy. For the most part the tract must be seen for what it was, promoting the ideology of Christian beliefs and dogma re. 'cometh the day', whilst Ogle's account written some 76 years after the event, is drawn from the tract which, though author unknown, Ogle believes to have been 'written by Dr. Bacon, who was Curate at the time'. Ogle's entry in his Sedgefordiana will have inevitably been based on the already heavily slanted Christian dogma of the tract and hearsay tales that will have expanded and embellished the event over the ensuing 75 years. Gunther merely provides a much abridged version of Ogle's account. It would seem the truth of it lies closer to the event recorded in the short news item in the Ipswich Journal. There were no local newspapers at that time.

It is interesting to note that in neither the news item nor the tract, the two main characters are named, they are simply the lady teacher and the master. The Rev. Ogle however puts a name to these people after a leading preamble. The known copy of the tract is in the British Library, but a recent archive research reveals that another copy of the tract is in the Norwich Record Office under a reference title 'Life and Stewardship of Eustace Neville Rolfe, 1845 - 1908' (Ref. GUN 32 363 x 1) along with other 'notes' belonging to Mrs Catherine Frances Rolfe, Eustace's great-great-aunt who, as it happens, is the lady teacher so named by the Rev. Ogle. When Mrs. Rolfe died in 1837, such was her religious calling and devotion, she left relatively large bequests to many religious societies; indeed, one might wonder if it wasn't actually the 'lady teacher' who was the author of the tract. The master was named as William Harrison.

Monday the 5th July 1819 had been a typical mild warm summers day. Come the evening, folk were going about their daily tasks, working in the fields while birds sweetly sang. The teacher sat in the porch waiting for the schoolmaster to appear before Bible reading class could begin, meanwhile the attending children happily played, running up and down the churchyard, little knowing the impending doom that was to befall them. The schoolmaster duly arrived, readings began and when done was followed with a final hymn, 'Oh let me, heavenly Lord extend, My view to lif's approaching end... .'which, in view of what was about to happen, was very timely sung! Sometime before flashes of lightning had been seen through the church window. A warm summer storm was not unusual and nothing was to be feared of it, so the teacher continued to the end of the class and even as the lightning grew closer the master continued in prayer. Then at 9pm a thunderstorm was unleashed, the magnitude of which had never been witnessed in living memory. 

The Ipswich Journal: "During the dreadful thunderstorm on the Evening of July 5th the electric fluid struck the top of Sedgeford Church Steeple on the West Side, and precipitated to the ground several stones of considerable magnitude making a breach in the wall of about a yard square. The lightning also passed through the Church entering in at a window near the porch on the South side; and after crossing in a North East direction, it made its escape at two places in an upper window near the Chancel on the North side".The Rev. A. Ogle later recorded in his 'Sedgefordiana'that "The Church was struck by lightning, whilst a water-spout was falling upon it';  

This catastrophic event was worthy enough for the newspaper report to find its way into the Annual Register of World Events 1819-20. A comparable event in recent years would be the May 2007 deluge day when the entire village was cut off after a sudden and unprecedented downpour that within the space of 15 minutes, had brought the village to a standstill with roads cut off by hillwash and mud slides and all access roads flooded with waters amassing at the lowest point of Cole Green, submerging the ground floors of roadside cottages. In July1819 the villagers were dealing with something far more ferocious. 

Such was the force of the lightning strike that stones from the tower were dislodged and thrown down to the ground and "the water poured in almost deep enough to drown, forcing its way into the graves within the Church."That would have been bad enough, but this occurred at the same time Mrs Catherine Frances Rolfe, the village squires wife, and the Master, William Harrison, were holding a Bible reading class for the  young children, in the vestry which was situated immediately below and between the tower and the south porch where the lightning first entered the church. The news report continues: "An Evening School was being held previous to the occurrence, which happened about 9.p.m. The dismay may be better conceived than described. The children, nearly in a state of distraction, uttering the most dreadful shrieks; parents in search of their children, incessant lightning with peals of thunder, and torrents of rain such as had never been remembered, formed a scene truly terrific."

"Now some time before this they had seen flashes of lightning through the church window. It was very awful, but the lady thought that they were well enough employed, and she did not wish that they should go away before they had done. When the singing was over they all knelt down to pray. The lightning rapidly increased and seemed to fill the window with a blaze of light. But the master went on praying in a very earnest manner. He is one who loves Christ, and I dare say he thought that if he, or any of his little flock were to be struck dead, they could not do better than die on their knees, seeking mercy from Jesus. So he did not pray less because of the storm, but longer; though it was so very dreadful that all present really thought they should soon be killed. You may fancy how awful it was, when I tell you thata thunder­bolt struck the steeple and forced down a beam from the roof just over the door of the vestry where they all were. Large stones were also broken off the steeple. The noise was like the sound of a great gun close by, and there was a strong smell of brimstone. The lady, the master and two girls were struck down by the lightning. One of the girls, Catherine Frary, was in an agony of terror, crying out "Indeed, I will strive to sin no more." The children were so frightened that they began to scream and ran about as if they were beside themselves. The lady begged them not to run away from her... but they all ran away, except the master and the children who stayed with the lady in a corner of the church."

The Rev Ogle tells us that " A beam was displaced, large stones were displaced and fell down from the steeple, and Mrs Rolfe, the Master, and two children were struck down... Whereas the tract states that"By and by it gave over thundering and lightning. The lady and the master, and the children who had stayed with them, then knelt down and thanked God for having kept them safe among so much danger... the father of Susan Nobes came to inquire after his daughter. He had been waiting at home for some time, anxiously expecting her return for he was a man who dearly loved his children, and though he could not keep them from the dangers of such a dreadful storm, yet it was natural for him to wish to have them about him at such an awful time. So after looking for her in vain, he went to the church and not finding her, he went with the lady and the schoolmaster into the vestry, and, after looking about, they found poor Susan lying in a corner behind the  door and would fain have persuaded himself she was only in a fit; but her head hung back, there were black zig-zag lines on her side where the lightning had struck her, and he soon found that he was only embracing her dead body and that the soul had gone". 

The news report makes no mention of 'zig-zag lines' or any other scorch marks, in fact it clearly states that "Fear is supposed to have been the cause of death, as there was no appearance of the electric fluid having entered the room. A few pieces of mortar were detached from the ceiling, which in all probability was effected by the shock communicated to the steeple, or by the concussion of the stones falling to the ground."Susan father is named as Robert in the news report but parish records reveal that her father was a Henry Nobes, husband to Mary (nee Creed). Henry was a farm labourer and the family lived at "the little cottage called the Town House, at the foot of Corner Stone hill, pulled down and rebuilt by Mr Herbert Binks in 1888."The Town House was Sedgeford's Poor House for the most needy. In 1960, the site was a row of 4 cottages called Washpit of which the two nearest to the main road were condemned but partly saved under new ownership. In due course the remaining 2½ cottages were knocked into one. 

March 29, 2019

The Ballad of Breck's Isle!

The Ballad of Breck's Isle    (click to hear it)

"No man is an island but a part of the main." John Donne

As our sandy shores rock Euro-vision
With our white Cliff-Engelbert noir
And seize back control from green Brussels
And win a No Deal with Nil Points

The UK will win Eurovision again;
Cilla, with Ringo's hair.
The Tories will be Winston Churchill again.
(Except that they never were.)

You can keep your French shtick, your double Deutch,
Your Dolce-clad discothèques
Your  tiqui-taca, your Peps and your Klopps
Your Lattes and Pilsners and Becks.

You can keep your fromage, your Nordic noir,
Your Breughel and Brendan and Brecht,
Your Christendom, culture and 'civitas,'
Let me live on the Isle of Breck

Where coiffure d'Albert is Albert's of Heacham
And le bistrot a gastritis-pub;
Where mange tout de chef is Chav's All You Can Eat 
 And pure white folk rules at the club.

As our sandy shores rock Euro-vision
With our white Cliff-Engelbert noir
And seize back control from green Brussels
And win a no-deal with 'nil points',

England will win the World Cup again,
Harry Kane will be the hot Spur
The Who will be Number One again
(Except that they never were.)

You can keep your Rioja, your Pinot, your Brut,
Give us Spitfire and Bombadier
And Broadside and Bomber and Brexile Bitter
And rationing, hatred and fear.

It's the new party line, the new Civil War, 
Breaching kin, class, friend and Union
Eyes right, all salute the all-white flag
Of our half-mast donkey-led kingdom.

Full steam ahead to Breck's Isle, Ahoy!
A hundred percent right and sure
Or 52 on a confident day
Which it might not be anymore.

As our sandy shores rock Euro-vision
With our white Cliff-Engelbert noir
And seize back control from green Brussels
And win a no-deal with 'nil points',

Wales will win the World Cup/ beat the All Blacks/ again;
Real Madrid/ Warren Gatland/ the Spur;
The valleys be home-grown and funded again
(Except that they never were.)

100 percent for a four point turn
Going back where we weren't before
Back from the Front and that Normandy beach
Home to Brexile's doughty white shore.

We will fight in the plazas where families dine out,
Kick over their wine and cuisine;
We will never surrender our country and cod
And chip on the shoulder and Queen.

We are the champions of Europe we were
And will be, by running away
Backwards up Winston Churchill Drive 
Though his soft 'Will' has shrunk to hard 'May.'

As our sandy shores rock Euro-vision
With our white Cliff-Engelbert noir
And seize back control from green Brussels
And win a no-deal with 'nil points',

Northern Ireland will win the World Cup again,
A backstop midfield be the Spur,
Our Lost Lands will be Arthur's England again
(Except that they never were.)


'Breck' is Middle English for breached, broken. 

A corner of a Norfolk field that is forever Europe

January 21, 2019

Around Creation in 80 Minutes - The Baba Lovers "6 Degrees of Separation; 7 Degrees of Love"

Sedgeford poet Gaz Calway has teamed up with the North Carolina singer-songwriter Gabriella Tal on an album of unusual lovesongs. The album - called "6 Degrees of Separation; 7 Degrees of Love" - begins on an Indian hilltop with a devotional chant before taking the listener through a hell at the centre of earth and out the other side to Eden and in a thrilling ascent of seven heavens, each more enchanting and ego-free than the last.

"Hell isn’t other people; it's ourselves, our self-fulfilling
Cock up conspiracy clouds, our I-land's alien nation."

In the process, the performers experience a growing self-knowledge and meet ideas and characters drawn from all over the world and from all arts, cultures and Faiths.  There are references to Dante's hell, purgatory and heaven; the Arthurian quest for the grail; the Sufi 'Conference of the Birds;' the soul-realising love stories of Leila and Majnun and Lancelot and Guinevere;  Celtic maidens, Homeric and Hindu gods, Judaic angels,  Shiva's snake;  Jacob's ladder; and an immortal Light glimmering beyond the dark forest of the material world.

Listeners voyage through (inner) space like grail knights, preparing to overcome the terrifying challenge of the fourth heaven where ego and love struggle for final supremacy and to avoid a great fall back to the start. 

Dante was guided on a similar path by Virgil and Beatrice. Gaz and Gabriella are guided all the way to the Seventh Heaven by the written works of the twentieth century Indian Spiritual Master Meher Baba, at whose Tomb-shrine the musical game begins.

The attractively packaged album with 24 page lyric booklet is released on 31 January and available via where an online version is also available for download.  The duo's online single "Heavenly Moon" featuring two tracks from the album is available there now. The album releases here on 31 January 2019 -

December 14, 2018

A Happy Christmas and A Lynn Carol from the Penland Phezants

As we reach the end of our hectic first year,  may I on behalf of the Penland Phezants wish all our listeners (including the 70 more lovely people who helped bring alive our True Story of Hereward the Wake at Elmswell History group at our last gig of the year last night!)  A Very Happy Christmas and a Brand New Year. 

Press Release: A Lynn Carol

Sedgeford folk music-storytelling combo The Penland Phezants have released a Christmas carol especially for and about Lynn.  The carol embraces the timeless message of Christmas by linking Lynn across 600 years. 

The writer of the first autobiography in English the mystic Margery Kempe lived all her life on the Lynn waterfront at the turn of the 15C. In her "Book of Margery Kempe", she describes many extraordinary visions of love and joy including one in which she hears the Holy Ghost as a robin redbreast singing merrily in her right ear!

The Phezants bring this story timelessly into the present amid the Christmas rush as follows. 

Now starry angels on the tree 
Grow larger in the dusk 
To heaven-blue and Eden-green 
And gold and reindeer-musk. 

And what was heard by Margery, 
The Visionary of Lynn, 
Rings out on tills for checkout girls 
Who hear that robin sing. 

The only gift left on the shelf, 
That nothing else can rise above, 
Includes all treasures, lasts forever, 
And grows when shared with others: love. 

The carol was enjoyed by a packed Lynn Minster when it was performed by a full cast as part of "Skirting Heresy: The Life and Times of Margery Kempe" last September.

The CD "Songs for Skirting Heresy" with songs (including the two featured here) about Lynn through the ages is on sale at True's Yard fisherfolk museum or online at:

September 18, 2018

Skirting Heresy (the Life and Times of Margery Kempe) at Lynn Minster - the full story

The subject

Burning William Sawtrey, late priest of this parish. Skirting Heresy at Lynn Minster September 2018

Skirting Heresy  is a play about Margery of Lynn (c1373-c1443) Margery lived all her long life on Lynn waterfront - her merchant father was 5 times mayor and MP of Lynn - and wrote the first autobiography in English. She was repeatedly accused of heresy and very nearly burned for it. She broke many of the bounds imposed on women of her day by travelling the world and practising a Christianity she was not allowed as a woman to preach. 

The author

Wall Street journalist Elizabeth Macdonald, a native of Rockville Centre, New York, has written an exciting dramatisation of a Lynn woman called 'Skirting Heresy,' which you can see at Lynn Minster on September 22. 

KLFM interview with the author  (in which, among other things, Macdonald argues that Margery should be made the patron saint of gossip victims and that Lynn should be given credit for being the cradle of a common sense revaluation of Christianity in her time)
The woman concerned was the mystic Margery Kempe, who lived at the turn of the 15C. It was England's darkest hour. This is the dawn of the Protestant Reformation, the era of the unsung heroes who changed the faith, it would be another century before Martin Luther and King Henry VIII upended Catholicism. It was a time when unauthorized preaching was against the law, and for the first time a death penalty was enacted to stop heresy; even Catholic priests were being burned alive.

Macdonald explains: "This was the world Margery Kempe of Lynn was born into. She dared to follow her truth, and the calling she believed came from Jesus Christ himself. But she paid mightily for it, and she was repeatedly arrested, put on trial, even threatened with death. Kempe's only lifeline was her wit, determination, and a few influential friends who believed in her cause."

You will be riveted by this drama of a woman who is credited with dictating the first autobiography in English, The Book of Margery Kempe. It is an account of a rare and courageous woman who dared stand up for what she believed in.

Macdonald has a journalist's keen eye for the foibles of humanity along with the artist's sympathy for its plight. She also has the necessary sense of humour to combine the two (notably scripting a whoopee cushion as a counterpoint to any pretentiousness in her characters!)

The author has taken a keen interest in the Lynn production of her play, which premieres  in Lynn Minster on Sep 22, visiting Lynn in the past for Dr Paul Richards' heritage walks, meeting the Skirting Heresy director Christopher Yarnell, script and music advisor Gareth Calway, stage manager Jan Sayer, and the local production team led by Lindsey Bavin (True's yard fisherfolk museum) and Rebecca Rees (Marriott's Warehouse Trust)  and on Skype, enthusing and consulting them throughout, and now even flying in from New York for the performance!

Macdonald's day job is anchoring FOX Business Network’s (FBN) The Evening Edit with Elizabeth MacDonald. She joined the network as stocks editor in September 2007.

Prior to joining FBN, MacDonald was a staff writer at The Wall Street Journal and was a senior editor at Forbes Magazine, where she covered stock market and government corruption and created "The World's 100 Most Powerful Women" annual list.

MacDonald was one of the first journalists in the USA to sound the alarm about the coming wave of accounting scandals in the mid-nineties. Her financial news coverage led MacDonald to be called in twice to testify before Congress.

MacDonald has received 14 awards, including the Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business Journalism (and won a nomination in an ensuing year); the Society of Professional Journalists' Award for Outstanding Public Service reporting; and the Newswomen's Club of New York Front Page Award for Excellence in Investigative Journalism.

The current play is her own dramatisation of her book  “Skirting Heresy: The Life and Times of Margery Kempe” (Franciscan Media, June 2014)

The production

(the following section was first published in the Lynn News) 

After centuries of neglect, the 15C author, pilgrim and mystic Margery Kempe of Lynn is bursting out all over. 

She is currently the subject of a hit play "The Saintliness Of Margery Kempe" showing on Broadway. A Margery Kempe Society was formed at a Conference about her at Oxford University last April. A King's Lynn Civic Society recently honoured her with a handsome engraved bench situated outside her beloved Minster.  And now "Skirting Heresy," an epic production written by Wall Street journalist and playwright Liz Macdonald, scheduled for its premiere in Lynn Minster (her beloved parish church 600 years ago) is in production in her home town.

Margery Kempe's Book, the first autobiography in English, is taught at American Universities and there has always been academic interest on the other side of the pond. But New Yorker Liz Macdonald's interest was kindled by a visit to Lynn and a tour by Lynn historian Dr Paul Richards. She commented with characteristic enthusiasm recently "I love Lynn. Your area is the home of unsung heroes. Let's right this wrong."

The 'Skirting Heresy' project was launched last year by a steering committee led by Lindsey Bavin, including the Lynn heritage groups The True's Yard Fisherfolk Museum and Marriott's Warehouse Trust, who, with civic and other support have tenaciously and successfully applied for grants and crowd-funding to mount a community production in Lynn Minster.

Chris Yarnell

In May, the committee appointed Chris Yarnell a first class freelance director and physical theatre maker based in London. His previous work has won the Les Enfants Terribles Partnership Award and The Stage Award. 

Chris comments "This exciting project was the first I’d ever heard of Margery Kempe and since getting on board I have been amazed not only by her incredible story but also by the town of Kings Lynn.

"The wonderful writing of Elizabeth MacDonald brings her story to life in a visceral, heart-warming and at times hilarious way that I know everyone will enjoy from start to finish. I've also been gifted with the stunning folk music of The Penland Phezants to help underscore the narrative.

"Margery was incredibly outspoken, strong, driven and determined, with the conviction to break the mould of what a woman could be at that time. This was why I was certain from the offset that I wanted to cast a strong local actor as Margery."

Chris declares himself honoured to work with a world class stage manager, Jan Sayer, a native of Lynn North End who also happens to be a former stage manager of Sydney Opera House! 

Returning from a long sojourn in Australia to her home town at just the right time for the project, Jan got wind of something exciting while working part time at Lynn Museum. Visiting True's Yard Museum to view some old photos of her family, she met project manager Lindsey Bavin, got the gen on Margery and offered her much-needed services. She comments "I only knew about Margery from a TV documentary about Julian of Norwich and a book in Lynn Museum.  I pleased to have found her and King's Lynn is lucky to have her - she is amazing."

So, thanks to a New York author, a London director, a Sydney stage manager and a local cast and band, Margery is finally coming home in style this September to her home parish of St Margaret's in Lynn.

The stage manager

Margery Kempe herself couldn't have arranged a better miracle. Somehow Jan Sayer, the Lynn-born former stage manager of Sydney Opera House, has become the backstage maestro for 'Skirting Heresy', a local theatre company's forthcoming production of Elizabeth Macdonald's epic tale about the mediaeval town's controversial mystic and author.  New Yorker Macdonald, who will attend the premiere, and who has supported the project at every stage, is thrilled to have Jan involved as part of the team.
As an author of books of urban fantasy and black comedy (writing as Jessika Jenvieve) Jan Sayer hadn't even heard of Margery Kempe until she returned to Lynn to support her writing career by working part time at the Museum. Now, she is hooked by mediaeval Lynn's amazing female rebel, the writer of the first autobiography in English.
Life has taken the multi-talented Jan on a long and unexpected journey from North Lynn to London to Sydney and back again. "I was very lucky to go to Bretton Hall College and study Drama & English back in the heady, happy days of 1968. After graduating, I tried my luck as an actress and singer, but they wanted tall blondes in those dark days. I studied Arts Administration at City University in London. I designed costumes, then I dabbled in lighting design and finally settled on a career as a stage manager.
"In 1990, I got the best job in the world as a stage manager at the Sydney Opera House and spent ten years backstage with some of the world’s greatest performers and musicians. 
"After 8 years working at the University of Sydney, I wrote a crazy book and put it on Amazon. Two more books followed but living in Sydney was too expensive if I wanted more time to write. So, in 2015, I gave up the sunshine and returned to Lynn to write full-time, supporting myself with a part-time job in a museum and the occasional stage management gig. I study and travel to improve my writing and I have done two online courses with Oxford University. 
I love art history and architecture and Lynn has a wealth of historic buildings; it is like walking in Margery’s footsteps."
Margery might recognise a kindred Lynn soul. As with Jan herself, 'Skirting Heresy' promises to combine a liberated 'doin different' Norfolk spirit with world class professionalism. 
The female lead



Emily Blake is not just an actress and singer currently bringing life, warmth and light to the relatively unknown female lead role of Margery Kempe (in New Yorker Elizabeth's Macdonald's fine new play 'Skirting Heresy' which premieres at Lynn Minster on Saturday 22 September.) She is also a professionally trained TV presenter, plus size model, singer and beauty queen! The current Miss International Curve 2017/18 is passionate about performing, presenting and helping others reach their full potential.

Emily inspires confidence in men and women through her work and social media presence. She won an award for empowering women and recently won the Curvy Model award at the Afro Model Awards after also winning the title last year along with Best Female Model at the International Achievers Awards in 2016.

Emily received national and international media coverage after winning Miss British Beauty Curve 2014/15 which opened the doors to appearance and modelling opportunities that have since taken Emily to Ibiza, Jamaica and this year, the beautiful island of Madeira.

Showing people that they can achieve their dreams no matter their financial background, heritage or looks is very close to Emily’s heart and she hopes to continue to inspire people, particularly through her own workshops. Emily teaches public speaking in order to boost confidence and holds fun catwalk classes open to everyone to teach modelling and pageant skills but mainly to teach others to learn to love themselves and realise their inner confidence.

Emily's acting of the role shows a real understanding for a complex character and has mightily impressed the author and production team.

(Margery's theme song)

The male lead

Martin Strals is playing Margery's husband John Kempe. Kempe was always a vital character in the playwright's scheme of things as he is in the same position as many in the audience - an ordinary Lynn person (rather than a cleric or a theologian) both amazed and bewildered by this visionary - loveable/maddening - woman.

The Ballad of John Kempe

Martins Strals has lived in King's Lynn for the last 13 years, originally from Ventspils in Latvia. Since then he has attended high school, as well as the local college and began work in the film and tv industry. He has produced a varied collection of work, including a feature film that was submitted to the Cannes film festival in 2013. 

He also runs a small local production company Riarmato Productions that specialises in unique as well as one off projects that both promote businesses and products, and short documentary work.

''Taking on the role of John Kempe has been an incredible experience and an honour to portray such an important part of King's Lynn diverse history. It has certainly and its challenges in wrapping my head around the way of life and social norms that were accepted in the late 14th/ early 15th century. Margery was a misunderstood woman who went up against the powerful elite at the time, and many times facing the peril of a fiery death of being burned at the stake. I have thoroughly enjoyed the process and look very much forward to performing in the church that Margery prayed in and where she is also buried."

A labour of love

Has all the hard work Martin has done as an actor and film promoter of the project been worth while?

"Yes! I must also say a huge thank you to Elizabeth for making the extraordinary effort of getting the story of Margery out there, as well as the team, band and cast that have worked tirelessly for the last couple of months to bring this amazing production to fruition.'

What looks like a full Lynn house at the Minster will be able to see the result on Saturday 22 September. Don't miss your chance. Some tickets are still available on the door or here

The band - the Penland Phezants

Free fundraising concert for Skirting Heresy on Lynn Heritage Day (video)

Fenland folk music/ storytelling band The Penland Phezants will launch and recreate their entire new album live in Hanse House yard on Heritage Day this September 16.

In a free concert given to raise funds for 'Skirting Heresy' (a new production about the pilgrim, author and mystic Margery Kempe of Lynn) Gaz Phezant (narrative, vocals, percussion) Andy Phezant (lead vocals, guitar) Wood Phezant (harp, vocal harmonies) and Maz Phezant (narrative, lead and harmony vocals) will entertain Heritage Day crowds from noon. 

Their musical show, performed in costume,  includes dramatic readings from the Book of Margery Kempe about Margery's life, visions and journeys to the Holy Land and Prussia and it is hoped that costumed actors from 'Skirting Heresy' will be able to take time off from last minute rehearsals to add pageantry to the occasion.

The songs are all inspired by a gripping and hilarious new play New York author Elizabeth Macdonald has written about Lynn's famous daughter and, in an exciting development, Macdonald herself will be jetting in from New York to attend the Phezants' fundraising concert prior to  attending the premiere of her play in Lynn Minster (Margery's own parish church) on Sep 22.

Maz Phezant - the voice of Margery
The album presents musical settings of key extracts from 'The Book of Margery Kempe' and of a collection of Gaz (poet Gareth Calway) 's lyrics about Margery's contemporaries. Among these fascinating contemporaries are her merchant father and Lynn MP/Mayor John Burnham; Margery's famous fellow mystic Julian of Norwich;  Margery's husband John and her parish priest William Sawtrey of Lynn, burned as a heretic, as she herself nearly was. Fellow Phezants Andy (Wall) and Vanessa Wood Davies (Wood) have turned these lyrics into catchy folk songs, moving ballads and folk dances and helped bring Margery's incredible Book alive in compelling musical performances. Maz (Melanie Calway) is the voice of Margery.

 The album - an epic 23 tracks long - is scheduled for release at the premiere of 'Skirting Heresy' on September 22 in the Minster but advance copies will be on sale at the outdoor Hanse House concert on Sunday 16, which starts at 12 noon. 7 of the album songs will be included in the 'Skirting Heresy' production itself a week later, performed as a creative score by the Phezants. Tracks from the album will also be available for digital download online on bandcamp  (listen free before purchase)
and limitless free streaming  on soundcloud 

Skirting Heresy  title track (and play out...)