November 14, 2020

The Only Gift (A Lynn Carol) by the Phezant's Tail - Christmas single

The Phezant's Tail used to sing carols around the village on Christmas Eve, including this one, and the idea is that you open the door on hearing the Book of Margery Kempe (early 15C) at the start and these carol singers' voices float in on the night air. 
Since its publication as the final ballad in Gareth Calway’s “Doin Different, New Ballads from the East of England” (Poppyland, December 2012) The Only Gift has been set and recorded by no less than five different composers and enjoyed performances all over East Anglia, including a 50 voice rendition in Lynn Minster in 2018. The carol is as much about music and where it comes from as it is a celebration of Lynn mystic Margery Kempe, whose visions were auditory as well as visual and who writes compellingly in her Book about the music she heard in heaven. On this album, The Phezant's Tail sing, play and arrange the carol themselves, adding new musical material to folk musician Andy Wall’s score to confront “A Covid Christmas on the cards.” In the process, the duo reference the message and meaning of Christmas as an enduring hope amid trial, bereavement and despair from 1420 to the present. Coronavirus - corona meaning 'crown' - has certainly contextualised the mortality in the first verse, with its the opening line "A crown of thorns to freeze your breath." But it doesn't get the last word.


"This creature had various tokens in her hearing. One was a kind of sound as if it were a pair of bellows blowing in her ear. She – being dismayed at this – was warned in her soul to have no fear, for it was the sound of the Holy Ghost. And then our Lord turned it into the voice of a dove, and afterwards he turned it into the voice of a little bird which is called a redbreast, that often sang very merrily in her right ear." (From the 'Book of Margery Kempe', early 15C) 

‘A crown of thorns to freeze your breath 
The berried holly brings; 
Through snowing sunlight chaste as death 
The silent barn-owl wings 

But now the ghostly holy dove 
That bellows in your ear 
Is tuned to robin-song by love 
And cheerfully made clear.’ 

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

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. 

A sacred Ouse of honeyed sound 
Above her dreaming bed, 
She wakes as one in paradise 
And leaps as from the dead. 

A thrilling robin in her ear, 
A rose that’s heaven scent, 
A man divine to earthly eye, 
All music from Him lent. 

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. 

God coughs; the Cosmos catches cold; it's Marge upon our Holy Bread. 
A Covid Christmas on the cards to feed our emptiness. 



released November 13, 2020 
Main ballad lyric © Gareth Calway first published in 'Doin Different' (Poppyland, 2015) 
Additional words © Gareth Calway 2020. And from the Book of Margery Kempe, early 15C. 
Main ballad melody composed by Andy Wall with harmonies written by Vanessa Wood-Davies. 
Arranged, performed and with additional music composed by the Phezant's Tail (Gareth and Melanie Calway). 
Twinned with


all rights reserved

July 24, 2020

Who Killed Cock Robin? (triple EP)

They were going to America (A 10 day stopover in North Carolina for a book signing and 4 once in a lifetime nights in New York) when lockdown hit. This 29 track triple album is what they did instead. It's about all the stuff that went on in those 4 months (the pandemic; the NHS; cartoon presidents; new ways of living; black lives matter; how the Covid 19 crisis brought into sharp relief the conflict between the human species as a society and as ‘private’ individuals.) 

The Phezant’s Tail have previously contributed to musical and artistic projects with other artists. Their only previous collaboration as a duo has been to be married for 40 years. It took four months isolation from the world in a tiny Norfolk village to make them realise they could create their ultimate opus at home. Especially when the global story and the local story suddenly coincided. 

Pooling their resources, which included musical instruments, Cluedo, a complete Agatha Christie and a home recording studio, they wrote, composed, arranged, recorded, performed and produced an audio experience that is a blend of postmodern detective story and concept rock album. 

“Who Killed Cock Robin, a Coronavirus Murder Mystery” is told through rock songs and poems presented over musical beats and threaded through with a detective story narrative and field recordings of the haunted Norfolk landscape in which it is set.

"Welcome to our fictional village of Little England in the Styx with its haunted Cock Hall; Boudicca Trail and all the layers of history and prehistory exposed by its ongoing archaeological excavation. Welcome to our 'Clued-Ouija Board' of English landscape and characters, and a national Mystery ultimately resolved in the 20 minute 20 second D Major finale "2020 Vision (The Easter Reveal)."

Because it's a sound album and not simply a detective story, you should find that the 'reveal' at the end of album 3 enriches repeat hearings of the album: after the first satisfaction of finding out who it was, knowing 'whodunit' is designed as an enthraller rather than a spoiler.

March 04, 2020

BBC Upload, BBC Radio Norfolk Interview and Norfolk on Film (tumblr)

Great to see our bicentenary commemoration of the 1819 Thunderstorm and the tragic story of Susan Nobes now has a permanent home here on BBC Norfolk.

As featured on (exactly one hour in) 

For those who have come to this blog from those links, here is some extra information from last summer. I particularly recommend this 12 minute extravaganza a one off dramatic representation of the 1819 storm and its accounts  


A small group of historians and creative artists will on Friday July 5 2019 mark the bicentenary of the Thunderstorm That Took Place In Sedgeford in the County of Norfolk on Fifth July 1819” a storm so violent it was recorded in the Register of World News blasting a yardwide hole in the Church tower and taking the life of Susan Nobes, a 14 year old village girl. There are 2 events planned.
  1. At the Ladywell, a memorial for Susan hosted by village historian Tim Snelling. Sedgeford residents poet Gareth Calway and harpist Vanessa Wood-Davies will share their "Ballad of Susan Nobes" ( along with Gareth's reading of Janet Hammond's distinctive verses about the tragedy and the Ladywell boulder. Finally, Andy Wall and Gareth will sing and play their new especially composed "Elegy for Susan Nobes."  All of this event will be filmed and be made publicly available online.
  2. At the Boneyard Field, in starting at 7.30 pm, in a showcase evening Gareth Calway, Melanie Calway, Vanessa Wood-Davies and Andy Wall and will perform an evening of musical histories. The centre piece of this evening event will be  a one off dramatic representation of the 1819 storm and its accounts at 9 pm (online films of much of this are also available) 
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". (as reported in the Times, the Ipswich Journal and the Register of World News 1819-20)
"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 life's approaching end... . "(Religious tract 1819, probably by the then Curate of Sedgeford.) 

February 29, 2020

The Book of Margery Kempe of Lynn

The Book of Margery Kempe is believed to be the first autobiography in the English language. In this new Poppyland pamphlet by Gareth Calway the author examines the history of the book itself and the manuscript that emerged in 1934. He explores its content and explains why it was such a pioneering work, the places that are still associated with Kempe and its influence on modern day writers, historians and dramatists. A selection from the full Bhas Allan photoshoot (see below) supporting the text is also included in the pamphlet.

The anchorhold in All Saint's, South Lynn, Lynn's oldest church.

Lynn Minster, whose foundation deed as St Margaret's refers to the building in honour of St Mary Magdalen, St Margaret and all holy virgins. Perhaps, as a tribute to its pioneering parishioner, Margery, independent wives should be added to that roll!

Fourteenth century brasses from St Margaret's, showing the Mayor and his wives. Margery's father was Mayor and MP a generation later.

St Margaret's from the south.

St Margaret's tower - with a sense of Margery's visionary eye.

The Whitefriars Gate, the only survival of a building in which the illiterate Margery is believed to have dictated her Book to a scribe. With a plaque containing at least two howlers addressed in the pamphlet.

Lynn mediaeval waterfront, from West Lynn. Margery's merchant father and burgess husband worked here and Margery sailed from a point somewhere in the middle of this view, which would have been marked then by a large pilgrims' cross. However, she sailed on her most famous pilgrimage to the Holy Land from Great Yarmouth (whose plaque - also reproduced in the pamphlet - accurately describes Margery as the author of her own Book.)

Richard Castre, Vicar of Sedgeford, and later of St Stephens in Norwich, was a friend and supporter of Margery.  She certainly needed support against some very powerful opponents, including the Archbishop of York (and the Mayor of Leicester) who charged her with heresy.

Post script. In response to the third comment below, here is the passage in which Margery describes her meeting with Julian in her cell in Norwich. (chapter 18, Book 1)