July 25, 2012


(thinking about forthcoming Olympic football and the different meanings of the word 'balls' - with reference to the first ever Women's World Cup and two unforgettable occasions Stuart Pearce has been on the spot in the men's game)

Football is balls: needs pumped up balls to play
And all the hype comes down at last to balls
And as that US star Reveals Her All
(Well, sponsor-labelled sportsbra anyway)
To breathless world photographers, to say
The culture of the buck, sharp market stalls
Of bluff and thrust, done derring deals, wha-hae!

But, O, when Stuart Pearce was on the spot
He’d failed to hit in World Cup Italy
(His name in running blood on England’s walls)
And flew across the Wembley turf and shot,
A nation’s trembling heart in mouth, to see
The world he kicked thump in, what - massive- balls!

July 08, 2012

Fiddlers' Hill Binham

From the Bronze Age to the Ballad Age was a very creative and collective event. It started with a new ballad written by me and Adrian Tebbutt. It led to the formation of a lively new folk band, The Fried Pirates, who now have their own website and itinerary - and to many other creative partnerships, books, songs, dramas and radio concerts featuring the participants for the rest of the year, and also to my new folk ballad about Binham Priory (below) which was retrospectively commissioned and is now part of Binham PDC's guided tours.

The Ballad of Fiddlers Hill

Ye feasters up on Fiddler’s Hill

Where crossroads meet the harrow

Take care you don’t disturb the sleeping

Bronze Age burial barrow.


O shun this ground between dusk and dawn

Or live a dreadful tale

Of a Black Monk at the tunnel’s mouth

To turn your red lips pale.


Don’t follow the fiddler and his dog

To Walsingham under the hill

To lay the foul Benedictine ghost:

That fiddler lays there still.


“I will play through the tunnel!” cried the jolly fiddler

To the cheering local crowd,

“Stamp time and follow my tune above,

For I play both brave and loud.”


And so he fiddled and so they stamped

His three mile course underground

But his fiddle stopped under Fiddler’s Hill

In the silence of the mound.


Each dared the next down the tunnel’s mouth

But none would dare themselves

And at midnight the fiddler’s dog emerged

Like a hound bewitched by the elves.


His tail thrust down between his legs,

His frame a shivering wrack,

He howled and pined at the dreadful hole

But his master never came back.


“I will play through the tunnel!” cried the jolly fiddler

To the cheering local crowd,

“Stamp time and follow my tune above,

For I play both brave and loud.”


A violent storm drove everyone home

And when they awoke from sleep

The entrance was gone, the fiddler too,

Into a Nameless Deep.


The moral of this, and it’s old as the hill,

Is that mounds aren’t for tunnelling,

If a grave tune plucks the strings of your heart,

Keep the devil under your chin.


In this county of beet and barley and beer,

This county of fish and farrow,

There’s folk you can trust, there’s London folk,

And there’s folk who come out of a barrow.


“I will play through the tunnel!” cried the jolly fiddler

And half his boast came true,

“Stamp time and follow my tune above!”

But he lost them half way through.

© Gareth Calway 2011

Dissolution Row: The Ballad of Binham Priory

Call their names from the rubble: Alexander de Langley,
Mad as a scholar – ‘here’.
William de Somerton, William Dyxwell,
Priors and bad boys - ‘here.’

A mad monk in solitary’s dungeon-chains,
Tortured to brake his devil;
Alchemy funded by holy sales,
Sieges, arrests and trouble;

Monks eating bran and drinking rain
Till King John raised the siege;
A wanderlust prior, administ-truant,
Deposed and then reprieved.

As the leaves of summer break in spring
From forest, field and tree
So let the spirit’s freedom burst
From the walls of this Priory.

The peasants were revolting here
In 1381
When Master Lister led the charge
And derring does were done.

‘Enough!’ he cried, ‘of fattened bishops
Fed on Priory rolls,
Enough of tenants, rents and lords
And serfdom’s heavy loads.’

‘I’ll join that fight!’ said Binham John Lister
To his name-sake of Felmingham
George whose Norfolk Peasant Spring
Brought mayhem into Binham.

‘As the leaves of summer break in spring
From forest, field and tree
So let the spirit’s freedom burst
From the walls of this Priory!’

In Norwich, the Bishop Dispenser caught wind
Of the peasants’ merry fire,
And the Fightin’ Bishop’s fist of stone
Killed it with his ire.

‘Lister of Felmingham, for sins against
Your betters and your King,
I’ll have your guts for my Bishop’s garter
And the serfs can kiss my ring.’

‘You can have my neck and guts’ said Lister
But my soul flies straight to heaven
When Adam delved and Eve span, ‘lord’,
What rents were recked in Eden?

‘As the leaves of summer break in spring
From forest, field and tree
So let the spirit’s freedom burst
From the walls of this Priory.’

The old order stood another six generations,
A flint face carved in art
Then Lister’s spirit came back to haunt
The Priory’s stony heart:

He laughed as King Henry’s Inspectors Called,
‘Found fault’ with the Priory rolls,
‘Down with these rood screens, saints and crowns
And idol Gods on poles;

‘Whitewash these saints from the walls of the nave,
A clear new page for the Word,
Your bishops’ bank is ruined now
There are no serfs to herd!

‘As the leaves of summer break in spring
From forest, field and tree
So let the spirit’s freedom burst
From the walls of this Priory.’

This high Notre Dame of Norfolk shrunk
To a nave-sized Parish Church,
Abandoned wings sold off for stone
To men scarce more than serfs

But when Paston quarried the haunted pile
To build a house in the grounds,
A wall killed a workman and none to this day
Will build in Priory bounds.

Three miles to the West, Roman relics and smoke
Rise again from Celtic Earth
Like the re-appeared saints whose rooted gaze
Reclaim the walls of this church.

As the leaves of summer break in spring
From forest, field and tree
So let the spirit’s freedom burst
From the walls of this Priory.

Let the holy rain of autumn fall
From the solitary tree
And the grass grow wild and the four winds blow
Through the grounds of this Priory.

© Gareth Calway 2012

From The Bronze Age To The Ballad Age (original Press release of the event)

Bronze Age burial mound plays host to new music and art

A fortunate break in the weather allowed a long-planned collaboration between archaeologists, artists and musicians to finally come to fruition at Fiddler’s Hill, a prehistoric barrow mound on the boundary between the parishes of Binham and Warham in North Norfolk, on the afternoon of 8 July.

From the Bronze Age to the Ballad Age: Digging the Folk Roots of Norfolk was the brainchild of West Norfolk poet and author Gareth Calway. Gareth had been asked by folk musician Adrian Tebbutt to write a lyric about the legend of Fiddler’s Hill which he could set to music as a ballad.

The evocatively-named Fiddler’s Hill was recently acquired by the Norfolk Archaeological Trust and is now open to the public daily, free of charge. Its name comes from a local legend which tells how a tunnel once ran from Walsingham to Binham Priory. A brave fiddler named Jimmy Griggs entered with his dog, Trap, while others followed his music above ground. But silence fell as their course drew near to the mound and the fiddler was never seen again. People feared that the ghostly Black Monk had taken Jimmy and his dog, and henceforth the barrow was known as Fiddler’s Hill.

Time passed and the project grew as other people became involved: musicians, poets, an actor, a performance artist and a local prehistorian. All of them were fascinated by different aspects of the 4000-year-old burial mound. Their work together culminated not only in a live art event on the mound itself but also a public concert at Binham Memorial Hall that same evening. This allowed a longer programme celebrating different aspects of North Norfolk’s history and folklore to be presented.

On the mound, under skies that threatened rain, folk music trio The Fried Pirates (Adrian Tebbutt, Roger Partridge, Katy Fullilove) gave the first public performance of The Ballad of Fiddler’s Hill, which features the refrain:

‘I will play my way’, cried the jolly fiddler
To the cheering local crowd,
‘Stamp time and follow my tune above
For I play both brave and loud.’

In the lead-up to this big moment, Reepham prehistorian Trevor Ashwin recounted the Fiddler’s Hill legend and gave a short history of the mound, and Gareth Calway chanted two of his poems - chosen to relate to the site and the occasion - The Ballad of Fiddler’s Hill and the Iceni Chorus from his performance-poem Boudicca. Artist Imogen Ashwin had devised a new site specific performance piece, Bridge, which took place on the burial mound itself, accompanied by Katy Fullilove’s haunting lone fiddle.

That evening, the performers played to a full house at Binham Memorial Hall, with sets by The Fried Pirates and by singer/songwriter Mark Fawcett who was mesmerising as he performed Norfolk-themed historical ballads co-written for the event with Gareth Calway. Trevor Ashwin gave an illustrated talk on the prehistory of Binham and surrounding area and Imogen Ashwin showed a digital projection based on her performance piece Bridge accompanied live by Katy Fullilove’s solo fiddle. Gareth Calway and actor Dawn Finnerty brought the house down with a vibrant two-person performance of Gareth's drama Boudicca - ‘ the punk version of what happened in AD 61’! The duo also brought their magic to a ‘synchronised’ reading of Wood Dalling poet Kay Riggs’ English Heritage, a poem about Oxnead Hall.

The evening had commenced with the chanted lyrics of The Ballad of Fiddler’s Hill, and the ‘journey’ was brought to a close by The Fried Pirates’ performance of the ballad complete with its haunting tune.

Both events were filmed by Emma 'Captain' Withington, the hill event in an artful black and white collage.

July 03, 2012

My Heaven Ten: Top Ten Poems Ever...

1. The Lucy Poems. Wordsworth. Poems that lament the death of a girl Wordsworth loved, 'But she is in her grave and oh/ The difference to me.' Perfect, profound simplicity. They have everything, even the romance Wordsworth doesn’t often share with the Byron generation. Published in Lyrical Ballads, 1798, and the Lucy Poems really are: a revolutionary combination of lyrical and ballad. She was all the lovelier and vividly present for being elusive, quiet. He compares her to 'a violet by a mossy stone/ half hidden from the eye.'
2. A Nocturnal On St Lucy’s Day by John Donne. Complex and deliciously devious where my No. 1 is simple and direct but if you want poetry that f***s with your head, this is the way to do it. It’s not just a counter-language, it’s a counter-culture. And the depth of the ideas and feelings are worth the fiendishly playful and complex expression, not always the case with linguistic shock tactics. Enough linguistic clues to solve a murder.
3. The Sonnets. Shakespeare. I read Let Me Not To The Marriage of Two Minds at our wedding, and 35 years later at my Best Man's. Many of the Sonnets, especially the first group of 18, play with the Matthew text, ‘He who saves himself, loses himself’ and if I’ve got to choose one, ‘From Fairest Creatures We Desire Increase’ quibbles on this in recommending children. It was written for a young Tudor nobleman yet uncannily addresses the latest young generation, contracted to their own bright eyes. Genius.
4. Not My Best Side UA Fanthorpe. Funny, accessible, clever, erudite, sincere, anguished, steeped in tradition, muckily modern and uprooted, feminist, unsectarian, lesbian, universal, Christian, foul-mouthed faithless, pitiless yet compassionate, a noble heir to Browning’s dramatic monologue and a shabby mate of the free verse yob in the A & E waiting room. The fact that it comes off the page as easy as music or a TV screenplay doesn’t mean it isn’t also shot through with ironic complexity and a glimpse of the abyss. I heard her read many times (and also exchanged letters with her) and that humane un-exasperated voice still comforts my ear every time.
5. They Flee From Me That Sometime Did Me Seek. Thomas Wyatt, the flower of the Tudor court in every way. A tender, exquisite, musical evocation of his love for Anne Boleyn under the shadow of King Henry's rivalry. The treacherous mutability of fame, fortune, power, glory, idols and idylls, Love versus duality, then as now. Since posting this ten, my play about Sir Thomas and Henry VIII has been written and begun touring and includes a reading of this poem at the start, along with a ballad which riffs on some of Wyatt's most ravishing lines. It is a joy to perform They Flee From Me thus: like being back at UEA but with 35 years of life experience under my chastity belt.
6. Green Shirt by Elvis Costello. He later apologised for the high-speed word play of these early lyrics but I never enjoyed his later plain style as much. The distilled paranoid viciousness is delivered through tight lips and clenched teeth but on a crooning Buddy Holly melody that melts in your mouth. Soft as porn yet hard as the drumbeats that coffin-nail it between the verses. ‘You can please yourself but somebody’s gonnageddit.’ I recently performed it (with a bodhran) in a night club under the streets of Norwich I once walked as a punk.
7. The Journey of the Magi T.S. Eliot. The Age of Doubt meets the Age of Faith without losing the glorious emotional charge of either in an angst that transcends both. The magnificent rhythmical grumbling of his early ‘April is the cruellest month’ Waste Lands remains but the Easter serenity of the later Quartets is also present: the paradox of Christ’s birth being a death is the closest and most exact description I’ve heard of what a lived religious experience is actually like.
8. The Lady of Shallott Tennyson. A heart-sore, heart-soaring pre-Raphaelite word painting of such sustained beauty and high emotion you wonder whether modernism chucked out the Romantic baby with the soapy Victorian bathwater. We need this sort of everyman's poetry in our pubs and clubs and lives.
9. The Stare’s Nest By My Window Yeats. His golden apples of the sun rooting and blossoming in the (all too) real world of the Irish Civil War. The verse is no less free (and conversational) for being in a tight form with a masterly and timeless use of the refrain.
10. The Whitsun Weddings Philip Larkin. The great Onanist comes to the wedding and blesses it with one of the tenderest, most elegantly crafted epithimalions of our less deceived age, or ever.

The picture: Still life of Spain's poetry in motion. July 1 2012.