December 13, 2017


The recently formed East Anglian folk trio the Penland Phezants have released an online Christmas single inspired by the Lynn mystic Margery Kempe. The song,  'A Lynn Carol' has a happy Christmas message and a strong local connection.

Margery Kempe of Lynn was not your average mediaeval woman. She wrote the first autobiography in English, 'The Book of Margery Kempe.' It begins with an account of her traumatic first pregnancy (she went on to have 14 children) and what we would call a 'post-partum psychosis' during which she received visions of heaven and hell. Her 'Book' describes visions of devils, Jesus, God, the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary and how her spiritual experiences were regarded by the authorities of the time. In a revolutionary (and at the time heretical) direct personal address to God, she requested that the Holy Spirit she heard like thunder in her right ear be changed to something more homely, merry and English: a robin singing. God obliged! 
The idea behind the lyric is that while 'Mystic Margery' and a young modern Lynn shopgirl would probably gape at each other's lives in astonishment, they would both understand and share the experience of love. The moment in the song where the girl falls in love is as much a vision as Margery's.

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 treasure, lasts forever,
And grows when shared with others: love. 

The Penland Phezants are a combination of Ely folk musician Andy Wall and Waywood, the Sedgeford storytelling duo made up of harpist Vanessa Wood Davies and poet Gareth Calway. They are currently seeking to add further engagements to their Hereward the Wake tour next year, which already includes two nationally acclaimed folk festivals.  The Phezants' Christmas single may be heard via the trio's Bandcamp site, from which listeners can add it to their Christmas playlists or purchase a digital download.

And a little robin also tells us that Margery Kempe's extraordinary story may be coming home to Lynn in 2018, 600 years after she wrote her Book there, with some musical assistance from The Phezants. Watch this space.

The Phezants' next appearance is at Wisbech Library in February, where they will perform "Bread or Blood" the story of the Littleport and Ely Riots of 1816.  (part of the Cambridgeshire Library Presents series) Album sampler here  
Phezant photoshoot by Bhas Allan

November 26, 2017

A Very English Resistance - The True Story of Hereward The Wake

As Free As The Waters That Flow Through The Fen - The True Story of Hereward The Wake
(Composed, written and performed by the Penland Phezants)

This is a new project being developed by a new combination - a poet, a folk musician and a harpist. The Penland Phezants. We are seeking dates to add to our existing 2018 festival, folk club, library, theatre and arts centre engagements.
Video clip here

Audio clip here

950 years ago, in 1067, Hereward the Wake returned from outlawry, exile and a gallery of bold and magical adventures in Cornwall, Ireland and Flanders which had established him as a famous warrior and the leading military genius of his age. But he did not come home to rest on his laurels. He came home to join, and quickly to lead, the growing English Resistance against the Norman Conquest, which then was at a critical stage. Hereward first avenged the Norman murder of his brother and theft of his manor in his home town of Bourne in Lincolnshire, then established himself in the Isle of Ely alongside the Earl of Morcar (the dead King Harold's brother) and King Sweyn of Denmark, repeatedly outwitting a desperate siege of the Isle personally led by William the Conqueror himself. So successful was Hereward's defence that William, incredibly, was on the point of offering peace terms when Hereward was betrayed by his erstwhile military allies, the fighting Abbot and monks of Ely Abbey. Thanks to the early warning of one brave monk, the ever-elusive Hereward escaped to further historic triumphs against William's armies in Fenland, at Burgh (Peterborough) and the Bruneswald and Saxon greenwoods of Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire.
Gareth Calway's 90 minute narrative tells the full story, from the magical folk tales of Hereward's early career, to the historic defence of Ely and the glittering later rearguard victories against all odds in fenland and greenwood. Based closely on the honest Latin chronicles compiled by 12C monks, this historically-based narrative gives full rein to the Freeborn English humour and derring do of a real life Robin Hood. (The Robin Hood legend borrows much of the spirit and many of Hereward's real-life adventures.) The compelling narrative is given a period flavour by harp music composed and performed by Welsh Romany-influenced harpist Vanessa Wood-Davies and a folk perspective by interweaving a sequence of new real life Robin Hood ballads (written by Bread and Blood team Gareth Calway and Andy Wall.)  Andy Wall's classic and authentic folk performance of these is a particular highlight of and perfect fit for this great English folk tale. A  30 minute showcase will also be available.

The Penland Phezants are:

Gareth Calway (narrative, backing vocals, drum)
Andy Wall (acoustic guitar, lead vocals)
Vanessa Wood-Davies (harp, harmony vocals)

Phezant photoshoot (above) by Bhas Allan
The picture at the top of this blog has been described as follows: "The fen, the belligerent battered tree, the Robin Hood, the elf, the stubborn Freeborn Dane, the moat, the sublime light, the understated majesty: it is the complete realisation of the title of our project: A Very English Resistance, the True Story of Hereward The Wake. Genius."

Screen grab

The following two didn't make the official photographer's cut but I like 'em!

Ely Cathedral through train window by Bhas. 
"Hereward led a wolfish defence of an England before the Normans sank their giant Cathedral-Castles like ring of steel in our land, when that magnificent Norman power bloc of holy terror (pictured) holding a previously unconquerable native fen and first in thrall, was a thinner-walled but better founded Saxon Abbey." 

Fenland photoshoot of the late 1060s Norman-Saxon front line (below) by A Mateur.  Pic 2 is an Ouse bank shot along the old Littleport Road; the rest are just above Ely itself (with a new invader - pennywort!)

November 14, 2017

This Book Wot I Wrote Wiv Shakespeare

Lynn News story here

Hunstanton Town and Around story here

A new Caribbean edition of Shakespeare's "The Tempest" published by Harper Collins this month (December 2017) has revealed a surprise connection between two West Norfolk enthusiasts. Heacham shopkeeper John Wallis and Sedgeford author Gareth Calway were discussing Gareth's latest publication when they realised they had a common interest in a sea-storm not only made famous by Shakespeare but which is also the story behind the Heacham village sign. 

It is a story even Shakespeare might have struggled to invent, a true story of true love between a man from Tudor Norfolk and a native American - Pocahontas. It ends with  the arrival in England of the famous Pocahontas. But it begins with that storm.

Here is John Wallis's take on the tale. 'John Rolfe was born in Heacham in 1585. In his early 20s he set out with his wife on a journey that has rippled through history.  In May 1609 they boarded the Sea Venture the flagship of a convoy of 500 settlers bound for new lands to help establish, ultimately, as William Kelso writes  "where the British Empire began"  the first successful English colonisation of Jamestown, Virginia in America, where the first ships had arrived just two years earlier.  It was  a journey that almost ended in total disaster, in July the Sea Venture  encountered a massive hurricane that scattered the fleet and saw her run aground just off the islands of Bermuda. It was the story of this shipwreck that inspired Shakespeare's The Tempest in 1610/11. 

All of the Sea Venture's 150 passengers and crew safely reached shore and salvaged much of the ship’s supplies for what would be a 10-month stay. While on Bermuda, Rolfe’s wife gave birth to a daughter who was christened Bermuda, but the child died there. Rolfe’s wife also died. By the spring of 1610 the survivors had made two smaller ships from cedar trees and salvage from the shipwreck naming  them  Patience and the Deliverance and continued their journey reaching the Chesapeake Bay after 10 days sailing.

John Rolfe and his fellow survivors founded a colony struggling to make profits for the Virginia Company.  By 1612 Rolfe hit upon the solution - Virginia tobacco! The future of the colony was secured.

In 1613 Pocahontas, “dearest daughter” of Chief Powhatan, was kidnapped and brought to Jamestown to be traded for English prisoners and weapons that Powhatan held. That exchange never took place. 

Pocahontas learned English and Christianity—and came to the attention of John Rolfe, a pious man who agonized for many weeks over his wish to marry a “heathen.” He composed a long, laborious letter to Governor Dale asking for permission to marry Pocahontas. Pocahontas ultimately converted to Christianity and took the name Rebecca, and the wedding took place in April 1614. It resulted in peace with the Indians long enough for the settlers to develop and expand their colony on the strength of their new cash crop, tobacco.' 

John Wallis concludes his account. 'In 1616 Rolfe took his wife and infant son, Thomas, to England. The couple spent months in the highest circles of London society, but Pocahontas died at Gravesend, England seven months later on the return journey to Virginia.'

Shakespeare died the year Pocahontas arrived in England and had retired from the theatre by 1613 but he had by then made a magical story of the already quite fabulous real events of 1609. Here (without any previous consultation) is how Gareth approaches the same events in his study guide for the new edition of the Tempest.

'Many strange and wonderful stories of the wreck were published: at first of the crew’s drowning and later of their 'miraculous' survival and what happened to them ashore. Shakespeare would have heard these among the many stories that were always being brought back by sailors and travellers to the bustling city of London. For Shakespeare's audiences, sailing to the New World would seem as exciting and unknown as space travel is today.

His play The Tempest was staged for the first time one afternoon in 1610 (or 1611) in a former monastery called Blackfriars) His audience would have looked at the ship suggested on stage and thought "Ah, yes, that ship The Sea Venture! That story with the terrifying start but a happy ending – eventually!” And lots of magic, make-believe and scary monsters thrown in to make the story more exciting.”

Heacham is the largest village in England and, in its incorporation of a native American figure at its centre, may also claim to have one of its most unusual and cosmopolitan village signs. 

John Wallis is an informed enthusiast of Heacham's history and heritage and especially on the Pochanontas story. His family business AE Wallis Cycles and Electrics was established by his father in 1939.

Gareth Calway, a former Head of Department at KES in Lynn and  Smtithdon High School in Hunstanton, taught the Tempest at 'A' Level and later examined it for the Cambridge Examinations Board. His aim with the new edition was to provide a clearer guide than the ones that made his own study of it at A level more like surviving a shipwreck than plain sailing!

September 24, 2017

What the hell is going on?

Bellows the man in the football crowd.
His team is losing. The referee (who's just 
Fouled his striker on the way to not awarding
Him a stone-dead penalty) doesn't 
Know what he is doing.The officials 
Have lost control. And everyone is
Shouting an increasingly one-eyed
Version of incomprehensible events.

He speaks for all of us. 

September 16, 2017

The Ballad of Hereward The Wake by Waywood - World Premiere

Welcome -you are the 100+ reader of this post.

Published below for the first time the full text of our new ballad "Hereward The Wake."

Twilight in the greenwood, is Hereward  awake?
Grey and ghostly shadows are gliding through the brake,
Shadows of the dappled deer, dreaming of the morn,
Dreaming of a hooded man that winds a shadowy horn.


In the Lincoln greenwood,
In the Bruneswald,
Yellow-haired, sky-eyed,
Great-hearted and bold,

For the soul of England;
For your own spirit's sake,
Lift your heart and voice up
For Hereward the Wake!

A wild swan, a curlew,
A fen-son, a tiger;
His high blood-tide exiled
By Edward the Confessor.

Performs magic deeds
In Cornwall and Ireland;
Fights fearless and feared
For Flanders, his wife-land.

Family home 'Normaned'
With his brother's severed head;
Returns, puts the murderers'
14 heads there instead.

In the Lincoln greenwood,
In the Bruneswald,
Yellow-haired, sky-eyed,
Great-hearted and bold,

For the soul of England;
For your own spirit's sake,
Lift your heart and voice up
For Hereward the Wake!

As free as the waters
That flow through the fen,
As the wide heaven-skies
In the eyes of good men,

To the Saxon Abbot
Of Ely he speeds;
Lords, with King Sweyn of Denmark,
Its marsh, mere and reeds.

Raids Peterborough Abbey,
Frees God's Saxon gold
From the thief-Norman grip
Of the tyrant monk Turold.

In the Lincoln greenwood,
In the Bruneswald,
Yellow-haired, sky-eyed,
Great-hearted and bold,

For the soul of England;
For your own spirit's sake,
Lift your heart and voice up
For Hereward the Wake!

From the Normans learns war,
From Flems love, bonds with Danes
But when King Sweyn makes peace,
Stays true to the thanes.

With Saxon Earl Morca
Defends Ely Isle
Fights war-craft and witch-fire
With fire, bow and guile.

The Norman machine
Cannot conquer that fastness;
Greed's causeway sinks
In full armour and harness.

In the Lincoln greenwood,
In the Bruneswald,
Yellow-haired, sky-eyed,
Great-hearted and bold,

For the soul of England;
For your own spirit's sake,
Lift your heart and voice up
For Hereward the Wake!

His wood-spirit leaves-drops
The Conqueror's hush-biz
Then is gone like a breeze
Through the secret rushes.

Though our monks will give up,
Afraid for their lands,
Their arms and his paths,
He will slip through their hands.

As free as the waters
That flow through the fens,
As the wide heaven-skies
In the eyes of good men.

In the Lincoln greenwood,
In the Bruneswald,
Yellow-haired, sky-eyed,
Great-hearted and bold,

For the soul of England;
For your own spirit's sake,
Lift your heart and voice up

For Hereward the Wake!

© Gareth Calway 2017

This celebration of Hereward is folk duo Waywood's latest. The world premiere as performed by the poet with harpist Vanessa Wood-Davies' latest melody was performed  at Hereward's birth-place of Bourne, Lincolnshire on Thursday 7 September, the 950th anniversary of the great Saxon's homecoming.  It tells the famous (and truer than you might think) story of how Hereward - delinquent son of Leofric Lord of Bourne and (some say) Lady Godiva - came to lead the English resistance to William the Conqueror from the woods and the fens, with star turns in the years 1067-72 for Bourne, Peterborough and Ely. The timeless style of Waywood's performance art -  ballad verse and harp as the days of the mead hall - is a perfect fit for this hero tale. Waywood will also be performing homages to Robin Hood and Wicken Fen. And that's only our bit - there's a Bayeux tapestry to see, Hereward scholarship for a popular audience, storytelling, film and much else besides.

Waywood harpist Vanessa Wood-Davie spreparing for action in  Hunstanton last June, 

September 07, 2017

The Ballad of Johnny Hopper (the Nerveless Nazikiller)

(born May 1912 King's Lynn, Norfolk; moved Normandy 1924; survived 8 months Gestapo HQ 1942  and 3 years Mauthausen and Dachau 1943-45; East Anglian mushroom farmer, 1945-1991.)

See August issue of BBC History magazine for the full story

Johnny Hopper of Lynn and Normandy,
Forest fugitive, bandit, sinner,
Hit Hitler's Paris in the spring
Took his wife Paulette out to dinner.

"Give me my usual table, boy,
With my back against the wall,
And your two-faced entrance in my sights
And a hand on my trusty pistol.

His 'Resistance' contact  came on time,
A Gestapo and soldiers in tow;
He blew them away as he hit the ground,
Copped a wound, and a crueller blow.

With a fate worse than death closing in,
He shot dead his wounded wife,
"I've relived that fatal moment
Every day of my life."  

'Never give up and never complain'
His old priest in Normandy said.
The only lesson that ever got through
His lone-wolf bullet head

A long horse-face as pale as Death,
The hood life, stripped to the bone;
A wolf with 5000 francs on his head,
As lupine-lean and as lone.

He shot the quisling sheriff of Caen:
He shot the deputy as well
And an SS - "a Nazi piece of goods" -
Beat Dachau, but not his own hell.

With a fate worse than death closing in,
He shot dead his wounded wife,
"I've relived that fatal moment
Every day of my life."