Ch-ch-ch-changes!

Well I must say what an adventure I have been on since I last blogged.

Crown of Feathers and Fins has been soaring around the country capturing people’s imagination, and getting some great feedback. On the back of such success, Chris and I have been collaborating on a couple of other projects which we hope to unveil over the coming months.

Crown of Feathers and Fins poster with Red Phoenix and Chris Secker

Crown of Feathers and Fins poster with Red Phoenix and Chris Secker

There have been international trips to perform at festivals, lead workshops and visit schools, whilst back in Blighty there have been tellings in local community events, schools, museums, prisons and supportive housing, MCing at Festival at the Edge (UK’s biggest annual storytelling festival), a spot of living history acting and even running a music festival!

Lois Barrett playing at Stable Stock 9th August. Yes I play the cajon now too, opened my own music festival... the hat helps stop my head from expanding too much :D

Lois Barrett playing at Stable Stock 9th August. Yes I play the cajon now too, opened my own music festival… the hat helps stop my head from expanding too much :D

Throughout this year I have been working with Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire, to bring to life the amazing lives and conditions that the code-breakers during WW2 endured in order to work around the clock deciphering the German and Japanese communications. I was working with 4 actors to welcome visitors to the park to the world of 1941, rations and all. In June it lead to performing to Princess Katherine at the royal opening of a new visitor centre.

Red Phoenix steps back into 1941 and becomes Thelma Orton

Red Phoenix steps back into 1941 and becomes Thelma Orton

In other news the biggest change is that Red Phoenix HQ moved. The rolling hills of Hampshire were left far behind for rather flatter but no less picture-esq landscapes of Buckinghamshire. The history and beautiful old coaching town of Stony Stratford is now home, and Red Phoenix has made its nest in the top of York House Centre, a place of arts, creativity and community. It has taken a few months to settle in but it has been a warm welcome and there have been lots of local festival to get involved with, I have even created a Stony Story Stroll exploring Stony’s history through tales and poetry with local poet and Bard (2013) Richard Frost.

Lots more is coming up in the next few months, with new shows in the pipeline, events from Sheffield to Portsmouth and loads of places in between, and working with new creative partners. Exciting times lay ahead, watch this space!

a GRIMM ole time!

After the generosity I received on my WCMT trip, with so many storytellers giving me time, books, cds, and a place to stay, I wanted to have the opportunity to give something back, and so this week I am playing host to American storytellers Judith Heinemann and Daniel Marcotte who are over in the UK performing their show Grimm’s Grimmest as part of Kingston University’s After Grimm: Fairy Tales and the Art of Storytelling’ Conference.

Judith and Dan performing Grimm’s Grimmest

I first met Judith in Cincinnati, in fact I was one of the first people she met when she arrived and Karen Chace introduced us and within the first two minutes of conversation we had established that Judith was going to be visiting the UK in September, performing at Kingston Uni and would be staying with me, and now she is it is lovely. Although Judith didn’t come alone, she brought the very talented musical gem Dan Marcotte with her, who I met for the first time when I opened my front door to them on Wednesday.

I am very glad to be able to host two such warm and giving folks, especially because it would seem they have brought the weather with them! Plus it has been great to be sat answering work emails to live lute playing in my living room. And apparently my flat is Dan’s ideal holiday resort, because I am a self-confessed Geek, so my collection of Sci-fi movies and series, my fantasy and sci-fi collector pieces, and my comic book collection and fiction library have been the subject of much conversation.

It has been wonderful to see so many lovely and familiar faces at the conference too, especially when so many of them graced the stage last night to perform a variety of Grimm stories. As well as Judith and Dan, there was Kelly Kanayama (with whom I appeared with earlier this year at the Taster Tales, as part of the Gathering, the Society for Storytelling’s conference), Janet Dowling with who I work with wearing my Surrey Storytellers Guild hat (actually we had a good representation what with Janet, Jeff, me, Alistair and Paul, it was a shame Belinda couldn’t make it, but she was being all dramatic and taking a week in hospital – feel better soon you crazy lady!), Cat Weatherill – the beautiful and sassy fellow redhead, and the spellbinding and somewhat other worldly Jamie Crawford. Not to mention the talent sitting in the audience with the likes of Simon Heywood and Jack Zipes!

Janet Dowling telling the Sea Hare

The evening of stories was truly mesmerising. First up on the small black stage with plush red curtains falling behind was Judith and Dan and their wonderful dressed stage with skulls and candles, Judith’s long black cape and their blend of story, music and historical periods (as Dan explains: ‘We like to take our 19th Century collected Grimm’s tales set them to 16th Century Ballard tunes using a Renascence lute and 21st Century vernacular’.). Next was Kelly blending the Germany folk tales with her experience of East Asian Mothers. A short break then catapulted us into a second half of strange beasts. Janet’s telling of the Sea Hare will linger with me always, I have seen Janet tell many times, but I have never seen her tell with such… pleasure, by the end of her story every woman in the room wanted race off and find a Sea Hare of her own! Cat’s use of the stage, dynamics and emotionally raw tensions really exploded the characters from ‘Donkey Cabbages’ into the room, always just at the right moment so that a greater understanding of the motives and complex relationships was understood and felt throughout the room, a highly enjoyable and thoughtful performance. And never one to disappoint, the last teller of the night was Jamie who told a modernised version of ‘Bearskin’. Jamie seems to have a elven quality to his movements and facial gestures, with just a look of his eyes you could which character was feeling what, he lept on and off the stage and really used every inch of the performance to his advantage, setting the scene and inviting the audience into every aspect of the story.

Cat Weatherill starting her version of ‘Donkey Cabbages’ with a haunting ballad

By the end of the night I felt fulfilled and exhausted by my journey through those dark woods of the Black Forest, and having met such wondrous creatures, sung along to and be serenaded by a chorus of ballads, mixed with magic and danced with the devil.

For a free event it was one that there was no reason to miss, and is such a shame that so many of the delegates of the conference chose too – especially as so many others had been desperate for tickets and turned away. We had so much top talent giving their time for free crammed into a small converted church-theatre and yet half the seats were left empty. It is an issue that comes up time and time again, and makes my heart bleed every time. Storytelling is such a beautifully powerful art form we should support and cherish and yet the attitude of most is that it can be free or it can be missed… if you had seen what I saw last night, you would never miss a tale, fable or story again, maybe this is why I felt the need to play my Bodhran as we walked into Kingston after the show, ‘The storytellers are coming, the storytellers are coming, listen, celebrate and share!’

Mud, Mud, Glorious MUD!!!

The travels across Canada and America maybe over for now, but that doesn’t mean the adventure has come to an end…

The August bank Holiday weekend, as well as being the usually rainy affair we Brits are used to on Bank Holidays, was also the West Country Storytelling Festival, as well as the Devizes International Street Festival.

If you have never been to a storytelling festival, let me start by saying they are curious places where reality no longer holds importance, and fairies, dragons, heroes and villains can achieve impossible feats.

The West Country festival has been held for the past two times at Embercombe in Devon, just outside of Exeter. It has a very eco approach, and as well as have a beautiful stone circle, spiral mound, and lake, it has yurts with wood burning stove for those of us who wanted a bit of luxury as opposed to the camping option… which with all the rain I am mighty glad I booked the luxury!!!

This year’s WC Storytelling festival had a lot more poetry and music sessions, as well as crafts and agricultural workshops than previous years, but this might also be why, when asked at the opening ceremony who was new to the storytelling festival, over half the 750 peopled crowd said they had never been before. In a year when I have been looking at ways to encourage new people into storytelling this was heartening. The Opening ceremony had its usual Embercombe blend of honouring the land, the stories and the mysteries, and after the crowd had sung and swayed, the festival was officially underway.

opening ceremony at the West Country Storytelling Festival

The opening ceremony at the West Country Storytelling Festival, waking the giants of the land and stirring the stories.

There weren’t as many storytellers as in some years, and unfortunately most of the storytellers of note were programmed all to on in the many (some might say far too numerous, yet small) venues during the same times, which meant for those of us going mainly for the storytelling you had some sessions where it was frustratingly hard to decide who to see and who to miss, and other sessions where it was a struggle to find something to see at all. It was delightful though to find time to catch up with storytellers, and have time to meet new tellers too.

The highlights of the weekend were Jan Blake’s amazing stories and music which just made you want to dance. Simon Heywood’s ‘Jack Tales’, and later the same day ‘Robin Hood’, where I discovered several things I didn’t know about ole Robby as Simon blended history and story together beautifully around the fireside in the thick green woods of Embercombe. Shonaleigh’s Ruby Tree captured my heart, brought tears to my eyes and made me think of a story I wanted to give someone special. Sue Charman told the Handless Maiden with such skill, strength and understanding that I found many new levels to the story. Ben Haggarty’s ‘Iron Man’ was told with energy and power, so that the audience could just about feel the ancient Iron Man stirring beneath the ground, and Martin Shaw’s ‘Cinderbiter’ really did transport me somewhere totally other worldly, a fine mixture of music, story, rhythm and wonder, once it finished I actually found I could not speak for a full 10 mins – Martin my friends wants to know that secret!

People sat on top the spiral mound beneath the moon.

People sat on top the spiral mound at Embercombe, telling stories beneath the moon.

The low points was the weather, the damn rain and mud got everywhere, the lack of water for the loos, and the programme booklet being very confusing to read and not having details of the sessions, or times on each page.

The weekend quickly flew by and the fire ceremony Sunday evening really captured the spirit of Embercombe. Unfortunately I had to miss the closing ceremony, as a very early start on Monday saw Team Phoenix heading off to Devizes to perform all day at Devizes international Street Festival, however the weather had other plans! On the up side right next to the story tent, Nero’s Café was kind enough to open a new shop and so all drinks were free until 12noon – and a girl can never turn down free hot chocolate! Last year when I performed at the Festival it was a beautiful sunny day and I did 7 performances between 11am – 6pm with the crowds gathering around the story tent up to 250 people, but this year with the rain we only did 5 performances with the largest crowd being 20 people, and by 5pm all the performers and stall holders were closing up and running for cover as the streets turned into rivers.

Devizes international street festival in the rain

Steam Punk cyclists at the Devizes international street festival, like the rest of us getting very soggy as people dashed for cover from the rain.

Maybe it was the weather or something else but I had a strange day telling, I had gone through my 400 strong repertoire and decided on the stories I would tell during the day, but out of the 20 I had chosen not one of them came, instead I became a story juke-box, asking the crowds what they liked stories about, and from that choosing tales – it was great! Sometimes the freedom to just tell a story in the moment brings about amazing things. It was also great to see people I had told to last year and who still remembered the stories… that is the best feeling as a storyteller that you left stories behind for people to enjoy.

And so the rain still falls tapping on my window as I tap on the keys writing up my report about my journey and discoveries in Canada and America, it makes as a strange rhythm, the music of stories, listen and see what stories you hear…

Thats a wrap!

Well two days of recording and I have laid down 11 tracks, not all will make the album but it is good to have a choice. So once the editing is complete and I have ok’d the artwork the CD will be ready to go.

It was so strange telling stories without an audience to a small piece on metal and wires, it was also really hard to concentrate on not allowing my dynamic range (how loud and quite I spoke) to get carried away, I am so used to telling to large crowds, outside and over coming other noises that I have developed a very powerful voice (read as I got a big mouth). So yesterday was a struggle as I got used to studio work. However today went really well, (mostly chocolate fuelled – yes I know chocolate is bad for the vocal cords, but its great for the energy levels after having telling for hours of it was most needed) I got the stories in one take and they will only need a small amount of editing (to remove giggling and hiccups).

I have to say I was quite nervous and actually ended up really enjoying it, I hope Steve who patiently recorded hours on end of stories, enjoyed it too, even if over the course of weekend I spooked him out, made him laugh and even moved him to tears, all of which bodes well I think for finished album. Looking forward to holding the finished product in my hands.