A Year of Stories

At 2014 draws to a close, I realise I've done more storytelling this past year than ever before.  It's been great fun to share these old tales with new friends.  
In January I started the year with some tale-telling at the Apple Tree Wassail at Stretton Watermill, Cheshire.
February brought a return to the lovely new Atkinson arts centre in Southport, Lancashire to share fairy tales for children.  It's always lovely to share some very familiar folk tales with young people hearing them for the first time.
As International Bagpipe Day is in March, I'd been involved in several events around that week to celebrate and my Piper's Tale set found its way to Northwich, Chester and Astbury.
In April, I opened my exhibition exploring the life and work of Robert Westall, one of the 20th century's greatest writers for young adults.  Aside from his excellent novels, he really was master of the short story, particularly creepy tales, and studying his work so closely has taught me a lot.
At the end of May I was back at the wonderful Chester Folk Festival to do a few storytelling performances on Cheshire Myths and Legends and also the Piper's Tale got another outing.
June was a real treat for storytelling, I loved sharing stories and music in the sun at the enormous Tatton Medieval Festival and the following week was a treat in telling a range of medieval tales from the borderlands with some other fantastic storytellers, Tom Goodale, Richard York and Chris Baglin, at the Minstrels' Court in Chester.
In July I was delighted to have the opportunity to have a storytelling show in the atmospheric St Mary's Church on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.  This really is a special place and it was a wonderful experience.  Later in the month we were at the greatest storytelling event of all - Festival at the Edge - having lots of fun and getting filled up with inspiration.
With the summer holidays underway in August, I found myself telling medieval tales in Northwich, Cheshire folk tales in Macclefield, Viking stories at Norton Priory and then sharing more bagpiper folk tales to a packed tent at Shrewsbury Folk Festival, all great fun.
In September, it was back at Stretton Watermill, sharing some harvest-tide tales for their Victorian weekend and some music too.  And I was lucky enough to deliver a few days of workshops for schools to help them develop their own stories, always a richly rewarding experience.
October was a particularly intense week for storytelling, starting with my first ever full-hour performance of Greek Myths to a packed house at West Park Museum.  I've struggled for a long time to find the real human side of these tales and so never really made anything of them, but earlier in the year I'd been inspired by Yannis Pantazis at the Bagpipe Society's Blowout, from meeting the inspiring Yannis Pantazis at the Bagpipe Society's Blowout who brought Ancient Greek tales to life and encouraged me to take my storytelling further, then at FatE, Daniel Morden's retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice was so powerful it changed my outlook on these Greek tales completely.  Anyway, my first proper Greek storytelling show was a great success and a wonderfully supportive audience.
The next few days I was busy telling more myths and legends from my native Cheshire, then Halloween daytime was filled with four performances of creepy tales for children at Chester's Grosvenor Museum followed by three sell-out performances of dark tales for Halloween at Port Sunlight museum, luckily the experience was more exhilarating than exhausting.
November always starts with soul caking for me, sort of storytelling if you want, but what the story is I'm none too sure.  I've been performing these folk plays for a long time, this was my 20th year.  It's also a busy time for doing storytelling for local history groups and societies and I was out and about several times with my Cheshire Legends and Piper's Tale shows.
As the nights grew longer in December and Christmas approached, I was telling festive folk tales and Victorian ghost stories for family events at Quarry Bank Mill, Styal and the Old Sunday School, Macclesfield, both in Cheshire.
I've missed out a lot here, I know, but that's more than enough to read through for now. It's been a very enjoyable twelve months for tale telling, here's all best wishes from us at Pilgrims & Posies for your New Year.

Goodnight Mr Pepys

Aside from all of the goings-on I write about on here, my day job for the past twelve years has been working as education officer at Weaver Hall Museum.  I've just finished there and in a few days time will be starting at the lovely Norton Priory in Runcorn, Cheshire, where I'll be helping to create an amazing new museum.  With all of its links to medieval religion I'll no doubt be writing about aspects of that work in future, but for now I thought I'd write about one of the people I'm sorry to leave behind - my alter ego Samuel Pepys.
It wasn't really planned, a special event week for schools back in 2004 proved so popular that it took on a life of its own and I spent a decade donning the periwig to become Mr Pepys in schools workshops for the Great Fire of London, at least a couple of times a week.  These were really popular and I worked with around 30,000 pupils during that time and had some great fun. 
The workshop had pupils meeting Sam Pepys, finding out a little about his life, and acting out the events of the Great Fire.  Pepys is the only "real" historical character I've ever portrayed, rather than an invented Tudor, Victorian, or whatever and so took a fair bit of research to get him right.  Admittedly he was somewhat edited to be appropriate for 6 year olds, and also his love of music extended to include bagpipes...  But the details had to be there, and I remember suddenly thinking as I began the first workshop that I didn't know when my own birthday was.  Luckily that never came up, but I made sure I knew all the details after that.  I've had classes turning up with questions for Mr Pepys many times, in the early days they were quite simple, but now it's so easy for infants to do internet research they get quite detailed.  The session was set in 1667, looking back at the events of the fire, and so I've even had questions like 'How many of your brothers and sisters are still alive?' which thankfully I was able to answer.  When I started I was six years too young to portray the role and I finished being four years too old.
Reading so much about the character, I couldn't help but grow attached to him, and when wandering around some of Sam's haunts in London it almost felt as if I had been there before.  I've written a bit about that on this blog a couple of years back.
My schools' version of Samuel Pepys even got his own fan mail - sometimes arriving like this, (from the days when Weaver Hall was called the Salt Museum). 
With my departure he's been put into hibernation, who knows he might make a comeback for an event somewhere in September 2016 when we reach the 350th anniversary of the Fire.  In the meantime, my good friend and colleague, Colin Mann made me a miniature Mr Pepys as a memento.
And so to bed.

Yule Riding

A little late in writing this up, but then Christmas got in the way.  About a week ago we headed over to York for the Yule Riding procession around the city.  This is a recreation of a 16th century midwinter tradition bringing colour, music and pageantry to the longest night and today organised by The York Waits. 
The original Tudor procession had seen the characters of Yule and his wife riding through the streets of the city accompanied by loud music and throwing nuts into the crowds.  This was banned in 1572, though other seasonal rituals continued.  One of these was the Yoole-girthol where the city sheriffs  would welcome in the feast of Yule and proclaim to the crowds that certain misdemeanours were allowed during the twelve days. 
We hadn't been to the Yule Riding for a couple of years and so it was lovely to see that the crowds following the procession had grown enormously in the meantime with many people making a special trip to the city to be part of it.
As well as the York Waits themselves, there were also many city officials in their livery and carrying halberds, bows and lanterns.  The procession set off from Micklegate Bar to the rousing music of shawms, sackbut and drum, impossible not to fall in step with and so the whole crowd makes good progress marching through the streets.
It really is a great way to see this historic city, as the procession visits most of the historic entrances for the proclamations, as well as the market and the east end of the Minster.  The route also passes along some often overlooked roads and its great to see families hanging out from windows to see the musicians go past.  One of my favourite parts of the experience is the change in sound as the procession turns from wide street into a narrow alley. 
At the various stops, a horn is blown and a different civic official reads out the traditional proclamation, some rather nervously, and some with great theatricality, often embellishing the words.
"Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! We command that the peace of our lady the Queen be well kept by night and day but that all manner of whores, thieves, dice players and other unthrifty folk be welcome to the city, whether they come late or early, at the reverence of the High Feast of Yule till the Twelve Days be past.  God save the Queen!"
The procession eventually ends up on the steps of York's Mansion House where the York Waits, accompanied by Deborah Catterall perform Gaudete to conclude the procession.  Here's a snippet.
It really is a great recreation of a centuries old tradition and an inspiring contrast to our midsummer Minstrels procession in Chester.  We'd highly recommend you make a trip to catch the Yule Riding next winter solstice.