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Equinox

For the person who stumbled across my blog with the search term Spring Equinox 2013 Marsden then I humbly apologise but do hope you like what you found instead. I’m assuming that it was the word Marsden that drove the engine to think that I could offer some light on the subject. The real question now though is why the searcher put the name Marsden? Is this the beginning of a new Dan Brown type thriller where Robert Langdon stumbles upon the centre of the universe during a lecture tour of the Pennines? I shall remain curious.

It is, of course, happy spring equinox day today which means that we now have equal daylight to darkness which in simple terms means more time to watch the snow. Yes, it’s snowing again! I may have to change the name of the blog if things don’t improve.

The spring equinox also heralds the end of my first year as a poet. After spending the last twenty years as a bedroom poet (similar in nature to a bedroom DJ or bedroom musician both of which I’ve also trialled), about this time last year I finally sat down and began the hard graft of becoming a published poet. It’s been an interesting twelve months and in many ways, quite fascinating. Not quite Dan Brown but something certainly worth writing about so watch this space.

On poetry, I’ve been fascinated with the art since discovering Frost at school but not since Simon Armitage’s first collection, Zoom, have I looked forward to reading a book as much as I did last week when I finally discovered Clare Pollard’s latest collection. Clare was a featured poet on Abegail Morley’s excellent blog, The Poetry Shed. The article featured the poem, Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe from Clare’s fourth collection, Changeling published in 2011 by Bloodaxe Books. I immediately hopped over to a popular shopping site (don’t mention the tax) and bought a copy of the book feeling slightly embarrassed that I’d missed the boat first time around. Changeling is described as being steeped in folklore and ballads and it certainly didn’t disappoint. I read it from cover to cover and then, like most good poetry books, left it on the side to dip in and out throughout the week. A new favourite on the keeper shelves and definitely recommended.

You can read more from The Poetry Shed at http://abegailmorley.wordpress.com

Clare also writes her own blog at http://clarepollard.wordpress.com

The Hawthorn Halls are currently closed for spring cleaning so no zero players this week. Instead I wanted to leave you with a new favourite. This is Song For Zulu by Phosphorescent. This was a recent headphones moment on my Facebook page. You can find out more about the band at http://phosphorescentmusic.com. Their new album, Muchacho is released this week.

The Hawthorn Halls (the visitor’s book)

‘So, what is the plural for crocus?’ said Gawain, as he watched from a hillside waiting for the post to arrive.

We are playing a game.

At this point you hand the baton to your neighbour who continues the story with another line. I found this game (I’m sure it will have a name) a great ice breaker when teaching students in the early nineties and also quite amusing with friends and family after the consumption of several intoxicating liquors.

Gawain’s future now hangs in the balance of your neighbour’s imagination. Who is he asking? How many other people are present? What’s the weather like? Why is he waiting for the post man? Will your neighbour continue the Arthurian theme? And so on… In many ways it’s a good team building exercise; no one wants to be the dreamer who wakes up.

It was the early spring flowers that we discovered in the garden on Monday that inspired the first line. Proof, if proof was needed, that imagination usually does need a prod every now and again. The sun was out and the afternoon task was the footings for a base for the children’s playhouse – a task that’s now three years overdue.

The air was cool, barely warmed by the sun but perfect for digging and exercise. Amanda, recovering from proper flu – the type of flu that makes you realise that you’ve never had flu before, watched from the sunlit bench. Days like these are always invigorating and with a good square trench dug out I began to make plans for the rest of the spring.

I should have known it was too good to last. The following day a thick frozen fog descended followed later in the week by drizzle (the wetting stuff) and then snow. Twelve months ago we were enjoying temperatures that topped out at twenty six degrees. Today we have a wonderful covering of snow and somewhere down the lane an abandoned car from last night’s trip home. The solitary crocus and pair of snowdrops are gone.

This week’s Zero Player was brought to the halls by a visitor. Graham Clifford, who writes his own blog at http://grahamcliffordpoet.wordpress.com/ suggested the track as part of the Snow playlist. It’s always a nice surprise to be introduced to a track that you’ve not heard before and this suggestion by Graham has led me to three whole albums of unheard gems. This might get expensive!

The track, Snowstorm comes from the second album by the American band, Galaxie 500. On Fire was released in 1987 on Rough Trade Records.

Graham’s suggestion landed just as I returned from the sun lit garden so I thought it might have to wait. It turned out to be the perfect soundtrack for this Mother’s Day.

‘Crocuses’ replied Morgan, as she warmed her hands by the fire after hiding the letter addressed to Gawain in the ice cave.

The Hawthorn Halls (the racing post)

Tuesday’s weather was September blue with the milky sun of the weekend finally giving way to the cut throat light of early spring. Shadows were long and in stark contrast to the flood of sun light, the hills still bore numerous slips of white as the cold air cosseted the last of the snow. It was a good day to be out and about so at nine a.m. I did what every self respecting lover of landscape should do on the first day off work and climbed into the dentist’s chair.

Now there are worse things in life than the punishing quarterly ritual of the ear piercing jet being manoeuvred beneath the gum line against raw nerves but, looking out over the trees into the deep blue sky, I was struggling to come up with any examples.

The trouble with four days off mid-week at half term is that without really trying the days suddenly become laden with activities, jobs, and treats. Most school holidays follow a similar pattern: it’s the tartan of time that we picnic on however this half term would be slightly different.

With the three monthly meditation exercise over (it is true that you can beat pain by focusing on a screw in the light above your head), and the family waiting outside, we were off – to paint an attic room. Now as you might guess; feeling a little like a newly hatched chicken blinking in to the sun, setting off with a whiter kind of smile to paint a room put me in a bit of a grump. It was the first day off to coincide with a real sun blast since weeks before Christmas and the next nine hours of my life were mapped out to include five litres of Dulux best, a brush and a roller.

We were clearing Uncle WA’s house, which, at first sight, appeared to have been used as a store for the last forty years worth of racing papers. WA didn’t like to throw things away. He had passed away just before the festive season and Amanda and her sister (the only remaining relatives in the UK) had worked tirelessly since the new year to clear, scrub, clean and throw away as much of the hoard as they could fit in the back of the family estate. It had been a Herculean effort and timed to coincide with the arrival, from Ireland, of Uncle John (WA’s brother) and his large white van. I scalded myself for being a little grumpy and left the walking boots at the back of my mind.
Five white van tip trips later (yes, we had to take the death certificate) and several coats of white paint and the house suddenly began to quiet down and stop moaning at the thought of being clean and tidy. We had done it, just, and it was time for tea.

Now, should proof were needed that being a six year old child is the best thing in the world then the following day provided all the evidence. It was ash scattering day. WA’s first and only love in life had been the horses: race horses. With this in mind, Amanda had made an enquiry to York Race course to see if there was any possibility that we could hold a little ceremony near the track. ‘Of course,’ said Tom, who appeared to deal with all things ash scattering, ‘no problem at all. Many people like to use the finishing post, that’s as long as they’re not racing!’

So, on a bitterly cold grey Wednesday we found ourselves, after a short guided tour of the facilities (never one to miss a sale) stood beneath the finishing post at York Race course with a large tub of ashes. As we arrived at the post and Tom said his fair wells and good wishes it became clear that the world had lost a few racing fans over the course of the winter. Flowers clung to the post and piles of ash dotted the track side. We all looked at each other and secretly wondered what to say. We didn’t need to worry. Lydia and cousin, Daisy suddenly seized the opportunity and grabbed the pot of ash. No one else was getting a look in. ‘Come on,’ they both chorused furiously shaking the ashes over the grass. ‘Let’s be having you. Come and see the horses.’ They continued, chatting merrily away to their great uncle.

It was a good send off; something that WA would have liked.

We thawed out in Jamie’s Italian as a bit of a treat. It was good to enjoy the food without the strange feeling I had the last time we took Explorer George to the Manchester version for his birthday treat. Unbeknown to me throughout that last meal and proceeding drinks I was harbouring the Noro virus and hours later would discover the exacting peculiarities of being sick as a dog. It would be four days before I ate again so at least the last meal had been a fine one.

The day finished with The Marsden Write Out Loud open mike night. We’d landed back in the village just after the M62 rush hour (2 – 7) and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to try out a couple of new poems to our monthly group. The secret must be out. Arriving in the Mechanics a little past the starting time I was greeted with a number of new faces and emergency chairs! Our normal sedate group of around ten to twelve people had swelled to well over thirty and everyone was raring to go. Some had just come for the pleasure of listening whilst others, including myself, were happy to read a couple of poems – just a little faster. I always find reading new work to an audience extremely rewarding. You get that instant hit of whether the poem makes the right emotional connections. The shorter introductions and speed reading had the desired effect and, along with the usual five or six, the day ended in the Riverhead.

Exactly two nights later the same emergency chairs where waiting for me again in the Mechanics, this time for the annual beer festival. It was a great way to end the week, sharing numerous local brews with friends and neighbours. Only towards the end of the night was I introduced to a Finnish lady who now lived next door to where I had spent most of my child hood. Small world! The village has changed so much over the last twenty years or so by becoming a set for countless films and TV programmes as well as a tourist centre and second home for people from Lancashire, so to hear that many of the old neighbours, including Donald with his infamous home brew and Alan from across the road where still there was strangely comforting.

It’s just a bright blue sky

Whilst searching the enclaves of zero plays within the Halls this week I came across a tune from what was one of my album of the years in 2012. It’s a proper start to finish record and my only regret so far is that I’ve not seen the band live. The video for Chapel Song by We Are Augustines was also included on the album, Rise Ye Sunken Ships and as I’m not a fan of freebies and extras at the end of a record the track was promptly unchecked and un-played.

It’s a great anthem and a fitting end to the week. Follow the link to watch the video.

The Hawthorn Halls (the exit edition)

Exhausted is probably an accurate description of my current state. Explorer Scout, George has just steered me around the Marsden Moor estate for a day out walking. In itself the walk was not too bad (long) but with the added blizzards and endless snow drifts my legs have now developed a peculiar leaden effect which seems to have been further aggravated by the hot bath. My cheeks have also suffered from the biting winds and developed that strange sun burnt feeling coupled with a bright red glow. Will and friend have just burst into spontaneous laughter after catching the human matchstick hobbling towards the bedroom whilst trying to hold onto a strategically placed towel and the last remnants of dignity. Only the wet clothes and boots give any clues that George also came along for the adventure. After demolishing a plate of food he has returned to his lair where he will remain plugged into the IPod until Top Gear or hunger begins.

This week has seen some excellent blogs. Firstly, Josephine Corcoran wrote a really honest piece titled, Reading, Writing, Rejections and Acceptance which kind of sums up the piece in its entirety. This is the type of blog that can really help anyone starting out in the strange world of poetry – rejection letters can be the loneliest so Josephine’s blog offers a kind of comfort to know it can happen to anyone. As further proof of this fact I would urge everyone to read the wonderful interview with Sam Riviere in the latest edition of The Rialto which includes a good insight into the editor’s thought process: yes, even Faber poets get the blues. You can read Josephine’s blog at http://josephinecorcoran.wordpress.com.

It was also great to see landscape photographer, Andy Hemingway re-release a number of his Peak District blogs on his new site at http://andyhemingway.wordpress.com. The folklore and history of the South Pennines makes excellent reading and offers another dimension to Andy’s photographs.

Whilst on photography blogs I would also recommend the entertaining and quite inspiring http://thefutureispapiermache.wordpress.com which includes blogger Richard’s collaborations with fellow blogger, http://ckponderings.wordpress.com

There’s also a number of equally great blogs which I’m really enjoying so will hopefully include links in future posts.

This week’s track found amongst the green leaves is, I’m afraid to say, a bit of a cheat. Filed under Sylvian from his excellent Sleepwalkers compilation it’s probably one of the most played tracks in the hall of four winds but, whilst searching the zero players, it was also found filed under Masakatsu. It seems that when searching for all things Sylvian, I’ve found this collaboration from the brilliant, Coieda album by the Japanese artist, Takagi Masakatsu, downloaded the track and promptly forgotten all about it until the re-discovery with Sleepwalkers.  

The reason for the inclusion is that I would urge you to listen to some of Masakatsu’s other work. It’s spellbinding and quite beautiful.

Listen and watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JHrOsaDgXbI

All the best,

David.

The Hawthorn Halls (the new edition)

Talk Talk – NEW GRASS – 1991 – YouTube.

Back at the beginning of January whilst wrapped in the Atlantic lows I’d hoped that this weekend’s adventure would include songs of wolves and fairies and Gaelic tales of ice and fire. I was planning ahead and hoping for sun.

Midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, the village of Marsden has celebrated the festival known as Imbolc for the last nineteen years. The festival crosses a number of cultures and beliefs and although now regarded as a Pagan festival, the celebration is strongly associated with the Gaelic goddess, Saint Brighid and her role as a fertility goddess. The main point of the festival is to celebrate the onset of spring and in Marsden the sound of children cheering the Green Man in his eternal battle invites the first flush of colour to the Pennine landscape.

In what would have been the twentieth year the organisers took the difficult decision to cancel the festival due to a lack of funds and, sadly, volunteers. It’s a far cry from those early days when we walked with a small group of friends along a candle lit Huddersfield Narrow canal towards Standedge where we were met by wolves, fire dancers, drummers, magicians and fireworks. I often wonder what the passengers of the Trans Pennine train must have thought as they looked out to the darkness to see a few hundred people celebrating fire before the train disappeared into the tunnelled hills and their windows went black. Did they blink at their own reflection?

Now, regularly featured in both local and national press, the festival has become a victim of its own success and finally succumbed to a cancelled performance. It seems only yesterday that we jostled with thousands of people in the deep snow of 2011 dreaming of the imagined village where the roses grow vivid. Here’s looking forward to 2014 and for anyone local to Marsden; get volunteering!

Back within the sovereignty of nature’s kin, this week’s edition introduces New Grass by Talk Talk. It is sublime. Found in the zero rooms at the west wing; back in 1991 the album Laughing Stock was the headphone moment of the time. Not to be confused with a reasonable priced internet provider, the band, Talk Talk is very much an enigma. Initially marketed as a new wave pop challenge to the likes of Duran Duran, much to the dismay of the record company bank role, Mark Hollis and team had other plans. As critical acclaim increased, commercial success waned with the release of Spirit of Eden and then, in 1991, the final album, Laughing Stock. Find out more here: http://www.myspace.com/talktalklaughingstock.

Laughing Stock does take some work but the glorious opening to New Grass is one of the many highlights. The song is a journey of spiritual discovery. It’s a song of faith and optimism. Regardless of your beliefs it’s awe inspiring. Take it with you to the top of a mountain before sunrise and let the light in.

The Hawthorn Halls (the silent edition)

As the eighties tripped into the nineties, almost without warning my soundtrack of life suddenly derailed towards an E before I coloured landscape where I was suddenly the one out of time.

U2 did the honourable thing and bowed out declaring that they would have to go away and dream the whole thing up again, Echo and the Bunnymen rode away on horses, The Cure disintegrated, The Smiths turned the light out and, in an Orwellian twist, no one was allowed to mention the words, Brothers in Arms. Things were changing and even in the spot lit fog of the Broken Doll pub at Newcastle, The Stones’ Gimme Shelter failed to impress the afternoon grant funded drinking club.

We were only months away from the real world and without warning friends began to get their hair cut, started to wash, stopped drinking and, most alarmingly, started to dance. Whatever Charly said then anyone cool enough to be listening to The Prodigy did. We were in the North East but under the shadow of the West. Joy Division was dead and Madchester reigned with New Order in full club spangled party mode.

I have to admit that I was quickly becoming disillusioned and retreated back to Floyd, Zeppelin and Sylvian in the comfort of the not very expensive quayside student rooms. I tried to hide away but room mates constantly hopped into my darkening days with luminous anthems such as Come Home, The Only One and Fools Gold. Perhaps I was homesick; longing to watch the sun sink behind the Pennines with Shine On You Crazy Diamond in the background or sitting on the floor of the cellar bar in The Zetland with Lemmy shouting about his Silver Machine. Whatever the reason, the ideology of Madchester left me as cold and colourless as the very streets where it was born.

Days were getting longer and the inevitability of work was looming. First year students were beginning to find their feet muscling in on the secrets of Indie Nightclubs with their fake denims and floppy hair. Getting drunk was becoming unfashionable; as was pogo dancing. And just when things couldn’t get any worse a smiley face appeared. ACEEED! Whistles, Poppers, shoe gazing and hapless DJs trying to keep the whole thing together was the re-write. No longer could you whip a crowd to frenzy with The Only Way is Up: Fool’s Gold was the new cool!

Into this environment we enter the land of the Darling Buds. Recently downloaded as a good value greatest hits (hence the zero play), this week’s track finds a visitors pass to the great halls.

It was Indie night at Walker’s nightclub (Tuesday) and A Guy Called Gerald was playing with Voodoo as the soon to be inspired DJ began to loop the opening sequence of this week’s track into the acid house buzz. Suddenly, as the song burst into life all thoughts of Dexy’s begging Eileen to come and save the day faded to a euphoric chant of all I ever wanted/all I ever needed/is here in my arms. The music was intoxicating and for a moment I couldn’t think for the life of me who it was until the realisation that the south had invaded and left Madchester standing in its own shoe gazed polish.

Enjoy the Silence by Depeche Mode re-awakened the soul. True, the vinyl of Speak and Spell had been on the shelves for several years but it was the extraordinary re-invention of the Violator album that charged my senses. The music coupled with the art and film work of Anton Corbijn gave the music scene a genuine sense of purpose that would soon snuff out the mad spin of Mad.

I was already a big fan of Anton Corbijn following his work with the likes of David Sylvian, Propaganda and, of course, U2. Who doesn’t think of the iconic gatefold with the metaphorical tree and desert when you here the Eno and Lanois inspired opening to what fans call ‘Streets’.

Corbijn’s work for Depeche Mode was as groundbreaking; still rooted in the American Interior, this time the black and white was washed with Technicolor – a style that would soon follow U2 to Berlin where dreams where re-worked with a Trabant. Unless you’re lucky enough to track down an original version of the Violator film, Strange Too, which includes the inspired –this is how you make a pop video (clowns and donkeys included) – film for the track, Halo then opt for Videos 86 – 98.

Another time:

In December 2011, Amanda and I returned to Newcastle to see the wonderful Unthanks perform the songs of Robert Wyatt and Andrew and the Johnsons at the homecoming show at the Gateshead Sage Theatre.

The Broken Doll is long demolished so after the show we escaped to another old favourite haunt of mine, the Red House. There we were met by a group of students challenging each other at the jukebox. Thankfully there was no Happy Mondays or Inspiral Carpets. Stone Roses made a guest appearance as the soon to be new millionaires of rock and roll and then in the dark of the night, Silence. All I ever wanted was the shout from the bar.

How did it get so late?

We laughed at the circle of life being witnessed in real time. I then had the realisation that Enjoy the Silence was as old as Gimme Shelter had been in those black and white days of The Broken Doll. We finished our drinks; it was getting late. As we walked back to our hotel I was reminded of the poem, Evening by Simon Armitage: home seemed so far away and so did our past.