Bardic Finals: Gorsedd y Beirdd Ynys Witrin: Billy the Celt, Bardd Newydd! DP

Traditionally, the Spirit of Inspiration is said to descend, a flame from the Fiery Forge above. This was abundantly clear at last night’s Bardic Finals in Ynys Witrin.

There was a moment last night when Nathan Williams, musician trained under the Eisteddfod Tradition, broke into Welsh: To be precise, he told us the expression for silence which, In Cymraeg, translates as the end of battle: Tawelwch. For SILENCE was the theme outgoing Bard, Sarah Mooney, had chosen for this year’s Trial.

Hairs stood up all over my body and a sob rose in my throat, caught, like rain, between two close leaves. It is so long since I have heard the melodious sound of the Welsh language.

But it was more than that: The power and spirit of the Bardic Finals in Glastonbury, held in the Assembly Rooms, crossed artificial boundaries and embraced the diversity of this island we Celts – and, indeed, Non-Celts – live upon, as well as acknowledging, covertly, all other Celtic strongholds. Won by a Scotsman, Billy the Celt; the beautiful Awen invoked at the start – so that the spirit of Groves and the Druidic Tradition was welcomed in; a nod at the end to Ceremonial Magic and Wicca; but, above all, an evening which celebrated the long Bardic Tradition, from Taliesin onwards – and, since time is circular, backwards as well.

Memories of Cynghanedd surfaced. Times in castles and manor houses when the Bard, harp in hand, would tell stories and accompany them with song. The Bardic presence upon the battlefield, still alive in pipers and ‘Flowers of the Forest’ amongst other laments.

It was a time of love and recognition of the word:The Oral Traditon – so rich and ancient; the written form which, although more recent, has given us the most famous Bard of all: Shakespeare. It celebrated the way that Story unites us and gives us back our common heritage; the way that some of the very old languages have stored atmosphere, colour and emotion in the very bones of the sounds which make up words, hence my shuddery shiver when ‘Tawelwch’ resonated round a darkened, incense-rich, room.

I write this in excitement and fellow feeling – for I am of the Bardic Persuasion myself; also in humility, for the five Bards-in-Waiting were so fabulous in their different ways, so moving, lively, funny and talented that I felt but an embryo in comparison. Their grasp of the Celtic Mythology that unites us was profound, their expression of it beautiful. They sent inspirational light to dark area of the Western Mystery Tradition – and, in the case of Stephen Cole, accompanied the tale of Bran the Blessed upon the harp.

His was a wonderful performance and I was mesmerised from the first twinkly notes of his little harp. It touched upon the Matter of Britain and echoed much of my own private musings upon the Wasteland and Grail Question.

Tristan’s words upon the subject of the silence that both divides and contains great emotional treasure; his plea for emotional honesty; his recognition that artifice is dangerous – all brought a deep-seated acknowledgement from the crowd.

Billy, the Celt, was magnificent, musing melodiously upon the identity, meaning, history and purpose of the Bard, singing to guitar and playing ‘Silent Night’ upon the harmonica. The importance of the Bardic Tradition in our troubled world was particularly touching and stirring.

Annabelle’s lovely piece on Bridie was both poetic and emotional. Clad all in white and with a bell to toll certain moments, she looked and sounded beautiful. We were each given a slip of paper with printed words upon it so that we could celebrate and share some of the words with her.

Rik’s take on silence was very different, but absolutely brilliant. He was the Fool, who became two other characters, one female and the other male, in a series of rhyming couplets which, by the magic of his performance and his great acting skills, became spontaneous-appearing dialogue and sobering commentary upon the way we humans are treating this fragile world, so full of song and the Word, we inhabit and share. Hilarious and moving, I loved it.

While the judges were conferring down below, and plumes of incense created spirals and strange pictures in the air, three talented Bards in the Musical Tradition came forward to entertain us. Nathan, I have already mentioned – and he was fabulous, his singing (which we all joined in with) of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The Sound of Silence’ both apt and evocative.

JyaRaine, who accompanied herself on guitar and had a wonderful voice, has terrific stage presence and I loved her songs, all composed by her. Huge talent there.

Dora, who followed her and also sang to guitar, had a very different, but equally effective, musical presence. She had been in Wales and sang of its magical beauty. Her words of love for landscape took me back to my time in the West part of the Principality.

The moment arrived. The judges trooped back. The five Bardic hopefuls stood in a circle, facing outwards to the audience. Tim Hawthorn, Elder Bard, explained that the judging had been both difficult and very close. This did not surprise me. I would have hated to make a distinction between five such fine performances.

But, winner there had to be – and this honour, to be held for a year and a day – the duration between Sir Gawain beheading the Green Knight and his journey through the Wasteland to meet his destiny – was conferred upon Billy, the Celt, to rapturous applause from the audience.

The Bardd Newydd was ceremonially robed and seated upon the Bardic Chair. Sarah gave him the gift of Taliesin’s words as her farewell and handing over act. I felt tears rise at this point.

What is so strange is this: My musings, and my editing skills, have, of late, been turned towards my own Love Song to Wales and to the Bardic Tradition – and this evening very much stirred those stifled embers into new, and I hope exciting, life.

It was a joy to behold – and a reminder to us of the fact that we are all in this business called Life together; that unity within diversity is not just possible but urgently to be desired; that the Bardic Tradition is alive and well – and that the wisdom of past Bards fires the forge of creation still.

Unfortunately, a problem has arisen with my mobile phone connection and I have been unable to download the images I took last night. There are, however, plenty of lovely photos on Facebook.

My words will have to suffice!


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