Over The Hill

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, FOLKLORE THURSDAY!

To celebrate, we have a double birthday-themed blog to close Spring 2019 – as it was on Brother Bernard’s 40th birthday last year that we visited TINTAGEL, the site of King Arthur’s birth!

But first, we just want to say thank you to everybody who enjoyed any of the 17 stories (and the one couple who enjoyed them all) performed to kick off the Ludlow Fringe last week. As you can see from from: https://twitter.com/TalesofBritain/status/1139932381375279105 it was a challenging day, but worth all the effort.

Besides plans for a new Halloween show in Bath, we now have nothing booked in besides honouring your pledges to come and perform Tales in Winsham (Saturday 29th), and Peterborough and Cheltenham (TBC – get in touch and let us know your plans!), so if you would like a storytelling show at your festival, fete, school, venue, theatre or whatever – just give us a shout! If we can get there and break even, we’ll do it!

Now you may have seen this news story about Tintagel this week, and the final completion of a 21st century bridge where once visitors to the ancient Cornish fort would have approached the mighty Medieval – perhaps even Romano-British – castle via land bridge. On our birthday visit last year, we had to join the tourists completing the shockingly exhausting trips up and down the cliffs, with each step about a yard high, so by the time we were back in the village, it honestly felt like we’d had three gym sessions one after another. Now we can’t wait to get back and see how the bridge alters the experience – though we hope the ‘timed tickets’ thing doesn’t extend to rushing folk as they explore the main part of the castle, idling in Tristan & Isolde’s garden was one of the pleasures of our visit, and takes all the time you want to enjoy to the full.

Obviously the castle appears in two of our Tales, in the book – it’s the court of King Mark in Tristan & Isolde, but we primarily chose it as the location for The Sword In The Stone, opening with a retelling of the undeniably sordid legend of King Arthur’s criminal conception, and then setting the rest of the narrative up the road, in Tintagel village. 

In truth – or something a little like the truth – Tintagel perhaps has more of a grip on the real history of Tristan & Isolde (Or Drustan and Ousilla if you have any faith in Fowey’s Tristan Stone) than on Arthurian lore, not least as the two Tales are so close together in Britain’s historical record that surely both can’t have any basis in reality. But as it’s a birthday theme, let’s hear three cheers and blow out some candles for Arthur!

Oh and should you be wondering, for his 41st birthday, Brother Bernard scaled Old Sodbury in South Gloucestershire – a pretty village, but a pointless visit, hillfort-wise, it’s a barely accessible mess of nettles and cowpats, with some lovely views, but zero to mark any kind of historical or folkloric interest. Just to save you the trip!

Now, Folklore Thursday – time for the bumps!

Davy Jones & The Yellow Submarine

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Avast, ye folksters! And a very maritime Folklore Thursday to ye!

There’s a whole plethora of oceanic tales amongst the 77 in our book, of course – The Gift Horse’s water sprite in Jersey, The Mermaid of Zennor, and so on. But we’ll take a look at one aside which was slipped into the story of The Great Gormula, with reference to the Spanish galleon which sank off Tobermory in the 16th century:

This is actually a fair summary of who Davy Jones came to be, for sailors the globe over – even if the original Jones will remain a mystery, the first mention in literature being Daniel Defoe’s ‘Four Years Voyages of Captain George Roberts’ (my Dad’s name, incidentally). Essentially he became yet another of Britain’s many water spirits, his first description being of a demon with saucer eyes (well of course), three rows of teeth, horns, a tail, and blue smoke coming from his nostrils (quite a trick if you can do it underwater).

That said, though I’ve never seen any of the films, I understand to most people these days, Davy Jones means only one thing…

But, with apologies for professional cheek, right now I’m writing about Davy Jones in a very different context, being two-thirds immersed in my next book, FAB FOOLS (Facebook and Twitter) and as I type, I should be proceeding with telling the tale of the creation of one of the greatest feature-length animations of all time, YELLOW SUBMARINE. Well, it is surely legitimate Liverpool folklore…!

Most people are already familiar with the Beatles’ odyssey from Liverpool through the seas of Time, Science, Monsters, Holes and Green, but the immensely complicated history of the film leaves many tales untold, and one of the early drafts of the script contained a whole sequence, developed with illustrations, set in ‘Davy Jones’ Locker’, with the Fab Four and Old Fred meeting mermaids and all sorts. Sadly, only anecdotal evidence remains, but it’s a tantalising glimpse of what might have been…

If you enjoyed Tales of Britain or any of my previous works of comedy history, please follow FAB FOOLS wherever you can, and pre-order when the book is fully launched at the end of the month.

Peace and love, and shiver me timbers…

Stones And Old Sods

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

A very happy Folklore Thursday to all!

We’re sorry not to have a more detailed blog for today’s ‘stone and earth’ theme, but there is a fair excuse – it’s Brother Bernard’s birthday today! If you remember, this time last year he was down in Cornwall to visit Arthur/Tristan & Isolde’s home, at TINTAGEL.

Of course, if you have the book (why don’t you have the book?), you’ll already know we boast a wonderful, updated stone circle tale – LONG MEG AND HER DAUGHTERS!

But today, speaking of EARTH, a different fitting birthday expedition has been made by this old sod, to the Iron Age/Roman/Medieval hillfort at OLD SODBURY.

As part of the birthday traditions, here a new story will be retold – this year, it’s THE LAIRD OF CO’, a pleasingly strange little fairy tale set in the craggy Scottish castle of Culzean. If we get to create a further edition, our retelling will be there. And who knows, now we’ve heard from the dearest Stephen Fry that he’s ‘instantly hooked’ on our book, perhaps that will be recommendation enough to guarantee a special edition before the 2020s are too old!

Anyway, here’s mud in your eye!

Stranger In A Strange Land

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Happy Folklore Thursday, folktale-lovers!

When we saw that this week’s theme was ‘strangers in strange lands’, we blush to admit that we toyed with the idea of returning to the lore of The Isle of Man, a la The Fast Show – but that’s a hoary old cliché for which we apologise unreservedly. Besides, we covered our Manx tale THE BUGGANE OF ST TRINIANS less than a year ago. 

And so, what could be more perfect than the attached video? Here is a very strange man, in a thankfully extremely strange land. Job done.

PS In Ludlow a fortnight on Saturday? See you there!

PPS In Edinburgh last Saturday in August? Come and hear some stories by the Scott Monument at 5pm! 

Guernsey’s Faerie History

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

A happy-heppy and even huppy fairy-like Folklore Thursday to all!

First of all, deep fruity thanks to everyone sweet enough to have added lovely reviews of the book, since the rather unpleasant illiterate review we received last week. It means so much to know that many of you are sharing these tales at bedtime every day, and that they are fuelling journeys to some of Britain’s weirdest corners! Please do ADD YOUR REVIEW if you haven’t yet, and let others see how much fun folklore can be!

Oh, and here’s another shout out – are you in or near Edinburgh on Saturday 24th August? Please email jem@jemroberts.com or contact us on Twitter if you fancy a live show by the Scott Monument! We’re also taking over the Ludlow Fringe on Saturday 15th June, hope to see you there!

Le Creux des Fees – the ancient cave where the fairies were said to have hidden…

Now, the problem with fairy/faerie/verry/phaeughreeee/however you prefer to spell it lore, is that it probably makes up a huge chunk of our book – moreso than witches, goblins, ghosts or any other kind of creature – maybe even giants – our 77 tales are packed with fairy stories of all kinds – some of these ancient Britons are kind, some are horrific, but we’re certainly spoiled for choice when it comes to tales all about the mysterious island race.

But the beautiful image above, as many islanders will already have gleaned, is from Guernsey – the channel island said by some to be populated almost entirely by part-faerie folk. We were slightly antsy at first about including the channel islands in the book, not least as we never included Northern Ireland, but it speaks to our shared sense of history with the Continent, our natural place in Europe, and so we’re glad we took the plunge to investigate the isles’ folklore…

In truth, the Guernsey story ‘The Fairy Invasion’ turns out to be a yarn spun to avoid the blushes of the inhabitants after a cataclysmic invasion by Welsh mercenaries in the Middle Ages. In the tale, fairy folk discover the beauties of the women of Guernsey and invade to take the place of the existing menfolk, hiding in the ancient cave at Le Creux des Fees and fighting bloody battle all along to Le Rue Rouge. We took inspiration from this BBC report for our version, but no matter how you slice it, and no matter how filled with curious Iron Age and older artefacts can be found on the island, the story itself, and the legend that all the Guernsey folk who aren’t blonde are descended from fairies, was always a cover-up of horrendous rape and pillage. Strange, the terrible historic events which can give rise to fairy stories. 

However, we hope that we have gone some way to make up for this unpleasant source, by making our story essentially all about the toxicity of machismo – the men of Guernsey treat the women like second class citizens, and measure their manhoods on how they can ‘protect’ – i.e. repress – them. The magical invaders therefore simply turn testosterone-fuelled rage in on itself, so every man who is powered by his idea of machismo detonates himself, and the far more – if you’ll forgive the term – ‘woke’ faerie folk create a far more equal society. Well, we can all dream – and the Guernsey folk certainly did.

La Rouge Rue – which gets its name from the blood which flowed down in after the invasion… Don’t go thinking all faeries are fey!

Puck In The New Forest: Cold Pixie Cave

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Happy Folklore Thursday, story-lovers! Have you reviewed our book online yet? Please do! And while we’ve got you here, we’re still hoping to hear from Scottish folklore fans about our Scott Monument show in (obviously) Edinburgh on August 24th at 4.30pm. Please RSVP, we’d love to see you there!

As you know, many pledge rewards were promised in the crowdfunding of the book, and all are being honoured one way or another! A key pledge was to have a story written specially for you, and we hope that the kind pledger who went for that option, Steve Hoppé of Yorkshire, won’t mind us blogging a little about the tale we wrote for him – we’ve requested that we could include the story in further editions, but for now, it’s for his eyes only, and we can only hint at it here!

But today’s theme of ‘Creatures from the Woods’ is too perfect not to mention it – Steve is a New Forest native, and specifically requested us to retell the legend of Cold Pixie’s Cave, a bronze age barrow on the Beaulieu Heath and one of many which are dotted around the mid-southern paradise of woody glades. The name is derived from ‘Colt Pixie’, one of British folklore’s many horse creatures which are not what they seem…

However, all the research carried out raised something of an issue, in that there’s really no STORY here to retell. This is folkLORE, not a folkTALE – essentially, folk have long insisted that the woody cave is the home not of just any old pixie, but of Puck, Robin Goodfellow himself, and it gets its name from the superstition that Puck presented himself to those lost in the woods in the form of one of the New Forest’s hairy little ponies, and led them to their doom in one of the area’s boggy marshes (of which there are few if any now, it’s hardly perilous terrain these days). This is a strange legend in itself, as Puck is usually seen as a cheeky but relatively harmless spirit, certainly not a homicidal maniac. But our main challenge in honouring Steve’s request, was to work out what the story could be here.

We sincerely hope Steve was pleased with the handwritten and digital copies of ‘Cold Pixie Cave’ we sent him, because the tale we fashioned to cover the legend was one of the few totally new narratives we have been forced to apply to thin lore to make it fit our needs, just as we did with the Loch Ness Monster and Black Shuck. In our new story, a young lad who is hooked on playing games on his phone has the misfortune of tramping into the woods and running into Puck in his Colt Pixie form, who decides that the human boy seems to be easy picking to lure to a boggy death due to his sheer ignorance… or is he? Why is Puck leading humans to their doom?

We won’t give it away. You’d have to read the story to find out, but you can’t right now – unless Steve Hoppé allows you to, and eventually gives us permission to use the tale in any subsequent book. Them’s the rules!

There are still a couple of outstanding pledges to be honoured – storytelling sessions in Winsham, Cheltenham and Peterborough – but when they are complete, that’s every pledger rewarded! But the main reward remains, of having our 77 tales in your grasp to dip into whenever you like – if you’ve been enjoying the tales, why not let the Internet know one way or another with a wee review? And remember to ask about the book in your local indie bookshop too, the more copies we get out there, the merrier!

We’ll lure many more readers into our storytelling world – touch wood.

More Rhymes of Britain

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

A very happy versifying Folktale Thursday to you all!

First of all, do respond – jem@jemroberts.com – if you fancy a special Scottish storytelling session in Edinburgh this August 24th! Also, have you reviewed the book yet online…? Please do when you get a moment! Now, to the theme…

Rhymes play a part in so many of our 77 tales, it’s hard to pick out just one, so how about we share a missing ingredient of the book which was jettisoned quite early on in the publishing process – the RHYMES?

As a small person, Rupert annuals were an ever-present part of my reading material, but I always preferred the shorter rhyming summary of each plot to the actual prose itself, and that’s what inspired the idea of including a poetic summary of each tale at the beginning and end of each story text. The fact that Tales of Britain was originally entitled ‘Brother Bernard’s Big Book of British Bedtime Ballads’ may have played a part in including verse, too.

So, deleted as they all were, here’s a selection of short rhymes from our collection. Okay, so they’re simple doggerel, but feel free to scribble them back into your copies… or perhaps rhymes will be worth including in any future deluxe edition…?

THE APPLE TREE MAN:
‘I picked an apple from that tree – I swear that it just spoke to me!

‘So drink up thy cider and wassail with pride, There’ll be apples aplenty by harvest-tide!’

AVALON:
‘Glastonbury’s mystic hill, Or is it the Isle of Apples still?’

 ‘When Britons all cry out in pain, King Arthur shall return again!’

BABES IN THE WOOD:
‘Two tiny tots trot through the wood, Will they meet up with Robin Hood?’

‘Remember the babes, and mind how you go. If a stranger says, “Follow me!” You just say “NO!”’

BEWARE THE CAT:
‘Can it be done, and if so how? To understand a cat’s meow?’

‘Off Steamer runs through the streets so foggy. Serves him right – he scoffed a moggy!’

BLACK VAUGHAN:
‘Is it a bull, or a dog, or a fly? Oh, it’s Black Vaughan. I HATE that guy!’

‘That’s what happens when you live to annoy – A warning for every girl and boy.’

BLADUD & THE PIGS:
‘If you are spotty, there’s no need to whine, It’s time to get grotty, so swim with the swine!’

‘Spots or swineherding – no matter what your troubles, So much can be put right by a warm soak amongst the bubbles!’

BRAN THE BLESSED:
‘A sad tale of a mighty man! Up from the depths, here comes King Bran!’

‘Some say that Bran is still not dead, He knew just how to stay ahead!’

THE BROWN BEAR OF THE GREEN GLEN:
‘Now this may sound a little weird, Who would have thought? An eagle who’s eared!’

‘With that, the old tinker drowned the dregs from his cup, “That’s all I can recall!” he grinned, with a cheeky hiccup.’

BRUTUS: LAND AHOY!:
‘White cliffs hove into our view, What is this land? Give us a clue…’

‘We tell the truth in ways that suit us, Who knows the truth of this tale of Brutus?’

THE BUGGANE OF ST TRINIAN’S:
‘They’ve built another church again? There’s nothing else for it – begin the Buggane!’

‘The clever tailor found romance, And saved the day, thanks to his fast pants!’

THE CANTERBURY TALES:
‘A whole book in one tale? It fits! But this is just the funny bits.’

‘We loved those tales, though some were coarser, To read the whole thing, brush up your Chaucer!’

DICK WHITTINGTON:
‘The streets of London paved with gold? That’s a tale that won’t get old…’

‘Dick was the mayor of all the city… And all thanks to that clever kitty!’

ELIDOR & THE GOLDEN BALL:
‘No wonder Elidor’s so flustered! How he missed his tasty custard!’

‘Put your ear close to the ground, And hear – kick! Whistle! A cheering sound!’

THE EYE OF LEWIS:
‘Brave and clever, and defiant, What happened to the final giant?’

‘You won’t find giants in Britain today, If only they could have been nicer, eh?’

THE FAIRY INVASION:
‘The island of Guernsey’s a curious place, The home of a partially magical race?’

‘The fairy blood on Guernsey lingers, Be careful of their magic fingers!’

GAWAIN & THE GREEN KNIGHT:
‘Here’s an unwanted Christmas present – A spooky knight who’s quite unpleasant!’

‘When trouble arises, Gawain heard the call – A Merry Winter Solstice to one and all!’

THE GIFT HORSE:
‘Receive a free horse, you’re in for a shock, The proof is in Jersey, if you find the rock.’

‘Mistletoe is a magic berry, Now Willy and Anne-Marie are merry!’

THE GREAT GORMULA:
‘Witches are evil, folk assume, But here comes Gormula on her broom!’

‘To save the country, she had a formula – Let’s hear three cheers for The Great Gormula!’

THE HEDLEY KOW:
‘Help the poor and don’t be snooty, Even if they’ve found some booty!’

‘Call her stupid, call her funny, But a merry mind’s worth more than money.’

HERNE THE HUNTER:
‘King or serf, pay heed to Herne – There is a lesson here to learn.’

‘The curse of Urswick’s point was clear: Spare the poor pheasant, and don’t murder deer.’

JACK & THE BEANSTALK:
‘Fe fi fo fum? You know what that means, Such a fuss over a hill of beans!’

‘Fee fi fo fum? Ha ha! Hee hee! That Giant’s worse at verse than ME!’

… Which seems a fitting place to end this there.

Festival Season!

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Hello! And what fortuitous theming those lovely Folklore Thursday types do come up with – because the topic of FESTIVALS allows us to talk about all the festival activity we have going on this summer!

Uppermost in our minds is the full day we have ahead at THE LUDLOW FRINGE on Saturday 15th June. As you can see from the link, Brother Bernard has his work cut out keeping folk entertained at five different venues all round the beautiful Shropshire market town, culminating in a signing session at Castle Bookshop! Not only will requests be taken for any tale anyone wants to hear from the book, there are several other tales not in the book which we can share, not least the very first Tale of Britain we ever retold, ROBIN’S ARROW, set in Ludlow itself. Tales of Britain is a mainstay of the Ludlow Fringe by now, and it will be lovely to see as many folktale-lovers as possible as we troop around our hometown sharing yarns!

Or if you’re a little more sou’-westerly, two weeks later we’re sharing stories at the street fair in the little village of WINSHAM in Somerset, as part of our pledge promise! We still have other pledge shows lined up for Cheltenham and near Peterborough, which will hopefully be public events we can tell you about once all is arranged. Remember, you can always get in touch to invite us to your town, school, library, shop or wherever. As long as we can make it there, we’ll do what we can. Sadly, it looks like Glastonbury has fallen through for us this year – we were promised a slot, but the host couldn’t follow through on the booking, so Winsham may be the closest we get! And much less smelly and more relaxed…

However, when it comes to EDINBURGH in August, we were offered a Free Fringe spot, but sadly too late – we’d already made alternative plans! But we have a proposal, and hope it appeals to any folktale-lovers north of the border, or in town for the Fringe. On Saturday 24th August at 4pm, Brother Bernard will be at the Scott monument – hopefully in glorious sunshine – for an impromptu Tales of Britain show, with books available to buy and have signed! PLEASE email jem@jemroberts.com if you’re in the area on the day, and want to come along, so we can have an idea of whether we’ll be telling stories to ourselves, or if a chilled out picnicking audience will be there to enjoy our storytelling!

So there’s three festival dates to put in your diary – Ludlow, Winsham and Edinburgh! Check our LIVEpage for updates! Even as we wrote this blog, a further date, for the Bath Festival of Nature at Green Park on 1 June, has cropped up, and then another exciting possibility down in East Sussex, so maybe see you there too!

Oh, and returning to the subject of pledges, for the kind pledger who requested a tailor-made folktale just for you – the New Forest story of COLD PIXIE’S CAVE is winging its way to you now, Steve! And we won’t share it with anyone else right now, because it’s all yours…

The Quest For Tales of Britain

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Greetings! As today’s Folklore Thursday theme is ‘quests, missions and adventures’, this is the simplest blog we have had to post hitherto. We may have told the story of our quest to put an all-new anthology of British folktales on bookshelves in text form in the past, but now we can see what a long quest it has been – and our adventure is far from over… 

Six years ago, a jumble of retold folktales labouring under the misleading but terribly alliterative title of Brother Bernard’s Big Book of British Bedtime Ballads was in search of a publisher, any publisher…

BBBBBBB Teaser (2013)

Two years ago, an official trailer was launched with Unbound…

Tales of Britain Unbound Trailer (2017)

And now, in 2019, the book is available at last. Brother Bernard has been travelling up and down the island telling his tales – once you’ve popped into your local indie bookshop and asked about getting copies in, why not look up our Live page to see if there’s a Tales show near you, or even invite us to your town for a show of your own?

Tales of Britain Trailer (2019)

Long may our quest continue!

Humpty: A Cannon and Egg Problem

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Ahhh, Easter – the unimaginably ancient time of rebirth, where we all get together to have that exhausting conversation about whether the festival stems from the pagan goddess ‘Eoster’, ‘Ishtar’, or anything of the like – or if, as smart-bums like to patronise us, that’s as much bunkum as the Christian story about the carpenter and the capital punishment.

We could rifle through our book’s 77 folktales, or indeed any extant British folktales, to find a tale which speaks of spring or rebirth, but instead, let’s go back to our Nursery Rhyme sideline, for the British tale about an EGG…

Or, as folklorists out there may already be yelling, the popular rhyme, at least a quarter of a millennium old, did not necessarily refer to a chicken ovulation at any time. It is generally believed that the verse was written as a riddle about an egg (which makes his famous, pompous, pedantic persona in Alice Through The Looking Glass all the more fitting), but as we scour the island looking for places which gave rise to popular tales and rhymes, of course we’re going to prefer Chelmsford’s version of Humpty’s origins – that he was an engine of war which broke during the siege of the town during the English Civil War.

Gloucester also makes similar claims about their own siege, and perhaps ‘Humpty Dumpty’, besides being a silly synonym for a few things at the time, such as a rotund person or a drink made with brandy and beer, was a genuine cannon or war machine of some kind used during both sieges. The story goes, anyway, that the cannon was raised up on Colchester’s town walls, and collapsed after an enemy attack demolished the wall beneath it – and no amount of military intervention could raise it back up again.

That said, ‘All the king’s horses and all the king’s men’ seems to be a later rejig. there’s something strangely cute about the way the earliest versions of familiar rhymes read like absolute crap, with poor scansion, poor choice of words, and in short, all the need in the world to get the re-edit which resulted in the version we all know. In this case, the original lines are believed to be:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
Four-score Men and Four-score more,
Could not make Humpty Dumpty where he was before.

I mean to say, what? Must try harder.

Any which way, whoever you believe, it is quite greedy of the Essex town to grab the claim to this nursery rhyme, because they already have one famous rhyme of their own – the very name ‘Colchester’ derives from Old King Cole, of pipe and bowl and fiddlers three fame. Although, as ever, the most miserable academics out there utterly dispute that connection. Because they’re miserable gets. But Coel must have lived somewhere, fiddlers or not…

However you like your Humpty Dumpty, and indeed however you like your eggs, in the morning or otherwise, do have a gorgeous Easter weekend!

And if the opportunity arises, just maybe drop us a review online when you get a minute, or pop into an indie bookshop and ask about Tales of Britain availability! Sorry to keep mentioning it, but it’s our job to, erm, egg you on.

ARGH!

Long Live The King of Cats!

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

A very happy pet-themed Folklore Thursday, everyone!

Firstly, thank you to excellent children’s author Ross Montgomery for being the first to review the book – it does mean an awful lot to get good feedback, especially from a pro storyteller, so please do take a moment to add your reviews to his, in the usual places, if you can…

But today’s story is one of my favourites. I have been asked a few times which of the 77 in the book is my favourite, and it’s tricky to answer – my own hometown’s nearest tale is The Stokesay Key, and I remember that from my childhood, plus we’ve had the most fun performing Dick Whittington… but I have a special place to one side of my chest for THE KING OF CATS. You know how it goes – sooty cat zooms down the chimney of an old couple, yells “TELL DILDRUM DOLDRUM’S DEAD” and the couple’s cat responds “THEN I AM THE KING OF CATS!” – and that’s about it.

I’ve enjoyed the mild controversy of this very short squib in our collection, as others have been a bit put out to see Lancashire claim the narrative – insisting that it’s definitely a story from their neck of the woods, indicative of their idea of local weirdness. Some also claim there’s more to the tale than the brief version outlined in Tales of Britain, but the oddness of the story in its shortest version is one of the joys of it for us. Those who have read through the book may have noted there is a sequel attached, but the very ‘what the eff was that all about?’ element of the folktale is its charm.

©SMEngel

Plus, we’re rather glad to have gone with the majority view of the wee tale as a Lancashire happening – as it gives us a shameless chance to repeat our call from last week, to support the new book FAB FOOLS, steeped in Lancashire lore as it is… well, that is if you include Liverpool as part of Lancashire, which it certainly is historically. It will be the ultimate celebration of Beatles humour – which means Lancashire humour, of the exact kind which gave us the King of Cats. The Beatles Story is the greatest story ever told, and this is a brand new way of telling it, so please do like FAB FOOLS on Facebook and Twitter, and we’ll be launching for pre-orders in a few months!

Too tenuous? How about if we add that Paul McCartney once had a cat he named Thisbe, after the Greek mythological lover of Pyramus, since The Beatles had performed Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream spoof of the Pyramus & Thisbe legend? Okay, still tenuous. Last time, promise, pet. 

The Liver Birds

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

A gloriously feathery bird-themed Folklore Thursday to you all!

Thank you to everyone who came to our London and Bath shows – particularly the little lad Ben who bought not just a book for himself and his little sister, but another for his school library! That concludes our pledge launches after all these years, but we still have three outstanding visits from Brother Bernard to co-ordinate with you, in Cheltenham, Peterborough and Winsham, and a personalised new New Forest story to write for one kind pledger, plus there’s a big day ahead at the Ludlow Fringe on 15 June, and other exciting possibilities on our Live page…

But for today – a spot of folklore which we never captured in the book, but will definitely consider for further volumes and editions: Liverpool’s iconic LIVER BIRDS, and there’s so much more to them than football mascots and Carla Lane sitcoms! These two mighty cormorants atop the Liver Building gaze out over the city and over the sea, with laver seaweed dangling from their beaks…

To be honest, despite falling in love with Liverpool when I visited the Sci-Fi library there to research my official Douglas Adams biography The Frood, I never believed there would be any real mythology invested in the city’s famous birdy figures, but it’s pleasing to discover that there’s almost enough for a complete narrative, with a bit of imagination – something Liverpool is singularly bursting with.

Ignoring the real history, of King John granting the city a royal charter complete with a dodgy seal bearing the image of a bird, which gave rise to the mascots, a wonderful mythology has grown around the brace of birds in the centuries as the city has grown, over generations of endless immigration and integration, into the multicultural pride of Britain that it is today.

Although there are many representations of the Liver Bird throughout the city, not least on Liverpool FC sweaters, the story clings to the huge metal birds atop the Liver Building, built in 1911. They are chained in the ravens-at-the-Tower-style belief that if they ever fly away, Liverpool would crumble into the sea, but there’s more to them than that. The story has grown that ‘Liver birds’ are mythical beasts who have always haunted the Lancashire shoreline here, and scousers proudly call this specific pair Bertie and Bella – Bella gazes out over the sea which brought the city its prosperity as a port, while Bertie watches over the city itself, so they protect both sailors on the sea, and their families back home. Or, of course, Bertie is checking to see when the pubs are open. Either way, there’s surely a story there to develop…

Time for an admission – there is an ulterior motive to mentioning Liverpool, in that your author’s 6th book, FAB FOOLS, is heavily based in the city, and is going to launch for pre-orders this summer! It’s the ultimate comedic history of The Beatles and Beatles comedy, Rutles and all, my 5th comedy history title, and as with Tales of Britain, we do need all the support we can get, so for now, anyone out there who had a proper appreciation of the greatest band in the history of music, please join this new campaign! This is perhaps the last ever untold story of The Beatles, seen from a completely different perspective, and one all Liverpudlians cherish – that of LAFFS. Please follow on Twitter or Facebook today, and the book will be out first thing in 2020!

You say you’ve seen seven wonders, and your bird can sing…!

Home Springs Eternal

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

HAPPY FOLKLORE THURSDAY, HOMELY FOLKIES!

First of all – our website has been updated with the latest season of blogs from here, and if you check out the media player, you’ll also find Brother Bernard’s appearance on Cerys Matthews’ 6music show available for a cosy listen! Just click HERE for loads of folkloric goodness.

And now, still off-theme, a note away from home! Monday was our first ever London show – complete with Dick Whittington finale, performing a tale set only a short stroll away from our venue, The Owl & Hitchhiker! It wasn’t a huge crowd, but a very friendly and enthusiastic one, and both Brother Bernard and Sister Sal (Kate Harbour) hope it won’t be our last! There is an imminent chance to make up for missing the show, though – we’re back on HOME turf next Saturday at noon, kicking off the Bath Comedy Festival 2019 with our Bath book launch!

These two shows were for pledgers to claim their pledge rewards as VIPs – but we’re not sure how many of those who pledged for this level have actually turned up! Unbound have warned us that with all their books, the majority of pledge rewards remain unclaimed, once the book is out, as folk forget what they pledged for! Nonetheless, our offer to write a special personalised folktale has been claimed and is in the works, and we’re happy to hear from anyone expecting their paid-for rewards – are you the person who paid to come to Bath and hear the legend of the founding of the city by Prince Bladud in the actual fields of Swainswick, where the tale is based? Get in touch if so, we’re still up for it!

Bath’s founding legend wasn’t the very first story we told of these 77 (or 82 if you include further tales not in the book), but may be the one we have performed the most, and we kicked off the London show with it. Living in this astonishing city undoubtedly helped form the campaign we are still fighting, to celebrate Britain’s folklore in the places where the stories took root, so swamped with myth and mystery stretching back millennia is this bit of Somerset. If a career in the publishing industry had taken your author to, say, Birmingham or Chiswick, maybe the absence of any full British folktale collection would not have become so apparent. But in these ancient legendary hills, we’re surrounded by stories, inescapably, and we’re proud to share our own main legend with the world.

Not that we really believe a historical Bladud was the father of King Leir, or that he tried to fly from a tower in London with man-made wings, but the idea that there may well have been a Bronze or Iron Age leader who founded a settlement around the hot bubbly spa waters here in NE Somerset – and who may indeed have herded pigs, and may have had a rather nasty skin condition healed by the waters – played a huge part in establishing this warm, deep feeling that many of our stories have some original basis in reality. And to Hades with those academics who reduce all stories down to thesis, antithesis and synthesis, and deny any historicity in any of our celebrated so-called ‘mythical’ figures! There’s no fun in that, and we’re here for the FUN.

This is Bath’s home legend anyway, but if you take a look at our LIVE page, you will see that we love performing in YOUR hometown too, and maybe even your own local legends! Get in touch via Twitter or however you like, to have BB or both BB and SS rock up to your place for a storytelling show, we’d love to visit, and sharing these tales is what it’s all about.

Finally, we’ve heard some lovely things about the book from some of you already, but please do remember that online reviews for Amazon and Goodreads and suchlike really do make all the difference to a book’s success. We’re a bit cheesed off that our first two print runs have been so very cautiously tiny (still not even 1,000 books printed!) but the more folk share their positivity and perhaps even ask shops to stock copies, the more celebrated our national treasury of tales will be! Now the book is out, we’re not sure how long we will keep up this Unbound blog (don’t worry, we won’t miss a Folklore Thursday, but migration may be necessary soon), not least as we get no alerts when someone comments, and we only just noticed this lovely message from Lesley Cookman, which has made our day:

Thank you, Lesley. So please keep that feedback coming! And see you right here in Bath on Saturday at noon, when we will offer you a warm welcome you to our home turf!

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