Comyn’s Bardic Closet

Several years ago, I posted a story here in which I wrote about my first ‘medieval event’ at Norseland in 1991. Over the years I joined another local group which concentrates on re-enacting the ‘spirit and material culture’ of 5th century Ireland. I had many years of good times with the Tuatha de Bhriain (pronounced ‘two-Ah-ha duh Vreeyan’) or TdB, as did my brother and my wife when I got married. We took a break for several years after the kids were born, and only recently started becoming active in the group again. Folks in the group contribute in lots of different ways, mine has traditionally been in providing music around the campfire. If you are unfamiliar with ‘Medievalism’, you can learn a great deal about it by visiting the SCA official website.

The TdB are considered a ‘splinter group’ of the SCA, because the group does not choose to participate in the political aspects of that body, though the TdB does attend official SCA events like the Pennsic War, and conforms to all SCA regulations while in attendance. I chose a new Celtic persona when I joined the TdB, choosing Comyn as my ‘persona’ name in the group. The group functions as a traditional Celtic ‘clan’ except that the positions (like Chieftan, poet, etc.) are elected offices. Each position has certain official responsibilities at group ‘events’ (there are three or four each year), largely based on the traditional roles of these figures with all members volunteering to share in each of the more mundane tasks of camp life until all drudge jobs are assigned.

The position of Bard was one I particularly enjoyed, and even when not serving in that capacity, I would spend most of my time around camp playing music, singing songs, or beating on drums which makes me more of a ‘musician’ than a true Bard. Last New Years Eve, I had a short visit from Aonghus which brought to mind all the ‘Good Times’ I once had at TdB events and spurred me on to haul the guitar out of the closet and start playing again. Many of the songs my brother and I used to play are listed in Comyn’s Book of Song. I’ve always made it a point to maintain the Book of Song website, even when I wasn’t actively involved and attending camping events. Some of the songs were ‘handed down’ to me by Mainlia who was another TdB bard before he moved away, but many of the songs are either traditional Irish tunes from the 19th century, or by some of the great ‘Celtic bands’ that I have discovered over the years through my association with the TdB.

I decided to make some changes to the Book of Song website that would make it easier to update (I set up some perl based blogging software that makes a website out of straight text files). I began to form an idea to re-learn and record all the songs on the site and maybe make an MP3 CD to hand out at events with versions of all the songs so folks can learn them more easily. I added a podcast, and every tune we do I throw up on it, and ‘throw up’ is a pretty good way of describing it – the stuff is raw, and is only up there so my brother (and anyone else interested in staying in touch) can ‘tune in’. A link was provided to enable easier printing of each song, as well as the complete Book.

The whole Comyn family attended the February event (an indoor affair) where I played a bunch of old favorites. Momus is official Clan Bard this year, and he had a couple of songs ready for the occasion. Momus is a real character, the life of the party and full of stories to lighten the darkest mood. Thinking one of his songs might be improved with musical accompaniament, we fell into the kitchen and quickly worked up the song. Learned in a couple minutes, it went over splendidly, and we made plans to work on more stuff together after the event.

Getting together weekly, we worked on lots of stuff, and by the next event (early May) we had an audio CD full of our admittedly amatuerish renditions of about 16 songs. I called it ‘Comyn’s Bardic Closet’ after the instruments that are normally kept in the closet, that were emerging at intervals for our get togethers. These included an accordian and a Banjo as well as the Guitar. Momus and I had done a lot more songs together, but we kindly cut about 10 songs before cutting the CD. Trust me, we’re glad we did. My brother got into the fray sometime in April, and we practiced virtually, sending mp3 files back and forth (since he lives about two hours away).

The event was one of the best in my memory, with entertainments for all. Momus twirled his fire sticks while my brother played haunting fiddle music, trailing off to silence as Momus would momentarily drop the flaming brand to the ground. Then we set up around the huge fire (temps were in the low 50s), and rattled off about 10 tunes together. This was the first time we three had all played together in one place! It was well received by the Saturday night crowd of about 40. Many voices were raised in chorus. My brother was there despite (or perhaps because of) compounded personal loss – the tragic death of Mike Francisco, the bass player in his band Trespassengers, a friend of mine as well – though my brother had been working very closely with him for several years. My brother had also had to put his cat to sleep days before, and he is a big cat lover. After our performance, there were stories around the fire accompanied by two drummers, both first time guests to the group who played on into the night providing an surreal and other-worldly aspect to the night. Vollund, currently Clan Druid, and another cat lover stayed up with my brother and I late into the night sharing personal cat stories in his usual good natured way, which kept us both in good spirits (no pun intended!).

We’ve even had a very kind offer from an important person in the SCA to sell the CD in her booth at Pennsic, though I’m more of a mind to provide free copies, or to sell it at some very nominal fee to cover the cost of the CD itself. About 15 copies of the CD were distributed at the event, and I’m glad we did it now. It’s basically a soundtrack to that night, which already now is fading into that half-remembered state of our collective memory.

The three of us have made a silent compact to keep on ‘keeping on’, Momus and I getting together weekly to jam and practice, and I only hope that we can equal our last effort.

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