The Wiccan/Pagan Beat
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From the Mist:
TWPT: Do you remember when it was that you started thinking of music as something other than what you listen to? In other words when did you start thinking about becoming a singer or a song writer?
AP: Singing and music has always had the ability to 'free' me it's such a magical place to be. I was a very shy teenager, a bit of a loner and felt I just didn't fit in the world of faerie was so very real to me so I would sit and play my guitar and write songs, not the usual angsty stuff teens write about, but songs about the deep night where owls fly across your path, clouds dancing across a full moon and the fey folk who hover at the corner of your vision think I drove my Mum nuts playing the only half a dozen guitar chords I knew over and over but with a slightly different melody for each
I started seriously thinking about being a singer in my early twenties as I got more and more into the folk scene. At that time I had been listening mainly to female singers, Kate Bush, Emmylou Harris, Sandy Denny and Maddy Prior to name a few, so I would sit in my room belting out songs along with my stereo up full blast. The creative side of song writing was just lurking under the surface waiting for the right moment Spiral Dance ended up being the perfect vehicle for that, but many of the songs were simmering away long before the band started in 1992. The song Weaving the Summer came to me on May Morning in 1989 on top of Mt Caburn in East Sussex, England when I was out with my Morris side dancing up the dawn. Becoming part of the Anglo / Celtic Folk scene got me singing in pub sessions, folk clubs and singalongs it was a good way to start and it started to put into place a lot of the stuff my Dad had sung and talked about to him the stories weren't special they were just a part of life!
TWPT: What effect did the stories and songs of Ireland and the British Isles have on your approach to life and what you wanted to write about in your music?
AP: The old stories are such an inspiration and there are so many of them that I feel I have only just touched on the wellspring of the myths and legends that exist, Over the Nine Waves was obviously inspired by that of the Irish wonder tales taken from the Mythological and Ulster cycles. I guess I chose (and at the time not knowing how famous these legends were) the character Cuchulainn because I connected to all the female deities and characters that surrounded him and shaped his life and journey. I also wanted to include the Tuatha De Danna from the Mythological Cycle because of my connection to the faerie and my love of the Sidhe. That turned into a very personal journey whilst researching the songs for the album. I wrote the song 'The Wave' which is about Cliodna, the Irish Sea Goddess and she is upheld as a faery Queen in the County of Cork, the place where my Dad is from. It was all part of the pattern and the journey for me!
I also draw on a lot of the calendar customs of the British Isles for inspiration in many of the songs and I love the wheel of the year such powerful images come from the cycle of seasons and the traditions that are all a part of them, I love the Hill giants and wicker men, the green man and the lady of the lake,tales of Selkies, Herne and the Wild Hunt, the stories just speak to me and I feel 'at home' whenever I read the myths and legends.
Following the Calendar customs was one of the things that started me on my 'pagan' journey, I lived in the UK for a number of years in the late eighties, spending weekends in various villages with morris dancers, watching bonfires being built and set alight, seeing green men in tatter coats dancing around Jack in the Green, shivering on top of hills on May morning, gasping as black faced guisers juggled flaming tar barrels on their shoulders well it all fired my imagination and made me realise the important connection we have to the seasons and the land and how we need to honour those things. When I first returned to my home in Australia this all became a bit of a challenge for me as part of my spiritual journey because being in the Southern Hemisphere and things being the other way around didn't feel right so it was time to connect with the land and the ancestors where I was now living but I'll talk more on that later.
As I moved into my twenties people started coming into my life who also shared a love and a need to be part of it, new friends who walked the same path as I wanted to, so the journey began.
TWPT: Did you have a particular spiritual upbringing as you grew up and how did that shape your spiritual view of the world around you?
AP: I was raised in a traditional Irish Catholic way there is mystery in the ritual of the mass, whenever I smell frankincense burning it takes me back to my childhood and I hear the old priest chanting away!! That path I left behind before I reached my teens as it wasn't a particularly joyful or positive experience as I remember but the elements of ritual and mystery were ingrained so going into Ritual with the Gods and Goddesses just felt right to me. The pagan way is such a joyful way to live. I never did tell my Mum about my Ouija board for the priest would think it a sin to quote a line from Rudyard Kipling's 'Oak and Ash and Thorn'!
TWPT: How did your family feel about your desire to write music and sing? Did they encourage you in your pursuits?
AP: I don't think we ever discussed it as a 'thing' to do, or as anything very special my folks knew I was into music, song and dance so I think they just assumed it was just part of the natural progression of what I did.
TWPT: Tell me about some of the first pub sessions that you sang at and how they came about. Did you enjoy the time you spent up on the stage?
AP: I remember sitting in on music and singing sessions in pubs here in Australia and the UK and wanting to join in, so I started learning the songs others were singing by joining in with them, so much of it is an oral tradition and folkies love a rousing chorus song!! I then hunted out books and started learning the old folk songs that spoke to me, 'Hunting the Wren', the 'Cookoo's Nest' etc. I remember the first time I sang at a session of about 30 people gathered in the bar of a pub and thought to myself 'Ok here goes nothing!!' those singalongs are very supportive for new people wanting to learn but I was still very 'green'. I love folk songs they are the songs of the people and everyone is part of the tradition! It was a number of years before I dared to get behind a microphone or on a stage!
TWPT: Was the singing you did with the a Capella groups and the folk bands the next logical step for you after you had started doing pub sessions? What did singing in these kinds of groups teach you about your voice and your song writing?
AP: After I had been hanging around the folk scene singing in sessions for a while I took the next step and started to sing with other people on a more organised level. I remember the first time I sang 4 part harmony with a group of women it was such an incredible experience I was hooked, hearing good close vocal harmonies is like listening to a beautiful orchestra but there are voices instead of instruments. I also sang in an Aussie Bush Band called Press Gang for a short time and a medieval group called Beltaine before spreading my wings and going to live in England. The song I heard that made me decide I wanted to join my singing with my spiritual path was the song Burning Times by Charlie Murphy I was at a Folk Festival in Towersey in England and I heard it performed by a chap named Roy Bailey the lyrics moved me so very much, it was like an epiphany. When I came back to Australia I worked out the three part harmony for Burning Times and sang it with two other women, then when Spiral Dance started I moved it into the bands' repertoire and we still do it today when we recorded it we added the Goddess chant by Zsuzsanna Budapest at the beginning and then layered the chant over 20 times in four part harmony I have Charlie Murphy to thank for spurring me on in that direction with his powerful lyrics.
AP: When I returned from the UK in 1991 I knew I wanted to form a band that was a musical exploration of ancient pre-Christian beliefs with the idea of performing songs based on magick, myth and legend in a folk rock style. I wanted the musical content to reflect my affinity with mother earth and paganism. In Australia at that time there were no other pagan performers so we were on our own so it was a while before we openly called ourselves a pagan band we didn't need to really because people heard the lyrical content of the songs and the words spoke to them! Today it's all just out there which is fantastic I love it when we are playing a major folk festival and we are headlined as Pagan Folk Rock!! It was always clear from the very beginning though what Spiral Dance would be about and that too has had its effect on what musicians have joined us.
TWPT: Tell me about some of the other members who make up Spiral Dance and how you met them
AP: I'll introduce you to the members of Spiral Dance. There's Nick our guitarist and he has been with the band since 1997. When he joined he and I just clicked there is magick in the music that we create together and I believe he was Goddess sent. Then there is Paul our incredible button box player who joined the band in 2000 after he had just come to Australia from the UK with his job he is my partner in 'folk crime' we both have a passion for folk music and Morris dancing and we spend hours talking the music and dance and our heads work in unison a lot of the time, so it can be scary and we connect on many levels!!! Rick is our wonderful drummer, Rick and I are both passionate about Jethro Tull and folk rock music, we first met many, many moons ago through the music scene but I always felt we would re-connect and we did when we were looking for a new drummer five years ago. Rick and I have many past life connections; he was meant to find us and is an integral part of this fantastic journey! Dave our wonderful Bass player joined us four years ago when we were about to go on tour to the USA he had never met pagans before, had never been on that path but he absolutely 'got it'. He did his first show with us and he has not looked back the music spoke to him. Dave comes for a Jazz background so adds a slightly edgier feel to the bass lines than a lot of folk bass players would. And finally Hayley our lovely Elfin fiddle player sent by the Fey ones to keep us on our toes. Hayley is a daughter of Isis and connects to the Egyptian path and we are part of her journey as well. All the band members are very special and bring their own essence to the band and the music.
TWPT: Do you all share a similar world view when it comes to magic, the occult and paganism? Has that created a tighter bond between the members than would have been possible if music was the only thing you had in common?
AP: The first thing we all have in common is the love and respect of the land, of mother earth and our environment, we all walk slightly different paths. We have members who walk the Celtic/Druid path, we have a follower of the Correllian tradition and members who are call themselves earth based pagans and followers of the Goddess.
Paganism is the major part of Spiral Dance it's who we are and what we are about and who our audience are and the whole reason the band exists!!! And yes it does create a very tight bond between us and that is why when a member leaves it is always very emotional we are like a family and we love and fight just like a family as well!!
TWPT: Is the music of Spiral Dance all written by you or do each of the members have some input into the writing of the music that you perform as a group?
AP: I do the lyric work, then take it to Nick, our guitarist, and we start the creative process off he usually creates the basic structure that's the birthing of the song. Then I take it to the whole band and it gets developed into a Spiral Dance song, we pull in drums and bass to start building the foundation, then comes the box and fiddle finally we work on the harmonies and it usually ends up being nothing like I had imagined because all the band members add their own ideas and feel. Paul writes a lot of the tunes for the band and once again they get developed by the rest of the members, but everybody has creative input. We also perform some 'cover' songs and tunes of other artists. Over the years many songs have just 'spoken' to me. Burning Times was the first we did, we also do a song by the brilliant Damh the Bard and a song from the stunning Inkubus Sukkubus as well as a couple of traditional folk songs that fit in with our ethos. Likewise with some tunes we hear. We usually end up giving them the 'Spiral' treatment!
AP: Our first recording took a while to get started I was very, very keen to produce a record, but I was new to the whole game and didn't realise what it took to pull a recording together. There were some difficulties to start with but I let the Goddess guide me and the first album was fantastic it's also important to be able to keep the continuity of what we were about and to be able to transfer that to a disc. I love the whole recording process but not everyone in the band is like that!! Usually as we develop a group of songs, then play them out for a while it's natural to want to record them, but even after making a recording the songs continue to grow and develop! Our first CD was Woman of the Earth still my favourite album and this album was the big learning curve for me. Making and releasing your first album is so very very exciting that was back in 1996 and we have released six more since then we are just working on the next studio album now. It takes time as there are six of us to layer and get the 'right' sound! It's an amazing journey recording music!
TWPT: How did Australia influence the music that you decided to write whether it was for yourself or for Spiral Dance? What did the spirit of the land of Australia lend to you during your composing?
AP: The very first song I wrote for the band was 'Woman of the Earth' a song of dark feminine power, a song of the Goddess within the lyrics came to me as I was walking along the cliffs at Port Elliot in South Australia. It's a very powerful place and the traditional land owners are the Ngarrindjeri people, there must be strong song lines running through that part of South Australia because the energies around the beaches there are amazing. Connecting with the seasons and the land and working in the Southern hemisphere has had an effect on the music. We still are very much an Anglo/Celtic band and the legends and traditions from those faraway lands of my people still are what inspire me the most but we work in with our seasons here in Australia we still honour the ancestors of the lands here and move with the seasons in our magickal work it can get a little confusing in this great southern land the north of the country is tropical and the southern states are very European where I live in the Adelaide hills I am surrounded by beautiful native Australian bushland and lush English trees, at Imbolc the wattle blossoms and then the wild flowers appear, we then have a beautiful lush green time until the months of January and February when everything dies off and goes brown because of the intense summer heat, then the autumn rains come and everything is green again. We hold a gathering in May to celebrate 'moving into the Green'! We see the Green Man appear twice a year!
TWPT: How long has Spiral Dance been together now? Do you all still see eye to eye as to the direction of the group and the music that you will record and perform?
AP: Spiral was formed in 1992 but we didn't actually perform until 1993 The direction of the group has never wavered but in the earlier years we didn't perform as much as we do now. Musically we are all on the same path but each of us has musical ideas and creative input that we like to see included in the songs. Over the years, with many line up changes you can hear in each recording slight differences and that is what each individual member has brought to the creative process and recording of the songs.
TWPT: What have you learned about yourself through the process of writing and performing your music for the audiences you perform for? Do you enjoy the time that you spend on stage and the effort that it takes to get there and set up for the show?
AP: The song writing is so intertwined with my spiritual path that sometimes I have trouble separating the two I don't know really if the music got me onto the pagan path or the pagan path made the music happen the two weave together. Sometimes 'performing' becomes a ritual, especially with some of the songs we do and the effect we see that has on the audience. We see amazing energy raised at our concerts when we have over a hundred people doing a spiral dance to one of our songs the power is incredible, it makes you very emotional.
TWPT: How much of yourself do you pour into the music that you write? Is it difficult to allow things that are personal to find their way into music that you know will be heard by public audiences?
AP: The songs and music of Spiral Dance flow through my veins the songs are my babies and the band births them. The lyrics are part of my spiritual path and it's also a way for me to honour the craft. I never usually write in the first person, the songs are stories written to take you on a journey. Some songs contain things that are close to me in ritual but mostly are written to fire the imagination. I did try to write a love song many moons ago. You know when you meet someone who has moved you in an incredible way, well the song came out as a 'lust' song so I went with the flow that song is 'Marooned on Venus'!!
AP: The Internet has been such an amazing tool for musicians with sites like CD Baby, iTunes and the like just pop pagan music in a search engine and you meet other bands and songwriters you would never once upon a time had a chance to connect with also for finding out about the growing number of pagan and faerie festivals. I am still astounded by our worldwide fan base and this is due to the Internet. The first time we played in America in 2003 I was absolutely knocked out by a gig we did at a festival with about 500 people gathered in the audience and they were all singing along to the lyrics of our songs. Even down to connecting with you Michael and the Wiccan and Pagan Times via Facebook!
TWPT: What does the future hold for Spiral Dance and what would you like to see happen?
AP: We have such plans and dreams for the next few years. Recording our next album , touring again to the States we would love to do some of the Faerie Festivals as well, they look fabulous. We are also hoping to make it to the United Kingdom in the next two years, there are some fantastic festivals there we would love to be part of. In 2011 we are bringing Damh the Bard to Australia to do a bit of a tour with us so that will be really exciting. It's so fantastic getting to play with other pagan artists and it's important to do this for our communities.
TWPT: How have your spiritual beliefs been shaped by your music over the years? Do you see some growth or change there that might never have happened if the music had not been present in your life?
AP: The more I keep writing the songs the more I am inspired to learn and the more I want to create the music the more I want to spend time with people 'on the path', be enriched by the elders in our tribes it's the spiral dance of life magick is the major part of our lives and we are all part of the pattern. I look out my window and see the green men peering at me from my beautiful bush garden my spiritual life is my day to day life, it's all around me, the Goddess and God are close by, and the music happens because of this. And the most exciting part of it all is there is so much more to be revealed the pattern continues to be woven around me and I feel the inspiration flowing. I can't imagine not having the music in my life it would be a barren place indeed!
TWPT: To close out are there any final thoughts you would like to share with the readers of TWPT about your music, your spiritual path or anything else you'd like to say to your loyal listeners over the years?
AP: Firstly thank you so much Michael for taking the time to do this interview with me and love and magick to all of you who have supported Spiral Dance and listened to our songs and bright blessings to all of you who I know I will meet along the path someday.
TWPT: It was my pleasure to do this interview Adrienne. I appreciate groups like Spiral Dance who create quality music to speak to the hearts of those follow similar paths. I enjoy giving a voice to those musicians and singers who have spent years of their lives pursuing their muse and creating songs that give flight to the dreams of the listeners who discover the music. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me about your music and for allowing us to understand better Adrienne Piggott and Spiral Dance. May the Gods smile favorably upon all your efforts.