Damh the Bard is
a Pagan musician,
singer/songwriter, poet and storyteller with a growing international reputation.
He is also the current ‘Pendragon’ of the Order of Bards,
Ovates and Druids (OBOD), one
of the largest international Druid Orders operating out of the UK.
At the Spring Equinox 2000, together with
his artist partner Cerri Lee, he founded the ‘Anderida Gorsedd’ based
at the Long Man of Wilmington in Sussex. There
they hold free and open public rituals celebrating the Solar and Seasonal
festivals of the year.
Damh the Bard was born Dave Smith in Redruth, Cornwall on the 16th June 1965. Obsessed with music from his earliest days, he was later encouraged by his parents, Patrick and Ann Smith, to play out in nearby woods and there grew to love and appreciate the sounds of nature. At the same time he was raised on the legends of King Arthur and other Cornish myths and folklore, and would spend hours seeking out Spriggan and Faeries in holes beneath trees or hiding under mushrooms. His vivid imagination allowed him to see their faces in the bark of trees, and he could hear them singing in the far distance, but they were always just out of reach. Ever since then, music became a dominant focus of his life.
In 1971 his family moved to Haywards Heath in Sussex, where Damh began his junior education at St Wilfred’s School. Still enthused by music and constantly badgering his long-suffering parents, they finally relented and for his 8th birthday bought him a guitar, but on the proviso he learned to play it properly. Damh states: “My guitar teacher’s name was Tim O’ Leary, an Irishman, and I was his first student. He couldn’t read music, so taught me using the oral tradition (I still can't read music, and have since learnt that the Bards used the oral tradition as their preferred teaching method. So even then my future as a Bard was taking shape). He taught me Irish folk tunes, jigs and reels, and really guided my own style from those very early lessons.”
After taking lessons with Tim O’Leary, and with inspiration from other popular folk singers, such like John Denver and Ralph McTell, he was soon ready to perform on stage himself. In 1976 while on holiday from school and visiting the Isle of Wight, his father persuaded a local pub landlord to let him play while the resident band took a break. Although he was still only 11 years old, he surprised and impressed everyone by playing two of his own songs.
On his return home, Damh started his senior school education at Oathall Community College and took every opportunity to take his guitar in with him. By this time however, most of his friends favoured electric guitars, which didn’t really suit his acoustic finger picking style, but having a good ear for rhythm, he adapted, stopped playing guitar and took up drums instead.
After leaving school in 1981, Damh turned professional playing gigs with local bands and groups bashing out music inspired by popular rock/pop sensations such as Sweet, Slade and T Rex. Later he joined a heavy metal band called “Targa”, which regularly played as a support band on the London nightclub circuit. Eventually Targa gained a headline slot at the prestigious Marquee Club in London’s Soho district, but before they could play it, one of their lead members moved away and the band split up.
By the end of the 1980’s as well as playing music, Damh’s main interest was in Magick and the Occult, inspired by an earlier fascination with the Hammer Horror film “The Devil Rides Out” starring the actor Christopher Lee as the “Duc de Richleau”. Later he was introduced into the Occult Church Society, a ceremonial group in Kent working on the teachings of Aleister Crowley and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Damh worked with the group for the next four years and advanced to grade of Philosphus, but then decided it was not the path he should be following, and decided to go back to the nature of his youth where he had felt most comfortable.
In 1994 Damh came across a copy of Prediction, one of the UK’s main esoteric “Mind, Body and Spirit” magazines, and found a number of classified adverts for various pagan organisations, including: The Fellowship of Isis, The Guild of Pagans, The Pagan Federation, and one about Green Spirituality and the Druids. As he now states: “The cost of a postage stamp changed my life”. Later he joined the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), and it felt like he had found his way home. After completing the first part of their correspondence course, he was initiated into the Bard grade at the Spring Equinox in 1995.
By this time having had enough of bands and traipsing around London’s nightclub circuit, he returned to his acoustic folk music roots and began learning the mandolin. On his own website Damh states: “After seeing the great Bard Fiona Davidson play and tell stories at the 1994 PF (Pagan Federation) conference, I bought a Celtic Harp. This was a very intensely creative period of my life, things that I seemed to have no control over were happening. I began to write songs, Pagan songs. There were only a few Pagan bands around at the time, Silver on the Tree, the Dolmen, Heathens All, they were all of them were fabulous, but I couldn’t help but feel that the Bardic/mystical element was missing in Pagan music. What I loved were the stories, not just of mythology, but of the land, so I put pick to string, pen to paper, and began to write. I played a few of the songs at local Pagan events and at PEWC (the Pan European Wiccan convention), and low and behold, people actually seemed to like them.”
On Sunday the 10th August 1997 Damh competed in the Wessex Open
Eisteddfod, the first Eisteddfod to be organised on English soil since the
1920s. Organised by Dylan Blight
(aka Dylan Ap Thuin, founder of the Insular Order of Druids) and Portsmouth City
council, the event was held in the open air in a green field by Southsea beach.
As a free event open to the public and in front of a crowd of 800 plus
people, many of the UK’s noted poets, musicians and re-enactors competed for
the prize of a replica Iron Age Celtic neck torc and the title of Bard of
Wessex, and Damh won them both.
In November of the following year 1998, Damh was asked to play at the OBOD’s 10th anniversary party in support of Robin Williamson (the Scottish singer/songwriter, and founder of the renowned The Incredible String Band in the 1960’s), who was to be made the first honorary Bard of the OBOD. For the concert, Damh put together a folk band called Spiral Castle, consisting of himself and three friends: Chris Tinniswood, Rob Hall and Carl Sutterby. The concert was such a great success that the band continued to play regularly at Pagan festivals across the country, including the main Pagan Federation International Conference held annually at Fairfield Halls in Croydon, South London. They also recorded a CD together called None but Seven.
In 2000 Damh together with his partner Cerri Lee founded the Anderida Gorsedd at the Long Man of Wilmington located on Windover Hill in East Sussex. The origins of The Long Man are still unclear, but recent archaeological estimates suggest the figure dates from the 16th–17th century AD. Measuring 69.2 metres (227 ft) in length, The Long Man was designed to look in proportion when viewed from below. In his book The Druid Way (1993), Philip Carr-Gomm, the current Chosen Chief of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, drew attention to the significance of the Long Man as a sacred site in the modern world. Today since the Spring Equinox 2000, the Anderida Gorsedd led by Damh the Bard, have been holding free and open public rituals there on Sundays closest to the eight main Pagan Festivals of the year.
By this time in year 2000, Damh decided to go solo with his music career, and a year later release of his debut CD album called Herne’s Apprentice. He followed this with The Hills they are Hollow in 2003, Spirit of Albion in 2006, The Cauldron Born in 2008, Tales from the Crow Man in 2009, and a live performance album recorded during the Witchfest International Conference held at Fairfield Halls in Croydon, South London called As Nature Intended in 2010. Most recently he has also released a single recording called The Sons & Daughters (of Robin Hood) in 2011.
In February 2002, Damh completed all three grades of his OBOD
training courses, but while he is a qualified Druid, he later asked the Anderida
Grove to re-initiate him as a Bard, feeling that is where his life’s journey
led him and where he wished to stay. In
2006 he began holding “Magical Camps Outs”, and founded
the short lived “Wildlore School of Wilderness Awareness, Bushcraft and Native
Ways”, about which he states: “I
formed Wildlore in 2006 and had a great year with it. Every event sold out, but at the same time my music was
taking off without me really trying. It was a pivotal point. I’d always wanted to earn my living through my music, so I
chose to close the school, and focus on music.”
In August 2007 Damh was one of the folk singer/songwriters featured on a popular CD recording called John Barleycorn Reborn. This is a compilation of songs from leading UK folk artists, those who are considered to be breaking new ground by exploring our countries ancient mythology and folklore with themes of seasonal birth, death and rebirth. Damh’s contribution to the album was a song called “Spirit Of Albion.” The recording was produced by Coldspring Records and Woven Wheat Whispers, and also includes a booklet with articles, essays and explorations of the album’s concept.
In June 2010, during the OBOD Summer Solstice celebration held at Glastonbury Town Hall, Damh was initiated as the Order’s new Pendragon, taking over from artist Will Worthington who had held the position for the previous 19 years. Since then he has performed extensively on the festival circuit in the UK, as well as visiting the USA, Canada, Australia and Europe. As if he was not busy enough, Damh also became involved in a movie:
The Archway Theatre in Horley, Surrey, is a small 95-seat theatre company providing young adult workshops for budding actors in the 16 to 21 year age range. Throughout the year, the theatre produces 10 full productions, each running for 10 performances over a two-week period. Every summer the theatre puts on a special show for it members and decided that for their summer 2010 production, they would create and produce a new musical based on the music of Damh the Bard. 10 of his songs were chosen to create the storyline with characters, and the end result was the musical called: The Spirit of Albion. This was performed at the theatre for 3 nights in early July 2010.
So positive was the response, the musical was staged again later that year at the Witchfest International Conference held at Fairfield Halls, Croydon, on 6th November 2010. This time however, as most of the original youth cast had already moved on, a cast of professional adult actors performed it. Once again it received a positive response, and so a decision was made to turn it into a movie. Produced by Joy Andrews of the independent British film company Egotrip Productions, and directed by Gary Andrews, work on the movie began in April 2011. Just a year later The Spirit of Albion – The Movie was completed and released on DVD in May 2012.
Today when not on the road playing concerts or touring abroad promoting Druidry, Damh works out of the OBOD office in Lewes, Sussex. There together with Annie Gayford and Stephanie Carr-Gomm (the current Scribe, and wife of Chosen Chief Philip Carr-Gomm), they administer the Order’s activities and training programme, post out English correspondence courses, supply books and audios, and answer the hundreds of queries they receive from members all over the world. Damh also runs the Order’s monthly podcast called Druidcast.
Damh describes his music as “mystic folk music”, and takes his inspiration from the ancient myths, legends and folk customs of the British Isles and Ireland. He claims to be as much at home playing to small intimate audiences, such as local moots, as he is playing at large festivals with audiences of 1500 plus. His current ambition is to one-day play a Pagan Concert at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall in London, UK. At home when his busy schedule allows, Damh likes nothing more than spending quality time with his two son’s Zakk and Josh and partner Cerri, roaming on the beech in Brighton, East Sussex, or visiting the nearby countryside seeking fresh inspiration.
Private communication with Damh the Bard. My grateful thanks.
First published on the 06th August 2012 © George Knowles
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Remembered at Samhain
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