Damh the Bard is a figure known throughout the modern pagan world for his musical skill. Since his first debut recording in 2002, his music has captivated and enthralled his dedicated fans. His lyrical and musical efforts lead the listener onto a journey into the mythic past by retelling the powerful pagan legends of the British Isles and Ireland, leaving them with a stronger connection to the land and their heritage.
Graciously, he has consented to participate in an interview with Grey Matters. Please read below the break for this exciting look into the mind of a modern luminary figure.
Make sure to check out his website at https://www.paganmusic.co.uk/. His next album, Y Mabinogi, is available now.
How long have you been making music and how did you get started?
I’ve always loved music and could be heard on my rocking horse singing at the top of my voice to Sweet and Slade and other glam rock bands when I was about 5 years old. At 8 years old my parents bought me my first guitar and I had lessons with an Irishman by the name of Tim O’Leary. He couldn’t read music so taught me by ear. I still can’t read music to this day.
What part of the world do you reside in? Does its geography affect your spirituality or music?
I was born in Cornwall, that mysterious peninsula at the far south west of Albion, but have spent most of my life in Sussex which is in the south east of the country. The land, the stories, the myths and legends of Albion as an island are the things that fill my heart, and I certainly think that’s a huge influence on my music and songs.
When you are not occupying your time with the work of a bard, what do you do? Do you have a day job? Any hobbies you are passionate about?
I’m pretty much a full time Druid. Between my music, my work with the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids, and my work with our local group the Anderida Gorsedd, that pretty much fills my time. I’m definitely one of the very lucky ones who has worked out how to earn a living from their art. And I thank the Gods for that gift. Oh, and I love to play…golf. Yes. Golf.
Who do you share your life with? Do you have a partner, children, or close family?
I live with my wife, Cerri Lee, who is an artist. All of my album artwork is her work, and she also sculpts in clay and silver clay. I have two grown children, and a dog called Oscar, who is famous in his own right…
What instruments do you play? Are you formally taught?
I play anything strummed or picked with strings really. So guitar, bouzouki, mandolin, Celtic harp, cittern etc. I’ve tried violin but just can’t get my head around playing with a bow. I dabble in the keyboards. As I say I was never formally trained. Tim, my guitar teacher used to play a chord, and then play other chords asking me about them – is the pitch higher, lower? Do they sound right one after the other? Then literally draw the chords in my book. It taught my ear, and I think that was so valuable. It was years later that I realized he had taught me in a very Bardic manner, in the oral tradition.
Do you have any famous musicians you admire?
Absolutely. John Denver’s music has always spoken to me. My Dad was/is a great country fan, so Johnny Cash is also in there. Dougie Maclean, a great songwriter from Scotland, Show of Hands, an English folk band. And then I also love Metal and Rock, so Ronnie James Dio’s music, with all of that sword and sorcery, I loved all of that.
What was the first instrument you learned to play?
It was the guitar. I guess it’s the only instrument I’ve actually ‘learned’ how to play. When I was 7 I wanted to play the bass, but my Dad said if I learned the 6 string, I’d never be without an income, or without friends, and I could probably play the bass as a result of learning the 6 string. He didn’t know this was all true, and it was great advice!
How much do you practice?
Now I don’t really ‘practice’ as such. I play quite a lot live, and I write new songs, and that keeps me pretty busy.
What are your inspirations for your art?
The land, the Gods, their tales, the old Bardic poetry of Taliesin, The Land, Sea and Sky, and our worldwide Pagan community.
Of your published words, do you have any favorites? Any least favorites?
I’m sure you’re expecting this answer – it would be like having a favourite child. There are a few songs that have gone on their own Journeys, some that I didn’t expect. Green and Grey seems to talk to a lot of people, Sons and Daughters (of Robin Hood) has been adopted by the anti fracking movement here in the UK, and is sung at protests. Merlin am I, oh man, there are too many. I love writing the song, recording the song, and then letting it go on it’s own Journey – like gently pushing a paper boat out across a lake.
What about music brings you the most joy?
Music is magic. It’s vibration and energy. Why is it that a minor chord sounds sad, yet a major chord happy? It’s playing with sounds and musical notes, then asking them what the song is about and seeing it evolve, that’s always very exciting. And hearing people singing along with my songs live!! OMGs. I’ll never forget my first concert in the USA back in 2006 and hearing people from another country sing the words of my songs, and then in 2010 in Australia. Music brings people together, and I absolutely love that.
Do you ever get nervous before a performance?
Sometimes. But not often. I’m too excited to get on with it.
How do you deal with mistakes when you are playing live?
Laughter. Everyone is human, everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes I forget my own lyrics, and just ask the audience to sing them for me to remind me. It’s all part of playing live.
How many albums have you recorded?
I’ve released 9 albums. One of which, the live album, is now download only.
Do you ever collaborate with other musicians?
Oh yes! I have had a number of guest musicians on my albums over the years, the latest of which is your very own S J Tucker, who sings a duet with me on my latest album, Y Mabinogi – The First Branch.
What was the best venue or show you ever played?
Again, really difficult. I LOVE playing at the Pagan Spirit Gathering in the USA. I really get what that community is all about and love them all dearly. There is a lovely little venue I play in Melbourne, Australia called Bar 303. A really dark Bohemian venue where everyone sits of the floor, or on the sofas around the edge of the room. Playing the Brighton Centre to about 3000 people was quite a blast too!
Do you have any advice for a hopeful novice musician?
Practice, practice, practice, until you can play without looking at you hands. Listen to LOTS of music, and try to work out what it is in the songs you like that speaks to you. Focus on one instrument, and make that your main one before you move on to another. Relax, and enjoy it.
What pagan organizations or groups have you belonged to?
I was a part of the Occult Church Society back in the late 80s and studied Ceremonial Magic, but then wanted something a little more earthy, so joined the Pagan Federation, and the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids (OBOD) and have been there ever since.
How long have you been part of the pagan community? How did you get your start in paganism?
I think my Paganism began with an interest in Magic. So it was Aleister Crowley and the Golden Dawn, the music of Black Sabbath and Rainbow, that drew me in. That would have been back in the mid to late 70s. That led me to the Occult Church Society for a few years, then I joined the OBOD in 1994, and the rest is history. So it was magic that led to an exploration of the spiritual.
How does your spirituality manifest in your life?
I think like many Pagans my spirituality informs every aspect of my life. From my daily practice, to the friends I choose, and the choices I make when buying stuff. It really is a lifestyle as well as a spiritual path.
Do your religion and your music intertwine? If so, how?
They are inseparable. All you have to do is listen to the lyrics of my songs to see how that is. I remember back in 1995 sitting around a camp fire listening to these wonderful Wiccan chants. I was at a weeklong camp, and by night three, no matter how beautiful those chants were, I just thought man, we need some songs! There didn’t seem to be much Pagan music around at the time so I thought I’d write some myself. Some are stories, some are anthems, some are almost Pagan hymns, but pretty much all have some seed of Paganism within.
If anyone would like to find out more, the hub of all things Damh is my website at paganmusic.co.uk.