Touring Haunted Cambridge

Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge(Update July 31st 2015 – having just attended and had a great evening on the Black Shuck ghost tour I would highly recommend this for anyone wanting a physical tour – http://cambridgeghosttours.com/ )

Firstly – I love ghost stories, especially old folklore style stories of eeriness, secondly, despite my love of reading books of this nature I’m not 100% convinced of the existence of ghosts!  Lights, background noise, doziness I think can all be contributing factors, I’m not saying I’m a non believer, just that I still need to be convinced.  And after almost 25 years of interest – I’m not yet, but I still really enjoy reading and listening to stories.
As I enjoy the spooky stories so much I decided to take some colleagues on a Halloween tour of Cambridge city centre for some spooky fun.  Cambridge has a fair few ghost tours so I was keen to include some locations not normally mentioned on tours – and to add a touch of spooky spice to have a set of dowsing rods and a maximum and minimum thermometer to hand.  The greatest stories of the night were by far those recounted by individuals, although those won’t be in this blog post as they are better passed by word of mouth!

Jesus Green outside Jesus college Cambridge

Jesus College & The Everlasting Club

Lets start with what I think is the most spooky Cambridge ghost story – whether or not it’s a work of fiction.  In Jesus College a room that was locked up for many years, on the right hand landing of a staircase, a staircase attached to Cow Lane.  Why it was locked up and why the windows was bricked up can possibly be found in the story of the Everlasting Club.
This story takes us back to the years from 1738 to 1766 seven students met up each October in Jesus College- the rules of the club were that every member had to attend the annual meeting on the 2nd of November (the feast of souls) and anyone who didn’t would be penalized (or in the words of the book mulcted at the discretion of the president).
Between 1738 and 1743 there were many meetings of the group, although in 1743 the group had it’s absentee.  Henry Davenport (Trinity) was absent from this years meeting, he was on service in Germany at the time.  An entry on the next page read Henry Davenport – Cannon shot would November 3 rd 1743, Incorporeal Member” – shot the day after he was absent from the meeting.
The other six members however were in attendance that October, and this is where it gets even more spooky, despite being in attendance the groups president (Alan Dermot) had been killed prior to the meeting.  The president was involved in a duel in Paris and news of his death was yet to reach Cambridge so the entry was later in the book.   Very creepy.
That year the club disbanded leaving Cambridge in fear of their now dead president,and the regular meetings stopped – however by a feeling of fear of their now dead president the 5 remaining members returned to the club that October for their engagement.
For 18 years the group attended the meeting in the room of Charles Bellassis – who was now a tutor at the University.  In 1766 Bellassis was the only member of the original 7 left alive, there was no official October meeting that year but on the night of the 2nd of November there were furious outbursts from Belle’s room.  At midnight the noise stopped.  The next morning Bellassis was found dead in his room, slumped next to the table where the red book of the everlasting club lay – chairs upturned but for the first time since 1742 all seven members having signed their attendance.
The room where this took (known as the “ghost room” place had it’s window bricked up, and the door padlocked until 1924 and has since been used as a store.
This story was published as fiction by Sir Arthur Gray in 1919 in the book Tedious Brief Tales of Granta and Gramarye – although there is belief that the Everlasting Club is based on the history of the ghost club – the rules for the societies being the same, the meeting on the 2nd of November having compulsory attendance, and anyone not attending the meeting would be penalised.   And why else would a room of been padlocked for over 100 years?
Does that send a shiver down your spine, I hope so.

Jesus college also may have the ghost of a nun – and this may be linked to the rumoured tunnel from Jesus college over to Abbey House reportively the most haunted house in Cambridge.

The River Cam and the ducking chair

Ok, so no ghosts here but still could this have been the location of the fairly horrible tests they performed on suspected witches.  According to Daniel Codd’s Mysterious Cambridge Cambridge had a ducking chair until the mid 1700s should it be needed to prove a witches guilt, the last recorded use being in 1766 to punish a lady for being a woman of public nuisance or “common scold”!

Pickerel Inn Cambridge
The Pickerel Inn

With a history that dates back to the 1500s I read there is a grisly past here with two landlords hanging themselves from hooks in the cellar, another ran down Fisher Lane (next) and killed herself in the river, her presence has been seen running down this very path.  This type of ghost (I learned from a Envision Paranormal radio show) is known as a residual ghost and acts in a way like a tape recording.  Don’t let you put this off entering, they have some of the finest beer in Cambridge!

Fisher Lane
Fisher Lane – along the side of the Pickerel Inn

This is possibly the oldest street in Cambridge and despite it’s short length walking down it is like walking back in time.  Now here we have a strange form of haunt – the smell of Opium – or strong perfume being burned, in the nineteenth century sailors would stay here and one in a drug induced episode burned to death in his lodgings here.

Cambridge Folk Museum

Cambridge Folk Museum

Up the hill from the Pickerel is the Cambridge Folk Museum, which if you haven’t been to I strongly recommend visiting.  Previously the White Horse Inn – A solider in Civil War uniform has been seen on the stairs where once there was a secret room.  It’s been many years since the solder has been seen but his footsteps can still be heard on the stairs.  Worth visiting as for a small museum they have a lot on display.

For anyone living in the village of Histon another civil war ghost in the form of a sad cavalier – reported in the Pitkin guide to haunted Cambridge he sits slumped in the doorway of a medieval house just opposite the village pond.

St Johns

Legend here is of a large black cat, maybe a panther than has been seen in the grounds.  In Robert Halliday & Alan Murdie’s rather excellent Cambridge Ghost Book they reports that a college stable block here had burned down on the 3rd of August and on the yearly anniversary of that fire the crackling of burning can be heard.  In Enid Porter’s Cambridgeshire Customs and Folklore there are reports of Dr James Wood – an undergraduate who at the time was too poor to afford a fire so would study by the candlelight on staircase O.

All Saints Passage

This passage feels as if it should have a ghost but I can’t find any reports of one.  So we stopped for a ghost story from one of the group – and a light attached to the wall started flashing!

Sidney Street and The Black Lady

According to Enid Porter’s book back in the 1820s Professor George Pryme (Political Economy) recorded in his autobiography of a house (no 15) that the servants would not stay due to the presence of a black lady.  A skeleton had been dig up in the grounds of the house although this could be related to it once being inhabited by a professor of anatomy.

Sidney Sussex College

Sidney Sussex College and the floating head

The story here is 1967 – an undergraduate John Emslie visiting a friend, his friends room was empty so he waited.  Whilst waiting he felt a presence,  a pale head started to form in the air, his neck became stiff and it was hard to breathe.  Many others smelt the smell of rotting flesh on the day.
The next day another apparition was seen on the floor above.  Three students who had experienced the phenomena decided to perform a Ouija Board in the room where John had had his first experience – it was uneventful until the door of the room was sprung open although unfortunately this was due to 20 members of the local ghost group joining them.
Previously college documents reported similar apparitions in 1841 – distorted parts of human body appearing to students.
Oliver Cromwell’s head is buried here.  After his death Charles II returned and Cromwell’s body was exhumed from it’s grave and publicly hanged and mistreated.  The head was removed, taking 8 blows of the axe and then displayed at Parliament – I’m glad we don’t still do such things!  His head was then passed around several people over the years before changing hands for £230 in 1775 (over a years income in the day), it is finally buried in Sidney Sussex College in 1960.  The exact burial location only being known by two college workers – I’ve heard this is to stop Scottish ladies dancing on his grave.
It is unlikely however to be Cromwell’s ghost here – prior to his burial he had only spent a year at the college so this wouldn’t tally with events in 1841.  The other thing with Cromwell is that his ghost already seems quite busy up and down the country – particularly just up the road in Ely.

Haunted Tree

Haunted Tree – Christ’s College Masters Lodge

Walking down and opposite the old bingo hall is a tree.  The sounds of laughter and apparition of a small school boy climbing in the tree have been reported here – once again I’ve not seen this documented anywhere.

Water Lane
Water Lane  – Chesterton

Not everything I wanted to cover is in walking distance!   So – this is my ghost story – and you’ll only read this here.  It was a misty autumn evening and I returned to my car from the Green Dragon pub to drive home, my car at the time was an old Volvo 340.  I got in and thought I saw a shadow in the rear view mirror so I looked again as I reached for my seatbelt.  For a split second on the back seat of my car I saw an old policeman with a pasty face just sitting there staring into the mirror.  Naturally I immediately jumped out of my car and said several loud words.  Nervously I walked round the car peering in, there was nothing there.  I opened every door of the car – nothing there, the car was empty save for the pile of Magnum, Whitesnake and Belinda Carlisle tapes in the passengers foot well.  After 5 minutes or so I got back in, checking the rear view mirror again, nothing, my rational mind kicked back in and I questioned whether or not I’d really seen anything (I would add that I’d had no alcohol, hot chillies or overdone the fizzy pop!) and I drove home, checking in the mirror maybe more than I would normally.  Nothing.  The next morning I again checked thoroughly, even looking in the boot, nothing.  I’ve thought about that instant many times since and talked myself into it being the mist, the street lights and shadows.  But was it?  Even though I have changed car since I still have a good look in the back when getting in at night.

Wandlebury

So – now lets go about 4 miles south’ish of Cambridge to Wandlebury – now a nature reserve but once a iron age hillfort  (approx 500 BC)  – and recently they’ve added a cycle path so if you haven’t visited it I would recommend it – the fort is long gone but the ditch remains.
The place feels as if it should be haunted and the main story happens on a summer evening, on shouting “Knight Knight come forth O Knight” a knight will come to do battle with you – this was taken so seriously that apparently university students where once banned from visiting and trying it.
In 1987 the Cambridge evening news reported a young girl who got lost on the Gogs here – when her parents found her again she spoke of the man that she had been speaking to and described a roman soldier – when quizzed she knew nothing of that period in history.
The place has a great history – Earthworks here date to 3500BC – at the same time as those in Averbury (pre-dating Stonehenge) but here similar earthworks where built here using mud (as we’re a bit lacking in stone).
There was long rumoured to be chalk hill figures that were searched for in the 1950’s by Tom  Lethbridge (writing a book on them too) – using a method of pounding poles into the ground he looked for soft earth and apparently discovered not just a hill figure but one with horse and chariot.
With a landscape that has seen Celts, Romans, Saxons and Vikings settle  (there is even a book – Where Troy Once Stood based on evidence that Troy was here and not in Turkey when he fought  wars in the Bronze age) and with archaeologists suggesting it a Neolithic ritual landscape sitting on the grass in Wandlebury you can feel history, and you could well be sitting on an ancient chalk carving.  And I didn’t mention the bones of the giants found on a nearby hill in Cherry Hinton 100 years ago.
Back to the centre.

Guildhall Cambridge

Guildhall Cambridge

The large hall is said to be very active – music has been heard – an orchestra playing In the mood – the Glen Miller Classic, hair pulled and hands touched by what feels like a young girl hanging on.  No explanations have been given but the music might date back to WW2 when there would have been a lot of airmen in the area.   This area had many active bases for both RAF and US forces. – Duxford, Fowlmere, Oakinghton, Waterbeach, Bassingbourne, Bottisham  and there are more stories of the supernatural there too – so many from Cambridge air port itself that a book was published just covering that one site.  And I’ve heard anecdotes of strange behaviour in the Duxford control tower too!
The guildhall was also the location for anyone apprehended under the witchcraft acts of 1563 and 1604 as here the Cambridge gaol was situated.

sawston hall

Sawston Hall

Lets now go about 7 miles south of Cambridge in the village of Sawston, and this is a location in private hands so it can’t easily be visited.
When I was young and growing up in this village – people (before the internet) spoke of the ghosts of Sawston Hall, a night watchman who could be heard walking up and down the corridors and had been seen in the grounds.  And a black dog – one that could have been the black shuck.  This was the days when if you couldn’t find it in a book the information was hard to get hold of – it relied on stories being passed from person to person, so there was obvious room for the story to change.  It was covered in my favourite book of the time The Worlds Greatest Ghosts.  Personally I didn’t see any ghosts – although we did like to sneak into the grounds through the woods to try and find them.
The local press at the time (the paper was called Sawston Scene) reported the sounds of a spinet being played and female laughter.  Other reported ghosts included hands being held, the noise of walking on stairs and items of clothing being lifted into the air.  Even the security guards who were on site when Marlon Brando was in the village filming “The Nightcomers” reported that they heard music.  And this could be linked by potentially the most famous event that ever happened in the village (reported in Haunted East Anglia by Joan Foreman).
Now lets jump back in time by 450 years.  Mary Tudor (Queen of Scots and Henry VIII’s eldest) spent the night in Sawston Hall 1553 – she had received word of her dying brother (Edward the 6th), but it was all a  trap from the Duke of Northumberland who wanted to kill her to ensure his own daughter-in-law (Jane Grey) would be put on the throne.  Mary stayed just one night hiding as a guest of the Huddlestones at Sawston Hall and left the hall the next morning disguised as a milkmaid, but the Dukes men torched the hall to the ground.
Once Mary was Queen – both the Duke and his daughter-in-law (lady Jane Grey) were beheaded, Sawston Hall was rebuilt by John Huddlestone (financed by Mary) who was knighted.  Three priest holes are built into the hall although it is said only the location of one is still known.
So could it be the ghost of Queen Mary that still haunted Sawston Hall alongside others?

Haunted Bookshop

Haunted Bookshop & Indigo Coffee Shop next door

When I have been there the Indigo has always been  busy – a small atmospheric place to enjoy a drink or cookie whilst in the centre – but reported in Robert Halliday & Alan Murdie’s book there have been instances of marshmallows lining up on the stairs and furniture being stacked up here.
Next door is probably another obvious location for a ghost – a haunted bookshop – here since 1986 the apparition of a young girl or lady wearing white has been seen on the stairs, some members of staff following her up the stairs thinking it’s a real girl.  Her smell is of violets and there is thought that she could be a drunken revelers wife or daughter back from the days when the location was an alehouse.   As a shop it’s worth a visit – it’s where I found Enid Porter’s book from which some of these stories come from.

Trumpington Street

The Haunted Painting

This is possibly one of my favourite stories as it’s that sort of classic ghost stories.  This takes place in 1890 and features a house in Trumpington Street that was up for sale.  A lady visiting the house was shown by a servant to the sitting room, as she sat there her attention was caught by a portrait of a lady in a vivid green dress with a very cold face.
The lady was given her tour of the house and liked it – and who wouldn’t fancy a house in this area of town.  However the current owner felt she should inform the prospective buyer of a daft story that the house was haunted – although she personally had never seen anything but the story spoke of a lady in a green dress.  “Oh” said the visitor – “you mean the woman whose portrait is hanging over the mantelpiece?” – “Portrait?” replied the confused owner, and when they returned there was no portrait, just a country landscape in water colour.

Peterhouse College Cambridge

Peterhouse

Now this place looks eerie after dark!  Sarah Yates from Anglia TV (many years ago) did a broadcast from there and moments before the cameras rolled both Sarah and the camera men reported banging on the walls before a presence was seen.  Typically, not caught on camera.
This is Cambridge’s oldest college founded in 1284 – since the 1700’s there have been tales of a dark gloomy presence resembling a man kneeling down on top of the archway looking into the graveyard.  A college Dean attempted an exorcism to remove the presence – even today in daylight I think walking past at night it looks eerie.
There is also the “combination” room where a ghostly apparition has been seen walking – according to the independent in 1997 senior bursar Andrew Murison reported seeing the ghost, possibly it could be Francis Dawes a previous bursar who hanged himself in the college.
In 2007 it was reported in the Cambridge evening news that a group of students – most of who were scientists went out for some Halloween fun and had their picture taken outside the college gates.  When the pictures were developed there was a strange mist surrounding them that they were left unable to account for – the mist was likened to spectre of the former bursar!


And on Little St Mary’s Lane – there is supposedly a very haunted house along this lane that the Universities authorities keep it a secret as to which house it is, but one contains a haunted room where a young girl or an elderly lady presence can be felt.
Fonz – a local radio presenter, historian and journalist had was investigating on this lane and new batteries in his recorder were instantly drained – although no ones batteries were drained on our visit.
And finally – the church of St Mary – On April the 24th the ghosts of those who are to die in the next year are said to be seen walking into the church.

Eagle Pub
Eagle Pub
So – another one of Cambridge’s finest pubs and notable not just for it’s history with the discovery of DNA.  There is a window that you can see from the courtyard that always remains open and  story here is around a young child who was there when there was a fire.  It’s said that if the window is ever closed the ghost will re-open it.  Personally – what I love about this pub is the airman’s room in the back with squadron numbers burned into the ceiling.

Lion at Fitzwilliam Museum

Fitzwilliam Museum

Let us conclude tonight’s tour with a story that I don’t think will give you nightmares.  The Lions between the hours of midnight and 6am have been seen leaving their perches and ducking down to drink from the gutter – or at times walking down all the way to Hobson’s conduit.  To me this is just too much like something from Ghostbusters to be believed – but will you glance up at them next time you walk down here in the early hours I wonder?  If you’re not looking at them who knows what they are up to!
And here the tour ends for some, although for one final drink might be required.
So that is it, my tour of haunted Cambridge and Cambridgeshire – it was fun to do the tour but if you want to go on a real tour I’d recommend hunting down a tour by Alan Murdie for the full spooky experience.  I’ll end with a list of essential reading!  These stories all came from somewhere and it’s a combination of chats, radio shows, tours and books with some good reading listed below!

Reading List –
Cambridge Customs and Folklore – Enid Porter (1969) (if you can hunt down a copy of this book it’s well worth it – try the Haunted Bookshop!)
Cambridge Ghosts – Alan Murdie and Robert Halliday.  Probably the greatest book on haunted Cambridge you can find!  Available in most local shops or amazon and Alan did probably the best ghost tour I’ve ever been on – so if you see his name on a tour it’s worth doing.
The Men That Never Clocked Off: Ghost Stories from Cambridge Airport
–    David Curry (but you will be hard pushed to find a copy of this book)
Paranormal Cambridgeshire – Damien O’Dell
Mysterious Cambridgeshire – Daniel Codd
Cambridge College Ghosts – Geoff Yates
Haunted Cambridge  – a Pitkin Guide – Rupert Matthews

Ghosts and Legends of Cambridgeshire – Polly Howatt

Haunted East Anglia Joan Foreman

Tedious Brief Tales of Granta and Gramarye – Sir Author Gray

And maybe one day this book will be available – Haunted Cambridge by Fonz Chamberlain

Marillion and Chantel McGregor – Cambridge Junction Sep 17th 2012

Marillion have had some good support acts in the past but I’ve never seen one as great as Chantel McGregor

Chantel McGregor live at the Cambridge Junction 2012

Ok I was a bit excited when the night before the gig I saw that she was the support for the evening after already owning her fabulous Like No Other album.  A cheeky smile and audience banter fill the short gaps between the rocky blues songs – but there is more here than great tunes, the truly massive sound she gets from her guitar, fast finger work that looks effortless and I’d imagine anyone watching this would be inspired to want to pick up a six string and give it a go.

Chantel McGregor at the Cambridge Junction

From hard rock to slow blues – a fantastic set displaying amazing musicianship and true to the first track on the debut album tonight Chantel McGregor is Fabulous.  The venue is packed and everyone captivated – you could have easily walked in and though she was the headliner.

Marillion live at the Cambridge Junction 2012

But there is more to come!  GCSEs, A-levels, University, working life – for the last 20+ years of my life I feel I have somewhat grown up with Marillion.  Tonight they start off with Gaza – the epic new track, I like Marillion when they rock out and this track is full of it.  Track two This Town is a personal favourite for me – a regular on my walkman from the cassette era.  New album tracks Power and title track Sounds that Can’t Be Made also feature in the set alongside live favourites (for me) You’re Gone, Great Escape and Fantastic Place.

Tonight their lighting rig is probably about as big as you can fit into the Cambridge Junction – blinding at times forcing you to close your eyes and enjoy the great sounds to the mix of colours.  The venue is more packed (and hot) than I have ever seen it before – reportively this is the only sold out gig on the venues calendar.

Marillion live at the Cambridge Junction 2012

Who just asked for Grendel?

Finishing the set we are treated to not just Sugar Mice – but Garden Party as well.  With Fish era tracks being a rarity in Marillion sets this I think is especially for Cambridge with the references to punting on the Cam.

Thank you Marillion, and thank you Chantel McGregor.  And after watching this I feel inspired again to pick up a dust collecting six string of my own!

Terrorizer inspiring how I can reduce the space taken up by CDs

I liked tapes, I loved vinyl and I like CDs – but despite what I do in my job (which is future looking tech based) when it comes to music I’m not yet ready to move into the mp3 age.  Music is more than just digital source, it’s the lyric book, the cover artwork, the ability to flick through a few, admire the covers to Motorhead’s Bomber or Rock’n’Roll, Pythia’s The Serpent’s Curse or Alice Cooper’s Raise your Fist and Yell – before deciding which one to play loud.

But – shelf space is limited.  Doubling up my CDs on the shelf just isn’t good, one topples, they all fall off, crash, a few plastic cases break, the cover is distorted by a big crack with extra white edges.  So I looked for an effective storage solution that cut down the space required.

First of all – the thinning out, I looked at what can go to charity.  Sorry nu-metal, you’ve been collecting dust for too long, except Coal Chamber, not finished with you yet.  Next up box based storage solutions – the thing is that however you stack a few CDs they still take up the same amount of space, and if any efficiency is gained it’s at the detriment of accessibility of being able to actually get hold of the CD.  So – I was stuck, how do I reduce the space they take up?  I like cover art and lyric books, so buying a CD wallet was out of the question.

Inspiration came from an issue of Terrorizer magazine and it’s double free CD on the cover.  A free double CD in a gatefold sleeve plastic sleeve.  Interesting, I thought to myself!  Selecting a CD (Natalie Imbrugulia) I gave it a go.  The front artwork fitted perfectly in the front pouch, the back artwork slid into the back, CD in, what I had here was a mini vinyl – it genuinely looked like the old days when you’ve buy protective covers for vinyl records.  It looked great and took up a third the space of a standard CD.  I needed more of these innovative CD covers, this could work!

CD Gatefold Sleeve

The CD gatefold sleeve from an issue of Terrorizer (but the displayed contents wasn't from Terrorizer....)

I was keen but finding such items wasn’t easy, a trip to Cambridge didn’t result in any on the shelf, many Google searches later and I struck!  I found a company selling them – first of all UK based CDS media – http://www.cdsmedia.co.uk/CD/CD_Storage_Sleeves/Polyprop_CDDVD_Double_Gatefold_Wallet.aspx

£2.65 for 25 of these little things, couldn’t be bad!  So I ordered some.

But further reading led to another solution  – the only other place that I could find was the Jazz Loft in the USA – http://www.jazzloft.com/p-34281-space-saving-cd-sleeves.aspx – ones which were specifically made for this purpose so I ordered them via their ebay shop to see what they would be like.

Firstly the CDS Media ones were smaller and stiff, for turning jewel cases into smaller works of art these were ideal – and they could be stored easily in a small box from paperchase.  Flicking through the box was a similar experience to the days of flicking through a box of 7″ vinyl.  And it enabled me to keep those CDs (Gina G) that I couldn’t face giving to charity but maybe didn’t need to be on display.  Theres is only one disadvantage – due to the size it results in the need to add a fold to the inlay tray slightly, but that is minor, it forms a neat small compact and visually desirable pack, and not only looks cool but saves space, and and provides a great flick through set in a small box.
Next up – Jazzloft‘s space saving CD packs – designed specifically for doing this job!  These really do echo the plastic vinyl sleeves that anyone who fingered through racks of vinyl at record fairs in the 80s and 90s.  You slide the inlay tray and booklet in and it just fits so well – no need to crease.

CDs in plastic sleeves from JazzLoft

The Jazzloft CD plastic space saving sleaves

And what is really great is that it goes on the shelf and you can read the side of the sleeve, and they expand or shrink to fit the shelf space available.  These really are a great innovative design – the likes of a Dio, UFO or Scorpions CD in one of these sleeves is a nostalgia trip on it’s own, back I travel in my mind to happy university days flicking through vinyl at Canterbury Rock and my CD shelf no longer looks crowded.

So – I have a combination of both, some sleeves in a box, and the Jazzloft ones neatly on the shelf.  My need to move to the age of downloaded music has been delayed for a bit longer!

Jazzloft CD Sleeves: http://www.jazzloft.com/p-34281-space-saving-cd-sleeves.aspx

CDS Media Sleeves:  http://www.cdsmedia.co.uk/CD/CD_Storage_Sleeves/Polyprop_CDDVD_Double_Gatefold_Wallet.aspx

Pythia – London Borderline – 29/02/2012

Emily Alice Ovenden - Pythia - London Borderline

First of all – I think Pythia are one of the strongest new metal bands out there (if anyone reads this and asks the question who else – I’d say AR and Black Spiders), so I’ve been looking forward to the launch of their new album The Serpent’s Curse at the London Borderline.  Arriving at the borderline I  join a small queue of folk mostly in Pythia shirts, one so keen to get into the gig he’s handing out flyers for others shows as part of his entry deal.

The evening starts off well – an album playback whilst I enjoy a couple of beers.  The Serpent’s Curse had been released on Monday – and digital downloads had been made available to those who had pre-ordered it (great customer service from the band).

Marianna Hollow - London Borderline

First band of the night – the Marianna Hollow  the set starts slowly with some dark moody tone but soon gathers pace and heaviness with some tunes that are become instantly familiar – I can’t roll out any song titles other than Halo which was probably the most accessible moment of the set.  Good musicians, a rocking show and an ideal opening band for tonight’s crowd.

Just before Pythia we get Maiden’s Sea of Madness through the PA – such a great Maiden song and after a couple of beers were sinking in it was hard to resist the temptation to play some air-bass-guitar to the thunderous baseline.  Behind closed doors would have been a different matter – don’t deny it you’d do the same.

Pythia’s set is a solid heroic display of power.  Spectacular tight musicianship and Emily Alice Ovenden is the ultimate metal frontwoman with a terrific range in her voice and an ability to connect with everyone in the room.  We get a mix of new and old – some great moments from their debut – in particular the Army of the Damned.

Pythia Live - London Borderline

We are encouraged to all raise our horns for British Heavy Metal, and the sea of mobile-phone-cameras raised throughout turns into a sea of unified fists and horns.  Later Emily raises her goblet to the crowd in front of her leaf covered microphone stand, the band all in battle dress with guitars being thrown up and down throughout.  I try to take a couple of snaps for this blog but so energised is the show they come out quite blurred (as shown).

Emily smiling throughout the show is clearly proud of the new material and there’s a lot to be proud of.  There’s a real feel good celebration factor tonight, the venue is packed out and everyone is keen to celebrate new Pythia music.  Pythia’s music is unique and their stage presence and energy could rule on a much larger stage and I hope they move up to larger venues – their music deserves it.

Pythia live at the London Borderline

Unfortunately I had to run to get a train – and that’s a genuine run down to Leicester Square tube station – so I didn’t get to stick around for the end where they would be partying at the Wednesday night metal club.

And the Serpents’ Curse – if there’s a metal album worth purchasing this year it has to be this one.  The epic thunderous opening track Cry of our Nation, the huge chorused single Betray my heart, and the one that will stick in your head Kissing the Knife.  And the finest track for me – Long Live the King – kicking in with an almost anthrax style riff before moving onto more complex symphonic and power metal styles.  Perfect.

Pythia: http://www.pythiamusic.com/

History, Beer and Ghosts in Norwich

Norwich Ghost Walk
History, Beer and spooky tales from folklore – Three of my interests and is there a better place to explore them than Norwich?

The Adam and Eve Pub

Starting off at the Adam and Eve which itself had all three in abundance.  People have been sampling fine ales here for 1500 years and a saxon well apparently still exists below the lower bar floor.

Adam and Eve Pub Norwich  Adam and Eve Pub Norwich

At the bar there is a fine selection of ales, from Cambridge Bitter, to Adnams to a Wolf Brewery straw beer.  We tuck into some rather large and splendid meals whilst enjoying a our first ales of the evening.

Lord Sheffied is the famous ghost to be found here, during Robert Kett’s rebellion in 1549 (I’ll come on to this later) the King’s men were overthrown and Sheffield had attempted to surrender in a polite way but had his head knocked off by an over excited peasant.  His ghost remains in the building, and on sampling their food and ale I would imagine he is in no rush to leave.  Today as well as supping fine ale it’s reported that he runs his fingers through your hair or taps you on the shoulder, and makes tankards swing on the walls.  Other spooky goings on are the spectres of some monks who once lived and worked here.

The Norwich Ghost Tour

Norwich Ghost Tour Man in Black

The Norwich Ghost Tour Host - I suspect the light circles are on my lense and not orbs!

It also provides the starting location to the rather excellent Norwich Ghost Walk – a two hour walk of history and ghosts through the streets of Norwich.  Here we meet our guide – the 150 years old “man in black”.

Norwich has had it’s fair share of blood shed in it’s history and one of the early locations on the tour is the Cathedral.  Back in the 1200s there had been a riot here, with disagreements between the cathedral workers and men of the city. According to our guide, to try and keep things quiet the main gates had been closed.  An innovative young lad suggested the idea of burning the gates down, a suggestion that would have her burned alive, and she still walks the grounds today, her feet covered in smoke.  In fact – in a very physical form she walks the grounds tonight for the pleasure of the Ghost walkers and decides to pick on me, just my luck that she mistakes me for the Bishop who burned her and I offer my apologies to her for the burning.

Norwich Cathedral

Norwich Cathedral

The cathedral itself is magnificent, built from 1096 in local flint and stone from Normandy, inside it contains some great carvings of green men and over 1000 painted bosses.  Just outside the Cathedral is a statue to the very brave Edith Cavell, a nurse from WW1 executed in 1915 by the Germans for helping British prisoners escape.

The tour moves on to the Norwich cinema complex, the cinema itself is built within some of Norwich’s oldest building and a phantom captured by a photographer can be seen here.  http://phantomsandmonsters.wetpaint.com/page/Photo%3A+Ghost+Debuts+at+Norwich+Cinema

Norwich Cinema City

The identity of the spectre remains unknown, but one would presume he is thrilled to have such a cinema and restaurant in his building.  Continuing through Norwich the tour combines eerie tales, history and an element of street theatre to bring it all to life.

Almost at and end the tour brings us to Fye Bridge where ghosts of witches are seen carrying their faggots – piles of wood on which they would later be burned.  They were also dipped in the river here to confirm that they were indeed witches, but it’s not just witches that are dipped into the river, “lollards” a name that I have learned means those who stood against the church.  Further reading has taught me that a woman guilty of just nagging could find herself dunked into the river!  This brings us onto Magdalen street and potentially the most haunted building in Norwich with poltergesit activity, footsteps and cold spots.  The tour concludes back at the Adam and Eve pub with more tales of the supernatural – I haven’t covered them all here as I wouldn’t want to ruin it for any other ghost hunters, but if you have a free evening in Norwich I’d recommend it.

Near to our guest house The Kings Head on Magdalen Street had more than enough beers to keep me happy, no surprise that it has won awards for it’s beer!

Day Two

The Castle

Norwich Castle

I opted against shopping and headed in search of history by myself today.  Next up for me is Norwich Castle – built on earthworks 21m metres high.  Today the castle looks newer than many properties build in the last few years, and that’s due to the resurfacing work in the mid 1800’s as the original Normandy limestone was very corroded.  This is said to now be the most well preserved example of such a castle outside of Falaise in France.

Inside Norwich Castle

This was William the Conquerors only castle in East Anglia and it stands impressive and proud on top of a large mound.  It appears to have been used as a gaol from 1220 to 1887 at which point it became a museum.  Today I pay my few pound entry and investigate the main part of the keep – what I liked about Norwich Castle is that the carcass of the castle seems to have been left as is and the exhibits and “museum” features are standalone within that – sometimes when castles become too decorated and turned into theme parks the atmosphere can be dead ruining the experience.  The castle itself was built as a royal palace but no royals seemed to take up residence (clearly this was in the days before Wherry beer was so readily available in Norwich!)  Inside there are histotical, art and natural history exhibitions, and a very big Polar Bear- ROAR.

Norwich Castle Dungeons

For just a few more pounds you can have a guided tour of the dungeons, something well worth the extra cost.  You can experience the small holding rooms when the innocent and guilty would await trial and see the stocks that would have displayed bad people in the market square for you to throw tomatoes at them.  Or, for those who’d been whipped you’d be allowed to rub salt into their wounds, our history really is quite a horrible on I thinks to myself.  They’ve even got a collection of casts from the heads of villains (death masks) from the time when they would research if the bumps on your head would indicate if you were a bad person.  The dungeons are reported to be haunted by it’s previous inmates.

The castle dicthes as pictured below are now pleasent to walk around and anoutdoor theatre has been set up.

castle bridge

The castle itself is reported to have ghosts – a lady in a black dress who floats around the grounds and a floating skull.  It’s also the location where Robert Kett (after his revolt) was hung on the castle walls – his ghost is still said to be seen wandering round below.  At times public executions at the castle could attract crowds of 12,000 and the train service would profit nicely from the number of travellers.

Lollards Pit

Bridge Inn Pub Norwich

The most gruseome place in Norwich’s history may well be  Lollards pit, a chalk pit from the days of the cathedral construction, I’d read my book so I went to find it.  In the 15th and 16th century many were burned here for their religious beliefs, with 50 burning during the reign of Bloody Mary. Thomas Bilney also met his end here for heresy during the reign of Henry VIII.

Today I found that there is no more than a plaque to mark the location – the pit is filled in and the land is being used for a much better purpose, a pub.  Spook wise the cries of the victims are still said to be heard, and a feeling of heat.  Just across the road is Bishops Gate bridge, said to be haunted by withes crossing it carrying their faggots to their fate.  Both sides of the bridge there are neat pubs – I sample some more Wherry in the Red Lion.

Bishopsgate Bridge Norwich

Bishopsgate Bridge - the oldest bridge in Norwich

Cow Tower

cow tower norwich Not too far from BishopsGate is the Cow Tower – a historic military tower sitting on the side of the picturesque river Wesum.  Badly damaged during the previously mentioned Kett’s rebellion in 1549 – a revolt during the reign of Edward IV in response to an act concerning the enclosure of owned land.

I’ve mentioned this rebellion a few times and it does appear to be one of the most significant events in Norwich’s history when many folk from towns around stood up, fought and died for what they thought was right.  Kett was from Wymondham and led a march on Norwich with an army of thousands against the King’s troops resulting in a bloody battle and many deaths.

Today I can’t get in the tower but it’s still an impressive sight to look at.

Fat Cat

In the Fat Cat Pub Norwich

No ghosts to to found here but possibly one of the finest selections of ales you’ll find in town.  My favourite being the Vanilla and Almond Stout from Wentworth.  I like my beers dark!  The Fat cat lives up to it’s reputation as having a fantastic collection of ales, as did the Kings Head near our guest house and the Adam & Eve pub.

Norwich lived up to expectations, rich in history, spookyness and lots of beer.  I didn’t see a single ghost, but I enjoyed the beer and tales from history and folklore.

More Reading

Cambridge Rock Festival 2011 – Mostly Autumn

Mostly Autumn live at the Cambridge Rock Festival

It’s been a few years since I went to the Cambridge Rock Festival (or Rockinbeerfest as it was back then) and seeing Mostly Autumn on the bill justified the £35 for a ticket to Sundays performance.

First of all, the organisation of the festival is superb.  Easy to get to, no big queues to get in, no one to tell you that you can’t come in with a bottle of pop in your back pocket.  On entry you can buy beer “tokens” at £10 for 3 pints – that’s an extra pint for your money compared to normal festival prices and what’s more the bar is a real ale bar (so the beer is good) and the use of tokens mean that bar service is speedy.  There are quality food stands within  as well and I had the best smoothie ever, strawberry, honey and cinamon.  Programmes detailing all bands with all stage times in were just £2, there is a lot to be said that is right with the Cambridge Rock Festival and I haven’t even started on the music yet!  And it’s in Cambridge.

The first act I saw on this Sunday I enjoyed from the sitting on the grass outside Stage 2’s tent.  Later metal newcommers the Crimes of Passion rocked the crowd on Stage 1 with tales of touring with Saxon, fresh high octane old school heavy metal packed with complex fast riffs (think Maiden, Helloween, Saxon) and finishing with an awesome cover of Dio’s Holy Diver that pretty much blew everyone away in the middle of an afternoon, fists in the air metal, that’s how I like it.  New album is out in October so I’ll be sure to check that out.

On the Access to Music a young band are rocking out and a pleasure to watch in the sun – but I have no idea who they were.  But here’s a snap of then, lead vocalist in an old school Def Leppard shirt – they rocked.

 

Similar to the High Voltage Festival the festival was a case of running between two stages to catch the best of quality acts.  CREDO on stage one had a proggy feel, possibly slightly celtic.  Over at Stage two Bad Influence take to the stage with Thunder’s Harry on drums pumping out some loud dancy blues, but after a few songs I return to Stage one for Mr So & So.  Argh decisions, it’s back to Stage 2 for Bad Influence and then back to stage one for the end of Mr So & So’s set.  The best of both worlds, well as best as you can get!

The band I’d come to see were Mostly Autumn and before they came on stage there was a moving talk from the charity Pilgrim’s Bandits about the excellent work they do – not a charity I’d come across before but they raise money for brave forces victims who have suffered injury and take them out on adventures and confidence building exercises – the website where you can find out more is here  http://www.pilgrimbandits.com/

 

Mostly Autumn are on stage just before 7 and the tent was packed.   The band were awesome and this was the greatest festival live performance I’ve seen this year – fantastic atmospheric prog rock from a band with 7 highly talented musicians.  What more could you ask for – Olivia the perfect front woman captivates the crowd, Bryan’s floyd style soaring guitar tones, Anne Marie takes centre stage for a flute solo, Iain Jennings superb tones from the keys.  Most of the material is familiar to me featuring heavily from the Go Well Diamond Heart album – but Evergreen really stands out from Heather’s era.  I never saw them with Heather up front (I regret not taking more notice of colleague from work Pete’s suggestion that I must see them live) but I’ve got an exciting time ahead exploring the back catalog.

 

My regret for the festival – not going for the weekend, what an awesome no fuss festival.  And in a rock music fan moment I had my snap taken with Mostly’s Olivia – check out my cool Pythia shirt!

The festival really was different to other festivals, it felt less corporate oriented (or not corporate at all I should say) which could be due to it’s size – you can just sit back and enjoy great music, beer and food.  Let’s hope the line up next year looks good!

Cambridge Rock Festival :  http://cambridgerockfestival.co.uk/

Mostly Autumn: http://www.mostly-autumn.com/

Crimes of Passion: http://www.myspace.com/crimesofpassionrock

Autumn Leaves: http://www.autumn-leaves.co.uk/

Andrew Stawarz Photography has some pictures on flickr of the event: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stawarz/sets/72157627358676694/

High Voltage 2011 – Thunder, Mostly Autumn & Anathema, Heaven’s Basement

Mostly Autumn live at High Voltage  Anathema live at High Voltage  Heaven's Basement - live at High Voltage

My first High Voltage festival – and third weekend of Rock, starting with Sonisphere, then the Histon Billfest and now on my way to Mile End Tube for High Voltage.  The previous two weekends had raised the bar pretty high, but the line up over the next two days was packed with quality acts.

Leaving Mile End the website had said a 10 minute walk to Victoria Park – I walk quick so beforehand I translated that to a two minute walk around the corner, but true to the word it was a decent walk of probably just shy of a mile by the time you’d reached the gates.  Entrance was fast and simple – for a festival the fastest I’ve ever experienced.  And friendly too, not something you get much at large events.

First up Michael Monroe was doing his thing on the main stage – he seems to work on a festival sized stage better than that of s small venue and for the one song I saw he was great.  And then to the Metal Hammer stage where Attica Rage were making a decent heavy racket.

Grand Magus - High Voltage signing

Grand Magus are at the HMV stand early afternoon so I use the rare opportunity to get them to sign a couple of CD sleeves I’d brought with me (I’m such a metal dork) – but they rock, and they will deafen me with their riffs later.

Anathema live at High Voltage

On the prog stage were one of my favourite bands even though I’ve only seen then live once before – Anathema.  There is a moving moment when Dreaming Light is dedicated to the terrible events in Norway the day before.  They capture an atmospheric sound and the set is largely from their last album – a long way from their death metal days  -the set and musicianship stunning with each song an epic masterpiece.

Thin Lizzy live at High Voltage

On the main stage Thin Lizzy appear to be playing at a quieter volume that you’d expect this afternoon – but their music doesn’t really on headbanging loudness for effect.    A young lady asks if she can sit on my shoulders but I decline, at over 6ft myself I’d block out the view for a large triangle behind me, but she is soon up there on another chap and appearing on the big screen herself.  Michael Monroe is the special guest for dancing in the moonlight on sax.

Thin Lizzy with Michael Monroe live at High Voltage

I never saw Lizzy with Phil Lynott, but Ricky Warwick makes an excellent substitute – loyal but with his own take on the songs, and Macro is superb on the bass.  They’re back in  the UK early next year so I’ve purchased my ticket.

Neal Morse live at High Voltage

Neal Morse was the surprise hit of the day.  I found myself strangely drawn to the prog stage several times and although I don’t know a single song he’s done (not even Spocks Beard) his set was enchanting – I later check the HMV tent for his material but they have none.  Neil jumps into the audience and sings in a circuit of the crowd with camera capturing the whole event, his band was pretty huge and filled the stage and the sound was just as large.  The Internet awaits for me to check out his stuff.

Slash at High Voltage

On the main stage it’s Slash belting out Rocket Queen, I’m a fair way back as you’ll see from my snap but I liked the silhouette on the big screens captured in the pic.  I miss the end of his set to get down to the Metal Hammer stage for something heavier.

Grand Magus live at High Voltage Grand Magus live at High Voltage

I witness Grand Magus setting up on the metal hammer stage before the metal really begins.  At times slow paced, heavy swedish metal – for a trio the sound is epic.  The themes are heroic and so is the music, Hammer of the North…  The crowd is the largest I see at the Metal Hammer stage all weekend – I’m happy that I’ve finally seen them live.

Day Two – Today would be busy – lots of clashes and minutes between great artists but first up Heaven’s Basement.

heaven's Basement live at High Voltage Heaven's Basement liev at High Voltage

They rocked as Hurricane Party, they totally rocked as Roadstar, they were awesome as Heaven’s Basement but this was the first time I’d seen them in a couple of years and the lineup had changed severely – lots of new faces but the same high octane rock’n’roll attitude was in abundance.  The crowd thickened very quickly around the front and HB shirts were all over.  I wish they’d play the title track RoadStar – such a classic and probably one of the songs that I’ve never not had on my ipod nano.  What I can’t work out about Heaven’s Basement is after years of quality gigs why are they first on the bill?  If any band deserve to get to the next level it’s them.

the Treatment live at High Voltage The Treatment live at High Voltage

I said today was tight and now it was straight down to the Metal Hammer stage for new band The Treatment – I’d read reviews that were good but not yet heard this new band, as they are reportively from Cambridge I was keen to check them out.  They rocked – they could have been Heaven Basement’s younger brothers, and they drew an impressive crowd, Cambridge’s very own Motley Crue.

Over at the HMV signing tent Black Spiders were scribbling on CDs – I got them to deface my Son of the North Cd before going up to the main stage to catch Saint Jude.  never heard of her, but what a great performance, slightly jazzy slow rock, perfect chill out for a day in the sun.

Moris Dancing at High Voltage

There’s more than just music at High Voltage – there is Morris Dancing, slightly gothic style.  And real ale – the fact that the real ale tent always appears rammed and the lager tents look empty should be a good indicator that more real ale at rock gigs is good!

Gentlemen’s Pistols are on the Metal Hammer stage with a guitarist that looks familiar – it’s Bill Steer or Firebird!  Another quality band belting out heavy bluesy old style rock.  The sun is burning the back of my neck, but who cares, this rocks.  And then it’s down to the prog stage for an act I’ve always been told are great live but I’d never seen.

Mostly Autumn live at High Voltage Mostly Autumn live at High Voltage

Mostly Autumn – a colleague (Pete) had told me for a long time that I need to see this band live, and he was right.  Awesome performance, seriously prog – the music was intense, multidimensional soundscapes.  When Olivia came onto the stage and every camera or mobile phone in the crowd was raised to capture the moment.  I find myself torn – this band should have been on the main stage, and I want to stay for the whole set, but I can purchase it on CD and something explosive is about to happen on the main stage, something I never thought I’d see again, something that was the initial sole reason for my coming this weekend.

Thunder live at High Voltage

You’ve been Thunderstruuuuuck – the killer intro music for the greatest band in British rock.  Entering the stage to Backstreet Symphony Thunder are the band that should never have split, they rule.  During Back Street Symphony the PA cuts out a couple of times, but the audience sing to meet the audio levels – who cares, it’s Thunder and they are on stage.  Every song in the all to short set is a classic, the Devil Made Me Do it, Gimme Some Loving.  Guitars are above heads and Thunder shirts at todays festival are probably only outnumbered by Jethro Till Shirts.  Signalong classics, I decide to go and sit back on the grass in the sun and enjoy one of the finest rock bands from a distance.

I miss the Black Spiders as I just couldn’t miss Thunder, but it says something about the volume of the Metal Hammer stage that Blood of the Kings came bouncing up the hill.

High Voltage Crowd

High Voltage was possibly the best festival I’ve attended – the smoothness of entry, the quality of the food stands, the people there, the vibe, the fact that they had cleaning gell near the convenience facilities and last but definitely not least, I didn’t see a single band that I walked away from.  It was quality throughout, and reintroduced me to some bands that have led me to go online and order some Mostly Autumn and Neal Morse CDs.  Mostly Autumns performance lead me to buy a Sunday ticket for next weekends Cambridge Rock Festival.

Links

Mostly Autumn – http://www.mostly-autumn.com/

Anathema – http://www.anathema.ws/

Heaven’s Basement – http://heavensbasement.com/

Grand Magus – http://www.grandmagus.com/

High Voltage the Festival- http://www.highvoltagefestival.com/