Welcome! On this site you'll find information on our graphic novel, John Barleycorn Must Die - as well as our legendary 'around the table' series of discussions with various artists, film directors and writers. When we started this blog, we posted weekly to discuss the creative process of producing our novel. (You'll find those posts in the archives in the left hand column.) The novel has now been published, and we are posting a page every weekday on our sister blog which you can find here, or you can buy a copy of the book via the links in the right hand column.


Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Around the Table with...Andy Letcher.


A writer and a folk musician, Andy Letcher is the author of Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom, and has published a range of articles and academic papers on subjects as diverse as psychedelics, paganism, bardism, environmental protest, fairies, shamanism and evolution. He plays mandolin, writes songs, and fronts the "darkly crafted folk" band Telling the Bees; he is also an exponent of the English Bagpipes, and plays for brythonic dancing in a trio called Wod. Formerly based in Oxfordshire, he and his partner, artist Nomi Vaila McLeod, now live in a small village at the edge of Dartmoor. Please visit his blog, The Bosky Man, to learn more about his work.


Andy, Howard, Rex and Tilly.


H: Andy, welcome. I’d like to start, by talking about a post you wrote recently for your blog about folk music, which stirred up quite a reaction. I'd like to ask you: how does one teach folk music?  How do we access and carry on the folk tradition today?

Andy: That’s a very good question, and one I wrestle with a lot. I’d be lying if I said there isn't a part of me that's envious of all these young kids who pick up an instrument at a very young age, have a lot of support growing up, and then go off to do a degree in folk music. I’m very envious and I wish I’d had that...and yet, I'm also glad I didn't have it. I took up music because I was burning to do it. Folk music needs passion. I mean, obviously you need to learn to play your instrument and you need to learn the tradition. At first, my moves were very rough and the way I played was ‘rough and ready,’ and over the years I kind of refined it...but that passion, that spirit, I don’t think that can be learned through the academy. What I was trying to say in my blog post is that this, this culture: it’s about life.  And if folk music is to have any relevance to us at all now, it has to express all the joys and the sorrows and the pain and the f*** ups and the heart ache and all of that, and the sheer, exuberant delight of being alive, otherwise it’s just ‘museum music,’ it’s just people playing nice tunes and singing nice songs. 


Wod.
H: That really chimes with me in terms of my experience with Commedia dell' Arte. I feel exactly the same, that it has to have life, and where you find that life, with Comedia or folk music, is in rough places...

Andy: Yeah. 

H: ...on the street, out in festivals, where it’s all a bit chaotic, a bit too loud! 

Andy: Yeah!

H: In another blog post you wrote that folk music is about trance, about repetition, and in a slightly different way perhaps to other musical forms; it's more improvisational. The point is to get both the player and the dancers into a trance and then keep them there.

Andy: I discovered folk music in a legendary Irish session in Oxford. The pub was really about the size of your kitchen, with twenty or thirty musicians stuffed into it -- and on a good night, someone would finish a tune and someone else, without missing a beat, would take off on another tune, and sets would go on for, like, twenty minutes. It would be amazing, you know; really intense. 

On the face of it, these tunes are very, very simple, Some classical composers are snooty about folk music; they look at the tunes and think that they’re just straightforward and simple and follow predictable patterns -- but when you get to know them, every tune has a kind of personality. They take you on a little journey. Something wonderful happens when you start repeating the tune, again and again... because you can’t just keep playing it the same way every time, otherwise it would be boring. So you start to find different ways in which the tune wants to come out...and that comes partly from the music that you’ve been exposed to and partly from the limitations of your instrument, and the way the instrument naturally pushes the music. But it's also partly that tune, and how you're giving it life

The mistake we’ve made is to write these tunes down. I mean, it's also fantastic that they've been written down because otherwise we wouldn't still have many of them, but once a tune is written down it's static; there's the feeling that that’s the tune, and that's the way it's meant to be played. Really it's just a guide, just...you know, a handrail, something to come back to when the inspiration isn’t flowing. 

R: Right!  

Andy: And on a great dance night, it feels like the tune is playing you. This is what happened with Wod, pretty much every time we’ve rehearsed together.  We’ll play a tune, and we’ll end up playing it for twenty, thirty minutes -- just the one tune. We’ll strip it down, take out all the ornaments and play just one or two notes -- which sketches out the shape of it. No one’s leading, no one’s saying ‘We’re going to do this now.’ Then, when we've got dancers in the mix as well, we start feeding off them....

R: Howard and I take part in Trance Dances, which we hold locally.

Andy: Is that Five Rhythms?

R: No, it's not quite the same as Five Rhythms. 

H: It's a lot freer than that, isn’t it, Rex?

R: Basically, there's a single dancer at a time, and they're dancing to drumming, blindfolded or with their eyes closed.They’re surrounded by ‘minders’ to stop them bumping into things or falling over, so it's a safe space, and they can completely let themselves go with the drums. And the drummers also pick up on the movement of the dancers. This is designed to lead the dancer into a deep trance state. 

H: At times you’re not sure whether the drums are following the dancers, or the dancers are following the drums. Likewise, it was interesting watching Wod play last night, because I noticed that once the dancers get the basic dance steps down, there’s suddenly this pulse that happens between you, the musicians, and dancers. It gave me an insight into what folk music and dance must have been like back in the days when this was what people did to celebrate, when they locked into that 'pulse of life' as a community.

Andy: There are many things I love about the Breton dancing we were doing last night. I like the fact that everyone is dancing the same steps together in a line, or in a circle. It’s about losing yourself to the dance. The 'stepping' is very repetitive, and you’re maybe also doing something with your arms, and everyone’s doing it together; if it’s a line, then you’re weaving in and out of each other, so it’s sort of binding everyone together. And yes, you’ve got this 'trance.' When that really starts cooking, it's magic. 

Whirly Band.

R: I know exactly what you mean!

H: That resonates with how I teach Commedia. One of the first things that I try to do is to get everyone ‘under the mask’ at the same time as a whole group. I want the students to experience the mask state, the state of trance. There are various techniques for doing that, one of which is drums and some kind of drone instrument, which is coupled with getting the students moving to the rhythm. It’s fascinating to watch, as there is a point at which one person will drop fully into the mask, and then that state becomes infectious, and like dominoes the whole group will become entranced. The whole room takes on a carnivalesque, chaotic energy. Little games start to happen, and spontaneous dances suddenly evolve.

Andy: In the French and Breton dancing, as we do it here in Britain, there are two kinds of  approaches. One approach is to be very particular about doing the steps correctly and properly. It's very decorous. People learn complicated variations of the steps, and they like very beautiful, lyrical tunes. And then there are bands like Wod who allow a certain amount of spontaneity to enter the dance and the music. We're quite out on a limb! What we’re looking for is that trance intensity. Now this is a hunch (and I can’t support it in an academic way), but I think we once had this kind of repetitive trance dance in Britain too. It seems very likely that the Breton people came from Britain originally, and the one thing we know about diasporas is that they hang on to their traditions. So my theory is that we had it here, and we’re trying to rediscover something that was lost.

H: I just want to pick up on the difference between the rigidity of ‘getting something right,’ and that sense of freedom, and compere it to another area of life. Rex and I have been discussing myth a lot in the last few weeks, as we have been plotting out Books 2 and 3, and we have talked about the literalisation of myth, and what happens as a result of that. I’ve been researching the development of early Christianity, and the development of the Christian myth. What is interesting is how fluid the beliefs were until the doctrine was fully developed. And once these myths were written down and compiled, they became set in stone, literal. You said earlier that you felt that once a Folk tune was written down, that became ‘The Tune,’ rather than just the basis of the tune. It seems to me that art, and life, is about using these forms in the here and now, rather than saying: “That’s how it is done, and that is how it must always be done.

Andy: I think it is really important when you are learning...I was given my first set of bagpipes, and I found a way of playing. I didn’t have any contact with other pipers, and it kind of worked. And then I met other pipers, and realised that I couldn’t play at all. I unlearned all my habits. I learned a few ornaments, I copied people, I slowed down recordings and very painfully copied them. I was learning the rules. I learned how to play an ornament in the right place to give a tune a certain emphasis. It was very left-brained. I had to learn to play in that way in order to forget it. Now it’s almost like I’ve come full circle to the point where the way that I play is very instinctive now...when I play well! 

R: Wow.

Andy: We’re a very ‘Logos’ culture. We have need to say: “Here’s the tune, here’s the definitive version of this myth.” But actually, they are just the framework to enable you to get to the right state of mind where, in the case of music, it’s just flowing through you. It’s still the tune, or it’s still the dance, but...I suppose I’m saying you need both things in a way.

H: Do you think that to an extent that our culture has lost that understanding that these things are like a vehicle. The point is to get you somewhere.
Andy: I think we have.

H: It strikes me Rex, that this is similar to many of the around tables we have had discussing art.

R: Absolutely.

H: You have to learn to draw properly, but once you’ve learnt to draw properly...

R: Then you stop.

H: That’s that mastery phase really, isn’t it, when you have all the technique, so you put the technique away and just get into the flow of creativity in which the technique will naturally come through.

R: We talked about this recently in an interview I did for BPP Creations. What I said in that interview is that one of the things that you need to do to be a good comic artist, as far as I’m concerned is to learn to draw anybody, doing anything from any angle, from memory. Because you want the drawing to come out of your head, your soul, uninterrupted. It’s almost like you’re downloading it.

H: That’s the muse isn’t it? I’ve often wondered that when working with Commedia. Sometimes it feels like the characters are out there in the ether, floating around waiting for someone to put a mask on so that they can enjoy corporal form for a little while. We have a lot of discussions about that too, don’t we Rex, whether there is something out there that comes in, or is it just an aspect of the human mind that can make it appear that there is something out there coming in.

Andy: That’s the point isn’t it, that we are never going to have an answer. But it’s a good working model. I have similar thoughts when I write tunes. Sometimes I look at a tune I’ve written and I have no memory of how I wrote it, or how it came to me. I write tunes very quickly, it’s just: “There it is.” That’s if I’m not in a fallow period! I went four years once without writing a song and I thought I’d lost it, but then the dam broke and out it came.

Andy sporting a Trilby.
H: Stanislavski’s view on theatre was that an actor should aim for inspiration, but that you are not going to be able to access that all the time. So what you have to do is to learn techniques, which serve a double purpose; firstly when you are not inspired you’ll be able to give a good performance, and the techniques themselves serve to aid the inspiration to come through.

Andy: I think I agree with that. I was very involved with Druidry...actually I was oddly unable to not be involved with Druidry - though I have a lot of question marks around it. anyway, a druidic idea is that you learn to channel ‘Awen,’ a Welsh word meaning ‘Flowing Spirit,’ which is inspiration. You become a good artist by learning to channel Awen better. I think that this is topsy-turvy. You need to learn the craft, because otherwise, if inspiration is truly a ‘gift from the Gods,’ then it’s not something you can dial up like a pizza, because it’s a gift. For example, I’ve dreamt fabulous instruments, and if I could build them the world would be transformed. But I can’t hammer a nail into a wall without f**king it up. I’m not a craftsperson in that sense, so the inspiration is wasted on me. So I agree with Stanislavski, if you’ve got the craft then at least it will be well crafted, and at times it will be more than craft, it will be inspired craft.

H: It seems we need both, inspiration and craft, and art is a dialogue between the two.

Andy: have you come across Iain McGilchrist?

H & R: No.

Andy: He’s an extraordinary guy. His great tome is ‘The Master and his Emissary.’ He used to teach English at Oxford, but decided that the only way that he was going to understand English was by retraining and becoming a neuropsychiatrist.

H: Wow.

Andy: He’s completely revisited the ‘left brain, right brain’ paradigm and thrown out all that 1970’s stuff about left brain ‘bad,’ right brain ‘good.’ His argument is: ‘Yes, there are profound differences, we have a profoundly asymmetric brain and the two sides respond to the world in a very different way. The left brain likes things that it knows, it likes a model of the world, it likes certainty. The right side of the brain reaches out to the world, it embraces the unknown, but it has no way of articulating it, it needs the left brain to do it.’ So he’s saying ‘You need both - the left brain technique, and the right brain flow, and then you need the left editing of the left brain again. Broadly speaking, in the sphere of ‘alternative spirituality,’ there’s been a kind of reification of the flow state, and a kind of rejection of the technique and craft, and as a result the art that it produces isn’t very good a lot of time because it doesn’t have the craft or the editing. 

H: That’s interesting. It makes me think about what can happen in trance states. If you’ve never really been in trance before, and you fall into it, time just passes and you are very unaware of it passing or of what you have been doing in trance, but my experience is that there is point you can reach where you get to know the trance state, and you stop loosing yourself in it. You still have the trance state, but you also have another...almost another level of consciousness. I have had this in when working with masks and puppets, where I’ll be in performing and in the flow, but there’s also another part of me that is above this with almost all the time in the world, and able to sit back and assess what is happening. “There’s someone laughing over there, and I could do capitalise on that by doing this or that.

Andy: Yeah.

H: It’s a really strange state of consciousness.

Andy: Extraordinary isn’t it?

R: Speaking of trance states, one of the subjects we're interested in talking with you about is your take on alternate realities and the use of hallucinogens.

AL: Mmm.  

Rex: Yes, I'm particularly interested in that.

H: Why doesn’t that surprise me, Rex?

Rex: I did a lot of exploration in my day: ayahuasca, peyote, San Pedro, kava...so I'm curious, Andy, how you first became interested in the shamanic aspect of hallucinogens, and what lead you to write Shroom. (LINK)

AL: That’s a big question! I mean, I could sit here all morning giving you my extended biography...

...but the short version is: lots of things led me to it. I was remembering just the other day that as a kid I had a Puffin picture book called Strange Things to Do and Make, which taught you how to make a cardboard pyramid and do ‘pyramid power’ to preserve things in it. It got you doing exercises to develop your ESP, and taught you charms for getting rid of warts and the like. I loved it!  I’ve always had an interest in the weird, the unusual, the occult. I went to boarding school (not happily at all), and I made a very clear choice when I was about fifteen: I’m going to become a hippy, I’m stepping out of this game. It was in the Eighties, when the whole Traveller thing was big, and when the Battle of the Bean Field was kicking off.

H: I remember that.

AL: I actually stood on the side of the road as the Peace Convoy drove past, after they had been beaten up at the Battle of the Bean Field, and this ‘crusty’ wound down his window and flipped a V-sign at me. I was going, “Take me with you! I’m one of you, take me ...!” So even back then I was attracted to the whole alternative/pagan/ shamanic thing. I went to Sheffield University, where I got involved with the very first Pagan Society, which was very underground, very controversial. That was my initiation into hallucinogens within a pagan context, and I knew early on that I wanted to write a book about it. I just knew.  

H: When you talk about using hallucinogens ‘within a pagan context,’ are you talking about ceremony, or ..?

AL: I mean in the context of a pagan world view. A view that sees hallucinogenic plants foremost as plants, with whom you are trying to establish a relationship and engage in dialogue. The plant has something to show you. There are many ways you can approach it. I know a lot of kids today, they just want to get as f***ed up in as many different ways as possible, and so that’s what they do -- but I think that’s the wrong context. The right context is a shamanistic one whereby you are saying: I am seeking knowledge, either Self-knowledge, or knowledge about the world. And in that context, done wisely, with the right kinds of checks on your mental health and well-being, I think these plants are profoundly useful tools. That’s what I mean by a 'pagan context.'  So, with mushrooms, for example, since they grow wild in this country, you can have a relationship with them whereby you learn where they grow, how to identify them, what their habitat is, when to find them... you know, what weather conditions and so on. You’re building a direct relationship with the plant as it grows. Then, if you consume it in that context of...well, of humility, where you’re asking respectfully to learn from the plant, then it can be profoundly insightful, even if the journey towards insight is not necessarily straightforward, or easy, or ‘un-terrifying.’  

Rex: I think you have to engage with all those component parts that you just mentioned -- the terror, and all the rest of it -- and come out the other side.

AL: I never find it less than terrifying, and it’s not something I do often. There’s a danger that if you write about this stuff people immediately project all kinds of fantasies onto you that you’re just, you know, ‘off your tits' constantly. 

Day of the Dead 2012

Rex: Yeah!

AL: Which um, I’m not. And I couldn’t be a writer if I were.

Rex: Are you ‘off your tits’ now?

AL: Uh...well ...only mildly....

Rex: Ah.

AL: Though that’s through lack of sleep! 

H: Yes, sleep deprivation that’s another good way to get into trance....

R: It certainly is. 

H: When I first went out to Arizona with Terri, she took me to a Native American ceremony at a nearby reservation where they used peyote, and it completely transformed my understanding of my own relationship to these kinds of plants. It also gave me an understanding of why our society is so f****d up over them. Experiencing a different reality can be a very liberating thing. I think that many of our society's problems with drugs today happen because we don’t have that old respect for these plants, or an understanding of the proper use of hallucinogens, so they’re being used in a really wrong way.  

AL: I agree. Our entire attitude to drugs is deeply problematic. To a great extent we’re such an alcohol-based culture; alcohol is the template, and it's an inappropriate template for these other substances. You know, we use alcohol for oblivion, really, and as a social lubricant. You can find oblivion through drugs, of course you can...but that shamanistic context clearly works. It's still holding fast in the Amazon, where they’re using one of the most powerful hallucinogens: ayahuasca, and yet they survive in the most fierce conditions known to man. In their view, you take ayahuasca to get well; in our view, you take it and it makes you ill. We just see it as a drug, in that allopathic, pharmaceutical way.  In the Western view it ‘deranges’ normal consciousness, which might provide some psychological insight, but you’re basically damaging yourself by using it. Whereas the Amazonian shamanistic view is that you’re taking ayahuasca for healing, that it makes you well again. I think that’s completely alien to the scientific paradigm.    

Rex: Of course, in the Amazon not everyone takes it; it’s principally used by the shaman of the tribe. And the shaman decides whether someone requires it or not, you know.  Often a shaman will decide, ‘No, I’m not going to send this person on an ayahuasca journey, I’m going to heal them in some other way.’ They use hallucinogenic plants in a context, and in a way that displays a kind of honour to the ‘vehicle,’ if you like, be it ayahuasca or whatever.  

AL: Yes.

Rex: I wanted to ask you something, Andy, because I remember reading your post on Reindeer Pee...(LINK)

AL: Oh yeah.

Rex: ...and that fascinated me, because I’ve done Reindeer Pee.

AL: Have you?! Oh wow!

Rex: Yes, I have indeed. 

H: The reindeer pee didn’t have any drugs in it, mind you; Rex is just very perverse!

AL: It’s all fitting together now...

Rex: Yes, well, what I’m fascinated by -- and I think you might have an insight into this --  the combination of things which bring you to this place of altered reality, which is often an hallucinogen and a toxin. Ayahuasca is a combination of a vine and a root, and one of them, I can’t remember which, is an inhibitor, which stops you coming out of the trip. When I asked the Peruvian shaman who was administering it to me how he knew how to combine these things, he said, “The plant tells me." I think your post about Reindeer Pee came to a similar conclusion.

H: What, that the reindeer told him?!

Rex: Yes, Howard, the reindeer told him! I know this goes deep into human history when some would say we used to commune with nature and we properly understood things. But what’s your take on that, Andy? How did we know that these plants would be hallucinogenic and healing, rather than toxic, if used in these specific ways?

AL: Again, I have a somewhat heretical opinion. There’s an absence of evidence about the use of Psilocybin mushrooms in Britain before the 18thcentury, which doesn’t mean that people weren’t using them, but if they did they left no records of having done so. And why would they have left a record? Mushrooms are not like other drugs where you need to grind them into a powder or make a snuff or have a pipe to smoke them with. There’s no paraphernalia that would survive as an archaeological record. So there’s a freedom to interpret that lack of information anyway you like. I’m going to take my Academic Hat off now and put my Hippie Hat on. I think that Psilocybin was used in a shamanistic way, but it was used so long ago that the traces in our culture are no longer there. I think the mushroom that was used was the Fly Agaric, because there’s no question of identification; it’s just there. During that time period there would have been a shamanistic Hunter-Gatherer society in Britain, the island was heavily forested, and Fly Agaric is a mushroom that grows in association with birch trees. I’ve had little forays with the Fly Agaric. I’m very cautious about it, but the few times I’ve taken it I had this real sense of “Oh, this is somehow culturally familiar.  This is not so alien.” That said, the interesting question is: Why now?  Why Psilocybin now? Is it all purely psychological? Is it like a big kind of ‘porridge-stirrer,’ stirring up the contents of the psyche in interesting and novel ways and producing new combinations? Or does it genuinely create an encounter with ‘the other,’ with Mushroom Spirits, or whatever it is? 

H: Mmm...

AL: And I do think the latter, though I always keep a skeptical check on these ideas and remind myself that it also might actually just be 'all in the head.’ But, for example, you hear this story time and time again about the Liberty Cap mushroom where people say: “Oh yeah, you know, when I take them, I always feel I need to be outside in nature, and I always have a bad time if I do it in the city, or in a club.” And other people say: “Yeah, I know when I’m coming ‘up’ because I see that the trees are alive,” or “The trees notice me.” That could just be cultural. You know, it could be that people are hearing the same stories and therefore they’re having the same experiences. But I don’t think so. What Psilocybin seems to do is to engender an awareness of the Plant Kingdom, an awareness of the ‘aliveness’ of the natural world. And it’s almost like this tool has come at this point in history for a purpose, and whether or not we’ve used it in the past is immaterial. The interesting thing, I think, is that so many people are doing it now.

Rex: Mmm.

AL: There is this sense of connection with nature that is profound and moving. It’s almost like we’re discovering a kind of ‘organic internet.’

Rex: Wow. That’s a good way of putting it!

AL: I think, though, that what we’ve lost is experts in this field. If you go to Peru or Brazil, then you’re dealing with people who take super-heroic quantities of the stuff and they walk and heal people, and don't go crazy, and they're not overwhelmed with visions of being eaten by giant snakes! It’s almost like they’ve got strong psychic constitutions through having been raised and trained in that tradition. I think that gradually we’re starting to find an indigenous shamanism here in Britain, in the same way that we’re finding indigenous folk music and folk trance that’s connected to this land, in the shape of our culture and the shape of our land. But we are beginners.

H: I'd like to go back to what you said earlier about taking mushrooms and meeting Mushroom Spirits, and not knowing whether it’s the psyche creating them, or whether these spirits are objectively out there. This is a conversation that Rex and I have a lot: Is there an objective reality? 

R: That’s a lot of what our graphic novel, John Barleycorn, is about. 

H: Whenever you enter an alternate reality, whether through trance or hallucinogens or other means, these questions arise. Your think, “Is this just me, is it all in my mind, or is there actually something else out there?” I think that is the mystery of the experience. And one has to find a way to be comfortable with that uncertainty. Personally, I’m not sure I'm ever really comfortable with uncertainty, actually, but I do understand the principle of uncertainty as a kind of a ‘working model.’ 

Mirror Look.
Rex: The only certainty is uncertainty!

H: Exactly.

AL: That’s what the Left Brain wants: certainty. You know, we were talking earlier about magical traditions, and there are some amazing traditions of High Magic where over time the rituals have got more and more and more and more complicated.... you know, sort of endless correspondences that you have to build up...and isn’t that really just the Left Brain running away with itself? Actually, you can do magic with a stick! It’s really about the intention behind it. In an earlier conversation, we talked about the creation of art as a work of magic, and about its potential to effect change in the world after you’ve done it. Think about the effect that Tolkien had on the world with that little story about a Hobbit. He created a Western magical mythology. Who knows what effect our words or art or music will have long after, you know, we’re all gone. That’s what we’re aiming for isn’t it, some way to change the world in a positive and benign sense? And that’s what magic is, too. You make something manifest in the world that wasn’t here before, that then has the potential to be a catalyst long after you’re gone. For me, the thought that someone could be playing a tune I’d written in a hundred year’s time, or two hundred year’s time, is a form of magic. Perhaps they'd have no idea that the tune was mine, but the music would be there and someone would play it and they'd go “Wow, god, that’s .. woah!” Which is the way that I feel when I play medieval tunes.

H: I love that sense of continuity. Terri talks about that in relation to fairy tales, that she’s just a ‘torch carrier’ for this tradition; she picked it up from someone else and her job is to pass it on...better...to the next generation. This is what my own view of life is becoming more and more: we’re meant to be leaving a better world for our children.  

AL: There’s this lovely storytelling trope that when you’re telling a story, you imagine the person who told it to you standing behind you, and the person who told them standing behind them...so you’ve got this lovely chain of tradition behind you. As you’re telling the story, if you just tell it as you heard it, you hear the sound of snoring behind you; but if you take too many liberties with it, you get a sharp jab in the ribs! So you’ve got to keep the tradition alive, but in such a way that it's still within the tradition. Too many people think that 'tradition' is all about repeating a story or tune or dance step exactly as it was -- but really it’s about bringing it to life. That's the true spirit of the tradition.

H: Absolutely.

AL: And this is what I struggle with slightly with the folk tradition. It’s the folk tunes that do it for me, not the folk songs so much, because the folk songs...well, we’re not all living in a hay wain or sailing off to sea; mostly we’re dealing with the fact that the computer’s f***ing crashed, or we’re stuck on 'hold’ in some Kafkaesque phone tree, and the old folk songs alone can't meet contemporary needs. We are modern people and we need modern stories and modern archetypes. We have to address our current situation; and that, to me, is being true to the folk tradition. Otherwise, it’s just preserved in aspic, and dead. .. and there is no point to it.

H: Well I think that is a good note to end on!  Andy, thank you.

AL: Total pleasure to be here.  

Monday, 13 May 2013

Vali goes to Bristol Comic Con!

This weekend, we went to Bristol Comic Con. Our first outing to promote the book! We were accompanied by Jason Ofengland dressed up as the shamanic Earth God, Vali, from the John Barleycorn Must Die graphic novel.

.
Vali flexes his muscles.

He seemed to get on well with other heroes....

Vali agrees to join forces with the caped crusader....



...and Wonder Woman!


...but then flirted for a while with the Dark Side.


From L to R: Storm Trooper, Earth God & Sith Lord.


Here he is at the photo call with Rex, who was, as usual, camera shy!





Wherever he went, Vali seemed to be a hit amongst various female attendees. Rex couldn't understand why, though assumed it must something to do with the magical spirals that Rex had drawn on Vali's face. Myself, Howard, thinks it more likely the long blond hair, toned body and bulging muscles!


Vali and admiring fan No:1


Vali and admiring fan No: 95



Vali and admiring fans Nos: 1580 & 1581


At the end of the day, Jason Ofengland seemed to have become so associated with the role, that he wandered off into the crowd, convinced that he really was Vali. 


Vali wanders off into the crowd.

We haven't seen him since. If you see him wandering around your part of the world, please let us know.

Friday, 10 May 2013

The Barleycorn Boys Are Back in Town!


Guess who just got back today? Howard and Rex, those wild eyed boys who’ve been away. 
We’ve been off the grid for a bit, wrestling with our creative muses. Literally in Rex’s case - he’s muddy and bruised!

Now spring has sprung, and we’re back in the virtual world, and we have a trinity of delights to share:

We’re now posting our complete graphic novel, John Barleycorn Must Die, online at a page a day on our new John Barleycorn blog. If you haven’t read it yet, now’s your chance.


We also have a John Barleycorn Tumblr site, where we’ll be posting art work from the comic every day. (Just art, no text.) If you have a Tumblr account, please come follow us! 

The new Tumblr: http://jbmdcomic.tumblr.com/ 

And third, Rex now has a Facebook page (god help us!), called Rex Van Ryn Presents. He’ll be discussing all things comics related (artists who started in comics, celebrities who are comic enthusiasts, etc.), and providing links to what is happening in the comics world at the moment, particularly independent comics. It’s all just getting started, so please come join in the conversation (and keep an eye on Rex!)


Please join us on any or all these sites -- and if you know anyone interested in comics, would you please help us boost the signal?

It’s good to be back!

Howard & Rex

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

To purchase Book 1

Thank you for visiting our site. If you would like to buy our book, please: Click here

This will take you through to the Lulu site, where you will be able to buy your copy.

Hope you enjoy!

Many thanks,

Howard and Rex

Friday, 16 November 2012

Our first interview, Part 2:





H: Rex, the second part of our interview is now on-line at BBP Creations!

R: It is...and it's all about me, Howard.

H: That’s right. 

R: And though I say so myself, I think I come over rather well! I'm clearly still popular on both sides of the Atlantic.

H: Indeed. (And so modest, too!) Though I should warn you, Rex, that the polling I commissioned in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the Antipodes show the opposite trend. 

R: In fairness, those countries have never understood me and my work....

H: So if readers would like to hear more from Rex go to BBP Creations -- where you’ll also find other interviews with many other interesting artists, including friends of ours: Steve Dooley (who I'm in a band with), Bobby Gilbert (who I'm in another band with), and Sam North (who I'm not in a band with), the creators of the excellent app The Wind in the Willow. Also, our friends Brian & Wendy Froud and Elizabeth-Jane Baldry discuss the creation of their meditation app, Pathways to Faery.


Monday, 12 November 2012

Psst! Want some art?


H: Rex, what do you do if you’ve got over a hundred pages of unused comics art work?

R: Do you mean the art work that you so cruelly rejected from our John Barleycorn book, Howard?

H: Yes.

R: I don’t know. Burn it...? 

H: Rex. Put that can of petrol down!

R: Why?

H: Because I’ve got an idea. Instead burning your art work, why don’t we offer it to other people to write graphic short stories with?

R: I’m intrigued, Howard, tell me more. 

H: Well, I’ve been working on a sister blog to John Barleycorn Must Die, called John Barleycorn Must Live...

R: Genius!

H: ... where we give the art to our readers to write their own stories with. Then we'll post their finished stories on the new site so that others can read and comment on them...and we'll post short stories of our own from time to time, like the one below.

R: I’m liking that! But how do our readers participate, Howard?

H: Simple, Rex. They visit John Barleycorn Must Live, where everything is explained! 

R: So, dear Readers, if any of you have ever wanted to write a graphic short story but have lacked the art, now is your chance! Visit the new site, and take part! John Barleycorn Lives!







Writer: Howard Gayton         Art: Rex Vanryn          Colour: Steve Dooley  

Friday, 9 November 2012

Our first interview!



H: Hey, Rex, I’ve got really exciting news!

R: What’s that?

H: We’ve had our first interviews as graphic novel creators, and my part is on-line now at BBP Creations. 

R: That’s great, but when will the world be able to read my words of wisdom?

H: Next week, Rex.

R: That is exciting. Howard?

H: Yes.

R: Will we make an announcement to our readers when my part of the interview goes up?

H: Of course we will, Rex, of course we will....