We all know rivers have been magnets for music, art and culture for aeons as the fluidity of water and its environs inspires the best from within. From the Ganges through to the Wye it's no different for both are the focal points for inspiration, events and or gathering.
The Wye flows almost unfettered and is one of the few rivers in Britain today that meanders from source to sea (Severn & Estuary - then sea) without industrial intrusion. It is a pristine river famed for its Salmon as well as its deep gorges and high tops that attract the explorative through to the artist and the more romantic among us.
It's said that in the eighteenth century the Wye Valley was the equivalent of the European Grand Tour attracting travellers, writers and artists alike. Where would tourism be without the Wye and the Reverend William Gilpin who apparently gave birth to the modern outdoor tourist movement via his observations of the river?
It's clear the relationship we seek with the natural environment is at the heart of this thriving outdoor movement and or culture. Without this one thing that binds us together a culture so to speak would not exist. The natural world then reflects upon us all and is key in a healthy, vibrant and creative community, which we look at here starting with a legendary musical story that emerged from our hike along the length of the River Monnow on the border of Wales.
There is of course a strong regional and local identity in the Wye Valley in relation to music and art. For example, it was at Clyro Court nr Hay-On-Wye where we chose to stage and pioneer in the early 1990's underground dance music at events we called Transition. Spoken of fondly to this day it's no small wonder we staged this premier event at what is now referred to as the home of underground dance music in Wales and the far West. Put simply the Wye below and the Black Mountains beyond invigorated the thousands over the years that came to dance there from all over England and Wales. They came knowledgeable of the atmosphere the Wye Valley and mountains created. It was a special time and the Wye Valley and its catchment continues to create events of note from near its source all the way to Chepstow where it meets the Severn.
Contemporay and long standiing offerings such as The Hay Festival, Royal Welsh Agricultural Show, the Landed Festival by friends in the Upper Wye, The Lost Arc venue in Rhayader and the Globe and the Left Bank Village lower down river continue the cultural tradition as do the Linton Festival, Nozstock in the Frome Valley, How The Light Gets In at Hay, Freerotation at Baskerville Hall (Clyro), the Bromyard Folk Festival amid the Frome catchment, Beer on The Wye, The Monmouth Festival one of the UK's largest free events, Hereford River Carnival, Big Love Festival, Sunrise Celebration amid the River Monnow at the Kentchurch estate, Castle Roc down there in Chepstow, Nimbus with their classical sound, the famous and very old Three Choirs Festival beside the Wye at Hereford every 3rd year, the Borderlines Film Festival and the Wye Valley River Festival throughout the lower Wye all combine to make the Wye catchment a culturally rich region and that's not counting events such as the wild World Bog Snorkelling Championships at Llanwrtyd Wells amid the Irfon, which flows into the Wye at Builth.
Former events such as Fantazia, Perception, Millennium, Frodo Bagins, the Wango Riley stage, Green Man Festival, Sonic Rock Festival Builth, Sheep Music near the Radnorshire high hills, the Elementary Didgeridoo Festival, Sounds of The Baskerville, and A Rum Do (Bristol) are just some events that h have all played their part and are worth reflecting upon.
Whilst out and about it's been rare to come across an event, which the catchment area does offer up in spades. We have kept our eyes and ears primed for detecting a warm and friendly affair, but it would appear the timing has been off. We intend then on thinking about this and possibly timing a walk to drop in on a welcome gathering if its available en route. Keep watching then for a great party, which is bound to emerge.
After creating some rock balancing art on the Monnow it was illuminating to see what attracts some of the world's top recording artists to the Wye waters and valleys as they create sounds that can, as in the case of Queens Bohemian Rhapsody, go onto transform popular culture. This particular track was written and recorded at Rockfield Studios only 3-4 KM North West of the Wye just outside of Monmouth. It was fascinating to hear Kingsley Ward founder of the studios recount the story of its creation and that of the Gallagher brothers of Oasis brawling on the grass verge....
no doubt soothed later by the location. Just prior to being given a tour of the famous and some may say infamous Rockfield Studios by Kingsley we had a cup of tea at Monnow Valley Studios down the road and along the track with some members of the Alternative Rock band 'Frightened Rabbit' who were there recording. Successful in the states we chatted about the valley, the Wye and sound all pervasive in this natural setting. It turns out the atmosphere in the Wye Valley is key to creating great music.
Kingsley Ward at Rockfield was very kind considering the fans he said can appear at the gates and come onto the property. Originally Coy he quickly realised we were for real with our rucksacks on our backs and stories of our adventure. We were as unusual as he but strangely we had a few things in common namely our love for the environment, the rivers, the land, music, life and a conspiracy or two to elaborate upon. This aside we were mildly entranced by the story of Bohemian Rhapsody and its primary recording space. We stood there, chatted and filmed, which Kinglsley did not mind. It seemed he knew the images were appreciated and so therefore was happy to continue with our unexpected confab in what was essentially the Monnow and Wye Valley due to the fact the Monnow's confluence with the Wye was in our proximity.
The studios are for sure famous and renowned as are the Monnow Valley Studios and we thank 'Kingsley Ward' and 'Frightened Rabbit' for their time. For more information follow the links below.
Below & Above right Rockfield - The Studio Where Bohemian Rhapsody Was Recorded
Mike Oldfield is known the world over for his mesmeric Tubular Bells. A ground-breaking sound and composition he is also the creator of Hergest Ridge a lesser known work of his that was inspired by Hergest Ridge on the border of Herefordshire and Radnorshire (Wales) near the town of Kington.
Here at the Beacon lodge Mike Oldfield lived for a time in retreat. Situated on Bradnor Hill overlooking the Hergest Ridge Oldfield wrote the album in the early 1970's. A popular area with hikers of the Offa's Dyke trail, which passes over the ridge as it heads South towards Hay On Wye the album cover features an image of the Ridge, which is also a marginal watershed for the River Wye.
Draining waters into Gladestry and Gilwern Brooks, which later flow into the Rivers Arrow, Lugg and then Wye the Hergest Ridge, Hanter Hill, Bradnor Hill and the rare floral haven of Stanners Rock are integral parts of the massive Wye catchment area. The Wye system it seems keeps revealing stories of creative inspiration whether amid the gorges of its southern flow (Symonds Yat) or amid the rugged hills and mountains closer to its source.
To get a flavour of the areas feel and scenery by watching this video, which features a section hike of the Offa's Dyke from Kington to Hay On Wye with a Wild Camp amid the ridge that Mike Oldfield employed as inspiration behind the album Hergest Ridge in 1973. It's beautifully put together with Mike Oldfield cover music and as Mark says it starts with a hug. What better way?