Nimue: I didn’t know Steve especially well before this interview – I was aware of his work and his ‘Bard of Ely’ title, so this has been a really interesting process of getting to find out more about a truly fascinating person… I see you’re on twitter as Bard of Ely. Where did the title come from?
Steve: Bard of Ely was a title I was given back in 1998 when I was a columnist for Big Issue Cymru. I used to live in the Ely council estate in Cardiff, which is also where Shakin’ Stevens came from. The publication knew that I was a singer-songwriter and poet because they had reviewed my work before. Some people think that it is the Ely in Cambridge but I have to point out that it is Ely in South Wales. I am also known as Green Bard and Green Beard because of my green goatee. I first dyed it that colour for the Green Man Festival in 2003, at which I was an MC and performer.
Nimue: I admit to not even knowing there was an Ely in South Wales! Are you still performing?
Steve: The Ely I lived in has a chapter in well-known Cardiff poet and author Peter Finch’s Real Cardiff, and I am included too because I was Peter’s guide to the estate.
When I was living in Tenerife I used to play at various bars there, including the amazing El Risco in San Jose de los Llanos. It is also known as the “Eco Bar” and the “Hippie Bar,” and is basically a cabin on a mountain and surrounded by woods and trails but very popular with local musicians and its customers. When I lived in the south of Tenerife I used to perform at Flicks Bar in Amarilla Bay. I developed quite a cult following there because of my green beard and my unique cover of Stand By Me, in which I invited the audience up on the stage to help me out with the song. A lady called Vicky who used to be a regular made green beard masks and used to hand them out to anyone who wanted to wear one. Even Mike the landlord wore one on one occasion and came up on stage with me.
On short visits to the UK over the past few years I have played gigs at the Andrew Buchan in Cardiff, as well as having appeared at the Jim Jam night at The Claude pub there.
Nimue: You’ve obviously spent time living in some very different places and countries, are you a citizen of the world, or do you form stronger relationships with some spots than with others?
Steve: I actually have an old song entitled Citizen of Earth because I think nationalities and borders create obvious division manufactured by humans. Animals, birds and plants do not recognise these artificial boundaries. So, yes, I regard myself as a “citizen of the world.” I felt a strong attraction to Tenerife when I first set foot there on holiday in 2002. I miss the island a lot. Now I am in Portugal I love it here too. I also miss Wales and have come to understand the term “hiraeth.” I feel drawn back to the country of my birth but obviously I cannot live everywhere! I can really relate to the Neil Diamond song I Am, I Said, in which he is talking about being torn between Los Angeles and New York. I was feeling torn between Tenerife and Wales and used to change the words of the song when I performed it as a cover to reflect this. Instead of “LA’s fine” I sang “Tenerife’s fine” and instead of “New York City born and raised” I substituted “I’m Cardiff city born and raised…”.
I also really miss Avebury because I used to be a regular for the eight seasonal pagan celebrations and gorsedds held there. I used to play Stand By Me there too and get everyone singing, clapping along and dancing.
Nimue: Are there any places you’d particularly like to spend time, and haven’t yet?
Steve: I always wanted to go to Finland and was seriously thinking of doing so back in the 1990s. I was corresponding with several musicians and fanzine writers at the time and also used to love watching The Moomins on TV and Tove Jansson who created them was a Finnish writer. Actually, though, I don’t really enjoy travelling much. I like places when I get there but not the travelling and I hate waiting about at airports.
Nimue: So, changing tack a bit… which came first for you, the herbs, or the shamanism?
Steve: The herbs came well before I even knew what a shaman was. I became fascinated with plants as a small boy and used to love identifying wild flowers and had many books to help me do so, such as the Observer’s Book of British Wild Flowers. I used to help my granddad and father with their allotments and gardens and was familiar with herbs, such as sage, thyme, rosemary, borage, mint and marjoram, that they grew. I was also discovering wild herbs like fennel.
Nimue: Do you have any particular favourites amongst the herbs you work with?
Steve: Amongst the herbs included in my forthcoming book Herbs of the Sun, Moon and Planets, one of my favourites is the dragon tree. I was fascinated by this weird plant when I first came across them in Tenerife. I have grown them from seed and there is one in my dad’s lounge in Cardiff that has been there since 2004 when I moved to the Canary Islands. I had grown it from a seed I collected whilst on holiday in Tenerife in 2002. The dragon tree is in my book because it is said to be governed by Mars, the Red Planet and god of war. This is partly because it bleeds a red sap known as dragon’s blood.
I also really love sunflowers because they are so easy to grow and look so amazing, as well as being the source of nutritious seeds. Fennel I love because of its amazing aniseed flavour and aroma. Its seeds are great for herbal teas. It is regarded as a herb of Mercury, as is the valerian. I will take valerian tablets if I am stressed or having problems sleeping. This herb is a great natural tranquilizer.
The morning glory is said to be a herb of Saturn, and certainly looks like it could come from another planet, especially the variety known as “Flying Saucers.” I like to grow the very beautiful “Heavenly Blue” morning glory, and admit that in my past hippie days I tried the seeds for their hallucinogenic properties. This plant also gets a section in my book Herbs of the Northern Shaman. Jasmine is a herb of the Moon, probably because its incredible scent perfumes the night air. It is another of my favourites and I like to drink jasmine tea. Time for a cuppa!
Nimue: What projects have you got in the pipeline at the moment?
Steve: Well, they are all writing projects: I am completing an autobiographical book I am calling The Dropouts and it takes a graphic look at the dark side of the hippie way of life in which sex, drugs and doing your own thing can lead not to peace and love and freedom but to insanity, crime, and an early death. I am also working on finishing a story book entitled Pip’s Incredible Adventure. It is based around a weird dream I had about a boy who finds himself in a very strange world in which there are rainbow-coloured rabbits, a girl called Amazing Grace and a ship with a crew of animal-headed men. I am continuing to write articles for Mediterranean Gardening and Outdoor Living magazine and also for the Ancient Origins website, as well as for my own Bard of Ely and Green Bard pages at HubPages.com. I am always on the lookout for freelance writing work for magazines and websites too. Earlier this year I was proud to see an article of mine about Coastal Foraging accepted and published by Welsh Coastal Life magazine.
My new book Herbs of the Sun, Moon and Planets is going to show how ancient herbalists like Culpeper devised a system of classifying herbs under different astrological or planetary rulers. Mars was the God of War, so herbs of Mars, for example, have warlike and aggressive characteristics such as spines or red sap or berries that could be associated with blood, and herbs of the Sun might have a flower with petals that radiated out like solar rays, such as the sunflower and chamomile. Whilst this information is already out there in some herbals I think my book is different because it is focused on looking at this means of classifying herbs we use. Each section of the book has a selection of seven herbs and explains a bit about the characteristics of the god or goddess that was associated with a particular planet and suggests why specific herbs were thought to be governed by these deities.
Nimue: Where can people find out more about you and your work?
Steve:You can find out more about me at the following sites:
Articles on many subjects at HubPages: http://bardofely.hubpages.com/
At Wizzley: https://wizzley.com/who-is-the-bard-of-ely-find-out-in-his-wizzography/
Books: Herbs of the Northern Shaman (O-Books): http://www.moon-books.net/index.php?id=99&p=758
Amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/Steve-Andrews/e/B001K8SWX8
Music: http://www.thespotlightzone.com/profile/?band=132 and http://www.reverbnation.com/bardofely
Tenerife Islander: http://tenerifeislander.hubpages.com/
Green Bard: http://greenbard.hubpages.com/
Green Bard blog: http://bardofelysays.blogspot.pt/
Ancient Origins: http://www.ancient-origins.net/users/steve-andrews and my articles: http://www.ancient-origins.net/user/26736/track
Famous Cardiffians: http://dicmortimer.com/2015/03/17/famous-cardiffians/
And click on my name here: http://www.cardiffians.co.uk/cardiffians.shtml