Stories by the Fire

July 11th, 2014 | Festivals, Songs, Stories for adults

I attended “Stories by the Fire” last Saturday evening with my friend, Maggie Somerville.

“Stories by the Fire” is hosted by Storytelling Australia Victoria as part of the Newport Folk Festival which is, in turn, run by the Newport Fiddle & Folk Club. It is a two hour session of storytelling, from 6 – 8 pm, with a break in the middle for supper.

The venue, as in the past two years, was the Newport Scout Hall, which I love. It is cosy and intimate, with an open fire. Unfortunately, however, whereas in previous years performers have sat beside the fire, they were asked this year to perform near the stage. This felt like a backward step to me, as it created a stiffer, more formal atmosphere, and put a greater distance between the audience and the performers.

I feel very much out of my comfort zone as a poet among storytellers. While poetry and storytelling are both ‘spoken word’ crafts, the skills required are very different. Still, I have always enjoyed this event, and this year was no exception.

We did get off to something of a bad start, however, when the act before us was allowed to run overtime by a good ten minutes. I imagined they would finish at ten to six – five to six at the very latest – to allow the storytellers time to set up. I couldn’t believe it when, at two minutes AFTER six, the MC allowed the musicians to sing another song! You really do expect more professional behaviour from such an established festival.

The situation was compounded somewhat when a number of the storytellers also ignored the time, running well over their ten minute time limit. (To be fair, the ten minute time limit was not spelt out clearly at the beginning of proceedings, and it probably would have been helpful if it had.)

This meant that we went to intermission with a huge backlog of performers to get through in the second half of the show. When the running list was read out, with me and Maggie at the end of it, I wasn’t sure we would get on at all.

The second half had a very different feel, with a large number of performers getting on stage for a fairly brief period of time.

I had been asked to tell the story behind the title poem of my new book, “The Billy That Died With Its Boots On”, but when my turn came I was so anxious that Maggie would not have time to sing her song that I tried to simply introduce her instead. Maggie arrived on stage insisting that I did in fact tell the story – so I did, although I did not read out the poem itself, which I would have done if time had not been so short.

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Maggie then rounded out proceedings with her sad but beautiful song about the tragic death of ABC employee Jill Meagher in September 2012.

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After a short break, local folk legend Bruce Watson performed a very entertaining bracket of songs and stories.

All in all, it had been a great evening as always. It was just a shame, though, that the time had not been better managed. When discipline breaks down like this, it sends a ripple of anxiety through the whole crowd, and dampens the tone of the evening.

Thank you once again to Jackie Kerin who works tirelessly behind the scenes to make the show the success that it always is, including providing a very yummy (and healthy!) supper.

Thanks also to Gerry Nelson for the photos.