Sam Upton

The Bardic Chair Northampton is a community organization set up to promote and celebrate the Spoken word in Northampton and the surrounding area. The Bardic Chair is an honorary position occupied by the chosen Bard of Northampton. Each term lasts for a year and a day and a new ‘Chaired’ Bard is chosen at the annual Bardic Picnic event. Chaired Bards from previous years may elect themselves to become an Elder Bard (Pencerdd) and remain valued contributors to the tradition.

We are interested in finding, supporting and encouraging artists and performers who work with the spoken word in all its forms be they poets, storytellers or singer/songwriters. We also aim to inspire others to find their own voice within the local community and empower individuals to express themselves through the medium of the spoken word.

Although we are rooted in the Bardic Traditions of the past (see the Tradition page) we are firmly committed to honouring all expressions of the spoken word and celebrating that which is is relevant to the times in which we now live.

There are over fourteen Bardic Chair organisations currently in operation in Britain at the moment all with their own unique styles and approaches. However, generally speaking, the one commonality is the holding of an annual competition to find a spoken word representative for the area in which the chair is established. This representative is known as a Bard.

In 2007 John Morrissey, a storyteller moved to Northampton became interested in the Bardic Tradition. He realised that his reason for being in Northampton was to revitalise an interest in the spoken word locally. Traditionally, a bardic competition has to be declared a year and a day in advance of the event. Thus, in the scenic grounds of Northamptonshire’s Delepre Abbey, a small picnic was held and the Bardic Chair was declared. This was done with help from Kevan Manwaring, a local poet and storyteller who had a large part in establishing a bardic chair in his new home of Bath.

And so one year later (2008) John, with a help from a few locals and a Northampton Community Foundation (NCF) grant, organised and held the first Bardic Chair competition, again in the grounds of Delepre Abbey. Although those that attended had a lovely day–due to a mixture of windy weather, insufficient advertising and lack of entrants to the competition–the event was only a partial success and the town was still officially “Bardless.”

Bardic ChairThe only official entrant and a local poet of some renown was Jim-Tom Keith who had been writing and performing locally for over a decade and had been involved with various spoken-word forums locally and elsewhere. The event inspired him and another attendee of the event, spoken-word artist J’ustin Thyme to get involved with the organisation and to also start a monthly forum for spoken word performance held at Northampton’s Labour Club. The was dubbed ‘Raising the Awen’ named after the Celtic female spirit of inspiration, and continues to this day.

Their involvement and through the interest raised by this modest forum was just the boost John had been looking for. By the time the following year’s competition was due (in 2009), enough interest had developed that the Bardic Picnic had grown (again funded by the NCF) into a successful one-day spoken word and music festival.

The Bardic Chair Northampton aims to be inclusive and multi-cultural. The day of the Bardic Picnic proves to be a great family day out and the event can be enjoyed by people of all ages and various backgrounds. It is our hope and intention that each year’s Bardic Picnic event will be bigger and more inclusive and that the event continues to grow year by year and we are looking for local people interested in entering the competition.