- Books, Literature, and Writing»
- Books & Novels»
- Biographies & Memoirs
From the Trials of Arthur: in memory of Pixi Morgan
Steve Andrews had been living in this house for many years. It was a council house on an estate on the outskirts of Cardiff. He had brought his son up here. But he had also played host to a succession of waifs and strays from the neighbourhood. From near and afar lost people would try to find themselves here. Budding artists traced lines of inspiration from his door. Musicians learned their craft. Many people had passed through his door, had drunk his home-made wine, slept on his settee, on the run from their demons, or their parents, or the police, or themselves. Steve welcomed and gave succour to all.
The most important of these was Pixi.
He was 16 years old when he first came through that door, a mischievous imp, a scamp, a waif, a rogue, streetwise and sassy, short, wiry and elvin, older than his years. We won’t say exactly what he was running away from. Maybe he wasn’t running away from anything. Maybe he was running towards something.
Whatever it was, he moved in with Steve, and for several years he kept watch on Steve’s comfy sofa.
Steve was already a musician, and there were guitars about the house. Pixi picked one up and almost immediately he was playing it. He had a gift. He knew straight away how to wrestle the sounds from this awkward instrument: how to add drama and cadence to the song, how to put strength and meaning into the words, how to perform. His voice was rough but musical, delivered from some hidden recess in the caves of his being, from somewhere not quite of this world. He liked songs of pagan beauty. He sang about the running of the wild. Deep, earth-rich songs, full of incidence and echoes, giving a voice to the land.
So then he was a musician. He and Steve used to do gigs together. There were various bands. Occasionally they’d go into the studio and make a record. But Pixi was way too wild for Steve’s settled life. That settee was like a chrysalis for the grubby butterfly he was to become. He became a New Age Traveller, and moved out into a truck, doing the rounds of parties and festivals, wooing the girls with his songs, having a high old time of it.
He might turn up now and again, in some truck smeared in mud and grease, so full of tat there didn’t seem to be room to sleep, with some new girl in tow.
He learned new skills. He could fix vehicles. He could make benders. He learned how to live on the land. He became a fully fledged traveller. He could drink like a good’un: Special Brew usually, or anything he could get his hands on. Maybe there was even a dog on a string now and again. And that voice got wilder, and the songs got stronger, and the words got deeper, and everyone said he should be a rock star. But he wasn’t having any of that. He was a traveller. That’s where the songs came from. You couldn’t put it down on a record. It was a feeling evoked by the night, by the sparkling fire, dancing beneath the sky. That’s where the music came from: from the camp fire, from the woods at night, from the stars, from the rivers and the trees, from the wildlife, from the wind, from the distant mountains, from the earth and the sea, from the land and from the people on the land.
Steve never quite lost touch with him, but there might be years between one visit and the next.
Occasionally he’d hear stories. Pixi was at this festival or that festival. He was living in a truck. He was living in a bender. He was walking from Cornwall to Scotland with a convoy of people pushing handcarts. Odd rumours like that, but hardly any word from the man himself. He just kind of disappeared.
Which brings us back to the present moment, and to Steve, sitting down now in his living room, switching on the radio to hear a programme about King Arthur. And guess who’s voice he heard first? Straight away? It was Pixi – his old mate Pixi, the council estate kid turned New Age Traveller—reading from a proclamation written by Arthur, his voice resonant with conviction, powerful, declamatory, but unmistakably Pixi.
This was the year when the first news of the road protest movement began to emerge into the national consciousness.
The programme was about Twyford Down.
The way Pixi tells the story: there was a demonstration in Winchester. Well, three demonstrations, to be exact. Pixi was marching up and down in an orderly procession with the nice Friends of the Earth people in their colourful anoraks and walking boots, when he saw these mad Druid-types, led by King Arthur, with robes and staves and drums, coming the other way, causing mayhem, making lots of noise and generally having fun. ‘I'll 'ave some of that,’ he thought, and joined with the Druids, as they went about occupying the college, the MP's surgery and the police station. They had a radio crew with them. And at every place (Arthur having mislaid his herald that day) Pixi would read resonantly from a proclamation in his best bardic voice.
So that was the first voice to come out of the radio when Steve turned it on that day. Pixi reading from that proclamation.
And now you have it: synchronicity. Red Dragon Radio on the Winter Solstice. The Round Table. Arthur’s letter landing on his mat, all on its own. And now this: of all the people in all the world, on a Radio 4 documentary about King Arthur, Pixi, one of the most significant people in Steve’s life, someone he had lost for ages, but had now found again.
It was like a calling. It was like a script written by some Cosmic Author with a neat sense of timing. You couldn’t make this sort of stuff up.
And Steve decided to join the Warband too. He looked at Arthur’s letter, where all the ranks were laid out. One of them was Quest Knight. ‘That’s me,’ thought Steve. ‘My whole life has been a quest.’ Another was Bard. ‘That’s me too,’ thought Steve. ‘I write songs and poetry. That makes me a Bard.’
So that’s what he decided to be. A Quest Knight and Bard of the Loyal Arthurian Warband.
Steve and Pixi had a favourite place, Tinkinswood burial chamber, near a village called St Nicholas in the Vale of Glamorgan. They’d both been coming here since they were kids; and then again, as adults, after they got to know each other. They’d held many parties here, or just wandered out to feel the healing power of the land, to breath the fresh air, and to commune with the local spirits. The landscape around here is alive with ghosts.
The monument itself is a huge 40 ton capstone sitting astride two smaller, vertical stones. The whole structure would have acted as an entrance to the chamber opening into the mound behind, so that it would have been like walking into the hillside. It was built around 4000 BC. No one knows what it’s purpose might have been, although its Welsh names - Castell Carreg, Llech-y-Filiast, Maes-y-Filiast and Gwal-y-Filiast – all link it to the Arthurian saga. The capstone is said to be the largest in Britain and would have taken 200 men (or a great deal of magic) to lift. What that shows is the importance of these sites, that people went to so much trouble to create them. They have meaning. They were like the Cathedrals of their time. More people would come to commune with them over succeeding generations, and to bring their energy too. Do the stones absorb these presences, the way they absorb heat or magnetic energy, slowly, over the generations? And when we go there, to sit and commune with them, to party, or to dance the night away, do we feel them radiating these presences as a form of hidden communication, speaking to us on an underlying level, messing about with our internal circuitry, altering the structures of our mind?
There’s an old Native American saying, that civilisation is only three days deep. Three days outside of the cocoon of city-life, away from the tarmac and the traffic, wrenched from the convenience of the supermarket and unplugged from the noisy distraction of the TV, we become savages again: wild creatures stripped to our souls, functioning on the magical level once more.
In the case of Tinkinswood the story is that anyone who spends a night here, on the evenings before May Day, St. John’s Day, or the Midwinter solstice, would either die, become raving mad, or a poet.
It’s an old story, and is told about many other places in the landscape too, but it only goes to show how time and place are intimately related in this tale of ours and that there are portals in time in the turning of the year and places on the planet that allow us entry into other worlds, into other dimensions and other ways of being.
The second thing that came into play that day was that Sky TV were making a programme about Arthur. So this was another kind of portal now: a portal into people’s front rooms. From the magical dimensions of inner space, projected onto a satellite in outer space, from where it is bounced via a dish into people’s homes while they are eating their egg and chips and sipping their tea, riding on the backs of TV signals, another kind of magic.
They’d advertised the ceremony around the town, and Steve had arranged to meet Pixi in the Four Bars pub, which is where he used to run an impromptu jam session occasionally. And then Arthur turned up at Steve’s house with the TV crew around Noon and they went down to the pub to collect anyone who might have turned up. It was still early in the year, not long after Steve had heard Pixi on the radio show. They didn’t have much time to spare as the days were short. There were a few people in the pub, including one guy who had tickets to a Nirvana concert which had been cancelled, and who was tagging along for lack of anything else useful to do. This is the nature of magical ceremonies, of course. They are never complete without the disgruntled Nirvana fan attached, the bemused stranger who doesn’t quite know what is going on, and who then becomes a sort of unofficial witness to the events.
So, then, those that wanted to come along piled into a taxi paid for by the Sky News crew, and off they went.
Other people on the trip included a bearded man in a beret and Sioned, Pixi’s girlfriend, who had a feather in her cap.
Such sartorial details are very important if you want to know the true meaning of these events. You can spend the rest of this narrative picturing the beret and the feather bobbing about in the landscape on the tops of people’s heads enjoying their own particular perspective on the proceedings.
They arrived at their destination and the first thing the Sky TV crew wanted was a sequence of Arthur striding purposefully or mystically through the field towards the monument – or however you want to interpret the scene – carrying his holy lance. Arthur makes good TV because he is always picturesque, a quality he has played upon over the years. But he had to take a drink of Druid Fluid first.
You could probably still find that piece of film somewhere, if you wanted to look. The whole day—and a few other days—edited down into a documentary about Arthur’s life in this period. If you managed to get hold of it you would see Arthur with his holy lance striding across the fields in the pale winter light, looking majestically timeless, as is his wont. You would see Steve strumming away at his guitar, singing one of his songs:
Kingfisher’s green, kingfisher’s blue,
He’s so lovely but I love you;
I’ll be your kingfisher."
Steve thought it was appropriate as he’d been fishing for a King and now he’d found one.
You would see that feather and that beret bobbing about minding their own business, and the bemused Nirvana fan still puzzled, but portrayed here as one of Arthur’s staunchest supporters, even though he hadn’t heard of him before Noon that day. And after a while you would see the ceremony, which Steve and Pixi had partly planned out beforehand, not with the TV crew in mind, but because of its symbolic resonance. What they would do, they decided, would be to emerge from the burial chamber, through the portal beneath that enormous capstone, to meet Arthur, who would then knight them. It was meant to be symbolic as their rebirth into their new lives as Quest Knights and Bards of the Loyal Arthurian Warband. They’d chosen the same titles because they were both, in fact bards on quests.
But this also, coincidentally, made good TV, so the Sky TV crew were happy too, filming them as they emerged from the monumental doorway, and then getting down on their knees to be sworn to Truth, Honour, and Justice, the Arthurian oath, before being raised again as knights. It all went very well.
Eventually a few other people turned up, including a photographer, so the event is recorded in several formats and in several media, including in the minds of all the people who were present; and then, as the light started to fade, the TV crew packed up their equipment and made their way back to the road, saying their goodbyes and thanking everyone for the parts they had played in what they were sure would turn out to be a successful production.
That’s the point at which Arthur, relieved of his duty at last, asked Pixi for some of his Pixi-Piss, his very potent home-made wine, and taking a long, deep draught from the flagon said, ‘party till you puke!’ – obviously an old-fashioned biker phrase given new importance by a dark-ages knighting ceremony.
Which is what Arthur rapidly proceeded to do.
Not the puke part. Arthur never pukes. But the partying part, which is to say, he got very, very drunk, very, very quickly. He’d been on call for several days now, and hadn’t had any sleep, being on his best behaviour for the intrusive eye of the TV crew.
The light was rapidly fading by now, and the winter chill descending. It was so cold that Steve’s hands wouldn’t work properly, so he couldn’t play the guitar. Pixi, who was a dab hand on these sorts of occasions, went off scouring for wood, and they made a fire, which was soon radiating its welcome warmth into the night air. Arthur carried on partying till he fell over in a heap by the fire. And it was at this point that a woman called Angie, who had recently turned up with her friend Ray, started tapping the comatose form with her toe saying that he couldn’t be a King, he was too drunk to be a King, to which Steve replied that this is exactly how a dark-ages battle chieftain would act.
It didn’t take place in anyone’s back garden and there was no puke involved, as CJ had wrongly reported before. It took place at Tinkinswood and the word ‘puke’ was invoked, but without there being any actual puke anywhere. Also Angie didn’t actually kick him, except in a psychic manner. The disappointed tone in her voice was as much of a kicking as he ever got from her.
Other things were probably invoked that night too. Ghosts and presences. The spirits of the dark and the place. The spirits of the night. Trans-dimensional beings who can shuffle between the worlds, and who come out to play whenever human beings get down and party on home-made wine and cider in out-of-the-way places by ancient burial chambers. And Pixi, who was used to the outdoor life, managed to drum up a few songs too, his hands being more adept at winter-night guitar strumming than Steve’s, so they had entertainment. And so a freezing evening was kept at bay by firelight and dry-wood scavenging and guitar music and laughter, dancing and communing with the trans-dimensional folk, until eventually, some hours later, Arthur woke up, and they decided to make their way home. Arthur had to be helped across the field by the ever-resilient Pixi. He was still very drunk.
Most people had left ages before, being too sensible to spend so many hours in the wilds under such circumstances.
So it was a little ragged band of freezing cold stragglers who were left in the pretty village of St Nicholas, wondering what to do. They were many miles from the comfort of Ely. The Nirvana fan had to get back to Barry, so Steve pointed him in the right direction. He went off as bemused and uncertain about the meaning of all this as he had been when he’d first been persuaded to venture out of the pub, half a lifetime ago.
Many years later he would probably find himself waking up suddenly in the middle of the night, sitting bolt upright in bed, and thinking ‘what on Earth was that all about?’ before going back to sleep again.
So now you can picture the scene: King Arthur with his robes and his beard, with his sword and his lance, having just awoken from a deep sleep in the dirt by a fire; and Pixi, quick and wiry, with his dreads and his tattoos and his traveller’s rags; and Steve, a figure of singular sartorial inappropriateness wherever he goes; and a feather on top of a hippie chick, and a beret on top of a bearded fellow, who were just along for the ride; along with musical instruments, guitars and mandolins and bongo drums and other kinds of baggage, all slumped together in a row on a low wall at the edge of a posh village outside Cardiff. They must have presented quite a scene. Mind you, I suspect the villagers would be used to it: megalithic monuments being like magnets for the deranged rejects of our age, who like to pay homage and to cast a few spells and mutter incantations in their presence occasionally.
Pixi had a good idea. He thought they could all get a taxi. So he went to one of the houses and banged on the door and asked if they would call a taxi for them, and he would pay for the call, and the resident, whoever it was, just looked scared and nodded, and couldn’t shut the door quickly enough, and our band of intrepid knights were still left stranded by the roadside getting colder and colder.
This went on for some time until, eventually, a man walking his dog passed by and stopped and chatted to them, asking Steve what they’d been up to. ‘And he told him the tale just as you have heard it. If anyone were to tell it again it would be boring and wearisome, for no story improves by repetition.’ Pixi asked the man if he could order them a taxi, trying his luck once more, which the man agreed to do; and then, not too many minutes later, the taxi arrived. Only there was a new problem now. There wasn’t room for all of them. So Pixi – who was the hero of the occasion on several levels, having kept the fire going and everyone’s spirits up with his music and banter – volunteered to make the journey home by himself, and Arthur handed him his holy lance and said that it would help speed him on his way.
So that was it. They bundled into the taxi, and then bundled off home to Steve’s house to the prospect of a warm place to recover from their magical exertions. And not more than a couple of minutes later there was a knock on the door. They’d hardly had time to put away the stuff and put the kettle on, and there was Pixi, having made it home all by himself with the aid of the holy lance. He said he’d walked to the main road, stuck out the lance and got a lift from the first car passing which had then dropped him at the bottom of Steve’s road.
Who says that magic never happens?
- Pixi Morgan obituary | Music | The Guardian
Other lives: New age traveller, eco protester and busker
- More about Pixi in the Trials of Arthur. | Fierce Writing
Not all the references to Pixi in the Trials of Arthur mention his name. The following is an extract from Chapter 18: Camelot (Of Cabbages and Kings). It describes life on a protest site, but actually refers to two incidents in which I observed Pixi,
- ONE FOR THE ROAD.
(Pixies greatest hits...the posthumous definitive collection) WAKE FUNDRAISER. by Pixi Morgan, released 08 February 2016
- Pixi Morgan - YouTube
All of Pixi's stuff on YouTube
- In memory of Pixi Morgan a fellow Bard |The Green Bard
- Druid King Arthur Pendragon and The Knighting Ceremony filmed by Sky TV
Arthur Pendragon claims to be the reincarnation of King Arthur. He is a druid and eco-warrior famous for his protests at Stonehenge and often featured by the media.
- The ex-files | Life and style | The Guardian
Liz Gilbert and Neill 'Pixi' Morgan
- Pixi Morgan
Pixi's facebook page: "Boss at everywhere I've been"
- In memory of Pixi Morgan | Fierce Writing
It was during this visit to Cardiff that CJ had met Pixi for the first time. He stayed for a few days, and then, on the Saturday night Steve and CJ went to a party at the house where Pixi was staying. He went by a variety of names in those days so yo
© 2016 Christopher James Stone