10 Questions With Andy Edwards of Mother Bear
Musician, performer and author, Andy Edwards, of Mother Bear Productions, has a new video series out, In The Company of Curlews . AmeriCymru spoke to him about it and what else he’s been doing during the pandemic.
AmeriCymru: You're sharing your new youtube series with us, we've called it storytelling, how would you categorize this work you're making?
Andy: In The Company of Curlews has been written as an audio drama for a single voice.
For years now I have been storytelling in different live venues. With the encouragement of audience feedback, I wanted to take a step towards getting more stories out there. Some of the venues would restrict your time on stage to 5-10 minutes, and I wanted to stretch myself and have no time restrictions.
Even before Covid lockdowns and self-isolation, I found it easier to do things on my own. Shut the door and get on with it, not having to rely on the help of others.
AmeriCymru: You're a musician, what got you started creating these video stories?
Andy: I love songs that tell stories. I’ve had a hand in composing a few and they all have a strong narrative. TRENCHFOOT was all about Great War stories from local history. My latest release with the POLLYTUNNEL PIRATES is full of stories from the past; personal, social or historical. The title track ‘BIG DAY’ is all about my 18 th birthday and the crazy excessive drinking that went on.
There is a video available, ‘ANGELS,’ from the album which tells the story of a group of friends cycling Coast 2 Coast USA. It was 2009, Americymru were kind enough to promote the trip to their audience and helped me gain so many Welsh contacts along the way. One of the contacts was in Taos, New Mexico, and what a welcome we had! We made so many friends and there was one lady who was interested in me because she could see angels all around me, they would keep me safe and sound. So there lies the story song.
The series of MOTHER BEAR videos that Seimon Pugh Jones and myself made for Americymru, pre-Covid, gave me the basic skills of editing and sound recording. All the recordings are produced in a room upstairs in my house on a basic digital recorder. There are no special effects, just me and my voice. So, with basic video editing skills and a creative streak which has been with me since writing stories in primary school, I was ready to let my imagination go.
AmeriCymru: Your current main character is a coracle man named Jac, for people who don't know what that is, can you tell us about this character, what a coracle man is and what inspired his story?
Andy: I just happened to be walking down the road towards town and I bumped into an old school friend. We started talking about his family and the cultural history of coracles in our hometown. A year later I had successfully gained a small grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Research brought in an abundance of information resulting in educational resources being produced and distributed to Primary Schools in the area. So with a wealth of local knowledge regarding the heritage of Carmarthen Coracles I wanted to put it into a narrative form. Coracle fishing has dwindled so much that there are but a handful of pairs still fishing in an ever-decreasing time slot of a season during the year. So the project took on the attempt to help maintain the heritage and culture of a dying profession.
Please check out the Mother Bear video: Carmarthen Coracles, The Last Coracle Men
AmeriCymru: We can see that people are watching, have you got much response yet from your audience on Jac's story?
Andy: Not a great amount to be honest. Some friends and families have congratulated me on the project and all are complimentary. I’m thankful for all the feedback and support and am always prepared for criticism, be it positive or negative.
AmeriCymru: You did a previous series, Nail, can you tell us a bit about that series and its main character? How would you compare him to Jac?
Andy: Sin and redemption arc through the life stories of Jac and Nail.
Nail , set in the 1930’s, is the story of a man who had been affected by the Great War and his way of coping with the experiences in the life of a small West Wales town during the inter-war years. Nail is a gravedigger in the small town and sees what goes on from a different angle and all the time he holds a dark secret from the war.
In The Company of Curlews follows Jac’s life on the river from a young teenager in the 1950s to the present day when he is eighty. He makes the error of not standing up for his brother and then feels responsible for a tragic accident which leads to his younger brother’s death. Guilt stays with him throughout his life and we see him make mistakes time and time again in his life.
AmeriCymru: What's been the best part of producing these stories for you?
Andy: The saddest thing is to leave a song written on a scrap of paper. These stories have been sitting on my hard disk for a few years and I just felt why not put them out there?
I feel the importance of keeping stories alive, whether through textbooks or through narrative works.
"For every image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own
concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably."
(Walter Benjamin, On the Concept of History , v)
Every community has history pulsating at their core and so does every family within that community. These need to be archived for future generations. As Benjamin points out, they need to continue to have value in the present but, unless they are recognised and archived for the future they threaten ‘to disappear irretrievably’
The history book or big screen film cannot tell us everything about the past. They are always looking for the ‘sexy’ side to the story. Entertainers give us their version and although great storytellers they present a world of magnificent events and outstanding actions where facts are twisted to fit a formula. As the old proverb says, ‘never let truth get in the way of a good story’.
The quick fix digital generation need to be entertained with continuous box-set T.V. series that never end, where challenges are overcome and where stories never finish. Oral history will not make the Hollywood script precisely because it deals with a communal experience rather than a heroic one. Within this frame each individual has a significant story to tell with a socially interesting aspect.
I hope the project will show future generations a small part of social history
AmeriCymru: What's your process on a project like this, how do you write and create these? Do you start with a character or a plot or something else completely? Do you write first or develop as you go?
Andy: It’s a few years ago now! I think, after a lot of research: interviewing fishermen, walking the river, getting a feel for the location and actually storytelling sections of the story I started to sketch out the protagonist’s life, from his young life to his old age.
One of my aims was to incorporate the myths, tradition, and stories of the river. One of the myths is the role of the Curlew. The bird in the coracle world is seen as a bird of wisdom and the judge of the river. It decides whether the fisherman is worthy. If found guilty for bad behaviour the curlew would banish the coracle man from the river never to catch a fish again.
When Jac finally satisfies his fishing appetite and catches the big fish he has sought all his life, he realises that it’s not his heart’s desire and returns it to the river to spawn again. His treatment of the fish is his atonement. He sees his brother again and although Jac is close to death himself he is at rest in his mind as he has resolved his issues of guilt.
AmeriCymru: You and artist Seimon Pugh-Jones from the Tin Shed previously collaborated on a year-long project of interviews with people around Wales, Voices from Wales , which AmeriCymru was lucky enough to run, and they were really excellent. How was working on that project? What kind of feedback did you get on it and any chance you and Seimon may do something else in the future?
Andy: Covid lockdowns put a stop to any continuity of the project. We talk forever about different projects and documentaries. Seimon has so many great ideas and is one of the most creative people I know. Hopefully after Christmas we can get our act together.
AmeriCymru: You don't seem like the kind of person to sit around and not do too much, what else have you been doing during the pandemic and where can people find your work?
Andy: One life! Got to get things done! Seimon and myself wrote a screenplay during the pandemic that is doing the rounds at the moment. Hopefully we’ll get a commission! – Children in a small West Walian town help an Italian POW escape from the Fascists to a new life in the U.S.
I also put a radio programme together for Welsh Connections, available on Mixcloud, I tell my own stories, bands I played in, my influences, all with the help of music from different eras:
Twenty episodes later I needed a break but I am in the process of putting together the next ten episodes to be released after Xmas.
AmeriCymru: What's next for you and for Mother Bear, and will you do more of these stories?
Andy: I have another single-voice audio ready to go, EVERYTHINGS GONE WRONG - children growing up in a West Wales town, based on an experience when I was held at gunpoint down by the river during a lunch hour in my Primary School days.
AmeriCymru: Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?
Andy: I fear I was too late to save all the dying traditions of coracle fishing in Carmarthen, but I will have been able to help keep fragments of the customs alive. I was never going to be able to, ‘awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed .’
I urge you all to realise the importance of your own history, your community’s history and do not accept what is served to you on the t.v. or big screen as gospel.
Thanks for all your support and hopefully you enjoy.