Last Friday I was lucky enough to get a ticket to see Sam Lee and his band as part of the Charleston ‘Festival of the Garden.’ Sam was not only performing but also promoting his debut novel ‘The Nightingale, Notes on a songbird’ which I’ve been eager to get in my hands.
It was all a magical turn of events that led me to this beautiful evening. My storytelling colleague and I had booked a rehearsal for our ‘Planet Aviary’ story and she needed to get to Charleston afterwards. I offered her a lift and then when I found out why she was visiting…..well, I just had to gatecrash and somehow managed to get a ticket for a sold out event!
What a perfect ending to our ‘Aviary’ exploration.
It was my first time seeing Sam live in the flesh! I am a bit of a latecomer to his work. I first saw him perform in an online festival called ‘The Pillow Fort Folk Festival’ last year during lock-down where we were invited to hunker down in our own pillow forts at home. Like many folk I made some amazing musical discoveries during this period through the generosity of event organisers and contributors. Sam lit up our screens that evening with his wonderful stories of folk song collecting, tales of meeting gypsy song keeper legends and wooing us into ancient times with his soulful voice and the deep visceral connection he has to the songs of our past, making them part of our now.
The weather has been chaotic and wild down here on the South Coast but we were charmed on Friday night. We were all basking in the joy of being outside on a summer’s evening in a beautiful country setting surrounded by beaming faces without masks! It was an intoxicating atmosphere. The deprivation we have felt for not having experienced live music, the joy and exuberance of the performers to be ‘back,’ the peace we found to be in a magical world of riding the thermals of music and stories in a collective experience. Sam and his band were brilliant honouring the nightingale and creating a metaphorical campfire for the telling of stories and the sharing of new material unheard by the public before. We truly felt spoilt.
But….all is not well and Sam Lee enlightened us. In fact as I write this my nose is prickling as I try to hold back the tears. The climate emergency is escalating and with it he warned that we may not be hearing our avian songbird stars on our own shores in as little as 30 years. “The nightingale is the canary in the mine!” It’s already a challenge to hear a cuckoo, nightingale or turtle dove and through the smiles and joy of the evening I was hit hard by this devastating fact.
Many of us agree so much was taken for granted pre-pandemic and it seems we have been doing the same with our songbirds. Some folk are waking up to the crisis, the ones that already blaze bright for nature and tread lightly on this world, blaze even brighter with more fury as they activate and initiate practical solutions, but others are riding through life blissfully unaware or remain unconnected to the potential loss at hand. Performers such as Sam Lee are so vital for the message. Mary Poppins style – “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,” strengthening my conviction that creativity infused with knowledge may be an opportunity to tip some thinking, shift change or offer an opportunity for deeper connection and understanding or at the very least appreciation.
In May I was blessed with a double whammy to hear both a cuckoo and a nightingale sing at the same time, which I managed to capture on my field recorder during a visit to Knepp re-wilding project. I honestly felt so lucky considering it was daytime, and the rarity of both birds, but then Knepp has been doing everything in their power for nature. The last time I heard a nightingale sing was in the middle of the night as I lay in semi-dreamland…..it was in the mid 90s and one of those experiences that marked my soul. This recent encounter inspired a ‘Postcard’ so I’m able to share the sweet magic of these birds with you.
So what next?
I for one will be seeking out the nightingale every year from now on, and never again can I have such a drought from his song while I have the privilege to be able to hear it. I am going to pledge my continued support for Knepp, the RSPB and artists such as Sam Lee – check out The Nest Collective and his events including concerts with the nightingales!
Do you want to join me?
Sam Lee’s book is absolutely beautiful and everything I had hoped for. The perfect companion to prepare for finding and being with nightingales during their serenading season, beautiful illustrations and every obvious and less obvious connection we have to this beautiful elusive bird with his golden voice.
Thank you for reading,
To purchase ‘The Nightingale, Notes on a songbird’ by Sam Lee