Steve Andrews: Bard of Ely
Dubbed as both a wizard and a bard, Steve Andrews is hardly your everyday herb expert, if there is indeed such a thing. I caught up with Steve to find out about his music, his love of plants and his writing.
Mabh Savage: What inspired you to write your upcoming book, Herbs of the Sun, Moon and Planets?
Steve Andrews: I have been interested in herbs for a very long time and I like to research subjects I enjoy. I found information about planetary rulers for various herbs in books on herbalism and thought it would make an interesting subject in its own right. Also I could see that many herbs do have characteristics that match those associated with a specific planet. For example, herbs ruled by Mars have something aggressive about them, such as spines or sword-shaped leaves, and this is because Mars is the god of war. The dragon tree was an obvious candidate for being included in the herbs under the dominion of the Red Planet, because it has red berries, red sap known as dragon’s blood and spiky leaves.
MS: Who is your book aimed at? Who will get the most out of it?
SA: Anyone interested in herbs, herbalism and astrology should enjoy my book. Practitioners of witchcraft, pagans, druids, and anyone with an interest in the occult would also find it useful.
MS: How hard was it researching this volume? Did you have to search through many dense old tomes?
SA: Actually it was easy to research because I already had a lot of books on herbs and wild-flowers, and many of the herbs included in Herbs of the Sun, Moon and Planets, I had previously written about in Herbs of the Northern Shaman, also published by Moon Books.
MS: You featured in the Metro in October as ‘The Real Dumbledore’; how did you feel about this?
SA: It was a lot of fun and some excellent publicity.
MS: Where does your passion for herbs come from?
SA: Well, I have sometimes thought it was sparked by memories from a past life in which I was a herbalist or a witch, but maybe that is just fanciful dreaming? A more likely explanation is the fact that I became fascinated by the natural world as a little boy and started to learn about herbs as a child. They were amongst the wild-flowers I found and read about.
MS: Do you have a favourite herb or plant?
SA: I have a particular liking for the dragon tree, which I have already mentioned and is on the cover of my book. I remember seeing my first dragon tree in Tenerife when I first visited the island in 2002 and the tree had a definite wow-factor!
MS: Where does your moniker ‘Bard of Ely’ come from?
SA: I used to have a column in Big Issue Cymru, when I lived on the Ely estate in Cardiff in the 1990s. I had already been featured in the magazine because of my songs and music, so it was understandable that the publication would dub me Bard of Ely.
MA: Tell us a bit more about your music. What inspires you, and what would you call your style if you had to pigeon-hole it?
SA: I was mostly inspired by singer-songwriters, such as Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Neil Young in my late teens when I first started trying to follow in their footsteps. And I have been influenced by countless bands, singers, songwriters and musicians since then, as well as many styles of music that I have listened to, including soul, Tamla, rock, folk, country, blues and reggae. I have been compared with Neil Young and John Lennon, and I was very flattered with the comparisons. I think of myself as a songwriter but how the finished song turns out on a recording is another matter. I write my songs with the lyrics first and then find the tune on an acoustic guitar. If I was to play a song like that many people would say it is a folk song, but if the same song is performed or recorded with a band with an electric guitarist, a bass-player and a drummer, then it would be a rock song.
MS: What’s been your favourite gig to date, and where do you look forward to playing?
SA: Glastonbury 1998 was a wonderful gig for me because I had an encore for my set and that was despite the conditions because that was one of the years the event was flooded. I remember thinking if I can play for 45 minutes with just a semi-acoustic guitar and get an encore then I must be doing something right! In more recent years I really enjoyed a gig at the Andrew Buchan pub in Cardiff. That gig was memorable for me because I hadn’t played for a while but I still went down really well with the audience there.
I don’t know where I will be playing this year or when or where my next gig will be. I have been concentrating on my writing rather than my music career.
MS: Herbs of the Sun, Moon and Planets is a Pagan Portal; an introductory volume. Will you expand upon this at any point?
SA: I am planning on putting an online course together to go with the book. [watch this space for more info PaganPages readers!]
MS: Are you planning any other books?
SA: I have written over two thirds of a very graphic autobiographical account entitled The Dropouts and I am currently looking for a publisher.
I have plenty of ideas for other books too, including one about butterflies. I want to keep the details of that one secret though.
MS: You’ve lived in many different places around the globe. Do you find the energy changes depending on the local plants and trees? Are there plants that grow in the UK that you miss when not here?
SA: Tenerife, where I lived for over nine years, has a real mixture of microclimates and habitats, including semi-desert areas, high mountains, and evergreen laurel forests. There is an incredible variety of flora and fauna there. I found many plants I recognised and many others that were totally new to me. I was too excited with what was there to miss plants from the UK. Now I am in Portugal there is a mixture of plants and trees that grow in Britain, as well as subtropical plants. I find the natural world fascinating wherever I am.
MS: And finally, do you have a favourite season or time of the year and why?
SA: I like the spring best because it is when you can see the world waking up and coming alive again. It is when flowers start blooming, trees start coming into leaf again, birds start nesting, and frogs and toads return to the water to spawn. Also it is my birthday on the first day of spring!