A howl in the woods

Last night (04 March) I howled. Not in an Oh-Lordy-what-a-bad-day-I’ve-had kind of way, but as part of a series of public events, linked to Simon whitehead’s exhibition at Oriel Davies Gallery, Newtown.  I’ve written about this exhibition before, and Whitehead’s interest in reconnecting people with the land, so I won’t go on about it, but at the private view I picked up a flyer for a public howl and my curiosity was piqued enough to make the journey up through Wales, looking glorious in the early Spring evening sunlight, to Newtown.

Louphole was the final performance, linked to the exhibition Afield. It featured a cast of some 50 members of the public, Newtown Silver Band and a beautiful starry, if rather chilly, night sky.

We  gathered at the gallery, suitably swaddled against the chill air and carrying our torches, to receive our instructions from Whitehead and the stewards. From there we moved off, wending our way to the town centre. As we neared the Elephant and Castle Hotel, strange calls reached our ears from several directions at once. It was Newtown Silver Band, lamps strapped to their heads, working their way towards the front of the Regent cinema, tooting out the specially commissioned music by Simon Whitehead’s long-time collaborator, Barnaby Oliver. As we listened, traffic slowed and heads popped out of windows to see what was going on. Everyone was smiling.It was wonderful and set the tone for the next stage – the tramp up to Bryn Hill for the howl.

In the dark, in a field which may or may not have had sheep in it, we congregated for the next set of instructions. Whitehead told us that there used to be wolves in the Clun Forest 300 years ago (the link will take you to a story about their reintroduction), just across the plain where Newtown nestled below us, twinkling it’s street lights back at the stars over our heads.

Then we learned of the large, annual  gatherings in Algonquin National Park, where thousands of people get together and howl, in the hopes that the wolves will howl back at them.

And then we howled……

Now this could have been one of those buttock-clenchingly, tree-hugging, moon-worshipping activities, that I’ve spent most of my life ducking and diving away from. But it really wasn’t. We took our first lead from Simon, with the instruction to begin to stop when he shone his torch into the large galvanised megaphone contraption he had lugged up the hill with him (see pic above, it’s pretending to be the moon). In the event it wasn’t necessary after the first round of howling and everyone threw themselves into it. In the pauses we waited, listening for a response. Once there was a howl back from the town, then a sheep bleated nearby and finally a train.

After four or five waves of howling, we made our way back to the Elephant and Castle for cup of tea and a hot cross bun. The whole event was beautifully conceived, well planned and stewarded (the friendly police and St Johns Ambulance volunteers contrasting starkly with my St David’s Day experience). And howling in the dark is a great release, while howling in the dark with fifty other people is something else again.

The entire event was filmed and recorded. Highlights will be going on the Oriel Davies website with signed, limited editions of the dvd available to buy for a mere £10.

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