Awen Veleda & The Wandering Lights is a Brighton, England-based music collective that brings together musicians from around the world to create a unique brand of contemporary folk. The project is headed by songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Mike Five (who also plays guitar for the rock band 1 in Five and co-hosts a music podcast with Dr. Bones). They’ve just released their debut EP An Alien Invasion In The Petty Kingdoms (Part 1: Prelude), a concept work exploring how people deal with the unexpected, manage change through their own beliefs and context, and find ways to work together. The name Awen Veleda is a fictitious person, with ‘Awen’ meaning inspiration, while ‘Veleda’ was a 1st century prophetess who was worshipped by Germanic peoples, and her name has come to be synonymous with inspirational wisdom.
The story for An Alien Invasion In The Petty Kingdoms (Part 1: Prelude) is set in 9th Century Britain, amid an unexpected and shocking event that unfolds through the voices of various characters, all scrambling to understand the truth and come to agreement about how to deal with it. The collaborative EP is based on an original narrative and accompanying music written by Mike Five, with lyrics and lead vocals by GRIM17. In addition to Mike Five, who played guitars, organ, piano, drums, synths, shakers, tambourines and birdsong recordings, and GRIM17, for this EP The Wandering Lights is also comprised of One Blind Mouse, who performed the string arrangements and also mixed and mastered the EP, Gemma Kirk, who sang backing vocals on “A Message to the King”, Becca Wright, who played fiddle on “The Witan” and “Chieftain Caiside”, Iona James, who sang backing vocals on “The Real Ealdorman”, Ron Bowes, who played harmonica on “The Real Ealdorman”, Sadie-Rei, who sang joint lead vocals on “Lucrezia”, and Rae Cameron, who played flute on “Lucrezia”.
In advance of the EP’s release on Bandcamp on September 3rd, The Wandering Lights have also released music videos for three of the tracks. The EP will be released on all other music streaming platforms on November 5th. They’ve included all the lyrics for each song on their Bandcamp page.
The EP begins with “A Message to the King“, which describes the adventures of two messengers who travel day and night to reach the King with the terrifying news that an army of mysterious mercenaries has invaded the eastern end of the kingdom. But this is no ordinary group of heathens, as they may not even be human. Unsure themselves of what they’ve actually seen, or that anyone would believe them, their message must reach the King at all costs.
The song opens and closes with spacey sci-fi sounds, a nod to the mysterious alien nature of the invaders. But for the bulk of the track, the music settles into a dark and haunting soundscape of mournful piano and stings, accompanied by Mike Five’s strummed acoustic guitar. GRIM17’s vocals are perfect for the song’s dark mood, and Gemma King’s ethereal choral vocals add a wonderful ghostly vibe.
For the official video, Mike Five and Co. overlaid their track onto the original video for “The King” by Italian animator Goga Mason, which was itself a retelling of the classic story of King Kong. Though it’s a fascinating and compelling video, the visuals do not match the storyline of “A Message to the King”, so I’m not sure why they would use it for this song.
On track two, “The Witan“, a quickly-assembled witan advises the King to take immediate action against the invaders, but before he acts he must uncover the facts and separate them from rumor and superstition. (In England from the 6th to 10th centuries, a witan was a wise man who advised the king on specific issues, and often a member of the Witenagemote, or assembly of wise men, which was the forerunner of the future English Parliament.) Led by a dominant thumping drumbeat overlain with moody strings and acoustic guitar and highlighted by Becca Wright’s lively fiddle, the song has an ancient Celtic feel.
“The Red Ealdorman” (an ealdorman, old English for alderman, was an official of Anglo-Saxon England appointed by the king, who was responsible for law, order, and justice in his shire and for leading his local fyrd, or militia) addresses the efforts by a particular official who’s sent by the King to raise the fyrd and gather an army in preparation for battle. Because of the unusual and potentially daunting circumstances behind their mysterious foe, the King will need all the help he can assemble, even from his enemies – in this case a Celtic Chieftain and his tribe. The prominent organ used in the track gives it a gospel feel, while Ron Bowes’ haunting harmonica and Iona James’ lovely backing vocals add a nice folk touch. Also, to my ears, GRIM17’s vocals on this track remind me a bit of U2’s Bono Hewson.
The video produced for this track enlisted the help of The Wandering Lights’ own army of music lovers from around the world, their own personal fyrd, if you will.
“Chieftain Caiside” sees the red ealdorman, aka the crimson man, meeting with the King’s nemesis Chieftain Caiside, and delivering an urgent message of peace and unity, in their common need to defeat a newfound foe. Thankfully, the chieftain is responsive, and promises his support to the King: “The crimson man rides from my sights, with a message I sent that I hope is right. I won’t be the reason for the downfall these kingdoms may yet incur. I’ve heard your words, I’ve heard your words. Uncommon enemies.” Once again, Becca Wright’s rousing fiddle is a highlight of the song.
The final track “Lucrezia” is the most beautiful of the five, and also my favorite. At this point in the saga, the King, struggling to get to the truth, comes to the realization that the unusual challenges he faces will require creative solutions. He concludes that to achieve the greater good, one sometimes has to do something possibly sinful by comporting with beings outside his own religion, and contacts the Priestess Lucrezia to see if her visions can offer guidance – whilst praying to his own God for forgiveness. “Lucrezia, you’ve been light, love and teacher, So much for so long. But once more I must beg your indulgence. Could you lend me your song?” to which she replies with promise of her assistance that also comes with a warning: “King, I lend you arm and leg so you can make amends .Abuse them not. I am nonviolent until you force my hand.”
GRIM17’s vocals are raw, plaintive and heartfelt on this track, and the silky croons of Sadie-Rei (of the California alt-pop/punk band Until Further Notice) are as enchanting as we’d expect from a priestess. I love the sounds of chirping birds, as well as Mike Five’s beautiful acoustic guitar, One Blind Mouse’s somber strings, and Rae Cameron’s captivating flute. It’s a gorgeous ending to Part 1 of this saga, which I’m now eager to watch unfold.