The last time my wife and I went to a concert it was when Bryan Adams played the O2 Arena. It was a memorable concert and my wife’s comment on the way back home, “we used to do a lot of music festivals,” had me searching online for other concerts. Nevertheless although I found a few good choices, the prices were out of reach and I had to content myself with the memory of thousands of people singing along to Please Forgive Me. It’s a memory I’ve kept to myself and hence I can say it’s pure coincidence that the fifth song The Raven Queens played out at Wolfcraig last week was Please Forgive Me.
To have been talking about The Raven Queens the other day and be sitting down with a mixed audience of vampires and humans was not so much coincidence as the result of a hurried conversation after my interview with Anna. Little did I suspect that Anna’s sister, Boudica or Hannah as she is called these days, had arrived in Edinburgh and was meeting with various vampire elders prior to Elizabeth McIvor’s arrival in Britain. The first I had any inkling something was in the wind was when Cat dropped into our house on the Thursday night, ostensibly to check that my wife was okay about her vampirism. My wife has only just met her first vampire, officially that is, and Cat was just doing a routine visit.
“We’re having a get together at Wolfcraig,” she sipped the coffee, “we can’t get all of the Raven Queens together but at least four of them, including myself will be there to put on an unplugged concert for the guests. Perhaps you’d like to come for the night, Sian can put you both in a room and seeing as you’re married… to each other… you can even share the same bed,” she smiled crookedly.
Thus it was that twenty four hours later we arrived at Wolfcraig, an eighteenth century mansion that overlooks Loch Tay in Perthshire and has been in continual possession of Clan Grey Raven ever since it was built, albeit some decades there have been mortals on the property deeds. We followed Cat and Samantha up winding forest path to a car park at the rear of the mansion. A Norman chapel takes pride of place and Cat is quick to explain.
“It’s not an original Norman chapel, it was added to celebrate Victoria’s coronation, it’s a Norman style church although I must admit the architect and builder both lived through the days of the Norman occupation,” she stops as the front doors open and a woman with striking red hair steps outside. She pauses to light a cigarette and then looks up, sensing she’s not alone.
“A Chatriona chòir! S’ fhada bh ‘on dà latha ‘ud”
“ ‘S math d’fhàicinn a chàird!” Cat grins. *See translation at end of article.
She descends the steps and ambles towards us and I recall the tales I’ve read of her battle exploits during the First War of Independence and try to imagine her wielding a sword or spear. She pauses in front of me and gives me the once over and then glances at my wife. I feel as if someone has just read my mind and then she holds out her hand.
“I’m Sian, welcome to Wolfcraig. I hope your drive up here was pleasant.”
“And you left the children behind?”
“We ah, thought it best.”
“We don’t eat children,” she smirks, “at least not before lunch, but maybe next time. We’ve found if you introduce children to vampires early enough they take to us quite easily. Children are far more adaptable than us adults,” she notices my wife staring at the chapel.
“It’s seen quite a bit of history. Morganna was the lady of the house during the war years when she was married to Sven, for the eighth time. It was used as a radio relay tower and the grounds were sometimes used by SOE to train agents. It was a real church back in the day though, we’ve had a few vamps take up the cloth in between preparing for their next life. Now it’s my music studio, in between managing this hotel I produce albums for local artists. Come on in, we’re just running through some numbers. Anna’s been playing the piano but now you’re here,” she leaves the rest unsaid.
The exterior is impressive but inside it’s even more spectacular with soaring arches and vaulted ceilings. The metal trusses and platforms above us boast an array of spotlights aimed at where the nave would have been. An ancient pipe organ stands off to the left and I’m assured it actually works but “we don’t use it a lot,” Sian looks at the ceiling, “we did have bats for a few years but I think we scared them away,” she nudges me. “I can’t have batshit dropping all over expensive mixing equipment.”
The mixing desk is located at the rear of the church on a platform some four feet off the floor, I look up to find Tabitha sitting beside a man I’ve never seen before. She’s sipping what can only be a glass of blood and leans back in her chair as she waves cheerily.
“I wasn’t expecting Tabitha.”
“We decided to reform the Raven Queens for one night,” Sian replies, “Tabitha was never part of the band but she can play so we substituted members to take the place of Sigrid, Amelia and Shina.”
My attention is drawn to the front of the church where Anna is playing a Gibson Les Paul guitar while a tall redhead sings the second verse of a Capercaillie song, Outlaws and I feel a shiver run down my spine.
“Boudica uses the name Hannah at the moment, probably best you stick to Hannah. Only those of us who’ve known her a long time use her real name.”
The Iron Age queen sees us at that moment and acknowledges Cat with a brief wave.
That night we were treated to an impromptu concert of sorts as the band went through a few songs but it was clear they’d done this before many times and there were times they’d stop playing because one or two of them were breaking into fits of laughter or had a new tale to tell about some vampire. It seems that vampires take the piss out of each other in much the same way as we mortals except their jokes seem to be more outrageous and the humour is dark and satirical in nature. I get the feeling however that everyone in the hall is waiting for someone and my suspicions are proved correct when Anna’s phone rings halfway through Neil Young’s, Four Strong Winds. She apologises and puts the phone to her ear.
“Elizabeth, where the hell have you been? The conversation has been turning to shit all night,” she looks up and signals to Sian who picks up her phone, “the gates are opening by magic as I speak, see you soon babe.”
I wasn’t told of Elizabeth McIvor’s arrival and Sian’s face is immutable as she descends from the mixing desk and moves to the doors. They open as she reaches them and she joins two men as they leave the church.
They return some fifteen minutes later with Elizabeth and Morganna, or Melanie Nolan as she’s known to the world press. The others on stage greet her with wild applause and whistles much to Elizabeth’s amusement.
Morganna is speaking on the phone to someone but finishes the call a few moments later as Sian indicates that we two should meet. She disentangles herself from Samantha who’d greeted her with a hug. Samantha embraces Elizabeth and the billionaire supermodel draws her aside for a private talk. You would almost think the two were sisters the way they exchange greetings and smiles.
“So you’re the reporter,” I turn back to Morganna, “for someone held in such high regard by my girls I was expecting a giant of a man, we need to put some meat on your bones.”
“I’m trying to lose weight.”
“If you lose any more you’ll be skinnier than the female Beckham,” she holds out her hand, “Morganna, and this must be your wife.”
“One of my best friends is called Emily,” she takes her hand, “at least she was last time I saw her.”
“When was that?”
“Nineteen ninety four, she moves around a lot.”
She shrugs off her coat and hands it to Elizabeth.
“Would you be a dear? I think the girls are awaiting the star of the show,” she saunters towards the stage and Elizabeth grins.
“She’s been chewing my ear off for the last three hours about getting up here and as always it’s my fault,” she gesticulates dramatically.
“I heard that,” Morganna calls out.
Morganna was on tour with The Raven Queens as a manager, although at most gigs she could be found either at the mixing desk with Sian or at the lighting controls. She did play the fiddle now and then at some gigs but tended to let others take centre stage. Morganna was the one who often smoothed things over with the elders before and sometimes after a show. Due to her great age her mere presence was enough to put elders on the back foot.
The concert was scheduled for the following night and the band members spent the better part of the day rehearsing new songs. They’re a cover band and when I asked Sian if they had ever considered releasing just a few originals she smiled slyly.
“It has been talked about and we’ve recorded a few original songs but nothing ever happens. Music to them is just a pleasurable way to spend a night. Get them together and inevitably the guitars, fiddles and pipes come out.”
I was expecting no more than twenty or thirty others. At least that’s what I’d gathered from Cat the day before but about mid afternoon the first carloads began arriving. We were being shown around the grounds, which also boast a reconstructed Pictish village, Pictavia, by Samantha when three cars pulled into the car park.
“White Ravens,” Samantha comments, “Jana has brought her people.
The cars kept arriving at regular intervals and I was surprised to see families with children. Granted there were only six families and out of them only two had children under the age of ten. When I raised the subject over a hastily prepared dinner with the band members Morganna nodded and smiled.
“It was common before the church brought Old Europe under its control, but the last ten to fifteen years we’ve seen a steady increase in the numbers of open vampire marriages where the vampire comes out to the other and their children. The families who’ve come tonight are all aware of our existence, this was billed as a closed vampire event. There are various factors at play in this fairly recent development, the end of the Cold War and the appearance of dozens of independent nations. The fear brought on the the war on terror and the erosion of civil rights, financial uncertainty and austerity. Vampires are a link to the old world, the old way of doing things. Once people get past the traditional fear of the vampire and discover we’re actually quite normal we find that they’re more than willing to accept us as equals.”
As to whether the vampires could come out is another issue and one she admits has exciting possibilities and daunting obstacles.
“But we’re not there yet, we’re here to play music,” she indicates my Chicken Pakora, “so eat up already before you lose your dinner to someone else.”
That someone else being Anna who is helping herself to another helping of Pakora.
“We’ve jammed together back in Chicago but it was always at Sigrid’s hotel or at one of our homes. We’re actually spoiled for choice with songs, if this goes less than three hours I’ll bare my ass in public,” she smiles, “again.”
By the time we got into the church hall there were close to three hundred people and my wife looked up at me.
“How can you tell the difference?”
“You can’t,” Elizabeth came up behind us, “that’s the whole idea. If you dress like a vamp then everyone knows what you are and expects you to behave like their favourite vampire, come on, we’re in the gallery,” she points to one of the two elaborately fashioned galleries that extend part of the way along the church.
I’ve seen the DVD and while that was impressive enough for a full blown rock and roll show, nothing could prepare me for the Raven Queens Unplugged live. In a pitch black church hall you hear a soulful woman’s voice singing the opening bars to the theme from Harry’s Game. A single spotlight shines on Boudica dressed in a white shirt over a black top and tucked into a red leather mini over knee high boots. She has a voice that can carry to the rear of the hall without any amplification at all. A second light shines on Cat at the piano with Morganna playing a fiddle and by the end of the song the rest of the ensemble are revealed, all sitting apart from Boudica. There’s a pause and before anyone can applaud they launch into an old Capercaillie number, Outlaws, which did bring a lump to my throat. Granted I know the story behind the Highland Clearances but to have women who witnessed the barbarity of the English depopulation of the Highlands for their hunting estates sing about it is truly moving and I’ve already made a mental note to write an article on that at some point in the future.
At the end of the second song there was silence that was broken seconds later by thunderous applause and cheers. It set the tone for what turned out to be a good three hour concert. A cover version of Please Forgive Me was the first of three Bryan Adams songs.
Midway into the gig, Elizabeth made her way onto the stage with a tablet computer to take a question and answer session. Apparently the vampires had been messaging the Raven Queen Twitter forum with questions and some were music related but others were actually quite personal and you begin to realise, as if you didn’t already know, that the vampires never relinquished their mortal yearnings and questions when they submitted to the bite.
“I have several stepchildren,” one woman had asked, “how do you go about revealing yourself to them when you’re supposed to have vanished? I’m not dead to them yet,” she added.
“Very carefully,” Cat replied, “have a plan B and C in place just in case things don’t work out, be prepared for rejection and make sure you have the support of your clan around you. Humans are like vampires, they’re unpredictable. With Sammie I had the clan let certain clues slip with no indication either way from me whether I would go through with it. It sounds cruel and heartless but you have to protect them and you from harm.”
She explained the question and answer session to me as we waited for the band to tune instruments and the audience to settle down again.
“One of the more memorable features of a Raven Queens gig was the interaction afterwards between older and newer members. Vampires have the same worries and cares as mortals, they don’t give up their humanity once they’re turned, it flies in the face of reason.”
The second part of the concert was a little more rock and roll but still ended on a fairly quiet note with slower songs and their encore was Sarah McLachlan’s, Answer and Angels. I was still buzzing at one in the morning when Cat made her way through to the living room we’d commandeered for the last half an hour.
“How’s our new star?”
“New star?” I wince, “you ladies were the stars.”
“I said the new star,” she props on her palm, “we’re the old stars just doing what we did for years but your articles have reached many of the vamps who were there tonight. Like it or not you’ve become something of a hero to them because you treat us like human beings. Vampires see a lot, a hell of a lot and we need to unburden ourselves and let it all out, which is why we have our official Gatherings and lots of unofficial meetings. You’ll have enough stories to fill a book soon enough, they’ve seen you with Elizabeth and she’s vampire royalty. That will be enough to convince the others to come forward and tell your stories,” she pauses for a few moments.
“At the end of the day we’re human, immortal humans and when mortals like you start treating us like humans instead of freaks of nature or monsters it gives us hope and courage that perhaps one day we can come out.” I must have looked overwhelmed because she chuckles quietly.
“Don’t go getting a big head over it, just keep doing what you’re doing,” she eyes the painting of her that dates from the Proscription years, “we need to do this more often,” she stretches.
“Well don’t stay up too long. I think Sian’s got some time booked in for your next interview, unless of course you’re not interested?” She raises an eyebrow.
I’m always interested in talking to vampires.
* Thanks to Fiona Rennie for the Gaelic dialogue and translation.
“Dearest Catriona, it’s been a long time since those two days.”
“It’s good to see you my friend.”
When my stepmom’s plane went down a part of me died, Cat was my world. In her place she left us to her friends, the Grey Ravens. Over the years I slowly came to realise her death was a mere facade. When we were reunited I learned the truth about Clan Grey Raven and her remarkable history. Some people will always love. Some people never lose hope. Some people never die…SmashwordsAmazon.comAmazon UK