Beware this poem contains history, rage and people being heartless.

My stupendous friend Robin Grey who has created an incredible show about land rights and their history in the UK, called 3 Acres and a Cow, commissioned me to write a poem about the Highland Clearances in Scotland and when I began to research this dark side of our history and the shame that is so cut into its every tale.  I ended up writing a bit of an epic and  was unsure about it but when I performed it at Grow Heathrow, which is a project that is fighting for it’s own land rights, I was surprised with how it was met. Please take a look and also at Mr Grey’s latest venture which is called Pedal Folk and you can find out more here:



‘Sean-na-chie’- A folk historian amongst the Highlanders of Scotland whose calling was to witness and to keep the memory of the experiences of their community alive.





The bleeding clotted words from scarred wounds, become stories that never really heal, often pricked by the memories of cleansing fires and these lesions are cut deep as the mount of Canada Hill.

Where Clansmen climbed with their tartan stripped from waist, land and family, to spy the ships that leave for new endeavours. Eyes of grief capture their brother’s faces in stormy clouds before their last blinkered glimpse of them forever.

Improvements came in the year of the sheep. Sweeping away bristling highland peaks as the ling heather is harvested in August, nature left strange and barren. Waves of pinkish lilac turn into the crushed heads of the women of Strathcarron.

Their punctured stern beauty, beaten by the landlord’s craven militia who charged the unarmed daughters of Ross-shire. Struck them with all their force, mangling limbs and weltering gore lying them down in fields of savage mire.



The act of union that was burned in the dead of Cullodden gave way to George’s butcher to sever tribes through their stomachs being emptied and their tongues being levered. A Duke, devoid of the spirit of kindness triggered the murdering, raping of all that came across his suspicious heart, now maimed and now tethered.

Proscription quietened all song with the gaelic ‘dia duit’ that hoped some God would be with them, no more would the kinsfolk meet to gather tales and rebellion. Ere the shapes of men were culled into chattels for the harsh watery graves of kelp work or bound to be new slaves of the Caribbean.


Displaced crofters held their possessions in the rain, no abode awaiting their weary bodies when their forty mile trek was done. Yet their legs carried many a soul when the sea of flames flooded the blazing houses that scalded for six days till there was none. Their ashes could not dry the cries of dashed hopes that soon crashed on the rocks of Strath point.


The clearance of Barra was an artful plan by cunning Cluny a colonel who called his tenants to a meeting that would never be minuted. With threats of blazing destruction the village of 1,500 breaths, were bound to go to the assembly hall like cattle unaware of the sorrow ahead.



These people were seized, with handcuffs and truncheons that smashed all the power from them. Dragged onto the ship bound for lands that lived over the horizon, some broke free into the sombre ocean, swimming for Scotland. Yet only finding the police’s felling hand and their bankrupt wanderings of Glasgow’s streets.


No one was better than the Duke of Sutherland at pulling the plough up in the rafters and replacing them with the big white sheep in a vile landslide. Their teeth lay many a man upon a shelf and the jaws of Stafford bit a broad mark into the countryside. Chewing the limbs of his thousand dwellers in a greed for the profit of coin over mortals, the pains of revenue he would neither starve nor deny.

With a winter came a death that birthed plans that would rub scorn into foundations of stone that would burrow into the heathland. A monument to honour the first marquis of eviction, slow deaths and dishonours, was built upon a terrifying demand. Those who he had turfed from grass to beach in life were threatened with a spectre of consequence, if they did not raise a shilling to pay for a statue that still sits upon Ben Braggie in sick prominence.


A 100 feet effigy that looks over the skyline of Golspie, still stands as a reminder that some ranks will take the benefits of money over the cares of man. Angers tear into the wind and there is still a hand that would slash its features till gloating eyes became mineral again. Sean-na-chie’s would pray that a hundred years from now this would be a pedestal of crumbling decay, never forgotten but ravaged by the nature he tried in life to tame.


By Keely Mills


Copyright to Keely Mills

February 27th 2014 


I loved Travelling with these people.

Last night I was part of a  50th anniversary celebration of the ground breaking radio ballad ‘The Travelling People’,  which was first broadcast on April 17th 1964. 

On the 17th April 1964, the BBC broadcast The Travelling People, a ‘radio ballad’ by Ewan MacColl, Charles Parker and Peggy Seeger. The last of their incredible collaborations, this programme explored the lives of Gypsies and Travellers in their own voices, interspersed with songs by MacColl.

To commemorate and celebrate the 50th anniversary of this broadcast, I was part of a new radio ballad recording with some amazing performers and people who are either Gypsy, Romany or Travellers as well as though people that collaborate or work with that community. The night itself was based at New Cross Learning which is an occupied library which is open to the community and addresses lots of social activist issues and supports people in New Cross with access to books and learning, I loved this venue, especially as its right opposite Goldsmith’s University! The organisers of New Cross Learning were so gracious and open that it reminded me of the first time I walked into the Glass Onion community arts centre here in Peterborough in 2006, which without that I would not be performing today. So please check them out if you ever near there, go in buy a book, watch a film or just have a chat with someone wise to the world. 

I was excited to perform with the ever so stylish Damian Le Bas again and it’s always such a pleasure to listen to his kushti poetry and views on the world in general and there was also Mark Brown who organised the night, whose musical talent is enthralling, such a soft voice but with real purpose and passion behind it. I was also a bit nervous about hearing Alex Etchart’s version of his Dale Farm ballad again mainly because the last time I heard this at Grow Heathrow in February, I cried like a baby!

Already the night was going to be full of heart and boy was it, kicking off with some images and audio clips of the original broadcast, that then moved into a stirring performance by Mark and his stunning gang of musicians including the incredible voice of Sarah Jewell and by the way Sarah if you read this, your voice sounded great even though you were a snot monster as you put it and I can’t wait to hear it in full flight and health.

Then the night moved between poetry, music and voices so seamlessly that it was almost like we had rehearsed it, which we hadn’t that was all down to Mark and his precisioned organising.  I have to admit though that when Thomas McCarthy sang I was taken to a time that relied on it’s singers to tell it’s stories and goodness what a voice, Please see a video of his below just so you can understand my awe.  Then to really bring the night to a colourful conclusion The Gypsy Stars performed and getting to sing the Romany national anthem was just an absolute delight and the whole night is something I will never forget.  I also received a huge compliment from Brenda Downes who works at the Irish Community Centre in Lewisham and  has being working with Gypsies, Romanies and Travellers for years, when she said my poetry moved her and that only just hit me today, that if your honest your work can really make people feel connected and for that I am very grateful.

The amount of positive energy and passion in that room was intoxicating and there were already mumblings of performing the night again, maybe in Wiltshire,maybe in Peterborough which if that happens I recommend everyone comes too. Please take a look at the other performer’s/ collaborators web links below and also Thomas’s video and I will post up some images and the actual recording very soon.


Big thanks to everyone last night and please be lucky.


About the performers:

* The Gypsy Stars
* Thomas McCarthy:
* Damian Le Bas:
* Alex Etchart:
* Peter Cox, author of Set Into Song, a brilliant history of the radio
* Hedgemustard:
* Sarah Jewell: runs Songlines Choir
* Brenda Downes will talk about her work with Travellers in

Poetry in the Park… or Keely terrorises Ferry Meadows!

I am pleased to announce that I am running a poetry workshop at Nene Park Trust and that I am looking forward to working with writers on their vision of this iconic part of Peterborough, alongside the beauty and feelings associated with the Seasons, which seems such an un-original subject but creates inspiration time and time again.

Nene Park Trust here in Peterborough is an incredible green and natural asset to the city and I was honoured to be asked to lead a workshop there on the 21st of June, I have taken the themes of the seasons and how the park and ourselves change through out the year , I was really influenced by a recent exhibition at the Park that celebrated their 25th Anniversary and this was created by the wonderful and prolific photographer Chris Porsz, I really loved his take on the park and the people within it.  I have also been lucky enough to gain the expertise of one of the rangers on the day too, so if your a participant you get a guided walk, then get to write poetry with the potential to then create a poetry trail around the park at a later date, what is not to love?  Booking details for the workshop , please see below:





Poetry In The Park

Description : Following a walk and talk with a Nene Park Ranger, work with former Peterborough poet laureate Keely Mills.  Through exciting and inspiring writing exercises, participants will create poetry to reflect their vision of Ferry Meadows.

Times: 10am – 2pm
Suitable for ages: 18+
Easy Access: This event may not be suitable for all.  Please call for details.
Meeting point: To be confirmed at time of booking
Booking required: Essential.  Please telephone 01733 234193 to book a place.

Charge: £12


To find out more about Chris Porsz please go to:     & Nene Park Trust, please go to:


The Travelling People

I am totally honoured to be performing at the following event and to be on the same bill as some of these inspirational artists and I hope some people will be able to come along as well.





The Travelling People 2014


When: 17th of April 2014 at 7:00pm

Where: New Cross Learning
283 – 285 New Cross Road
SE14 6AS

Price: Free/Donation


A 50th anniversary celebration of the groundbreaking radio ballad ‘The Travelling People’, first broadcast on April 17th 1964, featuring The Gypsy Stars, Thomas McCarthy, Damian Le Bas, Keely Mills, Alex Etchart, Peter Cox & Hedgemustard.
On the 17th April 1964, the BBC broadcast The Travelling People, a ‘radio ballad’ by Ewan MacColl, Charles Parker and Peggy Seeger. The last of their groundbreaking collaborations, this programme explored the lives of Gypsies and Travellers in their own voices, interspersed with songs by MacColl.

April 17th 2014 will be the 50th anniversary of this broadcast, so that’s the day we’ll celebrate it, as well as the lives and culture of Gypsies, Travellers and Roma people. We’ll do this by creating a 2014 version of a radio ballad (albeit with visuals as well as sound!)

About the performers:
* The Gypsy Stars
* Thomas McCarthy:
* Damian Le Bas:
* Keely T. Mills:
* Alex Etchart:
* Peter Cox, author of Set Into Song, a brilliant history of the radio
* Hedgemustard:
* Brenda Downes will talk about her work with Travellers in

Goldsmiths College Library houses an extraordinary and little-seen collection of material that once belonged to Seeger and MacColl. This collection is filled with material that explores and celebrates the incredibly rich folk music of these islands, as well as the struggles of the disadvantaged to carve out some justice in their own lives, and in those of others. More than anything else, the collection is an exploration of the extraordinary potential of music to transform social struggles.

There will be an exhibition of material from the Seeger/MacColl collection at New X LEarning from April 14-27th.

And there will be a workshop run by Peggy Seeger in the Goldsmiths Special Collections room on May 28th on making effective and inspiring political music in the 21st century. Contact for more details.

Thanks to the Lipman-Miliband Trust for part-funding this event


The boy he loves me.

At the start of this year, a wonderful endeavour began. My husband, the visual artist Luke Payn was asked to create an idea for the heart stomping band ‘Opaque’ and their new song, ‘I need reminding’. After cups of tea, story boards and clandestine meetings with mates. Filming began and so did the early morning’s, my man rushing from the house with his wedding suit in tow and yes he is wearing his actual wedding suit, which now has seen better days but it was worth it. I hope you agree too? The pure energy of  the story and the  music are so beautifully linked with images that depict a water god on a mission, as those young people might say and some of the shots are just too darn sexy, ( author’s own opinion).

At the end there is a quick cameo by myself, which was actually quite hard for me to be all serious and straight faced as I am used to performing for laughs but I think it works. I have to say thanks to the whole team behind it too, Moony and the Opaque massive,  Vikki Harold, Jay Gearing, Simon Belham, Sophie Antonelli, Karen Lawrence, Amanda Rigby, Liz Maciag, Matthew Robinson and of course the boy.



Take a look and go and see Opaque live as well!


Slightly distracted from Peterborough…

So for the last year, I have been so busy with lots of other group’s creative projects that I have forgotten to be creative myself!

This is a common theme for a lot of artists who are both trying to feed their own creative soul and the cat at home. How do you make sure that you are not that starving artist in the garret?  Whilst saving time from meetings, emails, project plans and deadlines to actually write, paint, draw or dance? I am still trying to find that magic combination which enables me to do both and it has often been a struggle especially when I have valued the pound over the pure joy of putting words into a poem. Often distracted by the glint of gold has mean’t that my passion has suffered from a sudden and all encompassing collision into other paths that often crumble or lead onto other roads that pushes me further and further away from the notebook.  Then at the start of this year I made time to write, inspired by my friend and artist Ann Bellamy, a day of mentoring with the poet Ross Sutherland and also that weird itch you get as an artist. So I gave into the urge and wrote 4 poems in two weeks, now this might sound like a ridiculously small amount but considering over the last two years, I have only written 6 I think I might be turning a corner!

In recent weeks, I have fallen again into the honey trap of pensions, regular money and potential holidays and lost the momentum. But life is the strangest thing and has my dad says, ‘you can’t make it up’ and with that all the above was suddenly put behind the curtain and in a Twin Peaks style montage, there is a small person shouting, ‘who killed your poetry? Millsy… and I have to face that odd faced David Lynch inspired character and say, that in fact it was ‘me’ that killed it.

As sad has that may sound, I think that every artist has this transition in their life where they decide to either give up for a while and go and work in insurance or they be bold and just take a chance and do it. With that I have included one of those four poems below and I promise to be a little bit braver and I think this poem says it all ( by the way this is dedicated to my Grandma Earnshaw, small, fiery and eternal).


Live Your Life like You’re Wearing a Colander on Your Head.


Only two people in my life have ended up on their knees.

These moments of surrender happened before I was a fragment of being.
I was not even a lusty wink in my father’s eye.
My mother not yet pregnant and desperate to fill her world with a little girl.
That would pick apart shells and bodies and eat snails out of the garden.
A little girl who would be banned from Brownies for defending her friend, by calling Big Brown Owl a ‘big fat cow’.
That little girl who would later become me.
My Mother filled with nature’s disappointment for the 11th month, prayed in bent repent to a God she would later argue with. There in the unbelievably hot summer of 1976, still a record holder.
My Mother cradles wishes that she willed into a murmaration of hopes that she promised could become reality at any cost.

Uttering that she would give anything to be able to hold a life within her.
Declaring that fortune could take from her whatever it pleased, if replaced with this gift.
Within that humid June, my Mother fought back tears and began to bloom with the speck of potential that starts a new soul.
In disbelief and in the even hotter July she was ready to say those words that changed Paul into my Dad.
In split screen history, murky with years of fingerprints, slides of my grandma in black and white, fade her image in an out of my mind.
She was the force that brought the second person in my life to their knees.
Tidal waves of anger pulse throughout the room and tears of frustration cling to her cheeks. She riles with her 4ft 2 inches might at my 6ft 2inch tall granddad.


She, who had left the hospital half an hour with his arms around her.
Took those same arms and tied herself to them in screams, the despair of what was inside her had finally hit. My grandfather crippled with the weight of grief; buckled to the floor of the family room still anchored to my grandmother’s hands.
Till the only words that ever hurt like heaven slipped from him, ‘How will I live without you’?
Fate nailed all the horseshoes upside down, led an army of black cats across the path and every Friday became the 13th in just seven words, ‘You have only six months to live’.
As I grew in my Mother’s womb, my grandmother’s cancer spread. One immune system attacked in trench warfare and the other ready for the upcoming battle of chicken pox and measles.
The only flag that their bodies both raised was blasted with the anthem of that to survive till I came into the world.
Two mother’s  harboring the infinite ends of life, both glowing in the dark, silent in their inevitabilities.

I arrived three weeks late, grappled by my father’s dirty hands that stained the new, white sheets I was wrapped in.
The dark earth of the fens still encrusted on his fingers, greeted me then bled into my veins, the nurse told him off for being a mucky bugger.
Names were shot at my sleeping face from all the family.
Strong in her weak state, my grandma dredged from jazz singers, opera stars and Irish valleys my name.
A safety net for every fall I ever commit. Her quiet belief in my beauty sits inside every insult I receive and all the photos I ever take.
She held me for six weeks, fighting the doctors, nurses and spectres away.
Singing her stories into my developing brain, filling me with the celebration of life.
When she passed, she walked into a paradise of her own design; ties of love broke under her leaving.
I still hope that her nirvana was crammed with ABBA songs, dovecotes and my granddad handsome in his Navy uniform.

After that on every Sunday from age 9 to 15 I would laugh at my mum’s tales about my name giver. How my Nan was the kind of woman that put a colander on her head, tied tight with a neat bow. Keeping it up and unsinkable when she ran could not have it slipping off when the summer rain began to thunder.
Even though the holes let in the wet and she wore obscene shorts that were hardly considered clothing.
She loved to pass the village vicar and watch his face fill with red surprise.
She threw appearances to the wind, gave no meaning to what was expected.
She loved each sensation of life from singing out of tune passionately, the smell of apples and the pain of miscarriage.
Gifting this drumbeat of excitement for existence to my mother and I.
this means you will often see us living life like we are wearing a colander on our heads.

By Keely Mills Feb 14th 2014