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Beautiful new music with very old words, for voices and lyre; a medieval-meets-modern choral concept album!
252 backers pledged £10,323 to help bring this project to life.
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Riddle Songs: an album by Stef Conner project video thumbnail
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£10,323

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ALERT: The World Desperately Needs a Bardic Prog-Choral Concept Album in Old English!

No, seriously! Keep reading and I will convince you...

I'm Stef Conner, a singer and composer who crafts new music out of ancient poetry. For decades I've dreamt of releasing a CD of beautiful vocal music in Old English, the very-different-sounding early ancestor of my mother tongue. Classical choirs the world over often sing in Latin – the language of the elite, the aristocracy and the church. So isn't it time they also breathed some new musical life into the ancient language of the people, spoken in markets, the mead-hall, as magical charms, and by storytellers around the fire? The Old English language itself, and its rich poetic corpus, is inspiring. It's time we heard more of it in modern choral music... 

This project is a lifelong dream – and I need to raise £6K (£7.5K including the campaign expenses and platform fees) in three weeks to make it happen! It's a challenge, but with your support it can be done. If you pledge even a little, you'll help to bring the first contemporary choral album in Old English to life, supporting new culture, as well as making connections with lost cultures of deep history, and celebrating an under-appreciated shared heritage that sparkles with creativity and wisdom. Anglo-Saxon England has been slandered by the description "Dark Ages" for too long – its poetry is dazzling! Let's make it resound in song!

 The Backstory...  

I make music by delving into ancient history for inspiration, plundering the imagined soundscapes of lost worlds, and revelling in the musicality of oral poetry. I was doing it in funding-free but creatively fulfilled obscurity until I hit upon the idea, along with my wonderful and crazy collaborators Mark Harmer and Andy Lowings, of recording a CD of sung ancient Mesopotamian poetry, accompanied by Lowings' reconstructed Lyre of Ur, a 4000-year-old, giant, gold, Sumerian bull-headed lyre. On a budget of near-zero we recorded our album, The Flood (see the title track performed in the video below), and released it in 2012, as The Lyre Ensemble. Much to our surprise, it went viral!

On a high from the wonderful response to The Flood, I acted on a whim and emailed one of my musical idols, Benjamin Bagby (director of Sequentia Ensemble for Medieval Music) to tell him about it. I wanted to delve more seriously into reconstructing ancient music, mixing some serious medieval into the modern, as I continued my creative love affair with Old English. I knew that Ben, the master-singer of Beowulf, was the best person in the world to learn from. Well, in life good things happen when you take risks and throw yourself into the unfamiliar. And now, a few years on from swallowing my insecurity and writing that email, I am in the very fortunate position of singing with the mighty Sequentia. Working with Ben, as well as Norbert Rodenkirchen, and Hanna Marti as part of this iconic ensemble is one of the most inspiring experiences of my life. 

Sequentia, photo by Reto Marti
Sequentia, photo by Reto Marti

With Sequentia, I have been thrown into a world of medieval modes, magical charms, lost heroes, heartsick exiles, and ingenious riddles, immersed not only in the language of Old English poetry, but also its most closely related musical traditions, which come down to us in manuscripts from the 9th–12th centuries. This deep, rich inspiration has flooded into the music of Riddle Songs. The CD is also spectacularly enhanced by the expertise and creativity of my fellow Sequentia soprano Hanna Marti, who features heavily. Her gorgeous voice will blow you away when you hear it!

What does it sound like?

Riddle Songs gives lyrical voice to the riddles of the 10th-century Exeter Book, interweaving rich, multi-layered choral textures into glacially sparse songs for voice, harp, and lyre. I have drawn inspiration from the vivid, otherworldly imagery of the riddle texts themselves, as well as marrying influences from folksong and medieval music with my contemporary style.

Hidden amongst the new compositions are songs in an imagined Anglo-Saxon musical style, based on surviving medieval music and English folksong. One of them is my reconstruction of Caedmon's Hymn, the oldest poem (or song) in English, composed in the seventh century. Of course we can never know how Caedmon's Hymn really sounded, so this track is also a kind of 'modern music'... but it's a kind of modern music that wants you to think it's medieval – a little historical musical deception! 

A few years ago I made an EP, Hord Songs, which was also in Old English, with lots of riddles. You can listen to a little sample below, for a taste of what this album will sound like. I'm giving away copies of Hord Songs (out of print; unavailable anywhere else) as part of this campaign!

So what's the plan?

1. Fundraise and compose: The first job in the schedule is of course to raise the remaining funds... but there is also the the not insignificant task of finishing the music! ;-) Throughout July I will be tying up creative loose ends, probably changing around my own solo tracks right up until the very last minute!  One interesting thing about doing that alongside running this campaign is that it gives YOU a chance to be involved in the creative process. Conversations with supporters I have as a result of this campaign have the potential to influence the work itself. If you have ideas about Old English riddles and how to sing them, you can share them here. I take note of everything! And your pledges and support will help to keep me motivated and sane throughout this intense period. 

2. Rehearsal and recording: On Monday 29th July all the singers gather in the Phipps Concert Hall, University of Huddersfield, to rehearse. That evening, with your help we'll be able to raise a glass to celebrate a successful fundraising campaign! Some of the pledges give you unique access to share those experiences with us through our Riddle Songs blog. We then spend three days recording with Paul Baxter of Delphian Records. Expect some musical magic to happen! By Friday 2nd August, it will all be onto the next phase...

3. Mixing, editing, pressing, preparation: We'll be mixing and editing the CD into early 2020, alongside putting together the album artwork (which you can own as a poster if you like – see the rewards), writing liner notes, and preparing for the launch. I'll also be tidying up musical scores, so I can share them with other choirs or soloists who might want to sing the music. Check the rewards list and you'll see that you can purchase full performing scores with line-by-line translations and everything else you need to play this music yourself!

4. Campaign rewards: We're aiming to send out most of the rewards in November–December 2019, so you'll receive your CDs, letters, posters, specially commissioned songs before the year is out. Exciting! Other rewards like private concerts or workshops will take place on mutually convenient dates, stretching into early 2020.

4. Launch: March 2020! STOP PRESS! Riddle Songs will be officially released! :-) Even if you already have your copy by then, we'll find ways to make this something fun and exciting for you too. Especially because...

5. Performances: When we launch the CD, we'll also start performing the music live, first around the UK and then hopefully beyond. Watch this space! Nothing is set in stone yet, but there will definitely be at least one album launch show in the UK. VIP tickets for that concert (all details TBC) are up for grabs in the rewards.

Who's involved?

The singers: I'm in the very fortunate position of writing for some of my all-time favourite singers; it's a privilege to write for such talented people. As well as Hanna Marti, the CD features the voices of Elspeth Piggott, Ana Beard-Fernandez, Peyee Chen, Lisa J Coates, Robin Bier, Chris O'Gorman, Toby Ward, Nils Greenhow, Louis Marlowe, Jamie Wright, and Graham Bier. They are all amazing artists with bucketloads of fascinating projects on the go – check them out! 

Delphian Records: Collaborating with  Delphian Records to make this album is an incredible artistic opportunity – so many of their other releases have been a massive inspiration. I was lucky to be part of Delphian's European Music Archaeology Project series, contributing three tracks to 'Apollo and Dionysus,' a recording of ancient Greek music alongside new compositions for ancient Greek instruments. I'm giving away copies of this CD in this campaign (see the 'Mega-archaeo-musical-bundle of joy' reward for more info).

The University of Huddersfield and Leverhulme Trust: We're recording the CD at the University of Huddersfield, where I currently hold a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship researching the reconstruction of ancient music. In Huddersfield I collaborate with my fellow Sound Archaeology researcher Rupert Till, who also makes very cool dub remixes of ancient instruments as Professor Chill. He remixed a performance of mine for one of his records, which I'm giving away on vinyl in the rewards! Yes, VINYL! Retro... but not as retro as Anglo-Saxon music. ;-) 

Professor Chill's vinyl album, with me on the first track
Professor Chill's vinyl album, with me on the first track

What do your pledges pay for?

Your pledges contribute to fees for the wonderful singers listed above, as well as the costs of recording and mixing the work; travel expenses for the production team and the performers (some of whom are coming all the way from the USA!); accommodation costs in Huddersfield (even with Air BnB, goodness this still costs a lot!) and CD manufacturing. The total budget for the project is £27K. Through my own fundraising (and savings), contributions from Delphian Records, a wonderful grant from the Leverhulme Trust, and another contribution from the University of Huddersfield, we have already raised a whopping £21K. But we still have £6K left to find, which rises to a massive £7.5K when you include the Kickstarter platform fees and campaign expenses – and that's where you come in! We need you, or we could lose everything we have worked so hard for!

Risks and challenges

The greatest risk for Riddle Songs is of course that we fail to raise the money we need in this campaign. And since Kickstarter is an "all or nothing" fundraising platform, I'm facing the very real possibility of working flat-out day and night to fundraise, only to find that it was all for nothing – I could lose everything if I don't make the target! All the singers have turned down other work to be part of the project, and plane tickets have been booked from the USA and Switzerland. I feel a colossal sense of responsibility to everyone involved to make sure it happens. Other risks... Well, of course there are always plenty of them in projects like this – illness is scary and naturally there will be last-minute scrambles and logistical challenges. But the Riddle Songs team are all professional musicians, and professional musicians are used to challenges! We're used to going on stage even when we're sick, or the audience is shouting, or the stage is outdoors in a storm. We get on with our job of making gorgeous music happen no matter what, because we love it. And we'll do the same for this project... with your support. We need you too!

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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge £6 or more About US$ 8

    Pre-release code & warm fuzzy feeling!

    For the petite but powerful sum of £6, you can ensure you are first to purchase the CD, ahead of its release, with a secret link to a "pre-buy" offer from Delphian Records, which allows you to buy the CD before it goes on general release with a 20% discount. The best thing about this pledge is knowing you have not only made a valuable contribution to help make the project happen (with all the warm, fuzzy feelings that entails!), but you can also support it further down the line by buying the CD... cos you're so lovely! You'll also receive an exclusive digital track from the album, delivered to your inbox along a personal thank you message from Stef.

    Includes:
    • Pre-release access with 20% discount from Delphian Records
    • Personal thank you message from Stef
    • A single "riddle song" from the album delivered to your inbox...
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    Pledge £12 or more About US$ 16

    Digital album, with love!

    Receive the digital album and liner notes, along with a personal thank-you message from Stef... Then you can listen to some beautiful new music whilst basking in the knowledge that you helped to bring it into the world – bliss!

    Includes:
    • Digital copy of Riddle Songs (including e-liner notes)
    • Personal thank you message from Stef
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    Pledge £18 or more About US$ 24

    Digital album and Behind-the-Scenes Blog

    As well as a digital copy of Riddle Songs, you'll receive a personal message with heartfelt thanks from Stef. You'll also be sent a secret link to the behind-the-scenes Access All Areas Riddle Songs Blog, with updates on recording and mixing process, videos, drawings, interviews with singers and more. Get involved in the creative process and show the world you're passionate about supporting quirky new music!

    Includes:
    • Digital copy of Riddle Songs (including e-liner notes)
    • Personal thank you message from Stef
    • Access All Areas Blog: watch the project unfold behind the scenes
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    Pledge £30 or more About US$ 39

    Signed CD and Old English love-note!

    Pop an extra tenner on top of the pledge for a signed copy of the CD and you can have something just as lovely and totally unique as well: a handwritten, personal letter of love from Stef, on classy recycled paper, complete with a thank you message in Old English and medieval-marginalia-inspired doodle to make you smile. If you like personal mementos with your music, this is for you – you won't find them made with more love than this!

    Includes:
    • Copy of Riddle Songs, signed by Stef
    • Handwritten thank you letter in Old English with medieval doodle!
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    Pledge £40 or more About US$ 52

    Signed CD with very special perks...

    As well as the signed CD and a beautiful handwritten thank you letter in Old English (complete with medieval doodle), you can pop another tenner towards this wonderful cause in exchange for the exclusive secret password to Stef's Access All Areas blog on the project, where you'll witness the project developing behind the scenes, with updates on recording and editing, videos, chats to performers, and more! Curious about how things happen in the weird world of contemporary vocal music? Get in on the action with the Riddle Songs team! What's more, your name will be acknowledged on Stef's website, to show the world you're a passionate supporter of quirky new music.

    Includes:
    • Access All Areas Blog: watch the project unfold behind the scenes
    • Copy of Riddle Songs, signed by Stef
    • Handwritten thank you letter in Old English with medieval doodle!
    • Your name (+ short message) on Stef's website with thanks
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    Pledge £55 or more About US$ 71

    Mega-medieval-musical-bundle of Joy!

    A package of beautiful Old English-themed gifts from Stef: a signed copy Riddle Songs; a signed copy of the out-of-print EP Hord Songs, which isn't available anywhere else; a beautiful handwritten thank you letter in Old English with medieval doodle; a limited-edition print of the album art work as a poster (A4ish size); your name acknowledged with thanks on Stef's website; and access to the secret behind the scenes Riddle Songs blog – be part of the creative process!

    Includes:
    • Copy of Hord Songs (out-of-print EP), signed by Stef
    • Copy of Riddle Songs, signed by Stef
    • Handwritten thank you letter in Old English with medieval doodle!
    • Your name (+ short message) on Stef's website with thanks
    • Access All Areas Blog: watch the project unfold behind the scenes
    • Limited edition album artwork print
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  7. Select this reward

    Pledge £55 or more About US$ 71

    Mega-archaeo-musical-bundle of Joy!

    A package of beautiful Old English gifts from Stef: a signed copy Riddle Songs; a signed copy of the CD 'Apollo and Dionysus' (part of Delphian Records' European Music Archaeology Project series), which features Stef on three tracks; a beautiful handwritten thank you letter in Old English with medieval doodle; a limited-edition print of the album art work as a poster (A4ish size); your name acknowledged with thanks on Stef's website; and access to the secret behind the scenes Riddle Songs blog – be part of the creative process!

    Includes:
    • Copy of Apollo and Dionysus (ancient Greek music), signed by Stef
    • Copy of Riddle Songs, signed by Stef
    • Handwritten thank you letter in Old English with medieval doodle!
    • Access All Areas Blog: watch the project unfold behind the scenes
    • Your name (+ short message) on Stef's website with thanks
    • Limited edition album artwork print
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    Limited 5 backers
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  8. Select this reward

    Pledge £55 or more About US$ 71

    Vinyl-dub-archaeo-musical-bundle of Joy!

    A package of beautiful dub-archaeo-musical gifts: the record 'Dub Archaeology' (for the vinyl fans among you!), which features Stef on the first track, signed by Stef and Professor Chill; as well as a signed copy of Riddle Songs; a beautiful handwritten thank you letter in Old English; a limited-edition print of the album artwork as a poster (A4ish size); your name acknowledged with thanks on Stef's website; and access to the secret behind the scenes Riddle Songs blog – be part of the creative process!

    Includes:
    • Copy of Riddle Songs, signed by Stef
    • Handwritten thank you letter in Old English with medieval doodle!
    • Your name (+ short message) on Stef's website with thanks
    • Access All Areas Blog: watch the project unfold behind the scenes
    • VINYL: Dub Archaeology by Professor Chill, feat. Stef on track 1
    • Limited edition album artwork print
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  9. Select this reward

    Pledge £60 or more About US$ 78

    Sheet music + licence (up to 5 songs)

    For only £60 (that's £12 per song – a mega-bargain-bundle!) you can have the digital sheet music for up to five tracks of your choice from Riddle Songs. Tracks are scored for: (1) voice + lyre (or guitar/piano), (2) voice + harp (or guitar/piano), or (3) SSSAAATTTBB choir. You pick what works for you. The sheet music includes a licence to perform the works as many times as you like. For the choral directors among you, the more complicated choral tracks can be substituted for Stef's other works on request – there are a range of SATB pieces in Old and Middle English without divisi, for example. Post a comment on this page for more info. The music is sent to you electronically, with your name and licence to print unlimited copies.

    Includes:
    • Sheet music, lyrics, and performance licence (up to 5 tracks)
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    Pledge £100 or more About US$ 129

    Feature in an Anglo-Saxon Bard-Song!

    Have your generous support of Riddle Songs celebrated in a beautiful new Anglo-Saxon-style song, performed by Stef in Old English, to the accompaniment of the lyre. This story-song, with your name in it, will be filmed and uploaded to Youtube (Feb 2020), with your support acknowledged in subtitles and end credits. You'll also receive a signed copy of Riddle Songs, a beautiful handwritten letter with a medieval doodle and thank you message in Old English (posted November 2019); and your name will be listed at the front of the CD liner notes, with heartfelt thanks for your generous support. What's more, you'll receive a secret link to the behind-the-scenes Access All Areas Blog, with updates on composition, recording, mixing, videos, interviews with performers, and more. Be part of the creative process!

    Includes:
    • Feature in an Anglo-Saxon Bard-Song!
    • Copy of Riddle Songs, signed by Stef
    • Handwritten thank you letter in Old English with medieval doodle!
    • Access All Areas Blog: watch the project unfold behind the scenes
    • Your name in the CD liner notes, with heartfelt thanks
    • Your name (+ short message) on Stef's website with thanks
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    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    Limited 9 backers
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    Pledge £200 or more About US$ 257

    VIP Launch + feature in a Bard-Song!

    Nab two front-row seats for the Riddle Songs launch concert in spring/summer 2020, with a chance to chat to the musicians afterwards. Venue and dates TBC, but almost certainly one show in London, and at least one in the north of England. Although we're hoping shows in the rest of the world will happen (fingers crossed), this reward is really only a safe bet for people in the UK, or able to travel to the UK for a concert. Dates will be announced as soon as possible before the end of 2019 – if inconvenient we'll work together to find alternatives. Also, your name will feature in a brand new Old English bard-song, composed and performed by Stef to the accompaniment of the lyre, and uploaded on Youtube. You'll get a signed copy of Riddle Songs (posted Nov 2019), an acknowledgement in the CD liner notes, a secret link to the behind-the-scenes project blog, and a handwritten thank you letter in Old English. A personalised, unique, imaginative package of prezzies, made with love!

    Includes:
    • 2 x VIP Tickets for the Riddle Songs album launch show (UK)
    • Feature in an Anglo-Saxon Bard-Song!
    • Copy of Riddle Songs, signed by Stef
    • Handwritten thank you letter in Old English with medieval doodle!
    • Your name in the CD liner notes, with heartfelt thanks
    • Your name (+ short message) on Stef's website with thanks
    • Access All Areas Blog: watch the project unfold behind the scenes
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    Ships to Only United Kingdom
    Limited 2 backers
    £

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    Pledge £400 or more About US$ 514

    Ancient English Song workshop for groups

    Invite Stef to spend a half-day with you and your friends, group, society, or choir, for a unique opportunity to uncover amazing secrets of Anglo-Saxon and early English song. You'll sing straight from medieval manuscripts, learn to exchange pleasantries (and not-so-pleasantries) in Old English, delve into Anglo-Saxon epic tales, and, most importantly, sing your hearts out. No prior singing experience or sight-reading ability is required. It's an inspiring, informative, hugely entertaining, and unforgettable experience. Participants go away with workshop handouts, complete with medieval manuscript images, notation, Old English poems, and Stef's snippets of ancient musical info. There will also be a signed copy of Riddle Songs for the workshop organiser, thanks in the CD liner notes, a handwritten thank you letter from Stef in Old English, and access to the behind-the-scenes Riddle Songs blog. This is the ultimate music-lovers pledge – support the music by SINGING the music with Stef!

    Includes:
    • Half-day Ancient English Song workshop for groups and/or choirs
    • Copy of Riddle Songs, signed by Stef
    • Handwritten thank you letter in Old English with medieval doodle!
    • Your name in the CD liner notes, with heartfelt thanks
    • Your name (+ short message) on Stef's website with thanks
    • Access All Areas Blog: watch the project unfold behind the scenes
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    Ships to Only United Kingdom
    Limited 0 backers
    £

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    Pledge £500 or more About US$ 643

    Ancient lyre version of your fave song!

    This generous pledge could be a make-or-break contribution to the project, so in exchange you receive something incredibly special: a song of your choice, arranged by Stef for voice and ancient lyre (could be a Greek, Mesopotamian, or Germanic lyre, depending on the song), filmed and uploaded on Youtube (with credits to you) and posted to you in a signed home-printed CD package (made of recycled materials), along with a signed copy of Riddle Songs and handwritten thank you letter in Old English with medieval doodles and oceans of love! Before 2019 is out, you'll also receive a digital copy of Riddle Songs, and see your name acknowledged with heartfelt thanks in the CD liner notes and on Stef's website, as well as receiving a secret link to the behind-the-scenes Access All Areas Blog, by Stef and the other musicians. This really makes you an integral part of the project – a supporter, collaborator, valued friend, and muse!

    Includes:
    • Your favourite song arranged for voice and ancient lyre by Stef
    • Copy of Riddle Songs, signed by Stef
    • Digital copy of Riddle Songs (including e-liner notes)
    • Handwritten thank you letter in Old English with medieval doodle!
    • Your name in the CD liner notes, with heartfelt thanks
    • Your name (+ short message) on Stef's website with thanks
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    Limited 0 backers
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    Pledge £1,000 or more About US$ 1,285

    Host a private concert

    For a pledge this generous, you're making a colossal difference. Perhaps without you the album couldn't be recorded at all! You are a core supporter and will be part of the journey henceforth, for as long as you wish. You will have the unique opportunity to host a private performance by Stef of music from the new CD, along with other ancient-meets-modern lyre-songs from previous releases like The Flood. The performance could be in your home, a venue you have booked, a concert series you promote, or anywhere you like. You can even sell tickets to fund it if you choose. However you organise it, Stef will come and sing for you, taking plenty of extra time to chat to you and your friends or community about the project, and ancient song in general. You can also take your pick from any other other rewards below this one on the list, including signed CDs, vinyl, letters, and artwork. Your name will naturally be acknowledged in the Riddle Songs liner notes.

    Includes:
    • Exclusive private performance by Stef
    • Access All Areas Blog: watch the project unfold behind the scenes
    • Copy of Riddle Songs, signed by Stef
    • Handwritten thank you letter in Old English with medieval doodle!
    • Your name (+ short message) on Stef's website with thanks
    • Your name in the CD liner notes, with heartfelt thanks
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    Ships to Only United Kingdom
    Limited 0 backers
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    Pledge £2,000 or more About US$ 2,570

    Be a Riddle Songs Benefactor

    Be the ultimate supporter of new-meets-old music by becoming a Riddle Songs Benefactor. The album will be coming into the world because of YOU! So you will be an important part of the story henceforth, for as long as you wish. You can take your pick from any (or all) of the rewards on offer in this list, and will also receive a special stand-out dedication in the liner notes. If you can attend the album launch concert, you'll join the musicians and team afterwards to celebrate our success with a glass of champagne and nibbles. You are entitled to host a private concert by Stef anywhere in the UK (and this is also open to the rest of the world, if you are able to cover travel expenses and offer some accommodation). Once you become part of the Riddle Songs story, you will be a friend for life, with complimentary concert tickets to Stef's solo performances, newsletters, and special commissioning opportunities coming your way too.

    Includes:
    • 2 x VIP Tickets for the Riddle Songs album launch show (UK)
    • Access All Areas Blog: watch the project unfold behind the scenes
    • Copy of Apollo and Dionysus (ancient Greek music), signed by Stef
    • Copy of Hord Songs (out-of-print EP), signed by Stef
    • Copy of Riddle Songs, signed by Stef
    • Exclusive private performance by Stef
    • Feature in an Anglo-Saxon Bard-Song!
    • Handwritten thank you letter in Old English with medieval doodle!
    • Limited edition album artwork print
    • Your favourite song arranged for voice and ancient lyre by Stef
    • Your name in the CD liner notes, with heartfelt thanks
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    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    Limited 1 backer
    £

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    Pledge £20 or more About US$ 26

    Signed copy of Riddle Songs

    Pledge £20 to receive the CD itself, signed and posted to you by Stef, 3–4 months in advance of its official release! That's what this is all about: ancient-meets-modern music like nothing else you've ever heard. Enjoy!

    Includes:
    • Copy of Riddle Songs, signed by Stef
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Funding period

- (20 days)