Sunday, October 25, 2020

From azure & gold to mainly grey..

How dark and cluttered England alway seems after an absence: pale pleated sky hanging low over endlessly cluttered terrain on the drive home from Plymouth. In Spain masks are mandatory for all public places, and after a month with this sense of safety, the 14-day requirement to withdraw was actually a relief while readjusting to the on-off policy that England allows. But Frome is all about community so I've attempted a skim-catch-up on how the enterprising townsfolk have maintained their creativity... and of course, the answer is: impressively. 

Words first: here's a link to Andy Wrintmore's Giant Pod  interview with Chris Bucklow, artist and art historian in which, as Andy says, 'We go down a rabbit hole of Chris’s complex and captivating theories about how his subconscious communicates with him via dreams, how we can learn to derive or interpret lessons about ourselves and get a better read on where our heads might be at.' Eleanor Talbot too has created several Variations on a Theme interviews with a difference. Her recent themes were healing, hair, and 'sexy connections'. 

Hunting Raven Bookshop is maintaining its reputation for innovative energy, with a socially-distanced book sale at the Silk Mill this weekend. with two more planned.  
Frome Writers Collective is maintaining active support for an increasing membership, with a virtual writing workshop, story contest, and monthly meetings continuing on Zoom, with historian Peter Clark giving a talk on his new book, Churchill's Britain.

And - not from this patch, but poet Steve Pottinger is so well-liked in Frome that he's allowable - do check out Come to me now,, a reflection on nature and how life is always 'a moment you pluck between finger and thumb, a just-ripe moment...

Obedient self-isolation similarly precludes any report on this weekend's exhibition of visual artworks made by people in Frome during lockdown, Creation from Isolation, curated by the Edventure students, but there's a virtual tour here. North Somerset Arts group took a different online approach, with members' work posted in their Virtual Art Exhibition throughout the weekend. Masses of high quality work, in a wide range of media - here's a painting by Gail Mason, from 'imaginary 'Emotional Landscapes,' places that I would like to be, and memories of how it feels to be in nature.' - because I miss these colours. 
I narrowly missed the 6x6 exhibition at the WHY Gallery, selling cores of tiny masterpieces  donated in support of the charity counselling service that Jill Miller founded - particularly poignant in the month of the first anniversary of her death. 

The amazing Frome Street Bandits have responded to lockdown with a massively impressive display by the full clan of 'semi-autonomous anarchic syndicalist' instrumentalists in a piece they call Ca Fait Pas Mal (compilation credit Jez le Fevre). Premiered October 19th - a fullscreen must-watch, here.

Frome's individual musicians have been prolific in their online posts on facebook, both on their own pages and on the public group Open Micsolate (with an impressive 6,600 members, none of whom seem any more keen to retrain than Fatima...) - here's Guru in a Camper Van from Paul Kirtley and Shoreline by Jane Langley and friends, both original works. And there's a new album out any minute now from Phil Cooper: here's Over My Head, one of the tracks on These Revelation Games. 

And now as autumn arrives although the world still feels nowhere near normal, there are reasons to be cheerful: my pre-ordered copy of Staying Human from Bloodaxe Books (edited by Neil Astley) has arrived and hedges are spurting with vivid, glamorous, reassuringly ordinary, bunches of berries. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020


This post is a little late, as wifi was variable during the final days of our trip - a week stolen on impulse, changing our booking and extending our travel eastwards: Vélez-Rubio, for an overnight Aire stop in this little riverside town between two sierras with a restaurant playing Wham, then on to Vilajoyosa where I'd stayed with Jill Miller, feminist writer and Frome's inspirational charity innovator, who made this lovely beach resort her home for several years before her death last October.

Time for more crags and castles then as we moved slowly westwards: Jalance, with a hermitage and superb historic mosaic fountains -Albarracin, where our cliff-top Aire gave stunning views across the double-walled hill, - Medinaceli with its massive Roman arch.

By now we're moving consciously towards Santander, via the Rioja region: a mellow Sunday night in Labastida and then Lierganes our final stop before Santander and the ferry home. 
And after two and a half thousand miles of driving, stopping in quiet places with amazing buildings & fascinating histories, what's really seared on my mind is the space: the vast vivid sky, endlessly blue on most days - the massive sierras, the near-endless forests and rocks of our driving landscape - their subtle colour shifts through every tonal range: coppery-gold to russet, lime-green to forest, pale sapphire to cerulean...  England still feels strange: grey, and crowded. I guess I'll get used to it. 

Even now we're back there won't be any Frome-related live reports till the requisite 14 days is up, but it's good to see 'the arts' are holding their own... Frome's talented visual animator Patrick Dunn has created a short video for Steve Pottinger's poem inspired by that crass advert urging creatives to de-skill from their years of training, inspiration & commitment, and sit over a keyboard instead. - you can see this animated version of Fatima here. Sadly, I missed Liv Torc's 'Rainbow Fish Speakeasy' zoom event with Elvis Mcgonagall, one of the excellent promotions from Wordplay, but it's good to know creatives are finding routes within the confines: live music & meetings, and online readings & workshops. Also lightening the final days of official summer for me: an enthusiastic review of The Price of Bread from the editor of Plays International which included the suggestion that this 'fast-moving story that has balanced narration and history, the private and the public, with sensitivity. Reading it non-stop I became convinced that it is a potential Booker Prize candidate.'  

So there's always something nice about coming home, even when your fridge has died and everything's now in a puddle of water.  

Friday, October 09, 2020

still half a world away

 A zigzag week, from Andalusian beach to a lake in the Sierra de Almijara to crags and castles, then back to the coast of Granada. Here's some images: lake Viñuela, en route to our three randomly chosen historlc towns in Cordoba province: Zuheros with its fantastic elevated castle,  Rute, which had surprisingly baroque street architecture and the region's Anis factory, and Priego de Cordoba, a busy town with a young population featuring not only an Islamic fortress and restored muslim nucleus of the town but also an elaborate 19th Century water feature which is also now a historic monument.

Southern Spain has a bloody history and our current campsite is in another brutally-conquered territory: poly-tunnel land, the shimmering plastic wastes that smother this coastal area. But it's a pleasant change to be on a site, after a week of  -massively enjoyable but isolated- Aires plus wild-camping on a car-park for trekkers on one of the Parques Natural. This is at Castillo de Banos, where we arrived today to find palm trees, sunshine, and a sea-line that apparently never recedes...

Wifi access has also given me the pleasure of listening to Eleanor Talbot's programme online on the theme of TRANSITIONS, which includes her interview with me about The Price of Bread at about 30 minutes in as well as Eleanor's thoughts and music choices. I read too that there has been much rain in Somerset. Here it's still sizzling hot with an unreal azure sky. For one more week ...

Friday, October 02, 2020

Week 2 of the Spanish adventure

Sunset Cafe on the beach at Sanlucar lured us for a few days more, with next stop the limestone peaks of Sierra Bermeja, in the gorgeous biosphere reserve & bird sanctuary Casares (confusing for the map-reader as nowhere near our earlier stop in Cáseres) - where we watched eagles and griffin vultures circling the amazing rock peaks. 

Then down the coast road to Torre del Mar, the ex-Moorish fishing village now a town with an extensive campsite where we stopped on our last visit. Parrots in palm trees, brilliant bougainvillea, paella in the beach bars... with our last week shuffling into view, we changed our tickets to extend our trip another week. Good luck with the rule/s of six, guys - here the sun shines & everyone wears masks - just bought a sequinned one, for evening...

Sunday, September 27, 2020

The respite trip: week 1

Three weeks away from England, as a boost for the inevitable stress and coldness to come, that was the plan as we set sail last Sunday to Santander, in Steve's motorhome, next day heading southward to a campsite on the coast near Cadiz. For total respite, my chronicle of the days was limited to haiku form. Here's a smattering:


Mountainous highways

Caravaggio landscapes

We're in Northern Spain.

Palencia now 

Quiet in evening sunshine

walking through the park

Windmill farm land here 

stick-legged beasts straddling 

this flat hill-top land 


Ampudia stroll:

underground grain stores, 

revamped ancient town 

Look! big glinting wings

soar and swoop in the dense blue 

a golden eagle


Flat pale cornfields

more than hours drive today 

down to Cáceres

Fast highway southwest:

Old town tour, wine and tapas

- sudden thunderstorm!


Only a short drive:

 Zafra Aire, Dia close by -

pizza/movie night


Sanlúcar campsite 

as great as we remembered! 

 wander to the beach


Walking the long beach

seriously azure sky

champagne sand, and beer


Lazy day, hottest yet -

late in the day, long beach walk

back to town, to eat :-)

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Wake me up when September ends...

23 Bath Street is the unassuming name for one of the town's best pubs, especially in these difficult times when staff and premises struggle to create a space both welcoming and legal. The small upper terrace at the back is a great place to enjoy a cool drink on a hot day, and owners Lark & Toby well deserve the Arts Council grant they've been awarded as part of the Culture Recovery Fund. Last Friday night they gave us the popular Gundhi Brothers in a mission to Make Frome Fun Again, with a hybrid set of Bhangra combined with Hip Hop, Garage, Drum n Bass and Soul.  Table-discipline doesn't really allow for dancing, but can't stop a great atmosphere.

More music in another short-notice-while-we-can live session, also with careful social distancing, as host John again welcomed the Tribe to The Mill at Rode. This is always a lovely event, and the line-up this time included brilliant work from Jim Cook, the only man I know who can play two saxes at once...  music included some great blues numbers. Here's the line-up, with David, Paul, Steve, Chris Chapman, and Jim.

Moving to art now, with a fascinating exhibition at the WHY Gallery in Stony Street: Dan Morley has been painting butterflies, life-size and in immaculate detail and vividly exact colours. His 'boxes' of various species are exquisite, and there's a tale behind the prize of his collection, on camera obviously: the incredibly rare Large Blue, now a protected species which can be seen only on  Collard Hill.  Really worth a visit, to admire the paintings and read the story. Here's one of the 'boxes' - the one with my favourite butterfly, the Adonis blue. 

As September sunshine continues, the Silk Mill yard once again brought entertainment to the customers of 42 Acres fabulous al fresco meals, with a musical session from Paul Kirtley's shape-shifting 'Don't Scare Easy Tribe': this time Paul and David Goodman were joined by Ray Bradfield -with sound-man Steve on cajon from time to time. This was a real 70's style 'happening, triggered by the poetry event by the inspiration of Steve & support of 42 Acres' Jo Harrison and Sarah Callan, with drop-in additions too. Here's Sarah on the other side of the counter, with husband Vin Callan also commandeered... a really great session.

Meanwhile Frome artist Sarah Godsill has been using the summer to create snapshots commissioned from around the world. Sarah says her 64 snapshots from England, Spain, Chile, Canada, USA, Venezuela, Scotland, Mexico, Singapore, Northern Ireland have "kept me relatively sane over three months this very strange Summer 2020 whilst I've thought about each person or family as I worked on each section." - you can commission your own memory here

And prolifically-successful writer Clare Reddaway created a story-trip round Bath you can find here. This linear walk from Walcot Memorial Chapel to the Botanical Gardens has regular stops to listen to stories about the cityscape that inspired them, written by  local writers and read by the equally talented Kilter Theatre team.

Also in the wordy-information bit, I was interviewed on Tuesday about my book The Price of Bread by the inspirational Eleanor Talbot for her Variations on a Theme show on mtri - that's Mixed Tape Radio International, broadcasting in buzzy forward-looking places all around the world and thus, of course, Frome. We sat on River House Cafe terrace talking about the violence of the Troubles in Belfast, as the newspapers of the week featured lead articles about fears that the Good Friday agreement has become precarious because of the ignorance, indifference, and stupidity of our current leadership. Eleanor is an incisive reviewer and an excellent interviewer so I'll be interested to hear the broadcast result - with musical interjections - in a couple of weeks.

This will be the last blog from Frome, and indeed from the UK, for a while, so I've held it over to include Bottom's Dream from on Saturday afternoon on the Merlin's ECOS amphitheatre.  Devised by 2m Theatre with the aim "to create socially distanced performances during the current pandemic",  this  talented young company demonstrates how Shakespeare never goes out of date. Bottom, dreaming that a beautiful woman might fall in love with a donkey like himself, is maybe a more interesting story than the upper-class couples bickering in the woods, and this one-hour devised show cleverly uses Shakespeare's text with a shift of focus.

Ending with another session at the Silk Mill from Paul's tribe, now named Fair Play for Frome and raising money for the town's charity: sadly I missed some good guest acts as this clashed with the Merlin show, but arrived for the final hour - and a bean stew from the excellent cuisine of 42 Acres. 

Friday, September 11, 2020

Lights, music, action - for one last week...

A balmy evening and Merlin's ECOS amphitheatre last Saturday combined to create the perfect setting for great entertainment from the Unravelling Wilburys,  Frome's riposte to the supergroup septet (Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty, in case any of the names slip your mind as they did mine...) These Wilbury boys are the real thing, spotted and copied by the assorted musicians who nicked their name, so in response the Unravelling clan have nicked some of their songs - that was the story we heard, anyway, along with fantastic renditions of the songs of those rich eras.. Only the Lonely, Mr Tambourine Man, and While My Guitar Gently Weeps were my personal favourites but the entire show was brilliant, with humour as well as passionate nostalgia: "Don't make fun of the young people", ersatz Roy chides his mainly post-mature audience, "You probably take more drugs than they do."

With our local gigs now once again taken off the menu, words became the main theme for me last week, with the good weather allowing individual & small group outdoor writers' meetings, four in all, and two - yes TWO, poetry performances.  Merlin's ECOS proved excellent for our long-delayed Poetry Cafe event, easily big enough for social distancing all around the amphitheatre: here's Kieron Bacon at the mic early on - with fourteen poets and 9 o'clock finish, all the lights were needed by the end of a wonderful evening with a rich variety of subjects and styles. One of the highlights, in an event glimmering with them throughout, was Liv Torc's premier performance of her latest poem, There's Something About Mary, enriching and moving in equal parts - you can read it here.
More live performance to end the week, with a 'Pop-Up Poetry Party' at the Silk Mill, hosted by Jo Harrington for 42 Acres, who joined in on the open mic. Among my other favourites were Rosie Jackson's poem about reconnecting with the natural world, B's moving words to her imagined daughter, Cathy's sizzling riposte to an insult, Mike's bicycle-related histories, Owen's mum's poem about the granite hills of Talyllynn, and the unexpected guest spot from pro-performer Dave Hubble whose witty musings on humanity included evidence that humans offer less to the world than a sea anemone. Here's Jo, and the picture she took of me. Thanks Steve for providing sound for both these gigs. 
And if you've ever wondered what an Indonesian birthday breakfast party looks like, this wonderful spread will give you a clue: the eggs are a birthday speciality spiced with chilli, ginger, and garlic, and the vegetable centerpiece Gado Gabo was suffused with the flavour of coconut. The leaves are calaloo, in a light tempura. All delicious!

So there won't be much more from me about Frome's creative life for a while, and a community arts blog has no place for comments about hedge-fund racketeers raking in billions from their bets on a collapsing deal with EU while our portly buffoon of a PM fantasises about being leader of the gang, but I do recommend you read, or re-read, Orwell's Animal Farm. It's full of plangent relevance.

Ending this post with a personal pleasure that the new edict can't ban: yoga with YogaBen. As well as longer online sessions, this excellent tutor & practitioner generously offers free support in shorter youtube videos: check him out here, and subscribe or just try them out. 

Friday, September 04, 2020

Music, poetry and more, as September comes...

Kicking off this bulletin with live music, doubly precious in this short window before the changing season will halt outdoor sessions again. Paul Kirtley's We Don't Scare Easy Tribe returned to The Mill at Rode on Saturday afternoon and treated visitors in the garden area & balcony to a high-energy medley of old favourites like Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder and Gerry Rafferty with a good splash of Oasis, Greenday, Crowded House, Police, Stones, and perfectly hitting with vibe Joni Mitchell: We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden...  All in all such a stonkingly great session that optional donations in the bucket for Fair Frome reached nearly £180. Big credit to (L-R) Jim, Chris, Joseph, Colin, Paul, Alex, David - and to sound-man Steve.  Here's the idyllic location:

Sunday's session at Prestleigh Inn, near Evercreech, rather more laid-back, proved a delightful way to pass a sunny Sunday afternoon in friendly company with live music - and this too had a fabulous location, with views over the Royal Bath & West Showground fields which are readily accessible for roaming from the pub garden. Hospitable landlord Gary made everyone welcome in this perfect spot for a sunny afternoon, enjoying a quirky take on Beatles and more by Jakey Zee with Sherrie Nutty followed by a strong solo performance, enhanced by loop, from Jorden Lindsay.

No live drama this week but physical theatre Kneehigh offered a free online experimental show: 'a love story with a bitter twist, a modern fairytale for grown-ups and brave youngsters.'  The Neon Shadow is a short two-hander exploring isolation and desire based on a Hans Anderson tale enhanced by animated effects. It's an interesting take on a difficult theme and is still viewable on the link, as there are plans to develop this work into a live performance, so take a look and comment if you feel intrigued.

Highlight of the week for me came on Friday with the Frome Poetry Cafe on Merlin Theatre's ECOS amphitheatre, an open-mic event which was weather-precarious right up until 7pm when we launched into - in the words of participating poets, an event with 'lovely atmosphere, very high standard of contributions, and a real uplifit in these weird times' - 'a gorgeous evening of words and moonlight!' Fourteen performers & readers from as far afield as Bath and Box shared a range of themes & styles from witty ditties and black humour  to poignant memories. Huge appreciation to all especially to Liv Torc for treating us to the premiere of her new poem commissioned by Siren Poets There's Something About Mary, and mega thanks to sound-&-lighting man Steve, and to Merlin's open-minded director Claudia & team for trusting our posse of bards to behave ourselves as well as having a fabulous time.

Still in Frome: it was great catching up with Eleanor Talbot to talk about her weekly online show Variations on a Theme. Eleanor's life took her from Dublin to Canada via the Scottish Highlands, so she brings a wide cultural interest to this quirky show broadcasts from downtown Frome. taking a different themes for each episode: love, revolution, guilty pleasures... even punctuation, with a retrospective look at the interrobang, a punctuation symbol that apparently enjoyed a brief heyday in the 1960s when writers identified a need to denote the 'excitable query' and combined exclamation with question marks in a single symbol: He said what  Was this the serpent's-apple forerunner of all emoticons, emojis and gifs, now released by this first sin!

Ending this week's bulletin with a puff for The Price of Bread: a short interview with Suzy Howlett on the Frome FM 'Writers on Radio' show hosted by Frome Writers Collective here: it's starts a7 minutes in and lasts around ten, then ends with Wonderwall as I think my messily-creative, dreamily romantic, central character Lee would have loved Oasis.  It was great fun chatting with Suzy and I realised, as I listened in, that she's an extremely astute interviewer....   
And as a happy footnote, this novel has now crossed the Atlantic to Canada and America, and has now provided a discussion topic for at least two book groups! I still have a few copies, and Hunting Raven does too. I'm delighted with the reader reviews, too.