Monday, July 04, 2022

Frome, fizzing with festivals this week

Frome Festival, PHOTO FROME, and Frome Open Art Trail, together conspired to make last week delightful but difficult for the conscientious arts blogger. With 45 festival events over the weekend listed in the brochure, this report can be only a personal skim-through, so let's start in the Merlin Theatre with readings by Roger McGough, premier 'Liverpool Poet' in the 1960s, considered by ex-Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy to have brought poetry out of the grip of scholars and back to the streets. Roger is still brilliant, entertaining the full house with random & very funny raconteuring as well as with his recent poetry. That famous offbeat humour is still evident - 'Live fast, die young - failed on both counts" - and his anecdotes of poems sent in by sacked workers when he was Writer in Residence for BT were hilarious. With Liv Torc providing a brilliant opening, this was altogether a fantastic evening of entertainment, and it was a real privilege to share a glass of champagne with the poets and event organiser, Lockhart Murdoch, at his house after the show.

Still with theatre performance, Olivier-award-winning Little Bulb Theatre Company offered their Feast of the Gods on Saturday afternoon in Victoria Park, a wonderfully entertaining all-age, audience interactive, show which delighted a large crowd despite the thunderstorm. It's more about interaction than plot, and after the crisis threatening Cupid's wedding was sorted, the entire audience joined in the feast, with fizz & cakes served by cast & musicians. 

There's a tenuous link now with the Sunday Independent Market, as bride Athena is, in the non-Arcadian world, guitarist for Rosco Shakes, who were performing in Bar Lotte during the afternoon - as ever, brilliantly entertaining jump-blues band (since Glasto 'discovered' by The S*n newspaper.) 

So as we've shifted to the subject of music, there's been a lot of it, and extremely varied, from the many classical works in the programme to the Frome Street Bandits in the Market Place for the Food Feast on Saturday. So here they are, entertaining the large crowd queuing at the food stalls, and here for contrast are The Raggedy Men at the Sun Inn on Friday, Spanish guitarist Juan Picard entertaining at Lo Rapitenc tapas bar, and the immersive audiovisual club night with Sensonic at the Silk Mill.

The Small Publishers Fair is a long-standing festival feature, always popular with book-lovers. Organised very efficiently by the Frome Writers Collective, this event on the first Saturday sees literally hundreds of readers and writers checking out the stalls and buying books. Opened this year by Writers' Collective member Peter Clark, whose recent book ''Churchill's Britain from the Antrim coast to the Isle of Wight' was New Statesman's Book of the Year, it remained buzzingly busy throughout the day, with tea & buns thoughtfully provided by FWC members. Definitely a useful event for writers - this was how & where I met my current book publisher, John Chandler of Hobnob Press, seen here at his stall, which now features books by five!! local writers.
So now we're on that subject, last week saw the launch of another book by a local author who recently joined this imprint: Alison Clink was at Hunting Raven with Frances Liardet on Tuesday to talk about, and read from, her new novel Two Blackberry Lane. A crowded bookshop enjoyed hearing her extract reading, and the backstory of this intriguing and poignant 'house through time' tale, inspired when Alison discovered some old deeds in her own house.

Still with words, last week also saw the long-delayed return of a Poetry Cafe in Frome as a venue has now been offered: an upstairs room at HOME, the new cafe/bar in the centre of town. Twelve spoken word performers shared their poems in a convivial & supportive atmosphere, with a wide range of themes, moods and styles. A rich event - though the only visual evidence is a phone shot at the break, which fails to capture the rapt attention during readings...

Visual art now: and a new exhibition at Whittox Lane Gallery has a seasonal theme: Land of the Summer People, showing until 4th Sept features large scale oil & cold wax landscapes and some framed watercolours by artist Jenny Graham. The gorgeous gallery setting appreciates big images like these, and opening night was well supported.

Another opening now, as 27 galleries open their doors to visitors for the Frome Open Art Trail 2022, on throughout the festival. A full report will hopefully follow in the next edition: here's your taster - venue 9. Alex Howell paints evocative landscapes and seascapes, and her friendly opening was full of people discussing where they would hang their favourite images, so hopefully her sales will go well.
And art brings me back to photography, specifically to the final two exhibitions in the PHOTO FROME project which opened last week: 23 Bath Street is the quirky location for the work of Ramona Carraro 

and our own local camera club, Frome Wessex Photographic, has an impressive display of talent at the Town Hall. The theme for all members was "My vision, my process", interpreted in various different ways. Talking to the photographers just before the opening, it was moving to hear from Anna Kovalevska, whose theme was meditation, that the red image in this shot was taken in her homeland Ukraine on the day that war began.



Sunday, June 26, 2022

Big week for images & memories in Frome

This week saw the launch of our town's first Festival of Photography: Photo Frome,  Nine venues will be showing, free, exhibitions of work by photographers both local and international, with talks, discussions, seminars and even walks, all designed to put the spotlight on photography in Frome. The project has already had a fantastic start,  and will continues with more events until 15 July, all through the town festival - look out for the brochures if you live near.

The first opening was on Tuesday, with two splendid sets of  B&W studies of local life in Black Swan Round Tower, featuring farming & rural life images by both James Ravilious and Chris Chapman, who will be giving a talk on his pictures of Dartmoor on July 1st.
The following night, Gallery at the Station hosted an impressive showcase of the wide variety of themes and styles represented in the personal work of Frome's photographers. The woodland dance set above, by Mark Brookes, celebrating feminine power in a collaborative project with Feraline: Freedom, Sensuality, Power, is there. So too are the images of Frome at night by James Butler-Bartholomew which Frome's Mayor, Sara Butler-Bartholomew, is viewing here. 

Thursday's event was Culture Pool at the Makers Yard, featuring a large-format poster show - and great sound, by all accounts, though sadly this clashed for me so I missed the party but the yard is still full of great fly-posters, well worth a look.  

And on Sunday, Rook Lane Chapel opened its doors to a spectacular exhibition filling the walls below those iconic high windows, with stands displaying work from a diverse range of high-status international photographers. Here is where you'll see the full-size image of Dave Grohl featured on the brochures, and here too are atmospheric black-&-white shadowy images, and feminist subversions, and biofuturist imaginings, and intimate street portraits, and much more... including a fascinating series of images by Hanna-Katrina Jędrosz taken along the 'European Green Belt' - the former Iron Curtain borderlands - which runs from Norway to Bulgaria as a no-man's land where wildlife flourishes and locals erect their own symbols. Each of the six featured photographers has amazing work on show so it's hard to select one image but this is from my personal favourite set, the portraits from East London by Trinidadian Robert Huggins. - somehow both honest & theatrical at the same time.
..

Moving on now from images to words, as my own personal big event was the launch of Blow-Ins published by Hobnob Press, held at Hunting Raven Books on a sunny Tuesday night with a gratifyingly full room - thanks to Pete Gage for the photo as I forgot, thanks to everyone who asked questions &/or said nice things about the book, and to Iona for hosting. Blow-Ins is also now available by post, with a mystifying array of prices including $20.73 on ebay, but do support your local bookshop - it'll be less than a tenner there.

Thursday evening is open-mic night at Guggleton Farm Arts, always a fun event with a wide range of offerings from the floor. This week's highlight for me was an entertaining set from Leon Sea with a strong line in political comedy, including a version of that wonderful Phat Bollard satirical classic I give my money to the millionaires and Donovan's Goldwatch Blues in support of the train strikers, with its plangent chorus 'Get them to sign on the dotted line and work for fifty years.'     
But this week's big music news is, of course, the drop-in visit of Paul McCartney, doing a Foo Fighters with a surprise instant concert at the Cheese & Grain just for Frome.  News broke on Thursday while I was camping in Dorset after the Open Mic session at Guggleton Farm and tickets were all gone two hours later, but cameras weren't allowed anyway, so here's the image from Paul's twitter feed
plus my personal memory of Macca, from 1980's London when my photos & articles on photography were published in various magazines, and Hot Shoe Magazine commissioned me to interview Linda McCartney about her upcoming book of Linda's Pictures. We met at the Apple Studio and half-way through our chat someone could be heard approaching along the corridor, whistling Long Winding Road. 'Oh, that's my husband Paul,' Linda explained as the someone entered, and she introduced us. I still have that tape, with Paul saying 'Hullo, Crysse' and me trying to breathe...  

And now that days of midsummer blue-sky sunshine are less sparse, Frome's gardens and lanes are thrumming with bees & insects and damsel-flies are flickering along the river. Your local view this week is from the north side of town, the start of a field-and-woodland walk which passes the never-used canal bridges beside the river. Fingers crossed for more days like this next week. 

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Dragonfly days, gone too soon... and downpour drama

A dramatic start to this week's blog, with A Midsummer Night's Dream as presented on the ECOS open-air stage in Frome by wonderful Illyria outdoor theatre company, uncut despite thunderous rain throughout the second act, and with a stunning rainbow overhead for the finale.  
As Oliver Gray, director and inspirational genius behind these Illyrian creations, notes in the programme, it requires a lot of hard work to create a full production of Shakespeare's triple-layered fantasy with a cast of five, all quick-changing from nobles to fairies to workmen, with complex timing required for the hi-energy physical interaction and slapstick humour of the staging.  The cast are all excellent: Sarah Coyne as a Scots Puck as well as a delightful Hermia, Lily Carter proving 6 ft 3 is no impediment to playing queen of the fairies, with Chris Laishley, Nathan Richard Smith and Richard Blackman also effectively multitasking.  Wonderful to see again this great drama about love winning through despite folly and confusion, in these destructive days when it can seem Puck's words will be humanity's epitaph: What fools these mortals be. 

Music next, with the return of fabulous Rosco Shakes to Bar Lotte, creating something of a street party with the spillage of their sensational boogie-woogie R&B sounds -  Josh, Dom, Ned, and Tim all on top form, with Dom adding a touch of flamenco to the blues from time to time. (Steve on sax joined later too.) The lads are playing Glastonbury, at the Croissant Neuf - where Cut Capers are headlining so definitely the venue to head for if you're going.

Now poetry: And, with due sympathy for anyone who suffered, those lockdowns did encourage - as well as less pollution, increased wildlife, and time for personal creativity - the connection facility of zoom for poetry workshops and performances.  This week, Bristol-based  Flight of the Dragonflies on Tuesday evening hosted an excellent poetry event featuring guest poet John McCullough 
John's collection Reckless Paper Birds won not only the Hawthornden prize for literature but also their award for best UK book of the year, so quite a large group joined host Darren J Beaney to enjoy this session.  The poems weren't Spoken Word as a slam poet would know it, so it was helpful to have the shared screen facility giving a view of the text during the poet's reading.  Among the excellent contributing poets I especially enjoyed Michael Sindler zooming in from the USA (screenshot), and Damien Donnelly in Ireland.
As this was the week that summer made a brief appearance, before quitting abruptly at the weekend, I'm treasuring the memory with a couple of snaps taken on those idyllic hot midweek days: the pantheon at Stourhead and some of the myriad pyramid orchids in the long grass...



 ... and Friday afternoon at Marston pond - no swans, but a large brood of baby ducklings, out with mama. Hopefully summer will return next week.



Sunday, June 12, 2022

Music & words mostly this week

I'll meet you on the other side, I'll meet you in the light -  If only I don't suffocate, I'll meet you in the morning when you wake...  Yes folks & fans of early 2000 alt rock, it's Bend & Break from the awesome voice of Tom Chaplin at the Keane concert in Westonbirt Arboretum on Saturday - still with his idiosyncratic keyboard lead plus just bass & drums. As a fan of this band since Everybody's Changing was released in 2003, it was a thrill to find my birthday present from number-2-son was two tickets for this concert... back in 2020... and after being twice locked-down, the show finally arrived here on a glorious sunny evening, and was sensational. Very well organised gig, good-humoured and friendly.

It goes without saying that if you step out of Frome on a Friday night you'll miss an excellent local gig, so apologies for no report on the bands the Granary, but here's Esben Tjalve on keyboard joining Iain Bellamy's band at Bar Lotte on Wednesday.

And now for Book News, starting upstairs at The Three Swans on Monday, as Mel Day (illustrator) joined me (poet, with Hazel Stewart) to co-host the local launch for our absurdly-titled poetry book with Caldew Press: What's It Like For You/Dance for Those Who'd Rather Not.  This small but delightful event morphed, as the evening wore on, into a poetry soirée, with several guests sharing readings and quite a few copies sold - thanks Mike Grenville for the snaps. And thanks to Frome Times, too, for featuring a piece about both my current book-y ventures with this super picture of me looking mega-chuffed, taken by Suzy Howlett. This double-covered collection is on sale at Hunting Raven Books now, or from me or from the publisher.

And Thursday saw another launch - this one for the wonderful new novel by Frances LiardetThink of Me, now on sale in Hunting Raven Books where the event took place. It was my absolute pleasure to talk with Frances about how the story connects with her previous best-selling novel We Must Be Brave, and her writing process, both topics eliciting fascinating responses. Appreciation to bookshop manager Tina Gaysford-Waller  for hosting and thanks Nikki Coppleston for this super picture taken during the event.

A slight shift now from words-on-a-page to words-online, as it's nice to see that my short piece on recent 'Theatre in the Southwest' has made it to Plays International - special mention for Frome's Merlin for nurturing young talent, and the new direction at Cooper Hall. 


Final image of the week, from Whatcombe Fields where the buttercup crop has self-harvested, but the long grass and daisies are magnificent.





Sunday, June 05, 2022

Dancing with Death, and more cheerful things


"The Dance of Death is August Strindberg’s landmark drama about a marriage pushed to its limits," explains the promotion for the current productionadapted by Rebecca Lenkiewic, at Bath's Ustinov theatreOn a small island, an irrational tyrannical army captain controls his gloomy wife who regrets giving up her dramatic career, both snarling at the other but somehow feeding off this enough to survive. They are joined after a while by the wife's cousin but there’s no real shift in the unpleasant dynamic: it’s like Waiting for Godot without the subtlety or humour.  
Hilton McRae is powerful as the appalling husband; Lindsay Duncan as the appalling wife is more stagey, frittering sympathy by being generally annoying, while the cousin (Grainne Dromgoole) doesn't have much of a role except as a butt for their vindictive games. The set (by Grace Smart) 
is just that, a set. Changes  to the original play (the gender of the visitor, the repeatedly shouted expletives) seem repellent without resonance and the tone remains level throughout despite accelerating mini-dramas, with a sense of hopeless despair over the entire proceedings.  In short, this is a story of rage and recrimination, irreparably damaged relationships, mistrust and self-inflicted chaos. A story for our times.  photos Alex Brenner

It's always a pleasure and a privilege to be invited to join Eleanor Talbot on her weekly online programme Variations on a Theme and this week's upbeat show features the new-out poetry-&-pictures compilation from Caldew Press, words by me & Hazel Stewart and images from Mel Day. This image is her show's promo: us performing as Live & Lippy back in the day, and us on a weekend trip to Lille a couple of years ago, plus our book covers and launch promo. Her interview starts around 29 minutes into the show. As well as recording us reading some of her favourite solo pieces, Ellie has cleverly managed to create one of our shared poems - What's it like for you? - by splicing our recordings - and also included the soundtrack of one of the videos of us made by Howard Vause - you can view Onomatopoeia here, it's currently registering 8,910 views. Howard also made a great little vid of the poem that's (one of) the title(s) of this odd little volume - online here. It's one of my favourites. 

Black Swan Arts enjoyed a double opening on Friday, with Lucinda Burgess' exhibition On Repetition in the Long Gallery, and the Frome Creatives in the Round Tower.  Lucinda was a garden designer for many years and feels this has significantly informed her interest in materials that appear to change form, sometimes over time as with rusting metal, but also in different viewing conditions - as with poles viewed side-on.
 
In contrast to these thought-provoking large-scale pieces, the Frome Creatives have filled their exhibition area with a huge diversity of work of an extremely high standard - paintings and prints, photographs, ceramics, fabric creations and artefacts in every kind of media - a busy, friendly launch with much chat and bowls of chocolates. Postcards & cards available - recommended.
Music now, and a folksy vibe from Bama Mine from Bristol at Bar Lotte eon Wednesday. The monthly Independent Market survived, just about, the weekend rain, and provided some excellent performers on the Band Stage, including the trio Cura -who will be performing on this year's Farmfest. Sunday evening at The Cornerhouse put on its monthly jazz jam with the usual performers - here's Simon with singer Nicola Maskall, and Dave Wallace on bass.  
Ending this June medley with some out-and-about-this-week images: walking to Mells along the river, and a preview of three novels by Frome writers (to be featured later) displayed in Hunting Raven Books


and the roses in my garden. Just because...