Sunday, January 31, 2016

Really? one month already?

Last Sunday was Burns Night, as significant around the world to expat Scots as St Patricks night to exiled Irish, and we had a great session at Emily's dining on (veggie) haggis with neaps and tatties, whisky for the spirited and Rioja for the less so, and many poems.
My contribution was Elvis McGonagall's spine-tingling Operation Undying Conflict ~ though of course it sounds better from a shouty Scotsman (this link is from the Stop The War rally in London 2011, where I first heard it). Marian, the oldest and most authentic Scot in our party, gave the authentic recital for the slashing of the haggis: "Great chieftain o the puddin'-race! Aboon them a' ye tak your place... His knife see rustic Labour dight, An cut you up wi ready slight."

Moving seamlessly from words to visual art ~ easy online, as everything's either words or pictures ~ Trowbridge Town Hall has a wax installation upstairs in the waiting room until 27th February. The artwork is called The Waiting Room, because as the artist's note explains the object and the room are integral to each other.  I went with David and while we were pondering this mutual integrity a lady came in and said 'I thought they said there was some art in here?' and went away. The silent room has become a place of transition, the notes explain. Eventually it will cease to exist. Which is of course true for everything. Except maybe cockroaches, and plastic.

Back in Frome there's always music. Superb sessions here are like prophylactics at a festival: well-advertised and free to both the committed and the merely curious. The regular Roots Session at the Grain Bar on Wednesday featured the extraordinary Blues virtuosity of Eddie Martin, and the newly introduced Sunday afternoon music slot at the Archangel featured the luscious retro-style of Bonne Nouvelle.  Live music too at the Silk Mill, on the Day to Make a Difference for the Calais refugees in the Jungle ~  collection of requested winter-wear and donations, with stalls, soup, cakes, and songs from the Wochynskis.

Writerly things are bubbling too, of course, but I think I'll leave you with a magical dialogue chanced upon on a facebook page (thanks Morgan.) It's a contemporised view of Norse mythology and explains the origin of sentient life on earth.
Odin gestures to As and Embla.
Odin:     I have made Mankind.
Frigga:  You fucked a couple of perfectly good trees is what you did. Look at it, it's got anxiety.

Happy February, y'all.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

So is it spring yet?

This was the week we had winter, a day of it anyway, with sub-zero temperatures that took me & my geraniums by surprise, but the return of milder weather in this part of the world has led to a flurry of snowdrops and birds twittering around the trees in a nesting kind of manner. I hope we're not all under-thinking this...
For me this has been a week of mostly planning events ahead, though with the usual excellent live music ~  Feral Beryl with Steve Loudoun at the Grain Bar Roots Session,  Nikki & Griff with Vicki Burke at the Archangel.  And River House laid on an unforgettable Bowie tribute dance night.

Rosie and I spent Sunday morning at Frome FM radio station with Chapter&Verse host John Walton, recording Toxic Cocktails for a new programme, Theatre On The Air, broadcast monthly and also online. We're going to be joining John to consider submissions for this one-hour show through another innovation - the Frome FM Writers Room. Anyone have any short radio plays to submit?

Looking ahead,  seems that February will be fizzing with words events. There's the Poetry Cafe 'Love Night' at the Garden Cafe on 15th, with Frome Festival Poet Laureate Stephen Payne guesting, as well as open mic for poems on any aspect of love ~ lusty or lost, recalled or forgotten... Hunting Raven Books have donated a beautiful hardback collection of love poems for one lucky reader.
And a poem is the inspiration for the new production by the award-winning Mark Bruce Company, whose 'kill for a ticket' Dracula performed to sellout audiences across the country.  The Odyssey is a dance-theatre retelling of Homer's 3000-year old epic tale of a heroic ten-year journey and it will premiere at Frome's Merlin Theatre on February 4th ~ a terrific chance to see a spectacular new production in its home base before it goes to London.

Final footnote for anyone who has an interest in Raymond Carver, script-writing, or just enjoys movies with superlative acting, direction, lighting design and music: I don't know how I missed Birdman when it was released in 2014 but Emily and I watched the DVD last night and it is utterly fantastic. I've now bought a copy to watch it again, and so should you if you haven't yet. Seriously superb. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Small vanities, big starman in the sky

He grew up in south-east England and went on to become world famous for his creative genius, and love of drama & self-adorning. The week we learned David Bowie had sung his last earth-song was also when Grayson Perry's incredible tapestry sequence The Vanity of Small Differences arrived in Bath's Victoria Art Gallery. Five huge pieces of satiric representation of social aspiration & the English class system tell the apocryphal tale of Tim Rakeman's Hogarthian progress of upward mobility to his (literally) car-crash final fall, each so full of fine detail you need at least ten minutes staring to take it all in. The Breughel reproduction & dried flowers in Tim's first home, the muddy organic veg wrapped in Guardian newspaper when he's a successful software designer... as well as cultural clues each scene is laden with meta-painterly references, from adapted titles like The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal (when Tim sells up to Branson) to symbolic detail like a smashed smartphone position centrally in the final scene to represent Holbein's 'memento mori' skull. (No, I didn't know, it's in the notes.)
The collection is succinctly curated, and most of the commentary is woven into the tapestries ("a normal family, a divorcee or two, mental illness, addiction, domestic violence...the usual thing"). Perhaps the most amazing aspect of these dazzling stories, given that Grayson Perry's art is always amazing, is the making of them: designed on photoshop and woven in Flanders on computer-controlled looms ~ at dazzling speed, the artist reports. And they're funny. "I can't resist having a joke," he says, "I think it's part of reflecting human life."  This treasure trove will be in Bath till April 10th, don't miss it.

Another excellent Roots Session at the Grain Bar on Wednesday with the brilliant Al O'Kane band. Al writes all his own songs, I especially love his anthemic Animals... Stand up if you dare, stand up if you care... It's time to question what humans are really for.

And on Saturday there was a feast of fabulous music at Rook Lane in the Show for Fred. Fred Burge who died last year was a stalwart of the Frome Festival team and this show was to celebrate her life and her love of live performances.  Rosie & I felt very privileged to join the line-up as Nevertheless Fringe Theatre, sharing a dramatic cameo from our last festival production.  The talent in Frome is almost unbelievable: we were treated to songs from Christ Church Singers led by Ann Burgess who won Radio 3's recent carol contest, the lively ukulele band Frukes, my personal favourites Bonne Nouvelle and Three Corners, with Frome Festival patron Morag McLaren providing the stunning, very witty, operatic finale. And definitely not least, Martin Dimery as festival director & show organiser gave us a twirl of his various melodic hats including as John Lennon from Sgt Pepper's Only Dartboard Band, as Buddy Holly singing an Elizabethan ditty from his popular one-man show Shakespeare Rattle and Roll, and ending his set with Starman waiting in the sky... if we sparkle he may land tonight..

Finally this week, another celebration of a leaving of life... extraordinary, adored, and much mourned, David Robert Jones said of his mercurial persona "The trousers may change but the actual words and subjects I've always chosen to write with are things to do with isolation, abandonment, fear and anxiety - all of the high points of one's life.''  On Friday night Frome joined the galaxy of wakes and remembrances across the UK and the world with a David Bowie Appreciation Party at the Three Swans, with requests taken & played all night by a tireless & dedicated DJ ~ Pat Feeney you are indeed a starman ~ and we sparkled & sang along.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Wishing you rainbows...

We've seen a lot of rain,  though not as much as further north, but there's been amazing sunny days too, so this new year image seems a good one to launch 2016. And for a taste of blue-sky poetry too, take a look at Begin by Brendan Kennelly which ends so exquisitely:
Though we live in a world that dreams of ending,
that always seems about to give in,
something that will not acknowledge conclusion
insists that we forever begin.

The Warminster Writers Circle greeted January in style with their annual festive celebration, at which Alison Clink and I were invited as guests as we've both led sessions for this thriving group. David Dell's huge living-room was completely filled and despite the party atmosphere everyone was impressively attentive as I gave my little intro on the hows & whys of writing short plays before announcing the winners of the winter competition.
Organisers David Dell and Sue Bacon (L & R in the pic) had the inspiration of further enlivening an already lively gathering with readings of the three winning plays, by Bernard Harvey,  Sheelagh Wurr (with me in the pic) and Richard Platts. With roles enthusiastically grabbed ~ here's young Frankie Stein about to be enlisted in the "Warminster School for Boys and Ghouls" ~ all three plays were hugely entertaining and the evening ended with applause and extra helpings of strawberry pavlova.

Frome Writers Collective is an even bigger group - around 70 members in total, though not all of us attend every one of the many events, talks, and trips organised on a regular basis. But an enthusiastic sampling of the membership regularly come along to the Three Swans monthly social meetings, and we started the year with a fascinating focus on writing for radio by Frome FM presenter John Walton. John hosts the monthly magazine show Chapter & Verse and is also interested in producing dramas scripted by local writers. Rosie & I are thrilled that Toxic Cocktails, our last Nevertheless production, has been selected for a radio adaptation - watch, as they say, this space!

Over at Black Swan Arts the new exhibition is a solo show by Alex Faulkner. Not easy viewing, these amazing paintings express the artist's return after a lengthy personal rejection of this medium as 'dishonest' ~ many of these new paintings have 'Kabuki' eyes which follow you around from canvasses & reflections of canvasses ~ and there's a recurrent theme of containment, constraint, and obliteration. Chris Bucklow gave other interesting insights in his talk on Friday evening.

And let's not forget the music... Roots Sessions at the Cheese and Grain, always a great evening, pulled out all the new year stops for a triple-guest event: The Wochynskis, lovely Emma Shoosmith, and the awesome Dexters Extra Breakfast ~ here's Emma ~ while Cordero Lounge in the precinct introduced itself as the new music venue on the block, with a fantastic evening of ska from a superb band: The One Tones. More please!
So here's wishing you all an unprecedentedly creative year ahead ~ well while hopes are still free, why not aim high?