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.

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