Monday, September 26, 2016

The carnival is over, it must be autumn

There was much to celebrate on Saturday but as this is an arts blog I'll keep all that for facebook and just tell you, if you weren't there, that the annual Frome Carnival was as glittery and quirky as ever, and the streets were thronged to watch the colourful paraders prance, dance, cartwheel or totter down the hill and through the town centre.   In typical egalitarian style, the mayor & his lady chose to walk with the collectors rather than wave regally from a posh car.
This lively event was a great finale to week with arts in the spotlight, as Frome Town Council concluded a series of meetings to define the priorities for a 'performing arts' policy. Consultations with venues, performers, promoters, and potential audiences all culminated in this week's round-up, led by deputy mayor Al O'Kane who instigated the initiative, and a six-point practical summary for enhanced renaissance will go forward to the council.

Meanwhile the Roots Grain Bar sessions continue to give the best value evening entertainment for a hat donation you'll ever find on a Wednesday, this week featuring superb song-writer and performer Phil Cooper with his band.

And for spoken word fans this week there was Story Friday, the popular bimonthly event presented by A Word In Your Ear at Burdall's Yard in Bath. This session's theme of Outsiders particular interests me so I was delighted my story was one of the seven chosen. The standard is awesome and it was a genuine privilege to be in a line-up with Clare Reddaway and other superb writers - look out for Conor Houghton if you enjoy droll fast-moving Irish humour, a new star who may well go supernova soon. Stories now all on audio - listen here!
So now autumn has officially begun ~ it arrived astronomically on September 21st, also allegedly International Peace Day (don't get me started) ~ here's a couple of events to look forward to: Frome Poetry Cafe on October 4th has Hannah Teasdale as guest poet, and local writer Rosie Jackson will be launching her memoir The Glass Mother at the Merlin on November 4th.  Nevertheless Fringe Theatre isn't planning another production this year as Rosie & I are both involved in other projects, but there are exciting new theatre initiatives around as well as to the Merlin's eclectic autumn programme. Marc Cox is starting a script-in-hand writers group at the Atheneum in Warminster, and Simon's Blakeman's impro group now meets each Tuesday upstairs at the Cornerhouse. And for film fans, the good news is that new owners will reopen the Westway as an independent cinema again. And there's still one more week of Somerset Art's 'open studios' ~ venue list here

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

All men are Bavarians...

Sheridan's famous comedy The Rivals is set in 1775, which was 'a glorious period of indulgence and frivolity' according to Tom Rogers who created the designs for Bristol Old Vic. 'Overblown and excessive' was his aim, impressively achieved in this lavish ~ and very funny ~ current production, with wigs as high as Oklahoma corn and flamboyant costumes in silk taffeta with extravagant trimmings. The set, basically a dressing-room where everyone preens, is interrupted for scene changes by vast frames to suggest different locations, enhancing the sense of show not substance, and a social milieu where everyone dissembles ~ even hero Jack Absolute who pretends to be a humble ensign to get his girl, romantic Lydia Languish. There are secrets overheard, notes intercepted, lies rebounding and deceits unmasked at every turn of this complex plot. Even Mrs Malaprop, despite her pride in her 'oracular tongue and nice derangement of epitaphs' is at it, posing as her ward to lure one of her suitors...
The story may hover between pantomime and farce, but Sheridan was a noted radical and there's satire too in his depiction of tyrannical landowners, and of women who despite their status have no other powers than beauty and perversity.
 Director Dominic Hill finds gags and innuendo in hidden corners of the script, and spices it with visual humour: anachronistic touches like polaroids and a typewriter, landscape-painting-style sheep, and a mysterious macaw.  More importantly, he has assembled a superb cast in which Lucy Briggs-Owen's Lydia Languish, a bizarre combination of Tim Burton's Red Queen and Lauren Am-I-Bovvered? Cooper, takes comedic caricature to the outrageous limit. She is marvellous. And all, of course, is unravelled at the end as Through all the drama — whether damned or not — Love gilds the scene, and women guide the plot. On till October 1st, hugely recommended.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

from the edge of the ocean

Frome how big you are! How full of roads & cars & houses, and how overwhelming damp & colourless... apparently there's been an Indian summer here last week but I've returned from Atsitsa on Skyros island into the season of mists and a 10 degree drop in temperature.
No blazing cerulean skies here, no strobe-bright dazzle on an indigo sea, no stark dark pine-tree shadows. No nightly views of the sky glittering pink and the ocean silvering as a big red sun drops like a blob of ketchup below the horizon, no more red moon rising above Juicy Bar beach on a warm evening, with mojitos. No more mealtime bell announcing trays of banquet-luscious food arriving, no more extreme (Irish) yoga, or demos group appreciations, or oikos groups and, big on this miss-list, no more marvellous shared words from the writing group.
My  awesome octet met each morning in Adonis taverna on the beach to drink greek coffee and write, and each morning they astounded me, and sometimes themselves, with memories & inventions, feelings & observations, stories & poems.... meanwhile the fishermen mended their nets & drank grappa and the local ladies gossiped & laughed loudly and the sea methodically slapped the white pebbles and the sun shone. Miss that? Just a bit. That's litotes - understatement to emphasise an affirmative. And this is flow, which is only allowed ten minutes (Ted Hughes says so too) so I must stop. Normal service will be resumed next post.  In the meantime in the words of physicist Carlo Rovelli, which I read aloud in the warm full-moon darkness beside a bay on the island after our starry starry night walk, Here on the edge of what we know, in contact with the ocean of the unknown, shines the mystery and the beauty of the world. And it's breathtaking.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Flying in & out of Frome

So I got back home from San Francisco late on Monday realising there was no real point in emptying my case, more sensible simply to take remove the warmer layers and replace with books & course notes as I head off to lovely Skyros after four days enjoying Frome's warm sunshine.  It's autumn here, crab-apple & berry time, but apparently hot & stormy on the Aegean...

My  brief check-in included a terrific gig at Wednesday's Roots Grain Bar where Steve Loudoun and the Saboteurs covered an amazing range of styles with terrific vocals from Charlotte Egmore & Steve himself, and two very different art exhibitions.

Guy Watts is showing some of his fascinatingly complex 'detailed, dreamy' pen&ink works at La Strada until the end of October, and Paul Minott's exhibition of massive monoprints at Black Swan Arts had its launch on Friday.
In total technical contrast, Paul creates his designs on iPad and then each element is lasercut from thin plastic to be inked and etched and placed together to create a unique print. Well worth going to see, folks, and in the gallery till 8th October. Some lovely landscape photographs by Mahtola Eagle-Lippiatt in the cafe downstairs too.

I've been keen all summer to catch Frankenstein in Bath, the nightly 'theatrical walking tour' from the ever-innovative Show of Strength Theatre Company. The street performances of stories and histories I've seen in Bristol and Wells are always enjoyable, but this true tale from 1816 had extra appeal as it overlaps the Persuasion year featured in my play for Frome Festival Time Slides.  Creative Producer Sheila Hannon wrote this dramatic investigation and on Thursday led our intrigued group in the footsteps of Mary Shelley, revealing liaisons, tragedies & scandals along the way. Mary, as well as the poet Shelley's bride and the creator of Frankenstein the monster-maker, was the child of influential early-feminist Mary Wollstonecraft who died when she was 10 days old, so there's a particular  poignancy in her obsession with an unmothered creature whose life became a long frantic quest to find its creator. This saga of still-hidden secrets is totally gripping, evoking huge empathy & compassion as we hurried along the dark streets, pausing to eavesdrop fragments from letters of love & despair while the moon glowered above the plumes of our narrator's Regency headdress... It's on till the end of September, and it's a real treat. No booking, just turn up by the fountain outside the abbey at 7.30.

And finally this week: the exciting news from Burning Eye Books that my poetry collection Crumbs from a Spinning World will be published next month. I'm thrilled with the cover design by Mutartis Boswell, and more than chuffed to become, as Hannah Teasdale puts it, "another BE club member". With the tagline Never knowingly mainstream, Burning Eye scooped the Saboteur 2016 award for 'Most Innovative Publisher' - I'm thinking of making a lapel badge from that image... And in case you were wondering, my title was inspired by one of my favourite poets Brian Patten: it's the song of the slow, sad bird in The Translation:
"From my nest among moments 
Where I keep a spinning world 
I stole one crumb of joy 
But lost it coming here.”

So now I'm off again to join the team leaders in Atsitsa Bay for their penultimate week on the island. Smiley face!

Sunday, September 04, 2016

The pelican days are over...

This week the Bay area suddenly remembered California is the Golden State and offered dazzling sunshine for most of my walks. I've spent hours each day on coastal trails from Moss Beach in the north to beyond Poplar in the south, each about 6 miles from my central point in El Granada. Mo has taken me further too, up to the Devil's Slide (still part of the Cabrillo Highway on my first visit, but after constant landslides it's now an environmental reserve) and down to Bean Hollow, where the rocks of Pescadero are transformed into strange creatures by wind and salt erosion.
The phenomenon is called tafoni, and is rare and mysterious especially since, unlike the rest of the coastal rocks, these patterns are resistant to further change. I compared the tiny squarish corn-circle-like etching in this picture with my photo from 8 years ago and it's identical in every detail.
As well as extraordinary rocks I've seen amazing trees: avenues of cedars, creeks overhung with massive ancient eucalyptus, and slim pastel-barked younger ones in elegant rows all the way down from the hills to the sea. I've been dazzled by the range of flower colours continuing up the Highway verge as well as along the dunes and gardens... but more than all that, this trip has been about the birds.
 I've spent literally hours watching them fishing along the shore: mincing sandpipers, shrieking gulls, terns and cormorants, elegant herons and snowy egrets, diving murres and endless gangs of pelicans, and inland there are wrens and tits and blackbirds along the paths and dunes, while above the ocean seahawks and buzzards circle high then drop suddenly to glide the thermals like surfboarding teenagers.  Oh and let's not forget the seals: I often saw them basking on rocks along the coast & several times swimming in the bay, lifting their musky muzzles to stare around like curious puppies.

I have of course had people contact too, and trips to places other than the long beach and its wild rocky outcrops, like Alice's Restaurant (of Arlo Guthrie fame), the farmers' market where Mo & his musician friends play & sing, and a fascinating afternoon with the 'Coastside Life Story Writers' hearing their moving memories of wars around the world from Bolivia to Iwo Jima and Vietnam. And I also did quite a lot of writing on my current drama project, though that's still at design stage... but my book project is now close to launch: my editor has sent page proofs & the publisher loves Mutartis' cover design, so I hope to set off the fireworks for this one soon!
Meantime, here's a last look at the bay, and goodbye USA. Thanks for having me, it's been great.