Sunday, November 13, 2016

All about diversity...

In a week of writing-related events across three counties, I'll start with Take Art's 'Getting the Ball Rolling' session at The David Hall in South Petherton because the theme was diversity in the arts. Several really great presentations sparked discussion and cross-fertilisation between the poets, story-tellers, singers and theatre-makers. I especially enjoyed the Word/Play poets with Liv Torc, and the snippet from Gloria Lawrence's musical envisaging an African Queen meeting Elizabeth I, performed with singer Sasha Herriman ~ pleased to see Nzingabeth will be touring soon. An excellent event, entertaining and informative, with cake.

Moving northward, the Cotswold Walking Trail covers a hundred miles of footpaths and fields through quintessentially English rural vistas from Chipping Campden down to Bath, and I don't think I've ever walked any of it till last week. Martin Bax, founder of the Frome Festival, invited me to come with him on a 6 mile route featuring Adlestrop, the tiny village made famous by Edward Thomas. The railway station that inspired his poem was a victim of the 1966 Beeching cuts, and the poet himself was a victim of the 1917 attack on Arras that killed 160, 000 British soldiers. One of the station signs was salvaged, and re-housed at the end of the village as a place of pilgrimage for the many admirers of this gentle, epiphanic poem.
Martin and I were both there for the Edward Thomas connection (he will feature in next year's Frome festival) but there was an added bonus: a short talk from local Jane Austen specialist & author Victoria Huxley on the visits made by Jane to stay with her cousin the Reverend Thomas Leigh - here's the posh rectory. "You are literally following Jane's footsteps" Victoria assured us as we shuffled into the church, "because she came here every Sunday and there's no other door!"  Her talk, based on her book on the subject, was short but really interesting, especially on the vexed and precarious aspect of social status. "To the Leighs, the Austens were poor relations. All the snobbish observations and subtle putdowns in her books were what she saw and heard - how she herself was treated." A bonanza of a day - connection the two literary heroes, fantastic weather, and a really nice pub lunch at the end. I'll skip quickly over the field of frisky cows, as indeed I did at the time.

Back to Frome now, and a pleasant FWC social on Monday as the Frome Writers Collective gathered to listen to readings from the 'Writers in Residence' contest, when writers were allocated shops & cafes on the first Saturday of the summer festival, to write on the theme of 'All's Well That Ends Well.' Six of these impromptu sagas were shared below a unicorn to an attentive audience and a stuffed hen (we were in the upstairs room of the Three Swans, if you're unfamiliar with Frome), with Caroline Snailes' topical political satire deemed a worthy winner (though I wish Michael Eavis had taken leadership of our country) (note there will be no mention of any other country in this post.) The range of readings was delightful, and I especially enjoyed Judy Annann's recollections of producing Shakespeare in China in the 1990s, and Nikki Lloyd's witty phraseology in a tightly-crafted mother/daughter reconciliation story.

Staying in Frome but moving from fiction to fact: Steve Tompkins is an architect specialising in designing theatres, and his talk on this topic at Rook Lane for on Tuesday was a superb performance.  Projected illustrations enhanced his account and I was pleased to note that Steve and his Haworth Tompkins team like me have a passion for vermillion.  Steve, like Grayson Perry last week, subdivided his thoughts into categories: in this case elements not of maleness but of excellence in design. Theatres need to embody theatricality and also local memory, democracy, playfulness, permissiveness, and civility. The concrete (and reclaimed materials) examples and the stories of their concepts, constraints, and development were all fascinating, and I relished too Steve's architectonic phraseology: new buildings 'deferring' to neighbours and 'announcing themselves' in the street, 'talking to' the industrial surroundings and 'revealing themselves by night'... actually it does all sound quite male...

The brimming cornucopia of diversity this week also included a couple of terrific gigs ~ Roots Session on Wednesday featured Out To Grass, an amazing sextet who blue-grass up oldies from Beatles to Bon Jovi, and Blue Midnight rocking the Cornerhouse on Friday night with their unique ska-meets-folk fiesta style.

And finally in this diverse melange, the most unusual exhibition I've yet seen at Silk Mill: The Abnormalist Collective of young local artists have filled the space with personal work in a wide range of media, presented in an engagingly personal way. The concept is engagingly personal too: Frome does things differently, the event description explains: Where we've been raised is unlike any other place, due to the amount of freedom there is here. It's about independence, it's about how we do things in our own way, every person is an individual. And about impermanence. Theres a lot of change in the world, and in our individual lifes. So lets stop, and come together, to praise those who are moving with us. Frome does indeed do things differently, so massive appreciation to organisers Joey Sadler and Ewan Mitchell, here with artist Chloe Steeple. Only showing for three days, it will all be taken down after Sunday, so if you see this in time, do take a look.

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