Sunday, December 18, 2016

Three books, four bands, & lashings of poetry & song

"I am because you are, and we are community - this is Ubuntu."
Hazel Carey's book 'Ubuntu - My life in Other People' is an amazing memoir of a lifetime of creativity through drama, dance and song, including spearheading the South African cultural renaissance in the 1980s. Ubuntu is an African term meaning 'we are who we are because of other people,' and as Hazel's friend for over twenty years, I was privileged to edit her story, learning in the process more about this fearless, free-spirited, inspirational woman.

Last week saw Hazel's book launch in London at St Ethelburga's Centre in Bishopsgate, with a party where scores of Hazel's colleagues and friends converged to celebrate, including a posse from Skyros sessions ~ here surrounding the queen of the scene in an impromtu photobombing opportunity. An unforgettably marvellous event, and a great day out in London too as I chose to make my way to the venue via South Bank to watch the city's twilight scenes turn into glamorous nightscapes of magical illuminations as the shard spiralled and sparkled over the dark water and bright-lit bridge arches.

Words & Ears, Bradford-on-Avon's monthly Poetry Cafe run by Dawn Gorman, is always enjoyable though I don't go as often as I'd like. This week I did, and was rewarded by an excellent evening with strong readings from guests Elizabeth Palmer and haiku master John Hawkhead from his collection Small Shadows published by Alba, and outstanding poetry on the open mic. Moods ranged from Chaucer Cameron's subtle and powerful protest at the censorship of Iranian poet Sepideh Jodeyri to Kate Escher's poem composed entirely of lipstick names, and it was great to hear favourite poets like Stephen Payne, Jinny Fisher and Dawn herself, as well as discovering new voices like Pey Oh Colborne.

Back in Frome, it's been a sensational week for live music. The newly-rouged bar of The Cornerhouse was crammed on last two Saturday nights for fantastic bands: marvellous Captain Cactus and the Screaming Harlots (Jane, you broke my heart with that rendition of Just Somebody I Used to Know) and another must-dance-to band, Bristol's rootsy Flash Harry.
Back Wood Redeemers, another awesome band, treated us to their 'twisted blues & religious fervour' at Silk Mill last Sunday and then did it all over again, even better, at Grain Bar Roots Session on Wednesday with our Mr mayor astounding on mouth-organ.
And Bonne Nouvelle gave a sublime performance at the 'Friends of Frome Festival' party at the newly refurbished Granary venue, a fun event which confirmed the fact I'm rubbish at quizzes.
Final music note~  for me, though there's always more music in Frome than days in the week ~  Nunney Acoustic Cafe, featuring Emi McDade and with an excitingly eclectic open-mic including original songs along with covers of Undertones, Manics, Green Day, and Company of Thieves. I contributed three of me pomes which while not exactly child-friendly were at least not scurrilous, which neatly segues into the frankly self-indulgent footnote for this post (about which, as Jane Austen said of Emma, no-one but myself will care...) viz: that Amazon now has two reviews of my collection Crumbs from a Spinning World:
"... Funny, touching and beautiful collection. It is a rare book of poetry that takes you on so many journeys." "My favourite book of 2016. Crysse is a genius with words and these poems make me smile even on their umpteenth reading."  Thank you, lovely people, and for all the facebook comments and emails too. 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Winter words ~ poetry and performance

Let's begin with the poetry. I had high expectations of Monday's Frome Festive Poetry CafĂ©: dry humour from guest John Christopher Wood plus eclectic variety on the open mic promised a great evening and a supportive forum for unveiling my collection Crumbs from a Spinning World. It was indeed a wonderful event, with full-house audience and a great buzz,  twenty open-mic poets, and John's droll wit immensely popular. From quickies like 'What do you call vicars with no underwear? Nicholas Parsons!! to his reflections on temporal inexactitude and the plasticity of time, there was much word-play to ponder. Audience readings were excellent, ranging from seasonal humour to moving profundity, and I was chuffed with responses to my 'crone' poems ~ thanks David Goodman for the image. Burning Eye Books have now posted the podcast recorded in my kitchen last week ~ link here. If you haven't got 30 minutes (who has?) you could slide to 24.30 for the 'predictive poetry' bit (fun for all) or 27.50 to hear a 'crone' poem.  And despite the drizzle I had some interest for my 'Pop-up Poetry' session on Saturday at the Library ~ thanks Sara Vian for this 40-second video clip!

Festive showtime has arrived, with a double splurge of Bristol's best: Cinderella: A Fairytale at the Tobacco Factory is a revival of the Travelling Light show originally directed by Sally Cookson which I saw & loved five years ago, with several of the same performers as well as the same musical magic. The concept is to retain that Grimm psychological horror at wicked parenting and damaged children, with domestic bullying and bleeding severed toes (they bounce as well, which is particularly awesome) but with beautiful storytelling, tenderness, and humour throughout. Every scene, from the forest of birds to the palace gala, is created by five extraordinary actors and two brilliant musicians. Isabella Marshall as Ella is a delight but her appalling family are even more riveting: Lucy Tuck is mesmeric both as spiteful sister and head-scarfed Queen, and Craig Edwards' metamorphosis from tender father to incandescently evil stepmother will probably haunt me forever. The in-the-round format of Tobacco Factory's main house is perfect for this production, creating an imaginary world through inspired lighting with clever direction ensuring varied viewpoints from all angles throughout. A fabulous show for every age, running till January 22nd but may sell out ~ book while you can! Images Farrows Creative

In contrast to Cinderella's traditional tale, The Snow Queen at Bristol Old Vic adds an elaborate plot involving goblins, robbers, reindeer, radical animal rebels and a psychedelic flower-witch. The acting team and musicians are great but the complexity of storytelling make the hero's journey hard to follow, and re-envisioning that profound shard of ice in the child's heart as a 'mirror of opposites' loses the poignancy and impact of the original Hans Anderson tale.
However there's much to charm: dramatic lighting, lively musicality and spectacular puppetry, as well as superb performances, especially from Gerda and Kai (Emily Burnett & Steven Roberts). I had a soft spot too for the dysmorphic reindeer (Dylan Wood) though his role is bewilderingly extraneous. Written by Vivienne Franzmann, director Lee Lyford and Tom Rogers designer, this runs till 15 January. Images Mark Douet.
And with seasonal shows all around, as someone (probably not Scrooge) must have observed, why stop at two? So on Friday I was back in Frome watching a musical interpretation of Peter Pan by Merlin Theatre Productions, directed by James Moore with a lively cast of 34 plus singers, musicians, and a 7-piece band. With Edwardian London evoked by the ensemble from the start and a story-teller to keep the narrative close to Barrie's style and child-like imagination, the production stayed satisfyingly close to the familiar story, creating 'suspension of disbelief' with minimal props & set. I expected to be annoyed that Captain Hook had been transposed from his alter-ego paternal role to be played by a woman, but Daisy Mercedes won me over with her psychotic dominatrix/Teresa May combo. The lead roles were all well taken, with Ryan Hughes and Tabitha Cox superb as the waiting parents, and the steampunk pirates almost as endearing as the lost boys. I really liked the way the central vision of a boy refusing to grow up was maintained right to the end, so the final song is from Oliver Edward's Pan as courageous anti-hero still rejecting the treadmill life. Impressive show, well done all. Image Ken Abbott

Ending with written word again: Frome Writers' Collective monthly social at Three Swans this week featured a fascinating and informative talk on writing & publishing a personal memoir. Rosie Jackson, whose own memoir The Glass Mother has been much praised, shared her experience of the process. Memoir, Rosie showed, can weave strands of political and social history into personal memory, and can be therapeutic too: "You put the narrative of your life in a container and find the meaning of an experience from your current perspective." As a sample of the genre, Rosie read the start of her book, as did two other local memoirists, all three demonstrating that writerly adage 'An opening should grab you by the throat and compel you to read on.'  Des Harris and Steve Small are previous students of Rosie, who is a highly-rated tutor as well as an elegant writer ~ you can find course details on her new website, which has this lovely image of writing in a summer garden so we can look ahead to better days.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Slipping icily into the festive season...

'The cold never bothered me anyway' trills Frozen's Elsa bravely. Don't mistake me for Elsa. As frost grips leaves (prettily) and windscreens (annoyingly) I strive to muster the stoic resilience of Albert Camus who wrote In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. Good luck with that, then, my less stoic self mutters. But it's beautiful, I concede, that icy clarity of winter sunshine ~ this is how Stourhead looks when half the lake is solid and the grass is a field of tiny sabres.
And now it's December there's no avoiding the beast that lurches toward Bethlehem to be born again as a Retail Festival. Frome had a low-key lights-switch-on event this year: singing in the streets and tree sparkles which all lit up at the right moment ~ the mass 'Ooh!' gasp in response was more of an Oh!' of surprise from Fromies familiar with such events.
There was plenty of good music & other stuff around too: Dexters Extra Breakfast after the festive market at the Grain Bar were followed by the foot-stopping Buffalo Gals, and on Sunday Jazz Jam at the Cornerhouse gave us Simon Sax's lineup of superb performers. And Cafe La Strada is now featuring an exhibition of David Goodman's characteristically lucent eclectic photographs.
First Sunday of the month is Frome Independent market and minus- zero temperatures didn't stop the crowds pouring in. Cerulean skies and sunshine helped, and despite the whole town bordering on gridlock status (especially around hot-drink stalls) there was an upbeat atmosphere.
This month I was on the market myself, spasmodically declaiming poems from Crumbs from a Spinning World outside Hunting Raven Books, along with World Tree Story author Julian Hight who was also selling and signing. Great fun, and lovely feedback from buyers.

Earlier this week I'd met up with Burning Eye Books press officer ~ delightful Jenn Hart, here setting up for a podcast to give my progress report. My idea is a kind of scatter-gun approach to launching, with pop-up events in various locations (Frome Library next Saturday, December 10) and open-mic performances in Poetry Cafes and clubs. "If it isn't any fun, don't do it" D.H.Lawrence said, and he was right.
 So far, I've done spots at events in Bruton and Wells, acquiring after the latter a review in the Wells Journal I shall quote endlessly: Praise ... to Crysse Morrison, whose alphabetical 26 word review of Austen's Pride and Prejudice allied form and function in a way the Bauhaus would have applauded.  So it's a watch-this-space situation, or check my facebook page should you want to know upcoming.

Footnote of the week comes from a marvellous piece in Index: Wiltshire in which a Devises resident yearns fractiously for some of Frome's iconic charm. Oh, blast that funky freewheeling Frome... Here we go again, I swear every news story I hear about Frome is a happy-ending-tale of civic action... 
...not a constant free festival or a hippy commune, Frome is an organised community acting upon issues, often against conformity, to create a distinctiveness and liberal attitude which makes Brighton look like North Korea. Full of facts, and funny too ~ Darren Worrow, you may not be Bauhaus but I enjoyed that very much.