Sunday, February 26, 2017

The media-mad edition - hits, misses & surprise-surprise...

This has been a week of unexpected occurrences.  The first was landing in Birmingham on my flight home from Dublin, and the biggest surprise came on Friday.
On Wednesday, Frome enjoyed the long-awaited reopening of Frome's Westway cinema with all the promised perks: viz bar and £4 entry for all. I missed the party atmosphere (also La La Land but no problem with that) as Alison Clink & I were being interviewed on the 'Afternoon Spot' on Warminster radio hosted by Richard Platts, talking about using personal experiences in writing.
The much bigger miss came on Friday...
Richard has a genial approach ('I'm not Paxman') and a relaxed broadcast style ('People tell me they like rough edges') for our enjoyable session of chat and readings.

Frome Art corner now: there's an exhibition of photographs 'From the corner of my eye' at Black Swan Arts, and there's also Tim Gander's impressive Routes exhibition in La Strada Cafe: This collection of portraits of those using this facility for 'young people looking for somewhere to go or someone to turn to' is an urgent attempt to save a Drop-In facility under threat. The youngsters' portraits each have a personal plea: "They really are the only safe space in Frome for people like me, and I’ve found a wonderful volunteering opportunity there in their youth cafe" says Mona Vaas.  Donations valuable & much appreciated.

In an outstanding week for live music in Frome, Wednesday's Roots Session at the Grain Bar had a fabulous double bill with Julian (Bugs) Hight launching his new CD Independent State of Mind, and indie-folk band Velvet & Stone back from Devon. Plus, for bonus, an afternoon drop-in too from Dreadzone at Raves from the Grave to sign copies of their powerful new album Dread Times.

On Friday, for Mutartis Boswell's poster as well as the 'post punk / alternative rock sound & visuals', I'd have booked for Are We Still Alive at the Wheatsheaves, but I was guest poet in Bath's poetry cafe
What a Performance at St James' Vaults - a cracking night of song and storytelling as well as poetry. Here's Dexter Selboy & the Shonky Trio, the band who make 'indescribable' a good thing. Thanks for making me welcome, small audience, and for buying all my books!

And Friday was the night Foo Fighters played in Frome - yes, really, live and rocking. TV's Points West featured the leaked-on-the-day secret visit, Frome Standard had a live feed outside the Cheese & Grain as rumour became reality, and facebook fizzed with excited snaps, selfies, and sensationalism all night.  The band left a public message as well as a big gloaty grin of delight for all of Frome. HEY.... (they wrote in a font that Mutartis would approve) STILL BUZZING FROM OUR FIRST GIG IN 1 YEAR, 3 MONTHS, AND TEN DAYS - SHAKING OFF THE DUST FOR THE SWEET PEOPLE OF FROME WAS THE BEST WAY TO DIVE INTO ANOTHER YEAR... AND MANY MORE SURPRISES...

This would be a good note to end this post of hits & misses, but there's a useful footnote I don't want to omit: our famous Independent market restarts next week and, to prove the cultural importance of Frome's first-Sunday-of the month celebration, Great Western Railways posters now feature it as an inducement to grab a train and head along. As their rail links extend from London to Taunton and to Cardiff (with a connection to Fishguard and Rosslare), be prepared for crowds. Best bring a thermos & leave the dog at home...

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

"'Tis a pageant to keep us in false gaze"

After the pantos and family shows, Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory opened their spring season in Bristol with Othello ~ a play about racism and false reports, about how hatred and lies can destroy trust and love ~ a play for our times, you could say.  This modern-dress production puts the focus on contemporary relevance from the opening moment, showing Othello as a muslim, sharing his prayer with his new bride in a tender moment. Combining dungarees with sixteenth century speech is a big step away from realism and director Richard Twyman makes the most of this by adding some non-scripted physical sequences - aggressive singing and a wild brawl for the men and a private dance for the two women. Opinions may differ but to me these perfectly fitted the theme of the tragedy - Grayson Perry with his views on masculinity would I think approve.
Andrew Hilton, artistic director for STF, always assembles a strong cast and this team is no exception. Mark Lockyer’s Iago brings touches of black humour to a performance that never drags and Katy Stephens is absolutely superb as his enabling wife Emelia. Norah Lopez Holden’s Desdemona is delightful and immensely moving as she struggles to contain the mad anger of the beast that was her gentle-giant lover Othello, played by Abraham Popoola. And Brian Lonsdale’s Geordie interpretation of hapless Roderigo brought moments of joy in a play of progressive darkness.
The in-the-round format of the Tobacco Factory venue works really effectively for this drama, as the audience is always visible: we watch like voyeurs and when Iago, obsessed with jealousy for the man he calls 'the Moor’, expounds his plots we become collusive, passively watching the terrible consequences and undeserved suffering. Again, much like life.
(images TheOtherRichard)
The production is touring in Exeter & London in May and June, and then heads for the Shakespeare Festival in Neuss Globe, so get to Bristol while you can. Unless of course you live in Germany.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Poetry, mostly... with spring in the air & a bit of art

I have no image of Monday's magnificent Frome Poetry Cafe sadly ~ it was simply too incredibly busy for photos so I'll leave you to imagine the wondrous sight of the Garden Cafe absolutely crammed for an evening of fantastic love poems in various styles including mime, song, and thumb-piano. Bristol bardic quartet The Spoke ~ Bob Walton, Elizabeth Parker, Paul Deaton and Claire Williamson ~ shared passions for people and places and even lasagne, rhubarb, and starlings.  An even wider range of moods came from the superb open-mic poets: witty, reflective, cynical, erotic, political, poignant, surreal and historical ~ I could go on & make it a list poem, but we had one of those too, alphabetically. The poetry book donated by Hunting Raven Books for the most appreciated poem of the night went to David Glasman for his moving and beautifully-crafted 'Love poem to life' after surviving a heart attack. An evening of magic & mirth & wild imaginings.
And there'll be another session of lyrical delights in Frome next month when Merlin Theatre hosts the Poetry Platter, at which I'll be joined by five outstanding performance poets: hugely popular Liv Tork and Chris Redmond from the Hip Yack Poetry Shack, Hannah Teasdale (one of our favourite Cafe guests), Bristol stand-up Buddy Carson, and hi-impact rapper Jake XJX Hight. Could there be any more compelling reason to book right now? you may be wondering, and there is: you don't have to sit passively in a dark auditorium, instead you share the stage with the performers, with wine and tapas platters, and the whole package ~ poets, supper, and esoteric experience ~ costs just over a tenner. Wow. March 16th. Plan your trip to Frome and be there to tell your great-grandchildren!

February 14 is traditionally the day M&S charges £25 for a bunch of roses and the famous Valentine lamp on Catherine Hill is lit by its protector Reg Ling, who found and restored this piece of Victoriana some years ago. The ritual is opened by the town cryer and accompanied by free mulled wine so it always draws a small crowd ~ this year there was a Points West TV team too.  Reg is a great showman, arriving in traditional attire and giving a commentary on the four stages of lighting a gas lamp. It's all delightful fun and a bit like being in an episode of Trumpton ~ The lamplighter seems to be in trouble - it's taking an awful lot of clicks to light the lamp. Oh look, the lamp has lighted! Well done, lamplighter, now the lamp is lit! Everybody cheers the lamplighter.

Wednesday's Roots Session at the Grain Bar featured Clayton Denwood and his band ~ folk rock with echoes of Bob Dylan, fabulous music and terrific lyrics too. And the really big musical event was Griff's Big Night Out, Saturday's party to celebrate the life of much-missed Griff Daniels. I know it was a stonkingly wonderful unforgettable gem of a night but you'll need to go to Griff's page LINK pictures as  I was in Dublin for the weekend, missing also the Snowdrop Festival in Shepton Mallet and the Frome Tattoo Convention in Frome. So here instead is a picture of snowdrops in Mells last week, and a snap from a previous tattoo festival. Normal service will be resumed next week.

My trip was a reunion with a friend from our student days at Trinity. Our catchup included walks by Howth pier,  a lunch with Irish poet Rory Brennan ~ also a college friend ~ and a visit to the National Gallery of Ireland to see the splendid Beyond Caravaggio exhibition, so titled because most of the paintings featured are by 'Caravaggisti': other artists, working in his style.  Caravaggio's personal life was apparently violent and chaotic but these paintings plangent with tenderness as well as vivid story-telling and dramatic lighting. After Caravaggio's (unexplained) death his significant influence wasn't acknowledged until the 20th century. He's now seen as the founder of modern painting and in fact of these images have the impact of a stills grabbed from a movie.

This is Dutch Caravagesque painter Dirck van Baburen imagining the meeting of Tobias and the Angel ~ among the quieter pictures but one I really loved ~ and the famous Supper at Emmaus by the master himself. Synchronicitously, this painting is referenced in Rory's new book Dancing with Luck by the artist Rafael Mahdavi, whose paintings are published alongside the sonnets, who says I feel my pores tingle... Art needs to generate meaning, it is only worthwhile if it is shared, and it should leave people speechless.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Farce, forests, pole dance, moon eclipse & Isis rising

It is a truth universally acknowledged that though a marriage is the joining together of bride and groom, a wedding is for the bride's mother. This is her day, to dress up and to gloat, summon distant relations, settle old scores, hire a marquee to exasperate the neighbours, and rush round John Lewis compiling a gift list. Chris Chibnall's play Worst Wedding Ever at Salisbury Playhouse is based on this premise and from audience reactions of hilarious recognition, I was lucky to be in another country from my mother when I married.
Julia Hills, who was unforgettable as Madame Lyubov Andreievna Ranevskaya in The Cherry Orchard at Tobacco Factory a couple of years back, once again shows how brilliant she is at playing autocratic domineering mother-figures, while Elizabeth Cadwallader, whether berating her ex or falling out of a portaloo, is comic genius as sister of the bride. (She does a sympathetic ear well too, telling her sister's fiance, "When it goes wrong between the two of you, I’m a good listener - and an even better shag.")
And while Elizabeth Hopper and Nav Sidhu, the about-to-be-newlyweds, are both charming, the play really belongs to the comedy roles, including the vicar (Keiran Hill) and dog-mad, offspring-allergic, father-of-the-bride Derek Frood ("You were alright as babies but you became difficult ~ for twenty years..")  It's mostly farce, but the second act brings unexpected insight into family dynamics that redeem the storyline from mere superficiality. And it's tremendous fun, with a wonderful wedding-party-style band bursting out all over when you least expect them, so if you or anyone you know has been affected by the wedding issue, do go along -it's on till 25 February.  Images: The Other Richard

The monthly social for Frome Writers Collective on Monday was a busy one with two speakers: Tim O'Connor,  a Town Councillor as well as a writer, unveiled first plans for a specifically literary festival ~ Literally Frome ~ to be organised next year (yes, it is exciting... more later...) and Karin Campagna gave us a peek  behind the scenes of Winstone's takeover of  Hunting Raven Books. Reassuringly, all staff will stay on and local writers are still supported ~ in fact we now get 10% discount ~ and the main question as yet unanswered is whether the shop name will change, in which case I confidently expect a petition to retain our much-loved raptor. Here's a picture of Tim (he's a stand-up comic too so I'm hoping he won't mind me sharing this snap) and a view of the smart new bookshop interior.
And in an especially creative week in Cheap Street, where eclectic independent traders are always artistic in their window displays, as well as Hunting Raven ~ now also offering coffee in its smart refurbished premises ~ the fabulous Frome Wholefoods has a great makeover look, and Elli on the King Street corner devised an inspired window display to celebrate valentine month.

An extraordinary party night on Friday, with the finale of an extraordinary project: the Isis • Horus • Osiris exhibition opened at Silk Mill with esoteric electronica, projected visuals, live performance from Andrew Heath and a long display of butterfly images, each featuring photographs of eyes collected by the artist.
Andrew Shackleton chose the night of the lunar eclipse to launch these amazing images to further empower all these elements. I was one of the eye-photo donors (thanks David Goodman) ~ here's how I would look to a cosmic lepidopterist.

Another gathering the next day ~ segue here is amazingly talented Frome personalities ~ saw Frome's Assembly Hall crammed so full that stewards were uttering quivering cries about fire regulations as the last of us crowded in to hear Julian Hight talking about the ancient trees of Selwood forest. Here I learned among other things that we have many ancient oaks, that yews can live 4000 years and that 'forest' historically meant not the dense growth we think of today but lightly-wooded pasture claimed by the king.  Julian's expertise and passion plus superb projections of his photographs ensured an absolutely enthralling hour. More here about ancient-tree spotting and here is where you can vote for the European tree of the year (top tip: go for the Brimmon Oak, the tree that moved a bypass in Wales... one silent step for a trunk, one giant squelch for developers...)

Change of mood on Saturday evening with Polers'n'Poets in a show at Chapel Arts in Bath organised by Funky Monkey in support of One Billion Rising. I hadn't heard of this mass-action group opposing violence against women ~ it takes its name from the statistic of assaulted women around the world ~ until invited by Jo Butts, MC at this awareness-raising event, to join three other poets (Alice Smith, D'arcy Chappell and Rich Butnotfamous) performing with some stunning pole dancers and a really classy burlesque act. Chapel Arts Centre is a great venue and the audience was warmly responsive ~ I think there will be photos later but in the meantime here's our table...

A quick look at the music scene this week as I missed a lot, but did catch some absolute gems at Nunney Acoustic Cafe on Sunday, like Keziah singing Amy Winehouse, and Ollie playing Angie. I first heard this in 1966 at an all-nighter in Leicester Square, played by Bert Jansch... unforgettable.

Final footnote to this post is also a personal time-trek: I've finally acquired a copy of David Byrne's brilliantly quirky 1986 movie True Stories, the tale of an 'ordinary' Texan town pageant. It's as bizarre and satiric as when I first saw it, especially when 'ordinary' redneck John Goodman sings People like us We don't want freedom - we don't want justice - we just want ... somebody to love. Thirty years on this love song sounds chillingly prescient in times when, to paraphrase Yeats, things fall apart and the centre cannot hold, the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity, and that rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches across America with a shadow as long as the world.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

spring celebrations: satire, music, media, and birdsong

February 2nd is Groundhog Day (the all-knowing American rodent foresaw shadow, by the way) and the day of Celtic goddess of poetry Brigid: this is the time our northern hemisphere officially passes from dark winter days into the coming lightness of spring. The US ritual as we all know requires you to go to your metaphorical room and stay there till you say you're sorry, and for Imbolc celebration you invoke healing power with flame and prayer ~ definitely preferable ~ but I chose instead to go and see Jonathan Pie at the Komedia in Bath. Pie live delivers exactly what you'd expect: furious rants at every aspect of social order and disorder, with some especially pithy contempt for the UK party of opposition ("the Left have made themselves irrelevant - Labour have fisted themselves to death") using the dystopian irony of Children In Need's Pugsy as specific focus of his rage. As unexpected bonus, a very good warm-up spot from Andrew Doyle too.

Over in Warminster on the Community Radio station, 'Kowalski', aka John Walton, has an apt name for his show: Painting Coconuts in Paradise seemed just right for a pleasant Monday afternoon of music and chat about writing... discussion of poetry, blogging, and courses for writers all interspersed between african rhythms and 1960s hits... mm that's the way it's meant to be... (Anyone else remember Concrete and Clay? just asking...)

And linking chat to music with another question, does Frome need another Acoustic Club? As King Lear would say, reason not the need, just enjoy. The Artisan had a terrific session on Monday evening, neatly summarised by Paul Kirtley, himself a superb contributor: I believe the phrase 'eclectic mix' would be appropriate... ranging from soulful folk to a WW1 piece, to acoustic blues, to Americana, to modern "pop", to freestyle rap, to beat box (now I know what 2C-I is), to covers and original stuff.  Another good night and a free pint... what more could one ask for, pray tell?  MC Ross p was the brilliant rapper, and this enjoyable mix also included Julian (Bugs) Hight and Hello Hopeville.

This week's main guest at the Grain Bar Roots Session was Katey Brooks who combines soulful words with powerful voice and dramatic performance. In an unexpected highlight she quit the stage and sat on the bar for an 'unplugged' version of a her new recording Never Gonna Let Her Go: sometimes the sweetest things were meant to pass you by..

Sessions in different style filled the Cornerhouse on Friday, as more than a score of musicians and singers settled in for a night of celtic carousing with guitars, mandolin, banjo, fiddle, flutes, accordion, washboard, spoons, tambourine, bodhran, and much good humour. Great sounds and wonderful atmosphere of enjoyment and fun.

Frome town is on the telly again, this time with the story of our Food Fridge. Literally a free-for-all, exclaimed the voice-over in Jamie and Jimmy's Food Feast this Friday on C4, explaining people both donate and take... it's a simple solution to a massive food problem. Jamie suggests the system should extend across the country to supplement provisions of food banks. It ain't rocket science, he says, and he's started a community fridge scheme in Southend. It's not only for local growers with a surplus: supermarkets have signed up too, diverting their excess away from landfill. Now there's even an app for it ~ and it all started in Frome!

Looking ahead there's good news for Fromies with the reopening of Westway! Our much-loved independent cinema will be back in business later this month, refurbished and triple-screened, while retaining those invaluable features of movie-going: the licensed bar, the old-style intermission, and fixed ticket price of four quid... cheaper, as The List points out, even than streaming at home.

And good news for everyone: Frome Festival is already taking shape. Brochure entries are being assembled, and from the look of that motor-cycling Jane Austen, this one will be a scorcher. Those of you who saw our Nevertheless production Timeslides will realise we actually unwittingly anticipated this theme last year ~ but look out for a dramatic promenade piece with a hint of regency... And this year is the hundredth anniversary of the death in action of poet Edward Thomas who wrote about his travels close to our town so he will be featured too, with an Edwardian swimming party and Adlestrop moments at the Poetry Cafe. I'll leave you with birdsong, and thoughts of spring.