Monday, May 28, 2018

Sun, thunder, art and life

The Chemistry of Bronze as an art concept to be honest didn't attract me much until first glimpse of the amazing exhibition which opened last Friday at Black Swan Arts. Bronze is all about weaponry and statues of warmakers isn't it? Well, no. Superbly curated by Hans Borgonjon, the casting foundry Art of a Fine Nature showed a diversity of creations from glowing guitar-fronts to random Rorschach-style seahorses and porpoises retrieved from the drips bucket and presented facetiously for inspection as the works of Sandra Pail. Here's one that might, or might not, be a witch with her incubus lover... There will be a casting demo on July 7 at 3pm - postponed from Saturday because of That thunderstorm.

Masses and masses of music this week - every pub in Frome seemed to be bursting out with bands like blossom on the Judas tree in Victoria park. (Irrelevant digression: the name apparently wasn't from the biblical betrayer but a derivation of the French name, Arbre de Judée, referring to the hills of Judea many of these gorgeous trees grew. Just an interesting fact, for fact collectors.)
Anyway though I missed most of this being out of action for 5 days (another digression, more relevant this time, the NHS service despite all attacks is at point of need utterly fantastic), I was back on the circuit to hear some great young musicians at the Frome Sofar- here's Josh, and Wedlock, sorry I don't know much more about them than their names but both were excellent.
And Sunday's Frome Jazz Club had sax player Jon Lloyd as John Law's guest - an extraordinary rapport apparent between these two - and Billy Weir on drums.

The big thing for me this week, and the reason why this blog has gone all garrulous, is that my book has finally, belatedly, been delivered to the wonderful Hobnob Press and is now under the editorial red correcting pen - I say that as though it wields its own authority but it is of course steered by my endlessly patient & supportive editor. Various people in Frome have been wondering what happened to this project, because I've interviewed many of them, saying breezily back in November that I expected to finish by end of February... yeah, that's right, a history of Frome in four months. I can't imagine why I thought 120 days might wrap it up - it's not as if it's only a bit of Frome either, like a history of 17th century button-hooks and bodkins.  The title I negotiated is FROME UNZIPPED - from Prehistory to Post-Punk, beginning at the ice-age and ending with the call for Frexit in the last Frome Times. It's a bit of a parkour ride, with masses jumped over, but you can get all that from sensible historians. This is more of a street-theatre story - there's a narrative arc, and characters, and everyone I talked to has a voice in the book because I wanted it to be genuinely egalitarian. Nearly a hundred people generously gave me their time and when I'd transcribed all their interviews, along with notes from the sensible historians, with a month to go, I found I had the equivalent of a 5000-piece jigsaw to assemble with no box. Anyway, it's off now, and I've learned so much about this extraordinary town where I came to live back in 1987... what's next? After the prosecco, of course.. (thanks David)

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Mostly music and madness

Starting off with madness, and the Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland, the latest production by internationally renowned Ridiculusmus. It's an endlessly provocative, in the thinking sense, story and we get two takes on it, one on each side of a divide in time, or reality (or both) made literal by a semi-opaque wall. Half the audience sees each narrative, but disturbingly hears fragments of the other. Then we swap over, for the rest of the story, which like life has by now slightly changed, with some new bits and some bits lost and not in the order we (half)remembered it. In other words it's like life, disturbingly so. The psychiatrist, who has troubles of his own, is struggling to find answers in the works of RD Laing and there's an ongoing theme of the use & dangers of meds - 'They don't want to medicate meaning-making,' he explains to the fragile, angry, author who thinks he wrote Nabokov's books and may well be writing the play we are watching... It's an amazing, brilliant, unforgettable piece of theatre and I won't say, Go See, because it's sold out at Tobacco Factory in Bristol - and I only got to see it through an amazing gesture by Ridiculusmus when Stepping Out mental health theatre group failed to get tickets and wrote to tell them, and their response was to put on an extra show especially for the Stepping Out group, transporting their entire set to St Werburghs Community Centre on Saturday. As an associate of Stepping Out I was invited too, and after having our minds blown to Lapland and back by this amazing show, we all went off for lunch with the cast in Cafe Napolita.
Saturday evening, you may know if you were in Bath on this warm clear night was Party in the City with masses of bands in the parks, gardens, pubs, cafes, halls, so I hopped off the train and met up with some Frome friends for a saunter round the streets.
There were some good bands indoors but on a sultry night like this, the outside venues lured: Queens Square for wonderful atmosphere and great bands like Jupiter Owls and Agent Philby and the Funtans, and the Parade Gardens - free for this event - for The Blues Others with a magical crescent moon above the floodlit abbey... a glorious way to end an extraordinary day.
Back to Frome, and the week began with a very pleasant Frome Poetry Cafe. It's always a delight to hear the diversity of readings from the floor, and our guest Matt Duggan treated us to the first UK reading from his new collection A Season in Another World. Matt is only just back from a US tour with readings in New York and Boston, so Frome probably did seem like another world... Next Poetry Cafe will be in the Festival, which we're already gearing up for, with brochures out now and booking beginning!

Over in the Round Tower this week there's an unusual exhibition by Si Griffiths, 'pop surrealist' paintings: vivid contemporary iconography probing cultural icons from all walks of life - political, religious, cultural, evoking references to movies, music, comic books, even theatre, in a striking display on the old mill walls. Adventures in Reality? is on till 26th May - do take a look and have a chat with this fascinating explorer-artist.

A bit more music, Frome-style, to finish: Roots Session at the Grain Bar had the fabulous Fos Brothers from Belfast, plus drums and bass, bringing banter and traditional songs presented in a mostly-non-traditional way. And the weekend offered just to too much to see it all,  even if you ran from the Vine Tree to the Cornerhouse as I did, pausing only to admire the Boyle Cross in the marketplace foaming again. Sorry I missed The ShakeSpearOs following (2 of) the ever-vibrant Raggedy Men, but glad to have caught most of Rebel Heroes - a nice irony in ending one session with No More Heroes and the other with Heroes... just for one day...

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Buzzy week in Frome: bells, blossom, bands, books and boxes

A crowded week in Frome began for me with another Word Play, Visual Radio Arts' quarterly digression from music to poetry, and an excellent session from four Bristol poets: Paul Deaton, Pauline Seward, Elizabeth Parker, and Bob Walton all have new books out and their varied voices and thoughts combined to a create a great session - you can hear it live here. Thanks again to Phil and Mags, for this amazing facility, another of the specialnesses of Frome.
Mark Steel reckons he's finally perfected the Frome accent. He gave us a sample at the opening of his show at the Cheese & Grain: "Basically, when we bought it, it was just a farm," intoned in deepest North London merchant-banker-ese. He got a roar of appreciation for what was probably the funniest gag of the night (the ones that hurt usually are). Mark's political satire is always snigger-worthy but his attempt to stir up local small-town rivalry with Trowbridge met an uncomfortable silence. It seemed a bit like asking a swan if it was bothered by a beetle. And there far was too much about his recent divorce, so I took advantage of the interval to head for 23 Bath Street and bop along with Subgiant at the official warm-up party for Once Upon a Time In the West festival.

Other music this week: Chris Jagger Trio at the Wednesday Grain Bar Roots Session, showing how different two brothers can be, and the indescribably marvellous Beef Unit turning the air punk at 23 Bath Street.
SickOnes, back from their debut tour of America's West Coast, gave Frome a raucous free taster of their at Gents Street Sneakers, and rock tribute band Purple Fish came back to Cornerhouse for landlord Martin's birthday bash.. I might've got a better image but was too busy dancing...

With the arrival of May bringing sizzling sunshine just about everywhere in the UK  ~ we topped 27° here ~ our monthly Independent Market had a seasonally floral theme, as masses of sprigs of fresh blossom were entwined into hundreds of crowns and headdresses in workshops provided by a team from Somerset Garden Day ~ one of the best features the ever-inventive Marketeers have yet provided. Popular Boss Morris from Stroud brought a nice pagan touch and bright lime green socks too.

The Frome Book Fair at the Silk Mill returned for another successful event, attracting bibliophiles from far and wide with collectibles from children's illustrated fables to rare military histories. And as a footnote to the RAISE (Refugee action in Somerset East) art auction in February, the exquisite composite artwork representing 'Home' which was created by visitors' contributions during that event has found a permanent home at Black Swan Arts. Here's us celebrating this with Kate Cochrane whose guiding hand completed the compilation.

In a bulletin already too hectic (this is Frome-related, though, as the Merlin provided rehearsal space) I'm including in this post an impressive one-man show at Bath's Rondo: Too Pretty to Punch is the concept of Edward/Edalia Day whose 80 minutes of analysis and rhetoric on being trans is engrossing and seriously entertaining. Edalia is a superb performer: narration is mainly dialogue ~ with himself/herself, with imaginary others, and with the audience ~ blended seamlessly with poignant poetry, and the focus explorative rather than political, finding new ways to share old understandings: "We play at being adults until we’ve learned it off by heart… we’ve farmed ourselves into the shapes we are now." For Edalia, trans is not a dysmorphia that leads to surgery, it's about whatever you need to do to cope, and everyone who finds themselves boxed in by a rigid conformity should get out of that box and make their own. Basically it's about being human. The graphics (by B. Mure) are brilliant - there's a taster here.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Whale song and other music...

Sometimes, very occasionally, I get to see a production so overwhelming I don’t know where to begin, even in my own feelings never mind reviewing. Wednesday night at Bath’s Ustinov Studio was one of those. It didn't sound promising: a morbidly obese man stuck in a room with his unforgiving memories and a heart condition. But The Whale, by Samuel D Hunter, superbly directed by Lawrence Boswell, was two hours of mesmeric theatre - deceptively complex and breath-takingly moving. Shuler Hensley was simply awesome, utterly convincing as man-mountain Charlie, and well supported by the rest of the cast especially Rosie Sheehy as belligerant Ellie and Ruth Gemmell as collusive friend Liz. Charlie is a pedantic online literature tutor, hiding his self-loathing reality from his students, and throughout the traumatic week of the play's action he has to confront not only his own mortality and his ever-present demons but his hostile daughter, spiky ex-wife, and a Mormon preacher with a message from God. (Charlie's painful journey does make him a better teacher incidentally, but the American assignment system isn't yet ready for integrity...) As in Herman Melville's whale tale, and in Walt Whitman's Song of Myself which is also a crucial reference, there’s more enigmatic symbolism than you could cram in a bucket of popcorn (and also bonus irony after the furore of indignation over Bob Dylan's alleged plagiarism of Sparknotes in his analysis of Moby Dick for the Nobel Prize lecture.) Some of the structural detail in the writing is slightly overcontrived, but the combination of direction, stage design, and cast has created an unforgettable production.  'That’s the best show I’ve ever seen here,’ murmured the man behind me as applause finally died down at the end. ‘Speechless’ was the word in the loos, which says it all really, it’s normally full of chatter there. If you want to see how live theatre can be more epic than any movie, I urge you to go. On till June 2nd.
Music now:
The Dead South coming to Bristol on their European tour caused quite a sensation - I booked as soon as I saw them on the Colston Hall date list, and so many others were equally excited that Saturday's event had to be moved to the more capacious Anson Room of the Student Union. A great gig, with the highlight their 60,000,000-times-now-viewed dirt-rock tale In Hell I'll Be In Good Company - blends elements of folk, bluegrass, and rock which results in a unique, modern, and authentic blend of boot-stompin' acoustic music.' I couldn't put it better, except maybe with 'gritty' somewhere. Do click the track link, but be warned, it'll stay with you all day...
Recently I've  been largely out of Frome's music scene, but made a point of not-missing two excellent jazz sessions at the Cornerhouse: we are incredibly lucky to have these regular gigs from musicians of the calibre of John Law and Keith Harrison-Broninski, working with other superb musicians, often on demanding esoteric pieces and always with fabulous impro solos... and Roots Sessions at the Grain Bar always have something good: last week it was Phil Cooper on his Thoughts and Observations tour, sharing the session with Jamie R Hawkins. Phil's thoughtful and observant songs are always engagingly delivered, with a high audience-connection factor.
And on Friday at the Cornehouse, Azhaar with her Global Wave band created a fabulous South American vibe at the launch of her debut album Original Love.

A preview now: I'm sometimes asked why I don't share the incredible stuff that goes on in Frome before, rather than after, the event - which would be a reasonable point if this were a listing service, but it it's only a blog, so I'm afraid you get to see mostly what's been and gone (apart from this time The Whale in Bath - so BOOK NOW!) but I'll end this cursory post with a plug for the next Poetry Cafe, because we have Matt Duggan fresh from his US tour and it will be a goodie...  enjoy Bank Holiday y'all, I will be nose to the metaphorical grindstone editing The Book... not long now...