Sunday, August 26, 2018

Mostly music, with a bit about oak trees

Trees. They were among our earliest deities and most of us probably still have that reverence in our psyche, expressed often as a passion to visit woods and a sense of awe at the ancient giants still surviving. As part of the Arborealist event at Black Swan this summer, Frome's tree expert Julian Hight gave a talk on Friday, showing some of the photographs he's taken around the world to illustrate his fabulous World Tree Story published in 2015. It's fascinating to see them compared with earlier records - here he shows an 1840 lithograph by dendrophile artist JD Strutt of the Great Oak at Fredville in Kent.
Oaks are Julian's particular passion: they shrink and gnarl as they age, often almost grotesquely, and they hollow into caverns so their age can't be assessed by counting the rings with an increment borer - but from folk tales and drawings, it seems they can live thousands of years.This is the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest, made famous by the Robin Hood legend. It's fenced off now - the Stonehenge of ancient trees, Julian says in his book on Britain's Tree Story. Oaks are home to more wild life than any other tree, probably at least 500 species, as some things can only thrive in rotting oakwood, which means these trees as they age are 'hotspots for biodiversity' as Julian puts it.
And to finish this arboreal meander, here's a tree I saw providing shade to an entire flock of sheep on an afternoon cycle this week.

'If trees are not our teachers, we are at least their pupils. They have given us shelter, medicine, shade, food and fuel. It is a mere two hundred and fifty years since wood was superseded by iron as the fundamental material on which the great human experiment was founded and for almost all of our cultural history trees and woods have played the role of provider and teacher.' - Max Adams

Julian was one of the people who gave generously of their time & expertise when I was researching for Frome Unzipped, which segues nicely into my most recent mini-launch on Saturday, at the library.  It's really interesting to see which aspect of this wide-ranging story from prehistory to post-punk is picked up in post-talk chat: at the bookshop it seemed to be mainly buildings, at the coffee-house it tended to politics: this time it was the problems facing Frome in the future as economic rifts widen. It would be wonderful to think Unzipped could actually contribute to raising the awareness essential to find solution.
Music now, and a sampling of a typical week in the town that loves to strum, drum, and sing: here's Geoff Younger with Colin Ashley at the Cornerhouse on Saturday with classic favourites, while Frome Jazz next day at the same venue gave us the Graham Dent Trio with John Plaxton and Howard Vause (vocals) - while Tuesday saw Paul Kirtley's Blues Jam at the Artisan, and Wednesday is always Roots Session at the Grain Bar: this week with Snakesnakesnake from Glastonbury, a highly entertaining trio with big visual appeal. 
And to end the week musically, the Cornerhouse was now also in reptilian mood with Rattlesnake Voodoo rocking in energetic style - there's a link to their recent VRA session here. Note the venue transformation! - still tricky for photographs, but excellent for atmosphere. 

Even in a great week for music, the most sensationally exciting performance was at the Merlin, from Tri.Art Theatre summer Dance and Drama course participants, and achieved incredibly by these young performers -18 is tops, many were younger - after only two weeks rehearsal. In the Heights is a good choice for a young cast, with its themes of community and struggle for a better future, but a demanding one too in terms of accent subtleties and the amount of on-stage narration needed to follow the story, and the entire team was simply superb. Impressive direction, brilliant choreography, great live band, terrific dance skills, and strong acting in key roles, this never flagged for a moment and I honestly felt, as I joined the standing ovation at the end, that I could happily have sat down and watched it all again...  Here's Dillon Berry, who was rightly mobbed by applause, with some other characters who also gave unforgettable performances.  This production has been entered for the Somerset Fellowship of Drama awards, so fingers crossed you'll hear more of it. 

 Leaving Frome again now, briefly, to end this post with Lift Off! in Salisbury, a weekend celebration of creativity across the city, linking the Arts Centre, Playhouse, and Festival. There's  live music, visual art trails, performances, and on Friday night there were fireworks... My brother Pete & I were enjoying the hospitality of Wiltshire Creative, the new umbrella organisation for Salisbury's art scene: Pete was an active campaigner for the continued use of  deconsecrated St Edmunds Church during the 1990s threat to close it, so it was especially good to see the impressive exhibition there now, as well as enjoying a bop in the Cathedral Close as dusk fell.

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