Sunday, January 06, 2019

Arty start to 2019 and other January tidings

The arty start to the new year begins at Bath's Holburne Museum (specialism: knowledgeable & chatty volunteers) which has several temporary temptations enhancing its Georgian splendour this month: That marvellous study of '60s iconography and human nature Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy has been shoehorned into the long gallery with the silverware, where it succeeds in looking utterly stunning, glimmering beyond the teapots as you enter. Ossie Clark influenced so many of us in those ruffled chiffonny days of spliffs and parties, and David Hockney's disarming simplicity of style has mirror-like clarity. Simply staring was one of those epiphany moments, spilling over with nostalgia, and our small group of visitors, strangers on entry, began confiding in hushed voices, awed like pilgrims in Chartres when the sunlight shines through the stained glass rose windows. More treats upstairs too, with an on-loan exhibition of Gainsborough's portraits of his theatrical chums - Mrs Siddons of course, Thomas Linley, John Henderson, and others who trod the boards of Drury Lane and the Haymarket - and also the boards of Bath's own Theatre Royal, which acquired its licence through the influence of Gainsborough's friend, the architect John Palmer. No photography is allowed in this gallery but this National Portrait Gallery image of the painting of David Garrick, 18th century equivalent of Hugh Grant, shows how much more fluent Gainsborough's portraiture becomes with friends, when there was no need to give enhanced evidence of status, wealth, or lapdogs.
Bath in winter sunshine, with Wedgwood blue sky and gilded buildings, is an artwork in itself of course so with visuals very much the theme of the day, my next drop-in was the Victoria Art Gallery by Pulteney Bridge. The current visiting exhibition is On Paper: from the Arts Council Collection. The connecting notion of this small collection is that all use paper 'as a material in its own right rather than just a surface to be painted or drawn upon.' Collage seems an obvious process, and there are some examples (including a reconstruction of Wittgenstein's thought processes by Eduardo Paolozzi) as well as other more esoteric interpretations of the theme. I quite like this portrait of Sid Vicious in paper, board and glitter by Jim Lambie - the extra glow is reflected room lighting - not sure whether or not it's enhanced...

A fascinating & provocative new exhibition opened on the first Friday of the new year at Frome's Black Swan Arts: Eleanor Bartlett's paintings on the theme of Matter - challenging in that the artist (here pictured) demands 'does art have to mean anything?' and fascinating in that this seems contradicted by her premise - that 'matter describes form and form resolves matter in a continuing and unstable exchange...  the chosen vehicle of realisation, literally the stuff of imagination...'  The Words at the Black Swan workshop on Monday led by poet Louise Green found much to engage with in these impressive black blocks created by tar and wax.
Other than visual imagery, the first week of the new year has been a time for favourite local walks, well wrapped up and within striking distance of a warm inn: here's Stourhead lake early on a frosty morning.



And now as the new year limbers up for its second week, normal service is resuming in the creative corridors of Frome. Our Nevertheless Fringe Theatre Frome Festival co-production with Frome Actors Network ~ provisionally entitled The Sex and Death Quartet ~ is back in rehearsal, and Roots Sessions at the Grain Bar have restarted (hurrah!) with the fabulous Raggedy Men, on absolute peak form with our favourite punk classics and outrageously riffing up some new ones.


Final footnote for the first post of 2019: a look back at the week before christmas when Hunting Raven Books sold FIFTY-FOUR copies of Frome Unzipped - fingers crossed book-tokens may keep the roll going a bit longer... Our popular independent bookshop was on ITV West News on Wednesday too, with its manager the lovely Tina Gaisford-Waller rightly extolling her books, her staff, their customer-care, their customers, and our town.


Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Unavoidably seasonal!

December ended with  mild weather, a lustrous solstice dawn and enormous silvery full moon, plus festivities nightly all around town. There was much festive spirit around in the week leading up to the big day, with great live music too. Artisan was the venue for another of the Bare to the Bones gigs organised and led by Paul Kirtley, with a dozen musicians entertaining with songs ranging from classic rock -with Annie Davenport's lyrical sax - to a delightful spot from a young performer apparently perched on a snowman.
By the weekend Frome was as lively as you'd expect, with music all over the place and Pip Utton's acclaimed reading of A Christmas Carol at the Merlin, but my report is a bit patchy: you know how when you're young and get over-excited and your mum says, stop dashing about - you'll Get Ill, and you don't, and you do... well, it appears it's the same when you're old too, so a few events didn't make the final cut. The Cornerhouse hosted a particularly lively session on Friday led by Geoff Younger and Colin Ashley, with great guests and much dancing, but I can tell you nothing about the following night's events (though luckily I was mobile enough to respond to Hunting Raven's urgent call for another delivery of Frome Unzipped to fulfil demand in their christmas rush.... twice!)
On Sunday the Three Swans hosted an amazing afternoon of festive singalong music - classics, folksongs and even carols - involving a gathering of murmuration proportions of amazing performers of all ages, definitely the best possible way to ease into the official crux of the season especially when topped off with the Pete Gage Band, in top form as always, at the Cornerhouse in the evening.
Cornerhouse kept the musical  flag flying high with the final Jazz Club of the year, which featured the Keith Harrison trio with guest Knud Stuwe, whose playing on the esoteric oud - an ancestor of the lute - added a wistful mood to the crowded pub.
Change of mood again at Cornerhouse with the New Year house party - host Martin Earley providing a smashing buffet and the lovely local musicians and singers creating the smashing party atmosphere.


I did manage several walks, coughing gently, so here's an image from midway through that bit between Christmas Eve and New Years Eve when the holiday shifts from public to personal: high above Eastville Park (which is really lovely btw and features a lake with swans and a heron) there's the remains of a WWII look-out station, inherited now by brambles and graffiti artists. We came across it at the same time as a group of local walkers and one was happy to tell the story. This was the site of legendary supergun 'Purdown Percy' - a massive ack-ack gun that shot down countless enemy aircraft. Legendary indeed - there was no such weapon here, only a battery of small guns  showering shrapnel all over the city. Perhaps height enhanced the sound, or maybe it was patriotic optimism, but actually between 1939-45, only two of the hundreds of German planes flying over Bristol were ever shot down.
And the traditional year's end to a writer's blog is always a poem. I was going to write you a satire on the Majestic message delivered this year beside a golden piano, which began by commending the might of the RAF and ended without apparent irony vaguely commending the notion of universal peace,  but I lost heart. Here instead is the passionate voice of Dylan Thomas reflecting on the passing of a lifetime as we all sail away from that other country called 'the past.'
Nothing I cared, in the lamb-white days, that time would take me
up to the swallow-thronged loft by the shadow of my hand
in the moon that is always rising,
nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
and wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh, as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means, 
Time held me green and dying
though I sang in my chains like the sea. 
Makes me feel glad I missed out on a happy childhood.  Go well, may 2019 be tender with you.