Monday, December 02, 2019

Wild Goose Dreams, lantern lights and frost-fired music

Starting this week at Ustinov, Theatre Royal Bath's never-disappointing studio production space.
Guk Minsung is a 'wild goose father', a married South Korean who's sent his wife and children to America where he supports them while living alone.* Chuja Seo is a North Korean defector refugee, now making a new life alone while traumatised by the cultural differences she finds over the border.  Goosefather lives on his i-phone, she lives in her dreams: these unreal worlds fill the stage and provide the energy and the passion of Hansol Jung's drama Wild Goose Dreams as internet connections and emoticons shout and dance around him, while she is haunted by penguin soldiers with clipped wings and her interfering abandoned father.  These sequences, hilarious and tragic, are helped by a brilliant set designed by Jean Chan, and enhance a skeleton blind-date romance into an extraordinary story both provocative and informative.  Michael Boyd's direction and a strong cast ensure this drama resonates beyond the entertainment of media parody and even the gravitas of political data - go if you can, it's on till 21 December.
*Not-fun facts: 200,000 fathers are estimated to do this, to save their children from the gruelling South Korean 18-hour day schooling system. And recent studies show more than half of North Korean defectors suffer from PTSD and other psychological disorders. There's still a lot of laughs though...

This is the time when towns & cities all over the UK as darkness falls begin to glitter with the strings of lights, and the traditional fir tree (six million of which will go to landfill in January) twinkles through the gloom of every town centre. Frome does this a bit too, modestly as befits its eco-awareness, but the town's real celebratory greeting to the festive season is the awesome lantern parade on Light the Night.

The atmosphere at this town-council sponsored event is indescribable as thousands watch and follow the hundreds of home-made lanterns swaying down the hill, following the parade led by Jamma de Samba's fabulous drummers. There were a smattering of religious-birth relevant songs around the time of the actual switch-on moment, taken by the mayor, following a lively set from our local Rock Choir of karaoke classics like I'm Still Standing... Yeah yeah yeah indeed.

Art exhibitions now, a plethora of them, as local craftsfolk seize the chance to present their work as possible gifts, with Saturday featuring Frome Festive Art Fair, a one day spectacular of printmaking, painting, ceramics, sculpture, illustration and jewellery shared across two splendid venues, Silk Mill and Rook Lane Chapel. Every artist had fabulous work to offer so here's two general views:

Next day, Silk Mill did a quick turnaround for the studio artists' collective own exhibition: the Silk Mill Collective's Christmas Fair, an even busier event selling classy jewellery, ceramics, designer-clothing, paintings, sculptures, and glassware all created by the 14 artists and designer-makers who work there.
This was held on market day, while in the meantime a Christmas exhibition by artists of the Black Swan Guild has also launched. Small and Mighty includes a fascinating mix of personal themes and studies, and is on at the Round Tower until December 24th.

Turning to music, there's quite a tangle to sort out as both Friday's Light the Night event and Sunday's Independent Market were thick with music, so I'll start with the relative calm of Saturday: Here's Rebel Heroes Bowie tribute band at the Cornerhouse - with apologies to Boot Hill All Stars for missing their gig that day for Shelter at 23 Bath Street.

A time-jump back to Friday night  when, after the lantern parade arrived at the town centre, there was more street theatre to enjoy as popular Frome Street Bandits band took advantage of a fine night to transfer from the Grain Bar stage to the courtyard where there was plenty of room for their massive duelling trombones.

Then a dash to the Artisan, rewarded by an evening session from top-of-leaderboard Bare to the Bones team as Paul Kirtley's assorted medley of creative jammers were joined by Hello Hopeville. Both bands gained big applause and charity donations from punters who even made space in the crowded pub to dance.

Sunday afternoon saw another charity gig at 23 Bath Street from the Back Wood Redeemers Alternative Nativity, 'an irreverent Sunday Afternoon Knees-Up' welcoming all sinners with comforting classics like Give Him a Good Death and I'll do the Wrong Thing &  I'll do the Right Thing Wrong (and Eddie's sinister Chocolate Jesus for which I can't find a soundcloud link.)
This tasty afternoon irreverence was followed by Back of the Bus at the Griffin: 'post punk pop with attitude' and ukeleles, with a particularly vicious take on Psycho-killer. I love their sinister version of Nice Day For a White Wedding too.

Sunday evening was much calmer, with a pleasant Jazz Jam at the Cornerouse. Among a varied group of performers, here's a rare picture of Simon Sax who organises this event with Nicki Mascall. And still on the theme of Frome's fantastic range of music this week, although sadly no image was possible in the stygian gloom of 23 Bath Street, credit too to the talents of The Brackish plus Rivers of England in a lively fund-raiser gig for Frome Labour party.

All of which kerfuffle brings us in sparkling style to the frosty final month of this year, with the Frome Independent Market now taking a break until March. Word on the street assured me that this festive-shopping market was fantastically busy and successful, but my personal participation was limited to Hunting Raven Books on Cheap Street, where I sat with Julian (Bugsy) Hight signing & selling books . So I'll close with a top-tip for booky presents: If you've already bought everyone Frome Unzipped, or just because Julian's latest addition to his tree saga is beautifully illustrated as well as massively informative, then Britain's Ancient Forest is a the way to go.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Frome's Glit-lit culture: silver crows, glittery art, & more

A blog about creativity in Frome ought, arguably, to mention writing more often than this one does, as there's a lot of it going on. There's the famous Write Place at Black Swan, for a start, to which members travel long distances, there's Hunting Raven Books positively pulsing with words and word-y promotions - there are scads of writing groups (I belong to two myself) and Frome Writers' Collective has over a hundred members... but literary activity unlike art and music doesn't generally lend itself to imagery & appraisal. So it's great to lead this week with a writerly event - a party organised by FWC to celebrate the success of Silver Crow, a unique concept to ensure self-published writers achieve a quality product. The organising team behind Frome's writers' collective is awesomely well organised and this party was another big success for Gill Harry and her team.   Detective fiction writer Nikki Copleston was the first to take flight with The Shame of Innocence, and since then nine more author's titles, ranging from memoirs to children's stories, have followed. It feels appropriate that Silver Crow's third birthday also launches Nikki's second novel: The Price of Silence, from which Nikki read us a tantalising extract.
Tina Gaisford-Waller, dynamic & delightful manager of Hunting Raven Books, (who feathered her speech with crow puns far more effectively than I have) spoke enthusiastically about how mutual support between local writers and bookshops can play a big role in maintaining a healthy community. Frome Festival Director Martin Dimery was encouraging too, commending local organisers for providing more literary events in our programme each year than some specifically-Literary Festivals, always with a mix of both local and invited guests.  And I was privileged & delighted to add my two-penn'orth with a short reading from Frome Unzipped and a crone poem... (yes it was Bungee Jumping Crumblies, p 47 of Burning Eye's Best Spoken Word Poetry Book in the World., - and thanks Mac for the snap of me.) 

'They come not in single spies but in battalions' said Claudius, and although he was complaining about annoyances like murder & madness it's often apt for nicer things like clashing gigs & gatherings, parties, and event openings. Luckily Frome's artistic quarter is compact enough to dash from one dazzling launch to another, as on Friday when WHY Gallery was raising a glass with master-engraver Chris Pig while Black Swan Long Gallery celebrated 'Pictures and Dioramas' of Corinna Sargood. (As a scavenger of unfamiliar words I seized on 'diorama' like an edible fungus found in the woods, and found it means a painting viewed through a peephole - feel free to look smug if you knew that already.)  The exhibits are totally extraordinary, day-glo brilliant, painted or tightly-stitched, legends from epic fantasies - you get the feeling if William Blake could embroider and had access to glittery threads, he would have created these scenes and creatures. There's also a hand-bound copy of Angela Carter's The Tiger's Bride, with Corinna's lino cut illustrations. This is a really extraordinary exhibition, almost scary in its brilliance - a huge credit to Corinna's generosity in sharing work of so much importance with her local town gallery, and to Mel Day for imaginative curating.

Time for music, with the brilliant Swampgrass back by popular demand at the Grain Bar Roots Session, beating up the blues with verve and style. Singer/songwriter Nick Tann, flying solo for this visit, gave strong support. There were some real highlights too at Three Swans' monthly acoustic session run by Paul Kirtley -including a beautiful, eerie, version of Nirvana's In the Pines from Mountainspeaksfire, and on Friday talented singer-songwriter Jane Langley launched her new band MellowTones at the Cornerhouse.

If you haven't yet seen Sorry we missed you you've probably recognised the connection with our online-buying culture, and with Ken Loach directing this will be an I Daniel Blake style exposé, scrupulously researched, using non-actors in every role - honest, moving and uncomfortable. The 'white-man-van' gig economy survives in this Nottingham example on a fake premise of self-employment which means in reality if you miss a day you not only lose your day's pay, you pay the wage of your replacement - however painful the family or personal circumstances that took you away. Tight script, good photography, and some lovely family moments ensure this is a really good movie as well as call for change in our focus as a society.  I saw this film on Saturday in the bar of Ken's own football club - Bath City FT - with the local Labour party providing supportive leaflets, but it was interesting to hear Ken's opinion in the Q&A afterwards that the over-riding issue in our upcoming election, and priority for any future government, is the planetary crisis of climate change.

Ending this post with two personal highlights: first is having lunch with the wonderful 'Mama Upendo', aka Sara Hillman, whose African Kitchen stall is a regular feature at Frome's Independent Markets: Sarah in the pic. has just found herself in my unzipping history of Frome and its people, and this copy will be going to her orphanage in Kenya.
And my other special event is a sunny afternoon walking Roddenberry Hill Fort (technically Wiltshire but it's an easy walk from my side of town) - one of those magical places with its own kind of silence, and an atmosphere that seems to span centuries.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Chocolate, words, melodies and memories

Birthday celebrations last week for the Chocolate Festival, ten years old and ready for grown-up shoes - chocolate ones, of course, created by Chocolate Arthouse, along with selection boxes of artistry that tastes as good as it looks...
and most of the goodies in this extravaganza of exotic taste sensation are ethical and even healthy - raw chocolate featured strongly, with individual makers keen to show their processes. Solkiki's stall drew a big crowd avid to hear how ethical trading and purity of produce has won them masses of awards, and the emphasis overall was on high quality and hand-made.  Huge credit to Frome's Jo Harrington for inventing and organising this party-atmosphere market - and luckily the weather was fine for queues of literally hundreds of tasters & festive-gift buyers snaking across Cheese & Grain car park all day.

Music now, and several excellent gigs: On Wednesday we enjoyed an evening with The Valley, billed on the Grain Bar's Roots Sessions menu as 'string-driven drive-thru Americana, nifty blue-grass wiz, jazzy arrangements, good ol'country, and a dash of blue-eyed Trojanish/melodian early reggae stuff.' I'm suspecting Steve Loudoun's hand in this thoughtful diagnosis, which sounds a fine summary - and Nikki's singing of the band's version of The Way It Goes is heart-melting.

Friday at the Cornerhouse gave us the We Don't Scare Tribe plus one, as customer Philip White noticed as he quaffed his pint that the guys were missing their bassist so dashed home to return with various instruments, and join the jamming. Result: a really great night, with much dancing.

Frome's Hoodoos topped an impressive bill at Rye Bakery on Saturday, with superb wordsmiths Liv Torc & Chris Redmond on awesome form too - a fantastic 'Inspire' event curated by Daniel Dobbie: three superb performances inevitably creating a fantastic event.

In a sad but important footnote to this post, this was the week of Jill Miller's funeral, after she finally submitted to the cancer that she wrote about so much, in prose and in drama for her Little Gift theatre company production of Time Bomb (shown up and down the country as a learning piece for the medical profession) which also inspired her to found the charity Positive Action on Cancer, now renamed WHY but still active. I first met Jill through the Labour Party party when Tony Benn came to Frome in 1999, discovered she had written the 1980s feminist best-seller Happy As A Dead Cat, and was privileged to be her friend from then onward. We wrote much together, and always planned to do more, so I'm ending with this image from my birthday last July. Jill was the kind of amazing person who is everyone's best friend: this is her being mine.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Autumn leaves, historic memories, and goblins

A historical thread runs through this post as last week ended with a splendid tour of the town's trees, historically spanning over 300 years from ancient oaks to self-renewing saplings in recovery from elm disease, as arborist & enthusiast Julian Hight led a Heritage Tree Walk during the weekend of walks organised by the Town Council. A sizeable troop of dendrophiles enjoyed the romp through Rodden Meadow's ancient Selwood Forest veterans, and into the heart of town where Thomas Bunn's Cedar of Lebanon is still thriving despite his grumpy diary entry in 1843 "Today I observed that this beautiful tree was despoiled of several of its spreading branches – my mortifications of this kind are so numerous that I will not attempt to recount them."
Unfortunately this was another of those weekends when Frome offers an exuberance of options, like a mast of trees shedding nuts to excess, and the Heritage Tree and the Awful Killing of Sarah Watts walks both ran concurrently with Frome Multicultural Day so I can't report on this - last year's one was wonderful.
Still on a historical theme, last Monday was the launch of a plaque sponsored by the Frome Society for Local Study in honour of John Webb Singer, the foundry manager who oversaw the making of many of the world's iconic sculptures, statues and monuments: it's said if you stand on the Embankment in London you're surrounded on all sides by works forged in Frome.  Historical researcher Sue Bucklow, who was aided by hundreds of photographs on glass slides rescued in the 1970s, is the driving force behind a long-delayed placement of J.W. in Frome's public history, with trails around town and displays at the museum: 'You can't overestimate his importance' she says, and certainly he's more deserving of a plaque than the actress playing James Bond's Miss Moneypenny who was thus honoured in 2017.

Moving on to words:  A writing-group trip to Novel Nights in Bath on Wednesday revealed the Three Pillars of Writing Bliss according to author Tim ClareBurdall's Yard is a delightful venue, combining boho atmosphere, great stage lighting, and student bar prices - the perfect combo for a night out - and Grace Palmer & Colette Hill, who organise these writer-support events, have a good formula: three short readings from local writers, plus a feature talk. Tim offered us GUTACHE: his 'Grand Unified Theory of Achieving Creative Happiness Easily' - far more stimulating than HYGGE. Lots of his tips were ways to simply free up, outrun your self-critic, and find your characters with Proust's Questionnaire.

Another focus on writing on Saturday, this time for a session with a group who met each other nine years ago, in The Grange on the Isle of Wight, and  have continued to meet for a writing session twice a year ever since. It's always enjoyable joining this group for a catch-up and this time discussions ranged from Extinction Rebellion (Chris & Mike have both been involved) to classic TV comedies and why they're timeless, with writing exercises  and much coffee courtesy of the Abbey Hotel in Cheltenham.

So what with one thing and another, this week's report is light on music though I did get to the Three Horseshoes in Bradford-on-Avon on Sunday to hear the fabulous Backwood Redeemers - great energy and dark humour. The lighting was also energetic and dark - not image-friendly but evocative for mood and dancing...
Let's end with goblins, courtesy of Mutartis Boswell and Ann Harrison-Broninski's Goblin Shop at Three Swans on Friday, all kinds of sensual goblinalia - painting,  badges, books, weird sucky sweets, and a handy pocket guide to Goblins illustrated in full colour, with useful insights: The goblin kingdom is ruled harshly. It is not a democratic world - and yet the goblin, as an individual, is an anarchist. They also love poetry...
Have a good week, and may your goblin go with you.