Tuesday, May 28, 2019

End of May celebrations...

Bristol's little Wardrobe Theatre is always a delight to visit. For one thing, the Valentine bridge behind Temple Meads railway station, which takes you to it in ten minutes, is a thing of beauty so you arrive saturated with river views and the image of the Eye against a smoulderingly blue sky...   And the productions in this punching-above-its-weight fringe studio theatre are usually brilliant, as on Tuesday's magic-realistic drama How My Light Is Spent,one of Bristol Old Vic'Director's Cuts to showcase graduate work. Director Nikhil Vyas chose this Bruntwood Prize short-listed story of disaffected lives somehow connecting, and Robin Davis designed the clever abstract arena of their dual narration. Jonathan Oldfield and Eva O'Hara give beautifully nuanced performances as the adult chatline worker, the donut server, and all those with whom their lives collide. It's a confident and clever production, beautifully performed - in fact the last time I saw so delightful and touching a love story was David Grieg's Midsummer, but this was more magical and remained unexpected right to the end.

"You've never seen a production of Macbeth like this before" promised Anubis Productions of their gothic reinterpretation 'set amongst a druid wilderness... dark powerful and blood-thirsty, combining traditional theatre, mult-media, spell-binding, physical theatre, and stage combat.' Georgina Nelson-Troy directed this unusual production on the Merlin stage with an adapted script, backdrop imagery and interpretive dance. Drug-fuelled witches took a high profile role and there was much blood. Six multi-tasking players supported the murderous Macbeths in their tragic downward spiral: congratulations to all especially young Caian Gregory, a heart-breaker as the fated son of Macduff in a powerful scene with Georgina as his mother.

And before moving from drama to music, a sneak preview of the Nevertheless Pub Theatre production for the upcoming Frome Festival: for one night only, Where The Fault Lies,a quartet of quirky short plays by me and Rosie Finnegan, performed by Frome Actors Network in the upstairs room of The Cornerhouse on 10 July (tickets only £5 but essential as the venue is what's technically termed 'intimate'.)

My main music events this week were outside town. On Friday, the Three Horseshoes in Bradford on Avon hosted two terrific Frome bands: Back Of The Bus feisty purveyors of post-punk pop - with attitude, and the incomparable high-energy foursome The Raggedy Men, classic 70s punk with panache. Both bands are massively popular, and there were probably more Fromies there dancing than in the audience for Question Time recorded at the Merlin a couple of nights earlier. The ambience was atmospheric rather than lucent, but you can just about make out the bands.

The end-of-May bank holiday inspired a plethora of terrific free entertainment options locally: deciding which to support was tough but on a day of dazzling sunshine, the Packhorse Fair, all along Bruton's lovely riverside green, turned out to be the perfect choice, with great music at both the acoustic tent and the main stage. Fantastic funky Cut Capers never disappoint, but hiphopera was a novel experience for me, as Josephine and the Artizans blended extraordinary arias with rap to marvellous effect. Local heroes Ditto concluded the afternoon - congratulations Bruton on a day of delights in a fantastic atmosphere.

Meanwhile Frome had been enjoying a Rhythm and Blues Festival with some impressive names - here's Nick Lowe with Los Straitjackets on the final night at the Cheese & Grain.  Festival season starts early in the southwest!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Songs and stories, new and revisited

Monday's Frome Poetry Cafe was special for a number of reasons. We had possibly the largest audience ever inside the Garden Cafe, the youngest Open Mic poet ever (Ibni Padagachi aged 4½, with a rousing rant about plastic waste), and immensely impressive readings by eco-poet Helen Moore from her new collection The Mother Country, exploring the concept of dispossession as it has affected peoples throughout history - and also herself, when she was disinherited by her mother. Intimate and compelling, Helen's powerful poems range from Botany Bay's penal settlement to a personal time-travelling journey through Frome Selwood.
Wednesday Roots Session at the Grain Bar gave us two stunning groups both featuring eye-widening glamour and theatricality as well as luscious singing, as the Screaming Harlots were followed on stage by featured Bonne Nouvelle, with virtuoso guitarist John Ruddock accompanying the sultry voice of Coralie Hyde. Special thanks Coralie for concluding with my personal favourite, Nouvelle Vague's delightfully slutty song I go out on Friday night...

And our Friday night saw another Bare to the Bones event at the Cornerhouse, with more musicians than ever as Crossing the Rockies joined the house band and other regulars. This charity-support project initiated by Paul Kirtley is a moveable feast around the pubs of Frome and always a lively event, this time with James Hollingsworth in the guest solo spot - here's Walking After Midnght getting the distinctive HooDoo treatment. A powerful version of Wicked Game from new duo Dan Hall with David Goodman, too. This session was also the initiation of a new sound system in town, available for the various bands and performers in Frome. I'm delighted to be a peripheral supporter of this venture, and hope soon to have mastered the art of coiling a cable...

As so often at weekends, a plethora of live music made for a tricky choice on Saturday night with Frome's ukulele band The Decades at the Granary and The Uncles from Bristol at the Cornerhouse: here. Here's ukulelist Helen Robertson, and I was too busy dancing to take pictures of this fantastic R&B band but you can get the idea of their fantastic sound here.
Also this week: Black Dog Productions' Orphan, inspired by the sinister religious cults of post-war America, came to the Rondo. Russell Eccleston who wrote the play also took on the role of Orphan, a young man seeking closure on his childhood abuse in all the wrong ways. Initially slow-burning, the story combines gothic horror with biblical and bardic tragic themes. Tiffany Rhodes held the crucial central role of Patience securely as the extremes of masculine ferocity played out an inevitably fatal game around her. Warnings in the foyer of extreme onstage violence were not overstated!

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Two swinging time-treks & artsy happenings now

  Frome Art Society exhibitions in Black Swan Arts always offer a wide diversity of styles and subjects, and this year the society has impressively reached their Ruby Anniversary which if artists' and marital years are the same means the society has been thriving for an impressive four decades. The work will all be on display until 25th May: here's the evocative painting titled Hospitalisation by Vanessa Taylor (which won second prize) and Alan Overton's blissful Riverside Walk.
Words at the Black Swan regular workshop in response to each exhibition was led by Louise Green,  who encouraged us to note the watery element in many of the images.

Poetry is in the frame at the moment, with an upcoming Frome Poetry Cafe, last week's Frome FM radio Poetry Special (broadcast link 3 May) - and a focus on poets at the Frome Writers Collective evening social at Three Swans too: Here I was again  joined by Rosie Jackson and Bob Hull to talk about poetry and read some of our own, with an informal open mic after the break.  Thanks Gill Harry for the image & write-up.
As well as a friendly and enjoyable evening, this meant another outing for my reading dress, which brings me neatly on to Tuesday's trip London.
It's over half a century since Mary Quant followed the Beatles, David Hockney and David Bailey into the hall of trend, but her name still chimes whenever trailblazers of the '60s are celebrated. Most people at the Victoria & Albert's exhibition seemed, like me, of her generation when I visited with my friend Helen last Tuesday. We had a great day out in the sunshine of South Kensington, but agreed that the iconic designer wasn't quite as mind-blowingly groundbreaking as she seems now revered to be. After all, since the late '50s we'd been rolling up our school skirts to detention-risking heights, raiding mens' shops for big buckled belts, and spurning the generous 'room-to-grow' of our mothers' economising philosophies. What Mary Quant was brilliant at was self-promotion: she looked gorgeous, she was well-connected, and she had mastered the art of the soundbite. A girl, she said, should have 3 reasons for her outfit- to be noticed, to look sexy, and to feel good. I did have one Quant item at college - that cinnamon pinafore-dress from the Ginger Group collection (though not the hat paired with it in the exhibition!) - but I was designing my own attire too. 
Here's me in 1964, and some of my sketches. The dress with 'pantaloon sleeves' is pretty much exact to my drawing for it but the trouser suit was actually jade green not turquoise, with purple contrast - still a favourite colour-combo of mine today, though colour in the snaps has altered beyond retrieval - and my multi-talented mother created both these treasured outfits despite her reservations.  For me, the design outlet that's taken over now in terms of colour and theatricality is Desigual, so it was great to discover this week that GAFF in Bath is an Aladdin's Cavern of these gorgeously bizarre Spanish styles. Thanks Mo Behradmehr for providing coffee - and discount!

Moving on now after this plunge into self-indulgence, via other colourful costumes and flamboyant personalities, to Cut Capers at the SWX on Friday - funk & ska from this explosive 9-piece Bristol band so sensationally successful they're now signed up by Freshly Squeezed Music and will be touring all summer - dates here.
A mood swing to soul with lovely Emma Harris on Saturday at the Cornerhouse, then gear-shift to outrageous for the story of Farrokh Bulsara aka Freddy Mercury at the open-air screening of Bohemian Rhapsody at Frome Cricket Club as the moon rose after a sun-filled Sunday.
With wild garlic and cow parsley thick along the verges and hawthorn blossom dense in the hedges, the 3 mile walk to Nunney is part of the enjoyment of the wonderful Nunney Acoustic Cafe on Sunday. Benjamin Hardy-Phillips ably took the guest spot, with 17 other acts! (though a couple were duos and one was an acapella sextet) A lively and convivial afternoon, with refreshments, and two of the singers, courtesy of Events Horizon. Here's Ben and, also from Frome, Paul Kirtley & David Goodman from the We Don't Scare Easy crew, and Nunney regulars Maia Fry and host Francis Hayden. And as this bulletin is already late, that's probably enough for one week...

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Sounds, words, art - all you need to start the month.

Listen - A summer of sound is the concept of composer Helen Ottaway, fusing sensual appreciation to include not only music but sounds found in nature, in speech, and in our lives generally - the 'strange and lovely' sounds of the world around us. Black Swan Arts has embraced the idea and from July 20th till 1st September there will be a range of sound-related events to experience. Last Thursday was the launch of a crowdfunder to raise funds to commission more aural events to 'feed the voracious appetite of Frome's creative community', with Helen's sample soundtrack, taken from the streets of Sri Lanka, installed in the corridor. Here's Mel Day from the programming committee with Helen.
This initiative also includes Poetry in Motion - local walks with readings of poems related to the terrain, organised by John Payne and Martin Bax - and thus ties in nicely with the Frome Writers Collective current focus on poetry. The FWC regular programme on Frome FM Writers on Radio (broadcast May 3rd, online link here) featured interviews with three local writers with an interest in writing poetry: I was one, along with Robert Hull and Rosie Jackson, whose collaborative collection with Graham Burchell on the art of Stanley Spencer and his wife Hilda, Two Girls and a Beehive, will be published next April by Two Rivers Press. Suzy Howlett, here with co-presenter Lisa Kenright, spoke of the benefits of learning poems by heart in childhood which triggered all our favourites: personally I can't walk over any bridge in London without declaiming Wordsworth, and will chunter chunks of Keats, Coleridge and Wilfred Owen mercilessly at the least provocation. The programme was immaculately hosted by Sara Scholefield.

From poetry to prose: really great to have my tale of Mrs Rosoman's Dilemma picked for  Story Friday, Clare Reddaway's popular short-prose reading event in Bath's delightful performance venue Burdalls Yard, an invitingly cavernous venue on this occasion authentically decked for the current theme of 'The Garden'- and with real cucumber sandwiches. Six of our submissions were lucky enough to join Clare in reading, and our horticultural imaginations varied from animals' nocturnal exploits to jam mining and Eve's take on what Eden was really like, with some thought-provoking as well as entertaining tales. There's a link here so you can listen to all or any of our tales!

And still with the words, Nevertheless Pub Theatre's festival production, Where the Fault Lies, is being steadily buffed up by our four dedicated actors. I dropped in on the rehearsal for Under the Duvet - a bit of a twisty mystery with a sinister streak - and found them suitably moody... If you're in the Frome area during festival week, do get a ticket & come along to The Cornerhouse on 10th July- with four talented and energetic actors, we're confident this will be a great show. There's a link here, so you can listen to any or all of the stories.

Time for music, and masses of it, to take all our minds off the fudges and follies that climaxed on May 2nd, though they weren't far from our minds when Seize the Day featured at a TUC organised event in Bath last Saturday. Theo Simon and Shannon Smy lead this inspirational protest band which has a big following for its rousing performances as well as political commitment.  The Bell Inn garden's 'back bar' provided a perfect venue for a great afternoon. Here's a quite old version of one of their anthems No-one's Slave and No-one's Master - it sounds as good, and as relevant, today.
Back in Frome, the May weekend had an even-more-fantastic-than-usual range (do I say this every week? It sometimes seems that way.., ) of brilliant bands: The Peaky Blinders Family Friendly Music Event at 23 Bath Street gave us a long afternoon of superb performers: Rodney Branigan set the bar high with Radiohead's Creep played on two guitars simultaneously, followed by the Screaming Harlots, then Frome's new hottest band the HooDoos - they give St James Infirmary Blues the resurrection treatment - and sultry Bonne Nouvelle - then another talented composite group, JAMD.
Here's the Hoodoos (with apologies to two more talented members missing from the shot), lovely Coralie from Bonne Nouvelle, and the party atmosphere that greeted JAMD.
Then a dance night at The Cornerhouse with high-energy ska/punk band the wonderful One Tones to end the day, so what more could anyone want from a bank holiday Saturday? 

There's Sunday too, of course, and as it's the first of the month the Frome Independent market took over the town with stalls and its usual Mayday theme of fresh floral headbands. I was outside Hunting Raven Books for most of this time, promoting Frome Unzipped, (thanks Tom for the snap)
but I did catch the HooDoos' excellent set on the busking stage - though sadly missing Straight Fits, an up-and-coming young band of whom you will hear more.

Impossible to leave May bank holiday weekend without referencing the art, which burst around the town like the wild garlic and cow-parsley that have been grabbing every pathside space:

 The Round Tower is hosting Black Swan Guild's stunning exhibition of paintings, pottery,  jewellery and other craft: I was particularly impressed with Dan Morley's delicate, exact, paintings in the series of ephemeral fragments in the Sonnets series, but there's much to admire - it's on till 25 May.

And for two days only, May 4&5, Frome Art Fair took over the Long Gallery, the Silk Mill, and Rook Lane too with an extraordinarily high standard display of work by the artists and craftsfolk of Frome. Here's just one of the many striking pieces of work in each venue, by from Melanie Deegan, at Rook Lane. 

Attentive readers may note a bit of a blip time-wise in the middle of this bulletin: this is because your usually-dedicated chronicler grabbed a four-day sabbatical and celebrated Beltane in Dublin - in Howth, to be precise, a peninsular at the north end of the city entirely surrounded by seagulls.
Here I was hosted by my university-days-flatmate Jenny Sweeney (author of Encounter Ireland) so we talked of Irish poets and legends and walked the promenade, beach, cliff-tops and in the old Deer Park where GrĂ¡inne Mhaol the Pirate Queen put the garlic curse on the inhospitable St Lawrence family for closing the gates against her so even now their land is thick as snow with garlic flowers, and the Earl now always has a place laid ready in case she calls again...
and if you're ever in Howth and feeling peckish, do drop into The Bloody Stream, a fabulous fish restaurant named after the environmental consequence of a 12th century battle below its walls. It's underneath the railway station: five-star food and a centre for Irish music too. So this multi-coloured bulletin concludes here with the green headlands thick-rimmed with the molten gold of the gorse all around the bay.