Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Bumper Festival picture book

This was the sunshine festival, and perfect for all outdoor events like walks, picnics, markets, art trails & 'Open Gardens', also ensuring evenings could extend naturally - usually ending late under the twinkly bar lights of the pop-up cantina in Silk Mill yard. If this sounds idyllic, you are getting the vibe: there was far too much on for this report to be comprehensive but it should give you a glimpse.
So, not in any particular order of chronology, we'll start with performance, and if you're wanting to know how the Nevertheless/Frome Actors Network production Where The Fault Lies was received, the happy answer is: rapturously. The event sold out so early we put on a second showing later the same evening and that sold out too. Cornerhouse Upstairs was transformed into a tiny intimate theatre and feedback forms throbbed with comments like "Fantastic... great plays, superb acting and a fabulous evening of entertainment!"... "Wonderful plays! I loved the humour and the depth of understanding of the human soul and relationships"... "Clever, funny, surprising, thought-provoking, satisfying"... "hilarious and inspired!" - you can see them all here, and there's a full review online on the Fine Times Recorder. Thanks David Goodman for production photos, and Martin Earley for the venue, with special appreciation to Tom for support throughout the run-up and transformation of the gin-bar into an intimate theatre.
Over at the Town Hall, a  new comedy drama by Frome writer Nikki Lloyd gained massive commendation and audiences grew throughout the run. Turtle Doves, with the focus a dysfunctional young couple and their troubled therapist (the ever-excellent Laurence Parnell), looks at a range of relationships - siblings, strangers, long-term or brief encounters - in a clever series of time-slip segments (think Tim Crouch rather than Alan Ayckbourn) with much to laugh at, perhaps with wry recognition, as well as unexpectedly moving moments. Geoff Hunt was producer of this exciting and memorable play, well acted by all ten cast members, and superbly directed in the round by Keely Beresford.
Still with words-&-performance: the Festival Poetry Cafe, always fun to host in the eponymous garden of the Garden Cafe on a sunny night, was a total delight. Guest poet Henry Madd absolutely captivated the crowded audience with his intimate yet accessible reflections on childhood, loss, and life.
Open Mic is especially important at this event, because the coveted title Frome Festival Poet Laureate is awarded on a single poem offered on that night, written on the theme of the festival. Despite difficulties from this year's dedication to JW Singer's foundry, several of our 15 readers braved the challenge, with five runner-up book prizes and Jo Butts scooping the title! Congratulations everyone who came to participate and to listen, making this relaxed and lovely evening a highlight of the week for me. Thanks Wendy Perry for the picture of Jo with Henry & me, Hunting Raven for the books, Garden Cafe for the bubbly and venue transformation.
Hip Yak Poetry Slam at the Archangel by contrast has a hi-energy vibe and is immensely competitve as the prize here is no less than a spot in the Poetry Tent at Womad. Liv Torc, Chris Redmond and Jonny Fluffypunk run this with proper sound and professional skill, and random audience members choose the winners in the tradition slam way - by holding up score cards. As with football rulings, opinions are bound to vary, but everyone seemed to agree that Stewart Taylor, self-professed 'slave to rhythm and unpaid lackey to rhyme' well deserved to take top spot with his defence of the clog -yeah, I know it doesn't sound likely, but you should have seen the repeat prestissimo... also notable was the first nudist performance in Frome!
Historical talks with a focus are hot favourites in Frome, and this festival has offered weaving, foundry work, war, buildings, and more. My contribution, along with David Lassman, to this oeuvre was 'Rogues Rebels and Renegades' - a town centre tour of hot spots in our unruly and dissenting past. David has far more experience and a louder voice so he took the main role, and our exposition was enhanced by the attentions of a 19th Century pickpocket who was eventually apprehended by traditional 'hue and cry' and confined to the Blind House - many thanks Ollie, and to Joao Diniz Sanches for the images.

For Frome Writers Collective, a busy week that began with a Publishers Fair ends with the prize-giving for the winner of the Short Story Competition, another very popular feature. After a morning of workshops and the awards for the 'writers in residence' last Saturday, judge Tyler Keevil announced this year's First Prize winner is Clare Reddaway - an absolute delight for me, as I am friends with both these  great writers & lovely people. I couldn't be there for the big reveal, so thanks Gill Harry for the picture.

Moving on from words,  the visual arts were strongly reflected, with 23 Open Studios and exhibitions showing the town's tradition of textile work is still thriving - masterly work in both creating and decorating fabric evident in exhibitions by Weavers Spinners & Dyers,and Embroiderer's Guild. The town opened its 'hidden' gardens too, but sadly I only had time for a smattering of visits. Here's one of the tiny Paul Street gardens, and part of a Dan Morley piece I covet...

Music seemed everywhere this week - in streets and beer gardens by day, in churches and halls and of course the usual pubs each evening.
Independent Market busking stage featured favourites The Raggedy Men followed by Crossing the Rockies while The Decades entertained outside the Grain Bar as Comic Con characters roamed the hot streets (thanks, man in the street, for the snap of me and Helen Pearse.)  Daytime music too at the Saturday Sofa Session promoted by Humans of Frome, this time Feral Beryl and friends entertained the crowd on Catherine Hill.
On Sunday afternoon, not strictly in the festival schedule but a highlight of the weekend, was the launch of a new sound on the scene as Ed Green's Pagan Gospel Groove Machine introduced its unique Brooklyn style of 'nature-based spirituality and funky grooves' to the world at the Red Shed in Chesterblade. With Vicki Burke on sax,  Dermot West on bass, Nick 'the potter' on drums and Tim Maryon on keyboard, this is definitely a band to look out for!
And finally, the evening sessions... as you'd expect, too many for any one person to hear all, and the only 'classical' concert for me was John Law's late-evening Renaissance, piano improvisations over electronic backing tracks, with projections by Patrick Dunn, in Christ Church where the setting sun glowed spectacularly through the famous stained glass windows.  Cornerhouse cornered the festival market for popular bands at the weekend, with three fantastic nights of dance-orgy.  Purple Fish on Friday, probably the band Carling would make if it branded bands, brought their own lights which looked fantastic but caused a quandary, to bop or to snap? No such problem next night with Flash Harry - too dark for snaps but lovely Ann Harrison-Broninski has been assiduous in her festival sketching so, from her viewpoint on the floor, here's wonderful Vicki Burke on her sax. (I couldn't find a youtube of their incredible hamster song, but this is a sample of their energy & style.) Sunday's spectacular was local band Blue Midnight, tagline 'unlike anything you've ever heard.' You might add 'or seen' as the lads barge into the pub already playing, led by the trombonist, and their set ends in darkness with everyone softly crooning la la la... 
And another fabulous Frome Festival ends. Thanks for reading!

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