Monday, August 26, 2019

A dab of history & lashings of Bank Holiday sunshine

First to Bristol, where South-West based physical theatre company Le Navet Bete has unleashed their current touring show The Three Musketeers in Bristol Old Vic, recreating rollicking tales of 17th Century intrigue in a re-envisaging of the daring deeds of Athos, Porthos, and Aramis - and of course d'Artagnan - with a cast of royalty, whores, conspirators, spies, monarchs, as well as the evil Cardinal Richelieu... it's all loosely grounded in Alexandre Dumas' fictional historical tales but with firmer affiliation to physical theatre capers and Young Ones style comedy.
Some of the best bits are sheer pantomime - as when action moves to England with a duck-shooting scene on the estate of the Duke of Buckingham, and the audience becomes energetically involved in providing a torrent of mortally wounded ducks... Programme notes don't differentiate between performers - Dan Bianchi, Nick Bunt, Al Dunn, and Matt Freeman - but the script is credited to director John Nicholson, and the actors too, so this truly is a team effort. The set was designed by Ti Green and is complex enough for high-energy antics though unfortunately with a focus on extreme right of the stage which means if you're seated in the Dress Circle 'on the site of the original 1766 Row box' you miss any glimpse some of the crucial scenes.  Still, only 15 quid for over two hours of absurd comedy, and touring till October, so worth catching if you can.

Back in Frome, as usual there's been much live music. Tuesday saw the inaugural meeting of a new Open Mic event at the Three Swans, a great sing-along event where Paul Kirtley & I did our occasional double-act comprising my satiric protest-poem Bungee Jumping Crumblies and his song in response, and several new voices joined Paul for this now-monthly venture. Thanks Steve for the pic.

An excellent Roots session on Wednesday featured Phil Cooper with his Slight Band, supported by Jamie H Hawkins, who joined Phil on stage for a couple of numbers, too.
Both these singer-songwriters write their own material: Jamie's song Walking Into Doors is an especially poignant and powerful example of his skill. Phil's performance is alsways gripping, and he has a great knack of getting the audience to sing-along - and even rattle-a-shaky-egg-along. The track Only a Song from Phil's CD Thoughts and Observations gives a good idea of his range and intimate personal style.

Pete Gage at the Cornerhouse on Friday launched a scorching hot Bank Holiday weekend in style with his legendary blues-rock band, and Paul Kirtley's Bones gang were back with their charity buckets on Monday with a new host: The Mill at Rode, an idyllic venue for a sunny afternoon, with an excellent barbecue too.  Paul's closing song, the Woodstock classic, summed up the mood of the whole event: We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon, and we got to get ourselves back to the garden...
In fact everyone had such a good time that landlord John asked the band - and the barbecue - to do it all again on Bank Holiday Monday, so if you're reading this on posting date you can get along to the Rode and re-live the dream yourself.  And if not, have a great week anyway: simple pleasures are essential in troubled times. 

Monday, August 19, 2019

Back in the real world, Frome-style

Let's start with an argument- with William Boyd's The Argument at Theatre Royal Bath,  as part of their lively Summer Season. This is a stylish comedy of manners - a Restoration Comedy for the 21st Century, perhaps, as it has all the elements: amorousness, deceit, conflict, and satiric parody of social mannerisms. There's a cast of six and action spans ten scenes and several weeks in four domestic locations, all cunningly contrived in seconds by shifting backdrops and key props. This impressive stage design was by Simon Higlett and insured an energetic pace, as did imaginative direction by Christopher Luscome, enhancing a script which has vigour but not much variety within a very narrow social strata - upper-middle to upper class, all casually announcing their pedigree in dialogue as in some early radio plays.
Meredith’s marriage to Pip is on the blink - no surprise there as she’s a shrew who'd need a Petruchio to tame her, rather than nondescript Pip - and the premise strenuously maintained is that when any two people come together, they argue.
While the oldies bicker about the breakup, Pip’s friend Tony (who Pip grabbed by the throat in an argument) even manages to argue with Meredith’s friend Jane (who was thrown out by Meredith after an argument) simply because he, Tony, didn’t like the way she, Jane, ended her sentences on an upward note so they sounded, like, questions?  You get the impression that such contemporary trends, including the ubiquitous use of mobile phones, irritate the writer enough to shoehorn them in for conspiratorial audience mirth.
The scenes with Felicity Kendal, in a role more like the The Good Life’s Margot than Barbara yet still irresistibly alluring, with Rupert Vansittart  were the most satisfying as individual cameos, as some of the other scenes seem merely pieces of the jigsaw. It takes 80 minutes to finish the picture, and from the final applause it appeared the Bath audience had enjoyed them all.

Music now, and within nine hours of touchdown after 17 hours travel and a 16 degree temperature drop, I was at Hauser & Wirth's Radić Pavilion where Canadian veteran folk singer Old Man Luedecke was joined by the Hoodoos, self-tagged 'swampy, bluesy, folksy' and featuring the fabulous vocal harmonies of sister Yvonne and Mary. This is definitely one of the 'now' bands locally - watch out for them on Visual Radio Arts next month!
Paul Kirtley's mission to raise £5000 for Bone Cancer Research continues, with another house party at the Artisan on Friday. The Bones 'house band' performed in split incarnation, as guitarists Paul and David Goodman had a change of bass and cajon player for their second set. Most of the songs were familiar favourites but Paul also included a moving song of his own composed for a lost friend: There's a blue boat out in the harbour.'

Guests once again were The Decades with a lively set including a superb version of Dido's Thank you and a sparky rendition of that Fun Boy Three's 1981 classic The Lunatics have Taken Over The Asylum - great variety and energy from this popular foursome.

Sunday night's jazz at the Cornerhouse with Graham Dent's trio featured this month the gorgeous voice of Emma Harris with a varied repertoire including the hauntingly beautiful Gregory Porter song There will be no love that's dying here for me.

And I'm including this image from a party on Sunday afternoon because it shows an instrument I'd never heard of - the ronroco, a Venezualian version of the ukelele, similar to the charango but more baritone. So there you are, the blog that informs as well as bragging about the awesome creativity of Frome.

The Listen project at Black Swan Arts has been offering a range of events throughout the month,  and the Listening Hub at the Round Tower has continued its esoteric 'Playlists' available daily on headphones - on Saturday I caught some of composer Helen Ottaway's choice, a Peter Greenaway film about John Cage, who she has worked with and much admires.  This is project of fascinating diversity but it's difficult to illustrate the concept of listening as art, so instead here's a more visible display, from the current Hauser & Wirth exhibition of Unconscious Landscape - works by female contemporary artists.  Spider, a bronze piece by Louise Bourgeoise made in 1966, dominates the gallery, and apparently represents protective motherhood. I liked it.
And despite the systemic trauma of returning from sizzling sunshine to rain and unseasonal chilliness, it's lovely to be home in Frome, where blackberries are already hanging along the path across the Dippy and the purple blaze of rose-bay-willow-herb is becoming a white forest of feathery fans as the petals fall. Autumn is arriving, surprisingly early, but then autumn always does...

Monday, August 12, 2019

A detour of 1,500 miles to a small sun-soaked island...

Programme announcement: This post contains no Frome-related data so please go to social media for reports of the excellent events of the last couple of weeks - I shall have to, as I missed Independent Market at the seaside, Nunney Street Fayre bands at the castle, and The Hoodoos at the Cornerhouse - to name but three.
In replacement, here’s a brief bulletin about another creative community, on the Greek island of Skyros which hosts holidays with a difference, viz: an ethos of connection and contribution, and with personal development activities ranging from kayaking and abseiling to creative writing (my privilege to offer) and lashings of soul stuff like yoga and other bodywork, music and dancing. Within two-weeks, a community blossoms swiftly like one of those big Peruvian magnolias, nurtured by connections from co-listening one-to-ones, œkos group check-ins and a daily meeting of the full community. If this sounds an ambitious project for 100-or-so people, mostly strangers on arrival, all living in a hut camp, then remember the location is a pine-covered bay on the Aegean sea with sunshine from early morning till after 8pm when the clear cerulean sky began its nightly flooding of myriad pinks to mauve and gold  as the huge orb of sun drops like a blob of ketchup and the silver sea glimmers into darkness.
So this is a fabulous place to swim and walk, sing and talk, and to connect with others and yourself. About seventy of us, including twenty children of varying ages - running feral to varying degrees - were supported by a resilient team of ‘work scholars’ - mainly students on a break - and permanent staff. Add absence of internet and you have the complete concept: a re-imagining of society, no less. It is a fact, however, that even ardent supporters of this beautiful concept, like me, head daily to the Sunset Cafe on the cliff which has espresso coffee and (intermittent) wifi, and always a welcome from Marianna and her team. This is where my writing groups worked each morning, in what became a master-class. The 'sunset writing' session before supper was fabulous too, with work-scholars also 'dropping in' each evening, after the more strenuous sessions, to join the group in the terrace bar.

The mid-course weekend brings my highlight: a group walk to town, nine miles across the island from rural isolation into an alternative reality of surprising sophistication.  Skyros town, the chora of the island, though charmingly still called 'the village' by our organisers, is in fact a large & growing conurbation of city-style sophistication, visited extensively by Athenians and with every facility they would expect to enjoy. When I first arrived in the final decade of the last century, old men here still wore the traditional island garb of pantaloons and stockings, and front doors were proudly open to show displays of pottery and bronze plates - these are still features, though less obvious from the street.  The amazing hilltop Faltaits Museum has a complete cultural history of this feisty island, the only one in the Aegean Sea to confront the pirates on their ransacking routes, and neither defeat nor be defeated by them, but instead to barter for samples of their loot and then to copy these stolen crafts of weaving, woodwork, metalwork, and pottery - hence the rich tradition of Skyrian art today. Skyros town is surprisingly like Frome physically too, with its steep & cobbled ancient streets, and an amphitheatre getting ready for a band that night. There's one big difference: the long soft sandy shore, sunshine at near 30°C all week, and my stroll through town took me from an afternoon at funky Juicy beach-bar to an evening of sophisticated shopping opportunities, restaurants, and rooftop bars - we chose the one on top of the Bank of Greece, which seemed both ironic and appropriate.

Final footnote for this fortnight is an off-piste book recommendation: since deciding to conclude my happy career of deconstructing fiction, my reading in that genre has been virtually zilch but I picked from the shelf here Jonathan Coe’s novel Middle England, and honestly have never read so convincing an account of how our nation degenerated so swiftly from a jolly country with a proud tradition of cricket, beer and irony into a an ignorant, racist snarling brawl, inspiring bewilderment and derision the world over.  Here you'll meet the genteel, ageing, middle classes whose resentment of PC-ness rumbled into racism, fuelled by inept leaders, lazy journalists and outright corrupt bankrollers, all spawned from inbuilt systems of snobbery and complacency… this would be dystopian if it wasn’t, tragically, simply an accurate tracking of the last decade. Buy, borrow, or beg your Book Group to read this novel - it may be to late to save us from chaos but it’s not too late to understand.

I'll end with a return to the raison d'etre for my sunshine sojourn: working & talking about writing, with some fabulously creative writers - thanks Alice, for the snap.