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.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Autumnal delights, before days under canvas begin

Samhain passed fairly quietly Frome this year: blustering storms cancelled the town fireworks and hallowe'en tricks and treats seemed muted, almost as if the punctured national build-up to October 31st left us unsure whether to celebrate or shudder. The week started extremely well however, with a superb Poetry Cafe at the Garden Cafe featuring delightful Stephen Payne as guest and Jo Butts, 2019 Festival Poet Laureate, re-sharing her winning poem.
Stephen's set featured quirky elegiac poems, arriving gently but with hi-impact afterglow -I especially loved the conga rhythm in the poem about eight siblings whose non-survival matched their order of arrival... Our nineteen (yes, 19!) superb open-mic poets offered an entertaining & engrossing variety of themes and styles, from John Christopher Woods' satiric ode to the Bullington Boys (to the tune of Cambeltown Loch) to Kat Jones' Tempest-ic life-story-style poem.  I was too enthralled to take any photos, but here's a picture of Stephen Payne somewhere else, and the flyer for our next event: the Festive Poetry Cafe (on December 9th will be an all-Open Mic event with lots of !!!presents!!!

Great music this week too: Root Sessions at the Grain Bar gave us Light Garden, billed as 'genre-defying' and mostly  sounding more funky than folksy, apart from the harmonic overtone singing which is a speciality they also teach. Peter Burns, supporting solo with an impressive loop system, included several of his own songs in his set, including a deeply personal one about his hometown, Belfast, called ironically The Riches of America - link here.

On Friday, an evening with the impossible-to-overpraise Pete Gage Band ensured The Cornerhouse was full, with dancing despite the crush. Pete's band set also included sway-slow numbers like their unforgettable of Motherless Child and - my favourite - Evening - the versions in those 2 links are recorded at other events, but give an idea of Pete's powerful versions of these classics.

Paul Kirtley brought another Bare to the Bones music event to the Artisan, featuring popular local country & blues band Hello Hopeville. His house band, the We Don't Scare Easy crew, focus on singalong enjoyment - Have You Ever Seen the Rain, and All Along the Watchtower are popular standards - with great impro jamming too.

Concluding the week's evening gigs, here's a glimpse of the lively Jazz Jam in the Cornerhouse, a relaxed atmosphere for musicians of any jazz-experience - and always with some great pro.s!

This Sunday being the first one of November, the streets of Frome were filled for the penultimate independent market of the year. 'More than a Market' is tagline of the Frome Independent and on a sunny winter's day it can seem more like party, as the queues for the street food and pop-up bars aren't as long as in summer yet it's mild enough for strolling and enjoying the bands and buskers. This view from the other side of the river shows the tip of the cross-town spread of an event that boasts over 80,000 visitors annually (I put all that in just because I like the autumny image) Here's a few of the music-makers this time - the band onstage is the Decades but I don't know the soloist and didn't ask either the busker on Stony Street corner or the DJ in Ramshack Barbers - let me know if you know and this will be amended! Have a happy November, all.