Sunday, December 27, 2020

Nearing the end of Twin-Terrors' year

The annual preoccupation with creating a sparkling feel-good factor in the darkest days has had more than usual to contend with this year - in fact, more the average horror movie. My autumn walking routes having turned to sludge, the alternative of wet streets became a chance to enjoy all the illuminated displays: an expression of community hope and a visual delight - if you ignore the planetary damage, of course, but that's true of simply existing these days.  

Also in the real world, the big news for the week before Christmas was the sensational return of live music in Frome: Back of the Bus filling 23 Bath Street to legally-permitted capacity for an afternoon session last Sunday, with all the glitz, pizazz, and passionate punky hi-energy performance that we expect from this wonderful septet.  From their funky upbeat opening with You Gotta Have Faith to their awesome version of Hazel O'Connor's anthem Eighth Day - never more spine-chilling than this year - this performance was memorable. Huge appreciation to Lark Porter and all the team at 23 for making this happen.

No carol concerts or street singers this year, sadly, but with amazing ingenuity here's a seasonal song from Frome coordinated by Patrick Dunn: 'Carol for the Cabinet from a 'Bleak Choir' of musicians and singers. And do click on this offering from Nick Van Tinteren's Tiny Desk Concerts.

Indoors there was the winter balm of telly, and this season's big feel-good epic Strictly Come Dancing, pulling out all the stops with generous marking and a small but noisy studio audience. This series has had a massive following and deservedly-approving critiques from commentators across the spectrum ... and no-one could have looked as shocked as Bill Bailey and his partner Oti Mabuse when he was revealed as the series winner - great series, great result.  
Also on the box, a double treat from Sky Arts (triple, if you count Stephen Mangan presenting) as Portrait Artist of the Year final night not only gave us Eddie Izzard looking splendid in a frock, but also followed the progress of the contest's overall winner,  Curtis Holderas he created his commissioned portrait of Carlos Acosta, director of Birmingham Royal Ballet. This is now hanging in the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, but just as exquisite is this portrait of the artist's partner, which confirmed the judges' final choice.  
A homebound Christmas left most of us tuning to the tele, rummaging among the repeats & reruns for personal gems: among mine were Greasenow 42 years old but still appealing despite its 'teenage' cast all clearly in their 20s & 30s, and a feisty version of Pride & Prejudice with some emotional scenes shot in Stourhead.

Ending this final post from a year of twin terrors with a poem, which was going to be TS Eliot's soliloquy from one of the Magi, but though beautiful it is very melancholy, so instead here's Kahlil Gibran reflecting on love in The Prophet
    Love has no other desire but to fulfil itself.
     But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
     To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
     To know the pain of too much tenderness.
     To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
     And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
     To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
     To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;
     To return home at eventide with gratitude;
     And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Wicked spells, beasts, ghosts, and all things festive!

Opening again with drama! Enterprising performances  despite these stop'n'start lockdowns and the catastrophic effect on theatres, starting with a live production at Frome's Merlin: Bea and the Winter Winds, whipped up by Black Hound Productions in a short space of time and despite cast changes, is a delightful folk-tale-inspired story of the triumph of good over evil as a brave girl sets off to break the spell of constant winter so the community feast can be held once more...
So, with their land withering in the thrall of Jack Frost (Pete White), young Bea (Anabella Fairgrieve) sets off to find the the imprisoned ‘good fairy’ (Amy Morgan-Bell). Of course she has helpers: a greedy squirrel and an narcoleptic mouse (Patrick Withey and Tiffany Rhodes) who intermittently steal the show with their entertaining comedy. And of course, they succeed in their quest. Patrick Withey and Ben Hardy-Phillips devised the storyline, Patrick writing the script and Ben creating the songs: the musicality is delightful throughout, as Bea has a fabulous singing voice and her guitarist brother is played by Ben, a popular local performer. Visually, it’s enchanting: the set design by Patrick is superb, featuring a semi-realistic tree and fantastic snow-swirls on the stage, which William Holmes’ lighting design plays on exquisitely, changing illumination on the branches and creating snow crystals on the imaginary drifts.  Evocative of memories for older viewers, exciting and comforting for younger viewers, entertaining for everyone, Bea and the Winter Winds is a huge success for the company and for the Merlin Theatre.  (As a footnote, Nevertheless Pub Theatre followers will remember Tiff as a Jane Austen heroine in Time Slides, our 2016 Frome Festival production... So good to see young performers continuing in the profession despite all problems.)
Beauty and the Beast from Living Spit onstage at Bristol Old Vic was about to open when Bristol moved into Tier 3 and tickets for the show were transferred from live to streamed audience. (For anyone confused by the image above, beauty is the one on the right.) Stu Mcloughlin and Howard Coggins seen live have a wonderful and chaotically distinctive duo-persona that doesn't totally transfer to screen. Perhaps we're used to comedians with the kind of subtle self-awareness of The Richardsons on our TVs, or perhaps a stage feels less magical when filmed close-up, but it's not until after a monologue introduction, a clunky role-changing first act, and a quiz, that this became really entertaining.  And when it's good, it's very good. 
Filmic tricks help - as in this screen shot - but more importantly the script begins to make life connections. 'I wanted someone else to know how I feel...' whines the beast in defence of his imprisonment of Belle. 'You have no idea how it feels to be this beautiful,' she counters, 'To know everyone wants me, whatever room I walk in...'  The absurdity in this case doesn't make this concept less thought-provoking, and when Stu sings his melancholy song about Stockholm Syndrome ('It's not going to happen to me...') another huge social issue is covertly identified. This unexpected depth in the story interpretation increases the interest immensely, and the bursts of filmic trickery do too... Make what you will of the ending - in which Beauty can accept her partner as only by pretending he's still a beast - there's some great comedy and provocative opinion in the mix somewhere, but served only in thin slices.

And now another churlish individual redeemed: Artsreach, the Dorset-based organisation bringing performance to rural areas in the southwest, is promoting a one-man version of of that classic Dickens tale A Christmas Carol on Youtube, as narrated by David Mynne. David was a co-founder of Kneehigh, so it's not surprising this is a more-than competent adaptation, gripping from the start. With minimum props - a couple of scarves and atmospheric lighting - David evokes all the extreme drama of the action and morphs convincingly through a wide cast of characters. Purists might complain that the ending is slightly altered, but it's a tour de force of narration, and never fails to grip.

 Pound Arts Open 2020 has transferred the 12th Annual Visual Art Exhibition to Flickr, so if you can't get to this gallery in Wiltshire, you can see the 60 wonderful artworks here. This is Wilderness at Benham: apologies to artist John L Harris if my screenshot doesn't do justice to the colour tone or brushstrokes, but you can see it's very atmospheric. The exhibition can be viewed till 23 January.

And finally, music... Sadly the session planned for Saturday's Frome Market was cancelled, but musicians are resilient and many gems have been posted online - you probably have your own favourite groups to follow - Open Micsolate & Postmodern Jukebox are two of mine - but if you haven't already, do click and enjoy Patrick Dunn's Gaudete.  A Tier-2 Triumph.  

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Drama's back! Controversy, murder, mirth... and more.

The dramatic event of this week was for me was review tickets for a theatre show again, after nine months' abstinence. Theatre Royal Bath had proudly announced its 'Welcome Back' season after the first lockdown, only to be closed down again before the second of their trilogy could make the stage. Oleanna is the now showing and -fingers crossed- will continue until 6th January at the Ustinov studio, with exemplary safety & sanitation provisions. First produced in 1992, David Mamet’s controversial play is about a dedicated professor whose attempt to inspire confidence in a panicky student is maliciously reinterpreted by a posse of ferocious neo-fascist feminists - or possibly a play about a complacent professor whose attempt to dominate a vulnerable student is thwarted by female solidarity... 
Jonathan Slinger as the maverick professor is superb, totally credible whether prickling with frustration on the phone or calmly confident of his offbeat educative skills. As the ambivalent student, Rosie Sheehy has a baffled belligerence that might well  appeal as a challenge to a dedicated teacher. Directed by Lucy Bailey, with a set by Alex Eales which ironically evokes Educating Rita in its scholarly intimacy even as this becomes increasingly at variance with the action.  Oleanna was iniitally seen as an important breakthrough in acknowledging an elephant in the room of sexism: thirty years on there seem to be other questions: The tutor advocates challenging the system, but is avid for personal advancement within the status quo. He may not a sexual predator, but he's certainly a hypocrite. images Nobby Clark

And now to Frome's Merlin Theatre for a dramatic contrast: As part of the Signal Fires project to revive small theatre companies in these difficult times,  
New Old Friends touring company 'producing engaging, accessible, shows that make people laugh' brought their current show Crimes Against Christmas to the amphitheatre stage on Thursday, and a resilient cast of three persisted in entertaining their entranced audience huddled- in a socially distanced manner - on the stones with mulled wine, by recounting a complex Agatha-Christie stylee saga, in complexity and unlikeliness of a multiple murders to coincide with the story of the twelve days of Christmas. As with all such sagas, it's the deftness, and deliberate undeftness, of the multi-tasking characters that provides the entertainment. 

And finally in this disparate trio, Wardrobe Theatre hosted 'the world's first interactive pantomime (possibly)' when Streaming Beauty zoomed out on Saturday night. As with all pantos, even the most salacious, the focus was flamboyant entertainment and the storyline was of scant interest. Technically, this was ambitious and amazingly successful, with Tinkerbell the technician creating subgroups in the audience to interact with the cast as Beauty struggled to sever her contract with evil Hymen Bowel. A cameo appearance by Blaise Castle to encourage us to co-create a dreamcatcher to break the spell gives some idea of the inventive absurdity. Zoomers from Bristol who know each other, and probably know the cast too, will have enjoyed it most but it's great to see innovative approaches to interactive drama in these drab days.

Also in a seasonally festive vein,  Black Swan Arts held a pop-up market of  collectables and giftables in the courtyard, cafe and Round Tower.  The 'Small and Affordable' display of delights included jewellery, ceramics, woodwork items, prints and original artworks, and more, including salted caramel brownies in the cafe.  Here's artist David Davis with one of his stunning local views.  

Still local-ish, Heart of the Tribe has an exhibition in Glastonbury, enterprisingly creating an online gallery tour, showing until January.
Ending with poetry, and a short video of six poets responding to a sculpture in Mid Wales Arts Centre. Steve Pottinger and Emma Purshouse were among this group and, as both poets have performed in Frome to great acclaim, even though they're based in the Black Country this film earns its link. Here's a couple of screen-saved snaps to show the quality of the film: this kind of project might appeal to local poets too - Millennium Green, maybe? 


Saturday, December 05, 2020

And the answer is Schrödinger’s cat...

 After this blog's grumpy inertia last week,  here's a new concept: our 'Surge Capacity' - the natural energy mankind brings to a crisis - is only designed for short bursts like a tornado which is why, after eleven months, we are inevitably depleted and in need of other strategies to cope. One is to understand the 'ambiguous loss' of our previous lives in terms of a bereavement, but there's a 'both gone and not gone' way of looking it too: just as despair & hope are coexisting, so can lethargy and activity.

With which positive thought I booked a free online talk offered by the National Gallery: 'Every Society Needs a Scapegoat', using Holman Hunt's famous painting as a focus. Christina Bradstreet, introducing, talked about the artist, possibly the most puritanical of the PreRaphaelites: for him the scapegoat seems to share a sacrificial persona with Christ, though with no choice or redemption. Disappointingly Katharine Quarmby's following talk cast no light on the social role of a scapegoat as she used it as showcase for her books on abused minority groups like gypsies, rather than discussing the fascinating question of why all communities seem to need these 'sin-eaters'.

Also online, there's an hour-long Royal Academy Summer Exhibition virtual tour through their closed galleries, though you can move through more speedily. And if you're thinking of arty or crafty gifts for family or friends, do check into the Shop Frome This Christmas facebook page and be amazed by the range of creative local artists. 

'Angry' Sam Berkson came to Frome as our Poetry Cafe Festival Guest five years ago, which why, mainly, I booked to attend the zoom Hammer & Tongue Annual Slam on Tuesday.  Sam's poems are succinct and powerful, delivered with the impact of an orator but immaculately crafted: his opening piece, written in March, was a tirade on 'this virus that is drowning.. choking.. guttering.. our planet', an elegant and apt evocation of Wilfred Owen's poem about mustard gas in the first war.  He moved on to a more positive view: that our new awareness of human fragility may have triggered, finally, the long overdue social reappraisal expressed in the 'Black Lives Matter'. Other powerful poems, both political and personal completed this brilliant set. 
The '2020-themed Slam' that followed gave us eight strong voices, judged in the traditional way by selected -audience response, with a well-deserved (i.m.h.o) victory going to 'Almalia the Alkemist,' who echoed Sam's theme in her spoken word piece asserting that, more important than Covid, In 2020 a black man died.  Here's Almalia looking happy when the audience scores were all totalled and she came out top. 
Thursday's zoom-Poetry event was very different, with none of Hackney's friendly, slightly chaotic, conviviality. Burning Eye Books' hosting of Elvis McGonagall's new book Complete & Utter Cult! was a stern affair: audience members were silenced and blacked out on arrival, so there was no sense of shared enjoyment, which seemed odd & a bit sad for the launch of a poet so witty and provocative.
Elvis last came to Frome three years ago for a special session in the Granary, startling the bar staff by absolutely packing the place out, and it's a source of quiet pleasure to me as a big fan of his work that Burning Eye posted our cover images together in their compilation collection The Best SLAM / STAND-UP / PERFORMANCE / SPOKEN WORD Poetry Book in the World.  Elvis is still terse, tartan, and potty-mouthed. Brexit and lockdown were both grist for his mill of scurrilousness and savagery, providing a banquet of derision in parody clich
és: Get it done! with gin-soaked spirits and quiet despair, rise with pride like a Victoria sponge, living a dream as the Benny Hill theme plays on and on and on and on... His support team were excellent too: Erin Bolens with the comforting thought that Christmas is just another day - if you don't like it, that's ok,  Jonny Fluffypunk,  and Luke Wright excellent as always whether 'embracing the wank' or remembering his father's skeleton clocks. 

Still with books, the Frome FM on-air book group festive edition is now posted here, with gift recommendations from me as well as from Tina Gaisford-Waller, warrior-queen in the bookshop world who this weekend transferred much of the stock of Frome's amazing emporium Hunting Raven Books to the Silk Mill to give buyers more browsing space. The range of authors is incredible: from quirky stick-it-in-the-air-B&B-room titles to massively important tomes like The Book of Trespass, from Peppa Pig to Gareth Southgate, there's genuinely a gift for everyone in your life here, and lots to put on your own booklist.  This pop-up book-fest will be back at the Silk Mill for the 18th-20th weekend for your late buys, and the store will be having some late-evening openings too.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

It's that time of year again - believe it or not....

As November ends, Frome town traditionally gears itself up for the festive season ahead with a Festival of Lights... usually a parade of lanterns through the streets cheered on by crowds enjoying a party atmosphere (though one year for a change we had Jenson Button scorching up and down the main street in a McClaren)  - Mel Day and Aliss Vaas run free workshops, sponsored by the town council, to ensure a plethora of stars, moons, angels and bells waving in the night air for the grand switch-on of twinkly lights on Christmas tree, with carols and bands and.. oh, you probably remember it well. Which is good, as this year's festivities will be rich mainly in memories as the lanterns this year will be only window decorations apart from this magnificent swan, created by Mel and Aliss for the courtyard of the Black Swan where Black Swan Arts is currently preparing for a re-opening the café and festive craft shops next week to sell 'small & affordable' art - donations welcome!

Frome On-Air Book Group with Sheila Hedges and Karen Stewart continues to broadcast monthly on Frome FM, and invited me to join Tina Gaisford-Waller, legendary manager of Hunting Raven Books, in offering ideas for christmas gifts. During these non-meeting times this is a zoom session recorded & edited by Helen Ottoway with smooth professionalism (& a promise to edit out my faffy bits). Tina offered her suggestions from her car as the bookshop is currently awash with deliveries, and I also talked a bit about how The Price of Bread emerged from the first lockdown after gestating for 25 years - you can hear all this on Friday 4th December on 96.6FM.

These are difficult days for a local/Arts blog to remain apolitical. With no live theatre or live music, or live groups of any kind even in a cinema auditorium, my off-line entertainment is mostly walking through trees. There's plenty of stimulus online, of course, but after seven months you probably know your own interests there. And with that self-deprecating & somewhat grumpy intro, here's a few things you may or may not know about already, as Frome town is currently as besieged as Macbeth when Burnham Wood began shuffling its deadly way to Dunsinane. Easthill Field is the latest green space to be noted by developers, to the dismay of many who value this species-rich habitat - this is an ancient lime tree, one of the last remaining from the avenue that once led up to Easthill House. The land is earmarked for social housing but protesters insist they are not just NIMBYs as the location, tucked behind a cemetery at a busy junction outside the town centre, isn't suitable for this, and with influential support & careful research they have secured a delay on the decision. Do join the Friends of Easthill Field if you want to follow their progress or feel you can help.

Meanwhile nearer the centre of town, a community-minded group of neighbours decided to get together to transform the scrubble at the end of their gardens back into an allotment, and formed the Broadway Allotments and Community Garden Association. With much hard work already, this abandoned area is slowly returning to its previous function but it hasn't evaded the eye of developers. Frome Town Council is backing the allotment group and has presented a case to Mendip, so let's hope this last small green lung remains in our town's ever more dense housing estates. 

The largest looming threat in Frome's struggle with The Developers, as this amorphous & invasive enemy is commonly termed, is the one hanging over the southern fields, where 1700 new houses are planned to infill from the Mount to the by-pass.  Just, houses - no amenities or services: no medical facilities, Secondary schools, transport links, or parks.  Stop Selwood Garden Community is the protest organisation opposing this euphemistically termed project - and yes, I do realise housing is needed but this project is a cynical money-spinner: no social housing, no chance for Frome's young people stay in their own community continuing the tradition of local companies. To put it in another context, UK Government data this September showed there are 600,000 empty houses across the country, double their annual national building target in fact. Property is a good investment for the monied: rent continues to arrive and repairs are tax-deductible. And once the last of Selwood Forest is eroded, we've lost more than we can ever regain.  
Here endeth the diatribe, but please consider joining one or all of these protest groups.

Moving from nature's effortless artistry to crafted arts: mega-creative Frome poet Liv Torc is taking her sensationally successful Haiflu concept into the off-line world and now wants haikus about life currently in the form of a visible public installation. My first effort is a lamentation for lost seasonal celebrations. Do have a go, and add #haiflu2020 to your art (I forgot) to as Liv has plans for them!
I'll leave you with an image of Frome centre on Saturday night, its tree defiantly glittering with blue and golden starry lights. 

Friday, November 20, 2020

Drama, poetry, conflict, and sedges

Creatives have been hard hit by this second lockdown, especially theatres. Here in the south-west, Theatre Royal Bath had no sooner re-emerged on the strength of handouts from the Culture Recovery Fund than their 'Welcome Back' season was paralysed again, but Bristol Old Vic enterprisingly added a live-streamlining aspect to their new productions. Hedda, created via the 'permeable membrane' (their term) of their Theatre School.  Chekhov's dramatic principle asserts that if a gun is shown in the first act then it must be fired before the end of the play and Hedda has two, which, combined with her self-destructive boredom, ensures no surprise in the finale here, even if you're not familiar with Ibsen's play. 
The filming angles were great, with plenty of full-stage 
views rather than soap-opera-style  close-ups, although for some technical reason there were also plenty of blurred moments while my system played catchup. Lucy Kirkwood's adaptation transfers the story to contemporary Notting Hill so some changes are essential (though possibly not Hedda eating the lost book) and the trainee actors did justice to the vying, lying, academics - Hedda's husband George and Michael Drake as handsome ex-lover Toby were particularly strong, and so too was Emma Hadley-Leonard as the woman who fascinated and enthralled everyone except herself.

A Friday night of verbal immersion now as four remarkable poets launched their new collections on Zoom: Frome's Claire Crowther and Bath's Carrie Etter were joined by Alan Baker and Vik Shirley in an extremely well-organised hour of fascinating readings. Alan, an editor & translator as well as poet, was launching his new pamphlet A Journal of Enlightened Panic, Vik's debut collection is entitled The Continued Closure of the Blue Door - samples of her work here - Claire's latest collection Solar Cruise has already been picked as Poetry Book Society recommendation. Claire is married to the renowned solar physicist Keith Barnham & these poems, all written on their sea trip to America, focus on meditations around his work - there's a sampler here and  some have been reprinted in the Fortnightly Review. 
Carrie's new collection is The Shooting Gallery published by Verve, extraordinary and sombre prose poems juxtaposing reflections on the WWII drawings by Czech artist Toyen with school shootings since the Columbine massacre in 1999.  
These are also featured in the Fortnightly Review, but it was particularly powerful to see some of the drawings that inspired these pieces as Carrie read them with moving calm.

Frome Writers Collective's Writers on Radio session this week was on 'the art of revolting, and writing about it,' and opened with an interview with David Lassman discussing why Frome is famous for its riots - mostly legitimate protests, incidentally, as the food riots were inspired by the inflated price of bread, the 3-day riot at 1832 election was in response to blatant corruption, and the wool-workers attacks on new machinery were protests at the loss of essential income for the spinners. David doesn't emphasise rationals but he's really interesting on the facts. (Here's David in a clip from the Wessex Camera Club's coverage of our 'Rogues and rebels' walk in the last Frome Festival.) Among other intriguing features, Sian Williams recalled the 1980s Greenham Women's protest, and Suzy Howlett considered the etymology of 'riot' - the language of the unheard, as Martin Luther King so perceptively said. Good to hear Kaiser Chiefs' riot prediction again too.

Maybe because we all feel under partial house arrest, dissent seems to be in the air: Eleanor Talbot interviewed me this week about the thread of dissent that runs through my book Frome Unzipped, from Prehistory to Post-punk for her weekly show Variations on a Theme. Unlike David, who is reliably lucid,  my recall of dates is impeded by dyscalculia, unhelpful when discussing history... luckily Eleanor is a brilliant interviewer & editor. I'm on Episode 58, at 24mins-35.10, 46mins for 12 minutes, and again for 9 minutes at 1.09 - but you should listen to Eleanor's brilliant music choices too, like the sensational History Song from The Good the Bad & the Queen and (at 1.33) an amazing rap battle between Trump & Biden created from actual speeches by ERB (Nice Pete & Epic Lloyd). All seamlessly fused by Eleanor, here seen at the WHY gallery opening last year - another from-the-festival-album image.

Still with social conflict of a kind, the Workhouse Burial Ground walk mentioned in previous posting, one of Frome writer John Payne's projects, had a plug in The Guardian this week. This would have been one of the Frome Festival events, and John's pamphlet of poems The Few and the Many includes two tributes in remembrance.  And with live music on hold, we continue to  rely on Sky Arts, youtube, and downloading: this is Destination Unknown, by Pete Gage with Ruzz Evans on guitars and Mike Hoddinott on drums, from Pete's new downloadable album, with great advice in the title track: if you don't do it now then you never will. 

Ending this week's foray with an image from the extraordinary Oudolf Field at Bruton's Hauser & Wirth, where inspired planting has created a landscape for all seasons: the opulent colours of spring and summer morphing to a different glamour by late autumn, with starbursts of moon-pale grasses, russet stems of seed pods, and a few late, mulberry-dark, flowers.

Friday, November 13, 2020

The here-we-go-again edition.

Let's start with an image that shows how we're all feeling, as modelled by Hunting Raven Books marvellous manager Tina Gaisford-Waller at the end of a long day coping with phone & email orders. The legend on her jumper, you may notice, reads OPTIMIST. With a massive stack of quirky wrapping and sturdy paper bags at the ready, we're hoping this brilliant bookshop does really well in the season ahead. And if you want to shop for other stuff to support Frome's creatives, join Friendshop, here - loads of unique art & wearable posted by craftsfolk - and authors - of Frome.

Still with words, Frome Writers Collective monthly social on Thursday had a spooky theme, perhaps apt in a week when 'shape-shifting creep' was trending on twitter, with short stories shared at the zoom meeting. 

And individuals are offering virtual gigs again in response to the renewed lockdown - and no apologies for my sample choice of  Steve Pottinger and Luke Wright as both these brilliant poets have visited Frome to perform in the Poetry Cafe. Steve this week was hosting a set in Dubai, although his presentation and material stay firmly in the Black Country.  His poems are inspired by actual people and historical events, but also wildly imaginative as he word-shifts from the ordinary to the fantastic, always with a strong sense of the human struggle right across the range of his work.  

Spoken-word poet Luke Wright, too, has this ability to convey poetic experience as deeply personal yet also universal. Luke is is offering his poems every night throughout November at 8pm on his twitter feed, for free (though donations appreciated.) Luke doesn't seem to work from a set list, you get what he's in the mood for. On Thursday this seemed a little bit cynical & sad, but he finished the set with a really beautiful poem about his little boy in bed reading, existing in his solitude 'steady as a rock pool' .
Frome's fabulous Liv Torc was in the zoom room on Tuesday for Haiflu Ever After, talking candidly about her year of troubles & triumphs, about the international haiku-writing project she launched, and also about her serious illness (which led to 2 brilliant poems of cuckoo-nest flying craziness). Liv's audience rapport is as instinctive as her poetic talent and this hour was inspiring as well as entertaining: Liv wants more haiflu now, and hopes you'll post them publicly, 
and share them on social media... so look out for #haiflu2020art, and join in if you'd like to feature in her next film.

Visual art now : The Cam Valley Arts Trail went virtual for the first week of November with 32 artists presenting their paintings, prints, pottery and beads: Here's some of Frome's Andrew Eddleston's varied ceramic work - you can see more in his a Youtube movie here. Apologies for the belated notice - events across the Atlantic have been a bit distracting) 

Performance taking teetering steps back into the live world has, of course, been stopped in its tracks. Theatre Royal Bath's costly 'Welcome Back' season of three great classic dramas was halted after the first show (Pinter's Betrayal) and Bristol Old Vic is working out live-streaming from the stage for Hedda in order not to postpone their new collaboration with the BOV Theatre School. Future productions will also be semi-streamed, with a few seats available in the theatre. 

Music events, like drama, have been hard hit. Individual performers continue to use the easy-access site Open Micsolate - you'll find several Frome favourites there - or posting directly on their own pages, like Nick van Tinteren, awesome lead guitarist with popular Bristol band Cut Capers. This is the image used by Paul Kirtley on quite a few of his posts - this one is Go With the Flow, recorded with David Goodman, a great example of impro jamming. Al O'Kane's poignant new song Black Lullaby, written in response to the current situation, was released on Friday 13th, with  a short taster here and Sara Vian's offered a new song Trust the Sea 'to celebrate the result of the USA election.'  The Summer of Sound project is now archived on Frome.FM and my contribution, a revival of the Liquid Jam CD of Frome poets produced by Will Angeloro 20 years ago, is online here. This really is an excellent little radio station with a wide range of range of music, from eclectic mixes to fan specials like Foo Fighters Top Tracks, all available in their archives - lockdown is maybe a good time to browse.

Ending now with the Frome Walking Festival, also bludgeoned by new restrictions, but you can still enjoy these themed local walks by downloading the routes, each with maps and information, varying from a short, sombre town tour with a focus on WW1 to a strenuous 13 mile trek along the Saxon Kings Way - this one recommends a bus or train for the return! Big credit to the Walkers are Welcome team for keeping this project afloat.  I'll leave you, once again,  with a tree.


Saturday, November 07, 2020

Small local events, in a big week for the world

As an antidote to national and international news, let's turn to the thumb-sucking comfort of The Secret Garden, the story of an unloved little girl who is eventually seen as a heroine, a healer, and - most importantly, loveable. Obviously this tale was a favourite for me as a child, re-read repeatedly under the bedclothes in a dim light that probably did, as promised, ruin my eyesight. It's by Frances Hodgson Burnett (who also wrote A Little Princess, the story of an unloved little girl... etc, another comfort-read,) and has been filmed four times: the latest with Colin Firth, Julie Walters, and - barely off screen & always mesmerising - Dixie Egerickx as Mary, the child who finds the garden that changes all their lives. Director Marc Munden has indulged in quite a lot of embellishment to the original story: it's no longer the robin who 'showed the way' but a big shaggy dog; surly gardener Ben Weatherstaff is all but erased, Misselthwaite Manor suffers a blaze on Jane Eyre scale, and it's Mary who saves her uncle.
This Mary has psychic powers too, enabling her to introduce us to her dead mother and that of her ailing cousin Colin. The magical garden eschews any attempt at credibility: despite the wuthering wildness of the moor beyond, here it's CenterParcs but with Thai temples, and the secret section could be an elaborate set for Strictly. Most of the story, in short, is massively over-egged but somehow it seems to work. Showing - till stopped - at Frome's super little indie cinema Westway, where icecreams still come round on a tray. 
It's been a short week for entertainment reports, since 
at midnight on Wednesday the portcullis descended on live performances - and meet-ups to discuss such things.  The  scramble to organise future writerly and dramatic plans meant me missing the final session from the talented We Don't Scare Easy Tribe at The Mill at Rode - particularly disappointing as the band ended their set by playing Holiday in Spain especially for me & Steve... awww...  This fantastic team, spearheaded by Paul Kirtley & David Goodman, plays to raise money for Fair Frome projects, usually with support from other talented musicians - in this video, Carl Sutterby is on harp. with sound support from Steve. 
And now, once again, the only way is online, with Zoom re-entering our lives like Scrooge's persistent ghosts: past, present, and probably future too. The creatives of Frome are more prepared this time around: Frome Drama Club has already moved online, with Six Poems in Search of a Performance on youtube - here's Laurie Parnell with the opening words of Under Milk Wood  - and their Autumn project is a full length play, Terminus, written by Al Brunker and John Palmer.
Frome writer John Payne's project, Walking the Names, has been shortlisted for a short-listed for an international Sound Walk award. This monthly event has been developed to give respect those who died in poverty in the Bath Union Workhouse, by reading their names in a slow walk with music and poetry.

And if you want to buy a book, or a cd or art object, knitting wool or pizza, any one of 60 other options still available locally during lockdown, check this brilliant directory of opportunities from Shop Frome - another of the pro-active responses to difficult times in our extraordinary town. 

So at the end of a quiet week, here's two images of autumn from my 'permitted exercise': fields by Frome, and Shearwater lake. Long may these sunny chill days continue...