Sunday, January 26, 2020

Romance, carnage, stillness & sounds

If you adored Amélie and love chocolate, you will be completely besotted by Wise Children and Plush Theatricals' Romantics Anonymous, the delightful musical love story of a shy chocolate creator and her gauche chocolatier boss, now playing to enraptured audiences at Bristol Old Vic. It's an Emma Rice production so there's copious electric lighting to designate scene changes throughout this sweet story, wittily narrated by a brilliant ensemble cast featuring Carly Bawden and Marc Antolin. Highly recommended if you can get a ticket before February1st - there was a full house standing ovation when I saw it, so you may have to kill. Image: Steve Tanner

Marital discord and middle-class mores have always been considered fair targets for drama, and Yasmina Reza goes for the jugular in The God of Carnage, a play about the savage antagonisms simmering below the civilised veneer of two married couples who meet to discuss a playground fight between their respective sons. If that doesn't sound much like a comedy, it's because it isn't really one, although we are invited to laugh at the bourgeois-style assaults: Christopher Hampton, who translated the script from French for this production at Theatre Royal Bath, reports that the playwright fears humour will make her work too entertaining to be taken seriously. Yet there is humour, of a very bitter kind, in this tale of escalating friction as both mismatched couples are confronted with their own unresolved differences as well as the antagonism of their opponents. It's very well acted, especially by the men, Nigel Lindsay and Alan Paisley Day, whose roles give them more light and shade to work with than do the women's (Elizabeth McGovern and Samantha Spiro, who's impressive at projectile vomiting). Lindsay Posner directed and the set, featuring a symbolic spear-ball above blank walls, was designed by Peter McKintosh. Image: Nobby Clark

Moving on to art: Hauser & Wirth do openings in style, on Thursday celebrating Don McCullin's superb exhibition in a party atmosphere with live music and fires in their lavish garden. The stillness of life comprises mainly Somerset scenes: the photographer himself, who lives locally, was at the gallery with friends. He was known at one time for  images conflict, and these stark landscapes seem to me to have a resonance of restless energy, even when unpeopled. His work is brilliant.

Keith James at this week's Grain Bar Roots Session brought a small team of guitars to supplement his solo performance, playing profound songs for deep winter days: existential reflection from Leonard Cohn, protest from Bob Dylan, poignancy from Joan Baez some of Lorca's dark poetic words and, more than ever a song for our times, Joni Mitchell's 1970 anthem for Woodstock: We are stardust - we are golden - and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden...
Frome's lavish habit of providing an embarrassment of riches most weekends sadly meant passing on the The MellowTones, a new band already with a hot reputation, to join in with the dancing at the Cornerhouse where Tempting Providence provided a lively selection of classic rock, including a fabulous mash-up of Wicked Game with White Wedding and a breath-taking version of Wagon Wheel that raised cheers. Here's the team: Paul Kirtley, David Goodman, and Colin Ashley, with Peter Barnes and Nicki Mascall- icing on the cake provided by popular bar managers Tom and Amy's classy jive!

Sunday, January 19, 2020

In contrast to last week's rather quieter report, this bulletin seems to be obsessed mainly with music - live, local, and exhilarating!
Roots Sessions at the Grain Bar on Wednesday featured solo singer-songwriter Leander Morales, and six-piece band The Hoodoos, with both acts enjoying appreciation for their intimate audience interaction as well as splendid performances. Hoodoos do a particular good version of the 1973 hit 'Long Train Running' which really suits their hi-energy impact style.

Friday evening brought another exciting double-bill to a crowded house, this time the Bennett Centre where Chesterblade Hills featured The Pagan Gospel Groove Machine aka Ed Green's band, followed by Jaz Delorean with cabaret-style songs on piano. The 4-piece band has a mellow mood reminiscent (for me) of the seventies: I loved the repeated chant ... at the end of the night, the moon fades away and the sun comes up in the sky..... In contrast, Jaz is best known as front man for Tankus the Henge, which is a popular festival dance band.

Another mood change on Saturday for the Frome Punk Festival, an eight-hour fiesta, for anyone staying throughout, of punk bands classic and contemporary on the main stage of the Cheese and Grain.
The main attraction for me was The Raggedy Men who always deliver a brilliant performance and get people up and dancing too. Also very good, though earplugs recommended, were The Lonely Goats who perform their own songs -you can check out Elvis on Mars here.

Saturday's stirring music continued till late not only in Frome but also down the road in Bruton where mutant new wave / post-punk trio Invisible Eyes were featured guest at the Bruton Castle open mic night - you can listen to a sample here.
Sunday also provided an afternoon of excellent live music at The Three Swans as Paul Kirtley's acoustic club provided its usual mix of folk, rock & jazzy pop, though sadly there are no images for this as your reporter had to default due to another winter ailment.. sigh.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Chaos, with some music and a moon

And yes, this bulletin should have been posted before double-figure dates made saying 'Happy New Year' distinctly passé but seasonal celebrations and seasonal ailments all conspired to delay it.
So let's launch off with the cultural stuff. Books! Frome's indefatigable Hunting Raven bookshop-wiz Tina Waller has initiated a book club with a difference: when you join the Proof Pudding Club, everybody gets a different book in a brown-paper wrap, no title visible (they are all pre-publication 'proof' copies) and once a month the club meets upstairs at the Cornerhouse for a feed-back sharing session, which also informs Tina as to which books to stock post-publication. And the pudding bit? After the reviews are discussed, we all have a pudding. (It was sticky toffee, with custard, this month, if you're interested - with a gluten-free, dairy-free, low-sugar alternative, obviously, we're not savages.) Thanks Denise Hunt for this snap of our group as Andy talked about his enjoyment of Losing Eden by Lucy Jones - sounds like one to look out for. This was my first session and I'm now hooked. At another wordy group meeting, Frome Writers Collective celebrated the new year with a game session at The Three Swans - no image for this, scrabble requires concentration.
Black Swan Arts first exhibition of the year is χάος - Chaos -created by Barry Cooper and curated by Hans Borgonjon, whose vision and input the painter insists is a crucial element: 'It is his concept and vision for my work which has produced something which is truly 4 Dimensional,' he says. The six major canvases each represent a violin sonata written by Eugène Ysaÿe, with other paintings exploring aspects, and the artist aims to 'reach beyond the visible to an imagined fourth dimension: length, breadth, width, and time.' Barry works often in 3-D with stone and wooden carvings and has strong connections with the Greek island of Paros: 'The way that I work is through internal conversation,' he says, and all these elements seem to join the music in this creative converse. Our regular writing workshop in the Long Gallery was ably led by Dawn Gorman with a focus on chaos of life - an appropriate topic for 2020, I feel. 

Less music than usual to report in this bulletin as this has been a time of mostly private (and fabulous) parties, but Nunney Acoustic Cafe led off the year with feature guests The Marianas, 'synth-drenched alt pop', a band whose total ages combined probably barely reach mine. We also had other excellent musical sets and a soupçon of saucy words from me - thanks David Goodman for the image.

So now as storm Brendan batters the UK and media news is daily more dire, take heart from the words of Bob Dylan: Everything passes and everything changes, just do what you think you should do. I'll leave you with an image of the Wolf Moon rising over Frome, as seen on return from snowdrop hunting in Nunney.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Ladies dancing and a happy new year

The eighth day in the carol is ladies dancing though I never remember where you start counting from, but the highlight of an absolutely brilliant gig at the Old Bath Arms from Back of the Bus was The Eighth Day The link here is to Hazel O'Connor's version, but it gives some idea of the impact from this amazing hi-impact septet. All of us in Frome are so lucky to move into the difficult year ahead in an egalitarian town that bubbles with live music!

And now after a week of those traditional seasonal celebrations of eating, drinking, walking, dancing, quizzing, and sneezing, it's time to start on another year, still box-fresh and unsullied - let's see if we can keep it that way. To finish the old one and start the new, here's a story and a poem.

Growing up post-war, Little Women was staple re-reading for me, along with my absolute favourites The Secret Garden (unloved little girl turns out to be adorable) and A Little Princess (unloved little girl turns out to be adorable).  Of the four sisters in Louisa M Alcott's tale, tomboyish Jo seems most favoured, with practical Meg in second place while Beth is clearly far too angelic to survive and Amy is selfish and vain - but as the reader is invited to disapprove of her, she's the closest to an unloved little girl so I preferred her to Jo who was too much like Worrals (the female version of Biggles). Jo in the movie doesn't come across like that although she does literally rewrite the book, and it's all visually entertaining with some excellent acting (especially Meryl Streep) and a charming Laurie, although the girls all seem a bit hefty for their ages & era and the time-jumps are a bit confusing. It's been criticised for focusing on the lives of white characters but that's what most girls' books in the 19th century were like, and at least we had the eye-candy of all those pastel puffed-up skirts at the parties like massed macaroons. Nostalgia encouraged me to revisit my mother's copy of the story dated 1917 and published by the Religious Tract Society of London who appear to have economised on their cloth covers as the binding is in shreds: the colour plates by Harold Copping are still glowing though so here's Amy from this book, being vain, and Timothée Chalamet as Laurie in the movie, being the fairest of them all.

So here's hoping your 2020 will impossibly good, and some helpful words from Brendan Kennelly.
Begin again to the summoning birds
to the sight of the light at the window,
begin to the roar of morning traffic
all along Pembroke Road.
Every beginning is a promise
born in light and dying in dark
determination and exaltation of springtime
flowering the way to work.
Begin to the pageant of queuing girls
the arrogant loneliness of swans in the canal
bridges linking the past and future
old friends passing though with us still.
Begin to the loneliness that cannot end
since it perhaps is what makes us begin,
begin to wonder at unknown faces
at crying birds in the sudden rain
at branches stark in the willing sunlight
at seagulls foraging for bread
at couples sharing a sunny secret
alone together while making good.
Though we live in a world that dreams of ending
that always seems about to give in
something that will not acknowledge conclusion
insists that we forever begin.