Sunday, November 28, 2021

A week of dazzling night-lights & sizzling performance

Storm Arwen (the Welsh name means 'fair' which seems  ironic) gave an early fluttering here on Friday causing cancellation of the 'Little Night Market' which should have launched Frome town festive celebrations but the Lantern Procession went ahead, to the excitement of the huge crowd watching Jamma de Sa
mba lead hundreds of lantern bearers down the hill to the town centre where mayor Andy did the tree-lights-switch-on. This parade is really something: Frome artists Mel Day and Alice Vaas for the last five years have been leading workshops for anyone wanting to join in, providing willow wands and  tissues as well as instruction, and results this year were especially stunning, with magical moonflowers and other clever constructions like owls, and a dazzling green frog.
Still in Frome next night, this time with two Olympians of poetry, Liv Torc and Elvis McGonagall.  Fromie Liv features often in this blog; Elvis has performed in Frome in the past, but my role as Spoken Word Co-ordinator at the theatre was on plague-pause until we heard he was booked for a southwest tour - although ironically the other venues weren't able to deliver so Frome was the sole beneficiary - all of which moithering leads to the happy outcome that on Saturday a big & beaming audience in the Merlin Theatre was brilliantly entertained by an award-winning shouty Scottish poet, with a local legend as support act - honestly, you couldn't want a better night than that could you.
Liv established massive rapport from the start and delivered a mix of very personal poems and powerful eco-poetry: as one of the Hot Poets, she delivered her remarkable poem When You Know The Water's Coming at COP26 and her terrific collection The Human Emergency is available from Burning Eye.  
Elvis has published a new collection with Burning Eye too: that link in this case takes you to Complete and Utter Cult, which contains many of the vehement & hilarious political diatribes with which he entertained his audience: you'll find his exasperated satire on emotive reporting Gimme Some Truthiness, his savagely funny 'trip through the sunny uplands of British exceptionalism' What a State and - my favourite -The Immigration Alphabet, in which “P is for Priti Patel, turning back boats like a psychotic King Canute.”  Both these poets have big personalities and amazing delivery, so it's unsurprising there were queues after the show to buy signed copies - at under a tenner, both books should be on your Christmas lists both to give & receive!

So now we've acknowledged that the C word will have to be uttered quite a few times before this time next month,  it's panto time:
Little Women in Black,
 billed as 'a brand new darkly comic Christmas show from The Wardrobewas my choice for a festive drama this winter as I'm a big fan of this anarchic Bristol pub theatre. - it's so niche and locally popular that promotion is minimal, and this image is the only one available of their 'parody mashup' of Louisa May Alcott's tale of dull lives in 19th Century Massachusetts. This "anarchic, sexy, adult-only devised comedy with little women, big guns, scary aliens and a sweet 1990s soundtrack" presents the March sisters as you've never imagined them... Pretty Amy, a wannabe Britney with a passion for pink, is probably the most like her fictional inspiration; her sisters however are sassy sky-roaming galaxy guardians apart from massive Beth, who doubles as Laurie, and he's an alien, but a great singer.  It's all fast-moving and incredibly funny, and the audience rapport is phenomenal - you feel like you've crashed a private party at times, and the four actors - Jenny Smith, Tesni Kujore, Jessikah Wilson, and Tom Fletcher, are brilliant.  Directed by Julia Head, showing until 16th January. 

There's no getting away from the approaching rituals now that the tree lights are on in the centre of town and decorations dangle in all the shops. Frome FM's friendly On Air Book Group once again invited me and Tina Gaisford-Waller, manager of Hunting Raven Bookshop, to join them at the recording of their festive edition edition. Sheila Hedges and Karen Stewart focussed on fiction, I went for non-fiction* and poetry, and Tina  gave us a whistle-stop tour of her hot tips in every genre.  
Here's Karen, Tina, me and Sheila enjoying this delightful hour of chat, recorded by James Ellis and enhanced by mulled wine, mince pies, and general booky chatter: the show goes on air on 3rd Dec at 2pm, and the link will stay live for later listening.   (* apart, obviously, from commending my own collection of short stories, Déjà Lu - perfect stocking filler or small gift, available from Hobnob Press, Hunting Raven or me!) 
And also on Frome FM radio, Eleanor Talbot's ever-intriguing podcast Variations on a Theme  this week puts a focus on fashion.  As always, the playlist is wildly eclectic and the scope is entertainingly broad, ranging from Bowie and Dylan to Madness and The Irish Rovers: we learn the history of the top hat, or 'beaver', and of the kilt, and various fads & extreme styles of apparel, and I'm using this as an excuse to post a picture of Aiden Turner in a pre-Raphaelite style waistcoat.

Still with audial entertainment this week, but a shift of mood back to climatic and ecological concerns: Last Friday's art openings caused me to miss the viewing at the Town Hall of Rivercide,  George Mombiot's film about our river crisis, but you can hear about this - and other crucial situations, on Frome FM here 
Annabelle Macfadyen was one of the protesting 'Blackbirds' at COP26: interviewed by Rupert Kirkham about her rationale, she explains  "The blackbirds in Druidic mythology stand at the gateway between the world of concrete reality and the dream world, the unconscious, and if we can open up to the possibility...  the changes we need can be made.
This programme is well worth a full listen for the discussion, and for Al O'Kane's performing two of my absolute favourites of his songs: Losing It and Animals.  Pic snatched from Frome FM's post, thanks.    (Oh, and the strange looking game is Prometheus, invented by Frome's Christopher Curtis and now a hot favourite as a Christmas gift.)

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Vibrant art & music as autumn starts to fade

It's been a vivid week for visuals: Frome's town centre, already a half-way to a Dickensian Christmas filmset with its cobbles and overhangs, is beginning to sparkle in anticipation of solstice celebrations, and a brilliant exhibition at Black Swan Round Tower gallery is reminding us how art makes a great gift... not just paintings here but wonderful ceramics and garments. Friday night's opening of Together Again, an exhibition by Old Bakery Artists was crammed with superb work, all very well displayed, and with many of the artists themselves present. Cleverly curated to show all the work to advantage despite the sometimes-tricky circular space, this was full of vivid colour and varied textures - Here's surrealist painter Caroline Walsh-Waring with some of her work, and a young visitor admiring the knitted fertility deities on display. 

Another opening on the same night at the WHY gallery displayed some of the immaculate and extraordinary engravings by Chris Pig, who I met outside discussing his work with some of his fans.  His exhibition, Fancy Goods, wasn't so easy to photograph in situ, but you can see one of these impressive works here - an immaculate and tender glimpse of a moment in time in a barbers' shop.

Music has been impactful too, with jazz, funk, and 'twisted blues and religious fervour' enlivening the gathering gloom of late November.  Rosco Shakes brought their upbeat jazz style to Bar Lotte on Wednesday, this time with a different line-up: Steve on sax, Josh on bass, Ned on drums and vocals and guitarist Paul who scan wing his guitar over his head and plays it on his back... whoever said jazz musicians are snobs?
And on Saturday, 23 Bath Street opened its stage for a fundraiser for Fair Frome, an independent community service providing support for the most vulnerable in our community, for whatever reason. This charity is based at the Town Hall and provides a wide range of vital services, especially in the winter.  Two popular local bands played live: Unit 4, a newish funk quartet fielding vocalist Mark with David on guitar, Danny on bass & Pat on drums.  The Back Wood Redeemers followed, with their six-piece band giving a theatrical performance of their of gospel/rock favourites. Dancing ensued, some of it on stage.

Finally: the changing colours of leaves seemed even more vibrant than usual this year but the strong winds brought masses of them down creating rich carpets on our pavements but stripping trees naked. It looked like maybe a little too late for my walk from Heavens Gate to Shearwater on Sunday, but by the lake the trees were still russet and gold: here's my favourite shot. 

Monday, November 15, 2021

Words and music - and more cake than usual

As this week's bulletin is mostly on a writerly theme, let's start with a blast of music: Saturday evening saw the much-anticipated return of Frome's hugely popular quartet, The Raggedy Men, playing at The Sun to an enthusiastic audience. The songs are all punk classics, but the skill and polish of the presentation isn't '70s-rough: these are all seriously good musicians and terrific  entertainers. The Guns of Brixton is still my favourite, but Andy, Bugsy, Pat & Carl make every song special.   

Now buckle up for a lot about writing. It's been five years since Frome Writers' Collective launched 'Silver Crow', a quality-control system to support self-publishing authors, so Friday night saw a birthday party at the Masonic Hall, with all FWC members invited.  This was a chance for authors to mingle, with a complementary drink, and show off their books, perhaps selling copies too. The sitting-down part began with a few words of encouragement from Mayor Andy, before Alison Clink, well-known in Frome for leading writing groups & classes in Frome, spoke of their benefits for writers.   
There are currently 18 books boasting the Silver Crow logo, and Nikki Coppleston, who launched her 'Jeff Lincoln' detective series in 2016 this way, talked about her experiences and her new novel The Promise of Salvation. Gill Harry shared the story and images of her engaging new book for children with an interest in history: Zoe and the Ancient Egypt Adventure - superbly self-illustrated. Here's Alison, soon to be published by John Chandler of Hobnob Press (on R) who has added several  Frome writers to his list, including poet David Thompson (on L). There are more pictures of this event on the FWC facebook website.

Writing continued the theme of my week on Saturday: Following my talk on writing short stories at the Library to a small but delightfully enthusiastic group, I headed for the upper rooms of the Black Swan, where The Write Place was hosting a tea-party, partly for self-promotion and partly for fun and mince pies with mulled wine. This popular project was the inspiration of Frome writer Kate McEwan, and has a big following now among writers who like to write in a quiet place but with a sense of surrounding support - sounds like the perfect combo. There are monthly one-day writing retreats which include a starter-session, too. The 'Chat Room' was full and very friendly - here's Kate (on the right) at the end of the event. Kate started her literary success in 1983 with an illustrated history of the south-west suburbs of London, and she reminisces entertainingly about initial struggles,  until Ealing Walkabout sold out its first print-run of 3500 and rushed to reprint 5000 more.

Proof Pudding Club night at River House nicely rounded off this wordy week: this group's role, devised by Tina the ever-inventive custodian of Hunting Raven Books, involves appraising the promotional proof copies of new titles, and eating cake. In the final roundup, Ai Weiwei's tale of 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows emerged as an absolute must-read - this isn't surprising: I still have disturbing memories of his exhibition in London six years ago filled with courageous criticisms of the Chinese government, highlighting their callous treatment of their people. The odd, jelly-baby, look of the book jacket almost, but not quite, evokes the collections of little faces released by campaigners attempting to stop human traffic of hundreds of thousands of children in China...  One to read, if you can.   

And while we're still on the subject of books...this was the week that should have seen a high profile party launch for Struck Off at the Silk Mill - another Hobnob title -but, sadly though wisely, author-host John Killah decided to cancel rather than cause Frome the anxiety of a large group gathering from other areas. His novel now has its own private window-party in Hunting Raven, ready to delight fiction readers who may wonder what goes on in the world of a successful trial lawyers... think insider knowledge plus satirical humour, this tale may do for the legal world what David Lodge did for academic life in the '80s.

So this week's verbosity ends with an apology to Walking Festival, and the '6x6' Art exhibition at the Silk Mill, both of which sadly were squeezed off my to-do list, and with a picture of dawn over the Cooperage estate.


Sunday, November 07, 2021

Spectrums and celebrations as we move into winter

A spectrum in terms of colour perception, 'blue-orange’ is also a psychological term for a kind of amorality most often found in alien fictions. Such characters are not exactly immoral, but their actions are random and not codified in socially normal ways.  A new production of Blue/Orange by Joe Penhall at Bath's Ustinov Studio revisits the dilemma facing two psychiatrists as they argue over a patient who may be one of these: Chris (Michael Balogun) claims to be a son of Idi Amin, and his main carer Bruce (Ralph Davis) thinks he should remain in psychiatric care, but Bruce's superior, Robert (Giles Terera) insists his detention was based on ethnic prejudice - the topic of his upcoming book, for which he needs another case study. Who is right?  The drama swings painfully between the arguments, and so does Chris. The only thing he seems sure of is that the inside of an orange is blue. Is he mad, or is the playwright evoking the surrealist perception of Paul Eluard that the world est bleue comme un orange?  
A stark, dark, set defined by strip lighting (designer Simon Kenny) holds the three volatile conflicting personalities, each fighting for acceptance of their own reality.  Previous productions have cast both carers as white so it's interesting that director James Dacre has gone another way, perhaps to encourage his audience to disconnect from any preconceptions - in which case, would it have been even more interesting to challenge perceptions even further by swapping roles after the interval? With or without such permutations, this 21-year-old 'best play' winner continues to raise questions about the use of incarceration in society, and whether labels are helpful, and who has the right to decide... much to ponder while waiting at Vino Vino for the last bus home. images: Marc Brenner 

Art now, and lots of it, starting with In Movement from Marian Bruce at the Gallery at the Station, where Thursday's opening was filled with fascinated viewers. Marian has long been widely respected for her representations of the plight of the oppressed and the dispossessed, but these vibrant images show a different aspect of her empathy: the passion and vigour of  Cuban dance, which she experienced while in Havana as the designer for Rooster, Chris Bruce's acclaimed production with Acosta Danza in 2018. The energy in these tiny figures and drawings is incredible - a highly recommended exhibition open Wednesday till Sunday until 27 November, late nights Friday and Saturday. 
The Whittox Gallery is hosting Somerset Printmakers in an exhibition which opened on Friday and has already proved popular: this group formed in 1998 to promote their passion and professionalism and showcase 'the best of printmaking' in the county. Using a range of techniques, eleven of the artists in this group are showing one-off unframed prints and cards for sale. Here's Gail Mason with one of her imagined landscapes, and the splendid gallery - a superb arena for art.
- and also in the in the list of don't-miss shows in Frome, the pandemic work of Frome Wessex photographers, Closing Down and Opening Up, first exhibited in Corsley (& reviewed by this blog in the October 24 posting) has now arrived at the Round Tower Gallery at Black Swan Arts. Intimate and moving, these images are really worth seeing.

Final exhibition piece for this posting is the Sinking House above the weir in Bath - a tourist attraction as well as a message to the leaders at COP26 and a warning to communities throughout the world.   

Words now, as another Frome author from the Hobnob Press stable prepares to launch their debut novel: John Killah, well known in Frome as an erstwhile 'legal bulldog', is now writing fiction and his first book is a biting tale about shenanigans in a lawyers office leading to a crazy chase to catch the culprits...  STRUCK OFF is a comic novel with many elements Frome inhabitants may feel they recognise in the setting, and a plot that is outrageous, clever, and totally gripping.                        
Here's me and John discussing his plans for an exciting launch on publication day - 9th November - now sadly struck off, so to speak, by the possibility of Covid closures, but you can read more about the story here.  Look out for the classy cover - you may see it in the posh paper reviews soon, too!

A musical fanfare to finish the week, as one of Frome's most popular bands took over the Cheese & Grain bar/cafe area on Saturday night. Back of the Bus is brilliant at creating a party atmosphere, and although the line-up was one short (condolences, Mary) their performance was hi-energy from start to finish, with costume melodrama for White Wedding and closing their set with the magnificent menace of Hazel O'Connor's Eighth Day...

And our first-Sunday-of-the-month Independent Market busking stage presented its usual range of talented performers: I'll leave you with Francis Hayden, plus Danny Shorten on bass, singing his brilliant though gruesome tale of The Carpenter Ant, with its ominous final line: "the one who runs the show may be the parasite..."  Horribly apt, as our chaotic year totters towards an infectious end.(You can find the full cordyceps history, and Frances' lyrics here.)