Sunday, March 27, 2022

Mostly music, and some crazy golf, as summer arrives

A mega-musical week, with Frome Busks filling the town centre with young talent, so we'll start there, as eight acts from the College, some soloists and some groups, rotated from 11 till 2 around eight locations. Ages ranged but the sound was superb in each case. Here's Hushwind, a very accomplished duo,  Becca who sang with verve and confidence, and classical music student Ollie, fantastic on guitar. The organisation was impressive too, with routes & changeover times all planned and equipment and power needs all covered. An impressive display of young talent, and a very enjoyable day.

Still with local young talent, Monday's  SOUNDCHECK   session on Visual Radio Arts featured Afraid of the Dark,  the band who caused a sensation at the last Nunney Acoustic Cafe. All four members are studying music at Bath College, and as well as playing some of their stunning original songs - lyrics by Gwen Sutterby, pictured - they talked in interview about what each brings to their collaboration. This brilliant session will remain on the VRA site here, (screenshot includes some listeners' comments) 

Rosco Shakes brought their hi-energy jazzy blues to town again on Wednesday as these five performers lit up the night in Bar Lotte. Pictured here are Dom (guitar) Ned (vocals & drums) and Tim (keys & wild leg-dancing) but Josh (base) and Steve (sax) enhanced the band's terrific sound too.

A movie recommendation now: Phantom of the Open, showing at Frome's Westway this week, a delightful true story from the 1970s.  The lure for me was that Mark Rylance plays the central role of Maurice Flitcroft, the Eddy-the-Eagle of the golfing world - appearing in different disguises as he is repeatedly banned from competing in the British Open Golf Championship. Mark is impressive, evoking humble tenacity and care for his family as well as delusion bordering on idiocy. Loyal wife Jean (Sally Hawkins) and his dancing twin sons (Jonah and Christian Lees) are excellent too. 
 Curiously, despite finding similarities to Paddington Bear, none of the reviewers have pointed out that the format is exactly the same as for The Duke, recently reviewed on this blog. Eccentric quirky Northerner takes on the Establishment - golf, this time, not art - to snatch a trophy, with support from his son/s and after struggle that's poignant and funny in equal measures, all ends well and the movie ends with snapshots of the real individual to affirm the truth of the tale... check out the link here - then go see the movie! 

An away-day trip also this week: to Tewkesbury, which - as the town's website reports - is 'an historic riverside town in Gloucestershire with an abbey, medieval streets and a high street full of independent shops', which (apart from the abbey) makes this Cotswold town sound rather like Frome. In fact it has far more shops and is generally less poky than Frome, but the vibe is the same: relaxed and friendly, with quirky pubs and a jazz tea-room.  Here's the splendid interior of the abbey: the stained glass windows are impressive too.

And as the wind drops and days fill with sunshine, a chance once again for long walks around Frome as the banks beside the river paths fill with blue and golden wild flowers. ... and speaking of blue & gold, here's my Mother's Day necklace from son number one - how well he knows me! (smiley-face)
Wishing all readers peace and sunshine as summer time officially arrives.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

A blue & yellow week, with a touch of green

With foreign affairs, as they used to be called before we discovered that everything in the world is interconnected, on everyone's mind these days, let's start with the  BIG GIG FOR THE UKRAINE - an evening of soul funk jazz at 23 Bath Street to raise money for Frome's twin town in Poland, Rabka-Zdr√≥j, which has already taken in 500 Ukrainian refugees. Organised at short notice by Emma Harris, this featured the talents of Rivers of EnglandLeander Morales, Al O'Kane, Flash Harry, and Emma herself - a brilliant night with great musicians and fantastic sound. The atmospheric red lighting helped create a party atmosphere - this snap of Leander joining Al's set may give a glimpse of the vibe.

Music has been a strong theme of this week, with Paddy's Day celebrations in two venues: At The Sun on Thursday, celtic band Crossing the Rockies cleverly illustrated the division of Ireland by arranging a massive pole to segregate the band members, and this day-late homage to St Patrick was followed next night with another hooley as the Celtic & Transatlantic Music team arrived at the Cornerhouse in force and played throughout the evening. 

Still with an Irish theme: Derry's most widely-known band The Undertones, playing at the Cheese & Grain on Friday, was the subject Eleanor Talbot's Variations on a Theme this week. Mickey Bradley, bassist for the band since its inception & now also a record show presenter on Radio Ulster, is a charming guest with a good memory of the '70s, and is surprisingly modest for a key member of the group responsible for John Peel's favourite track of all time: Teenage Kicks

Theatre spot his week is a substitute: Eng-er-land, solo show at the Merlin was sadly cancelled due to illness so instead here's an online production from Original TheatreThe Red, directed by Charlotte Peters. The 'red' is a bottle of wine, which in this two-hander Benedict imagines, as he mourns at his father's funeral, that his dad really wants to watch him drinking. 
The storyline is essentially a list of reasons why an alcoholic should never drink again, and writer Marcus Brigstocke admits the play is basically a summary of his own temptations and truths. It's performed by a genuine father & son combo on a set authentically representing a wine cellar but with constant faint music which is slightly irritating. Bruce Alexander is very good as the probably-also-alchi-but-not-bothered father, but Sam Alexander his son is less convincing as a totally fit non-drinker. Reminiscence replaces story development, as the will-he/won't-he finale is not really in doubt, but my main problem with this as with all online productions is that the cameras don't consistently show the full stage and therefore, to me, it's Not Theatre. It is dramatic, in that people play parts in a rehearsed drama, but the camera-eye rather than the viewers' eye is in control, so it's just a movie that's been shot on one set. 

Moving from drama to poetry: Frome's 'ekphrastic writing' group had a very productive session this month, all creating powerful responses to the Duet of Lines exhibition in the form of pantoums under the excellent tutelage of Jennie Gilling.  Our group's responses can all be seen here, and the exhibition is on until 3 April.

Art with a purpose now, and and Auction for Ukraine at the Silk Mill which opened on Friday evening with wine & live music. The gallery was filled with donations from Frome's creatives - not only wall art, which is wonderful, with artists like Dan Morley contributing, but clothes, earrings, books & toys, and edible goodies.

Finally: at times like these, creativity & entertainment become even more important, which is why Frome is a genuinely awesome place to live: this week's Frome Times includes as well as positive initiatives in response to Ukraine, ongoing aspects of our town's life: volunteer street tidiers, restorative conversations, appreciations for projects like Window Wanderland & the Kindness Festival, green initiatives for children, drama for adults, music for all, and more. And a connection with nature is also vital, so this week's bulletin will conclude with a couple of images from local walks: one of the lakes on the southern side, and the river path from Frome to Mells. Imagine spring flowers & birdsong...    And... breathe.... 



Sunday, March 13, 2022

Is it springtime yet? Apparently Yes...

Theatre first this week, as a stunning new show jumps on stage at Bristol Old Vic: Wonder Boy, the product of a new concept in collaboration between city's theatre and its schools, also brings new concept to performance by literally visualising the spoken words in a way that's hugely entertaining.
Written by Ross Willis and directed by Sally Cookson, this is a feel-good tale with a familiar scenario - damaged child, wounded healer - but the  edgy, entertaining, script is projected behind the action as well as spoken, a brilliant device that as well as enhancing the show also subtly making visible the point that what we try to say matters and those who can't vocalise are just as vital to society as the articulate. The cast are all superb: Raphel Famotibe plays the chronic stammerer, here with his less-than-helpful superhero alter-ego (Ramesh Meyyappan) and his more sympathetic tutor Miss Wainwright (Amanda Lawrence) There's also a bitchy headteacher, and all are great but best of all is his marvellous friend Roshi (Juliet Agnes), pictured above, with an example of the effective & entertaining script projections which kept up with the action even at the noisiest of moments.  At the end of the 90-minute straight-through show on Thursday's press night the entire audience rose to applaud, and quite right too.  It's on till 26 March, hugely recommended - or watch the livestream!  photos: Steve Tanner

Running concurrently, on the Weston stage, Bristol Old Vic has another excellent production with a very different mood. What Remains of Us is an imagined reunion between an elderly ex-soldier who has made a life in the North Korea since the end of the war and his daughter who remained with rest of his family in the South. This largely-forgotten war, formally ended in 1952 but never resolved, separated thousands of families and there were a few state-organised & supervised reunions arranged. This is one: Seung-Ki re-meets her father, Kwan-Suk after 50 years. This is no rejoining of twin souls: after the initial emotional reconnection, they can barely communicate so rigid is each in the conviction their society is the 'right' one. For nearly 90 minutes, political disagreement seems their only shared language. Much of their struggle to connect is shown in dance and imagined fight sequences (choreographed by Dan Canham) which, with the dislocated fragments of their dialogue, combine to create an extraordinary and powerful performance. Kwong Loke as the initially intransigent father, remeeting his child only because it is his duty, brings an extraordinary emotion to his stilted speech, and Jung Sunn den Hollander as the daughter of his first marriage shares her backstory with poignant passion.  Written by David Lane, Sita Calvert-Ennals' direction ensures that unspoken emotions are the strongest. My only reservation is that it wasn't clear to me whether military personnel were observing them at some times but not always, and whether they were aware of that difference, which would have been an important factor.  But it's a moving production and a reminder that politics like puppies stay with you for life.  (My full reviews for both these plays published in Plays International here.)

While we're still in Bristol, there's an impressive Paula Rego exhibition -free - at the Arnolfini, where three galleries are filled with the artist's prints and commentaries on her themes & techniques. Like Angela Carter this artist is fascinated by feminist themes, and the etchings  & paintings in this collection explore psychological narratives & human dramas. There's more info & an audio link here: "Subversive Stories".

Music now, and Rosco Shakes were again at Bar Lotte on Wednesday evening to entertain a crowded room with their "high-energy jump blues and rock & roll" style of music-making, joined for a couple of numbers by Pete Gage. This event is so popular now that there's barely room for dancing, though we still manage to...

Dancing featured in a big way too at the Red Brick Building in Glastonbury for Friday Night Blues with the Brue River Band, an exciting six-piece band playing electric blues Chicago style, which seems to be more upbeat & funky than Mississippi blues - there's a sample of their style here
And more music on Sunday, too,  with the welcome return of live music in Nunney at the Cafe that puts the electronics in Acoustic, and a brilliant afternoon session with a superb young band as main guest: Afraid of the Dark play alternative indie with fluency & style and a wonderful singer, Gwen Sutterby.  Gwen's father Carl, a popular punk/uke player, ended the session.  

After all which excitement, let's finish the week with a glimpse of the river path at Nunney, brimming with snowdrops. Yes, folks, spring is definitely coming...

Sunday, March 06, 2022

Art & music, needed more than ever

March is the month we welcome back the Frome Independent, our massively popular monthly market for all things independently produced, whether they're to be eaten, drunk, worn, played with, or looked at admiringly. This first-Sunday-of-the-month initiative really is a great day out, even on a very cold one, with all the central streets of town crammed with stalls of amazing produce and a wonderful atmosphere.  Here's the main street with the busking stage and eatables: there's also craft on the hill and snack stalls everywhere. After the long months of home confinement, this Independent felt like a massive party.

As we shift slowly from winter to spring, the Silk Mill has an exhibition with a focus on Transient Phases. This features eleven artists who all work at the Bruce Munro studio at Long Knoll, and interpretations are fascinatingly varied: here's Louis Neale who curated the show, a 'forage' artist whose themes are always seasonal: his real passion is fungi, but during winter months the land offers only  bits of crockery thrown up after the harvesting - this is one of his recent works.

Still with visual art, there's a new exhibition in the Black Swan Long Gallery: A Duet of Lines features the very different linear art of Guy Watts and Daniel McGirr.  Guy is well known in Frome for his pen & ink images on prints & postcards, each taking months to complete: this one is 'The oldest Chinese tree in the world', an imagined bonsai designed to create a sense of tranquility. Daniel, from Bristol, works on a massive scale - this piece Late Lights fills a wall - and aims to change perceptions of art. 

Art going viral now: this was the weekend Window Wanderland took over the town for the fifth year, with scores of houses across the town creating illuminated window displays with coloured paper over one weekend in the darkest coldest time of the year. This 'magical walking trail to light up our streets' has become so popular there's no longer a single map of all participating buildings -you download the section of town you think you can cover in an evening! These displays are very varied and often really impressive, with many pleas for peace and love - there's a wonderful visual tribute to the artwork of Charles Rennie Mackintosh too. This incredible peacock display in a bay window in Sunnyside features blue and yellow in a wonderfully hopeful image of connection.

Music now: since restrictions on indoor performances were lifted there's been a performance renaissance in Frome's pubs but the farmyard stage of The Gugg arts centre in Stalbridge also continues to be popular. Friday's relaunch of Open Mic evenings saw diverse acts onstage, ranging from soloists to a lively septet (including me doing a bit of spoken word) Pizzas & a bar made this a great party night.

Back at the cinema again, this time for The Duke - a movie about a working-class socialist activist who pulled off a heist on the National Gallery, and holds a painting to ransom in protest at penalties on old people who can't afford a TV licence, and it's an actual true story, set in in early1960s London (my era, my stamping ground), with Jim Broadbent & Helen Mirren and to top it all, film-rating site Rotten Tomatoes critics ALL gave it the red-tomato of approval... altogether irresistible.  

The duke in question is Wellington, in a portrait by Goya for which the British Government in 1961 paid £140,000 (nearly 3 million in today's terms), a sum which incensed Kempton Bunton, a retired bus-driver & veteran who had already been imprisoned for refusing to pay for his TV licence. He tasked himself with a solo campaign on behalf of the nation's elderly, the climax of which was the theft of this portrait as a bargaining tool.  This is a gentle story; it's been likened to an Ealing comedy, but there are so many searing moments of historical reality, so much tender observation of absurdity, so much humour, and history, and brilliant acting, which all combine to make it much more than that. Check out the promo video here: Roger Michell’s final feature film was designed to make you both laugh and cry, and it will. 

I'm ending this week's 'arts' report in a town where people are free to create and connect - there was a Kindness Festival, too, this week, to "appreciate and celebrate the kindness that already exists in Frome" - at a time we've all been reminded that this is not as normal for a community as it should be, with an image that appeared on Facebook uncredited. Even in desolation, art can bring hope.