Sunday, August 28, 2022

Such a lovely place... can you ever leave?

Frome, it seems, is one of those places like the Hotel California where you can check out but you can never leave, but due to, as they say, beyond my control, this week's bulletin snapshots are gleaned largely from online notifications. 

A double book launch event at Hunting Raven Bookshop on Friday celebrated Nina Parminter's collection Split Twist Apocalypse and the wonderfully bizarre Wasp Disentanglement for Beginners from Xenon Lobster - aka Gorden Vells. I have yet to acquire Nina's but Gordon's boundary-leaping collection is simply brilliant - 'Trails' is a tiny taster. 

(Thanks Dianne Preston for the nicked pic of the event.)

Also reportedly a great night again at Guggleton Arts Open Mic on Thursday - always a brilliant party-style event, this session including two of my favourite performers: Leon Sea, and 'Twitch' - both here as snapped at that venue earlier this summer:

Meanwhile, great news from elsewhere about some of the incredible dramatic & lyrical creatives stars of Frome:  

Black Hound Productions, the innovative young dramatic company, enthusiastically reviewed in this blog for several productions, has taken their double bill (see July 24) to Edinburgh and collared a massive 5 star review rating for Seeds of Memories

And moving to off-the-scale fantastic,  Frome's poetic ambassadress Liv Torc with fellow 'hot poet' Chris Redmond spent last week in Botswana, brainstorming with the UNFCCC - yes folks, that's the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Her online reports are amazing: here's a taster to read & re-read with awe & hope: "We are in a giant conference centre / palace - where we spend all day with 50 other incredible people from around the world doing exercises and brainstorming come up with totally new ‘there is no box’ ideas for a better more resilient world in the face of climate change. We are scientists, futurists, architects, AI creators, zen masters, royals, indigenous knowledge experts, diplomats, economists, city planners, agriculturalist, artists etc. We use a lot of post-it’s."  And it's pretty fair to say that if anyone can save the world with post-it notes, Liv can.

No apologies for concluding, despite planetary stress, on a very happy personal note: Pete Gage, superb poet & musician and friend, has sent me this delightful message: "Crysse, I have just finished reading Blow-Ins. My God Crysse, I love so many things about it, not least your amazing descriptive style and use of words/vocabulary, so uniquely put together and so colourfully conveyed, but also your ability to convey the emotions and thoughts of the characters so sensitively and insightfully. It was as though I was there in all those interactions, a silent invisible member of the family in touch with it all up to the end of your brilliant novel. All i can say, is wow! xxxx Naturally I purred like a rescued kitten, and asked if I could quote this, but Pete had also prepared a more orderly and even more awesome review, which is now on the Blow-Ins FB page here.

And this week's footnote will be my final one for MY BLOG, which began, incredibly, 16 years ago in September 2006. At that time, my writer's life was taking me around the country & around the world too, from Thailand to Chile - with Greek Islands in between, working with writers as well as performing poetry and promoting drama. The first post explains: "I thought a blog would be a great way of celebrating the wonderful variety of things I'm lucky enough to be doing... based on Jack Kerouak's 'list of essentials.' Something that will find its own form. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself.  Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it."
MY BLOG has morphed, gradually, into a diarist's eye on artsy Frome, mostly, and as an addictive writer with a poor memory, it has given me massive pleasure over the changing years. Frome is in a state of flux right now (what - again? yes, as always) with the development of Saxonvale still unsettled despite the fantastic work of the Mayday team with massive support from the town; development is encroaching from the South, Marston Park is struggling, and shops are closing (sadly including much-loved Amica, owned by painter David Moss who created my last two book covers.) Frome will somehow survive, of course, and hopefully thrive - and who knows, maybe re-assert its belligerent history of protest at imposed change... but if not, it will still have its fantastic art, music, and drama. So ending this blog-story of Frome as centre of a creative universe feels a bit like the end of Winnie the Pooh: "whatever happens, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.”

Monday, August 22, 2022

Early Autumn: Vivid art & vibrant music for greyer days

With the wonderful Berry Bus going direct to Hammersmith from Frome for less than the cost of a pair of posh candles, days out in London are accessible as well as great fun for a capital-culture fix. This week my focus was art: The Procession at Tate Britain, a long and extraordinary historic cavalcade of all the cultures involved in the iniquitous sugar trade, created by Hew Locke.  The Tate galleries were built by that family from their exploitative wealth built on the labour of African people and their descendants, subsequently relying on the indentured labour of Asian people. The information on display quotes Locke's intention also to 'make links with the after-effects of the sugar business' so there's an enormous range of figures in this mesmeric procession.  (Guardian review here.) It really is extraordinary: beautiful and provocative, and showing until 22 January so do consider going...
As a footnote, it's a good thing the exhibition was so stunning, as the heavens opened torrentially in the afternoon...not sure I've recovered! So here's a picture from a dryer day : a family walk to Nunney.

Autumn seems to be arriving early here: lords & ladies have been glinting through the trees for over a month now, blackberries & other hedge fruit are ripe, while beech nuts & even conkers are falling and lots of trees are turning gold. Apparently, sadly this is a 'false autumn' caused by stress on trees on foliage by the drought. It's all explained here but, like most of what's happening these days, makes grim reading.

Some excellent news for Frome now: the Mayday Saxonvale team have finally succeeded in gaining acceptance, in principle, for their plan to develop this contested site in the heart of town, despite opposition from an alternative project which would in no way suit the ethos of our town. This not-for-profit social enterprise has been favoured by Frome residents from the start, and its fantastic that the immense hard work done by its originators and directors has won - with over 1,300 letters of support from local residents. This is not my photo - it's nicked from the Mayday facebook page, but speaks for all of us!

Music now: 'The Gugg' Open Mic at Guggleton Farm Arts did its usual thing on Thursdat: great live music, free, in a convivial atmosphere. There's always a mix of ages and music styles: this is Greg, reminding us you can't always get what you want, among other 60s & 70s classics.

And a final camping session of the year, at a private festival deep in Exmoor, with fabulous views as well as an amazingly sophisticated performance area, concludes this week: Campfire, bar, and great bands - here's the impressive finale of Rosco Shakes' set, and the extraordinary David Smale, creating psychedelic sounds not only on guitar but also & simultaneously by toe control, on keyboard.  Unforgettable.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

The hot, late, one - with bonus supermoon

Avid followers of this blog, who've probably been sighing 'it cometh not' like Tennyson's Marianna mooning around mossy flowerpots, will have noted a week's delay in this bulletin. This is because last week's planned highlight, Folksy Theatre's Much Ado About Nothing on Frome's ECOS last Sunday, was sadly cancelled due to a vehicle crash, and the blog felt a bit thin without dramatic focus. So instead here's a bumper sunshine special with a music focus.  

As the warm dry evenings continue, the Thursday sessions of Open Mic at the Gugg in Stalbridge are increasingly popular. With fresh-made pizza on site and 3 hours of live performance free (though donations to this community project are encouraged) it's not surprising every seat in the courtyard is filled. The last two sessions provided the usual wide-ranging variety of sets and some stella performers. Here's Nick Coleman last week, powerfully recreating 60's songs Simon & Garfunkel's Mrs Robinson and Del Shannon's Runnaway. And here, from this week, is Frome's Carl Sutterby who wowed the crowd with hi-energy classic punk ( Babylon's Burning specially smashing) played on ukulele. 
Among other highlights for me in this latest event were the Beagles playing Lindisfarne's Mr Dreamseller, and I still believe from 'Twitch'.

In Frome, despite the annual exodus to Boomtown & other festivals, the pubs have been throbbing with music. Last Sunday saw a Jazz Jam at the Cornerhouse, a session of fearsome talent and unrehearsed splendour.  This is a totally inclusive night, with musicians from local funk bands playing alongside trad jazz aficionados, and numbers ranging from Miles Davis to Herbie Hancock. 

A different musical mood, though still just as hot, on Saturday when Unit 4 fulfilled their pledge to make it funky  at The Sun, 

and on Sunday we enjoyed the return to Bar Lotte of mega-popular Rosco Shakes with their 'jump jazz' versions of blues classics.


There's some great visual art around, too: Bath's Victoria Gallery has an exhibition of work by Mary Feddon, showing until mid-October.  'Simple Pleasures' is a celebration of the work of this artist originally from Bristol who painted still life and flowers with a delightful quirky style until her death in 2012. The show is beautifully curated, and includes some work from her husband, fellow-artist Julian Trevelyan.

Frome's Black Swan Arts gallery is still buzzing with interest in the Arts Open Exhibition, where 185 selected submissions now fill the Long Gallery, the Round Tower, and the shop too - all for sale, though quite a few have now been taken. Sadly I missed the judges' talk on criteria & judging process, but 'Writers at the Black Swan', our regular ekphrastic poetry group, enjoyed exploring the works in thoughts & words on Monday. Thanks Jane Hughes tor this snap of us waxing lyrical.

The first Sunday in the month always brings the Frome Independent, a wonderful chance to wander through stalls in the car-free streets, enjoying the market atmosphere & street food, especially under the azure skies we've had for several weeks now. I did a bit of onstreet-sales myself, outside Hunting Raven Books, inspired by some great reviews sent me about my new novel Blow-Ins. You can hear more about the book, and how it came to be written, in this week's Variations on a Theme, the regular mixed-bag-culture show of Eleanor Talbot which you can listen to online as broadcast on Frome FM. My interview starts at 1.23.50, but the eclectic music on Eleanor's shows is always great!

Final footnote goes to the weather: love it (I do) or worry about it (as we all probably do, for -literally- existential reasons) this fortnight has brought solid sunshine and cloudless azure skies to Frome. Our grassy meadows are turning to straw and our river is become drying sludge in many places, so to end here's a typical image from my walks this week: Whatcombe fields, on the edge of town.  Rain, apparently, is due soon....


Monday, August 01, 2022

Much Ado about lots

This week's bulging bulletin begins with a trip to London's South Bank for a National Theatre production of Much Ado About Nothing - the final splurge of a gift-token from son2 last year. Directed by Simon Godwin with a lavish two-storey set designed by Anna Fleischle & Evie Gurney's amazing rag-time era costumes, this seemed at first a bit too 'Post-Modern Jukebox meets Hi-Di-Hi' for dark themes of betrayal and redemption but, after a frivolous start, it steered its way into a lively, funny, clever production.  Much Ado is notoriously 'difficult' although a comedy: we have to relish a happy ending that involves a mistrustful bridegroom who publicly humiliates his bride, whose sassy friend promptly demands his death from her own fiancĂ©… some productions simply give up on resolving these aspects, but this production really has a go and, for me, really succeeds. Much credit for this is down to Ursula Dowel, Beatrice’s delightful maid, and the director's decision to created a balcony scene which tricks her as well as the watching spies - there’s quite a bit of this kind of softening of some of the bard’s rough edges, which helps to maintain much of the glamour of the upbeat opening scenes throughout. 

The sequence when a team of inane watchmen ineptly uncover the treacherous plot to discredit Hero is direly unfunny in most productions, but in this one it's somehow hilarious - big credit to David Fynn's Dogberry and his Watch. Here they are (above), and here too are Benedict (John Hefferman) whose friends tricked him into wooing and Claudio (Eben Figueiredo) whose boss did his wooing for him, though both got their girls in the end. A great interpretation of a play that's mainly about gossip, well presented and performed.  (Press image credits Manuel-Harlan)

Still with the bard, this time al fresco with the wonderful Lord Chamberlain's Men at Dyrham ParkThere’s something intrinsically funny about men dressed as women, and when a man dressed-as-a- woman dresses as a man, and is played by a man-dressed-as-a-woman-dressing-as-a-man, the comedy is inevitably compounded. It can get chaotic, of course, so this company deserves huge credit for their brilliant, clever, production of As You Like It, in which seven men played every role with clarity and enormous humour. Rosalind (Ben Lynn) and Celia (Jonny Warr) are both adorable, and the rest of the team are funny and feisty, as necessary.  Handsome Orlando (Andrew Buzzeo), smitten with love for Rosalind, is excellent; Jaques’s melancholy is less turgid than sometimes, and the romance between tiny clown Touchstone and beefy Audrey is funnier than sometimes, so win-win all round. 

The set was a bit odd, though: a turd-like monolith neither palace nor forest, but probably easy for touring. The company will doubtless be exhausted by autumn - their tour schedule involves 73 locations - but they will have made a lot of people very happy.  At Dyrham Park at least 200 of us gathered on the lawn with chairs, rugs, and picnics (in one instance with a folding table) and the multi-talented cast organised us seamlessly into best-viewing positions for all. It’s a great show - go if you can.

This double-drama concluded my week-long birthday bonanza which also involved classy dining & bibbing and wonderful walks with son1 and with friends, discovering places nearby but somehow previously unknown to me - here's  Horningsham Independent Chapel, the oldest Free Church in England, build-date of 1556 and still in regular use for worship. This is within the 9,800 acre Longleat estate, famous for costly attractions - stately home, safari park - but free for walking around the lovely wooded environs where workers' cottage gardens look like flower-packet pictures and new-laid eggs from free range hens are £1.50 a dozen.

Moving on to music now, with another session at The Guggleton in Stallbridge, the Arts Centre with a difference, a wonderfully supportive community venture to foster arts of all kinds, with the Open Mic nights regular well attended. The session on a sultry Thursday evening had some real highlights, one of which was talented duo The Davenports, aka Annie and Roger, with a moving version of that country classic Please Remember me, and a very lively finale from Alan, aka The Rhythm Junkie, with a Bob Marley mashup and mass Oasis singalong. Always a good night at The Gugg outdoor venue - with pizza and bar provided too.

A fizzing finale to this week and this month, at Bath's Komedia, Chortle award-winning 'Best Venue in the West & Wales' for comedy: here Rosie Holt, aka twitter's @RosieisaHolt, on Sunday night shared a preview of her Edinburgh Festival show. 'an hour of character comedy based on her hit satirical videos'. 
Rosie's horribly accurate parodies of political personalities both real & imagined are side-achingly funny, and the evil simpering of her inventions so appallingly realistic that confused commentators become apoplectic with virtuous rage. Rosie's show is already tipped by Time Out in their top 10 best comedy shows in the Festival - if you're up in Edinburgh in August, don't miss her!