Now where was I? Oh, yes. Coming back from the Lakes a while ago now, stayed over with a friend in Colne, Lancashire, in the Borough of Pendle. Interesting town, feels like it’s built on a ridge, scarily steep roads leading off down at various intervals from either side of the main drag – population circa 19,00, over twice as big as Stony – and another music town. That guitar in the photo is part of a floral bed which is (it says) “a tribute to The Great Bristish [sic] Rhythm & Blues Festival held in Colne every August.” After a few ales maybe. Close by is a bust celebrating Colne’s most famous son: Wallace Hartley – violinist and bandmaster on the RMS Titanic, who famously played on as the unsinkable ship sank.
I still think it’s a coincidence, though, that we sat through the whole of Tempest, the 14 minute ‘epic’ title track from Bob Dylan’s last album, while eating in Jim’s Acoustic Cafe & Vegetarian Restaurant … and it sounded better there – took me a while to realise what it was, intrigued by the rhythm of the vocal, not listening to the lyric – than I’ve ever heard its tedious drone in my own home. Put it down to Jim’s more than decent sound system. The food is great too, always interesting (from a choice of three mains a day) and really reasonably priced – I should have nicked a menu to show you. The music a fascinating and varied mix – as well as the Dylan I remember Howlin’ Wolf, some African funk, Joni Mitchell, Hendrix – and what I didn’t recognise was always interesting; the man has taste to match his culinary skills. Comfortable, relaxed, ramshackle (in the best sense of the word) decor with an eclectic collection of pictures to have you out of your seat for a closer look. Oh for anything like it locally! Apparently ‘Jim’s’ is the small Festival venue; Jackie Leven used to play there.
I used to think of places like Blackburn and Burnley as post-industrial waste lands, but Colne seems to be doing OK, and the towns were always never far from the hilly Pendle countryside, which, though never as dramatic as The Lakes or as wild as the North Yorkshire Moors, has plenty going for it (and there is plenty of it). You can walk into Bronte country from Colne; Yorkshire spreads further west than many would think.
Springing forward three weeks, spent some time at the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre at Quainton the weekend just passed. Blimey, it’s changed a bit since I was there last. Like there’s a swishy visitor centre now (went up 12 years ago, I was told) and there’s so much more to see. Hadn’t done any research prior to the visit so it was a nice surprise to be met on entering with an example of a GWR Castle class, that most handsome and exquisitely proportioned class of express steam locomotives, resplendent in British railways colours, in the entrance hall. (Photos © Lillabullero)
Lots more oddness in evidence, along with resplendent resident Metropolitan 1 – click on the photos to enlarge:
And as you’d expect these days, loads of social history in the museum and the lovingly restored 1890s Quainton Road station, where you’ll find this reminder that the ‘deserving poor’ are always with us. It’s like something out of a Thomas Hardy novel if he hadn’t stopped writing novels about that time. ‘Wayfarer’ – does that not have an adventurous dignity about it? The honest wayfarer – a folk song waiting to be written.
So … between Colne and Quainton a fair few events and happenings. Staying with the railway theme briefly, a beer promisingly named Smokestack Lightnin‘ supped in the Vaults at the Vaultage Re-Charged, pleasant enough, but without the bite of Howlin’ Wolf’s record of the same name … a couple of AORTAS open mics, the first where landlord Andy required of Dan, the paid piper, that he deliver an evening of happy songs, which was enough to keep at least one songsmith away, only for Andy then to go on holiday himself … the second distinguished by the usual good (musically miserable) times, Mark Owen (one half of The Last Quarter) playing solo, being introduced as The Last Eighth, and Pat’s dog farting; eyes raised approvingly at the previously unnoticed appearance at the word ‘acrimony’ in Dan Plews‘ fine rendition of The Sailor’s Rest … down the road in the bar of The Crauford Arms in Wolverton another day, Tom George, going out as The Lion & the Wolf, warned the nevertheless appreciative audience to prepare themselves for “the miserable-ist 20 minutes of your lives”; interesting songs played and sung strongly, in not ideal circumstances, which was a relief given he’s the son of an old mate – fine young man, chip off the block, even – who could remember playing in our back garden when he was 8 … and music back at the Shoulder of Mutton hopefully on a regular basis, courtesy of the Hoodwink Elixir; the ever excellent Zeroes covering Kim Wilde’s Kids in America to good effect, Second Hand Grenade funking away (Emmazing Emma getting better all the time), teenage openers Ali in the Jungle displaying accomplished musicianship for their tender years.
Was good to see John Cooper Clarke at the Stables. He may have slowed down a bit, but he’s still got it, and good to hear new material. Neat update of Beasley Street into Beasley Boulevard reflecting the embourgeoisement of Salford with its Media City. Quite a phenomenon, very English I’d say, the general warmth of the affection in which JCC is held. Not that he’s exactly cruising behind it. His support acts would have been worth seeing on their own, hard acts to follow. I think there’s fair chance they schooled themselves word-perfect on the man himself’s records as young teens, but they certainly proved that’s no bad thing as a starting point. Mike Garry went out of his way to stress Johnny’s Salford, I’m Manchester, and took us down the streets the inhabitants or descendants of Beasley Street have moved to. it was a hell of a dramatic performance – theatre, poetry, comedy. Luke Wright, who introduced himself as ‘the token southerner’ was no slouch either; particularly strong JCC-isms in his dream woman piece (was her name Barbara?). Discussion over the interval in certain quarters as to the shortcomings of the hair care products Luke was using, with recommendations offered. Shall we call his barnet the sculptured bastard love child of extreme early Phil Oakey and a wind machine?
Life goes on
Went to the funeral – a real celebration of a life – of a good man. Intro music Rage Against the Machine’s Wake up!; outro Woody Guthrie’s So long, it’s been good to know you.
Went to the wake of another good man who I wish I’d known longer than just the last couple of years on the poetry – the multi-faceted polymath Dick Skellington. Much-loved scholar, poet, actor and director, raconteur, traveller and keen “agricultural” footballer (Stuart Pearce was mentioned) and team manager; I never knew about the football. I’ve heard the word ‘curmudgeonly’ applied reverently lately too. It was Dick who had devised The hell where youth and laughter go, a reading of a set of poems commemorating the start of the First World War, at Stony Stratford Library last week. It kicked off with Siegfried Sassoon’s Suicide in the trenches and ended with Carol Ann Duffy’s moving Last post, and in between featured an inventive variety of verse including material taken from the Wipers Times. I think everyone in the audience who knew Dick heard the glee, passion and gusto of Dick’s voice in the rendition, by a friend, of A.P.Herbert‘s poem about an un-loved Major General, That shit Shute:
The General inspecting the trenches
Exclaimed with a horrified shout
‘I refuse to command a division
Which leaves its excreta about.’
But nobody took any notice
No one was prepared to refute,
That the presence of shit was congenial
Compared to the presence of Shute.
And certain responsible critics
Made haste to reply to his words
Observing that his staff advisors
Consisted entirely of turds.
For shit may be shot at odd corners
And paper supplied there to suit,
But a shit would be shot without mourners
If somebody shot that shit Shute.
The Carabosse Theatre Company dedicated their run of their adaptation of Gormenghast at the Chrysalis Theatre to Dick, and there were tributes too at the October Scribal Gathering, where, with much characteristic shuffling of paper, some of his poems were given another outing.
That Carabosse adaptation of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy into nearly 3 hours of full-on theatre was simply stunning. To say it was ambitious – it was – is in no way to imply they were over-reaching themselves. The set and atmospherics were stunning; 4 immaculately dressed and lighted acting areas – 2 up, 2 down – constructed using scaffolding, plus the fore-stage, more than enhanced by some brilliant projection work. Fantastic costumes, great cast, some wonderful individual performances (dual in the case of the twins) – a tremendous theatrical experience. Never managed to get into the books, but that didn’t matter one bit here – total absorption. Bravo!
And somewhere in there the longest (if not the nearest) sighting of a kingfisher resting on a branch, flying away, returning, resting some more. Always special. From the older bird hide on the edge of Stony Nature Reserve.