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Pigs in heavenand somebody says, ‘Oh, that’s a great one, did he get hit by the train yet?’ “

It was only when I was trying to see if there really was a place called Heaven in Oklahoma that I became aware that Barbara Kingsolver‘s Pigs in Heaven (Faber, 1993) was actually a sequel (to 1998’s The bean trees), though it was her breakthrough book.  It’s great.  It’s where my opening quote comes from, but – no other spoilers, but, rest assured, nobody gets hit by a train.  I read it slowly so as not to miss a single delightful nuance in the prose.  Like:

  • His idea of marriage is to spray WD-40 on anything that squeaks.
  • Alice wonders if other women in the middle of the night have begun to resent their Formica.

and that’s just the first two pages.  Then’s there’s the description all tied beautifully in, like this on the same page as the Formica:

The neighbourhood tomcat, all muscle and slide, is creeping along the top of the trellis where Alice’s sweet peas have spent themselves all spring. She’s seen him up there before, getting high on the night perfume, or imagining the taste of mockingbird. The garden Alice wishes she could abandon is crowded with bird music and border disputes and other people’s hungry animals. She feels like the queen of some pitiful, festive land.

Pigs in Heaven is concerned with many things: family, belonging and commitment; the survival of the Cherokee Nation, mixed race adoption and child custody.  It is also a classic American road trip (on the road but not for the buzz of it), a tale of fateful twists and contingency, it’s full of conflicting good intentions, of youthful idealism and an older wisdom.  The main players are all women, but the men have their uses in the end.  (“She feels she has died and gone to the Planet of Men Who Cook.”)  All are interesting at the very least.  Turtle, an abandoned (that happened in The Bean Tree) and damaged 6-year-old is the plot driver, but unlike a lot of fictional children, she’s not annoying at all.  There’s even a decent fictional musician (his band the Irascible Babies break up, but here come Renaissance Cowboys).

So many passages I’m dying to quote.  Like Cash, doing traditional Cherokee beadwork for tourists, to earn a spare dime:

… but since he started putting beads on his needle each night, his eye never stops counting rows: pine trees on the mountainsides, boards in a fence, kernels on the ear of corn as he drops it into the kettle. He can’t stop the habit, it satisfies the ache in the back of his brain, as if it might fill in his life’s terrible gaps. His mind is lining things up, making jewellery for someone the size of god.

Or a short-term travelling companion who’s “accepted Barbie as her personal saviour.”  Prompting the thought:

Like Lucky Buster, Barbie doesn’t strike all the right chords as a true adult. Taylor wonders if this is some new national trend like a crop disease. Failure to mature.  Taylor matured at age nine, she feels, on a day she remembers …  You don’t have to talk to her, that’s the cleaning lady’s girl”

(I find myself saying, “Grow up” at the television an awful lot lately.)  Or the poetry of:

Along the highway the cornfields lie newly flayed, mile after mile, their green skin pulled back to reveal Oklahoma’s flesh of orange velvet dirt. The uncultivated hills nearby show of a new summer wardrobe of wildflowers. The massed reds flecked with gold are Indian blanket; Cash recalls the name with pleasure, like a precious possession lost and retrieved. He fixes the radio on the sweet, torn voice of George Jones and breathes deeply of the air near home.

I’ve not the time for much plot here, but the book is a delight; I loved it.  And although the Native Indian experience is significant – and the ancient and modern ritual Stomp Dance is a riveting episode near the end – there’s also a broader canvas drawn – Americana, no less; it made me think of Bob Dylan‘s Basement Tapes, of that ‘weird, old America’ it summoned up even in the mixed-up confusion of the modern world.  Like this song (a version here by two of the Roche Sisters):

And another tune that I couldn’t keep away, James McMurtry‘s awesome Choctaw Bingo.  The climax of Pigs in Heaven takes place in a meeting room where there’s a poster advertising a debate to be held in the same building, as to whether or no the community should adopt the Choctaw Bingo route to financial security.  What the song describes mostly happens off-page in Pigs in Heaven, but it’s undeniably there at source:

Meanwhile, backtracking …

Illyria's arrival

The arrival of the Illyria Theatre Company to Linford Manor.

… old news, a stomach bug and a vicious summer cold ago, Illyria came to town.  Arrived late to cheers and applause on the back of an AA transporter and proceeded with great dedication to erect their stage on the lawn in front of Linford Manor and get right on with a performance of A midsummer night’s dream only an hour and a bit late.  Luckily the weather held though it got a bit chilly towards the end.  Great little company, obviously full of talent, versatility, energy and commitment.

A-Midsummer-Nights-Dream-IllyriaShame about the production, then, which was … shouty.  If you’d closed your eyes and didn’t know the play it would have been hard to distinguish which of the three kingdoms of the play – the nobility, the rude mechanicals, the Faeries – were on.  And I couldn’t get behind a twitching Puck with ADHD.  Shakespearista friend left more than tutting at half-time.  Shame.  That said, the children in the audience were obviously enjoying it greatly so, regardless,  some sort of win for the bard.  And there was some tremendous acrobatic physical humour in the second half.

Magdalen FayreSame weekend, Medieval stuff.  Bigger and better than last year, so building nicely.  Actual full-gear – an illuminating demonstration – combat (no, not really real, but it looked tiring enough), so what with that and the return of Robot Wars to television later that evening, a touch of Sunday ultra-violence to see out July.

Have I got anything to say about the Olympics?  Not really, though I watched a lot of stuff I wouldn’t normally watch.  Liked Mark Cavendish’s interviews, was moved by Michael Johnson’s mini-essay about Jesse Owens, got sick of Phil and his microphone.  And not just him, but that question: “How does it feel?”;  and that answer: “Unbelievable”.

 

Peter Robinson - When the music's overMemo to whoever signs off the book jackets: Alan Banks has been promoted (he had to choose at the end of the last book – it was either that or retirement) and is now a Detective Superintendent – a DSI.

Last Book Group meeting we had an Ian Rankin Rebus and a couple of the women who watched crime on TV but didn’t read crime fiction opined for a detective who didn’t have problems of his own to anguish over.  In Peter Robinson‘s When the music’s over (Hodder, 2016), the 23rd novel in the sequence, Alan Banks, single and not particularly bothered, seems to have reached that plateau in his personal life, and, following the trend of the last book, DI Annie Cabbot takes on both more of the foot work and some of the angst.

At the end of the day, once Peter Robinson‘s customary narrative drive kicks in and picks up the pace – after a tedious conversational trudge through an idiot’s guide to the ins and outs and why and wherefore of historical celebrity sex abuse cases – When the music’s over can be said to be a another successful outing.  Even after we have to go through the same educational exercise concerning sexual grooming gangs (Rotherham et al) and multiracial policing in general.  It has to be said the enterprise is creaking somewhat as Robinson seeks relevance with, not for the first time, the 1960s looming large in the background.  But the bad guys get their deserts, one way or another.

So there are two major crime strands, and the two featured victims are the most interesting characters in the book; Banks is on the backburner.  There’s Linda Palmer – unorthodox survivor of childhood rape, award-winning poet Banks’ age; her memoir of the rape – five episodes covering 23 pages in a sans serif font placed at intervals as the investigation unfolds –  contains the best writing in the book, and she comes alive in conversation with Banks; indeed Robinson dangles out the prospect of romance at the end.  It’s a quote from her at the head of this piece.  And then there’s the unfolding back story of Mimosa Moffat, the 14-year-old whose dead naked body is found on an isolated Dale at the start of the book, which is sensitively handled (with Annie to the fore) within a standard lumpenproletariat setting.   Danny Saxton, the accused in the first case, is an amalgam of Savile et al; his first wife’s and his unwillingly complicit assistant’s stories add texture to that side of the case.

So what of the regular features that make the Banks books so interesting to some of us?  The geographical range is tighter: Yorkshire Dales mostly, of course, but also the North-East and, historically, Blackpool.  Banks is drinking less – no whisky other than anecdotally – even the odd Coke when he’s driving.  He’s (as it happens) working his way through a chronologically arranged anthology of English poetry that he bought in a second-hand bookshop; there’s a lot of poetry name dropping.  The burgeoning music, and indeed books references, are increasingly used as signifiers for other characters as well as Banks, and his tastes continue to be eclectic with no over-riding theme, though he has got me worried when he admits to listening to Elvis movie soundtracks ‘now and then’ (where does he find the time?).   Longtime work buddy Annie Cabbot, now in her early-40s, still frustrates; as the child of a Cornish artistic bohemian community, I’m afraid if she’s to figure larger in the future I expect more from her than talking about ‘fit blokes’ and having a bare-chested Daniel Craig as a cultural touchstone – after teenage reaction to your upbringing surely you backtrack a little?  She’s struggling with the move from police force to police service, worrying about having to be ‘delicate’.

Overall I’m intrigued what can happen next with the soap opera aspects of the whole Banks saga.  The books are increasingly too long, padded out by hackneyed description of, for instance, walkers in the Market Square, or superfluous meal listings.  Robinson’s juggling of two cases at once still drives a good story once he gets going, and there are still some decent plot turns.  But I can’t really see Banks in a New Tricks role (the show gets the nod seemingly obligatory in every British crime novel I read) and retirement (though not actually mentioned) still looms.  As does, with him as a Detective Superintendent, a vacuum.  We are left with mutterings of a potential disciplinary hearing, even though this time he played it by the book.  The two potential civilian women in Banks’s life – the folksinger from previous books pops up again near the end – are much more interesting as characters than the three women in his team, none of whom have really been developed; Annie might be going backwards.  The dialogue is sharper the shorter the sentences, the longer ones often bearing the weight of narrative or background explication of one sort or another.  If I picked up When the music’s over as my first Banks novel would I pursue him further back, explore the earlier books?  I can’t realistically say, but I shall still definitely be looking out for the next one.

An awful lot of the traffic here at Lillabullero comes because of the increasingly systematic treatment given to the DCI Banks sequence of novels here.  (Click on the underlined words for a link to the whole sequence).

Briefly, catching up, top of the pile has to be:

  • The artist saying a few words amid her creation,

    The artist saying a few words amid her creation,

    Anna Berry‘s wonderful 2-hour pop-up guerilla art installation Fake plastic trees: a memorial to the Midsummer oak.  It felt good to be a part of this critical celebration of place, and of friendship.  The grand old oak was

    A l;ittle bit of magic in the wet early evening

    A little bit of magic in the wet early evening

    engulfed by the Shopping Centre extension – the bit that MK dwellers still call ‘the new bit’ despite its having had two official names so far – the extension, as I was saying, to the original Grade II listed building (oh yes), and though the tree was retained as a feature, over the years it died a slow – painful to watch – death.  Anna created “a magical forest of memories” in an underpass, but let her tell you all about it (and see some better photos than mine) at: http://www.annaberry.co.uk/3-2/installation-pieces/fake-plastic-trees/

  • Stan and NanSarah Lippett‘s graphic novel Stan and Nan (Cape, 2016) is a lovely piece of work – poignant, illuminating and profound.  I struggle to find the words to describe the artwork – far from crude, certainly not childlike, maybe outsider (yet it started as an art school project) – and will have to settle for economic and stylised.  While she can be quite busy when it helps, Stan and Nan is a prime example of
    Taken from the Guardian's review.

    Taken from the Guardian’s review.

    the less-is-more principle of storytelling.  The spare use of muted colours is at times dazzling; in no other form can you quite get spectacle, the delight and surprise, of simply turning the page and getting a glimpse into something bigger.  Stan and Nan tells with a deceptively light touch the story of Sarah‘s Nan and her man Stan.  The first half gives us their courtship and life together until his sudden death, with a glimpse of his artistic talents; the second starts with her funeral and unfolds with the tales told and the story of her days without Stan, including her close contact with Sarah.  Here are unsung superheroes, living out the days of quietly momentous lives.  It was an interview in the Guardian about how it evolved that led me to the book; go there to get more examples of how it works its magic: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jul/09/who-was-the-creepy-man-in-the-family-photo.

  • Rankin - Naming of the deadInteresting Book Group for July: Ian Rankin‘s The naming of the dead (2006).  A re-reading for me.  That’s the Rebus one taking place during the fateful early days of July 20015, with the GB meeting at Gleneagles, the Make Poverty History mobilisation and concert in Edinburgh, and the 7/7 bombings in London; it stands up well as a social document.  John Rebus’s take on the grander stuff? – “All he could do was lock up a few bad people now and then. Results which didn’t seem to change the bigger picture.”  Several of the Book Group don’t normally read genre fiction; one, disappointed that, as cream of the crop, Rankin wasn’t a better writer, had to be re-assured how bad some of his successful contemporaries are at putting a sentence together.  Another made a really good point when she said, disregarding the somewhat convoluted if intriguing plot (maybe serial killer mixed with maybe military-industrial complex skullduggery and more), that it was basically a novel about relationships.  Yes, there are indeed plenty of those, familial and professional, with, classically, Rebus and younger colleague Siobhan at its heart (and in this example also a prime example of Rankin’s most annoying stylistic habit, of unnecessary adverbial qualification or thesaurus haunting in the matter of speech):

‘ … your mum says she’s not bothered who whacked her. Nobody seems worried about Ben Webster’s death. And yet here we both are.’  He lifted his face towards her and gave a tired smile.
‘It’s what we do,’ she replied quietly.
‘My point exactly. No matter what anyone thinks or says. I just worry that you’ve learned all the wrong lessons from me.’
‘Credit me with a bit of sense,’ she chided him, putting the car into gear.

  • Couldn't manage a decent photo of the Burne-Jones window but the unstained glass offered up instant Monet

    Couldn’t manage a decent photo of the Burne-Jones window but the unstained glass offered up instant Monet

    A day trip to Cromer, the weather just right – hot enough, sweet breeze.  Nice lunch at Browne’s round the back of the Parish Church (thank you TripAdvisor) – excellent veggie sausage and mash, while Andy and pal sampled the celebrated local dressed crab.  Into the church of

    PaintShop Pro One Step Phot Fix gives us the blue sky of another era's postcards

    PaintShop Pro One Step Photo Fix gives us the blue sky of another era’s postcards

    St Peter and St Paul with an extremely tall tower and a vibrant Burne-Jones window, then sea-sidey stuff: the promenade, the Pier, the ice cream, the beach.  As Swinburne wrote, now embossed in metal and embedded on the esplanade, “an esplanady sort of place” – what a lovely word!

  • IF programmeSummer cold and/or chronic hay fever and the excessive heat meant I didn’t see as much of IF – the biennial Milton Keynes International festival – as I might have, though to tell the truth I couldn’t get that excited about the 2016 edition.  Went to the opening biggie – the largest bubble on the programme cover – the truly international Voalá: Station.  Without being really spectacular it was worth the crick in the neck.  I’ll let the programme do the talking: “Four suited and booted businessmen are swept up into a world of magic, distracted from their daily commute by a mysterious woman who unleashes four sirens who transform the men’s evening into an unforgettable and magical ‘flying’ performance.  Weaving together aerial acrobatics, music and colour, and played out above the audience” … in the Mini-Bowl at Willen Lake.  The mysterious woman had a powerful singing voice but I wish there’d been more of the accordion than the booming modern stuff.  The fireworks were interesting, not your usual, with some lovely blues if I recall correctly, but you had to be in right part of the Bowl to fully appreciate them and the action at the same time.  From others’ enthused reports, I wish I’d drag my blocked nose and sorry body out to see the Station House Opera: Dominoes event, the collapsing dominoes even going up and down the stairs in the Theatre on their route around the city.
  • Arabian tent IF

    The Arabian Bar Tent: roof detail

    Also part of IF, took in a couple of performances on the Stables Sessions Acoustic Sessions Stage in the Arabian Tent: the ancient rural seasonal reflections of the immaculate Straw Horses, and the fragrant Naomi Rose doing her greatest hits (plus an intriguing new song) – such originality.  [http://soundcloud.com/naomi-rose-2]

  • Scribal July 2016July Scribal Gathering was suffering a bit from the post-Brexit blues, the audience energy-sapped.  Shame it was this one had to be set up as a comedy themed night.  Slight of frame Muslim stand-up Zahra Barri had a wealth of decent material from her Egyptian/Irish upbringing, but it never really caught fire; shame.  Philfy Phil, singer of inventively witty dirty ditties, tried to get away with not doing his rewrite of The boxer (“Dali died” etc.).
  • Vaultage early July 16Vaultage mid-July 16What else?  A couple of Vaultages, and an afternoon’s music in Wolverton’s  Secret Garden the Sunday before last, with the ubiquitous Mark Owen, the angular funk and Jo Dervish’s distinctive vocals from Screaming House Madrigals (with a TOT WMGtouch of reggae) and  quirky compositions of some wit from The Outside This (as featured in this photo from my crappy phone).  Nice relaxed community event, and it hardly rained at all.

DG1I’ve known David George over four decades, which is a sobering thought.  Not that there were as many of those back in the day.  I first met him in the mid-70s in London when his girlfriend (and long-standing wife, who features in what follows) replied to one of those flat-share adverts in Time Out and she passed whatever tests we’d set.  They were  students at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama.

NT 84 CoriolanusSince then Dave has played many roles.  Equity rules forced him to become Lewis George and as such he trod the boards at the National with Ian McKellan: First soldier & First watch in a celebrated Corialanus, peasant (and understudy to McKellan) in Wild honey.  He’s been in a Guinness ad, and stopped at many other stations along the way; I was surprised eating my muesli the other day to see him in a late-series Minder as a smooth criminal (or at least smooth enough to con Arthur).  He has NT 84 Wild Honeybeen a London cabbie (the Knowledge – the real thing) and toured North America as the one in the wheelchair in a Flanders & Swann tribute act (although after much discussion, not performing in a wheelchair).  He’s been a social worker, an independent Ventnor councillor, a youth worker and probably a couple of other things I’ve forgotten or didn’t know about.  Many times I’ve told him he should write an autobiography. He is a Nottingham Forest supporter and a keen angler.

These days David George is a film-maker.  With an impressive client list, Utility Filmsclick here for the website link – named after a Jeremy Bentham quote, specialises in information films and documentaries.  You can watch Better shed than dead, a film about DIV titlethe Men’s Shed movement here.  In 2009 they made a feature-length movie for an expenditure of £2,000 pounds.  The splendidly titled and very funny Death in Ventnor was an occasionally dark crime caper that lived up to the wit of its title and then some.  Here’s the trailer:

It really should be better known. 

Here’s what I said at the time:

DIV

A still from the opening long slow pan along the sea front in Death in Ventnor. Some kinda cinematic homage.

April 22 And so to the Isle of Wight last weekend for, among other things, no less than a film premiere. Old friends Dave & Jill George’s ‘Death in Ventnor’ – how can it fail with a title like that? – was made locally for £2K (and they say most of that went on catering), and a lot of goodwill. It’s a huge achievement – a lot of laughs, some great dialogue and a whole slew of tremendous performances. There are lines and scenes that stick in the memory still – the early morning bagpiper is a stunning off the wall image, the post office raid pure Ealing, the lobster named Derek, I could go on. A lot of cinema homages going on too. Fascinating to have been close to the making of the movie; there was a hilarious scene involving a pensioner, a Zimmer frame and a drug dealer we saw in the early rushes that had to be cut, for example, and you could see why but … bring on the outtakes! The night itself was a triumph, a real community event with over 300 people at the Medina Theatre, Newport. A delight.

Anyway David had a bit of a health episode not so long ago, and here he is to tell you all about it (© David George 2016):

 ♥♣♦♠

 

The Cardiac Hotel
by David George

Every seven minutes someone in the UK has a heart attack. That’s around four hundred a day. On Dec 13th 2014 at 2.30 in the afternoon it was my turn.

I have to be honest about this. I was asking for it. 61 years old, smoked profusely, and was going to live for ever. Well that perception changed quite quickly.

I was in the back garden, digging the vegetable plot. And smoking. Of course. A lot of people have asked me “This heart attack, what did you think? What did you do?” What did I think? I thought “Oh shit”. What did I do? I did the only sensible thing. I rang my wife.

A word or two about her. She’s a very highly trained nurse, working for the NHS. The NHS? I don’t need to waste time explaining that – it will soon be history.  But for me it came in handy.

So my wife.  She’s from the tough love school of nursing. You have flu? – two paracetamol.  Broken leg? – two paracetamol. You’re dying? Two paracetamol.

Listen I think I’m having a heart attack”. A long pause.

Why do you think you’re having a heart attack?”

Because my chest hurts, and I really don’t feel at all well.”

I’ll come home.”

Now, we’re lucky, we have stethoscopes and a blood pressure monitor lying around the house. She arrives and we sit on the sofa playing patients and nurses. She looks at me:

St Mary’s. It’s probably nothing, but they’ll check you out”

Now I know I’m dying.

The car journey is interesting. I didn’t realise she could drive this fast, nor did I realise she could shout so loudly at ageing pedestrians dawdling on zebra crossings.

If you carry on like this I’ll have a heart attack”

How we laugh.

I live on an island, but we do have a hospital. In Accident & Emergency things get worse.  Much worse.  Of course she works there, so everyone seems to know her. As I sit down struggling for breath all I can hear are voices saying “Hi Jill!” “Hiya!” “How’s things?” “Oh fine!”.

I don’t know what light-hearted fripperies are exchanged with the triage nurse but I’m pretty quickly installed in the re-sus room.

Another nurse.

Hiya!”

Hiya!”

It all starts moving quickly. I’m wired up to monitors. More nurses.

Hiya Jill! How are you?”

Excuse me … I mean why do you keep asking her how she is? I mean . . .”

Shush.”

The doctor arrives with a print out.

Hey!”

Hi.”

Erm … don’t I know you?”

I dunno.”

Yeah . . . you . . . you . . .”

Delight at a dawning revelation:

You made that film here . . . a few years ago . . . here in A&E.  I was in it, I was in your film. Yeah, that’s right I remember you! How are you?”

Well I er . . .”

Yeah well . . . anyway, great to see you again. By the way you’re having a heart attack; helicopter will be here in five minutes.”

Helicopter?”

Yeah we can’t do what you need here. You have to go to another hospital, on the mainland.”

What do I need?”

It’s called an angioplasty.”

What’s that?”

Erm” He points to a nearby nurse “She’ll explain”, and then he rushes off, presumably to recognise someone else.

The nearby nurse is about to become my new best friend.

Does it hurt much?” she says.

Well . . .”

On a scale of 1 to 10?”

4?”

So I’m going to give you something to take that away.”

Paracetamol?” I ask.

No, morphine. You might feel a bit sick.”

I glance over at the wife. This is more like it. Morphine.  And its intravenous.

Whoosh! Within a minute, I feel very relaxed. I don’t feel sick. Actually I feel, how can I describe this? I feel great! If there are any opiate addicts out there, I really do understand.

More medics pile in. A nurse who looks young enough to be my daughter’s daughter zips me up into what feels uncomfortably like a body bag.

It’ll be cold in the helicopter”

The wife takes my hand.

How are you feeling?”

Great, that morphine! Wow!”

You’re not supposed to be enjoying it, dickhead.”

Another nurse arrives.

Hiya!”

Hiya.”

How’s he doing?”

Just showing off.”

I have a terrible feeling she means it. I’m trundled out to the helicopter. It sits on the pad like a small yellow wasp. There’s a crew of four; pilot, paramedic, doctor and nurse. And the cargo. Me.

Everyone gathers round to load me in. Jill steps alongside me and takes my hand again. There’s no room for passengers. This is the Brief Encounter moment. I realise if this goes wrong we may never see each other again.

The crew have been here a thousand times before. Everyone stops talking, I look at her, she looks at me and she says:

I’ll see you on the other side”

The silence is intense.

The other side?” I croak.

Of the Solent.”

This naturally cracks everyone up. I swear the paramedic and the doctor are holding onto each other helpless with laughter. I want to say something like:

Well it’s great that my last few moments down here can be spent with such a wonderful audience,” but I just grin my stupid opiate grin and very soon I’m up, up and away in more ways than you’d imagine.

The angioplasty was simplicity itself. Unless you happen to be the guy doing it and then I imagine it’s pretty complex. A wire goes into an artery (either wrist or groin – wrist for me please if that’s OK) up across the chest and into the blocked area of the heart. A balloon inside the wire expands and opens up the restriction, leaving a stent behind. My artery was congested like the M25 on a Friday night.

The surgeon said, “Are you a smoker?”

Not anymore,” I replied.

Good”.

They wheeled me into a room in the Cardiac Care Unit, plugged into a lot of equipment that bleeped soothingly. Jill arrived. She came over and stood by the bed, she began to speak but I held up my hand.

I know, I know. I love you too.”

Actually,” she muttered “I was going to say if you don’t stop smoking I’ll fucking kill you”.

I try a brave, tremulous smile.

And stop smirking. The kids are coming in the morning. I rang Ned in New Zealand. He loves you.”

I love him too. When do you have to go?”

Don’t worry”, she says “I’m staying”. Magically the door opens and a mattress is brought in.

The Cardiac Hotel,” I say. “I’m tired.”

Me too.”

Later we lay quietly as the machines whirr and shimmer above our heads.

My hand, bruised and taped with tubes and plasters, finds hers in the dim half-light of the quiet room.

I’ve stopped smoking.”

I know.”

But I’ll never stop loving you.”

I know.”

With all my heart.”

© David George 2016

A musical PS

Between David sending me this and me asking if it could be a guest post here on Lillabullero – for which thanks indeed – and me getting my arse into gear to actually put it up, his son Tom, who did the music for Death in Ventnor, borrowed the title The Cardiac Hotel for his forthcoming second LP/CD.  Tom George is the up-and-coming singer songwriter who, both solo and with a group, performs as The Lion and the Wolf.  “Genre crushing melancholy” is how he describes his music on FaceBook, and he has a nice tag line in “Bring on the sad” though he’s essentially an eminently happy chappie.  Here’s a link to his Bandcamp pages  – http://thelionandthewolf.bandcamp.com/music – and you can find more on YouTube.

My father's eyesWhat David describes above was happening while Tom was playing his last gig of the year he took the plunge and gave up the day job.  The haunting My father’s eyes was written as a consequence of the events described above.  The original is there on the Bandcamp page, but here’s a lovely version recorded with a full band in a Ventnor church:

 

 

 

I was going to say about the Welsh male voice choir we saw in Wales in my what-we-did-in-Wales post but they somehow slipped off the agenda.  Fortunately it fits nicely with one of the books I’ve been reading, which is, as it happens, all about singing …

Naked at the Albert Hall Book One

In Naked at the Albert Hall: the inside story of singing (Virago, 2015) Tracey Thorn tells of a recording session with Elvis Costello at which he asked if they wanted an ‘Elvis Costello’ vocal?  The authenticity/artificiality continuum is a recurring theme.  In an interview with Green Gartside of Scritti Politti, she’s somewhat taken aback by something he tells her: “Hang on, are you saying we can all do the Scritti voice just by smiling?” After which she comments:

If you are not now trying to sing The sweetest girl while experimenting with different degrees of smiling, then you are not the reader I took you for.

OK, I passed, but that shouldn’t let her potential disappointment put you off.  (And if you’ve never heard of Scritti Politti you probably know the song; there’s a link at the bottom of this post to it in all its 6 glorious minutes.)  True, when it comes to men she’s a bit punk as Year Zero – momentous that John Lydon sang in an English accent, no mention of Ray Davies and the Kinks – but easy to forgive the spiteful charm of her description of Mick Jagger’s voice:

It’s a cartoon of a black singer, painted onto a balloon and then inflated, then put through a mangle, then through an amplifier. What comes out the other end is patently foolish and ridiculous, and turned him into one of rock’s most admired singers …

At the time of its publication Tracey Thorn, she of Everything but the Girl, hadn’t sung in public – and still hasn’t as far as I know – for 15 years, because of chronic stage fright.  Naked is more than an addendum to her lively Bedsit disco queen memoir.  She was hoping, she admits at the end that it might have been a shot at therapy, trying to see what it means for her to still put ‘singer’ as her occupation on the passport renewal form.  And so it turns out, though not necessarily as expected (no spoilers!).  In the chapter Why sing? she says:

In this book I’ve focused on the trouble with being a singer, in an attempt to balance out some of the idealised clichés I’ve grown tired of. And I’ve looked for stories that mirror my own …

It’s a fascinating journey, starting from the physics and physiognomy of the voice  (“… unlike any other instrument, these components are your own body parts“) and takes it from there, reminding us that “Musicians … are separate, distinct from us, in a way that singers are not.”  In that way our bond with singers is “egalitarian” – we can all do it – and yet … not.

She talks to fellow women singers – seeking out particularly reluctant singers, ‘the silent sirens’ who chose to disappear, and those who don’t particularly like their own voices;  similarly she looks at the lives of some no longer with us (Dusty Springfield’s “brick wall of self-doubt and discomfort“, Sandy Denny’s fear of fame, the tragic Karen Carpenter) – while examining the career aspects of the singing life.  (Oh, and there’s a chapter on Scott Walker. )

She unpicks aspects of her subject generally taken for granted, and – intriguingly, too, for us bibliophiles – tellingly draws on characters in novels to further illustrate what she’s talking about: Willa Cather’s The song of the lark, George du Maurier’s Trilby, and George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, no less, are the main texts drawn on.

Some sage professional advice is offered in passing:

Singing live is like a complicated sporting event for the voice. A fiendish obstacle race. Over this hurdle, around this tricky bend, down for this horrible low note.

And once over that there’s the problem – this from a chapter called Little monsters – “… when you move from the territory of having listeners into the realm of having fans.”  Be warned, my musical friends.

Naked at the Albert Hall is entertaining and informative, conversational and confessional.  At times it sparkles and you feel she must be good company.  It’s full of nice asides like when the author tries a hypnotherapist to see if it can help with the stage fright:

She put on a CD of ‘spa music’, the least relaxing form of music in the world. Noodly pan pipes, fretless bass. Treacly synth sweeps and occasional random harp. The music that has ruined every facial I’ve ever had, every massage, every seaweed wrap.

From what I’ve said so far you might get the impression Naked is all about the perils, the trials and tribulations of the singer’s workplace, but it is also a celebration of the human voice, as a source of joy and transcendence:

Set against this egotistical aspect of singing, which exploits the possibility of personal allure, is the concept of singing as a shared experience, something to join us together.

Which is where the Welsh male voice choir comes in.

The Welsh male voice choir

The hotel we stayed in Wales a couple of weeks back played weekly host to Côr Meibion Cymau, the Cymau Male Voice Choir.  It’s one of those community things that is slowly dying out.  They do it because they love it, and for local charities, take a collection at the end.  Cymau is a village in Flintshire, North Wales, near Mold.  About 10 blokes – one of them told me there used to be 40 of them – white shirts, black trousers, quietly proud, aged from about 40 to 70+, enjoying one another’s company.  Damn, I should have taken a photograph.

I’m not saying it was one of the greatest musical experiences of my life, but it moved me – but it was uplifting, fun, there was the definite odd tingle up the spine – and it will stay with me.  If I had a bucket list seeing a Welsh male voice choir in Wales would have been on it.  They delivered a varied repertoire: a spiritual, a setting of the Reverend Eli Jenkins’ Prayer from Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, American Trilogy, Unchained melody and, with a tenor solo, The Rose (which far from being the ancient genre piece I imagined it to be, actually dates from the ’70s and was made famous by Bette Midler).

They did a routine about what happens when one of their members’ voice goes, when the day comes when he can no longer sing, when he can contribute to the choir no more.  One night in the middle of winter the whole choir convenes in a large hut perched on the side of a local mountain.  Cue the choir making  wintery noises, cold winds, a dark and stormy vocal night.  The broken man is ritually stripped of his clothes and ceremonially pushed out of the door onto the snow covered mountainside.  To the harmonious strains of, “F-reeze a jolly good fellow …”

Flying ScotsmanBook Two

Andrew McLean‘s The Flying Scotsman: speed style service (Scala/NRM, 2016) is a visual delight, a nice piece of book design featuring items in the collection of the cathedral that is the National Railway Museum in York.  So as well as a wealth of photographs from the earliest of the 1880s through to the Deltic diesel era and beyond, we get page after page of social history, and of sublime and sometimes strange railwayana: plenty of those classic posters, some carriage prints, cigarette cards, a tea set, the centenary anniversary wine list cover and even a fan.

FS 01 Here are a couple of my favourite double spreads: on the left,  railwaymen posing on the signal gantry at Hatfield in 1932; below, the time-travelling bizarrerie of the businessmen at the bar on the Flying Scotsman as late in the 1950s.  The book’s themed text is more companion to the illustrations than any attempt at being a definitive history, but it still manages to throw up much of interest.

FS 08In its conception and development the notion of modernity was central to the railway company’s marketing.  Initiated as the ‘Special Scotch Express’ in 1862, with both the up and down trains leaving simultaneously at 10 o’clock in the morning at Kings Cross and Edinburgh, it soon became known, initially, as The Flying Scotchman – oh yes!  Competition between the East Coast and West Coast routes to Scotland was intense – a very different model of privatised rail transport than holds sway today.  The Flying Scotsman was central in this, and as explained in the chapter entitled Building the brand, the confusion that still exists between the express train and the locomotive of the same name, introduced in 1923, was quite deliberate.

FS 06A few other things I wasn’t expecting.  In 1924 they introduced a cinema carriage.  During the General Strike the Flying Scotsman was deliberately de-railed by Northumberland miners removing a track section – what would the history books say if that had gone disastrously wrong?  And in the ’30s the installation of the LNER’s (London & North Eastern Railway) Railway Queen: “a ceremonial position given to the daughter of a railway worker every year, to promote railways and British culture at home and abroad.”  Now if that isn’t a gift to a budding historical novelist, I don’t know what is.

Great Western BeachBook Three

Doing my duty by the Book Group I started on Emma Smith‘s The Great Western Beach: a memoir of a Cornish childhood between the wars (Bloomsbury, 2008) without much hope of being able to stomach it – just look at all those pastel colours on that idyllic cover photo from the family album.  Overcoming the disappointment that, despite that tease of a title, the sights and sounds of the Great Western Railway played no part in the scene-setting, I was soon sucked in by the authorial child’s voice though – the book finishes when she’s twelve – and read enthusiastically through to the end.  That voice initially reminded me of James Joyce’s Portrait of the artist as a young man and … despite the age thing, a big touch of the diaries of Adrian MoleEmma Smith juggles nicely – manages the illusion – with giving us the info so as to know what the score is without the adult intruding and jarring the child’s naive yet knowing flow.

In fact, what we have here is a tragi-comedy of a dysfunctional family life that is full of tension, people trapped by circumstances beyond their control (the past is another country) played out in the – ok – idyllic and beautifully evoked setting of Newquay and environs.  Her father – an officer and a war hero, is a resentful bank clerk, a stubborn failed painter who will not be told – is married to a woman four years older than himself; he is her fourth fiancé, what with the Great War and the Great Flu.  The fine details and pain of scraping out a genteel poverty are acutely described, as are the changes when they inherit loads of money from her rich uncle and they become, among other things, the life and soul of the tennis club.  It could be one of H.G.Wells’ social novels.  The subtle nuances of social class, of snobbery, hypocrisy and prejudice in a seaside town are all horribly apparent.  Some of the language shocks: ‘darkies’, ‘Jew-boys’ – we have come a long way.

But we also get the joys and pregnant confusions of childhood, of friendships and adventures, of the daily life, lovingly recorded.  Indeed, one does begin to wonder at quite the level of detail of recall – this was written in Emma Smith’s 80s – that is going on here, though my father did tell me the older he got, the more he remembered from his childhood, so I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt.  You wonder what happened to them all – mother, father, elder sister, twin “milksop” brother, younger sister – but it’s one element of the book’s magic that we’re not told.

I could go on, but this post is too long already.  Her father’s cringingly embarrassing bad-tempered excuses when he loses at tennis, which he always does are pure Fawlty Towers.  And yet she and her father bond over literature – poetry! Omar Khayyam! – which her mother regards as “degenerate, unhealthy, immoral.”  As I say, I could go on, but I’ll leave you with this lovely image of shelter from the storm:

Picnics-on-the-beach is the one area of an otherwise discordant marriage where our parents are in harmonious, if tacit, agreement. To be out of the house, out-of-doors, to be sitting on the sand, or on smooth rocks, with the sounds of the sea making unnecessary any attempt at conversation: this has, for them, it would seem, a significance of almost religious intensity, notwithstanding the acrimonious preparations, always attendant on these regular family outings … they are a form of salvation for our mother and father, and so, by association, for their children.

As promised, a musical bonus

Herein the link to Scritti Politti’s The sweetest girl from their Songs to remember album of 1982.  I’d say they boast one of the great band names, acknowledging the influential Italian Marxist writer and political theorist Antonio Gramsci.  But never mind that.  Here is a gorgeous piece of timeless inventive pop music, some melody lines that you may well be humming for quite a while: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExC0oK28VLA

Heulog Cymru

Not last week, but the week before …

Monday we travelled.  By the time we’d checked in and had dinner and got to the bar it was half-time.  Given we were in Wales it was the Wales match that was on the TV in the bar; I could have found the other lounge but opted for when-in-Rome over Anglo-anguish.  It wasn’t crowded.  Wales were already 2-0 up and there were only a couple of quietly committed Welshmen, concentrating conversationally on the game, still fearing the worst every time the Russians got the ball into the Welsh half until that third goal.  But truth be told, the Russians were as bad as England in the second half against Finland.  At breakfast, Danny, the man in the Arsenal shirt at our table who’d watched the goal-less England bore draw with Slovakia averred I’d chosen well.

Tuesday morning to the Llangollen Railway, a 10 mile Llangollen Railway 1trip each way up and down the line.  On the journey everywhere a riot of greens; saw an angler up to his tits in the River Dee and  some alpacas in a field.  Sight, sound and smell of a steam train in motion still gets me every time.  Loco was resplendent restored Great Western Railway mixed traffic ‘Prairie’ tank engine 5199 (one not copped back in the day, though I might have seen it as a wreck in the Barry scrapyard), turned out in classic early British Railways black livery.

Only had time for a 5-minute dash around the fiction upstairs in the modestly fronted Cafe and Books on the main street in Llangollen.  Manages to be both a vast emporium and a rabbit warren at the same time; an old cinema building, the upstairs packed with 100,00 or so second-hand books.  Bought Jack Trevor Story’s splendidly titled Screwtape lettuce for a very reasonable £1.25.

In the afternoon a situationist dérive through Chester, St John the Baptist Chesteror, in laymen’s terms, basically, aimlessly wandering about Chester without a map, until we bought a map and found the wall.  I like a good ruin, so the ruined red sandstone bits each end of the city’s oldest church – St John the Baptist church – appealed.  Weeds by any other name so impressive on a ruin.

So … the wall, the river, the half-timbered black and white of the Rows.  Does anyone dare call it a shopping experience? – probably.  Had the best chai latte of my life in an Alice themed teashop.  Three times I was tempted by a gorgeous trippy-hued paisley patterned shirt in the window of a boutique upstairs in the Rows, and three times I demurred. You’ll only regret it if you don’t said A.;  and yes, indeed I do regret it.  ‘Leave’ campaigners on the street, and a bunch of school kids holding shields being enthusiastically taken through their Roman legion paces in the amphitheatre.

Ffestiniog 1Welsh Highland RailwayWednesday was Blaenau Ffestiniog and  Rheilffordd Ffestiniog, the Ffestiniog Railway, 13½ scenic miles to Portmadog and then over the platform onto the revived Welsh Highland Railway, which only dating its original short life from 1922, for the 25 miles to Caernarfon.  Cramped but fun.  They may be considerably smaller than standard gauge railways – 1′ 11½” – but given the power needed to negotiate these gradients these are no toys.  So many trees!  Bit of drama on the Welsh Highland when the (fascinating for rail fans) Beyer-Garrett loco had problems along the way.  Camera was saying low battery so – sparing the juice – the above is the best I got (typically, camera magically revived once in Caernarfon).

I once had a boss who did volunteer labour on the Ffestiniog Railway Deviation Project (finished 1982); always made me laugh.

Lloyd GeorgeBriefly in Caernarfon, one of those ice creams (so hard to decide …) and a stroll down to the promenade.  The town square road-less, all varieties of slate and nicely patterned cobbles but with traffic still allowed; seemed to work, if disturbing ar first.  ‘Leave’ campaigners a presence again.  What would David Lloyd George have thought?  Where have his like gone nowadays?  What have the pigeons been eating?  Was it a paint protest or just a blue ice cream not as satisfying as hoped?

Thursday to the seaside and then deep into the heart of Capel Sant Trillo Llandrillo yn RhosSnowdonia (or Betws-y-Coed anyway).  At Llandrillo yn Rhos, more prosaically Rhos-on-Sea – great beach without all the holiday nonsense – a brief stop to see the tiny 6th century Capel Sant Trillo.  Atheist I may be, but I can still dig little shrines like this.  I’m a bit of a fan of coastal wind farms too, makes me think I’m in a science fiction movie:

Wind farm at sea

Promenading with the Hatter in Llandudno.

Promenading with the Hatter in Llandudno.

Old and new in Llandudno

Old and new in Llandudno

Promenading with The Hatter and another ice cream in Llandudno, we suspected vengeful local vandals had messed with the pedestrian direction signs.  45° at a crossroads to the toilets?  Turned out it was sort of right.

And so through the spectacular  Llanberis Pass and Snowdonia in all its glory.  Lots of ‘Leave’ signs in the farmers’ fields.  Again, so many trees.  At Betws-y-Coed the public – 20p – toilet seats were of built-in cold polished igneous rock.  We walked up to the Thomas Telford bridge (didn’t he get around?) and along the river.  So soon this peace after the turbulence downstream.

Down by the river Betws 1
Don’t know what has caused this patterning on the water on the other side of the bridge, but I could watch the changes a long time:Down by the river Betws 2

Llanberis Lake Railway

Coal, water & steam – the works

Llanberis Lake Railway, another narrow gauge remnant of the slate industry, is a charming little scenic run of about an hour there and back along one side of Llyn Padarn, with great views of the mountains in the distance and more mundanely the tourist steamers on the lake.  The train starts off going the opposite way you’d expect, away from the lake, a short journey away from the terminus that is not the end of the line, to the end of the line where the loco runs round to the front of the train.  A joker in the carriage – at least I think he was joking – made a good job of convincing travelling companions that the short journey back to the main station was all that was on offer, was the whole trip.

Friday was the journey home.  Early but not too early before the Referendum result was definite.  The title of this piece is Sunny Wales in Welsh.  The dispositions occupying seats 21 and 22 on the coach were far from that, though if the result was being talked about I didn’t hear anything.  No triumphalism among the Leavers, of whom I’m pretty sure there were plenty enough.

Yes, it was a coach holiday, just a short one.  Actually the coach was quite long, but you know what I mean.  No, we were not the youngest on the bus, and that’s without researching it too deeply.  A liberation not to be the driver and worrying where to park!  Mind, you get some very odd people on these charabancs, but some surprising ones too (a pro-Corbyn 70+ ex-union rep showed me her selfie with Owen Jones at a TUC Conference).  You also get to recognise among the coaching demographic – impossible not to become apparent as you wander around the usual stops – what is probably a finite variety of archetypal oldie ways of being, which can be confusing when saying Hi to people on the street who turn out to be strangers, not on our bus at all.

Three days in Wales.  Sunny, not a drop of rain.  Jumpers packed and never worn, rain gear redundant.  No-one believed us back in Stony.

I leave you with a view of puzzling blue from the Llechwedd Slate Caverns car park, and that first train, again:

Blue house from llechwedd Slate Caverns car park
Llangollen Railway 2

SL-poster… until next year.  It’s probably been done already – I’ve only lived here in Stony Stratford for 9 years – but it occurs that the title line of Shady Grove, the bluegrass standard I heard at least twice during the week, shares the same 3-syllable poetic meter as StonyLive! and so could be reasonably adapted in celebration.  Too corny … to question mark or not to question mark?

Saturday morning errands to do, couldn’t tarry too long this year on the High Street for the mummers and the morris and other dancers, before hitting the Fox & Hounds for a pint and the always cheery opening bluegrass session from the Hole in the Head Gang, before hitting the (albeit fully integrated) Alternative Fringe in the yard of the Bull, where the weather at least behaved if not excelled itself.

SL AltFringe 16Codebreakers, a barber shop quartet out of (where else?) Bletchley were a nice change of pace after the fresh multi-generational family folk of Innocent Hare and, working backwards, ever improving Taylor Smith (who we shall meet again).  Roses and Pirates wove their spell, the cello adding to the weft.  It was all good, and putting the poets out on the main stage worked well, the bravura performance of Liam Farmer Malone tale of working on the London Underground on the day of 7/7 was worth a shout of its own.  At a certain point I left for some tea.

The Fabulators duo finished as usual with their parents’ My Generation, also the name, as it happens, of the tasty guest beer on at the Vaults, but not before i). fooling me again with the not the ginger-haired one sounding like the distinctive lead singer of the Fountains of Wayne, before the crowd-pleasing I’m just a Teenage Dirtbag, baby song emerged, and ii). setting me up with said song as an earworm (here it comes again, as I type).  The David Sanders trio intrigued with their own stuff – how to categorise? – and said they were going to murder an REM song, which they didn’t.  The full VHS Pirates band were nothing like the duo I’d remembered from Vaultage, all a bit rock stodgy, so I left early.  Which apparently was their cue to move up through the gears and finish triumphantly with everyone on their feet.  Hey-ho.

Ford PopSunday – cars and guitars and Willy the Shake – I’ve already chronicled it in A Stony sunday in June.  But here’s a photo of a Ford Popular anyway.

Monday, though there were things I fancied, I reluctantly – despite a resolution to do something every day – had as a rest day, saving myself for the next six days; mistake one way, wisdom another.

Bard presentsTuesday I had a pint in the Vaults and a taste of the traditional A Capella session, occasionally crooning along (at least I knew the words to the Buddy Holly song) before wandering back up the hill for the also now traditional Evening with the Bard & Friends.  Breaking with tradition The Antipoet‘s set consisted of material from their latest CD – no bad thing – though the leather mask for Gimp Night at the Fighting Cocks was new.  Rob Bray entertained with his one man, one guitar cabaret set, setting off at tangents mid-song with another, and another …  I’d missed Roses & Pirates formal set but still appreciated their playing during the interval – great voices and I’m always a sucker for a cello.  Prolific Bard Vanessa Horton‘s variety of material always impresses.  And again, it was all good.

Free SpiritLoisWednesday was Pat & Monty, two old dudes who normally go out under the name Growing Old Disgracefully.  Always a whiff of the SF summer of love in the guitar riffs when they play together.  With the addition of a relatively young-blood fiddler they are Freespirit.  Blinding set from Lois Barrett (photo © Pat Nicholson) playing her own songs, tonight with added congas.  Her impressive rhythmic and percussive right hand technique at the guitar in full play.  One of those songs is in 12/8 time apparently.

Thursday evening started with the uplifting sight and sound of the MK Women’s Choir in full motion in the packed upstairs – blanded out, refurbished – room in The Crown.  First outing of the week for the Beatles’ Help! (from which the title of this piece is taken); can’t believe I’ve never heard Rachel Platten’s rousing Fight song before; and the miserable bastard in my soul was severely dented by their joyous I wanna dance with somebody.  Great fun.  Vaultage StonyLive 16And so a quick stroll to the Vaults for Vaultage, swifts swooping and circling over the Market Square.

To tell the truth I can’t remember much about the music at Vaultage – a guy playing slide on a Strat, Mitchell Taylor giving an outing to the new improved, less strident, more stirring Blood of St George – but, if you’ll excuse the expression, the craic was great.

Ultimate BeatlesSS Shak 400Friday we followed the Stony Theatre Soc’s Promenade Shakespeare again some of the way.  Stephen Ferneyhough sprung a surprise with his musical interlude: the Kinks’ Dedicated follower of fashion with a fully outfitted Sir John Falstaff striking all the poses; I’m sure Shakey would approve.

The Ultimate Beatles Tribute Show, promoted by Scribal Gathering, was great fun, and got a few embers of memory glowing bright again – the sight of ‘Paul’ and ‘George’ sharing a mic, the ‘Lennon’ stance.  The show was in two parts, first half performed in those smart grey moddy suits with the dark collar at the back (and thankfully not those horrendous high-neck collarless things), the second in full Sgt Pepper drag, with the songs also treated chronologically.  There was some neat, if, it appears scripted (fanboy Hobbs stole the set list) scouse banter along the way too, including some bitter-sweet “flash forwards“, as ‘John’ described them, invoking future events; “Oh, no, that hasn’t happened yet.”

When I was in a band – over half a century ago now – half our repertoire was the first two Beatles albums, and seeing the lads doing All my loving (you forget what a great song that is) I was reminded of the agony of playing all those rhythm guitar triplets for the verse.  Inevitably this was the second Help! of the week.  Increasingly there was dancing.  Even through the entirety of A day in the life.  They may not have been that great as musicians – though the drum fills were immaculate, ‘Ringo’ – but they were easily good enough to have people enjoying themselves mightily.  Nice one, Jonathan.

And so out onto the hot High Street, lingering a while outside the open door of the Vaults to hear After the Lights playing the only Sweet home Alabama I hear all week.  With the guitarist having fun.

Saturday, laden with vegetables and fruit from the market – hey, the flat peaches are back in season! – I catch the second half of the stationary promenade Shakespeare crew in the Library.  Quick spot of lunch and its the StonyLive! bluegrass outro from the Concrete Cowboys (theme song: You aint going nowhere), MK’s second oldest band, at the Fox & Hounds.  Musically accomplished fun.  (A nod to the Fox, too, for having Hawkshead Bitter – great taste at 3.8).

TC3 - Nick Gordon

Looking good in lace over black, ladies!  TC3 – Photo (c) Nick Gordon

In the evening to the amenable York House and the company of TC3, the slimmed down Taylor’d Country.  With guitar god Ian Entwhistle perched up high on his stool and country angels Irene and Louise vocalising not far below it was a night of fine music making.  Their exquisite three-part harmonies and a broad but finely tuned selection of material make them a class act, the two women’s differing approaches at times complementing and at others offering a contrast that was somehow always in charming sync, losing nothing from the emotional charge of many of the songs.  They have fun performing and they know how to make an audience feel warm, often wistful, and good.  In the photo they’re being the mariachi brass section for Johnny Cash’s Ring of fire.  Oh, and to them we owe the third Help! of the week.

I have two friends who are quite prepared to be open in their disdain for the oeuvre of James Taylor.  I’m beginning to think there’s a gap in my CD collection, so I guess you could say, Job done.

If the programme cover looks a little battered it's because it's only just dried out: the year that will go down as Soak on the Green.

If the programme cover looks a little battered it’s because it’s only just dried out: the year that will go down as Soak on the Green.

By Sunday I was feeling the strain, and the weather forecast was not great, but with the alternative of a street celebration of Elizabeth Saxe-Coburg’s 90th, we packed the picnic for Folk on the Green.  Which is, of course, I should explain for non-locals, an entirely separate enterprise from StonyLive!, yet effectively functions as its climax.  As I say, it had been a heavy week, so this was the first FOTG that I had attended without a bottle of wine in the basket.

Intermittent drizzle made way for an actual bit of sun when Taylor Smith successfully made the leap from pub floor to a larger stage, and even had a few dancing to the boppy War is business (and business is good).  Earlier I’d liked 3rd & Lindsley‘s country rock (including a countrified Foo Fighters song), and the blues vamping (and much else) on cello from Alex Wesley‘s ‘nameless’ cellist partner, while Reeds had lifted spirits with their pop-soul-rock (always nice when a performer’s mother get a shout-out from the stage).  The weather worsened, but luckily for us we’d split before the heavens really opened.  Like biblical.  Shame.

selkie-and-princess-posterBut it wasn’t quite all over.  In the evening back to The Crown and a libation of Diet Coke for a session of storytelling of the highest order that deserved a bigger audience.  Soupcons from the local suspects led to Hel Robin Gurney’s The sleeping princess, a glass onion of a re-working of fairy tale that I’m afraid I got a bit lost in, (though StonyLive! fatigue probably had a hand there).  Then Red Phoenix gave us a glimpse of a Kelpie, which was a useful lead in to Fay Roberts‘s extraordinary The Selkie.  I’m gonna steal Danni Antagonist’s description of the show: “a stunning show of poetic storytelling (which also includes lyrical whimsy, cheeky asides and BEAUTIFUL singing) which took us all on a magical journey of geographical and mythological planes, and through all the elements and planets. Superb!! ”  To which I can only add a pretty good Scottish accent (for a Welsh woman) and, as well as that singing in a completely different register to the telling, the Selkie’s alarming distress screech, that made me jump.  (I was not asleep, merely spellbound).

Phew.  Over for another year.  And I was a mere member of the audiences.  Many bad things are said of committees.  Cheers to the StonyLive! one.

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