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Suspicions pbkSuspicions hardbackIn the nursery, Whicher was shown how the blanket had been drawn between Saville’s bedclothes on the night of his death, and the sheet and quilt ‘folded neatly back’ to the foot of the cot – which, he said, ‘it can hardly be supposed a man could have done.’

Yup, this for real a quarter century before Sherlock Holmes made his first bow.  Whicher was a friend of Charles Dickens – the character of Inspector Bucket in Bleak House draws on him – and one of the first generation of elite police detectives in London.

In unspectacular yet engaging prose, Kate Summerscale‘s The suspicions of Mr. Whicher or The murder at Road Hill House (Bloomsbury, 2008) catches a zeitgeist moment when things changed, when a few more pieces of the modernity jigsaw can be seen to have dropped into place.  The sub-title of the US edition suggests a broader canvas: A shocking murder and the undoing of a great Victorian detective.  From the details of the distressing case of the killing of a three-year old child in Wiltshire in 1860 we get to witness the establishment of the detective as a significant role in civil society, the growth of a sensationalist press and the evolution of crime fiction.

Nevermind the progress of the actual case, and its probable solution, which is interesting and original enough in itself, though I will say nothing more specific of it here, we also get to see various aspects of the changing Victorian class structure as they are played out, and the not so curious parallels in the growth of the modern methods of detection – the first record of the word ‘clueless’ is as late as 1862 – and Darwin’s theory of evolution, which is also a background presence generally; “Objects were incorruptible in their silence. They were mute witnesses to history, fragments – like Darwin’s fossils – that could freeze the past.”  Detective recruits were inevitably working class men of ambition, and as such were regarded as establishment sell-outs by their peers but greatly resented as rude, ‘low and mean’ intruders by a middle class struggling to hold on the privacy implied by the notion of the Englishman’s home being his castle.

In the matter of the evolution of the crime fiction genre – and you will recall that Dickens was heading that way with his unfinished The mystery of Edwin Drood – the Road Hill House murder was influential from the start,  setting the template for so much of what was to come.  Wilkie Collins’s The moonstone,

a founding fable of detective fiction, adopted many of the characteristics of the real investigation at Road: the country house crime in which the criminal must be one of the inmates of the house; the secret lives behind a veneer of propriety; the bumbling, pompous local policeman; the behaviour that seems to point to one thing yet turns out to point to another; the way that the innocent and the guilty alike act suspiciously, because all have something to hide; the scattering of ‘real clues and pseudo clues’ …

Margaret_Oliphant_Wilson_OliphantBut the popular novelist Margaret Oliphant (1828-1897), was fearful for her craft.  Looks like she lost.  She blamed it:

… on the detectives. Sensation fiction, she said, was ‘a literary institutionalisation of the habits of mind of the new police force.’ The ‘literary Detective’ she wrote in 1862, ‘is not a collaborator whom we welcome with any pleasure into the republic of letters. His appearance is neither favourable to taste or morals.’ A year later she complained of ‘detectivism’ …

Detectivism!  Now there’s a word for us to finish on Kate Summerscale‘s splendid exploration.  Recommended, and another justification for Book Groups, because I wouldn’t have occurred to me to read it otherwise.

Maestra

Bronzini - Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time

Bronzini – Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time. Seeing this in a gallery on a school trip changed our heroine’s life.

MaestraThere are at least three graphic murders in L.S.Hilton‘s Maestra (Zaffre, 2016), and there’s no mystery as to the killer, though don’t ask me to tell you what’s going down because I’d have to do a re-read to be sure and life’s too short and the to-be-read pile is too tall for that.  Not that it’s not an exhilarating ride for a lot of the time.

Why did I read Maestra?  It got a real going over in Private Eye but part of their reviewer’s beef was the good reviews it had got in some places; a blogger I subscribe to said it had some real merits, and it was cheap – a hardback for a fiver on Amazon, where the reviews are polarised.  Mention is made of 50 shades but that’s bollocks – (not that I’ve read 50 shades) L.S.Hilton can write.  I didn’t feel unclean so much at the detailed, sometimes orgiastic, sex (though I could have done without so much of it, and I’d need diagrams to understand what they were doing a lot of the time) as at all the designer label specifics.  And when I say all I mean a lot; is it fair to blame James Bond for starting that fictional trend for brand specifics?

Artemisia Gentileschi - Allegoria dell' inclinazione. recognising this clinched her interview to get the job at the auction house.

Artemisia Gentileschi – Allegoria dell’ inclinazione. recognising this clinched her interview to get the job at the auction house.

Same artist - Judith beheading Holofernes. A staple of classical art used as an artful counterpoint in the book.

Same artist – Judith beheading Holofernes. A staple of classical art used as an artful counterpoint in the book.

It’s a question just how much these two aspects of the novel are important in establishing the character of our anti-heroine, for this is indeed an homage to Patricia Highsmith’s Talented Mr, Ripley.  Judith Rashleigh (bloody hell – I’ve only just realised she shares a name with her in the painting) has had a difficult start in life, but she is given a purpose by Art.  She gets a junior job in one of the major auction houses where she discovers a). a low glass ceiling – breeding, who she knows – that excludes her advance, and b). very little love of art as art, as opposed to big profits, scams and/or money laundering.  Indeed, the only person there who shares her appreciation for the paintings is the caretaker in the basement.

Circumstances lead to her mixing with the super-rich on a modern Grand Tour of Europe, indulgence, intrigue and skullduggery.  Contempt for the super-rich elites who don’t know or take for granted the proper aesthetic value of their goodies drives the righteousness of her acts.  Which then inevitably take on a logic of risk and necessity of their own, leading to more of the same.  It’s a compelling first person narrative portrait (though one could argue the realism of the events) of someone who knows what they want and feels it is deserved.  Though there is something, too, which is endearing about her social observations.  And there are a couple of massive twists in the narrative that make it an intriguing read, one, though I had huge doubts during the opening chapters, I don’t regret giving time to.  Last words: “To be continued”.  Here are a few little squibs, some delightful scorn, that mean I’m tempted:

  • about a gold-digger: the diamond on her ring finger as spectacularly disproportionate as her tit job

  • the Med of the super-yacht anchorages: And even the sleepiest village square would contain a boutique or two where the women of the floating tribe of Eurowealth could pop …

  • about an ageing Russian oligarch: his face was timelessly malicious
  • on billionaire interior decoration stylee: All I could think of when we got to the apartment was that God never resists a chance to show His contempt for money.

  • on a murderee: … it occurred to me that one feels less guilty about murdering a man who reads Jeffrey Archer for pleasure.

  • on rich men again: If there was one thing I wanted never to see again if this little European tour came off it was another fucking tasselled loafer.

  • at the Venice Biennale: a squawking gaggle of dealers and art-whores…

Scribal, Bards, Yorkiefest

Scribal May 2016SS Shak 400Magnificent in significant parts, May’s Scribal Gathering was a bit of a strange one.  Featured acts were great.  Stony Bard Vanessa Horton was in great poetic form and anxious to remind us in passing, “I do do serious stuff too.”  Rutland Troubadour Paul McClure started off with a Prince tribute, harmonica harness in place and in use – I wouldn’t have known if he hadn’t told us – and

The splendid Paul McClure.  (No credit given to the photographer where I lifted it from)

The splendid Paul McClure. (Sorry – no credit given to the photographer where I lifted it from so none here)

delivered a fine set of Americana flavoured songs of his own making (including one that segued nicely into and out of Woody Guthrie’s This land is your land) to great applause and had us warming the cockles singing along with “I’m gonna find myself a little ray of sunshine.”  Inevitably we got Phil Chippendale’s localised This land – always a pleasure to singalong – later.

What else?  The bravery of stand-up comics who carry on regardless when no laughs come; the generosity of an audience that holds on for at least the sign off joke … that is not delivered.  A sour misanthropic sub-Chandler spoken word piece triggered by its author’s feeling of injustice at not getting enough time previously.  Which was one of the reasons Stephen Hobbs – introduced as Stony Stratford’s Alan Bennett – had to cut short his addendum to a really rather good piece he’d had to cut short at the well received Shakespeare open mic event at York House a couple of weeks earlier.  Hey ho, for the rain it raineth everyday.

But the evening concluded gloriously with the powerful voices of Andy Powell and Tim Hague doing their rousing acapella maritime thing: the moving Cornish boys, The Dogger Bank and another one I can’t remember.  And so out into the night to be confronted again by the damage to Stony Stratford High Street resulting from the big fire on the first day of May – photo at the bottom of this piece.

YorkieFest 2016YorkieFest line-upYesterday the fourth annual YorkieFest down the road at York House.  Click on the programme and then click again to read it.  Another great day’s music.  Invidious to single anyone out, but what a talented bunch of singer songwriters!  David Cattermole called back for an encore, gave us the mesmeric Can’t find my way home we’d been hoping for.  Great to hear some Bollywood played live – good vibes from Navaras; even got us singing along.  Roddy quality as ever, and The Fabulators really rocked the joint.  It was all good.

The good, the bad and the ugly

Poor old Stony, in particular those directly affected.  Photo mine own.

Poor old Stony, in particular those directly affected. Photo mine own.

Claudio Ranieri, 1973 - a class act.  Congratu;lations to Leicester City.

Claudio Ranieri, 1973 – a class act. Congratulations to Leicester City.

 

WNOWNO MOF2I’m sorry, I see that logo and just think: wino.

Last time I saw the Welsh National Opera I was dipping a toe into Wagnerian waters with their Flying Dutchman, which was set on … a spaceship in outer space.  Not great.  That was a few years ago, but you can’t go wrong with Mozart, can you?  No, not really.  It was fine, glad I went – for all the spareness of the set, it was a nice spectacle, fine ensemble playing and voices, some fine melody lines and a real orchestra.  Still comes as a surprise to me how rhythmic Mozart can be; had a good beat.

The WNO Marriage of Figaro started off all Brechtian with the main performers just sauntering on with the lights still up, ‘doing’ their stretches and other prep stuff, which has a certain charm the first time it’s done.  Then there was the shock of them singing in English – a first for me.  I didn’t like it; still had the sub-titles over the top of the stage, because it remains difficult to actually hear the words being sung, but where you could some of the rhyming was treacherous.  And I was thrown by the wedding coming in the third act of a four act opera, and, to tell the truth, didn’t have much of a clue as to what exactly was going on in the forest in the fourth, given they were all in black cloaks and distinguishable only by the colour of their masks as the intrigue unfolded.  Should have done some homework.  No, really: I had a good time.

Mrs Hemingway

Mrs.Hemingway

There are four Mrs. Hemingways in Naomi Wood‘s beautifully constructed novel Mrs. Hemingway (Picador, 2014), though no actual marriage ceremonies feature in the action.  The cover’s a superb piece of book design – subject, period, delicate visual balance: great job.  And what is inside is up to it – a lovely, compelling piece of work.

Mr. Hemingway is writer Ernest Hemingway.  If it were a movie you’d say starring four women and featuring a man.  You don’t get inside his head, but, of course, it’s more than a bit part.  On one level you could say it’s a case study of the old chestnut: how come strong intelligent women fall for selfish bastards?  But there are plenty of good times, and this is no hatchet job.  Nevertheless, from the time when he and Hadley got together in the ’20s to the distressing end with Mary nearly half a century later, he never spent a single day as an unattached single man.

It’s Mrs.Hemingway number 3 – fellow war correspondent and writer Martha Gellhorn, the one who was able to get over him – who, at the house in Cuba, in 1944, is allowed a judgment:

He sat down by her; his T-shirt smelled of the cocktail.  “What can I do for you, Marty?”  His words were gentle now.  Poor Ernest.  He had never loved another more than he himself was loved.

But it was still her who describes him, in August in Paris later that year, during a caddish episode that does not show him at his best:

A man stands with his hands deep in the garbage cans.  Somehow, among the empty wine bottles, broken wooden crates, slimed scraps of food, Ernest still has the air of a man in touch with the gods.

Mrs. Hemingway is arranged in four sections, arranged chronologically by wife as each of them picks up the narrative baton, though it jumps around, criss-crossing in time and place within and between those sections, taking in Chicago, Paris, Arkansas, Antibes, Florida, Havana, London and, finally, Ketchum, Idaho, and ranging over the years from 1920, when Hadley first met Ernest in Chicago (which is not the opening chapter), to 1961 and Ernest’s suicide.  It’s quite a story, skillfully and stylishly handled.  “My wives,” he tells Mary, the last wife, who stayed with him longest, to the distressing end, “They have a way of finding each other without me being involved a jot.”  It is precisely the discovery of this aspect of it all that, the author says (in a bonus afterword in the Richard & Judy Book Club edition I read), prompted her to write the novel: “I was swiftly realising that though the wives and mistresses of Ernest Hemingway were enemies, they were also, quite often, friends.

The end – Mary witnessing his physical and mental deterioration – is painful to read:

Sometimes she walks out to the woods: the leaves of the cedar and birch are just on the turn.  fall has come so quickly, and the forest is all mustards, rust and blood.  Having loved its beauty so intensely, it amazes her that Ernest is blind to it now.

Ernest and Hadley in Pamplona 1925

OK, it’s Spain 1925, not Paris, but you get the drift. That’s Hadley in the middle.

This is a tremendous, ultimately sad, novel.  It’s clear an enormous amount of research went into it and, again in that afterword, Naomi Wood admits “… sometimes, in the midst of love letters and torn-up photographs, I felt like the fifth mistress.”  Mary Chapin Carpenter has a song called Mrs. Hemingway; it’s Hadley looking back on her time with Ernest in Paris in the mid-1920s, the time celebrated in A moveable feast, Hemingway’s memoir of those times which was assembled by Mary from his manuscripts and notes, and published after his death.  It’s a lovely piece of work that is on YouTube with an atmospheric slideshow of photographs, mostly from that era, including some of the couple.  Here’s the link; have a hankie ready: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j68s-C1ikO0

Scribal April 2016Vaultage mid-April 2016Another Scribal goodie.  We got a full complement of Roses and Pirates, previously mentioned in despatches minus a cello player, and mighty fine they were too.  The cellist (“Amy Farrah Fowler” said my companion) kicked off with some charming pizzicato and added a lot to the mix, even when, “relegated to percussion” (and I quote a fellow band member).  Three women with some decent songs and stirring harmonies, delivered with humour and zest.

Lee Nelson – the Lutonia poet, not the alleged London comedian – gave us a great set.  We had the Human League’s Don’t you want me completely re-written in sonnet form, which worked delightfully; the recognition of the sentiments re-imagined in a different lingua franca, without any resort to easy laughs (the concept is wry enough), was illuminating.  Lee has published a slim volume giving each track on the Dare album the treatment, so he asked for requests; inevitably someone asked for the instrumental.  Lee, you should get that slim volume a mention on the Dare Wikipedia page.  He’s now working on Abba, and he gave us one of those too.   Highlight of a varied set, though, was the epic 97, a funny and ultimately moving memoir of his father, written in part as a response to a request for something to go in a prime numbers-themed anthology, leavened by beautifully crafted tangents concerning the writing of the piece and other things on the way.  Outstanding.

Mid-month Vaultage saw a fine 30-minute spot to host Pat Nicholson in DADGAD mode.  I knew there was something different about him … he was performing … without a … hat.

Rhyme & ReasonMK HumsRhyme & Reason

The regular Milton Keynes Humanists April meeting was given over entirely to a look at poetry on humanist themes, and an absorbing evening it turned out to be, with featured poets Danni Antagonist (who sold some books!) and Sam Upton in fine form, and members of the group doing their own stuff, reciting old favourites or texts chosen specifically for the occasion.  Of the latter, Abul Al Al Ma’arri, a blind Arab eleventh century poet was something of an eye-opener.  There’s an article by Kenan Malik (The poetry of an old atheist) which is well worth a look, from which this short poem is taken;

Traditions come from the past, of high import if they be True;
Ay, but weak is the chain of those who warrant their truth.
Consult thy reason and let perdition take others all:
Of all the conference Reason best will counsel and guide.

Yup, dateline: 11th century, Aleppo and Baghdad.

 

 

The strings are falseOne …

This one‘s a cracker, a gem of a book before we’ve even opened it.  Not only does poet Louis MacNeice look like he’s on his way to a local jump-up folk gig, but that cool photo was taken by his mate, W.H.Auden.  The strings are false: an unfinished autobiography (1965) was written in the ’40s but not published until 1965, two years after his death.  It’s a mash-up of three documents, with an appendix featuring extracts from the letters home of a friend of his at school and uni giving a fuller picture of aspects of the man not so evident in his own engrossing text.

It’s fascinating.  Born in Belfast in 1907, the son of a Protestant vicar with Irish nationalist sympathies (not necessarily a contradiction in those days), he’s sent to Sherborne, an English prep school, and then Marlborough, a public school in Wiltshire, where he’s big mates with then modernist champion (and now Fifth Man) Anthony Blunt, joining his vaguely subversive Anonymous Society.  Appendix A – Landscapes of childhood and youth – is a lovely piece of writing giving us the flavour of the natural setting of those places.

At Oxford in the late ’20s – “the only serious activity was poetry” – he’s mates with the left-wing poets of the time, and while a fellow traveller, his scepticism about middle class Communist perceptions of the working classes and the struggle makes for an amusing read.  There are spells as an academic in Birmingham, where he sees respectable working class aspiration first-hand, and in the US.  We also get the story of a tangled courtship and failed marriage, and a distressingly morally muddy propaganda visit to Spain during the Civil War.

What particularly struck me was both how dated it feels – those letters of friend John Hilton’s in Appendix B are to Hilton’s father – and yet how in many ways how the characteristics and feel of cultural change (‘the Art School Dance’) and radical politics transcend time.  I didn’t, as is my usual wont, take notes as I was reading  (this was my bath-time book) but for what it’s worth, this quote stuck in the craw:

From the British public schools come the British ruling classes.  Or came till very lately.  it is from the public schools that our Governments caught the trick of infallibility.  The public-school boy (sic), after a few years of discomfort, has all the answers at his fingertips; he does not have to bother with the questions.  It is only the odd public-school boy who thinks there are any questions left.  This is why the public schools will die like the dinosaurs – from overspecialisation and a mortal invulnerability.

Some hope.  I enjoyed The strings are false immensely.  It is beautifully written, variously funny, bracing, elegiac and thrilling.  I’m guessing the title is a refutation of the ideas of Freud and Marx – puppet strings – that energised the times, though I can’t also help thinking of ’80s bands and the ubiquitous synthesizer*.  Because it’s one of my favourite poems, here’s link to Louis MacNeice‘s cheery An eclogue for Christmas: http://poemplume.blogspot.co.uk/2010/12/eclogue-for-christmas.html.

*Sorry, but sometimes it is hard to resist saying something like this.  Especially when you then read William Empson‘s Preface to the 2nd edition of his Seven types of ambiguity (1947):

To be sure, the question how far unintended or even unwanted extra meanings do in fact impose themselves, and thereby drag our minds out of their path in spite of our efforts to prevent it, is obviously a legitimate one …

PapercutsMystery manTwo …

So … with Paper cuts (Head of Zeus, 2016) the author previously known as Bateman (himself the author previously known as Colin Bateman) is back being Colin Bateman again.  I’d say it’s a shame, really, but it’s his prerogative – he’s also got a play up and running, and an important film script in production – so the withdrawal from the manic Mystery Man series of novels is understandable; the author must have feared repetition, and I for one found it hard to distinguish them from those equally wonderful later books in the Dan Starkey sequence.  Lillabullero has already chronicled its love of both series’ boundless energy, sharpness and wit, the endlessly quotable smart-ass one liners, the slapstick and acute social observation, the stark, violent, pacey and painful thriller action driving them along; quite often all on the same page.

In as much as Paper cuts is a retreat into the more conventional comic novel genre those quotes on the cover are a bit of a cheat.  I was disappointed, and it would be interesting to know how someone coming fresh to Bateman appreciates the new book.  It’s a bit corny if the truth be known, the stuff of, in different locales, more than one old movie, and television series.

Rob, a biggish shot Guardian journalist on gardening leave (itself a bit of a mystery, ultimately a bit of a damp squib) and with marital difficulties, goes back to Northern Ireland for the funeral of his mentor from the start of his career in Belfast, who ended his career as editor of an ailing small town local paper.  Proprietor gets him drunk, persuades a reluctant Rob to give the local paper a shot before he probably closes it down.  Cue lots of office politics, some decent office banter, and a potential romance.  Various stories follow, he softens to the place, proprietor learns to love the buzz of local papers & so on.  There is an effective action climax, but, in the fashion of a big American tv series finale, another big plot line is left hanging; so I guess there’s a sequel in the pipeline.  (I had to take some stick on Colin Bateman’s FaceBook page – not from him, I hasten to add, he was suitably droll – for querying whether I’d been lumbered with a faulty copy of Paper Cuts because pre-publicity suggested it had 400 page whereas it only has 375).

There are saving graces.  Bateman‘s spirited prose is still in evidence:

Pete was comfortable and dependable, a worker, a toiler behind the scenes, he believed in family and the church and a quiet life, none of which prevented him from being a two-faced shit-stirrer with a bitter streak; but nobody’s perfect.

… though without the quick-fire rapidity.  Where many authors will give a wise quote before the action starts, in Paper cuts we get:

Johnny Cash shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.
Rob Cullen bought curly kale in Tesco’s just to watch it wither.

There’s a nice running joke of his new colleagues not getting Rob’s allusions from popular culture (“ ‘It’s not a conspiracy,’ said Rob, ‘it’s Chinatown.’  ” ‘It’s wah …?’ “), and there’s a useful and sobering reminder that, once upon a time, before the Troubles, there was a Civil Rights movement that pre-dated the IRA really taking off, and it wasn’t just Catholics.

Three O’clock …

Luckily for the hat-trick conceit, one of the standout performances for me at the Arts Gateway MK’s Spoken Word Extravaganza, held on the occasion of World Storytelling Day (March 20) and World Poetry day (March 21) was Liam Malone‘s cri de coeur about the plight of the middle-aged man trying to buy a pair of ‘ordinary’ jeans in Top Shop.  Not only was Liam born across the Irish Sea (and, I’m pretty sure, north of the border) but he also – back to where we started – sports a cap not dissimilar to that featured on the head of Louis MacNeice on the cover of The strings are false and, indeed, wears it in the same fashion.

Much to value from the mixed band of poets, storytellers and comedians who also performed, but it was a long time ago now …  Though I will mention Elsie Bryant‘s intense and thoughtful tour de force testament of social, political, emotional  and intellectual development, delivered kinda rap but with rhymes that actually made sense beyond the rhyming dictionary.  Bravo!

The Extravaganza was held at MK11, an excellent licensed small venue with a proper stage and an ambitious programme of all sorts of musics ongoing.  And an undistinguished entrance from the car park, a door that reeks (metaphorically) of speakeasies in prohibition days.

 

 

 

 

I’ve had worse earworms but this one threatens to invoke the law of unintended consequences.  Next time I’m in a coffee shop my fear is I’ll place an order saying, “Can I get a coffee? / Can I, Can I get a coffee? / Can I, can I get a coffee?”  This is, of course, the wrong question, as is fully explained in The wrong question, the eighth track gracing The Antipoet‘s latest CD, which is a plea – nay a protest – of Gallic intensity against the further Americanisation of everyday English discourse.  Because, as any fule kno, “We don’t say ‘To go’ / We say ‘To take-a-fucking-way’.

Bards of Bugger AllWednesday March 16, Stony Stratford’s Scribal Gathering hosted the launch of Bards of Bugger All, the fifth CD collection of “beatrantin’ rhythm and views” from those two gentlemen of distinction trading under the name of The Antipoet.  It was a grand night of furious fun and celebration in the packed Marquee Room of the Cock Hotel.  And there was cake.  Oh, and even a little table card magic.

New readers start here: The essential Antipoet, the basic Antipoet, are Paul Eccentric (words – lots of words – and vocals, occasional triangle and cowbell, of punk heritage) and the taller, more hirsute Ian Newman (full-size double bass-man and interjectionist, also contributing harmony).  Prolific propagators and propagandists for poetry and the spoken word, they are artists of a sensitive disposition (to quote from one of their signature pieces); they are also Men of a muchness (a notion I’d riff on further here if I could recall a single line of one of their most songiest of pieces) and have been known to wear leather skirts (indeed, I think they might have done this night).  Anyway, you can find a lot more about them here, at http://www.theantipoet.co.uk/#!info/c161y; and more about them their wider interests here at http://rrrants.org/home.  I have seen them performing in pubs and function rooms, in the library and on the street, and I’ve never seen them give less than 100% There’s plenty to discover on YouTube.  If you get a chance, do go see; you won’t regret it.

The evening commenced with MC for the night Poeterry telling the tale, broadened later, of how it all goes back to an open mic night in ‘the stabbing pub’ in High Wycombe towards the end of the last decade, and many of those involved then were here to join in the celebrations.  As was Paul’s dad.  So, given too the lads’ involvement with local Bard selection procedures – most of whom, indeed, were in attendance – it was, all in all, a bit of a family affair.

There’s a track on the new CD called We are the warm up, and first up to perform was – oh! welcome return to performing – Stony’s very first Bard, Ian Freemantle, who, forget the warm-up, set the place alight from the off, opening with the steady stomp of his staff on the floor as he made his way from the back of the hall to the stage declaiming a committed people’s history of England – from the Peasant’s Revolt (is that where he started?) to the near present – in a rhythmic lilting chant.  Was great to see and hear Ian in full flow again.

And so the Antipoet performed to great acclaim the entirety (without the bonus tracks) of Bards of Bugger all, augmented by Mark Gordon, who produced the album, also hitting things sitting at the back with a modest drum kit, unobtrusively adding value, as per the album.  Of which I shall speak later.  Which is not, I hasten to add, in any way to suggest that the “We’d like to give you some new songs” haiatus that bedevils many an old favourite’s performance applies here.  Because it doesn’t.

And then Philfy Phil Alexander, guitar in hand, another veteran of the stabbing pub days, lived up to his name with a couple of his own songs, finishing with a wholesale reworking of Paul Simon’s The boxer, wherein the singalong ‘Lie-la-lie’ chorus received a mortuary revision; so in one verse he reflected on the life and death of the surrealist artist with the chorus ‘Dali died‘ etc.; I’ll disregard the rest so as not to spoil it for those who might get a chance to hear it in full.  And  …  interval.

Our attention is re-engaged by an enactment: the Antipoets, quills in hand, approach one another from opposite ends of the room, enacting Two gentleman duellers, an ancient tale (here’s a take from the archives) of how a breach of etiquette led to a duel “to the death, but through the medium of rhyming verse“; the Two Ronnies never stood a chance.  Then it’s straight into what I’ll call a Greatest Hits session, giving an outing or two for the back-up bassist with one of those anorexic science fiction electric basses, and allowing plenty of space for occasional partners in crime Fay Roberts and Richard Frost – good to see him in the saddle again too – to contribute variously parodies, piss-takes, sequels, appendices and tributes to the work.  All great fun.  For example, Little old lady is a ditty concerning the narrator regularly visiting an old woman – “She was a little old lady” – whose political conclusions after a long life (“served with Pankhurst for the cause“) are somewhat disappointing  (“coming over here, taking our jobs” etc.).  Frost’s Little old lady’s reply starts “He was a punk performance poet …”

At a certain stage Faeries, two young women, further members of the loose creative collective in the same part of the universe as the Antipoet, took the stage, laid their magic carpet on the floor and, seated cross-legged, delivered a charming acoustic folked-up version of Gimp night down at the Fighting Cocks, the standout track on the Bards of Bugger All.  (“Definitive,” I think I heard Donna, the Antipoet’s manager, or at least someone at their table, say).  It all climaxed with a gangs-all-here workout – guitars, drums, bass, back-up girl vocal trio – on Tights not stockings and Random words in a random order (a meditation on the perils of open mic poetry), which were none the worse for the application of a latin tinged shuffle.  A splendid time was had.

Bards of Bugger All backThe album

It’s interesting.  By which I mean it’s less in-your-face than the lads live, but with no diminution of the warmth, wit, invention and scorn, just more relaxed and conversational, a bit lounge even, with Ian’s bass given some space: mellow, rounded, there to be appreciated in its own right.  An unexpected (and strangely satisfying) recognition listening to In a poetocracy: it’s pure (minus the piano) Flanders and Swann (oh come, on, you know: “another g-nu“).  Gimp night is an instant classic.  Producer Mark Gordon is behind the drums for three tracks, which rumble or gently funk  along nicely.  A collection to be proud of.  What they say on Track 9:

We can help you
It’s what we do
There’s nothing like a poem
to get you through.

Oh, and lurking behind the second bonus track there is … another bonus track, a lengthy sketch, an outtake of hopefully a work in progress – which on its own is worth the price of entry (a fiver, ladies and gentlemen, and a princely bargain indeed).  It starts off as a night at The Fighting Cocks, with Paul (presumably) taking on the persona of Al Murray’s Pub Landlord to welcome punters in and introduce the Antipoet, now a changeling Lonnie Donegan Trio with a dash of Chas ‘n’ Dave thrown in, as well as reverting to their own mighty selves.  The Trannie Shuffle, ladies and gentlemen: trust me – chuffing hilarious.

The Badge: an appendix

They were selling badges; I just paid my money and grabbed one, little realising there was a variety to choose from (were they even one-offs?).  Delighted to have got ‘Random words, random order’, now in the museum (bottom centre):
Museum… the company you keep …

Book-affected homes

Ali Smith - Public libraryI loved Ali Smith‘s Public library and other stories (Hamish Hamilton, 2015) and would have probably written a lot more about it here if I hadn’t had to take it back to the public library because there were reservations on it; other people were waiting, and who was I to frustrate their reading pleasure any longer?  I may well return to it when the paperback comes out later this year.  It’s an unorthodox collection –   there is no actual story with the title Public library; in italics in between the stories are various other writers’ thoughts and memories on the crucial importance of public libraries in their early lives – the spark of imagination – and to a community.

The stories are wondrous things, putting words (“Words were stories in themselves“), writing and books at the heart of a tapestry of individual’s lives, triggers to particular moments in their lives, with hardly a physical library in sight – just the treasures they hold.  The opening story, Last (yes, it’s that kind of book), opens with a veritable dip into the thesaurus suggesting what could well be the final journey in a woman’s life; words swim in her brain (Hey: the Travelling Etymologies – that could be a decent band name, she thinks) but an unlikely sequence of events at journey’s end lead to the fresh re-discovery of the double-(at least)-entendre: finality and endurance.

In The poet, a poet throws an old book (one of Walter Scott’s from a famous collected edition) up against a wall in frustration, and in the damage done sees a page from an old music score used in the inner spine binding – something I’ve noticed (and wondered about) myself; not, I hasten to add by throwing old books against a wall – which leads us off into other paths, while telling her story.  Intrigued, through the wonders of the interweb I find she’s a real poet, find examples of her work.

My favourite piece (at least first time round), is The human claim, wherein another, more contemporary writer, researching what happened to D.H.Lawrence’s ashes (fascination enough in itself), finds herself in frustrating correspondence about fraudulent use of her credit card, which leads to her trying to find Lufthansa’s offices at Heathrow.  On that journey she sees a road sign to Harmondsworth, where Penguin books used to be published from, not least the first copies of DHL’s novels she got the bug from.  In the end she’s thankful for her credit card frustrations because they illuminate her understanding of Lawrence and his generations’ rage against TB, the disease that killed him.  It’s such a powerful story powerfully delivered that I believe I’ve taken nothing from your appreciation in giving this outline.

Tory austerity policies mean challenging times even for those institutions surviving the ongoing cull of local libraries, nevermind it remains a statutory duty placed on the relevant local authorities under the Public Libraries & Museums Act of 1964 “to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof“.  A situation these days, to borrow Hamlet’s words, “More honour’d in the breach than the observance.”  Yet paradoxically they wouldn’t dare remove the legislation.

Penelope Lively - Making it upMore short stories

There is a public library in one of the confabulations in novelist Penelope Lively‘s Making it up (2005).   She’s such a memorable phrase maker – ‘book-affected homes‘, my title here is taken from Making it up – that, suspecting it might be a neologism, I had to look ‘confabulation’ up in the dictionary; it wasn’t.   Here are seven short stories hanging on the precarious contingencies of a life.  What if she hadn’t become a successful novelist?  What if she’d got pregnant at that Chelsea Arts Ball?  And so on:

This book is fiction. If anything it is an anti-memoir. My own life serves as the prompt; I have hinged in upon the rocks, the rapids, the whirlpools, and written the alternative stories.  It is a form of confabulation.

In an introduction to one of the stories she broods on  “Contingency: the great manipulator,” and there is plenty in this rich and satisfying collection to get you contemplating the many such moments in one’s own life, a – as she vividly suggests – veritable Burgess Shale of lives not lived.  (The celebrated Burgess Shale formation is a fossiliferous deposit – it says here in Wikipedia in the Canadian Rockies where, citing Stephen Jay Gould, “the extraordinary diversity of the fossils indicates that life forms at the time were much more disparate in body form than those that survive today, and that many of the unique lineages were evolutionary experiments that became extinct.”)  So:

A faithful exercise in confabulation would proliferate like an evolutionary tree. I should write not one book but hundreds ; I should pursue each idiosyncratic path.

Three stories in particular shone for me.  There’s The Temple of Mithras, a wonderful summer soap opera of life on an archaeological dig; Comet, where the discovery of some bones from a plane crash in Italy in the ’50s which solves the mystery of a story of seemingly unrequited love back then and leads to a delightful new romance in the here and now in Oxford and the Yorkshire Dales; and Imjin River, where she imagines her future husband not surviving his National Service stint in Korea:

that is what history does to people. It picks them up by the scruff of the neck and puts them where they do not want to be.

I mentioned her way with words.  How about she and her sister’s parents presenting them “with a vision of the good life which reflected the Whig interpretation of history.”  Or a soldier on watch in Korea, staring out “into the darkness, which was leached with light, a proposal of dawn” – a proposal of dawn!  Meanwhile, “Weary men brewed endless cups of tea.”  The couple both on their second marriage: “He too was on a second shift.”  Elsewhere she opines, “I was never fully-paid-up young, and I didn’t know the tunes.”  Nevertheless, At university, there was that great swathe of required reading, which was fine, but I liked to read off-piste …”  Absolutely!

Forest flowerIn praise of Charles Lloyd

It’s not often I buy an album on the strength of one short review, and there have been regrets before; not this time though.

First, a bit of history.  Back in the day when we would awake to the sound of The Doors and were discovering the delights of Beefheart and Velvet Underground a jazz record would occasionally find its way onto the turntable and time stood still as side one of the Charles Lloyd Quartet’s Forest Flower, live at Monterey in 1966, played.  Just two tracks: Forest flower: Sunrise and Forest flower: Sunset on Side One.  On Atlantic records.  Such a beautiful, gentle but nimble melody line led us in to 20 minutes of a wonder both calm and exciting.  Pianist Keith Jarrett – later to dazzle as a solo improviser, you’ve either never heard of him or he’s practically a deity – is all over his keyboard: soul jazz to Monk to the enchantment of finger-plucking at the strings in the body of his grand.  It is all so mesmerisingly fluent – pretty even, at times – but with the occasional squawks and squeals of Lloyd’s tenor sax adding to the mood – this is a flower opening and closing, invariably dramatic, never an exactly smooth operation – and the return to that gorgeous melody line and Jarrett’s groove approach divinity.

You could call it a step back, a gentler dilution of the pioneer work from the bands of John Coltrane – a huge influence – but it created a wondrous territory all of its own, and for me and my pals it was also a way in to the great man (Roger McGuinn’s guitar solo in the Byrds’ Eight miles high was too!).  Charles Lloyd took jazz to the hippies.  There’s an album recorded at the SF Fillmore called Love in and it can be argued that their flights of musical anarchy are closer to the old hippy concept of a ‘freak out’ than more traditional modern jazz improvisation.  (Yes, trad-mod: I know – I like it).  I still listen in meditative awe to those two title tracks on Forest flower and feel all the better for it afterwards.  I guess there’s a big element of nostalgia too.

Though I’m less in thrall to it Charles Lloyd played – still plays – the flute, as well as tenor sax.  He’s got a colossal discography built up over the decades, including a lot on the German ECM label, the civilised late 20th century and further home of jazz.  Now well into his 70s, he’s recording for Blue Note, the greatest jazz record label of them all.  I long to see you was released earlier this year, credited as by Charles Lloyd & the Marvels.  It’s not your standard jazz combo, nor is it really a jazz album a lot of the time, though you certainly wouldn’t want to take the jazz out of the old man.  There’s a significant contribution from the eclectic Bill Frisell on guitar, plus steel guitar, bass and drums.  Yup, sax and steel guitar.  Does it work?  You bet it does.  Then there’s the material …

Charles Lloyd - I long to see youThey kick off with a spacey, committed, blues tinged eight minute exploration of Bob Dylan‘s Masters of war.  You know, the “And I hope that you die / and your death will come soon” one.  No words.  It’s a totally absorbing spiritual experience.  The anti-war theme is revisited later with Last night I had the strangest dream, this time with Willie Nelson (yup!) providing catch-in-the-throat vocals: “Last night I had the strangest dream / I ever dreamed before / I dreamed the world had all agreed / To put an end to war.”  What else?  It is shot through with longing.  Shenandoah, the spiritual All my trials, and the hymn Abide with me, a Mexican folk ballad called La Llorona.   There are three Lloyd compositions to complete the bill, including a mesmerising sixteen minute closer that starts off meditatively and picks up energy as it goes along, and takes me right back to Forest Flower.  The only other vocal comes from Norah Jones on Billy Preston’s You are so beautiful.  And the whole thing, the whole album, is beautiful, a heart-breakingly sad elegaic lament, and totally absorbing.  ‘Extraordinary’ was the word that concluded the brief review that drove my purchase.  There is hope in the beauty.

Closer to home …

Vaultage early March 2016Scribal Mar 2016Early March Vaultage the Fabulators fabulated and Chris Beck (that’s him on the poster) did some decent stuff of his own, including a rather good song stemming from his experiences as an altar boy in church.  A sad reflection on the times that I bet some of you thought ‘abuse’, but no, it’s just that the punchline of I remember Jesus is “Jesus wasn’t there.”

Corinne Lucy steps into the breach.  Photo (c) the ever excellent Jonathan JT Taylor)

Corinne Lucy steps into the breach. Photo (c) the ever excellent Jonathan JT Taylor)

The March Scribal saw MK’s Poet Laureate Mark Niel reprise his greatest hits, accomplished as ever, Stephen Hobbs gave us the fine monologue that was posted here on Lillabullero a few days ago, and, owing to man flu (that’s what she said) the triumphant appearance of just one Straw HorseCorinne Lucy did a tremendous solo spot of her own in the band’s stead.  We loved her subtle songs and whole-hearted performance – all delivered with plenty of variation – and she reciprocated.

[If anyone’s wondering, The Antipoet album launch was far too good just to be tacked on here; more another time]

 

Stephen Hobbs [Photo (c) Jonathan JT Taylor, cropped here at Lillabullero.]

Stephen Hobbs [Photo (c) Jonathan JT Taylor, cropped here at Lillabullero.]

So, without further ado, may I introduce to you: an act some of us have known for all these years.  He’s guaranteed to raise a smile – it’s performance poet, raconteur and apprentice Storyteller, Mr Stephen (that’s with a ‘ph’, thank you very much) Hobbs.  What we have here is a piece Steve performed at Stony Stratford’s Scribal Gathering earlier this month, the meditative quality of which particularly took my fancy.  It’s published here on Lillabullero now because I asked him if I could, looking for a bit of reflected glory.  I should, perhaps, apologise in advance to the city of Leicester, though in mitigation I will readily express with no little pleasure (even as an Arsenal supporter) my admiration for the exploits of ‘the Foxes’, their football team, Leicester City FC, this season – good luck to ’em.  Anyway, enough with the introductions:

Leicester, Richard III, and my Uncle Lionel
by Stephen Hobbs

My mother and I checked into the Travelodge at Leicester. Travelodge only has the one “L” so strictly speaking one should say Travel Odge or Trave Lodge.  Just another one of those little irritating things like the missing apostrophe on Waterstones.

It had been a long day.  Milton Keynes to Ramsgate in the morning for me.  Lunch.  Then Ramsgate to Leicester after lunch for the two of us.  A four-hour journey that had stretched to six.  My mother had been very talkative –  forgiveable given the circumstances – and at 85 years of age much of it repeated.  I was looking forward to an hour of silence before we sought out dinner.

I couldn’t fault the staff who were welcoming, friendly, and informative.  But it was still Leicester; which day or night has little charm.  This is the Midlands –  Raised by Wolves territory. The only funny British sitcom – in my opinion.  More laughs in one episode than 20 seasons of Mrs Brown’s Boys – in my opinion. To quote: “We’re not Northern bastards. We’re not Southern bastards. We’re Midlands bastards!”.

Is your visit business or pleasure?” the receptionist had asked. A difficult one that. A family funeral on the following day. My mum’s kid brother Li, my Uncle Lionel.  Business I guess?

The funeral was at 5pm the following day so we had a few hours to kill.  Not the right word? “The Richard III Tour is very good” they said.  They seemed proud.  One of their sons?  They found his bones, you recall,  underneath a council car park.

So, after breakfast we went to Leicester Cathedral to see Richard III’s tomb.  Leicester Cathedral isn’t a Premier or even a Championship cathedral.  Probably, an old third or even fourth division cathedral, compared with, say, a Liverpool Cathedral.  I’d say twenty Leicester’s would make one Liverpool.  I mean the Liverpool Anglican of course!  The sort of cathedral that makes you feel puny, insignificant, and forces you to your knees.  The complete opposite of the Liverpool Catholic Cathedral – they’ve got one to spare you know  – which, no offence, is a bit like an indoor athletics track with stained glass windows.

RIII coffinLeicester Cathedral saw off York Cathedral – the Man United or Chelsea of the cathedral world – to claim Richard III’s bones. And what they’ve done is quite quite brilliant.  And only 33 years old – not much of an innings.  The tomb is simple, dignified, and regal. Matched also by the Visitor Centre. Clever, understated use of technology: inevitably I guess, since all they had were his bones which they had to re-bury.

One of the most powerful exhibits is even the excavated grave in the concrete car park; with Richard III’s bones projected by hologram in to the pit. Incidentally, they found his bones on Day One of the excavations! Even on TimeTeam they got three days to do the business.

In another room you’re confronted with a fully armed ready-for-battle Richard the Third – the sabaton, the polyn, the brassart, the gauntlet, the gorget, the bassinet, and all the other piecesRIII skull. It’s impressive protection all right; but rather than present the armour in its authentic burnished steel they’ve had it painted in brilliant satin white. The King as Star Trooper!

They even have a replica MRI scanner with an audio post-mortem analysis of the King’s bones. “Death”, I’m quoting here, “… was almost certainly caused by massive trauma to the ossipital skull bone; consistent with a downward blow from a halberd struck from behind”. So much for medieval chivalry. “Several stab wounds” another quote, ” through the ribs into the chest cavity – probably post-mortem”. So, they stripped his armour off him, and then stabbed him for good measure.

By now it was 1pm – four hours until the funeral service, so we went in search of lunch. It was my mother who found the Spud-u-Like. Surely a forgotten relic from the 1980’s that existed only in Leicester? Or maybe, a canny but  oh-so-slightly ironic nod towards multicultural foodism from a smart Leicester entrepreneur?  It was heaving.

Apart from Richard the Third and the Spud-u-Like there isn’t much else to detain you in Leicester; other than the friendliness of the locals. I guess it’s like many of our work-a-day towns. Too busy manufacturing to worry about architecture. If Milton Keynes is warehousing and distribution; then Leicester is most definitely swarfega!

And so to our own funeral. My Uncle Lionel 79 years old –  a decent innings. We walk in to Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells (nice) and there’s a couple of hymns Abide with Me and Amazing Grace (almost certainly not his choice). I stand respectfully not singing. I don’t believe in “Him” and I stopped singing hymns once I understood the words. The music for “Personal Reflection on Lionel” is Kate Bush’s Man with a child in his eyes. Now, I am in tears. The Committal Music is the Moody Blues’ Nights in White Satin which calms us down. The Eulogy is a disappointing third party affair. This is one responsibility you really shouldn’t shuck off; even if it hurts like hell.

It spoke of his National Service in the RAF, his meeting and marrying Carol their two children and their divorce.  And Lionel’s subsequent interest in art and athletics.  Interest?  He was a genius with a paintbrush!  He spent his National Service in Cyprus painting big-breasted women on the fuselages of aircraft. He was an obsessive runner! And my Auntie Carol was like the sun!  When she held out her arms for a hug you ran!  And when she hugged, you stayed hugged! And My Auntie Carol even smelled different to all the other aunties. If they were Lemon Verbena or something from Yardleys; well, Auntie Carol was probably something called “Nights in White Satin”. But, Auntie Carol, as I had learned from my mother in that long car drive up from Ramsgate the previous day,  had lead my Uncle Lionel a merry dance. There was talk of “other men”, “abandoning her children”, and Lionel’s failed suicide attempt. None, of which I had known anything about.

RIII aerial viewWe leave the crematorium to Dire Straits Walk of Life which is jaunty and a cause for smiles. So: Richard the Third, David Bowie, Terry Wogan, Father Jack, George Martin and my Uncle Lionelrest in peace.

© Stephen Hobbs

Peter May - RunawayYou could play Swinging Sixties London bingo with Peter May‘s Runaway (Quercus, 2015), even if Del Shannon’s single of the same name doesn’t figure in the soundtrack.  Slightly unfair criticism, you might say, given Runaway is the tale of five Glasgow teenagers – a beat group formed at school called The Shuffle – trying to make it up in the Big Black Smoke in 1965, but the clincher was one of said merry band at a fashionable party, off his head on drugs, diving of a roof with the words “I can fly” not long left his lips.  Eyes down look in for, among other things:

  • a scene-maker and qualified pharmacist to the stars called (of course) Dr Robert
  • who has Bridget Riley originals hanging on his wall
  • picks up a demo tape en passant Abbey Road (“This is where the Beatles record, you know“)
  • helps Pennebaker with the filming of Dylan making that video in a Central London side street (“He seemed to me to be in need of a square meal“)
  • (more interestingly) is involved with a thinly veiled R.D.Laing and his experimental anti-psychiatry Kingsley Hall community
  • and climactically hosts a party where”The air was heady with the perfume of marijuana and simmering with unfettered sexuality.”

Basically Runaway has two timelines:  1965 (though it’s never quite clear who is being addressed with these sometimes very specific memories); something bad happened back there and then, and 50 years later one of the group, dying in a Glasgow hospital, sees a newspaper item that motivates him to gather the two other members of the band who returned to Glasgow to remake that journey (escaping from hospital in the process) in order to clear up what exactly happened back then and exact justice.

To be fair, the two journeys are quite eventful and not a bad read.  Before becoming a full-time novelist Peter May did a lot of television drama and the action sometimes reads more like a detailed shooting script than a novel.  Indeed, with a decent budget it would make a stunning TV drama wherein body language and motion and close-up shots would do away with the redundancy of, say, a discussion about road directions (p104) and various clichés like someone having “the startled look of a deer caught in headlights.”

Again, to be fair, it’s a pretty sour – and probably not without grounds – look at Swinging London, and there is some good stuff about friendship and growing old, but plot twists involving a). revealed adoptions and, b). an abortion that didn’t happen, creak mightily, though the resolution of the crime, of what actually happened on the fateful day in 1965, although a staple of crime fiction, is neatly done.  Which cannot, unfortunately, be said about then 17 year-old narrator Jack, for whom premature ejaculation was obviously never a problem, losing his virginity:

All my primitive sexual instincts wanted me simply to be inside her. But she made me wait for that, teaching me instead that we could give and receive as much pleasure with our mouths. Things I would never have known , or thought to do. But which, ultimately, led to the most heightened moment of release when finally I was inside her, feeling her grip me with her muscles as my hips rose and fell to the most ancient rhythm known to mankind.

Peter May 1955 HotspurI got hold of Runaway because of a recommendation in one of those year-end round-ups in a newspaper.  I discover that Peter May – with a lengthy back catalogue involving crime sequences featuring a Scottish/Italian ex-forensic scientist living in France and another set in Hong Kong – has lately become flavour of the month among crime novelists with his recent highly praised Lewis Trilogy (the island, not Morse’s chum) picking up all sorts of awards.  I’m afraid that for me, though, the name of Peter May will always first conjure up the Surrey and England cricketer of the same name, a big hero of my dad’s.

Ticket to rideHaving said that …

… I am indebted to the novelist Peter May for an insight that I find it hard to believe had never occurred to me before over five decades; the music had just floated by me.  There’s probably a moral to be had in that.  They are gathered at a record shop to hear the new Beatles single.  Yes kids, it really was that exciting.  Rachel has escaped a very bad relationship:

We joined the crowd … in time to catch Ticket to ride for the very first time. Hearing the first play of a new Beatles record was like sharing in a part of history. Our history. A seismic shift from the past and our parents’ generation.

But Rachel was listening to the words. ‘God, Lennon sounds just like Andy,’ she said. ‘Like it was all my fault, or hers in the song. Because, of course, he was bringing her down, and that’s why she had to leave. Couldn’t possibly have been because he was such a shit.’

[There are a couple of Kinks references in Runaway; I’ll write about them elsewhere, in the Kinks in Literature chronicle here in Lillabullero some time soon.]

Out and about

Scribal Feb 2016

For future cultural historians no-shows painted out.

Scribal had a birthday – its amazing sixth – and there was cake.  The Antipoet were doing new stuff, Paul Eccentric dashingly dressed as if – to these eyes – about to collect a well-earned Honorary Degree (“I’d refuse it,” he said).  Mr Hobbs made his debut as a qualified storyteller with a reworking of a traditional tale or two wherein bears did indeed shit in the woods.  [02.03.16: I would like to qualify that statement: after representations made to me by Mr Hobbs’ alter ego Pedantic Pete in the Comments below, I now recognise this was actually the first public airing of his first apprentice piece].  I came to a jarring halt in my stint when turning over the third page of a four page epic trilogy – large font size, mind – only to find a blank sheet staring back at me; last-minute revises freshly printed … and realising … as rationality defeated panic … placed straight off the printer the wrong way round in the plastic.  New Bard Vanessa was everywhere this month.  Another mighty fine show.

Vaultage Feb early 2016Vaultage mid-Feb 2016As per, there were two Vaultages, with the usual suspects and co-host Lois Barrett continuing to deliver up splendid fresh guests, new to most there.  Two thirds of the Roses and Pirates gals impressed with their own powerful songs and delivery; a pleasant prospect indeed to look forward to seeing them entire, with their ailing cellist in full flow.

And so to York House again … three times this February

Fire 350! was a series of readings from eye-witness accounts, including the context of the Great Plague the previous year and the spread of the Great Fire of London in September, 1666 – Sam Pepys, Evelyn et al – interspersed with period music played on period instruments by Mr Simpson’s Little Consort.  By turn entertaining, educational and moving;  surprised at the fire’s ferocity and extent.  The consort juggled lute, theorbo (a giant mutant lute, longer than its player), two viols and recorder throughout the evening, sometimes accompanying a cheerful soprano.  Ferocious indeed was their closer, a twin viol attack (it’s not just blues guitarists who use open tuning) on Purcell’s Ode to St Cecilia with a bass line straight outta AC/DC: “Wondrous machine!

Evie Ladin and Keith TerryEvie Ladin, with partner Keith Terry was a sell-out, and no wonder after their show a couple of years ago.  Can’t put it any better than they do on their website, where there’s plenty to see: ” Energetic and electrifying clawhammer banjo, bass, percussive dance, storytelling songs old and new, with nuanced, emotive vocals.  An intimate, robust evening of acoustic music and dance; a skilled hybrid of American folk arts.”  Great charm and fun too.  Raised in New York, her dad went to a bluegrass concert at Carnegie Hall and was converted; family legend has it he gave away all his Tamla Motown records.  Doesn’t stop her quoting the Stones and Badfinger (“English folk songs”) on one of the songs on the new album.  Which I bought, and holds up very well in the country miserabilism stakes, never mind the breakneck banjo workout on The cuckoo.

Clive Williams on melodeon. Photo (c) Andy Powell.

Clive Williams on melodeon. Photo (c) Andy Powell.

‘Twas another full and hugely appreciative house for S.S.Shanty! 4, and another grand evening it was of it too.  Less of the shanty overall this time, but plenty of maritime songs and hornpipes making up the slack, not to mention Bard Vanessa’s trip on the good ship innuendo and, of course, her paean to the men and women of the RNLI, who the gig was a benefit for.

Due to the pillar in the middle of the room I could only comfortably see four and a half of the six men who make up the lusty and infectious (in the best possible sense …) Five Men Not Called Matt (it’s a local thing) but I had no trouble hearing all those fine voices.  Melodeonist Clive Williams did a lovely tuneful set full of charm to belie what the Doxy from Liverpool (the distaff half of Trim Rig and a Doxy) said about melodeon playing methodology: “You depress the keys and every one within half a mile”.  Mind, she was sporting one herself.  It was to their fine selves that honour of leading the room in Being a pirate; their rendition of a poem about the decline of the Liverpool Docks set to music had a tendency to wet the eye.  Similarly Jenkinson’s Folly, with the sucker punch of a cello, also hit the tear ducts with a sad trawling tale.  Phil Underwood played another melodeon or two – was one of his the spectacular white and gold Russian one? – and sang from the perspective of a canal boat.  Another great evening.

DBDerren Brown …

… deserves a sub-head of his own.  We travel up city to the theatre for Miracle, his latest stage offering.  I think it’s probably fair to say that most of Derren’s audience these days have been to one or more of his shows before; I think this was at least my third.  Consequently there wasn’t so much of a noticeable buzz in the foyer for Miracle, and the audience did seem a bit older (self included).   Audience expectations of WTF moments can’t be easy for the man, but he continues to deliver all the same.  Dramatically, yes – but the WTFF moments weave a measure of contemplative wonder into the head-shaking spectacular.  He’s charming, witty, wise and serious as ever.  His demystification of his craft – the insistence that there is nothing supernatural going on – is a force for good (which is just as well considering his powers of persuasion).  The powerful core of Miracle, involving as per his usual modus operandi, several audience members, is the replication of an American tv evangelist healing extravaganza, in which he shows that something is definitely happening, while making it abundantly clear it has nothing to do with divine intervention; his motif for the evening was the power of the stories we tell ourselves and live by.  I was singing “Stealing in the name of the Lord” on the way home.

Gatsby_1925_jacketOutro

Book Group book for February was F.Scott Fitzgerald‘s masterpiece, The Great Gatsby (1925), a book I found I didn’t have as much familiarity with as I’d thought.  So nice to rediscover the book’s many qualities – as Hemingway said of his friend, he writes “like an angel” – and doubly delightful, at just over 150 pages, to have the luxury of reading something substantial in only a couple of sessions.  Just as Chuck Berry at his peak and his contemporaries  only needed 2 minutes 19 seconds for musical works of great profundity … Poignancy in that Jay Gatsby hardly drank while hosting the drunken revelry at his celebrated parties, while alcohol played a prominent part in his decline.  And I wondered when reading about those “blue lawns” of his … thuse enabling me to get a starter question on University Challenge on Monday.

Good turnout of performers at the Aortas Sunday open mic at the Old George, now a monthly event.  Naomi did a new song in which she rhymes ‘queen’ with ‘nuclear submarine’.

Those who’ve made it this far may have noticed that I failed even to make the deadline imposed on self in the title of this post.  Talk about failed New Year’s Resolutions to keep it short …

 

 

 

 

 

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