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Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

At least the sea was calm on the day trip over to St Mary’s on the Isles of Scilly.  Drizzle, shall-we-shan’t-we open the umbrella?

Entertaining minibus tour of the island with commentary, our native guide’s scorn for the Brexit vote given full if free of expletives vent.  Pointed out as he drove around what EU development funds had meant for the island, and Cornwall, yet The Isles of Scilly the only voting district in the county opting for Remain.  Other highlights:

  • pointed out Harold Wilson’s modest bungalow, the man still highly regarded in these parts; his wife Mary still lives there, an active centurion
  • the desolation of the islands in winter, when there’s no ferry
  • speaking of which, the local RNLI lifeboat’s engines are more powerful than that of the ferry, the Scillonian III
  • the famed Tresco Abbey Gardens are being overrun by cruise ship tourism
  • which is ironic given there were no native flowers on the islands until those brought in by mariners of old alien species, then.  Speaking of which:

Caught the obligatory crab sandwich in The Mermaid, the nearest pub to the port, rather than the tarted up establishments further in; decent little local, music jam night and all.

Barbara Hepworth

Back on the mainland, ‘A beautiful oasis of calm’ was how the tourist brochure describes the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, and so it was, as the rainwater dripped down from the leaves on the trees in the drizzle.  Not expansive grounds, but the winding paths around the large structures and the gradient compensated – around each corner new combinations.  It must be glorious under a blue sky, but the wet added a dimension to the sculptures, I’m sure.  I’m not her biggest fan (at least for the works themselves) but in better weather I would have gone round at least one more time.  Here’s what I think I’ll call ‘the shot’ – I wasn’t the only one going for it – and a more general view:

Interesting to look in on the studio from the garden – Hepworth died in a fire in the house, but the studio has been left pretty much untouched – and a neat telling of her story in cabinets and on wall mounted boards downstairs.  You’ve got to love those old newspaper clippings, here one from 1950 (in the Ham & High?) about an early joint exhibition with her first husband (and folksinging partner).  Click on the photo to enlarge:

 

Last thoughts …

… only 6 weeks after all this occurred.  This pub sign was the only sun we saw for four whole days.  But there at St Mawes the water was so clear that when we watched a cormorant moving in the water we could see its whole body – a fine sight.  So now know not to confuse those weird-looking heads seen from afar with some odd kind of duck.

I have an urge to use this photo, of a bridge over the track of the St Ives branch line, and can’t help but admire the  local Methodists reaching out to surfer dudes for trying:

And finally … banging a drum in a downpour in Truro (where the cathedral is only not long over a century old though you wouldn’t know it) the day before we went home, and the inevitable weather on the morning of our departure:

The drummer aka An Tabourer – Tim Shaw

Outset of our journey home

 

 

 

 

 

 

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And so, early in March, to Linford Wood, in Milton Keynes, while the trees are still bare:

Sad to say the wood sculptures are not what they once were – the grand old bearded philosopher and the big gorilla are long-lost to the elements – but it’s still a worthwhile wander, eyes primed for the crafted creatures; the bluebells will be out again soon and there’s a decent chance of seeing a jay.  Here’s one of the survivors:

2011

2017

Meanwhile, back indoors …

Engrossing evening of a dialogue outside ‘the bubble’ with Milton Keynes Humanists guest speaker Salah Al-Ansari, Senior Researcher with the Quilliam Foundation, an academic theologian and a practising imam.  Salah is one of the leading lights of the liberal wing of his faith – what is becoming known as Reform Islam – which recognises the Koran as a sacred text but significantly also regards it very much as an historical document – pretty much as the Christian Bible is seen by most these days.

A wide-ranging, open-ended conversation ensued, which was both enlightening and entertaining.  Salah kicked off the discussion with the view that we should be talking about Islams in the plural.  Interesting to learn that when he was studying to become an imam in an Egyptian university, his professor was a woman.  It was agreed that secularism does not imply atheism.  Positive change, albeit slow and not so often visible, is happening among the Islamic communities.  An ex-Muslim atheist in the audience added spice.  There is more about Salah at www.quilliaminternational.com/about/staff/salah-al-ansari/ and from there, if you are not familiar with them, it is well worth exploring the work of the anti-extremist (from all sides) Quilliam Foundation further.

Because it was there

I have piles of books I intend to read but I often take an impulse book out from the local library for no other reason than because it’s there.  The library I mean.  Use it or lose it!  Hence the next book, that happened to catch my eye.

I’ve always looked upon the American artist Edward Hopper as the painter’s equivalent of a one hit wonder – you know, the haunting Nighthawks, all the lonely people in that late night cafe.  Ivo Kranzfelder‘s Edward Hopper 1882-1967: Vision of reality (Taschen, 1995/2006) has disabused me of this but, to continue the metaphor, I still wouldn’t want more than a single disc ‘Best of’, and vinyl at that.  A bit samey, and I’m not convinced by the (please don’t take this the wrong way) proportions and posture of some of his women (like the one on the book’s cover, actually).

It’s a handsomely produced volume, with some stunning black and white photos by Hans Namuth of the man himself, not least those taken in places he painted.  Frankly, sometimes I struggle with writing about painters and what they were trying to do, and a chapter head like The secularization of experience doesn’t help.  Apparently he didn’t say much about it himself, but what did strike me was that 1942’s Nighthawks, and a number of his other more well-known paintings, were being done at precisely the same time as Abstract Expressionism (not that I’ve got much against …) was evolving and taking hold of American art in New York.  So good for him for sticking to his guns to the end.

Anyway, not to in any way get things out of proportion, I have to claim it was a bit of a trauma – after all the landscapes, townscapes, buildings, room interiors, urban scenes and absorbed individuals, all the mustards and terracotta, muted browns, dull turquoise, beiges, greys and olive greens – to turn over from page 105 and suddenly be all at sea; as it happens one of these was the first painting he ever sold.  Normal service was quickly restored.

What it says on the poster

Staying in the library, I learned a bit and was mightily entertained by this FoSSL (Friends of Stony Stratford Library) presentation. The turbo-driven opening chords of musical director Paul Martin on the mandola suggested we were in for a treat and so it proved.  Shakespeare – a musical celebration, curated by Vicki Shakeshaft, was a fascinating and nicely paced mix of music, songs (take a bow soloist Simon Woodhead), readings and contextual history with a colourful morris dance duo thrown in for good measure.  And all, if my powers of recall are functioning properly, without resort to “If music be the food of love …”  Came as a surprise to me that “Who is Sylvia / What is she” was the Bard’s (from Two gentlemen of Verona – if asked I’d have said music hall), and my English teacher never told me that Hamlet’s advice to the players was a rant and that “Let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them” was a gripe at Shakespeare’s company’s erstwhile clown, Will Kemp, who once morris danced from London to Norwich.

Further musical adventures

No poster for the early March Vaultage, but it was a good ‘un.  Folkish duo Phil Riley & Neil Mercer – guitar and mandolin – did a great set of their own material with a singalong of Neil Young’s Rockin’ in the free world somewhere in the middle, finishing with a thrilling Russian folk dance-based tune.  Oi!  The March Aortas – nice and varied – deserves a mention too.

First Scribal I’ve managed this year  – Out! Damn virus! – was another good one too.  Stephen Ferneyhough kicked off with a musical history of the Brackley Morris with one of those squeeze box things – I can never remember which is which.  A storming set from featured singer Bella Collins – great voice and material (folk, blues and beyond), skilled emphatic guitar, foot stomping on the floor.  Own songs and a couple of covers – Jimmy Reed’s Shame, shame, shame morphing into Prince’s Kiss and back again!  Stephen Hobbs is wearing his bardship well, as if there was any chance he wouldn’t.  Mark ‘Slowhand’ Owen’s dazzling fretwork on one of his songs had a couple of us fearing for our own fingers just thinking about it.

And finally … best book review ever (click on the picture if you can’t read what’s between the cat’s legs):

 

 

 

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Of lidos and Lowestoft

A wet walk one afternoon in Waterfields Rec, by the banks of the River Colne, in Watford.  More a park with a pitch, nicely developed of late with a big nod (and a wink) to the area’s heritage.  Can’t really get too excited about the recently restored Grade II listed Coal Duty Obelisk of 1861, but this rain-affected photo really doesn’t do justice to an impressive statue of an Edwardian bathing colossus.  Under his knots-in-four corners handkerchief helmet there is a head of hair more than hinting of older creatures, of mythical beings.

watford-swimmerwatford-swimmer-explanationYou’ll have to take my word for this, because the photos I took that reveal more of that detail suffer from even more of the rain drops that despite the umbrella kept falling on my camera lens.  The statue stands on a slim plinth in the middle of a splendid bit of planting only hinted at in the explanatory text.  Good one, Watford Council.

I give you this inadequate photo because I cannot resist placing it near those of two statues of Triton, the Greek god of the sea, that you can find on the esplanade at Lowestoft:

triton-1-lowestofttriton-2-lowestoftTriton, a merman he should be – messenger of the sea: blowing that conch shell he could calm or raise the waves.  Son and herald of Poseidon, the sea’s main man.  Or rather, god.  Why two statues?  Who knows.  As it happens at least one of them is Grade II listed too.

Why spend an afternoon in Lowestoft?  Because it’s there.  And the availability of a cheap coach trip to the eastern-most settlement in the UK (which must count for something) (mustn’t it?) from our deeply land-locked abode.  The sea, the sea.  Cue obligatory East Anglian seaside photo of beach huts:
lowestoft-trad-beach-hut-photo

Blue skies, fish and chips as commended by some blokey TV chefs at Nemo’s, a beach to stroll, ice lowestoft-north-piercreams to be had. This photo on the left is a detail of the structure colourfully holding up the North Pier.  The dog-free beach was immaculate, the pebbles where there were pebbles eminently pick-overable.  What with all these cleaned-up beaches I do miss a whiff of rotting sea weed mixed in with the ozone, but such is progress I suppose.

All seemed well, but one road back, parallel to the seafront, signs of poverty and desperation – empty premises, non-chain charity shops, a Salvation Army Hostel, another uninspiring drop-in day centre.  House prices interesting, except you’d have to live there in winter too.  A thriving leisure boat harbour, but the fishing industry has pretty much gone.

You can go on the Mincarlo, the last side-winder trawler built in Lowestoft in the early ’60s and now maintained by a charitable trust; I opted to go linger aimlessly awhile at the end of the South Pier but my traveling companions went on board, could not believe the noise of the engine, tried to imagine what time spent at sea must have been like with that constant – not much to romanticise … save the bravery and community, of course.

Decorated pebbles, a lovely touch at the War Memorial by the South Pier (click on the photo, then click on it again on the new page to enlarge it for more detail):
war-memorial-freshened-lowestoft

A pleasing geometry of rocks, sand, wood and sea

A pleasing geometry of rocks, sand, wood and sea

A late late summer English sea-side. Glad we came.

A late summer English sea-side town. Glad we became briefly acquainted.

 

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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.

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classic-stony-logo-2016Just before mid-day the sun finally comes out.  Left the house a bit later than hoped (recovery time from Saturday).  Hit the Market Square and the place is buzzing.  Only just in time to catch a blues-wailing Banjo-ist singing the praises of his Sweet Home Chicago.  There seemed to be more cars and people than ever in the Square, in the car park and on the High Street for Stony Stratford’s classic car festival.

I’m not a great enthusiast (hell, I once owned a Lada) and my auto-aesthetic sensibilities are governed by nostalgia and classicism, with a soft-spot for the futurism of the past and a dash of the absurd.  So my favourites this year were the Jowetts, a Jag that took me back to the child reading the Eagle comic, the beautiful best-in-show-winner Beemer (resisting the urge to say something about Germany in 1939) and a – ah the UK ’50s car industry! – horrendous Hillman Minx Mark VIII (click to navigate through bigger pics, click again to enlarge individual images):

Deep purple 1952 Jowett JupiterJowett JavelinLe Mans 24 hr and all that JaguarBMW Prototype 328 1939Hillman Minx VIII

And so into the Vaults bar for a pint and the delights of “the longest-running ‘open session’ in the country”, including getting my head around a folk song take – played straight, one man, one guitar – on Randy Newman’s Sail away (“In America …”).  Weirdly, it worked.  “Song about slavery,” he said at the finish.

Pop-up art galleryYork HouseThen up the hill to picturesque Swinfen Harris Hall to take in some art (including Roddy Clenaghan’s original of this year’s StonyLive programme cover) and discover one of Ian Ian Fremantle wood sculptureFremantle’s intriguing wood sculptures in its grounds, on the way up to the Ken Daniels curated Bygone Stony – a pictorial history, which was doing brisk business and from which more might come, in York House.

Water liliesHome, briefly, where the irises in the pond have never been better, before a little touch of Shakey in the afternoon, the first of a series during the week to come, of the Stony Stratford Theatre Society’s promenade Shakespeare – performances of selected scenes, monologues and sonnets from the pen of the Bard hailing from the Stratford in Warwickshire.  A development from something tried last year, it worked brilliantly as the troupe of players and audience wound their way through the town, episodes linked by the suitably dressed concertina-ist playing period tunes.

ITMA. Photo (c) Derek Gibbons

So much going on, invidious to single out particular episodes and performances, but when the little girl came and sat down next to a cross-legged (poet Danni) Puck in the courtyard of The Cock Hotel, one got insight into the notion of the role model.  She had a great time, clapping and dancing along as a song followed.  A star is born.  Oh, and while that was going on, a couple of fly pasts from a Spitfire in the sky overhead.  The excerpt from The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society’s Production of Macbeth made a nice surprise too.  Great job, Caz Tricks.

Time for another rest and then an evening stroll along the River Great Ouse …
River walk

… and into the Fox & Hounds and a rock band open thingy, there soon to have the Banjo-ist trying to grab the attention and asking questions of someone called Joe, who appears to have a gun in his hand:

That old football chant: He’s here, he’d there, he’s every-fucking-where: Ladies and Gentlemen, the blues-wailing Andy Powell in motion, Chairman, StonyLive!; Andy Fenton on guitar.

 

Further on up the road to The Old George, for a grand Aortas session, where Dan had us thumping on the table and we had very fine sets indeed from Naomi Rose, Lois Barret and Mark Owen.

Dan Plews tuning up and a half-full beer glass

Dan Plews tuning up and a beer glass.  Moody atmospheric shot or crap camera?  Yeah, OK.

And so to bed.  (And not a banjo seen all day).  Given the Saturday before (which Lillabullero will briefly revisit next time) I had to take a time out on Monday to preserve myself for the rest of the week.  StonyLive! hurrah!

SL-poster stony-live-logo

 

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Sojourning in Bristol a week or so ago we wandered by the river with no great plan and crossed the modern pedestrian bridge spanning the floating harbour.  Pero’s Bridge is named, in reparation, for Pero Jones – an African slave brought back from the West Indies by a local merchant – who lived and died in Bristol in the late eighteenth century.

Love locks on Pero's Bridge

Love locks on Pero’s Bridge

The length of the bridge was decorated with padlocks, attached and inscribed as tokens of love (or memory) in an urban metal update of the old custom of tree dressing.  I was much taken with this, hadn’t encountered its like before; a woman called Jenny even had 5 locks in a column spelling out her name.  Seems it is not unique to Bristol, and that a bridge in Paris actually collapsed under the weight of all the love.  I’m curious as to the etiquette – do you throw the key into the River Frome as a gesture of eternal love (or til rust do us part)?  Do you surreptitiously keep the spare just in case?

Let us now praise the inventors of durable exterior housepaint

Let us now praise the inventors of durable exterior housepaint

Thought we’d at least have a look at Brunel’s Great Britain and couldn’t resist going in.  Big fan of old Isambard for the GWR, but I had no idea of what a big deal this was.  Built in Bristol, it was the first propeller-driven iron-hulled ocean liner, launched 1843, the first Atlantic crossing you could set a reasonably accurate timetable for.  Used as a troop ship in the Crimean War, then for the emigrant passage for Australia and in its old age used to carry bulk cargo.  Holed up in the Falkland Islands in 1886, beyond economic repair, it still had a contribution to make, some of its structure being cannibalised to patch up HMS Exeter, damaged in the action that saw off the German battleship Admiral Graf Spee in the Second World War.  It was somehow returned to Bristol in 1970.

Great Britain ticketIt’s a class act, this dockyard museum and ship restoration (http://www.ssgreatbritain.org/).  Your entrance ticket is a reproduction of  the Passengers’ Contract Ticket to Australia (click on the picture, then click again), and the trip through the dockyard, the museum, the dry dock (over your head a rippling water-filled glass ceiling) where you can walk round the tired old iron hull, and of course on board the ship itself, is full of nice touches.  The interior has been restored; as you wander the sumptuous first class dining saloon you get snatches in a babble of mealtime conversations wafting in and out; in the kitchens a back projection of a rat moving across the back of the shelves, the cook cursing the lazy cat, a ship’s doctor tending a bloody wound, and various other scenarios.  Horse smells from the hold, even, it threatened in the guide, though we didn’t encounter it, a whiff of seasickness.

Here some views of the hull’s massive texture:

20160523_5220160523_4620160523_45Sorry, but like my 8 month old grandson, I’m fascinated by texture, though with me it’s more visual than the relentless touching.  It’s an extraordinary feeling to walk round this awesome structure and think of the decades of oceans’ wear and tear; I know it’s simple eureka! physics but the idea of all that iron floating still seems magical.

Barber and poetPretty sure this is not an original piece of what library cataloguers have cause to call realia, but I’d hope he has to be fact-based.  You couldn’t make it up.  I’d love to find some of his stuff.  I like the idea of a barber-poet shaving a beard and staunching the bleeding to the accompaniment of the sound of soothing stanzas recited.  Beats “Where you going on your holidays? – Oh, hang on.”  (Sadly the nearest I’ve found to any such poetry was tucked away on the .org website, where you’ll find a poem by Joseph Earl James, written and poignantly submitted from Islington Workhouse, celebrating Great Britain’s predecessor, the steam paddle liner, Great Eastern, including the lines: “Brunel thy mind so great with power at will / Subdues the toughened Iron to thy learned skill.”)

First class on deckMusicians stuck in the cornerWhile the dining saloon was a bit special, the actual First Class accommodation was nothing special, especially by today’s standards (or at least what I’ve seen on telly).  The bunks were slim and with a raised edge (anti-rolling out of bed presumably) and not that much of an upgrade from those in steerage, except those had zero privacy and were housed like shelves in a corridor with the odd little space for belongings.  Apparently those in steerage mainly banqueted on ship’s biscuit.  And had no music other than what they made for themselves.  Leaving you see the grandly decorated stern – for the first modern liner, definitely olde school.

SSGB Horn of Plenty

The Horn of plenty

Continuing adventures

Woolly BristolBristol in wool

Back on shore again we retraced our steps, this time to enter the splendid Mshed, Bristol’s history museum, there to climb the stairs and get a great Tate Modern-like view across the city and see a fabulous knitted representation of it.  Note those multi-coloured houses as featured above in my second photo here.  How about that as an idea for the MK50 celebrations?

I’d hoped (the sadness of the sojourning ex-librarian) to get a good look inside Bristol Central Library – a classic old municipal showpiece library building of renown, Grade I listed even – but unbelievably in a city of well over 400,000 souls, being a Wednesday it was … CLOSED (capitalised in disgust at austerity politics).

20160523_115Wandered around the new bit, where we said hello to a statue of Cary Grant (Bristol’s most famous? – still called Archibald Leach as all pub quizzers know, when he left in 1920, aged 16) and encountered again the group of young French students we’d just thankfully missed on the SS GB.  Nothing against the French; just seems in my experience they can be the noisiest school groups going, which is some feat.  That’s them reflected in the enormous static disco mirror ball behind the energy tree in the photo.  Should have found out what goes in inside really.

Another thing I should have done – and this not for the first time – was consulted Simon Jenkins’ trusty England’s thousand best churches before we went rather than after the event.  Godless, I still like a good church.  And so it was we missed 4- and 5-starr-ers in favour of the Cathedral.  Which is a Weird windowperfectly good cathedral – Gothic Revival and all that – but without any special wow factors.  Indeed, deja vu of Worcester in finding the caff and the bogs – even men and women’s – in the same niches,  on the same corridor with stained glass decorated windows from which you can see the cloisters.  One of said windows boasted these weird creatures.  Undersea? Cute aliens?

By which time we were knackered and went home.  Or at least where we were staying.

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I only ask because I think it’s a good question, one of the best.  In the Great British Grammar School of life both Tony Broadbent and I are Class of ’66, while Jeremy Corbyn will have left his alma mater a year later.  So we are very much of a generation, and Jeremy: my, how knackered you must be feeling after the last couple of months.  I wish you all the luck you deserve in the years to come, which is, I hasten to add, removing all hint of ambiguity, quite a lot, but you’ll probably need some that you don’t as well (I remember the ’80s and your Trot mates).

1-909OK, blogger‘s etiquette.  Tony Broadbent is an old mate – we were in one another’s first beat combo at school – and he sent me an e-copy of The one after 9:09: a mystery with a backbeat (Plain Sight Press, 2015) gratis.  I get an acknowledgment in the acknowledgments and the Persuaders, the band Spike, the lead character in the book plays in, was the name of our group.  The impact the Beatles had on us was huge; this book is a labour of love.  Cliché time: I remember hearing Love me do under the bed sheets on Radio Luxemburg (208 metres medium wave) and feeling a tingle,  thinking – I was a big Everly Brothers fan at the time – hey, these guys are English and this is the real thing.  Tony, as he admits in his afterword to The one after Goldie and the Gingerbreads gig9:09, reverted for a while to using Paul, the first name on his birth certificate, and started speaking with a scouse accent.  Musical differences subsequently arose and Tony graduated to a band that reached the heights of supporting Goldie & the Gingerbreads – Can’t you hear my heartbeat? – at the local Ricky Tick Club.

The mystery in the sub-title concerns the story related in Beatles-manager-to-be Brian Epstein’s autobiography A cellarful of noise about how he was first alerted to the Beatles existence by one Raymond Jones coming into the record department of his family’s furniture store and asking for My bonnie, the record they made in Germany with singer Tony Sheridan.  Tony Broadbent has been working on this novel for a decade and when he started it, it was widely thought that this Jones feller was a fiction.  The surmise of The one after 9:09 is that Raymond Jones got his historically significant namecheck in A cellarful of noise because of services rendered in other circumstances in the Beatles and Brian’s rise to world domination, and the novel, among many other happenings along the way, gives one fictional explanation of what might have occurred.  Subsequently a perfectly real (and more mundane – no offence intended), a reasonable actual Raymond Jones has been found (see The Beatles Bible) but that should in no way take away from the invention of Tony Broadbent‘s weaving of what is real and what is not in the early Beatles/Epstein tale.

So, 1961, Beatles established as Liverpool’s top group, excess in Hamburg, Pete Best on drums, groups a-plenty, Teddy Boy gangs, promoters’ fierce rivalries, Brian Epstein’s paranoid homosexual misadventures, his ‘bigger than Elvis’ vision, the fight to manage ‘the boys’, the struggle to get a recording contract, enter George Martin, enter Ringo.  All pretty much as reported in the sources Tony Broadbent extensively acknowledges.  It’s weird: early on Tony pitches a fixer called Terry McCann straight into action, which I thought was an unfortunate coincidence – Minder and all that.  So I check him out and first mention in the search engine is him attending Cilla Black’s funeral; and he’s not the only one prominent in the story was there.  (Fortunately, keeping the corn at bay, Cilla does not appear in the book.)

51pqM27dAhLIf you want a lively dramatised potted history up to the recording of Please, please me, and how it all felt, then The one after 9:09 is not a bad place to start.  Into all this enter invented teenager Raymond ‘Spike’ Jones – ‘Spike’ from Milligan in The Goons – art school drop-out (same place as Lennon), sometime muscle, admin assistant (bill sticker et al), private eye’s camouflage stand-in at The Cavern (looking out for Epstein), bass guitarist, friend of the Beatles, general man on the scene, and romantic seeker and finder of true love with his judy (not her name).  The several narratives are delivered patchwork as events enticingly unfold, split-screen fashion.  The coffee bars, the pubs, the clubs, the backstreets of Liverpool the backdrop to the action with scousisms and period vernacular aplenty, and lines and phrases from Beatles lyrics worked, with a nod and a wink, into the prose – the actual One after 9:09 quote is a beaut.  Some of the Beatles’ wit could have come out of Hard day’s night, and though some of the fuller passages of dialogue – spelling out dilemmas and options – are a bit strained, I think Lennon’s character, his edginess, is particularly well done.  Raymond Chandler’s advice to writers hitting a plot wall – have a man enter the room with a gun in his hand – might be at play with the appearance of a gang of tooled up red bandana’d Teds more than once.

I’m not going to say it’s a great book – I think Tony’s Creeping narratives, crime thrillers set in post-war and ’50s London, featuring cat burglar Jethro, The Smoke and its successors, are more satisfying conventional genre novels – but it’s an intriguing and entertaining one, the mix of fact and fiction a fascinating exercise.  There were times when reading I forgot it was written by an old mate.  It had me eagerly reading on – even when I knew the score as far as the Beatles story went, tension even in those first meetings with George Martin.  That One after 9:09 is a labour of love, gratitude and affection is evident throughout.

A specific afterthought, one that keeps cropping up generally in all sorts of contexts lately: what if homosexuality had not been illegal when Brian Epstein was a young man?  How might popular music history then have been changed?

InfographicInfographics

As should be obvious from the above I am interested in music.  I am also a big fan of charts and infographics.  So if a picture paints a thousand words and infographics is meant to be a way of displaying information clearly then how come I got so little from Infographic guide to music, as compiled by Graham Betts (Hachette, 2014)?  There are many reasons, not all of which apply to every page:

  • as someone who worked on a student magazine under the influence of Oz magazine I know only too well the problem of reading text (coloured or not) printed on colour; though occasionally decent examples of geometric art emerge, clarification of the issues they are not.
  • even where it’s just about readable and you can make sense of what’s there on the page, a simple list would have been more efficient and much less of an effort to read eg.  It’s your funeral (popular songs chosen for funerals – depressingly Frank Sinatra’s My way)
  • I could care less eg. Radiohead songs by genre; The 360 degrees of Jay-Z (hey, an incomprehensible pie-chart!)

I was going to say at least I got a certain sizeist satisfaction from The height of pop success when it said that the average height of The Beatles was only 5’8″, but on checking who was the short arse I discover that that’s not right.  With Lennon and McCartney at 5’11” and George at 5’10” not even Ringo coming in at 5’6″ can bring them down to that.  Another couple of small saving graces: an analysis of opera endings, Is it over when the fat lady sings? – no, it isn’t; the wit of selecting (of which there was not enough) as a topic What’s on ZZ Top’s mind? (women and/or sex 46%), even if it was actually a list with a pop art illustration.  A random pick-up at the library; at least it adds to their issue statistics.

11949477_10153176884968525_4198881650354426198_nOut and about

Back after its summer break Scribal Gathering picked up where it had left off and hit the eclectic ground running in a half redecorated upstairs at The Crown.  Featured musical ensemble The Outside This (outside the Box?) with the unusual line-up of guitar, drums and three female vocalists (one with added violin for lilt and lyricism) entertained with an energetic and varied set of catchy original material.   They deliver what must be more demanding arrangements than they end up sounding.  Intriguing, and getting better all the time.  Elsewhere a distinct touch of the Brecht/Weil’s from Mitchell Taylor with his jaunty (and now vindicated at least for now) hymn to Jezza, Leaders, and Sian Magill’s ditty, complete with controlled angry rapid recitation, about a friend being made redundant.  Prize for what is Scribal’s loudest spontaneous singalong must surely go to experienced but Scribal first timer, musician to the Brackley Morris, Stephen Ferneyhough, accompanying himself on Anglo-German concertina, with a delightful rendition of the KinksDedicated follower of fashion.  Oh, yes he is: a perfect match.  Some may even call it folk music.

Shakespeare at WestburyGreat little show of snippets from Shakespeare, part of the open weekend at Westbury Arts Centre, a fine old 17th century farm building with extensions in the attractive setting of Shenley Wood, in Milton Keynes.  Should have taken my camera, just for the splendid old wooden doors, never mind the sculptures in the grounds (including a couple of rusted and artistically arranged Austin mini-Metros).  We were treated to extracts from five (or was it six) of the Bard’s comedies (they all tend to jumble up in the memory) on the theme of revenge, delivered in unorthodox style by (it says here) “local Westbury ACprofessional and amateur actors” though you couldn’t really see the join.  Should it be surprising that the Bard’s sharp comic dialogue came over, in one instance, so well as an exchange of text messages?  Beautifully done.  Most inventive of all was that Shylock speech from The Merchant of Venice – “If you prick us do we not bleed?” –  delivered as a slow and meditative monologue by a woman artist who spent plenty of time setting herself up and making herself comfortable in order to sketch us, the audience, before thinking out loud in between further bouts of sketching; tremendously effective.  The joshing of Falstaff in The merry wives of Windsor was another piece that has stayed with me.  Thanks too, to the artists who opened their studios to us.

Walter-Tull-Flattened-239x300Oh, and I put in a stint at the latest Cock & Bull Beer Festival at York House, Friday Night.  Reminded me a bit of being on the enquiry desk at the Central Library – great fun once you’d worked out which way the beer was going to come out at (some down, some sideways).  Didn’t drink much either side of the bar, but I will mention the delicious aroma of elderflower that greets the drinker from Buntingford‘s Sun Star (and very nicely floral it tasted too), and the vibrant ruby delight of the Magpie brewery’s Angry bird (oh yes).  Great Oakley scored well as usual in my book, with their Welland Valley (practically a mild, hurrah!) and Walter Tull, their tribute to a great man and no longer forgotten local hero, the first black outfield professional footballer (Northampton Town and Spurs), the first black British army officer, who died leading his men out of the trenches in the Great War.

 

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