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Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

Out of towners start here: every year in early June, a band of concerned citizens in the old Buckinghamshire market town of Stony Stratford – “the jewel in the crown of Milton Keynes” – have put together StonyLive!, a programme of musical and other cultural events over and above the rich activity that persists all year round.  (To get an idea of its breadth, you might still find further details at https://www.stonylive.info/).  Now read on, for what it’s worth, for one man’s journey through StonyLive! 2019:

Prelude 1

About halfway into Corinne Lucy‘s outstanding featured guest spot at the previous Thursday’s Vaultage she opined, “It’s not all folk noir.  I can write pop songs too” – and very accomplished and uplifting A hundred roses was too.  She finished a powerful set of heartfelt originals with Chasing the centre, a song and performance so good I was thinking if I don’t get to hear anything like again this year, it will have been a good year.  I heard it again, twice, in the course of the next six days: Hey! StonyLive!  More about that song later, by which time, I’d thought of a way to describe it worthily enough (you read it here first).

Vaultage footnote: esteemed open mic ukulelist Sandy Clarke did a touching rendition of When I ruled the world, a song that I did not recognise.  My companion was embarrassed to be able to tell me it was one of Coldplay’s.  Which just goes to show something or other.

Prelude 2

Saturday and Sunday performances of the Carabosse Theatre Company’s Another round of real ale & drama shots were in the StonyLive! programme, but I saw it on the Friday, so here, on a technicality, it must be in the Prelude.

Seven short plays and considerably more real theatrical moments – whaaat? – superbly staged and acted in an intimate venue, stage and fourth wall on the long side of the rectangle.  Harrowing start in the Great War trenches, the first of a series of reverses or, depending on the pace, dramatic twists, that followed.  No, I’d never imagined what the life of the Tooth Fairy was like, but it would never have been like that.  This followed a tense two hander Harold Pinter meets Pete and Dud.

The show closed with an examination of the nature of faith disguised as a Doctor Who episode scripted by Samuel Beckett (a joyless bowler hatted cyborg battalion … but without the Doctor).  There was a lot going on throughout, all neatly compered by minimalist clown-face troubadour Billy Nomad.  Very dark, but absolutely not without humour.  Invidious to single out any of the actors, but Bravo! Artistic Director Sally Luff.

Saturday: Act One

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Brackley Morris Man levitates

New Moon, a mixed “Morris fusion” with a touch of cyberpunk from Ivinghoe, Bucks, let out for the day.

Saturday and it’s bread and eggs from the market and the Day of Dance on the closed to vehicles High Street.  Not just Morris – all manner of terpsichorean delights were on show throughout the day.  Fine weather smiled upon us.

And back to see Corinne Lucy kick off – she had other places to be – a staggering line-up of almost wholly local talent; and talented is the word.  We are blessed.  An entertaining afternoon was spent until the sun’s heat got to me.  Pacing myself for the week … and feeling the lure of the football (only the Champions League Final) … I retired early.  The football was uninspiring (except Liverpool won, said this Arsenal fan) and to all reports a grand time was had in the Stables courtyard of the Bull all evening too.

Sat with a fellow Dylan enthusiast when Corinne was on.  Floated the idea that that song had an angry echo of The gates of Eden about it, but I wasn’t there yet in pinning it down.

Act 2: Classic Cars

And so to Sunday, another fine morning and the traditional (how long does it take?) Classic Cars show.  Plenty of people, plenty of cars, but it’s possible I’m getting a bit jaded.  The more modern expensive stuff has no interest for me.  No great Wows! this year and a couple of old favourites were absent – still interesting though – and nostalgia took hold.

From the top: driving practise around South Bucks in my mum’s Morris Minor, trafficators (hence the ‘Attention’ in the photo) – indicators sticking out of the side of the car – before she had the garage put in lights.  Rovers 95 and 100 (unfortunately the other way round in the photo) and sinking into the leather seats of my mate Mark’s dad’s car (it might even have been a 90) in Birkenhead, very early ’70s.  And the Austin A30.  At uni I had use of another mate’s van while he was doing his term abroad (scholastic, not prison); battery needed attention, got it, but in the process I inadvertently ruined – thigh denim disintegrated when I scratched an itch – a perfectly good pair of jeans; remember batteries, never mind battery acid, as a thing to worry about?  There’s another story too, but … no, too long a tale.

Act 3: Monday

Early evening joined the Stony Stratford Theatre Society‘s Shakespeare Walkabout – excerpts from the plays, a sonnet or two, bracketed at each location with songs from the Not Two Bees, who were great fun.  Nice to be reminded, too, of Lord Buckley‘s hipster (old school) take on Mark Anthony’s funeral oration from Julius Caesar:  “The bad jazz a cat blows / wails long after he’s cut out.”

Blues from the Ouse captured the previous day at Classic Cars.

And then it’s Blues from the Ouse.  Again.  Started off quietly enough with just a handful of us in the Vaults Bar but it soon filled up and a fine evening of da blues was had, Ian Anderson’s strong voice never faltering (he’s a busy man) and young cohort James Ives playing up a subtle storm.  Ian: “I played a bum note there, but … a tip I got from James: keep playing it and they’ll think you meant it.”  Audience member: “So you can teach an old dog new tricks.”  Took me by surprise when they finished with a glorious, swinging, celebratory take on Van Morrison’s Moondance.

Act 4: Tuesday

There is so much going on most nights that a choice has to be made between something not usually on offer – hey! Flanders & Swann – and being loyal to one’s confreres, or worse having to choose between two of the latter.  One of these StonyLives! I will make it to the big A Capella session in the Vaults, and doubtless drink too much and lose my voice for the rest of the week.

And so to an interesting Evening with the Bard and Friends. Which started with a worthy history lesson-come-poetic disquisition on racism and white privilege, in which a few pearls shone out, like “The two Isaacs, Newton and Gregory” (or was it the other way round? – still good).  It lightened up somewhat after that.  Donna Bond made me laugh.  Stony Bard Mitchell Taylor commendably didn’t take up too much performance time for himself (I mean that in a good way).

Memo to aspirant Spoken Worders: the use of a staple gun to clip the pages of long pieces together is not to be recommended, especially if you’re holding a mic in the other hand.  Employing the method adopted by Sam Upton – dropping the sheet to the floor when the words thereon have been spoken – is not only practical but also conveys a certain je ne sais quoi.  I’m saying nothing about the use of mobile phones.

Mojo Mules finished the evening in great style, with vigour, skill and wit.  Another blues duo, jazz tinged this time, with, progressively, added lap steel, and then an upgraded washboard with bells on (or rather one bell, £2 on Amazon, which made his life complete, said its wielder).

[A Bill Withers moment: pretty much the same time as Manny was incorporating a Bill Withers song segment in one of his songs (was it Ain’t no sunshine?), over in the Vaults A Capella session, as later found in FaceBook, they were doing Lean on me.  For people in both venues, then, near the end of a Lovely day]

Act 5: Ode to the Siren

Event of the week for me, and I’m not the only one.  A brave and timely (see Thursday) concept wonderfully realised.  Take a bow Jill and Jonathan Taylor.

Corinne Lucy again, with her powerful, heartfelt story songs (wishing an ex- happiness, Neil Gaiman’s take on The little mermaid (she said that), Bird of paradise inspired by eighteenth century naturalist specimen collectors, among others) and then Chasing the centre again, that closing line to all three verses, “And I knew it was lying“, still echoing in my head 6 days on.  OK, here we go: imagine Alan Ginsberg’s Howl personalised – one of those best minds desperately pacing the city streets looking for signs and answers – and sung by Joni Mitchell (with an English accent).  No spoilers.

Naomi Rose, another great original songwriter and performer, mentioned previously in despatches, was on the top of her game too.  As were poets Danni and Vanessa.  All topped off by the wonderful Fay Roberts, fresh sonnets to deliver, speaking of little known feminist heroines (should that be heroes theses days?), and more.  I know, I’ve mentioned Fay’s ‘quiet power’ before, but I’m sorry, I can’t do any better.  She enchants, entrances with a vivid mix of language old, new, formal and vernacular.

Archivists note: regrettably Naomi couldn’t make it.

Act 6: More songwriters

Is there a collective noun?  Anyway, Thursday and it must be Vaultage but with something fresh this StonyLive! week.  No open mic and a strict 12 minutes, no covers, rule, with a cash prize for the best song.  Amazingly went smoothly, flushed out some newcomers to Vaultage and some decent songs.  Apples and oranges, but, you know, it worked as a show.  As one of the four judges (plus Chair in case of a draw), I have to say it gave me an insight into what hell being on a Booker Prize panel might be like.  Luckily two of our panel were in agreement from the start, otherwise discussion might have gone all night; even then, the audience were getting restless.

Worthy winner was Stony Bard Mitchell Taylor with For the benefit of, a sprightly and muscular original take on mental health issues.  Icing on the cake, his encore and a singalong of Ian Dury’s There aint half been some clever bastards. Nice to be reminded.

Friday wimp out

Not to put too fine a point on it, I wimped out.  The rigours of the judging and four consecutive nights out – unprecedented this, oh, millennium – took its toll.  Thought of just walking up and down the High Street playing Cover Band Bingo but in the end stayed in and caught up on a bit of television.  Next year, Lillabullero, you shall go to Woburn Jazz.

Saturday

Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but a traditional lunchtime pint in the Fox to the accompaniment of the Concrete Cowboys seemed somehow compulsory.  Couldn’t face Saturday night crowds but that’s irrelevant because – I know, I know – I should have gone to IOTA in York House.

Postlude: Folk on the Green

Definitely not part of StonyLive! Oh no!  As part of the permissions  needed – Horsefair Green is surrounded by houses – no pre-publicity and no leaking of the line-up beforehand.  A local festival for local people.  A fine and mostly local line-up it proved too.

Wandered down the road to buy a programme at mid-day to find the upful jangling African guitar sound of Safari Boots, rather than the usual mournful solo artiste starter, filling the air.  And so it continued, next up the excellent Innocent Hare.  The roster of acts signalled a shift back towards folk on the Green’s origins, so the accomplished kids from MK Rock School were the rockest act on show: no token gesture this, as far as age goes, either, though it did seem a little strange watching young teens ripping into Smells like teen spirit, written by Kurt Cobain when he was 23.  A hard rock Come together came together nicely too.

Follow that, the fragrant Naomi Rose, and she did, to much appreciation, finishing with the wonderful The wonderful (which, of course, isn’t on Soundcloud, but her opener, a song about Milton Keynes is: be my guest).

Then the Cock and Bull Band, who were playing (well, a couple of them) the very first Folk on the Green I ever went to, many moons ago, before we even moved here.  Full of bounce, quite why there was mass dancing to Togmor rather than they I can only put down to it only being the half-way point in proceedings.  10 acts in total, and the beats went on.  Relaxed, satisfying, weather behaved itself, a good one.

Acknowledgments

Cheers to one and all on the StonyLive! Coordinating Committee – ‘the best ever?’ I have heard suggested.  And to the Folk on the Green Committee for its refocussing of a community event to be proud of.  And the volunteers, sponsors and performers.  Thanks again.  See you next year.

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There was once a music shop“.  So opens Rachel Joyce‘s novel The music shop (Doubleday, 2017), and that’s where the trouble starts – I don’t believe you.  It may be 1988 with NF graffiti on the walls, but here we are really living in the land of fable.  That the shop is situated on Unity Street gives the game away, I’d say.  At The music shop‘s core is a drawn-out, convoluted operatic love story; if it were an old film you can practically hear the violins on the page (not in a good way).  And at the end, 21 years later, there’s a grand song and dance finale that cries out for the musical stage or a big screen.  Not a great novel, then.

We could debate how clever or cute it is that the book’s structure follows that of a vinyl double album (Side A through to Side D, with a Hidden track at the end) and that a lot of chapter headings are song titles.  I’m not convinced.  The test of a book with music to the fore is how much it makes you want to hear what’s being cited, and, yes, The music shop did make me want to revisit some of the classical works discussed (The fours seasons, even).  Here’s the biographical context of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata:

It’s so intimate, what he’s doing, he’s practically having sex with her.’
‘Sex?’ Her face stretched wide. ‘Beethoven?’
‘Or at least good foreplay.’
Sex? Foreplay? Horrified, he heard the words that had come from his mouth.

So I’m not saying it doesn’t have its moments, nor that it doesn’t have decent musical taste (I almost cheered aloud when The new favourites of Brinsley Schwartz made an appearance in a list, though that’s another story), just that the rock stuff doesn’t sing off the page in the same way, or get much context.  Blues hardly figure at all, even though all the characters have got ’em, one way or another.

Most of the best bits of The music shop come out of the owner of the shop’s – Frank’s – back story, his life and broad early musical education at the hands of an eccentric bohemian single mum who died young.  He’d rather have had a normal childhood, but she left him with his special talent, of which more later.  His mum is really interesting; that’s a novel I’d rather have read.  Her stuff appears in italics.  She’s a card: ‘Bach was a genius,’ she said … ‘He was jazz in fucking Baroque fucking Germany.’  On Perotin and the birth of harmony: ‘In those days music was mostly plainsong. It was a bit – how could she put this? Fucking plain.’ Frank hardly swears at all.  And the game changer (not that we hear much about Mile Davies):

When Peg played Kind of Blue, Frank had no idea what hit him. It was 1959. The album had just come out, and he was 11.
As he listened, it was like doors opening …
‘This is the record that will change history,’ said Peg. […]

Frank’s special talent is that he can tell what people need to listen to.  Right at the start he persuades a man who professes to ‘only liked Chopin’ to take home an Aretha Franklin album and … Eureka!  He saves his bank manager’s marriage (and secures an overdraft extension to keep the shop going for himself) by pressing a Shalomar album on him.  Many people benefit over the years from his guru-like gift.  Looking for some sort of scoop, or at least a touch of the authentic, I asked a friend of mine who is an avid reader and a qualified music therapist what he thought of The music shop; bastard hadn’t read it (no offence).

So this is no ordinary record shop.  We’ll pass over its realistic financial viability; he’s holding out religiously against CDs, and this is twenty years before the advent of the vinyl revival.  Interesting concept, and you can see what he means but … (and anticipating Amazon’s tricks):

I see you don’t have any sections.?’
‘I put records where I think they should go. I am more interested in what it’s like when you – when you, uh, you know … […]
‘What?’ she asked.
‘When you –
listen. So if a customer asks for Rubber Soul, they usually find something else they would like as well.’

So Frank attempted to explain that Vivaldi was telling a story in the Four Seasons. It was why he kept it with his concept albums, like Ziggy Stardust, At Folsom Prison by Johnny Cash, ABC’s The lexicon of love and John Coltrane’s A love supreme. Concept albums told a story over a number of tracks.

This Frank is a man with “a kind of empathy for everyone.”  As one of his fellow shopkeepers (a tattoo artist no less) says, he has “no room to accommodate the fact that someone might turn round one day and love him back“.  On the one hand inspirational, on the other, really bloody annoying (but the back story …):

So what was Frank going to do about [the event that sets the narrative off]? Frank was going to do what he always did when life got confusing, and that was absolutely nothing. If that didn’t work, he would do the next thing he always did when life was confusing, and hide.

And what of Unity Street, a half abandoned side street parade, away from the main shopping drag in a failing provincial town, suffering from planning blight, falling masonry, and a voracious developer trying to buy the stubborn survivors out.  A little community, then: “All life is here”, even after the baker had sold up – a funeral parlour, a religious gifts store, a music shop and a tattoo parlour.  Father Anthony, a retired priest (no, drink, not that) was saved by Frank introducing turning him on to jazz, calls his shop ‘Articles of Faith’.

Side D takes us 21 years on, after a catastrophe involving a sub-McGuffin of a shrink-wrap machine (for second hand vinyl?).  As I say, The music shop the stuff of musicals.  A lot of people have been heartened by the happy ending (oops).

Music, Maestro please …

Meanwhile, back in the real world, a couple of Saturdays ago (May 9) we were worshipping in the Church of the Bullfrogs at York House .  Shall I say ‘local legends’?  Why not!  Their special 25th birthday gig, no less – 1994 at the Fox and Hounds and all that.  Great evening, kicked off with a blast of hard-driving blues-powered rock from original members of the Beneficial Blues Band, out of whom which the Bullfrogs were spawned.  And when they hit the stage the canvas was broadened more than a wee bit with big colourful strokes of Southern Rock, Tex-Mex, and self-proclaimed ‘original Outlaw Country’.  A waltz even … and even if it was Green grow the rushes / Viva Mexico, there were waltzers.

Over the course of the evening we saw two drummers, three guitarists, three fiddlers from over the Bullfrog years and just the one redoubtable Ian Anderson, on bass, vocals and boundless energy. Pete Cripps deserves a special nod too for being on stage all night.  Highlights?  I’ve never heard a fiddle contributing to a Bo Diddley beat before but I have now.  The inevitable but consummate Sweet home Alabama … complete with guitar/fiddle duel.  Ian as Preacher Man, on a mission to rid the world of alcohol (there was a punch-line), never mind Everybody needs to believe in something … I believe I’ll have another beer“.  Copperhead Road got its full due (never short-changed) from band and crowd.  Towards the end there all three fiddlers triumphantly strutted the stage for another Steve Earle’s song – When Johnny come marching home – delivered at increasingly lunatic speed.  And then came The devil came to Georgia.

People pay obscene amounts of money and travel miles to see matchstick musicians (or rather their projected images) perform.  This was a great night full of energy, passion and skill.  You could see the whites of their eyes (and they ours) and the beer was £3.50 a pint.  As I walked home a fine half-moon looking for all the world like a sugared lemon jelly fruit slice shone down on me.

Scribal & Vaultage

At May’s Scribal performance poet Kezzabelle, ‘Mistress of Mischief’ and Fairy of life (apologising for not showering us with glitter since she found out it was not sustainable or biodegradable), was fun, serious (long saving-the-planet piece), and back again with her Retro-Afro-Muff.   From the floor Inappropriate Graham from Rugby, fitted 3-piece suit and all, was suitably inappropriate, while the Bendy Witch’s secularist anthem God and cheese got a worthy reprise.  This year Scribal has been quirkily graced with  … what shall we call them? …  short short stories? long epigrams? gnomic vignettes? … from the mind of graphic artist Paul Rainey (pen name P.Brainey).  This month’s piece about the anti-Earth always opposite Earth in its orbit round the Sun threw up all sorts of unlikely delights, including the ex-JD and radio personality TLD’s response to allegations made against him.

Vaultages coming and going so fast … Woolford Scott a singer-songwriter I’d not mind seeing more of (“You can be my Julie Andrews / I’ll be your Dick van Dyke”); Corinne Lucy solo a singer and writer of exquisite power.  It can be touch and go in the Vaults some nights with a general pub hub-bub from the bar, but Corinne had ’em listening.  Blues from the Ouse and it’s that man again – the aforementioned Ian Anderson and talented young guitarist James Ives playing da blues; Ives had also shone earlier in his other duo.  Sandy Clarke braved a Status Quo trilogy one week … on ukulele.  Last week there were two ukes at the same time.

Milton Keynes Gallery 

And lo, Milton Keynes Gallery did re-open bigger and better a couple of months ago.  Yay MK!  Could only manage a swift dash through in the opening week and was suitably impressed (there’ll be plenty of time…), and finally managed a more relaxed stroll through of opening show The lie of the land a couple of days before it closed.  There was text on the wall in the first get-a-flavour gallery that I wish I’d copied one way or another, referencing the many layered meanings of that word ‘lie’ not forgetting fabrication.  I feel the need to cite Neil Young’s After the Goldrush and “I was thinking about what a friend had said / I was hoping it was a …[sorry for the earworm] ).  Anyway, the Press Release gives a pretty good idea of the depth and variety of it all:

Through a playful and provocative display The Lie of the Land charts how British landscape was radically transformed by changes in free time and leisure activities since hunting and shooting, the recreations of the aristocracy, were enjoyed on the rolling hills of their private estates. In part, tracing a line between Capability Brown’s aristocratic gardens at Stowe and the social, urban experiment at neighbouring Milton Keynes, the exhibition teases out the aspirations that underpin our built environments.

The Lie of the Land examines the modernisation of leisure propelled by industrialisation, a theme developed from Canaletto’s painting of the fashionable public entertainment venue, Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. The Victorian era, with its social reforms aiming to improve urban living conditions, is represented by the Parks Movement. Alongside works by early science fiction writer Jane Loudon and the founder of the Garden City Movement Ebenezer Howard, the exhibition also includes the first-ever lawnmower, John Ruskin’s rock collection and influential horticulturalist Gertrude Jekyll’s gardening boots …

There’s more at www.mkgallery.org/whats-on/the-lie-of-the-land/ (it’ll still be there somewhere after the event) including a list of the many artists displayed.  The new era has got off to a good start.

The long wall in the Wolfson Gallery was a stunner, a fascinating collection of conventional paintings hung on a backdrop of William Morris Strawberry thief design wallpaper.

On the other side of the gallery a series of photos documenting goalposts painted on a variety of walls and locations in northern industrial towns caught my interest.  And there was much more, contextualised in The lie of the land by the company they were keeping.

Couple of favourites: to the right of the long one on the wall (Carel Weights’ The Dogs, 1956 – hello Dad), Mabel Frances Layng’s post-Great War Mars and Venus (c1918); and John Walker Tucker’s optimistic Hiking (1936) before the next one:

 

 

 

 

 

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My title is drawn from Ben Aaronovitch‘s The rivers of London (Gollancz, 2011).  A vestigial function is not a bad description of how Lillabullero (this humble blog) quite often feels about itself.  Anyway, it’s how the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has always thought, reasonably enough, given the rise of science, about the special section of the Economic & Specialist Crimes Unit that Peter Grant, official apprentice wizard, serves in.

The rivers of London is a magic realism police procedural with a violent macabre streak.  It is the first of a series of books that now boasts seven titles, and if its successors continue to maintain this energy level I shall be impressed.  If you can put the episodes of video game gore to one side (faces viscerally falling off) it is great fun and, rich as it is in the psychogeography and history of London, highly educational too.

Peter Grant is a mixed race Londoner, son of an English jazz musician who once played with Tubby Hayes (such detail is important), a functioning drug addict with a “finely tuned ability to sabotage his own career“; his mum is a high-end office cleaner, with all the perks that can provide, originally from Sierra Leone.  Their council flat makes for a welcome port in the eventual storm, an affectionate interlude rich in family back story.

Peter’s first task, fully fledged PC, fresh from completing his probationary years, and relieved not to have been posted to the Case Progressions Unit, is to help in trying to stop a turf war breaking out between the street crews of the river gods: Mother (aka Mama) Thames (“the goddess of the river”, actually Nigerian), who rules the tidal section, and the Old Man of the River, Father Thames, who’s a bit old school fairground, hanging out at the source.  He liaises through various water sprites, guardians of the Thames’s tributaries.  At one stage Mama mentions his father:

You know my father?’
‘No,’ she said, and gave me a knowing smile. ‘Only in the sense that all the musicians of London belong to me, especially the jazz and bluesmen. It’s a river thing.’
‘Are you on speaking terms with the Mississippi, then?’ I asked. My father always swore that jazz, like the blues, was born in the muddy waters of the Mississippi. My mother swore that it came from the bottle, like all the devil’s best work.

It’s Peter’s boss who smooths the waters with Father Thames:

My contribution to the conversation was cursory at best,’ said Nightingale. ‘A great deal of it was technical, groundwater overdrafts, aquifer delay circles and aggregate catchment-area coefficients. Apparently all these will affect how much water goes down the river this summer.’
‘If I was to go back two hundred years and have that same conversation,’ I said, ‘what would the Old Man have talked about then?’
‘What flowers were blooming,’ said Nightingale. ‘What kind of winter we’d had – the flight of birds on a spring morning.’
‘Would it have been the same Old Man?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Nightingale. ‘It was the same Old Man in 1914, I can tell you that for certain.’

I know – this is probably too late a text, but hey, it breaks up my text.

Meanwhile, all hell is breaking loose in Covent Garden, culminating in murderous mayhem spreading out from – get this – a Royal Opera House performance.  This is the culmination of a series of violent episodes, revealed (with the help of the memories of a couple of well-preserved theatre-going river sprites), as the actions of a revenant, one Henry Pyke, “a vampire ghost bent on revenge who was acting out the traditional story of Punch and Judy using real people as puppets“.  Pyke goes back a long way, a theatrical failure and maybe wrongfully accused murderer, fuelled by injustice, and now intent on acting out a particular eighteenth century Punch & Judy text.  In passing we get some fascinating background on Punchinello as “the spirit of riot and rebellion.”

The ghost of Pyke gets its energy from the anger of modern London.  There’s a tour de force five-page passage set in a multiplex cinema foyer, as a well-dressed, middle-aged woman with four girls age 9 to 11 in tow, tries to buy tickets to see a film, including cashing in some vouchers.  With the frustrations of a first, long slow-moving queue and a then an obtuse ticket seller, she loses it completely:

‘I just wanted to go to the pictures,’ she said. ‘When I was young you just went to the local Odeon and said ‘a ticket please’, and you gave them money and they gave you a ticket. When did it become so complicated? When did these disgusting nachos arrive? I mean, what the fuck is a nacho anyway?’ One of the girls giggled nervously at the profanity.

The rivers of London is a fast-paced treasure trove of wit, observation and (among many other things) architectural commentary.  Suspension of disbelief is obviously compulsory (Isaac Newton also wrote a Principia Artes Magicus), though some of the straight police procedure stuff seems knowledgeable.  A couple of one-liners to leave with you: No way,” [says Beverley, a river nymph] “You’re not getting me up past Teddington Lock. I’m strictly tidal ...”  Meanwhile, on the streets of London, “clusters of young people from all over Europe exercised their time-honoured right to block the pavement from one side to another.”

A musical interlude

A grand night’s shantying at York House a couple of weekend’s ago.  Ably supported by the 6 men and 1 woman of 5 men not called Matt, the 4 men of Kimber’s Men made it sound like like there were more of them than a quartet – the value of a spectacularly resonant bass anchor sees to that.  Hailing from landlocked Halifax, West Yorkshire, “the centre of the shanty universe” – Hull an hour and a half’s drive to the east, Liverpool ditto west, plus other cardinal points of the compass – they entertained us, made us laugh, and moved us, and a sparing tactical use of guitars on a couple of songs gave a bit of variety to proceedings.  A rousing, joyful evening, but something special happened to the audience during Don’t take the heroes, concerning the Penlee lifeboat disaster of 1981.  All 11 singers hit the stage for a final encore of Shenandoah; one had not realised there were quite so many verses.

Before I go to sleep

Have to say it, and it’s true.  I read a lot of the early part of S.J.Watson‘s Before I go to sleep (2011) in bed, before I went to sleep.  Not a good tactic a lot of the time, though it’s a habit – one tends to forget, and have to recap – but given the nature of the inevitably repetitive nature of Before I go to sleep‘s narrative, not so bad.  After a traumatic assault 20 years previously, 47-year-old Christine Lucas has literally has no memory of herself: “What are we if not an accumulation of our memories?”  She can function on a practical level, but when she wakes up she has to be reminded who she is, who the man she is living with, the whole lot.  She sees a younger woman in the mirror.  There have been documented cases in the scientific literature.

Christine has a new therapist, who, seeing hints of something returning, tries a new tactic: her keeping a secret journal, which she has to read every morning to keep herself up to speed and not lose any fleeting real memories she might have gained.  (As it grows, of course, she must surely have to find more and more time to read, a problem which is not addressed in the narrative).

It’s a page-turner all right, as she approaches an inkling of what happened to get her like this, and then events take over – who to trust, a red herring, revelations and, in the end, edge of the seat stuff.  The trouble is, as Judy said at Reading Group, the book is marketed as a thriller so the fascination with her dilemma – that of living without an identity – is subsumed in the expectation of something really bad happening.  One’s reading is being engineered.

That said, there is plenty of fascination to be had from Christine’s existential insecurity and the seemingly real glimpses of memories returning, especially after contact is made with Claire, her closest friend from university, Claire.  Add into the mix that Christine discovers she’s a published novelist.  Within two pages we are, it might not be too far-fetched to say, in Philip K. Dick territory:

[p103 pbk] I know that the book I am writing – my second, I realise with pride – may be dangerous, as well as necessary. It is not fiction. It may reveal things best left undiscovered. Secrets that ought not to see the light of day.
But still my pen moves across the page.

[p105] I felt solid ground begin to slip away. Maybe everything I had written was a lie. I am a novelist, after all, I thought. Or I used to be.
The futility of my logic hit me. I used to write fiction, therefore my assertion that I had been a novelist might be one of those fictions. In which case I had not written fiction. My head spun.

The ending is left nicely ambiguous as to how much genuine memory has been recovered as opposed to supplied, how much she will wake up with on the morrow and the next day.  But when we compare memories, two buddies and I, from university, disparities, never wilful, persist.  Couple of Christine’s, sparks to her further seeking, strike me as being ‘real’ enough, though.  Like this one where her mate Claire has set up a meet with her future husband:

‘So where’s this guy, then?’ I say, but she, doesn’t hear me. I feel the buzz of the alcohol and the weed and begin to dance.  The room is full of people, dressed mostly in black.  Fucking art students, I think.

Briefly, a chronicling catch up:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just goes to show how lax Lillabullero has been, due to events and among other things … Channel4 adding the truly great Cheers to their early morning menu of Frasier (even though I have the box set) and Everybody loves Raymond and the morning has practically gone.  Discipline is required.

Highlights only, then, casting no negative aspersions (and memory fades).  Click on the images for further details.  Hard to resist a woman with a dobro and a big hat playing driving Americana (Jasmine Burns at Scribal), while new Bard Mitchell Taylor skillfully mixed poetry and song in his set.  Tim B has a powerful voice, while Crossroots, with their new lead vocalist have a great encore in Hava Nagila.  Open mic-er Chloe at Vaultage deserves mention: if I’d closed my eyes during her I’d rather go blind I could have sworn Bonnie Raitt (probably three times her age) was in the house.

Johnny Fluffypunk at Scribal (photo © Jonathan Taylor) was an experience.  This “sustainable nihilist” covers a lot of bases, playing homage to the rarely used word that is ‘micturate’ along the way.  With a delivery that could have carried all sorts of nonsense never mind the quality stuff on show and still scored … I wish I’d taken more notes.

To call Kenneth J Nash homely doesn’t recognise the depth  of his sweet and sour songs.  Lovely relaxed voice too, I seem to recall.

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Monsieur Hobbs at Vaultage. Original un-cropped photo © Pat Nicholson

First guest up here today is Stephen Hobbs, delivering his annual close-to-home and personal Top of the Poetry & Spoken Word Pops selection for 2018.  This was aired publicly at the culmination of the triumphal (steady on!) return of the celebrated Scribal Gathering – complete with new logo – of which more later.  The one obvious omission from this list of worthy miscreants, geniuses and institutions, many of whom have been mentioned in despatches here at Lillabullero*, is, of course, Mr Hobbs – keeper of various flames – himself.  What a word-popping trooper!  Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce to you, the act you’ve known for all these years, Mr Stephen – “that’s Stephen with a ‘ph'” – Hobbs and his …

Stephen Hobbs’s Top of My Poetry & Spoken Word Pops 2018

Hello Poetry & Spoken Word Pop Pickers! This is the Top of My Poetry & Spoken Word Pops for 2018.

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From 20 to 11

It’s: “The Bar Bar Black Sheep Café”, “The Boat Inn” at Stoke Bruerne, “The Sunset Lounge” at The Cannon in Newport, “The Song Loft” at Stony, “Utter Lutonia” in Luton, Lynette Hill, Dave Quayle’s “Lillabullero … Blog” *, Danni Antagonist, and Mossman!

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At Number 10!

Just squeaking in by a gnat’s gonad after 11 months of doing fuck all, it’s the godfather of the open mic scene in Stony – it’s Jonathan Taylor and SG!

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At Number 9!

It’s a proper poetry & spoken word night where open mic’ers can associate with proper published poets. No Sports TV. No Fruit Machines. They’ve been around for over 5 years and they run a couple of poetry slams a year. I’ve been runner-up three times and last year

I was equal third. Time to give up? Not a chance – one final Banzai charge in 2018. But nobody turns up to contend, so I am proclaimed The Slam Champion of 2018! Please don’t tell anyone how I really got it. Next year I get to host it, so let’s be having you! It’s Ian McEwan and the Ouse Muse over in Bedford!

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At Number 8!

Still the hardest working poetry/S&M/bass&triangle combo in the country. “Pointy Fingers”, “Random words in a random order”, “Friday Night is Gimp Night down at the Fighting Cocks”, “They don’t need it”, and “Stick ‘em up a chimney” – I can’t get those words out of my head. It’s The AntiPoet!

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At Number 7!

The 8th Bardic Trials in January 2018! For the first time in its history the Trials was contested by only two contenders and the good people of Stony Stratford voted Sam Upton their 8th Bard.

We now look forward to the 9th Bardic Trials on January 18th 2019.  Are you Bard enough?  You have until the 6th January to make your Bardic application. If you don’t want to be Bard or if you are barred from becoming Bard then please come and be Audience. In addition to the Bardic candidates, we also have a superb headlining performance poet – Hannah Chutzbah – who will be your reward. Your favourite sound system (thank you JT) will be making us all sound much better, whilst Bardic helpers will be running the bar. What’s not to like? A Bardic Council production. Bardabing Bardaboom!

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At Number 6!

The Feast of Fools storytelling club in Northampton continues to provide the perfect platform for storytelling open mic’ers and it’s also a great venue where the master storytellers can be seen and heard at work. Richard York we salute you!

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At Number 5!

By her own standards this has been a very quiet year for Number 5 but Life (with a capital L) has intervened to take her away from us. Nevertheless, she remains the Godfecker of Spoken Word – it’s Vanessa Horton!

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At Number 4!

A person who continues to bring storytelling, community spirit, and youth drama to Stony Stratford in a unique and compelling way. Despite being a PhD student at Loughborough University; she continues to find the time to create and tell brilliant stories, write pantomimes, run storytelling & steampunk workshops, and Chair the Bardic Council. It’s Terrie Howey!

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At Number 3!

It’s farkin’ Shakespeare innit! He’s the dogs bollocks. For her love of Shakespeare and her ubiquitous dramatic presence around Stony Stratford – it’s Caz Tricks!

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At Number 2!

He’s always there, like the ghost at the wedding. Chemist. Mime artist. Comedian. Poet. Singer/Songwriter. Guitarist? Past Bard. Consummate starer. Shakespearean actor. Storyteller. Yellow vest activist. Phil Chippendale!

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Pat ‘the Hat’ Nicholson. Without hat.

At Number 1! The Top of My Poetry & Spoken Word Pops for 2018 is …..

Someone you all know. A person of great generosity, a person of music, a person of words. A person who embodies the very best spirit of Stony Stratford. Someone who is always there for other people. He’ll give you an open mic spot, he’ll give you a headline set, he’ll lend you his guitar, he’ll even look after your dog. Singer/Songwriter, Poet, Bard, and Vaultage Master. I salute Pat Nicholson!

©Stephen Hobbs

[Mr Nicholson was presented with a whopper of a lollipop]

* The chronicler feels obliged to record that on the night Steve said (and typed, actually) ‘TinTin’ where Lillabullero should have appeared.  For this he is forgiven.  With thanks for keeping me bubbling under.

Vaultages

And while we’re here … Pat’s Vaultage continues on a roll, hitting the spot with great variety, or with Fraser & Toots, one could say the closest it gets to the Variety Hall – witty songs of everyday dilemmas and quirks.

Normally fortnightly, for at least the tail end of the year Vaultage was invited by the Vaults Bar to go weekly.  Which I completely forgot, so sorry, Group Therapy.  Linda Watkins provided as much polished serenity as is ever likely at this gig, while Paul Martin’s 4PM, an accomplished instrumental folk quartet, played up a storm – rare sight of dancing even – the driving power of Paul’s mandocello much in evidence.  Apart from a bit of a sing-song, to a French tune not a million miles away from Ding dong merrily on high, that Christmas billing a bit of a misnomer.

Janice Miller and Ian Walker (“He’s a strapping lad,” said Mike), regular open mic-ers, were well worthy of a featured spot, which they delivered with grace, power and aplomb, voice and guitar, respectively, more than hinting of late ’60s folk.  Couple of Dylan songs and Joan Baez’s Diamonds and rust, a haunting Ride on (à la Christy Moore) and a pumped-up Blackwater side, plus a couple more – a fine set.

Long overdue: a mention in despatches from Vaultage, for Pat’s able cohort: Andy Barber, standing at the bongos, hypnotic handpan in lap, or battling with the PA – take a bow, Sir!

Scribal Gathering

But back to Scribal.  So good to greet its return, smart new logo and all – music hall playbill? – an early Christmas present.  And what a roll call for an open mic, albeit the phoenix was rising again with a few judicious invitees.

So Americana duo the Hatstand Band (double bass No.1) kicked off this festive Christmas edition with a trio of rather good murder ballads.  Poet Mossman and storyteller Lynette Hill followed.  Mick & Steve’s Christmas Jukebox opened with a pretty straight Blue Christmas, and then proceeded to murder one of my favourite – a short list – Christmas songs: the one about the cavalry.  Complete with Kazoo Orchestra; great fun.  They signed off with the Band-Aid Do they know it’s Christmas; “I’ve never heard anyone do that live”, said Antipoetaster, Paul Eccentric – say no more.  Up comes Caz with her spirited Scribal Gathering: House rules, the text of which appears in its full (or thereabouts) glory below, with her permission and for your delectation.  Then a brief touch of poetic class from Liam Farmer Malone.

The Antipoet (double bass No.2) started with a couple of new numbers, and I wish I’d taken more notes.  One about the ills if consumerism (“They don’t need it“) and one called (?) Kids today (“Stick ’em up the chimney“; their Christmas number invited F.Christmas to do one, and, asking for request, reminded us that We play for food.  There may have been a bit more.

MK Acapella, a male voice choir, amazed with their harmonies and celebrated the season with the Beach Boys’ Little Saint Nick.  8th Bard of Stony Stratford, Sam Upson, in what might well have been a farewell performance in the role, regaled us with some of his Stony stuff.  Stephen Ferneyhough concertina-ed us in Music hall mode, Oom-pa-ing all the way.  Danni Antagonist performed poems from her brand new slim volume, Emotion Memory.  Phil Chippendale appeared in the guise of his new alter ego, un gilet jeaune … avec cod Français.

Walker Miller I’ve told you about in Vaultages: Buckets of rain kept falling and another powerful Black WatersideStephen Hobbs presented his Top of the PopsAnd a lollipop to Pat Nicholson.  Last up an open mic-er who was new to most of us – fresh voices always needed and welcome – a bloke whose name I missed, but with a more than decent bitter-sweet song about his dad.  It’s great to have Scribal back.  Twas like it had never been away.  I’m thankful I’ve managed to finish this before the next Scribal night at the Crown.  Not that I’m going to be doing this every time, but I hope I haven’t left anyone out.  Bravo Jonathan JT Taylor and all the elves!  Bravo!

A lot of performers dislike Open Mics because of – to be kind – the general background pub hub-bub, or indeed the blatant disrespect shown to performers by ‘audience members’ who have come to converse regardless of what else is happening.  Stony Stratford’s Scribal Gathering is a bit special in this regard, from its  conception being a creative vehicle for poets, spoken word artists, singers and musicians.  Performers can invariably be confident of getting an attentive (and generous) audience.  Especially if Ms Tricks is in the house:

Caz Tricks’s
Scribal Gathering:
House Rules

It’s all about the words
From the musos
The poets
The often absurd

It’s the voices
Their choices
Their thoughts and reflections
Their sounds
Their music
And their perceptions
The rhythm
The structure
The flow
And the feel
The stories they’re telling
The fiction
The real

It’s the sharing
The sharing of thoughts
Both sublime and ridiculous
They go on a journey
And sometimes it’s serious

There’s an etiquette
A way to play
You listen
applaud
perform and should stay
Don’t do your bit
Then split
That’s not okay
it’s really [immaculately timed comic pause] rude*

You don’t have to perform
You don’t need to show off
You can just sit and listen

However
It’s the person behind the mic I want to hear
Not the twat at the back with their wine or their beer
We take time with our rhyme
We craft it, don’t shaft it:
Shut the fuck up or go downstairs

©Caz Tricks
* Honourable exception to the Antipoet, and others, who have come a long way and/or have a double bass to consider.

The Kazoo Orchestra (hiding their kazoos), that’s Caz 2nd left (c) Jonathan JT Taylor

 

 

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The beautiful librarians

The title poem of Sean O’Brien’s The beautiful librarians (Picador Poetry, 2015) starts off with the poet remembering how, as a schoolboy in the early ’60s, he was in awe of the young librarians – ‘Like Francois Hardy’s shampooed sisters – in his local library, how he yearned to inhabit the life he glimpses in them.  “I shared the geography but not the world / It seemed they were establishing.”  He says he has tried to “nonetheless keep faith with them“, that “Book after book I kept my word“, and is mourning the passing not just of those librarians (poetic license – there will still be some survivors), but also, austerity driven, the very libraries themselves.  He closes with: “And all the brilliant stock was sold” (of which more later).  You can read the whole poem, and a further, more erudite exploration of it, here:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/mar/16/the-beautiful-librarians-by-sean-o-brien-poem-of-the-week

It’s a fine and varied collection.  He’s been likened to Auden in his breadth of style and subject matter, so making a poem called Audiology the opener shows a certain swagger.  Particularly in his state of the nation stuff he can be sour, dour, often on the miserable side of melancholy, but he can bestow dignity on hidden voices and simple pleasures.  Oysterity describes a meal in an expensive restaurant discussing austerity and guzzling oysters, later contemplating morality and “the sink’s own non-committal eye“.

He made me laugh out loud drinking coffee while waiting for my wife in the caff in Sainsbury’s in MK with Do you like Dickens?, a pithy tale of a small plebian victory concerning a girl through the power of literature, deliciously heisting the title of F.R.Leavis’s The common pursuit to his own ends.

Indeed, literature is never far away, along with nods to the Ancient World and popular culture.  His endurance of writers’ weekends and performances (‘the thin but earnest crowd‘) are entertaining, but there’s the fear, in War graves: Must this be / ‘The trap of elegy’, to find ourselves composed / Entirely of literature?” In The lost of England he’s marking EngLit students’ exam essays on a train, including one on Hardy: “Forgive me, England. As so often I was dreaming / On a train that drowsed along, cross-country / By an insane route that takes the reason prisoner.”  It’s a rewarding if somewhat depressing journey, rich in descriptive passages, momentary landscapes past and present.

This one made me smile, not least because I’ve just read a book on Bob Dylan as Latin scholar (another time), and it reminded me of John Williams’ extraordinary historical novel Augustus.  It also encapsulates a lot of Sean O’Brien’s concerns:

Damn right I got the blues: Ovid live in Tomis

I hate to see that Euxine sun go down
I hate to see that Euxine sun go down
Cause Lord it reminds me that for reasons of state
I been exiled and confined to this one-horse Pontic town.

Reading allowed

One of the narrative themes of the Reading allowed: true stories and curious incidents from a provincial library (Constable, 2017) is the grinding effect of rumours of austerity and cuts in library budgets, with redundancies of experienced, qualified librarians – the next generations on from the ‘beautiful librarians’ – their posts rationalised out of existence.

It’s never stated but you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to work out that Chris Paling is mostly working at Brighton’s award-winning showpiece Jubilee Library, that opened in 2005.  When still working I’d been there on a fact-finding visit and thought I recognised what he’s describing, and his Wikipedia entry confirms it.  An exile from BBC radio production (voluntary redundancy) and a published novelist, he’s worked there for 2 years for spending money as a Casual Library Officer – in old money a Library Assistant.  The life of a mid-list writer is not a happy one, he sadly relates.  This book comes as a result of his agent suggesting he try doing non-fiction.  This book is proof it was a good suggestion:

Although I’d published nine novels it had been clear for some time that the likelihood of ‘breaking through’ was now remote. Nobody sets out with the intention of becoming a mid-list writer but that is the destination of most. There is, so far as I know, no such thing as a bottom-list writer.

He has a novelist’s eye for character, and it’s the quirkier users that get most of the attention.  He has his favourites, and there are some decent heart-tugging stories in there.  The only staff that figure prominently are Trev and Bob, walkie-talkie wielding ‘Facilities’ (aka security), who seem to be needed more than in my own experience, so good for them.  I worked as a Librarian for 40 years, half of those in busy central libraries, and the picture Chris Paling paints is easily recognisable, though the recent rise in homelessness and rough sleeping must have had an impact.

Some may be surprised by what’s going on, but Public Libraries serve the public, and all that entails.  So, a typical staff room scene on a bad day:

The conversation … is all about rude, intolerant customers throwing their weight and, occasionally, their books around. A normally mild-mannered colleague admits that she has wanted to slap every other customer. This is compounded by the computer system seizing up mid-morning, making issuing tricky and anything more complicated impossible. Not our fault but the staff take the blame for the ever-failing system. It’s the closest I have ever got to calling a customer a f***stick, kicking over the terminal and storming out. When a full concession customer (two free hours on the computer ostensibly to aid job-seeking) tells me YouTube is inaudible, I resist suggesting he get on with his job searching and stop watching Beyoncé videos …

Not to mention junkies, thieves, creeps, blocked toilets, cyclists(!), challenging behaviour, building failures, printers running out of toner, self-published authors … easy to forget that the vast majority of readers, users, customers (whatever you want to call them) are appreciative, supportive and no trouble (or worth the taking of it).  Which this book understandably is thin on, save the parenthesized latter – a bit like newspapers and mundane good news

Paley throws in a potted history of libraries at intervals, useful for those who have taken them for granted, as the book progresses.  His conclusion on the importance of the continuance of the public library:

Customers are, of course, in and books are being issued and returned via the automatic machines, but the primary function of this place today is a community hub – an old-fashioned village green with plate-glass windows.

And as Mr Dylan says in Chimes of freedom (this is me, not Paley, though he has tales that bear it out), “An’ for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe / An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.”

A slight return to The beautiful librarians.  Setting the scene near the beginning of the emerging dystopia of the Thirteen o’clocks sequence we get: “Parks and Gardens, Ways and Means, / Drains, Finance, and General Purposes / And all the virtuous tedium required / To underwrite the civil surfaces, The lawns on which the lovers lie …” 

Dear Fahrenheit 451

Here’s what Annie Spence, a young American librarian, thinks:

The library is genius in its usefulness. It can be a different place for each person who walks in. Your library can help you find a job, go vegan, read up on the new medication you’ve been prescribed, or learn a new language. Your librarian can listen to your knock-knock jokes …

At parties she’ll linger by the bookshelves, and warns about plying her with drink:

But seriously, I can’t go overboard with the alcohol because I tend to pontificate about reading and the social significance of the public library when I get drunk. Two drinks: funny work stories. Poop in the dropbox, Lady with the Face, the guy whom we caught looking at porn and eating a big can of sardines and we didn’t know what to be more offended by … that kind of thing. But if I morph into telling inspiring patron stories, look out. I can give a rousing/annoying lecture on the benefits of getting your library card. I’ve shouted, “I disseminate information to the masses!” while being helped into a cab before.

Dear Fahrenheit 451: a librarian’s love letters and break-up notes to her books (Flatiron Books, 2017) started out as a series of letters she’d write to library books she was withdrawing from where she worked, for all sorts of reasons.  It’s called weeding in the trade, and it’s a decent metaphor: you need good husbandry, a bit of space on the shelves, for the decent, up-to-date stuff to breathe and potentially bloom and be read, and the longer a book stays untouched on the shelves the less likely it is to ever go out, no matter how worthwhile it is (one of the textbooks named this phenomena ‘fatigue’).  It used to be one of my favourite parts of the job, and I’ll admit I’d occasionally indulge myself, by extending the shelf life of a few quality favourites (hello Andreii Makine).  So I know where she’s coming from, and it’s a very good place.

Dear Fahrenheit 451 broadens from that initial idea to take in books happened upon in all sorts of places, and gives us a glimpse of her home life, youth and more.  The main part of the book is the letters, but there are also a number of entertaining annotated lists, like Excuses to tell your friends so you can stay at home with your books (example: “Ack, sorry. Kids are fighting again” when you’re in bed reading Lord of the flies by William Golding).

Library nostalgists will appreciate the use of old 5×3 catalogue cards as chapter heads.  That page opposite reads: “Dear Librarian, Please don’t weed me. Love, Annie.”  I’m charmed, air high-fiving and laughing out loud, even though I don’t recognise a fair number of titles which don’t seem – particularly the teenage material – to have crossed the Atlantic; but I wish she wouldn’t swear quite so much.

Annie kicks off the discards with Donna Tartt’s The goldfinch … because it’s falling apart, affectionately addressing the author as ‘Finchy’.  She covers the full range of materials from picture books to out-of-date text books.  When she finds a copy of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row (a favourite of mine, too) in a friends bathroom she tells it, ‘YOU ARE BETTER THAN THIS BATHROOM‘.  And so it goes.  She has such immaculate taste; there are three books she raves over I’m definitely going to have to add to my pile.  Immaculate taste you say?  Here’s her take on Richard Russo’s Nobody’s fool (hello, Sal!) as therapy:

Read this when you’re down about mankind, and you may start to notice a roguish glint in the eye of the curmudgeon who bitches at you about your grass being too long.

She has a list of Good books in bad covers, and considers her own:

Well, anyway, think about how difficult it is to come up with ONE image that totally evokes an entire book’s identity. Nearly impossible. I can’t even think of an example of a book jacket that 100 percent captures its insides. Except maybe this book. If I get my way, the cover of this book is going to be a knockoff of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely hearts Club Band album, except I will be all four of the Beatles’ faces and all of the decoupage heads are going to be famous authors (plus Jared Letto) crying because I’ve weeded them from the library. Also, I promised my cat, Barb, she’d be on the cover.

Sadly, this didn’t happen.  I loved this book but was exhausted by the end of it.  If Annie Spence had been a colleague I think I would have appreciated the first couple of days of her being on holiday; but soon I’d have been missing her.

Afterword

I stumbled on The beautiful librarians browsing the literature shelves in my local library.  It had almost certainly been purchased as part of a seasonal standing order I had set up with The Poetry Book Society a couple of years before I retired.  I don’t know if the standing order has survived, given the relentless austerity-driven shaving of the book fund since.  On a pence per issue basis it’s arguable they probably shouldn’t, but it was a subsidised bargain and we Brits are meant to be good at poetry.  I fancied a copy of my own and bought one cheap from Better World Books via Abe.  Only published in 2015, it was already a library discard.

Such a purchase is tinged for me by guilt, though at least it contributed a few pence to that library service’s income generation, Better World Books is a charity supporting literacy charities around the world, and it’s a small profit Amazon doesn’t get to not pay tax on.  So The beautiful librarians becomes a subject of Sean O’Brien’s closing line to the title poem of his collection – “And all the brilliant stock was sold“.  Actually, he was probably thinking more of the selling off of the major resources of out-of-print material that extensive reserve stock collections like Manchester’s – ‘the stacks’ away from public gaze – that have been sacrificed in the course wholesale re-building and refurbishment projects of grand old buildings.  But it still makes for a nice rhetorical flourish at the end.

Or maybe not quite the end.  I was looking for a book cover to decorate the last couple of paragraphs – something library-y I thought – and thought of that Peter Sellers film, Only two can play, where a lot of the action springs from a public library in South Wales, based on the Kingsley Amis novel That uncertain feeling (1955).  What I found – and there are many – took me straight back to Annie Spence‘s Good books in bad covers list.  Along with many examples of her pet hate – the movie tie-in cover (seconded!) – there in Google images we find something really quite tasteful and apposite … and an outrageously bad seventies abomination, shown here for educational purposes only.  One of the worst.  Ever.  (Though any ex-Camdenites reading this might recall a certain branch librarian).

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2018 programme cover designed by Mason Edwards

‘Covers’ being a pretty bad excuse for a pun, as may become evident from what follows later on.

New readers start here: StonyLive! is an annual Festival of Music, Dance and the Arts in Stony Stratford, a small town that used to be in North Buckinghamshire, but is these days, ahem, the proud “Jewel in the Crown” of Milton Keynes. Now in its 20th year, it runs for 9 days from the first Saturday in June to the next Sunday.  (You can see a bit more info and what you (and I) missed by clicking here.  It was a splendid year, so much to choose from)  I always resolve to go to something every day; here’s what I actually managed to take in.

Shall we contradict ourselves by starting with something I went to on the Thursday before.  Yes we shall, because the weekend performances of Carabosse Theatre Company’s Real Ale and Drama Shots 5 were there in the official programme.

Carabosse – “We like it dark” – who take their name from the wicked fairy godmother out of Sleeping Beauty and other folk and fairy tales put on a great show in Swinfen Harris Hall, an intimate venue, full of character.  You knew you were in for a treat when Billy Nomad, knowing smile in minimalist clown-face, stepped up to MC and punctuate playlets with his own ditties.

Immediate coup de théatre with the opener, Eamonn Dolan’s Finn and Tilly: a couple in the audience arguing as a production of Waiting for Godot comes to a close; she all WTF?, he quoting critics as to its profundity; they take it onto the stage and … Godot (a brilliant performance) turns up.  The programme was nicely varied and full of genuine theatrical moments, not least from a chilling theatre of cruelty piece.  Much laughter at Sophie Patterson’s Red Velvet, a Quentin Tarantino take on an Acorn Antiques set in a coffee and cake shop near the law courts.  Three other pieces were concerned with writing or theatre, one in which the playwright is seen as undesirable alien.  The last piece, 19 & 28, featured the whole cast and crew, the dead hanging about awaiting their next reincarnation assignment – a bureaucratic nightmare in a creepy heaven.  Shame about the punchline (methinks) but it all segued nicely into a choral Stairway to Heaven – two “words” in the lyrics of the first two verses?   And it makes you wonder.  Local, yes.  Am-dram? – never: this was the real deal.

Saturday

Yay!  TheHigh Street closed to traffic and there’s dancing in the street.  All sorts, but primarily, for me, Morris.  Nonesuch, an enthusiastic side from Bristol caught the eye, not so much for their garb as their steps – moves other sides hardly touch taken for granted, I was told.  And so to the Fox & Hounds for the traditional StonyLive! opener, a pint of bluegrass with the as ever enjoyable Hole in the head gang (Sorry. I know there are well-set precedents for surprisingly effective bluegrass treatments of Soul-Stax songs, but for me Mustang Sally is not one that wears it well).

And in the evening the magnificent Roadrunner at a sold-out York House.  Local legends from before my time in Stony, “Rutland’s finest R&B band” as it says in the programme – and you can see why on both counts.  From the opening full attack of Let’s work together they were outstanding.  Yes, you can call them a covers band, but it’s the spark of the choice of material that counts.  From way back to Minnie the Moocher and Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs Wooly bully all the way through to 1993 and George Thorogood and the Destroyers’ Get a job (did they do anything later?), they played with the intensity of classic Dr Feelgood supplemented by some well-oiled showmanship – singer and singer and guitarist delving into crowd with the aid of radio mic-ing.  A good time was had by all.

Sunday

And the sun shone bright on the Classic Car Show.  Lots of E-types this time (wife thinks they’re ugly).  My car of the show (not that I know anything) was the Bristol they used on the poster, though nothing stood out as of yore (or I’m getting jaded).  When a bunch on scooters unexpectedly arrived on the scene en masse, the musician on the bandstand broke into the Who’s Can’t explain; nifty, I thought, even though there wasn’t a parka in sight.  With camera to hand I like playing with reflections.

Sunday afternoon and it’s the Big Lunch, a family picnic in Rocket Park.  Lovely cod and chips from a van.  Was surprised how moved I was when a Lancaster bomber in World War 2 livery flew over to the strains (eventually) of the Dam Busters March.  Stirring enough to make one put the firebombing of Dresden to the back of one’s mind for a while, and wonder at what the sight and sound of a sky full of these magnificent machines must have been like.

The Youth and Junior Bardic Trials were a surprise too – strongly contested by 6 contestants, all of whom might have been well in the running another year, in front of a decent and appreciative audience.  So close the judges created a new post of Bard in waiting when it was scored a three-way tie.  The future’s bright.

Monday

Nice little interlude in the shade of the trees by the Magdalen Tower, all that remained of Stony’s other church after a devastating mid-18th century fire.  Masterminded by Derek Gibbons, 6 out of the 8 Stony Bards each recited a poem dedicated to the tower.  Impressively, without collaboration, each approached the subject of the tower in different ways, ranging from historical chronicle to contemporary trysting place.

Should have been Southern Blues Fiasco from Oxford at the Fox but circumstances meant it was but one of them – a medal winning guitar pedal designer, no less – and an accomplished pick-up band with an age span of 30 years or probably more.  A lively evening of powerful blues and blues-oriented music ensued.  A lovely People get ready with a lot of harmonica made you believe Dylan might have written it.  Was it this lot who did a storming Louie Louie?

Tuesday

… and it’s An evening with the Bard and Friends back at York House, and another fine evening of words and music, most of it original.  So much talent around, all in fine form.  Impossible for me not to resurrect the words ‘quiet power’ when poet Fay Roberts is performing, but she was spellbinding, switching from deadly serious to throwaway flippant and all stations in between within a couple of lines.  Important to mention what ‘Fred’ adds to accomplished singer-songwriter Sian Magill’s work.  Taylor Smith go from strength to strength, with writer Taylor dismissing the infectious rabble-rousing Leaders as ‘folk dirge’.   Shame this event always clashes with the a capella session in the Vaults.

Wednesday

Innocent Hare and a pint of Mad Squirrel in a crowded Beer Bear was fun.  Tunes, songs spanning a century or six, add a bit of clog – not to mention good company – are a lovely way to spend an hour.  Damned licensing laws.  (What a fine addition to Stony High street the Beer Bear is, by the way).

So it’s back up the High Street to the Vaults and ‘our’ Ian Anderson’s Blues from the Ouse.  For shame the audience outnumbered the band – coupla guitars, gob iron – by only one at the start but it soon picked up.  More generation spanning musicians, this time acoustic blues of high order.

Thursday

A Vaultage special for StonyLive!  Not the usual fortnightly open mic, but a one-off pre-scheduled closed mic for songwriters.  No covers allowed.  I say one-off, but apparently so many applied there’ll be another one later this year.  Proceedings were kicked off by Bard 007, Mr Stephen Hobbs, the bee in his bonnet about cover bands a-buzzing strong with this little ode:

A salute to Songwriters
[dedicated to Pat “Vaultage” Nicholson]

I salute you
for daring to be original
for taking a thought
maybe just a whisper –
and giving it life:
for showing us your heart.

Stony Live? Do me a favour!
Gimme a break!
L
eave it out!

Let The King, The Starman,
The Private Dancer,
The Gingerbread Man,
and the Joker
be themselves:
this imitation flatters no one.

Stony Live? Do me a favour!
Gimme a break!
Leave it out!

You are the freshness
that masks this slurry of covers
masquerading as a festival.
But you are not alone
look around….
I salute YOU!

© Stephen Hobbs

Archivists might like to note that not all listed turned up (H&S, at least one other) but that happily gave a bit more space for the driving reverie of David Cattermole’s songs.  So much talent and variety in one small bar.  Take a bow Pat ‘Mr Vaultage’ Nicholson (no mean writer and performer himself).

Friday

I have to admit to a stamina fail.  Guilty to an inability – a failing too sweet and rare many publicans who put on music will say – to spend time in a pub without a glass – or with an empty one – in hand, the week was taking its toll.  I am, however, assured that had I walked up and down the High Street on Friday a fruitful game of Cover Band Bingo was very much in prospect.

ers-stonylive/cover-band-bingo-2/” rel=”attachment wp-att-8865″> I’d give a source if only my source didn’t say they’d love to give a source.

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On Sunday Derek  G put up a provocative post on FaceBook saying “Cover bands aren’t local music” which was greeted with varying degrees of approval, moderation, and a fair amount of scorn.  I’m pretty sure I only witnessed one song on that graphic all week, but I wasn’t trying.  I think the point – in the context of StonyLive! – is that you can see cover bands in Stony most weeks, and that there’s a difference between doing a more or less straight cover as opposed to an interpretation.  I shall return to this theme on Sunday.

Saturday

So much to choose from.  I eschew the traditional outgoing lunchtime bluegrass session with those very fine Concrete Cowboys in the anticipation of a long day at the talent packed Fringe Festival, which I come and go from throughout the day, so I didn’t see everyone.  The Antipoet‘s Paul Eccentric got so worked up about the Americanisation of the English language via film & tv (“It’s not to go / it’s to take-a-fucking-way“) that he managed to draw blood with his signature mic forehead bounce finale of The wrong question.  This was a splendid event – well done JT & co, good to see that Scribal Gathering logo on the poster – but I have to submit to an attack of blogging fatigue here.  It was great to see (and hear, of course) Naomi Rose – one of the best songwriters around –  in good voice.  Headliners Forest of Fools did what they do – with folk-based accordion, congas, drums, bass, sousaphone and a touch of electronica – magnificently .

Mason Edwards design again

Sunday

A nice relaxed Folk on the Green in a cool breeze and gentle sun.  Climax of, and, of course, a totally separate entity from StonyLive!  First time we’ve settled down on a spot with only a mere soft drink (Schloer Red Grape found in the garage leftover unopened from New Year’s Eve).  A great early set from another prime local singer/songwriter Mark Owen, who has never sounded better (thumbs up to the PA crew) and went down well.  Izzie Walsh and her equally young band gave us a sweet set of Americana, mixing originals and covers.

Paul McClure, the Rutland Troubadour, appeared in what he described as the closing wind-the crowd down-down spot.  This is the refreshing FOTG rethink of the last couple of years, whereby things close not so much with a bang as a … whimper?  No.  When I say Paul did his job well is not to say he was not anything but a charming and engaging end to the day (with a little bit of rock and roll on the side, just for good measure).

Trigger warning: if you are a post-Syd Pink Floyd fan, better to pass over this paragraph of self-indulgence.  Truth to tell, Paul McClure didn’t have much to calm down after Little Pig‘s cover of an obscure (to me) mournful slow Pink Floyd song, the second in their set.  Nothing against the musicianship, and they opened with a welcome workout on Kirsty McColl’s There’s a guy works down the chip shop swears he’s Elvis.  For argument’s sake let’s just say it’s my problem.  It is said that in the golden age of glossy music mags, Pink Floyd on the front cover was a guaranteed circulation boost.  I’ve also heard it said, last week in fact, that every town of a certain size has a tattoo parlour and its own Pink Floyd tribute band (Mr Hobbs, I believe).  I just don’t get it.

Anyway, here’s to the StonyLive! and FOTG Committees and small army of volunteers.  Now, World Cup permitting, it’s back to the telly, and the gloriously bonkers Flowers, and catching up on The handmaid’s tale, The Bridge and that series on African music.  I’ll finish with a rather wonderful detail from a Pontiac in the car show:

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Photo ‘borrowed’ from the Bookshop FB.

Early 2016 and the rumour is that the Willen Hospice Bookshop on the High Street in Stony Stratford (“the jewel in the crown of Milton Keynes”) is – shock! horror! – going to close.

Come March 31, 2018, the volunteers who put together a rescue bid are celebrating two years of successfully running the shop as a wholly volunteer-run enterprise.  And the Bardic posse of Stony Stratford are on hand to commemorate the achievement in verse.  Here be those verses, made available on Lillabullero through the good offices of Stephen Hobbs, of the Bardic Council:

Book Covers by Sam Upton
Bard of Stony Stratford

You shouldn’t ever judge a book,
Not by its cover, title or look,
At first it may appear old, torn,
Tattered and dog-eared,
But open it up, give it a chance,
I bet it’s not what you feared,

A picture is only worth a thousand words,
So why let it decide if you live or die
The next thousand pages,
Let ink fly,
Paper stages wait to be great,
Even if the cover’s a state,
Inside those words may sway your fate,

So, see past the picture,
It’s never too late,
Grab a battered, broken,
Bruised looking book,
Be a crook,
Steal its zeal,
Live a life that isn’t yours,
And make those characters real.

©Sam Upton

Sam Upton is the eighth and current Bard of Stony Stratford, elected, as is customary, at The Bardic Trials – an annual event that is part of the StonyWords! literary festival, every late January. There is a link to the Bardic website near the end of this post.  A later development has seen the appointment of a Youth and a Junior Bard.  This takes place at an event that is part of the annual StonyLive! music(and other things)fest, and is open to anyone aged 8-15 (the youngest presumably being the Junior).  Here are their poems written for the Willen Hospice Bookshop celebrations:

Books: How do you choose yours?
by Dylan Piper Junior Bard 

Is it by the cover; is it by the name?
Is it by the thickness, or is it by its fame?

Do you take a fishing rod and see what you can catch?
Or do you trawl through hundreds for that perfect match?

Do you use your senses; see what you can smell?
And maybe give a little lick before reading it as well?

Can you hear the words within – do they jump out off the page?
Does the cover creak and moan, revealing its old age?

Does the story draw you in; can you see the author’s view?
Many useful facts to learn? Or maybe just a few?

Is there too much gadzookery within the book itself?
Or do the words flow and fly that book right off the shelf?

When you’re in the bookshop, looking for that next read,
Notice how you choose the one – that meets your every need.

©Dylan Piper – Junior Bard (age 10)

 

I love books by Isabelle Chapman Youth Bard

Books, books, please don’t let them fade
Put those screens and devices away, and let the books rage
There are lots of secrets and adventures heading your way.

But we have to support our book shop to make sure it stays
It could be reading and learning, all the new things to know
There are many different ways to learn, just get up and go!

Turning the pages, seeing the pictures how could you not love
The special bond a book can produce and all of the above!
You could even learn all about our own Cock and Bull history.

So keep reading every day and make a book your new accessory!

©Isabelle Chapman – Youth Bard (age 11)

“Charitable bookworms share top ten successes” said the headline of a write-up in local free-sheet MK Citizen, thus maintaining local press tradition by working the word ‘bookworms’ – to the despair of library service press release writers everywhere – into any story ever published therein about libraries or bookshops.  A team of 35 volunteers, ages ranging from 19 to 87 have kept this splendid institution on the road, giving, between them volunteering  5,000 hours in the shop.  At the time of the birthday they had sold 86,000 books from the 105 metres of shelving, which hold 5,000 volumes.   Apparently James Patterson is the author most frequently donated, while the highest earning individual book – sold on eBay – was a classic of railway literature.

You can read a bit more of the MK Citizen article at:
www.miltonkeynes.co.uk/news/willen-hospice-bookshop-celebrates-two-years-of-success-1-8421698

The main Willen Hospice website is here: www.willen-hospice.org.uk/

Here’s the Friends of Willen Hospice Bookshop FaceBook page: www.facebook.com/WillenHospiceBookshop/

And for your further delectation, the Bardic Council of Stony Stratford pages are here: bardofstony.weebly.com/

An addendum I found it hard to resist:

Book Booty

‘You can either come into Rags [free plug] with me,’ said Andrea, who needed to change some slacks last Saturday, ‘or I’ll meet you in the Bookshop.  Not a bad four quids’ worth.  One of the funniest writers on the planet, one for the grandson (early poetry induction), and a brick of a cult classic that I have every intention of reading (Patti Smith raves about it), but will look good on the shelves anyway.

& finally – discuss:

Borrowed from the splendid goComics website, specifically: http://www.gocomics.com/lastkiss/2018/04/18

 

 


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