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Posts Tagged ‘Milton Keynes Gallery’

20150815-KFK-unplugged-posterClissoldNo, it’s all good …

Standout performance for me at Kinks Night at The Clissold Arms “unplugged” session was a storming Twentieth century man.  When Geoff nailed the bit where the organ sweeps in two young men next to me – mid-20s? I’m not good at this – punched the air and cheered.  (Take a bow, Geoff Lewis).  I’d been talking to them earlier – favourite album Muswell Hillbillies (so men of taste) – and they got no kicks from modern groups at all.  With audience participation expected, these young lads knew all the words, on some songs better than the performers.

It’s a fascinating phenomenon, the way the musical generation boundary lines have faded.  At the annual Official Kinks Fan Club Konvention in November – a shindig graced on stage by a full cast of the Kast Off Kinks, with sometimes brief appearances from Ray Davies (though never Dave) – attendees’ ages range from teens to late seventies at least.

The Clissold Arms in Muswell Hill is where the Davies brothers had their first public performance, in late 1960, over the road from where they lived.  It now houses a room dedicated to The Kinks and their works.  The Kinksfan Kollektiv‘s Clissold sessions had their origins in an evening before the Konvention singalong and grew in scope from that to almost a military operation.  This summer special, outside the usual season, came about because of the vacation arrangements of Jim Smart, over from Hawaii, one of the original movers and performers of the fan sessions.  Was a good evening, heartening to talk to someone you’ve only previously known over the internet (hi Jim).  But … London prices: £4.40 a pint!

Cloud atlasCloud Atlas

Book Group book for August was David Mitchell‘s Cloud Atlas (2004).  I’d read it when it first came out and been impressed enough to give it a re-read.  I wasn’t the only one in the group, this time around, to subvert the subversion of the novel’s original unorthodox format.  It consists of six novellas, all relating to one another by various gestures, arranged like an onion with its layers, as if you were boring through to the earth’s core and then out again on the other side.

The initial nineteenth century diary of an eventful Pacific voyage cuts off suddenly and we’re into an epistolary account of an entertaining scoundrel of an English composer on the run in Belgium in the 1930s, wherein a purloined first (and only) edition copy of that diary figures in one of his personal fundraising schemes.  We move from there to a stylish fictional thriller novel set in post-Three Mile Island America, which breaks off at a genuine cliffhanger, into a very funny comic novel concerning an English publisher, whose experience publishing true crime has him on the run too, set in the present.  Then we move into the future, for a future archive interview concerning the development of artificial intelligence in cyborgs until we hit the core of the book, another kind of science fiction, a (not too difficult) dialect record of life when hi-tech civilisation has collapsed, into which an anthropologist from a surviving remnant of civilisation is allowed to stay for study purposes.  And then we are out the other side, in reverse order, with more links between them floated as the narratives develop, and the eighteenth century diary entries constitute the final part of Cloud Atlas.

But, as I say, this time I ignored the splits in the individual narratives and read each one straight through.  And the links between them became more obvious.  All are fascinating in their own right; he takes you into the working mind of a composer of music, for instance.  And it’s a lot funnier than I remembered and – definite shades of Thomas Pynchon – still just as seriously prescient a decade later.  Beautifully written too, an impressive fluidity of style.  It’s a meditation on human nature, really.  What drives us, makes us great, is what is also likely to be our undoing: “human hunger birthed the Civ’lize, but human hunger killed it too“.  Simple yes, but ultimately there is hope.  Near the end, our voyager comes out of his shattering experience, vowing, “A life spent shaping a world I want Jackson to inherit, not one I fear Jackson will inherit, this strikes me as a life worth the living.”  So over to us.  I thought the notion of a ‘cloud atlas’ was very Yoko Ono, and it turns out Mitchell got it from an actual piece of music composed by her first husband.

Vaultage late Aug 2015Music closer to home

No August open mic hiatus for Vaultage nights in the Vaults, which Pat and Lois have established as a more than dependable full music night out these past few months.  Featured act at the last Vaultage were VHS Pirates,  who describe themselves on FaceBook as, “a new uplifting exciting band from Northampton who play a mix of frenetic Folk Ska with a sensitive sprinkle of 80’s pop.”  Not to mention the unlikely sight of a banjoist supplying the rhythm on the up beat, the owner of one of two fine voices, a subtle keyboardist (the sprinkle) and original material of wit and no little invention.

Meanwhile, over at Aortas in the Old George a sparsity of performers on Sunday gave the bonus of what turned into featured sets from Dan Plews, Naomi Rose, an angry Mark Owen (his driven Getting away with it, a take on the Rebekah Brooks saga, given fresh venom with the news earlier in the day she was getting her job back), and comic verse from the poet Hobbs.  Would have happily paid to see that.  Earlier in the month stand-in host Pete Morton had led what turned out to be a decent night with his own songs and some well-chosen covers, in an evening also notable for an older couple leaving the pub muttering ‘Shouldn’t be allowed’ at Naomi’s most miserable song, Permanent blue.

MK-Calling-11

Keelertornero: Heads of assembly at MKG

MK Calling 2015

This summer‘s exhibition at MK Gallery featured selections from an Open Call for work from local artists, amateur, student and professional.  I went along with someone whose default position on a lot of contemporary art is disparagement, but she stayed the course well enough.  It’s a varied and interesting exhibition.  My favourite piece was Head-of-Assembly-KEELERTORNERO-2014-Vinyl-records1Chin Keeler and Emma Tornero’s Heads of assembly (2014), hanging from the ceiling of the Cube Gallery.  You have to be there: these are heads made from moulding vinyl records over mannequins’ heads, with the labels still in place.  The programme notes suggest the artists deal, among other things, with ‘unkempt fantasy‘.  Here’s an individual head, image filched from the internet (probably their website); click and click again for an enlargement.

Crossword clues I have loved

Can’t do cryptic crosswords but can appreciate a bad pun when you hear or see it?  Then you’re in with a shout.  Some favourites of old from the Guardian – an occasional series here at Lillabullero – with the compilers credited.  Zen punnery & thinking out(or well in)side the box.  (Crosswords are printable for free from the Guardian website.)

  • From Rufus: Space for army manoeuvres (5,4)
  • From Paul: One’s days are numbered (8)
  • From Pasquale: Call at table, suggesting preference for sirloin or T-bone? (2,5)
  • Paul again: Most adventurous combination of underclothes (7)
  • A favourite of mine, from Paul: Bad quality expensive jewellery? That’s clumsy (8)
  • More from Rufus: No beer left? That’s the limit! (6,3)
  • Arachne spinning: She’s over-groomed (8)
  • From Picaroon: Celebs ill-equipped for dinner parties (8)
  • From Chifonie: Space traveller posed on vessel (6)
  • One more time from Rufus: A loaded statement (8)

Solutions under this picture of some frogs ©moi:

Frogs

  • Rufus: Space for army manoeuvres (5,4) Elbow room [arm-y]
  • Paul: One’s days are numbered (8) Calendar
  • Pasquale: Call at table, suggesting preference for sirloin or T-bone? (2,5) No trump [not rump][a bid in the game of bridge][a US election slogan?]
  • Paul: Most adventurous combination of underclothes (7) Bravest [Bra vest]
  • Paul: Bad quality expensive jewellery? That’s clumsy (8) Bumbling [Bum bling]
  • Rufus: No beer left? That’s the limit! (6,3) Bitter end
  • Arachne: She’s over-groomed (8) Bigamist [women can’t do it too?]
  • Picaroon: Celebs ill-equipped for dinner parties (8) Notables [No tables]
  • Chifonie: Space traveller posed on vessel (6) Saturn [Sat on urn]
  • Rufus: A loaded statement (8) Bulletin [Bullet in]

Sorry.

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Back online after a hiatus of a week and a day off after a cowboy contractor working for BT managed to cut through a cable and then concrete and tarmac over it again, so disconnecting half our side of the street in the process of progress.  It’s been interesting, not having the opportunity to waste time with FaceBook, print off the Guardian cryptic crossword (how can anyone do it online?) and other such pursuits.  Anyway, it’s good to be back.

Ellen Altfest - The handI’ve had the exhibition guide to Ellen Altfest‘s survey exhibition at MK Gallery staring accusingly at me from a pile of stuff to be dealt with for a while now.  It’s now well over a month since I went.  I had an absorbing time there – I might well go again before it closes – but I’m at a bit of a loss what to say.  That picture on the cover – The hand (2011) – I keep seeing as a landscape (that’s my red wine stain, that semi-circle, I hasten to add).  I think that’s probably OK, given the Guardian’s short preview mentioning ‘mind-altering drugs’ – the paintings’ intensity, that is, not the artist’s life style – and the guide mentions ‘wordplay, innuendo and psychological impact‘. Anyway, 22 life-size oil paintings, 15 years, painstakingly incredible life-size detail in the realist tradition, yet, to quote the guide again, pushing ‘realism to the edge of abstraction‘; I can’t say anything meaningful about its relation to the photographic, except that it’s interesting

Ellen Altfest - Log 2001

Ellen Altfest: Log (2001). Picture taken from MK Gallery’s website at http://www.mkgallery.org/exhibitions/ellen_altfest/

The paintings are presented roughly chronologically, diminishing in canvas size if not fascination, with the subject shifting from the natural world towards intimate male body parts. If it is reasonable to expect of a gallery show that you come out – at least temporarily – with new eyes, then Ellen Altfest’s show certainly passed that test for me; my walks in the local nature reserve were refreshed by her early work like Log (2001).  I’ll say nothing further about studying my body parts anew, though, but I would venture it’s a sign of the times in a good way that her The penis (2006) did not – as far as I’m aware, anyway – give cause for any shock horror scandal in the local free sheets.

All that I am

Funder 2Funder 1Funder 3 Harper US

I recall a time when the phrase ‘Heavy, man’ actually meant something, before it was hi-jacked by certain forms of rock music, and then dealt a death-blow by Neil in The Young Ones. Anna Funder‘s All that I am: a novel (Viking, 2011) is heavy, man. I think it’s that the bravery (and ultimate betrayal) of a small group of friends is set so vividly in the context of their ordinary existence; I was living in that Bloomsbury attic with Dora, Ruth and Hans. Ruth’s deceptively light opening words of the novel set the tone: “When Hitler came to power I was in the bath.”

All that I am the latest book group book – is a fictional reconstruction of real events – not quite a faction. It tells the tale of a small group of friends exiled from Germany for their opposition to the rise of Hitler, and their continued endangered resistance from abroad. Two alternating voices do the telling: Ruth, the survivor, a feisty old woman in her 80s, reminiscing in her home, and then from her hospital bed, in Australia, where Funder, who was brought up there, knew her, about her exile in London in the 1930s; and the playwright Ernst Toller, dictating material for a new expanded edition of his autobiography, in New York, in 1939. Toller had been the reluctant President of the short-lived Communist Republic of Bavaria, at the end of the First World War, a position that was immediately rewarded with 5 years in prison; he also spent time in London with the others before crossing the Atlantic. Both narrators are in awe of the charismatic, committed and free-spirited Dora (Dora Fabian in real life).

It’s a staggeringly good novel. The historical situation is vividly spelt out – no mere box-ticking background is rolled out here: “Reality was becoming so silly, we thought, that intelligent people could no longer tell the difference between a report and a satire,” says Ruth, and her husband, Hans, a satirist, is all at sea in London. What appalls – what I never realised – is the level of appeasement maintained by the British government during Hitler’s first years in power: if these exiles were found to be politically active they risked the British – us – sending them back to Nazi Germany and certain death.

Toller I was a GermanAnna Funder takes you there, to the midst of the group, how it felt.  “Half our energy came from the cause, the other half from each other,” says Ruth.  It’s bracing.  But the human cost, particularly on Teller, the international figure: “After a time I learned to be the person they thought I was. I was needed everywhere … I knew there were two parts of me, the public man and the private being, and they would not, ever, quite fit back together.” All he can do in New York is write letters to the papers and important people. “Do you think letters can make a difference?” his secretary asks. “I pull as much power as I can from somewhere inside me, from the actor, the orator, the hope-pedlar and the charlatan. ‘Yes,’ I say. ‘Yes, I do.’“  His friend Auden is not much help either: “Poetry makes nothing happen.” It’s a matter of record what Toller does but I’ll not say what here.

There is so much going on in All that I am: friendship, political commitment, philosophy, literature, perseverance, espionage, betrayal, food, the English, love, sex. It is exciting, emotional and profoundly satisfying. For all its despair … here’s Ruth, run into by a boy on roller skates in Paris: “ ‘Pardon, Madame, je suis desolée. Desolée.’ We are all desolated here.” And poor old faithful-to-his wife Toller: “Sometimes your life feels like a pile of wrong decisions.” For all that, Ruth in Oz at 80, remains life affirming.

I had hoped good things of a book kicking off with quotations from W.H.Auden and Nick Cave. That’s setting the bar high, I thought. I was not disappointed.

A brief word about the book covers. From left to right: the UK hardback tastefully saying nothing, the pathetically misleading UK paperback (was there any snow? – even so, so what? – and what sort of a pose is that anyway?), and the tasty evocative American hardback with the red flag flying on a German strasse (which is a big deal in the book).  As my sons used to say, I don’t know what to tell you.

Worcester

A day in Worcester (whisper it, an Age UK coach trip; we were not the youngest there). The weather held. A fine cathedral, the spectacular The Hive (an innovatory central library, shared with the university, and so much more), the rather special Karmic Café and a stroll by the river. Reminders too of just how awful ’60s architecture is in historic town centres.  Click and click again to enlarge the photos, all mine own).

Something there is about modern cathedral altar decorations.

Something there is about modern cathedral altar decorations.

Worc mirror

Worcester cathedral window

In the cathedral a grand memorial “Sacred to the memory to Mary [d.1794], the truly regretted wife of WILLIAM HALL Esq of the island of Jamaica …” making you wonder if here was the origins of the story of Rochester’s wife in Jane Eyre. Elsewhere a poetical tribute to Bishop Nicholas Wighorn (d.1576) as “ a painful preacher” (albeit, it must be added, “of the truthe”). Every hour a voice comes over the PA reminding us that we’re in a place of quiet and prayer and inviting us to join with them by stopping what we’re doing to be still for a minute. About half the visitors do, including atheist me, and it was moving to be urged to think of … well, pretty much a full litany of “every hung-up person in the whole wide universe,” with specific mention being made of the Mediterranean boat refugees. Powerful stuff, communal stillness.

Odds and sods in the cathedral yard.

Odds and sods in the cathedral yard.

Karmic Cafe Worcester

Every town should have one – see for yourself at www.thekarmiccafe.co.uk/index.php

And in the very wonderful Karmic Café – a smart but unpretentious and eminently reasonable tasty vegetarian caff (every town should have one) – a poster of a package tour I went to in the Slough Adelphi over half a century ago.

I can’t remember much about the Beatles‘ performance (I suppose Beatles posterthere was screaming) but bizarrely what has stuck was the Pacemakers’ drummer (Gerry’s brother, I seem to recall) doing that thing whereby he hits his cymbal and looks up and moves his head from left to right then down again, so as to appear to be following the arc of the cymbal’s tshhh with his eyes.  And Roy Orbison, so impressive, standing there immaculately dressed – is that bootlace tie a false memory? – with guitar and dark glasses, sounding – hitting all those high notes – just like the records.

Finally, one for the archives. Your humble blogger, part-time poet and poster boy.
Vaultage late May 2015

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tmmkgWhat is time?  How do we order the past, the present, and the future.  Why are artists interested in time?  How is art a machine, vehicle, or device for exploring time?  How is art a means by which time ‘travels’, and how does art permit us to travel in time?

This is the way in to MK Gallery‘s latest show, How to construct a time machine, from the press release of which that opening quote is taken.  You enter under Ruth Ewan‘s We could have been anything that we wanted to be (2011).  Yup, only ten hours.  It harks back (nostalgically?) to the revolutionary Republican calendar of 1793 in France.  The exhibition is a fruitful and entertaining way to spend some time, and we will return to it later in this post.  Meanwhile, let us consider the book as a time machine – two books, actually – and visit a period when England was actively trying to decide what it wanted to be more than usual.

LamentationLamentation (Mantle, 2014) is the sixth in C.J.Sansom‘s distinguished sequence of weighty historical crime novels featuring the hunchback lawyer Matthew Shardlake, set in the reign of Henry VIII.  Innocent traitor (2006) was popular historian Alison Weir‘s first novel after nearly two decade’s worth of non-fiction mostly touching on the same era.  The lead protagonists of both novels witness the burning at the stake of the heretic Anne Askew at Smithfield in 1546; Henry’s 6th wife – Katherine Parr – features strongly in each book as a good woman; and his prolonged miserable death is a very big deal in both – well it would be, you’d suppose.

That I read them one after another was pure coincidence; I’ve followed Sheldrake’s fortunes from the start in 2003’s Dissolution, while Innocent traitor was the latest Book Group book.  Add the spellbinding adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall on the telly and a surfeit of Tudors could threaten, were the latter not so beautifully done; Thomas Cromwell – not one of Shardlake’s favourite people when alive – is long gone by the time the novels begin.  And what a time: when failure to believe in transubstantiation – that the bread and wine taken at Catholic Mass actually become the blood and body of Christ – could be fatal; when even sacramentarianism, the sop of metaphor, just wasn’t good enough.

Innocent traitorWhile its narrative is driven by events at – and it spends a fair amount of time in –  royal residences and the corridors of power, Lamentation also shows us Tudor London in its vivid entirety.  Along with the sights, sounds and smells of its mean streets and the river you get to see an interesting selection of London’s other ranks.  The drama of Innocent traitor, on the other hand, is almost exclusively played out in the opulent royal courts and in the mansions of the high and mighty.  Similarly, while the issue in Innocent traitor is seen simply as being between Catholic and Protestant, in Lamentation we get to meet some real radicals, those handy folk devils – socialist Levellers precursors no less – the Anabaptists.

Lamentation is an astute, gripping, sometimes violent, layers-of-the-onion conspiracy thriller, an examination of the nitty-gritty of realpolitik at close quarters, delivered with a beating heart and a finely tuned moral core.  A sub-plot involves a hopeless legal case Sheldrake has been engaged in, which functions as both light relief and to underscore what is going on in the wider world.  There is an easy continuity of Shardlake’s likeable social circle with previous volumes; you care about him and his friends.  He gets involved again against his better judgment, basically because he fancies the Queen; not that anything’s ever gonna happen but, you know, she’s got a nice smile.  What I found particularly interesting this time around is his growing disillusion with it all, his radicalisation.  Here’s the evidence.  Postmodernist intrusion? – maybe, but not beyond the realms after what he’s seen:

  • I no longer had sympathies with either side in the religious quarrel, and sometimes doubted God’s very existence … (p6)
  • Nicholas shook his head firmly.  “Now the war is over, prosperity will surely return.  And the security of everyone depends on people staying within the ranks to which they were born.  Otherwise we should have the anarchy of the Anabaptists.”
    That bogey again.  I said, “I confess the more I see of mankind, the more I think we are all of one common clay.” (p160)
  • “I thought the proceeds from the monasteries would be used to bring justice to the poor; that the King, as Head of the Church, would have a regard to what the old church did not.  Yet all that money went on extending Whitehall and other palaces, or was thrown away on the war.  No wonder some folks have gone down more radical paths.” (p225)
  • I looked over all these rich men and women and thought of Timothy, somewhere alone out on the streets.  The notion came to me that perhaps the Anabaptists had something after all: a world where the gulf between the few rich and the many poor did not exist, a world where preening peacocks like Thomas Seymour and Serjeant Blower wore wadmol and cheap leather might not be so bad a place after all. (p561)

Right on, brother Shardlake!  Who it is almost time to leave, save to ponder what it can mean as the hunchback lawyer says, when mightily surprised, “I sat bolt upright” – a miracle? – and wonder how he’s going to fare in the months and years to come after Henry’s death, which is the crisis at the heart of Alison Weir‘s book.  Something to look forward to.  I note that Sansom has already cleverly set his man up with a young mate who is to achieve a prominent position when Elisabeth is on the throne, but there’s a lot of muddy water to wade through before that happens.

Innocent traitorThe innocent traitor of Innocent traitor is Lady Jane Grey: at age 16, the 9-day queen, holder of the record for the shortest reign of any English monarch.  The girl was cruelly used as a pawn by her parents and various others at court in order both to secure a Protestant succession to the throne and as a blatant exercise in self-aggrandisement.  She ended up – spoiler alert – quite unjustly, because of the specific utter stupidity of her very own father, losing her head, as happened quite often in those times.  I knew nothing of her story before reading this, but I do now, and for this sympathetic retelling I am grateful.

I wasn’t quite as annoyed by certain aspects of Innocent traitor as some in my Book Group.  Because of time constraints (I was reading Lamentation) I skim-read a lot of it and so missed the others’ detailed objections to the prose, the unlikely adverbial and adjectival elaborations, that particularly got up people’s noses.  The tale is told in first person mode by a number of participants including Jane herself, her Lady Macbeth of a mother (the book opens with her giving birth to Jane), her loyal loving serving woman Mrs Ellen, Queen Katherine Parr, Queen Mary to be, and a couple of others, with the final words coming from The Executioner (which was rather a nice touch, I thought).  The trouble is, they all sound the same, with practically no variation in voice at all, even from Mrs Ellen, the closest to a pleb we get in these pages.  As first person narratives they work better as third person voiceovers for a tv documentary.  The one that really made us laugh in bemusement was Jane’s, “Today I am four year’s old,” followed by some elaborate scene-setting with no concessions to toddler talk, which might have been interesting.  And her mum telling us, early on, “After two disastrous marriages, and a cataclysmic quarrel with the Pope, my uncle, King Henry VIII, at last has a son and heir” is no isolated example.

I was moved by Jane’s plight, I’ll admit, but I didn’t cry, so according to the quote on the cover of the paperback edition, I “must have a heart of stone“.  “What young girl would not giver her all to be Queen of England?” Tom Seymour (for it is he) asks rhetorically.  Alas, not poor bullied Jane, the kind of gal who scorns all the young nobles out a-hunting: “Their sport is but a shadow to the pleasure I find in Plato.  Poor souls, it seems to me they do not know what pleasure means,” she tells her tutor.  Maybe, but she didn’t have a chance to have much fun.

Back to the Time Machine …

Time machineThere is much to engage with in How to construct a time machine – Mark Wallinger’s highly reflective aluminium TARDIS which “disappears into the space-time continuum by reflecting its own surroundings” and the butterflies ‘flying’ in the zoetrope, to mention but two – but the thing that really absorbed me, and I shall probably go back and watch it all the way through, just because, was Thomson & Craighead‘s The Time Machine in Alphabetical Order (2010), a re-editing of the classic 1960 film of the H.G.Wells novel featuring Rod Taylor as the time traveller; that’s right, only the one with the actual time machine prop the lads successfully bid for on eBay in an episode in the first series of The Big Bang Theory .  Each word of dialogue, and the spaces in between after the last words of a sequence (I appreciated the rest), appear in alphabetical order.  Never mind the artspeak justification, it works because you vaguely know the story, but it also works … beyond narrative.  I guffawed loudly a number of times in the 15 minutes I was in there in two sessions (it runs for 1 hour, 36 minutes) and hung around for specific words: ‘love’, for one – just the once, as it happens.  You probably have to experience it to understand why I’m so enthusiastic, but for the high frequency words like ‘time’, ‘machine’ or ‘future’ the rapid fire succession of speakers and backgrounds is a joy to behold.  If I were to meet the perpetrators I would not be able not to ask whether they took at least some inspiration from the notorious Short f***ing version compilation of The Big Lebowski(Go on: you probably want to).

Before I move on I’ll say something about the gallery experience.  Another of the exhibits is a small (non-flat) television showing a performance of John Cage‘s 4’33 – you know, the one where the concert pianist sits at the piano and ‘plays’ silence (in three movements) for precisely 4 minutes and 33 seconds.  The telly’s on the floor and on the wall above it there’s a facsimile of the original score sheets (oh, yes – full of rests).  Now you can see the same bit of film right here on your computer or other digital device in much better picture (and sound) quality, but … context … it’s just different, worth being there.

Briefly, some other cultural adventures …

In chronological order:

Scribal Feb 2015

Archivists of the future please note: Glass Tears were nowhere to be seen.

HB Scribal 5What can I say?  It was Scribal‘s fifth birthday and there was cake courtesy of Caz.  The mighty Antipoet were mighty lots of things, among them being rhythm section to the wonderful Dodobones, who were surviving admirably after their self-imposed cover-a-day for a month stint on YouTubeMitchell Taylor showed a sensitive side but still managed to shout/sing “Fascist scum” with some glee at another song’s end; shame because his The blood of St George stands well enough (nay, better) without it.  New Bard Pat Nicholson continues to blossom in the role.  Can’t remember much else about it.

SSSAnother grand night at York House for S.S.Shanty! 3, a benefit for the RNLI. (for non-MK readers the SS stands for Stony Stratford, as well as the traditional nautical nomenclature).  An acapella evening of great variety with, naturally, a maritime theme one way or the other.  We had the many-handed Sloop Groggy Dogg from the shores of Woburn Sands, barber shop from B-Flat, a round the world trip from Oxford’s Manchoir, and the stirring Trim & Doxy up from Liverpool (one of whom played accordion).  The sheer power of The Five Men Not Called Matt (all 6 of ’em) gets me every time, with, this night, the occasional sweet bonus of aiding and abettment from Michèle Welbourn.  All the beer was drunk.  Unexpected were the low-level murmurings of demurral at the last mentioned (wait for it) when MC Ken kicked off the evening by addressing the assembled multitude, “Ladies, Gentlemen, and UKIP supporters.”

All six of The Five Men Not Called Matt in action.  Photo (c) Alison Holden.

All six of The Five Men Not Called Matt in action. Photo (c) Alison Holden.

esAnd then there was Matthew Bourne‘s splendid production of Edward Scissorhands at the theatre.  Has to be one of the highlights of the year already.  I’ll say it again: I don’t do ballet, but I do do Matthew Bourne.  What’s to add?  All the superlatives.  Even though I’ve never actually seen the Tim Burton movie, I’ll presume you know the story.  It had everything.  Energy, humour, wit, rhythm, romance, compassion, satire, a touch of goth.  Brilliant moves, exhilarating ensemble work, suitably corny stage business and a great set.  Glorious shiny happy ’50s American suburban stereotypes paraded and parodied, and the fears lurking behind.  Dominic North as Edward was magnificent.  Was moved greatly by the dramatic, then poignant, ending.  And we got snowed on.  Biggest genuine standing ovation I’ve ever been a part of.

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Blimey.  Done more this last week than since the last time on holiday.  So the intention here is for whistle stops, and given that brevity has been conspicuously absent from Lillabullero for some time now it should be good training.  Let us first bring on the books …

Scan heft front Scan heft backHeft

First thing to say about the edition of Liz Moore‘s Heft (Hutchinson, 2012) I read is: What a great cover, reflecting as it does beautifully the house in which a lot of the novel’s action takes place; and I love the steps leading up to the barcode on the back – take a bow Nathan Burton.  Click on the back cover and you’ll get some specifics, but without giving too much away – it says it’s ‘restorative’ on the cover – I’ll just add it’s a story of four lost souls, vividly told alternatively by two of them, one of whom rather annoying never spells out ‘and’, which is represented by an ampersand throughout his testimony.  The one who doesn’t make it, a particularly significant one, we only meet by hearsay and in her letters.  I zipped through Heft, engaged and moved by their various wretched situations; I don’t think the teenage boy would be out of place in a Donna Tartt novel.  It’s a really good read, the more so if you don’t think about it too hard; it suffers, this cynic would say, for all its contemporary New York locale, from a touch of that good ol’ American (modern Dickensian) sentimentality.  I read it because it was a Reading Group choice, but I liked it well enough, have no regrets for the time spent.

Darkness darknessDarkness, darkness

I’ve missed Charlie Resnick so it was good to see John Harvey had bought him back for a final fling with Darkness, darkness (Heinemann, 2014); Harvey’s other lead characters never came near Resnick’s resonance.  No longer a copper but working as a humdrum civilian investigator in the police service – “keeping the stairlift away” – he gets actively involved in a case again when a body is found in the process of a street demolition in an ex-mining village.  It’s a case going back to the dark days of the miners’ strike, a political milieu full of perils for the fiction writer which Nottinghamian Harvey treats even-handedly – and cites sources and contacts in an appendix to this end – while hiding nothing:

‘There was a lot of what we did that wasn’t right,’ Resnick said eventually.  ‘A lot we should have done differently or not done at all.  And a great deal of what happened locally, well, that was taken out of our hands. Not much of an excuse, maybe, but there it is.  But I met some good people, no mistaking that.  Either side of the picket line.’

Scargill’s tactics – how things could have been different in the Notts coalfields – get a critical airing too.  The scars of the conflict are still there as the investigation proceeds three decades on, with the women’s part in the strike an important element of the plot.  Chapters describing events concerning the murdered woman at the time of the strike cut intriguingly into the main investigation narrative.  The outcome is a long way from what might have been at the start, with the crucial intellectual breakthrough in the case down to Resnick’s passion for jazz, which also gets a familiar airing in passing throughout.

Darkness, darkness is a worthy coda to the canon.  His personal situation – ageing, wearied, crotchety, grieving, still interested – is affectionately and adeptly handled, and, fans, rest assured: he doesn’t die.

Pedant’s corner: in the ongoing query as to what editors and proof readers do for their money these days, how do you flick your headlights at someone “waiting patiently to overtake”?  And would a pro-strike miner get away with making a speech criticising the “false promises” of the NUM rather than, as it should obviously read in context, the NCB (p221 in the paperback)?

xoa-coverlores1Anais Mitchell

Saw Anais Mitchell at a stupidly un-sold-out Stables on Monday – the side seats were empty – but if anything that added to the intimacy.  Support and occasional accompanist Rachel Ries opened with a set of songs that kept the audience fully engaged, and – nice touch – was joined by her friend Anais for her last number.  Anais came out and was stunning from the outset.  She’s a decent singer, with a neat inflection, and a fine acoustic guitarist with a folksy presence that belies the power of her compositions.  She has an endearing habit of – standing with her guitar throughout – fidgeting about on her feet, (mostly softly) stamping or shuffling, the tour de force being a natural/naturalised balancing on one leg temporarily resting the other on the calf of her standing leg.  Her voice is much stronger live than heard on previous records, and the spare unaccompanied performances of songs from Hadestown and Young man in America (especially an intense Why we build the wall from the former, where opera-style, it’s sung by someone else, and the title track of the latter) really gripped emotionally; both are on Xoa, the fine new album of re-workings illustrated here.  Young man in America is a devastating, concerned song, looking into the void.  If she weren’t a song writer she’d be a writer, no question.  Wearing pretty new H&M dresses – I’m only telling you this because she told us – she and Rachel, when the latter came out again to add harmonies or piano, towering I guess a foot over Anais, were enjoying each other’s and our company.  It was a great night and, icing on the cake, for an encore, lovely touch, unplugged and un-miked they stepped in front of the monitors and gave us a thoroughly acoustic little country ditty.  Refreshing (well I’ve not seen it done before) and so satisfying.  Audience exit smiling.

MK Rose Nov 11Scribal Armistice

Tuesday was Armistice Day and we joined a small group of MK Humanists joined local worthies and other members of the public at the secular civic act of Remembrance at the MK Rose.  A bit blowy, but it was a relief it kept dry.  Not exactly massed ranks but everyone pleasantly surprised at the size of the turnout, a genuine gathering, the feeling being that this was now an established event in the civic calendar.  A feature of the ceremony, along with all the usual – the Exhortation, Last Post, Reveille, the laying of the wreaths and the Kohima Epitaph – was the reading of Day of names, an apt poem written by MK Poet Laureate Mark Niel for the occasion.

Scribal Nov 2014And the theme continued in the evening, with the November Scribal Gathering featuring a moving 20 minute reprise extract from The hell where youth and laughter go, the World War 1 commemoration in poetry put together earlier in the year by the late Scribal regular (and many other things) Dick Skellington.  Remembrance of one sort or other became something of a theme as the evening progressed with Alzheimer’s the topic of a Caz epic and touched on by others.   Couple of notable first time poets of distinction were blooded (rotten metaphor for a vegetarian, I know, but it is a rite of passage), while Mr Gurner performed a Japan classic, solo on the modern equivalent of Sparky’s Magic Piano, and Mr Frost was back in charge of proceedings (though, if memory hasn’t failed, sans chapeau.

Terror and wonderLondon libraries

And so to London for a celebration, but first Terror and wonder at the British Library.  A wide-ranging exhibition sub-titled The Gothic Imagination had me absorbed for a couple of hours or more.  Always a favourite place to visit in London, I was enticed this time by Andrew Graham-Dixon’s three parter on the telly, which for the first time seemed to make sense for me of the relation of Gothic architecture to all the horror stuff, from John Ruskin to The wickerman in easy stages.  Not so much of Ruskin and the general architecture here, but there was plenty else to take in.  Like Castle of Otranto author Walpole’s Strawberry Hill villa (hence Strawberry Hill Gothic as per Stony’s St Mary & St Giles Church) and Dr Dee’s obsidian scrying mirror that was part of Walpole’s collection.  Indeed, many things; I’ll just point at random to a goth adaptation called Jane Slayre (there were more); an aged cabinet housing a similarly aged but impressive ‘Vampire slaying kit’ (no example found older than the early ’70s);  original illustrations from Patrick Ness’s A monster calls (which Lillabullero raved about this time last year); and as part of a photographic essay of a goth weekend at Whitby, a goth football team (or is it even a goth football tournament as part of the entertainments?)  For the first time in my life the thought occurs that I might actually read Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Different kind of horror show at the 50th birthday ‘celebration’ of the iconic Swiss Cottage Library, which just happened to be the first port of call of my 40 year library career.  Missed the first introductory bit because Transport for London deemed it necessary to close Swiss Cottage station for the brief time I needed to use it so had to walk back down the Finchley Road (and nearly got run down by a honking taxi – one forgets about London traffic), but I was reassured later I’d missed nothing.  Then a rambling interview all about the building with a surviving member of Basil Spence’s architectural practice, and absolutely nothing about how it was a beacon in the library world for a decade, about the good old days of a thriving library, no recollections of how it felt to use it or work there.  Then some sort of performance art/mime performance that nodded to all the library clichés (“shhh…”) while most of us nodded off, culminating in a less than rousing ‘Happy birthday’.  Orange juice and crisps!  Good to see old colleagues, though, and even better, old friends in the pub afterwards.

mkg2

Photo taken from the MK Gallery website http://www.mkgallery.org/exhibitions/ where there is a lot more information.

An-My Lê

Went back for a second look at the An-My Lê exhibition at Milton Keynes Gallery.  As a child she was airlifted out of Vietnam near the end of the war to settle in America.  Was really impressed with the Events ashore sequence of large colour photographs in the Long Gallery.  Her subject is war and the military but she’s not a war photographer; rather she, to quote the leaflet, “explored the myth and memory of war.”  There a some stunning compositions here – like the hospital ship in the accompanying photo, and the medics awaiting casualties – beautifully composed in both sense of the word.  There is quietness, stillness, vehicle patterns in the snow and other seemingly set pieces, but such is the subject matter there must always be the unstated implication you cannot escape, even in the missions of humanitarian aid, of potential violence, the uniforms, behind the picture.  It’s an extraordinary feeling, not so much alarming as haunting.  Thought the video installation worked too – on one wall black and white close-ups and middle shots of troops in training being instructed, filmed movie quality; on the adjoining wall at right angles, long-range, less focussed film of a landscape in which a training exercise battle is taking place, the soldiers like ants.

Further musical adventures

Hey, and Saturday the awesome energy of women dancing at a party (happy birthdays L & S) with three bands – The Outside This, The Box Ticked (Waterloo!), and the impressive Fear of Ray.  Which gives me a chance to introduce events the next day with …

… but there was no fear of Ray at this year’s Official Kinks Fan Club Konvention at Tufnell Park’s Boston Arms.  And indeed, Ray Davies did turn up briefly to wish us well and lead us through a truncated You really got me (50 years old this year, same as, I suddenly realise, Swiss Cottage Library).  Now in the past I’ve given this escapade a big write-up and it’s got flagged in the splendid Kinda Kinks unofficial website and I get more visitors here at Lillabullero in the next couple of days than I get in a month.  But  I can’t see that happening this year.

Waterlow Park 2014.  Not the usual autumn leaves pic.  Something more reflective.  Oh, and Where's Wally?

Waterlow Park 2014. Not the usual autumn leaves pic. Something more reflective. Oh, and Where’s Wally? (Click and click again to enlarge).

But first, the annual pilgrimage to Highgate’s Waterlow Park, where I spent many a pleasant hour when I first moved to London.  And down Dartmouth Park Hill to the Boston with cranes much in evidence on the London skyline.

The thing is, the Konvention used to be special.  But for the Kast Off Kinks these days it’s … well it’s not quite just another gig, because (apart, of course for Dave) they’re all there, including Deb and Shirlie, and this is hard-core Kinks fans, who come from far and wide.  Now they’re regularly gigging throughout the land, not much new is happening on stage.  Not that they do not put on a decent show, but the sound is crap.  The bass, with either Nobby or Jim playing, is – there’s probably a technical term for it, but – too fucking loud an awful lot of the time.  No, I don’t swear very much on Lillabullero.  The bass coming out of the speakers is at times serious industrial noise pollution rather than music and it drowns out Ian Gibbons’ fine keyboard tinklings when he hasn’t got said keyboard functioning as an organ – his swirling away behind certain songs was a musical highlight for me.

KOK Phil Anthony WardDave Clark (the other Dave Clark, the one who’s still alive) puts in his usual sterling performance in the Ray and Dave roles (though thankfully not fighting among himself) and the others were fine.  I dunno.  Maybe it’s the familiarity, and/or I’m getting old and jaded.  Also, there were (no bad thing in itself) backing singers – here’s photographic evidence.  I certainly saw three young Swedish women trot through the crowd onto and off the side of the stage more than once, and heard them introduced, and Deb and Shirlie were there too, but apart from the latter two’s solo spots I never heard any of their contributions.  The sound improved for the closing rock and roll sequence and the final rousing Louie, Louie was great as ever, with Ian’s percussive Hammond-setting extemporisation outstanding.

And another thing …  Oh yes, it was too crowded – uncomfortably so; to quote one of Ray’s songs, “too many people.”  To be honest I have to say that the not necessarily worthiest part of me says I preferred it when Ray Davies was an unacknowledged national treasure.  Still, you have to pay tribute to the hard work that goes into this shindig, so again, thanks OKFC.  It’s always good to greet old friends and Kink community acquaintances.  But next year can we have raffle tickets that don’t change colour under the UV lights, please?

Dodo Bones by danni

Percussionist hidden, not a 4-legged Robbyn Snow. Photo (c) Danni Antagonist

The Konvention is an afternoon gig, so I’m back in time for the excellent Dodo Bones at the Old George.  Robbyn Snow has an extraordinarily expressive voice – country-tinged soul (maybe) contralto is the best I can describe it.  Tonight as well as regular partner, guitarist Stephen Patmore – they often gig as a duo – they are more than ably accompanied by Ian, the one in the Antipoet with the double bass, and the augmented – bass drum pedal attached and one-man band cymbal on the other foot – cajon percussionist hidden in the picture.  And a fine time was had.  Their own more than decent songs were interwoven with some craftily crafted self-confessed “cheesy” covers.  So you suddenly realise it’s a countrified Let me entertain you, they’re playing, and it works beautifully – a better song than you expected.  Specific lines in a raunchy Rihanna track with lyrics approaching the status of an instruction manual is greeted with laughter; “I am so pleased you laughed at that,” says Robbyn.  Spoiler alert: they close with Hey hey we’re the Monkees.  A delightful evening.

 Actual dodo bones

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Atwood - Oryx and CrakeSometimes a word just comes at you from  unrelated directions.  Jimmy, aka Snowman, maybe the last of old model homo sapiens still alive in Margaret Atwood‘s brilliant trilogy opener Oryx and Crake (2013), keeps getting flashes of words he used to know and that, in pre-catastrophe times, had a use.  Feel the despair:

Rag ends of language are floating in his head: mephitic, metronome, mastitis, metatarsal, maudlin.
        “I used to be erudite,” he says out loud. “Erudite.” A hopeless word. What are all those things he once thought he knew, and where have they gone?

Fiennes - Music roomA metronome features in one of the many mesmeric (and erudite) passages in William Fiennes sad, beautiful and enlightening memoir The music room (2009).  Feel the magic of a very unusual childhood:

The metronome fascinated me; I couldn’t keep my hands off it. Mum told me it wasn’t a top and left it out of reach on top of the piano, but it wasn’t hard to clamber from chair to keyboard and bring myself eye-level with it. I turned the key at the side to wind the clockwork, unhitched the wand from the plastic clasp and set it rocking from side to side like a hypnotist’s finger, a loud tock marking each extremity. If you pushed the sliding weight down to the bottom, the metronome went berserk, wagging as fast as it could; if you slid the weight to the tip of the scale, the wand swung through lugubrious arcs, sombre grandfather-clock beats echoing in the stone vaults. Suddenly it seemed the time you set by the metronome was actual time, and that your life passed more slowly or quickly as you slid the weight up and down the scale, the music room a world that turned at whatever speed you judged appropriate. The tuning fork and metronome granted supernatural powers. The day’s pitch and time-keeping were in my hands.

May return for more on these two fine books at another time – they certainly deserve it.

Toumani and SidikiA metronome would have been no use at all to Toumani and Sidiki Diabate as they wove their spell over an entranced Stables audience last Thursday, serving up both contemplation and excitement seemingly simultaneously, very much in control of their own pitch and time-keeping.  I’ve always found the sound of the kora enticing, the notes coming at you like the flow of clear crystal waters, but beyond the traditional sounds here were unexpected Celtic harp moments, folk cadences and changes, and the close exchanges and rhythmic interplay of a seasoned jazz quartet (though there were only two of them; playing with only thumb and one finger albeit with both hands).  Interesting the chosen instrument stands, with père Toumani opting for old style dark wood upright compared with fils Sidiki’s space age laminated sculpture.  Longest queue I’ve seen to buy a CD after a show anywhere, and I was in it; prettier, doesn’t have the intensity of the live show but still good to have.

mk_smith154What will stay with me from Melanie Smith‘s exhibition at Milton Keynes Gallery, that I caught in only its last week, is the green light suffusing the entrance and the long gallery.  The stuff in the vitrines – Mexico city bric-a-brac is probably too unkind a description – and the collages, orange (toilet seats etc bought in the market) and green (natural), in the long gallery had a certain interest but to tell the truth I’ve never really ‘got’ video art in a gallery setting and Spiral City in particular – not exactly sharp black and white shot from a helicopter above Mexico City – did nothing for me.  Fordlandia had a lot of images of an overgrown industrial failure filmed lingeringly and what I thought was just strung together but according to the catalogue “provides a critical reflection.”  I would have preferred photos on the wall.  That went on so long I couldn’t be bothered to wait for Xilitia, the one that might have pleased me more, featuring surrealist collector Edward James’s subtropical rainforest garden.  A miss in my book, I’m afraid.

And so to StonyLive!  Stony’s week-long extravaganza of musical events over and above the usual, a significant choice of what to see to be made most days.  Again the resolve to partake of something every day, though this year that was reduced one night to walking up and down the High Street and not fancying any of the music escaping from the pubs.  Moral: next year commit to the stuff you wouldn’t normally see, even if it does mean paying for the pleasure.  Highlights:

  • StonyLive Alternative Fringe 2014The Box Ticked opening a fine set at the Alternative Fringe event in the Bull courtyard with Rocking all over the world and closing with how Steve imagined The Clash would have done Abba’s Waterloo.  Quick dash up to the Fox for the annual dose of the Concrete Cowboys.   And back for more delights – not least the first time I’ve seen The Screaming House Madrigals for a while, a full set from Naomi Rose and some poetry – that I’ve not really got the time to mention.  Lucky with the weather for that one – dire forecasts but the sun came out just in time.
  • KGVWSun again for the Classic Cars on Sunday.  My favourite this time around the immaculate green Karmann Ghia treatment of the VW Beetle pictured here.  Love the way the reflection makes it look like there’s a grille.
  • Monday and a lively and varied a cappella session in the Vaults.  Oh what a beautiful morning was unexpected among the traditional stuff and at the line “I was lying in a burned out basement” in Neil Young’s After the gold rush Andrew said in passing, “Story of my life.”
  • June Scribal 2014Tuesday and it was Scribal Gathering’s bad luck for the June show to coincide with StonyLive and a lot of other stuff.  Showed loyalty and as it turned out a big crowd from the start for an evening with a difference.  As it turned out Caz didn’t compère – lost her voice.  For the second time in 4 days Second Hand Grenade had ’em dancing in the aisles.  Who’da thunk it – Jackson 5’s I want you back a showstopper.
  • Wednesday and a bit of the old Morris – saw a few of them on Sunday too – dancing and clogging in the garden of the Fox, that is.
  • Bard & friendsThursday and The Bard and friends downstairs at the Crown.  The memory of Bard Phil Chippendale‘s dance of the excited methane molecule will stay with me for a while – given an extended set he was brilliant.  Left field science based comedy.  Not seen Brian Damage and Krystall before but will again I’m sure – hilarious.  Another comic died a death but poetry saved the day.
  • Saturday and it’s back in the Fox at lunchtime for more bluegrass.  What The Hole in the Head Gang  (with a Cowboy or three in tow) described as their annual rehearsal.  A Goodnight Irene in the middle of the day.  And in the evening the mighty fine Bearcats Blues Band were what it said on the tin; was that a Magic Sam number that opened the second set.  Home to watch the footie; be nice if that Balotelli was playing in an Arsenal shirt next season.

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Lillabullero has been suffering from an attack of ‘procrasturbation’ (© Danni Antagonist) of late.  I’ve given Danni the copyright here because although there are entries for the word in Urban Dictionary going back to 2003 she uses it with a witty moral dimension in her splendid Empty threats, the title poem of her slim volume published by the Allographic Press.  We are not talking puerile, literal or juvenile here, people.  And while a sudden fascination with the sport of curling may be a factor – linger on, those pale blue eyes – it’s just, well, who knows where the time goes?  And while Empty threats remains on ‘the pile’ mostly unread I shall get around to it one of these days because I know it will be worth it cos I’ve seen some of those pomes in the flesh, so to speak.

Chris Garrick with Pete Oxley - of the Spin Trio - at another time, another place.

Chris Garrick with Pete Oxley – of the Spin Trio – at another time, another place.

Music, Maestro – thanks

So it is now over fortnight since I saw virtuoso violinist Chris Garrick in Oxford, at a great little jazz club called The Spin.  Down an alley off the High Street, upstairs in The Wheatsheaf pub; life would be so much sweeter if every urb had a club like this – world-class musicians for a tenner and decent beer at a normal price.  Chris, resplendent in a Pacman@Abbey Road t-shirt, made his way through the capacity crowd – it’s that kind of venue – to join The Spin Trio, the very handy house band, on stage.  He then proceeded to wow said audience with his dexterity, artistry, invention and wit, warming up with a couple of Stefan Grapelli plays the American songbook looseners before launching into a slow lyrical rendition of Ray Charles’ You don’t own me and joyous extended takes on Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t she lovely and You are the sunshine of my life.  The first set ended triumphantly with some stunning pass-the-baton extemporisation on a stirring Abdullah Ibrahim tune.  After that the second half was, to tell the truth, a bit of an anticlimax though One note samba sticks in the mind and the riff-driven encore was the rockiest workout of the night.  Thanks, Paul.

Treasures in MKDB4

Treasures in MK

Strange scenes inside Milton Keynes Gallery.  “MK Gallery as you’ve never seen it before” say the ads they’ve put in the local free papers for the Treasures in MK exhibition and the cynic might well say – ignoring all the usual cheap cracks about MK – indeed.  For there were more visitors in there when I went than I’ve seen other than at an opening, and – maybe there’s a connection – there were loads of pictures hung on the walls, nearly two hundred works no less, spanning at least four centuries.  Oh, and the small matter of a gleaming white Aston Martin DB4  in the centre of the Long Gallery.  Now I’m not a car buff (I once drove a Lada) but I was in awe of its sheer classic beauty – for my money nothing can touch it aesthetically since.  And in the middle of the Cube Gallery five stuffed pelicans. 

The show is put together from private collections in the environs of MK and a fine and varied one it is.  “As such,” it says in the guide, “the exhibition is a collection of collections; it is also an exhibition about collecting.”  Though it does no harm to see it as just a bunch of pictures hung on the walls, a feast for the eyes.

Tom Chadwick - The proverbsMy faves were an unclutterd pen and ink Matisse (Etude de femme, 1942) and one of the bigger oil paintings, Tom Chadwick‘s Stanley Spencer-ish The proverbs (1939), which could be said to look back to Brueghel and forward to Grayson Perry.  There is work by Warhol, Picasso, a Louis Wain cat, a big David Bowie self-portrait (just a step up from Bob Dylan’s Self portrait self-portrait).  Leon Bakst, Dürer, Tom Gainsborough, Millais – the gang’s all here.  I mention Marmaduke Cradock’s seventeenth century hunting scene purely because of his splendid name.  Maggie Hambling’s Wave roaring roars sat near Peter Blake’s holidaying On the beach.  Hogarth, Paolozzi, Bridget Riley, Edward Lear and many more are here among the (literal) ‘unknowns’.  Oh, and four plaster sculpture Beatle heads from 1964, two of which are recognisable (sorry, David Wynne).
http://www.mkgallery.org/exhibitions/treasures_in_mk/

Scribal Feb 2014

Future popular music historians will mistakenly cite this as Funk & Disorderly’s first ever gig even though they only featured on the poster.

More Music! Poetry! Beer!

February’s Scribal Gathering 4th birthday bash was a blast.  Taking my lead from Arnold Bennett, who called his novel Anna of the Five Towns because it sounded better than acknowledging that there are actually six in the Potteries, I shall say it was a Three Bard Night, hoping to evoke a poptastic resonance with a band of similar name’s cover of that Randy Newman song, even though there were four Bards in attendance.  So, mostly the usual suspects in fine form plus a singer led – Susan Hill (no relation) – jazz trio, which made a change.  There was a welcome return for a solo spot from David Goo who sang and strummed angularly of “a postmodern kind of love” and proclaimed in song his disbelief in the myth of atheism (a double bluff I’m hoping).  Less dextrous on guitar than last time, though to no detriment, he manages to deliver highly literate lyrics distinctly and make his voice function as a funky rhythm instrument at the same time.

Other highlights included a double-hander from MC Richard Frost and Ian Freemantle, a melding of the former’s symbolic detailing of life under an oppressive economic and social regime and Ian’s rhythmic chronicle of the people’s resistance from Wat Tyler on, delivered at first dramatically from opposite ends of the narrow room but each moving through the crowd towards each other as it progressed.  Probably better than I’ve made it sound.   Stephen Hobbs entertained mightily with a versified Scribal history and a plea for aforesaid Frost not to walk away.  The Antipoet closed proceedings with the usual energetic and joyous commitment, bravado and wit.  There was cake.  And Scribal lives!

KD’s C&B BF logo

Hoodwink ElixirHoodwink Elixir, the new spoken word only Frost venture, hosted by invitation an open mic that surprisingly produced a roomful of poets and storytellers with an audience in a back room on the first night of the 11th Cock and Bull Beer Festival, and a fine evening that turned out to be, with new faces and voices much in evidence.  Someone called Sam (sorry, didn’t catch anything else) did a neat poem called H.G.Wells wishing he had a time machine and how he’s apply it to the highs and lows of his own life.  Great Oakley ruled again as far as my taste buds went with the wonderfully hoppy Tiffield Thunderbolt – poetry in liquid motion.  And the dark That old chestnut from Frog Island had an intriguing double hit of taste and aftertaste.

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… an alliteration fail to signal Lillabullero‘s third cultural destination as featured in this post.

Old Duke entranceA brief sojourn in Bristol at the weekend and disappointment that the walls of the gents’ bogs in The Old Duke jazz pub – not exactly the marbled halls of the Philharmonic in Liverpool but still marvels in their own way of artistic distinction – have been scraped and whitewashed into blankness.  I’ve been quietly pleased that photos of the varnished wall- and door-coverings – of layers of sheet music, newspaper cuttings and gig posters – have attracted some attention over the years here at Lillabullero (click here for a view) … and now it would appear they have achieved the status of historical document.

Old Duke scaffoldingStill good music to be had of a Sunday lunchtime, though, from some spritely (shall we say) older geezers playing the jazz – from revivalist stylings through to Lou Donaldson – they’ve played all their lives, as renovation work continues.  And in Banksy’s city, a neat piece of wall art on the brickwork outside:
Old Duke

Le Corsaire

Le CorsaireWhenever New Adventures are in town I drag out the mantra, “I don’t do ballet, but I do do Matthew Bourne.”  Well I did do ballet last week and while not actively regretting it I think I’ll be resuming that position.  The publicity for English National Ballet‘s production of Le Corsaire promised much.  Billed as “an epic pirate adventure“, Pirates of the Caribbean it was not.  OK, I didn’t do my homework, but ballet as a narrative form left me confused, and I still don’t know who exactly the bare-chested bloke who stole the attention of the women I was with was, or what his function.  The leads (he with le grand bulge, d’accords) were obviously a big deal – applause the first time they came on stage before they’d done anything – and could, well, dance rather well, and there were some lovely duets (is that the right word?).

The publicity promised “some of the most bravura male dancing in the ballet” and furthermore “a shipwreck which is one of the most breath-taking spectacles in ballet.”  The stage effects of the latter were pretty good, indeed the staging and costumes were spectacular, borrowing from contemporary (to its inception) nineteenth century exotic east illustration (the book was loosely based on a long poem of Byron’s) and (I pinched this from a review I chanced upon) Bollywood, which some of the ensemble set routines seemed to borrow from too.  Swashbuckling it was not, and nothing like the picture reproduced here was to be seen; indeed, very little time was spent at sea.  The sword fight had a certain brio, I guess, but I was expecting spectacular.  The music – 5 composers are listed – was all over the place, from oom-pah to Tchaikovsky (though he was not one of them).  But what do I know?  All around me Le Corsaire was received rapturously.  No way am I saying it was an evening wasted – it was a visual treat, sometimes due to the dancing – but I’ve still got to catch up with the last episode of Peaky Blinders.

Peter Dreher at MK Gallery

An interesting exhibition in part at MK Gallery from the German artist Peter Dreher, who says:

I was always cautious about narrative pictures charged with meaning.  But an individual painting loses its relationship with reality as soon as it is repeated.  It is just painting.  This is how I arrived at the idea of painting the same thing over and over again.

This is the rationale behind Everyday is a good day (in German the enticing Tag um tag guter tag).  Again, from the MK Gallery’s printed Exhibition Guide:

… Dreher wanted to paint the simplest thing he could imagine, and paint it again and again.  It had to be an object familiar to everyone and he decided on a glass, selecting one from his studio without thinking too much about it. Initially it was meant to be five or six paintings that proved as an artist you didn’t need to change your subject to be stimulated to paint.  He then carried on, fascinated by the process, and now there are over 5,000.  Each painting is created in the same conditions, in the same position and from the same perspective, in one sitting.  It is methodical and obsessive, and loads the painting of the glass with further meaning for the artist and viewer; by producing thousands, the work becomes more abstract and conceptual and the tireless repetition of a motif questions and challenges representation in painting.  At the same time, the ritual act of painting the same thing over and over again is meditative, and provides quiet and pace for the artist.

Peter Dreher 01And 150 of them take up two walls in the Long Gallery allowing the visitor to partake in that old favourite of a picture game,  Spot the difference.  There are differences, but ultimately, so what?  Elsewhere, however, there is stuff I could appreciate more.

In the Cube Gallery the installation of a series of many many skulls done in gouache opposite oil paintings of flowers – a staple juxtaposition of traditional still lifes – do set up an interesting still life experience.  And yes, the varied angles and seeming expressions of the skulls make the observer feel … observed.  You can see the skulls and a couple of glasses on the Gallery website (at http://www.mkgallery.org/exhibitions/peter_dreher/).

Peter Dreher 02Three sides of the Middle Gallery are taken up by Beachcomber shores, a panoramic 52 paneled straight replication in oils – and framed by the wall spaces left for the sections of the room not painted – of  three sides of a California motel room.  This works for me as more of a zen thing than those bloody glasses.  For what it’s worth, on the fourth wall is my favourite piece, frame and all – what is probably a self-portrait from 1948, when Dreher was 16.

 

Briefly, back to Bristol

Make Sundays Special Bristol

As it happens the Sunday we were in Bristol was a Make Sundays Special Sunday.  These are the brainwave of Bristol’s elected Mayor wherein once a month some city centre streets are closed off to traffic and given over to street artists and stallholders selling their various wares.  Great idea.  A regular buzzing mini-carnival no less.

 

 

 

 

 

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