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Posts Tagged ‘Stony Stratford’

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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As the bingo callers used to say – and maybe still do – Two Fat Ladies.  Or shall we say, the birth of rock’n’roll, Ike Turner’s Rocket 88?  That’s a 1932 Buick 8 and its more or less contemporary but closer to home Morris 8.  Always a great way – weather permitting , and it usually does – to start the New Year, the Stony Stratford Vintage Car and Motorcycle Festival.  This year’s camera focussed on the car makers’ bonnet insignia, with no shortage of witty custom jobs too; I’m pretty sure the hare on that Alvis, for example (sorry, no picture), was not exactly authentic (not that I’m complaining).

I’m no car buff but I do love those Citroën, like Patrick Jane drives in The Mentalist.  A fine example was on show in the Budgens car park.  The event just seems to get bigger and bigger, both the vehicles and the crowds.  Shame this promises to be the last for a while – organisers’ fatigue – but big thanks guys.  Happily June Classic Car bonanza lives on.

Impossible to not indulge in nostalgia: Hey, Andy’s dad’s first car (a Wolsey, a black one), my first car (a Hillman Imp, for what it’s worth – which, truth be told, was not much, given it broke down on its first long journey), and all the motoring memories; the weirdish looking Ford Capri – double headlights and a modest nod to America – was bigger than I remembered.

With camera in hand I’m a sucker for reflections, and freshly polished shiny motors are a gift.  Hence the photo above, two White Horses on the wheel arch of a 1950 Chevy pick-up truck.  No levees to drive to, but there is always a fair sampling of what might be called (discuss) the golden design age of the American automobile.  Now I’ve found this, looking for something else, it has to go in:

Stony’s got a brand new Bard

All hail Mitchell Taylor!  Seen here with bardic staff and the mayor of Milton Keynes.  Erstwhile musician and poet of this parish … or at least within walking distance thereof.  He competed as a poet, but the journey from busker to Bard has also taken in some fine original songs, a warm-up spot for Jeremy Corbin in Station Square a couple of years ago, not to mention ‘his’ band Taylor Smith, among other things.  He is also a gentleman of taste, not afraid of raiding the parents’ record collection, and being the only person to give me a like on FaceBook when I put up The Decemberist’s epic nine minutes of The mariner’s revenge (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Sw61oITuts if you’re interested).  His strong voice should make for an interesting year Bard-wise.

This year’s Bardic Trials were an absorbing contest from a field of four, and we certainly weren’t expecting a juggler (among his many other talents – here was a talented street entertainer)!  Nice to be treated to the unexpected, though local loyalties won out in the end.  There was a sitar recital while the votes were being counted; the player was worried about his old instrument going out of tune in the heated atmosphere, but truth to tell – and I mean this in the best possible way – we wouldn’t have noticed.  Yay micro-tones!

Hannah Chutzpah entered in a witch’s cape and opened with words that I surmise may have something to do with Harry Potter, but very soon broadened her demographic with an outline of the rules of Shithead Bingo, a game for pretty much any workplace, and her missive to a pet crematorium – Dear Pet Crematorium, no less – on the occasion of them returning the ashes of her much-loved cat along with unexpected bonus poems out of the Clinton’s Cards school of verse.  A couple of poems about her exes bit too.  An admission that she had once been sacked as a proof reader (by the OU in MK, so look at me now!) had a certain irony given how her name appeared on the poster advertising the event.

Scribal Gathering

Hard to know if stand-up Chris Norton Walker‘s repeated utterance of what a ‘weird’ audience we in Stony Stratford were is part of an act he takes everywhere, but his biggest laughs came with some of his corniest material – not that there’s any harm in that.

Andy Griffiths started off admitting he’d always had the ambition to write a James Bond movie theme, and he gave us one for the 21st century; given it was coming from a white, liberal, middle class folk singer, it was, of necessity, he said, full of guilt.  It was a sensitive, tuneful set; I particularly liked his looking back to being age 16, with the refrain, “You and me in the licorice fields / Hiding from the world“.

Open mic at January’s Scribal delivered, among other delights, the Bendy Witch, a poet of wit and great spirit it is to be hoped will return.  The Outside This collective were as strong as I’ve seen them.  “Let’s write a song about anarchy / Let’s not” sets the tone nicely, while the rousing long-running self-help epic Everything I hate in others never fails to raise a smile here at Lillabullero.  Jill Taylor gave us a Pam Ayers-stylee insight into the life of a Scribal organiser’s widow.

Vaultages

I can’t quite keep up with Vaultage now it’s gone weekly, but a post-Christmas Innocent Hare shone brightly, ranging from George Frederick Handel to Iron Maiden and stations in between, signing off with Donkey Riding.

Pat Le Chapeau – Vaultage-meister Pat Nicholson, no less – gave us 9 original songs in bursts of three, the last as a trio with the two Andys, as pictured here – including a premiere performance of at least one song written 20 years ago.

Refrazzled – a “work in progress” from an old salt and two younger chums – delivered an interesting choice of covers, including an impressive working of Nina Simone’s Feeling good punctuated with blues harp.  (Though I’d happily never have to hear Pink Floyd’s dirgeful I wish you were here covered ever again: I’d rather hear something from Piper at the gates of dawn (it still sounds fresh!) being murdered as a more fitting tribute to Syd Barrett).

Panto (Oh yes it was!)

Another year, another panto full of panto stuff and local associations (seems Robin Hood came south to thwart the Sherriff of Buckingham).  Intertextuality even – Sally’s pies back on the market from last year (if she can get them past the stage manager).  Director Caz Tricks and chums in the Stony Stratford Theatre Society delivered fun in style, the If-I-were-not-in-Robin’s-Merry-Men choreographed and round-singing slapstick (if they’re not very careful) routine was the highlight, an old chestnut but still freshly done – bravo!  Two fairies – Fairy Liquid & Fairy Nuff (a punk) – you get the picture?  Andy K. Powell as Russell Street (son of (pantomime) Dame Meryl Street) … non-Stonyites will need to know that there is a Russell Street School … in short-trousered be-capped Bash Street cum Terry Scott My brother mode …

Palmerston

… the timing of the Sunday panto performance meant a mad dash in costume for young Russell to take up a role as the AC/DC Angus McKinnon of the banjo for a Palmerston afternoon gig at Calverton’s Shoulder of Mutton pub (where they serve a lovely pint of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, by the way).  Five strong voices, fine musicianship – mandolin, banjo, fiddle plus the usual – great original songs from Alan Rondeau (think Mavericks, early Eagles, commercial end of Americana and a touch of music hall) and a collective sense of rhythm; they don’t need a drummer.  Great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. (Try ’em here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–fSI37B_mk).

A World Premiere even …

Another strand to 2019’s StonyWords literary fest, was a rehearsed play reading of Murder at the Chateau, a new work by a local author Joe Laredo (click on the poster to enlarge it for further details).  We were told to imagine we were watching the recording of a BBC Radio4 play (though there were costumes … and moustaches).  [Given the theme, and that the Countess and another of the main actors are also regulars at Lillabullero‘s New Year’s Eve Murder Mystery Parties it was sometimes hard not to imagine being back there as well].  Anyway, an interesting structure.  First act a series of events, but no full reveal; Second the trial – prosecution and defence cases put, witnesses grilled, crowd (us) encouraged to heckle; finally, monologues from the main characters, further revelations and what happened to them later.  Interesting.

It’s still happening …

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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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No, not the Tory Brexiteers, but the police team that worked on a missing persons inquiry back in 2006 as described off-the-record by the man called upon to investigate the original handling of the case.  The case is dramatically re-opened as a murder enquiry 12 years later in In a house of lies, Ian Rankin‘s new novel (Orion, 2018), when the missing person in question turns up dead in the boot of an abandoned VW Golf found concealed in a local wood.  As it happens, the original case had been one of the last a disillusioned DI John Rebus had worked on before his retirement as a police officer, and, one way or another, he gets to tag along again.  Did Rebus really retire as a cop as long ago as 2006?  Indeed, he did.

At a certain stage late in the enquiry, Siobhan Clarke, Rebus’s protégé of old, asks him:

‘Did you at least manage to have a bit of fun, John?’
‘Fun?’
‘Playing detective again, I mean.
‘All the fun in the world, Siobhan.’  Rebus stretched out an arm. ‘It’s just one huge amusement park out there, happy families everywhere you look.’

I think Ian Rankin had fun writing this one, the twenty-second in the Rebus saga.  He’s showing his age now, of course.  ‘Still got this old thing, I see,’ observes a DC we’ve met in previous books.  ‘Are you talking to me or the car?‘ he responds.  Despite a diagnosis of COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) – from which there can be no eventual escape – he’s still managing to live in his second floor tenement flat in Edinburgh’s Old Town, albeit with a 20-a-day nicotine patch habit and whisky and strong beers no longer contributing to his diet; he’s lost 20 pounds.  He’s grown a tad ruminative too: having picked up the phrase ‘a managed decline‘ at the clinic, ‘To him, it seemed to sum up his whole life since retirement, and maybe even before.

I suspect there are still at least a couple more books in him, though, through the good graces (and hefty nudges) of the now established woman in his life, pathologist Deborah Quant, who we hardly meet this time around, even if her presence is felt.  Siobhan comes to see him:

He lifted a box of tea bags. ‘Turmeric. Guess who from?’
‘A certain pathologist?’
‘She thinks I want to live forever.’ […]
They went into the living room, where a CD was playing. Rebus turned it down a notch.
‘Is that classical?’
‘Arvo P
ärt.’
‘Our pathologist friend again?’
‘Music to soothe the fevered brow.’

He’s got Brian Eno in the Saab’s antiquated sound system too, “another gift from Deborah Quant to help his ‘mindfulness’ ” – a concept about which he’s not convinced.  He uses Van Morrison’s Moondance and John Martyn’s Solid air to aid a long night session with some old case files.  And that is pretty much it for the narrative soundtrack this time around.

The main plot concerns the dead body in the car and the historical rivalry between a property developer and aspirant cultural entrepreneur (and now failing independent film maker) over ‘the palatial Poretoun House‘.  At one stage in the investigation this crucially involves them watching a movie called Zombies v Bravehearts.  Two sub-plots also bubble away nicely, sometimes spilling over into the main proceedings.  We have a pair of corrupt cops working in the Anti-Corruption Unit (‘the Chuggabugs’), who are trying to nobble Siobhan, which endeavour brings into play a sordid but ultimately redemptive family drama involving a young man pleading guilty to a killing he did not commit (the ‘happy families’ from my first Rebus quote). 

Along the way Rebus’s old sparring partner, gangster ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty – Legitimate businessman, John. That’s what the judge said at the trial.’ / ‘Aye, and like you, I could hear the inverted commas’inevitably reappears and makes a significant contribution. In passing suggesting that Brexit will give up plenty of opportunities for ‘disaster capitalists’ like himself.  Elsewhere, bon malt viveur that he now is, he admits to being brought up on ‘cooking lager’, a phrase I’d not encountered before.

The twelve-year gap betwixt disappearance and the discovery of a dead body gives plenty of opportunities to comment on changes in policing and in the wider society.  As Malcolm Fox, almost a veteran himself in the Rebus saga these days, says: “My time in Professional Standards, Rebus was never far from a bollocking or a suspension.”  Our man worries to Siobhan that the Chuggabugs might still find something to compromise him from the original inquiry (there is, but never mind that): “‘John, every officer who ever worked with you has something on you.’ / ‘Fair point.’ Rebus tried for a look of contrition but failed“.  But here’s an old school colleague of his who also worked the case in 2006: ” ‘Seems the wrong word or look gets you accused of bullying. Wouldn’t have happened in our day, John.’ / ‘Might have been better if it had,’ Rebus said ruefully, draining his cup.”  Then again, the by-the-book head of the 2018 inquiry ends up admitting, “‘I sort of wish you were still on the force.’ / ‘Aye, me too,’ Rebus confessed.

He rues austerity and the demise of neighbourhood policing: “… and a dumped car with four flat tyres and a notice on it that said POLICE AWARE. Rebus smiled at that. Back in the day, there would have been a beat cop who would have known every face, able to put a name to each. Not these days, not outside the Oor Wullie cartoon in the Sunday Post Rebus had just bought at the shop.”  On the other hand, current more enlightened views on homosexuality – the mis-per was gay – would have meant the original inquiry could not have been so deeply flawed.  Then there’s the rise of social media; he’s saddened “… that so much these days happened online, with every keyboard warrior suddenly a ‘commentator’ or ‘pundit’ or ‘news-gatherer’. There was a lack of quality control“.  There are, as ever, major roadworks to contend with in Edinburgh.

I enjoyed In the house of lies immensely, not least for its character driven dialogue and humour.  Rebus, Siobhan and Malcolm make for an entertaining triple act (Steele is one of the Chuggabugs):

Steele’s going down for something, Shiv, trust me.’
She stared at him. ‘What do you know that I don’t?’
‘Well for one thing, I can name every Rolling Stones B-side from the 1960s.’
‘Would you put money on it, though?’ Fox asked.
Rebus started counting on his fingers. ‘ “
I want to be loved”, “Stoned”, “Little by little” …’
‘Don’t encourage him,’ Clarke said to Fox. ‘It’s just his way of ducking the question.’
‘She know me too well,’ Rebus agreed with a shrug in Fox’s direction.

Hell, I even guffawed at: “The room was stuffy and Dean had removed his jacket but kept his waistcoat on. It boasted a fob watch on a gold chain, just when Rebus thought he couldn’t dislike lawyers more than he already did.”  As I say, Rebus must be good for a couple more books yet, but I have every faith that Siobhan – what a great line “Rebus could sense her tired smile” is, by the way – is ready to take up the slack: “DCI Mark Mollison was seated behind the world’s tidiest desk” is one of hers.

Meanwhile, as someone else said of someone else, Roll on John.

Painting Shakey black

What, you say?  Spend a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon watching a set of excerpts from Shakespeare delivered by the Stony Stratford Theatre Society upstairs in the Temple of the local Masonic Hall?  Yes, please.  They’re such a talented band of actors and it’s such a great intimate – whites of their (and our) eyes – venue for this sort of thing.

Intimate, you say? Ginny Davies photographed in action by Andy Powell from one long side of the temple, with a chin-stroking Lillabullero in the audience on the other.

Intimate, you say?  Yup, long and thin, which means all ends and sides of the audience get an equal viewing chance, and lends a valuable variety and freshness to the simple staging; static it cannot be.

What has stayed with me was Sam Marsh’s singing Sonnet 104 (“To me, fair friend, you never can be old …“), sung faithfully to the tune of the Rolling Stones’ Paint it black.  That and Susan Whyte as a bag lady pulling along a shopping trolley (can’t remember the character, I’m afraid – bonus photo at the end here).  But it was all good.  And as broadcasters are wont to say: other playwrights are available – a little touch of John Webster and Chris Marlowe in the afternoon.  Bravo Caz!

Haulage

Couple of Vaultages of note.  Or Haulage, as the autotext on my phone tried to suggest.  The astonishing Larry Stubbings only does covers, but what audacious covers! One man, one guitar.  Highlight was a stunning rendition of Led Zep’s The immigrant song, losing nothing of its power, but he kept rapt for well over half an hour, whoo-whooing to Sympathy for the devil and (even me) singing along to AC/DC’s Highway to hell. (Now there’s a thing: Caz told me the original idea for Sonnet 104 was to set it to Sympathy, but the actor decided Paint it black worked better).

Of course open mics can be very hit and miss, but when you’ve got something like Vaultage picking up a head of steam, very interesting things can happen.  Hence Kevin, who lives in Turkey, but was spending a few days in Newport Pagnell, coming along and delivering a sinuous jazz tinged Sunshine of your love that gave the song room to breathe and for my money easily trumped the original.  Another turn-up for the books: two Crowded House songs in one night – such melody!  Good Time Jazz, experienced and accomplished musicians all, did what is says on the tin: Summertime,  Bye Bye Blackbird, Oh when the Saints and more from the repertoire done justice to.  Great to hear a saxophone for a change.

Tombland

I’ve been looking forward to the latest “bit of Shardlake” (“I like a bit of Shardlake” © an esteemed nephew of mine) but I’m sorry to say I’m giving the one that’s finally arrived – the first since 2014 – I’m giving it a miss until a period of as yet unscheduled enforced convalescence crops up in my life.  For why?  Because C.J.Sansom‘s new addition to the canon, Tombland (Mantle, 2018) is – in shape and weight – a brick, 801 pages long and then some, with a historical essay, Re-imagining Ketts’ rebellion, and bibliographical apparatus, bringing the total to 866.  And the to-be-read pile is high.

Here are the people introduced on just the opening page of Tombland:

  • I (Matthew Shardlake)
  • messenger from Master Parry
  • Master Perry, Lady Elizabeth’s comptroller
  • Lady Elizabeth
  • Catherine Parr
  • The old king (Henry VIII)
  • Lord Protector Somerset
  • Lady Mary, Henry’s eldest daughter
  • Young King Edward
  • Holy Roman Emperor Charles, Mary’s cousin
  • Thomas Seymour (the Protector’s brother), married to CP

All this, for all 866 pages, without hint of a Dramatis Personae for future reference.  Hell, I need a Dramatis Personae to keep up these days.  

And to finish, here, as promised, the STTS, doing Shakespeare. Photo © Andy Powell

 

 

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The Spy Game

Some books take you by surprise.  Georgina Harding‘s The spy game (Bloomsbury, 2009) was the Book Group’s August selection and I probably wouldn’t have considered reading it otherwise.  It got to me; I read it twice, and not just to catch any nuances I might have missed.  There’s a piano teacher struggling to engage her young pupil – Anna Wyatt, the narrator of The spy game – by introducing her to Erik Satie’s piano music.  Didn’t work for her, but it gave me an urgent need to fill that gap in my collection: no Gnossiennes or Gymnopédies? How did that happen?  The spy game is not a genre novel.

The tragic piano teacher is one to weep for.  Here she is playing some Bach, at what would prove to be Anna’s last lesson:

The music was like fountains, crystalline, rising, falling, controlled. If only it was all like that, no words to anything. If you listened, closed your eyes, then opened them again and looked about, you saw the room more richly than before, the polish of the furniture, the glow of the lamps, of the glass on the shelves, the vividness of its lit colour. The woman at the piano was suddenly vivid again too, as if some veil, some dull greyness which had seemed only an extension of the greyness of the day, of the protracted late winter, had dropped away.

Saturday, January 7, 1961, news breaks of the unmasking of a Soviet spy ring – a seemingly ordinary well-liked suburban couple, the Krogers, at the heart of it.  Two days later, 8-year old Anna’s mother dies in a car accident.  Her elder brother, Peter, just old enough to be aware of current affairs, becomes obsessed with the idea that their mother was a sleeper agent who had been recalled to Moscow to preserve the spy network.  After all, their English father had first met her in the Russian section of post-war Berlin, and they were kept away from the funeral.  Peter’s obsession – he involves her in what she sees as a game, becomes a bit of a spy himself – leads to a series of incidents, and for him, a breakdown, all of which is related by Anna, as she remembers what she saw and thought as a young girl.

Life moves on for her.  We are told nothing of what has happened in between – a narrative gap that works well, I think – save that her daughter has gone off to university and her husband is saying, Go on – why not go for it!  The experiences of her childhood have never quite left Anna, and she’s still intrigued by how little she ever knew about her mother’s life before she met her father.

Anna has researched the Portland Spy Ring (a fascination in itself), and moves on from the British Library’s newspaper out-station in North London to archives in Berlin and the remote Baltic outpost of what is now Kaliningrad (in what is now Russia), all small adventures in themselves, briefly meeting new people, helping or helped by, on the way.  What she discovers about her mother’s, and the piano teacher’s uneasy pre-war and war-time lives is extraordinary, humbling; her re-imaging of her parents’ courtship glorious.  The even tone that Georgina Harding maintains as one’s emotions soar and plunge is remarkable.  One is in Stephen Poliakoff and Andreii Makine territory – great company, I’d say.  A lovely uncomfortable book, one that sings.

A couple of other things before we leave Georgina Harding.  She doesn’t overdo the period touches, but when she does … well, I’m showing my age here: Dixon of Dock Green on the telly, the National Anthem when the days’ programming was over; pink candlewick bedspreads; “The telephone was for information still in those days … and was kept in the hall without even a chair beside it“; the crunch night of 1962’s Cuban missile crisis, the Big Freeze of 1963; sweet cigarettes!  I guess boys still labour over plastic construction kits to this day, but brother Peter’s aircraft models were like a Proustian madeleine for me:

His eyes were shiny so that I did not look into them. He was almost crying. I looked at his fingers instead, how they were white with the pressure. They held the wing of the plane so tight that I was afraid he might break it and then he would cry for sure. […]
Peter was collected now, more his usual self. He put the wing down. He began to peel the dried glue off his fingertips, stripping it off like skin and laying it on the spread newspaper on the table.

That at a moment of high drama.  I’d say that was a fine piece of writing.  She’s great on small details.  Finally, here’s Anna has just emptied her father’s kitchen, clearing the house for sale after his death.  There’s one special find:

I drove back home and did not have the strength to get the box out of the car. I would get it in the morning and sort everything then, tins of tomatoes, stale coffee, outdated herbs, half-used bags of sugar and flour that would hang about and sadden the larder for months. I took only the diary in.

The punishment she deserves

The punishment she deserves is the 20th of Elizabeth George‘s Inspector Lynley novels, but the first I’ve read.  I’m familiar with the television series and quite liked it once his awful wife became an ex-wife (don’t know if she was so toe-curdling in the books); star of the show is always Sharon Small, cheeky smile and all, as his DS Barbara Havers.  I had friends who read the series as they came out, but it was the length that put me off, that and not being able to get my head fully around an American writing about a quintessential Englishman (he’s a real Lord, don’t you know?).

Anyway, I get the nod that The punishment she deserves deserves a place in the Kinks in Literature pages here at Lillabullero, so there was no escape, the time had come.  At just over 600 pages it’s too long, way too long.

Because I was only familiar with the TV shows, I had to catch up on the soap opera aspects of the book series.  So it was a shock to discover Lynley with a boss who has a chronic alcohol problem and is going through a bad divorce and is involved in a fierce custody battle for the children.  This sub-plot added greatly to the page count, slowed the actual investigation down, and did nothing much for me; aficionados of the series may demur, of course.

Once Lynley and Havers get going The punishment she deserved has its moments – they’re a class double act – but as a police procedural it has a major flaw right from the start.  The Met officers are in Ludlow to look into the initial handling of a suspicious death in custody and the subsequent IPCC investigation which cleared the local police force: it was a suicide, they agreed.  No way, says the dead man’s rich dad, who can pull strings and is threatening the Home Office with legal action.  No mention whatever of a Coroner’s inquest – mandatory in the circumstances – which could well have, indeed should have, brought some pertinent facts out into the open much earlier. And killed the book, which does eventually have some interesting twists and turns fuelled by misunderstandings, maladjustment, and malevolence. 

There is a theme behind the whole shenanigans, involving parents and the contrasting nature of the aspirations, support, protection and freedom they give their teenage children.  How that all works out for the four students at the local college (probably a sixth form college) who share a house in which there seems to be an inordinate amount of casual sex going on, is fertile ground for red herrings and ethical questioning as things unfold.  Can’t say I found the local cast and a lot else that convincing.

But first the music.  The Kinks reference turns out to be a sticker in the back window of an old car (which by the sound of it would never have passed its MOT).  Soundtrack for the big end of term bash at the dodgy pub favoured by Ludlow’s young – is it really going to be the BeeGees and Abba?  I doubt it.  And while we’re in the pub, how about this revelation:

Music was shaking the floor-boards. This was meant to promote thirst which was meant to promote the purchase of lager, ale, cider, cocktails, and the like. [my italics] Deng had to struggle to get through the great glomerations of kids who were gyrating to the music, texting, or taking selfies …

And while we’re still here, the annoying things start to mount up.  ‘Ale’ is consistently through the book, never ‘beer’ or ‘bitter’.  And that word ‘conglomeration’; other bon mots heard at the pub are “Fabbo-licious” and “Gorgeosity in the extreme“.  One of the participants seated at that table is one Finnegan Freeman:

He wore his hair in a style that featured dreadlocks on the right and a shaved skull on the left. The latter allowed the display of a disturbing tattoo showing a wild-looking woman screaming, complete with uvula displayed as well as overlong canines, one of which dripped blood.

Yeah, right.  And he’s just the teenage son of the Assistant Chief Constable of the West Mercia Police Service, who, incidentally, uses sex games to keep her ex-addict husband in the dark about stuff and is probably the least convincing ACC to be found anywhere near a police procedural crime novel.

Annoyances abound.  PCSO Gaz’s hair “was cut short, but not in the fashion of a football hooligan” (which is, these days?); one evening we have “pub goers looking in on their nightly establishments“; a front garden on a new estate “grew lawns“.  Then there are speech abbreviations, the likes of which I’ve not encountered before; are ‘F you say so / c’n / cops’re / ‘nspector / sh’ll et al genuine local colour?  And Gaz is obviously conflicted:

Gaz set his coffee on the table and dumped milk into it. He stirred it carefully, as if with concern that he might slosh the brew out of the cup should he apply the spoon too energetically.

Meanwhile, cigarettes are never smoked.  It’s usually Havers, seeking somewhere “she could suck down another fag“.

Then there’s the sex.  As I said before, there’s lot of it.  It’s not graphic but it’s constant.  There’s Deng, who has been shagging pretty much anybody since age 14 because, it is pointlessly revealed, she discovered her dad, dead from auto-eroticism, in the stately home her mum is still trying to make a go of.  Deng has cultivated a friendship with determined virgin Missa.  And there’s sexually active, Francie, also living in a stately home that her parents are letting crumble, due to their global “ethno-cultural-whatever” commitments.  A key plot event has been Missa being “sodomised” in a drunken slumber, that word’s repeated use invoking memories of old style Tory dinosaurs speaking in early parliamentary debates on gay rights (or that DUP Ulster brogue!).  You could say the students’ back stories deserved some space, but it’s all a bit hysterical.  And goes on too long.

There are saving graces, which have probably kept the series going.  The main one, of course being the double act that is post Thomas Lynley and working-class Barbara Havers, the source of a rich vein of humour (if you ignore the ‘sucking’ of cigarettes).  Here Lynley is introducing himself to West Mercia’s unenthused by the meeting Chief Constable:

Oooh, Barbara thought. He was using the Voice. He rarely did that because he knew that when it came to being a fish out of water, he was the fish, and it didn’t make any sense to emphasise that. But every so often, such emphasis was necessary and the Voice was required. Upon hearing it the other paused in surprise. It was the pause that Lynley sought. […] Barbara took careful note of the nature of this pissing contest.

Good old Barbara, who had “long ago set her mobile’s alarm to play the final moments of the 1812 Overture at a casual suggestion some time ago from DI Lynley.”  Whose musical knowledge runs to “If Buddy Holly didn’t sing it, I’m clueless”; who breakfasts on Pop-Tarts.  There’s a nice running joke about ‘Judi-with-an-I’ back at Scotland Yard, whose boss at one stage, “had gone to Marylebone, meeting a nameless political powerbroker for a discussion about broking political power.”  A bit more of that and a bit less of the likes of, in the midst of a dramatic blue-lights flashing car chase to stop a glider take-off, “It was clear why the Long Mynd was a desired site for launching gliders.  To the west Shropshire gave way to rolling hills, some comprising quartzite and some consisting of volcanic debris [my italics]”

Doubtful I’ll be reading another one.

PS.  Inevitably technological changes and economic shifts can compromise older books’ accuracy, but I’m not sure there’s any excuse for a book published this year to rhetorically proclaim:  “Since they were on the Bromfield Road, they drove from Flora Bevans’ house into Bromfield itself, where a secondary road near the post office took them to what one could reliably find in any village in the country: a pub.”  If you’re lucky.

Musical adventures

Things have got a bit out of control here at Lillabullero, and the chronicling of worthy local musical outing … all within walking distance here in Stony Stratford … has got chronically behind.  Indeed, we have to go back all the way to July 14 and the joyful early evening that was the full Innocent Hare at the sadly soon to be no more Beer Bear – from medieval to heavy metal (an unlikely working of Iron Maiden’s Fear of the dark).  The wooden floor perfect for a touch of clog, too.  An evening also memorable for my introduction to the delightful Mad Squirrel’s De La Nut hazelnut milk stout (thank you, Andrew).

Vaultage has been on a roll the past couple of months:
I’ve seen The Plucky Haggis almost from his first open mic performance at least half a decade ago (before he was hairy, even), and he’s developed into a colourful performer of some aplomb.  Then one of those magic moments that can suddenly happen at an open mic: Porcelain Hill, who normally boast a classic guitar/bass/drums trio line-up, with rock-soul-blues-funk-punk et al in the mix, they had a proper gig down the road the next day and gave us an

Porcelain Hill at Vaultage – Photo (c) Pat Nicholson

acoustic set of the same with two guitars and cajon, that blew everyone away with their tightness, togetherness and good vibes.  From California, he said: “Whereabouts?” someone shouted.  “Ontario”.  General disbelief.  “No, look it up.  It’s even got its own airport.”  Indeed it does – you learn something everyday.) Here’s a link to their website: http://porcelainhill.com/

The Hatstand Band (or the two of ’em on the left on the night) performed as if joined at the hip.  Lovely stuff, a wide range of Americana, sweet harmonies and swing.  Simon Loake, relaxed broad humour and anecdotage from a long musical career, accomplished folk guitar and such a deep voice, used on some interesting material.  Andy Powell played Streets of London, Stairway to heaven and Duelling Banjos.  And got away with it – an entertainer.  Stairway to heaven done with the help of two ESL signers from the Carabosse theatre team was an experience: the stairway!  After drifting a bit, the quality of the open mic-ers lately has been great too.  Chrissy and Mike’s Born under a bad sign – flute and folk guitar – remains an earworm since last Thursday.  Nice work, Pat Nicholson & Andy Bongos!

Couple of real goodies at York House too.  Don Adam Perera, a classical guitarist of distinction, talked about the versatility of the guitar and demonstrated it.  Spanish, romantic, tango, Spanish, Latin American, he can do ’em all.  Two sets, the first from nineteenth century composers, then more contemporary stuff.  Dazzling, emotional.  See: http://www.donadamperera.com/

Evie Laden & Keith Terry are no strangers to York House, and their skills and entertainment value does not pall.  Americana richly employing banjo (claw hammer style), double bass, guitar, fine voices, ‘body music’, clog, charm.  See: http://www.evieladin.com/bio/

Almost forgetting … an absorbing mix of storytellers, bards and two thirds of Innocent Hare in the Library, for the Magdalen Tower show.

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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.

[/caption]

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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