June 10, 2013
Friday 7th June
For some time , I’ve wanted to visit Aldeburgh and see the places where Benjamin Britten lived and worked, to wander along the beach and immerse myself in the landscape that inspired him. This weekend, at last, we’re going, coinciding with the opening of the 66th Aldeburgh Music Festival, which was originally set up by Britten and his partner Peter Pears. A special year, too, since 2013 is the centenary of Britten’s birth.
All week in London it’s been sunny and refreshingly warm. All week I’ve been checking the forecast for Aldeburgh and hoping the predicted 12 degrees maximum and unbroken cloud for Saturday and Sunday are a mistake. Optimistically, I pack my bathers, goggles and a towel. They never make it out of the bottom of my backpack. Sensibly, I pack my charity-shop-sourced Gucci leather jacket, a scarf, gloves and a snug hat. None of these go unworn.
Bus ride to Liverpool Street. Top deck, front seat. London sparkling and showing her best side in the sunshine. We spot two people shading themselves with parasols. Train journey to Saxmundham via Ipswich goes smoothly. I’m still wearing sunglasses. The countryside is every shade of green, with sudden gashes of intense yellow as we pass fields of rape. We’re collected at Saxmundham station by Nick’s mother, and her partner, who drives us to Aldeburgh and the cottage they’ve hired for the weekend.
4:45 p.m. Aldeburgh beach
After a quick trip to the local shops for a few supplies, Nick and I trudge along the pebbly beach. The sun is out but there’s a sharp wind. The Gucci jacket is already proving its worth. On a cordoned off section of the beach, a set is being constructed for an outdoor production of Britten’s opera Peter Grimes. A few fishing boats rest on shore. But there are no boats at sea, no hardy swimmers to be seen. I know this afternoon is my best opportunity for a swim, but the cold wind, the choppy waves and my natural caution dissuade me. Nevertheless, I can’t resist a paddle, so I burden Nick with my shoes and handbag, hitch up my footless tights, and run down into the shallows. Stand on the edge of the North Sea and let the waves tumble and run over my feet and ankles. A primal urge satisfied. Nick helps me back up onto the beach and I pick my way painfully across the shingle to a lone deckchair where I dry my feet with a tissue and put my shoes on. Turns out the deck chair is part of one of the SNAP art festival exhibitions, so I’m politely requested to vacate it, which is fine as I’ve just tied my laces.
6:45 p.m. Aldeburgh beach
After a convivial few drinks with our fellow weekenders in Ye Olde Cross Keys, Nick and I decide to venture further along the beach in search of Maggi Hambling’s Scallop sculpture. It’s a beautiful evening, if you ignore the wind, and it’s wonderful to be out under an expanse of high blue sky, and it feels like extremely good exercise crunching along over pebbles, but after a short while the wind defeats us and we head back towards the cottage, and all the while I have the the storm sequence from Peter Grimes accompanying me in my head.
Saturday 8th June
10:00 a.m. Aldeburgh Parish Church
A bracing walk along the high street to the church where we’re to attend our first concert. But first, we stroll through the chuchyard to the Lawn Cemetery and locate the graves of Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears. They lie side by side, marked by simple grey slate tombstones. I feel moved, more than I’d anticipated. We spend a few quiet moments in this peaceful place. Their impact, their legacy, reaches far beyond the small fishing town where they lived most of their adult lives.
An hour later, we’re seated on hard wooden chairs at the back of the packed church for a concert of piano and cello music, performed by brother and sister Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano; and also Artistic Director of the festival) and Valérie Aimard (cello). Aphorisms by Shostakovich consists of 10 short solo piano pieces, angular and surprising. I’m particularly struck by Nocturne, Elegy and the last piece Lullaby, which is quite lyrical with a melancholy undercurrent. Next up, Cello Sonata (1948) by Elliott Carter. A harder listen, but the interplay between the cello and piano is interesting, and their are some nice syncopated rhythms, and a driving energy to the last movement. After the interval, four solo cello pieces by György Kurtág from Signs, Games and Messages – intriguing, and whetted my appetite to explore more of his work. Lastly, Britten’s Sonata in C, op. 65 (1961), lively and playful, with some wonderful pizzicato passages and superb playing by both musicians. Tremendous.
1:20 p.m. Scallop
Colder and windier than the previous evening, but Nick and I are spurred on to find the Hambling sculpture, which was erected in 2003 in tribute to Britten. It seems appropriate that the steel sculpture is located on a desolate stretch of beach beyond the main centre of the town. It’s not as large as I’d imagined, so you don’t feel dwarfed by it, which seems to echo Britten’s statement that he wrote music ‘for human beings’. The open shell faces the roiling sea, a phrase from Peter Grimes perforating its edge: I hear those voices that will not be drowned. A fitting tribute.
6:00 p.m. Snape Maltings
We arrive early for the evening concert so have plenty of time to wander around the grounds and see some of the exhibits from SNAP, the visual arts festival that runs alongside the music festival. Of particular interest, Milk and Music (Sally in our Alley) by Mark Fuller, a large sphere made from plastic milk cartons, and a collection of empty mackerel tins threaded on thin rope and just asking to be rattled. We were too late to see Mark’s performance with Sarah Lucas, but the sculpted objects are witty, and the string of mackerel tins may (or may not) reference the slung mugs Britten devised for Noye’s Fludde.
8:00 p.m. Snape Maltings Concert Hall
The concert, performed by the Britten Sinfonia conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth, opens with Fantasia Concertante on a theme of Corelli by Michael Tippett. I’ve yet to be wholly won over to Tippett’s music but I enjoy this piece and scribble down ‘Vaughan Williams-y’ in my notebook come the interval. The highlight of the concert, though, is Britten’s Les Illuminations, settings of 10 of Rimbaud’s poems. The young soprano Sophie Bevan‘s passionate performance is thrilling, and Britten’s music sounds so bright and fresh and still startling. In the second half, we hear a world premiere, I give you the end of a golden string, by Judith Weir, a simple melody evolving and building, and then Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1936) by Béla Bartók, which has some great percussion elements and eerie tones from the celesta – again, another composer whose work I need to explore more – but it’s Les Illuminations and Sophie Bevan’s superb singing that linger long in my mind.
Sunday 9th June
10:15 a.m. The South Lookout, Aldeburgh beach
We can’t stay away from the seafront, going for another brrrrrrracing walk, and stopping at the South Lookout for another little dose of SNAP art. We climb the vertiginous spiral metal staircase on the outside of the building, up to the small second floor lookout room, for Emily Richardson’s sound installation Rising Fifth. This refers to an unrealised memorial to Benjamin Britten, which would have sung two notes from Peter Grimes when the wind reached a certain speed. In the little wooden room with salt-encrusted windows, we hear vibrations, whistling wind and pounding seas – rather like the conditions outside.
11:00 a.m. The Red House, Golf Lane
Next stop on our mini Britten pilgrimage, The Red House, where Britten and Pears lived for nearly thirty years. There’s a gallery displaying fascinating objects and memorabilia, from postcards and holiday snapshots, old plane tickets, Britten’s passports, board games played amongst friends, to poignant items such as the viola Frank Bridge gave Britten when he departed for the States shortly before the start of the Second World War. You can wander around the library and browse along the bookshelves, and it feels a very warm and light space, a lived in and useful space, and another fascinating insight into their shared creative lives. I’m amused to notice ‘O’ Level Cookery as well as books on birds, artist’s monographs such as Kokoschka and Sidney Nolan (Pears was a great collector of art), and of course scores of scores. The studio where Britten composed is also open to view, although roped off; again, a light and airy space, and very special to stand on the edge of what is an almost a sacred place.
4:30 p.m. Orford Church
Our last concert, and this time we have seats in the central pews, quite near the front. All choral work, and the programme starts with an early piece by Britten, Pacifist March, sung by Aldeburgh Voices. This is rather charming, if a little naive perhaps, and sung with great conviction. Three Shostakovich songs follow, stirring and challenging, The Last Volley particularly affecting. Next, the Latvian Radio Chorus performing Ligeti’s ethereal Lux Aeterna. Then an amazing vocal piece by Santa Ratniece, Horo horo hata hata, with the ten singers producing extraordinary feathery, trilling, pprr-pprring sounds, whispers and whistles and otherwordly layers; spinetingling stuff. The following piece by Jonathan Harvery is a contrasting sound world, the meditative Plainsongs for peace and light. And a glorious end to the concert with the Aldeburgh Voices and Latvian Radio Chorus combining forces for Britten’s 1965 composition Voices for Today. I hadn’t heard this before, and it’s a powerful work, a mature take perhaps on Pacifist March, with as much conviction but much more complex musically; and half way through, when the voices of the New London Children’s Choir join in from the back of the church, I feel a rush of emotion, a sense that Britten’s work is being passed on to future generations, and how important it always was for him to engage with the community he was rooted in, and to engage with young people in particular. A wonderfully uplifting experience.
May 24, 2013
in the pitch black . . . a mouth emerges floating . . . words begin . . . she speaks fast unstoppable a terrible troubled disembodied outpouring . . . snatches of memories cowslips tears falling into a palm realisation they must be hers . . . the one time she cried . . . in the pitch black you listen transfixed . . . to the poetry the music in the rapid-fire utterances . . . denial of self . . . bitter laughter at a merciful god . . . in this tight small space this tight small life of a mouth a voice alone richness of language despite all . . . a brief rift in the void . . . a consciousness trapped in its unceasing patter . . . not I . . . she . . . fading still chattering . . .
how impossible, really, to convey the intense, moving, high-impact experience of being part of the audience at the Royal Court Theatre to see Lisa Dwan perform Samuel Beckett’s stunning short play Not I. An emotional tour de force, and for the actor an almost athletic achievement. Beckett wanted the piece spoken at the speed of thought, an impossible task, but Lisa Dwan comes close. After her performance, there was a screening of an interview with Billie Whitelaw, made in 2009, in which Whitelaw described the impact Not I had on her – how it will never leave her – and her affection for Beckett, who directed her in the role. Then Vicky Featherstone, artistic director at the Royal Court, lead a question and answer session with Roger Michell, who worked with Beckett as assistant director on a Production of Happy Days, and Lisa Dwan – once she’d got her breath back! Dwan gave a fascinating insight into the difficulties of learning the text and the physical demands of performing the piece. She practises constantly, with her head tied between banisters wherever possible. She talked about the three types of memory she calls on: aural memory (the music and poetry in the text), narrative memory (for there is a narrative, albeit fractured and interrupted), and page memory (visualising the script, the words on the page). For each performance, her face is covered in black make-up, apart from her lips, she’s blindfolded, her head strapped so it can’t move, her arms similarly restricted, ‘and then I go like the clappers,’ as she put it. While she’s performing the piece, she said it feels like she’s flying, and talked of it ‘playing itself out on your nervous system’. No wonder she describes it as terrifying, and just wanting it to be over, at the same time as wanting to speak every word, honour every brief pause. She, like Whitelaw, feels Not I will stay with her forever; that she is that trapped voice. A truly memorable evening.
May 17, 2013
Straight from work yesterday evening to the Lisson Gallery for two exhibition previews. Canadian artist Rodney Graham has new and recent work on show at 29 Bell Street. Striking photographic tableaux are mounted in large lightboxes, the colours rich and intense, the images hyperreal. And also very witty. A scientist in his lab stares pensively at a cactus, to which five brightly cooured helium balloons have been tethered (Cactus Fan). In a sunlit, Mediterranean studio, an artist knits pipe cleaners into a modernist sculpture (Pipe Cleaner Artist, Amalfi, ’61). A plasterer on metal stilts pauses, fag in hand, in front of a partially plastered wall (Smoke Break 2 (Drywaller)). The richness of these images comes not just from the colours but the painstaking details – the battered double cassette player on the floor of the room the plasterer is working in; a bunch of narcissus in a terracotta jug on a cabinet in the artist’s studio. There’s a narrative element, too, and underlying references to film or other artworks, which brings another layer to the works. And of course, you can find your own resonances, as I did for instance with The Avid Reader 1949, a Woolworths shop front, its windows covered with old newspapers. My first thought was that this was a comment on the current economic crisis, the demise of the high street etc.; my first aesthetic pull was to the deep maroon tones of the shop’s paint work, reminding me of old chocolate wrappers. But the scene is set in Vancouver in 1949, and the passerby stopping in the doorway, unable to resist the impulse to read, is poring over news from 1945. These are pieces that draw you in, and draw you back again, for their saturated colours and intriguing stories.
Down the road at 52-54 Bell Street, the vibe was buzzy and the punters quite a mix of arty types and hardcore electro music fans. Haroon Mirza‘s sound installations more than matched that sense of excitement. Sitting in a Chamber consists of a curve of five modified turntables playing handmade records, or on one a triangular piece of wood, the needles sticking, veering, scratching; amplifiers and speakers; a video screen showing a music application while a distorted voice repeats (I think) ‘Speech’; it consists of bleeps, bass-rich wobbles, electronic squiggles, those weird and wonderful amplified sounds that make my ears grin. On the first floor, you enter a heavily soundproofed space, all four walls covered in zigzags of grey foam, the floor softened with grey carpet, apart from a central circle of pulsating speakers, at its middle a glass vessel topped by a small circuit and flashing LEDs connected to a web of cables. This is Adam, Eve, others and a UFO and the sound element is urKraftwerk. Minimal, deep electronic pulses, a rhythm building, intense pounding uncompromising, a whole-body experience. There was a long queue for Pavilion for a Beautiful Nuisance, which can only be seen (and heard) by one person at a time, so we decided to save it up until we go again. Which we will, soon, another evening after work, to transport me into an entirely different headspace.
May 9, 2013
Yesterday evening we strolled along to the opening of Change of Signature, billed as a multimedia installation, at Testbed 1, a local exhibition space that I hadn’t come across before. And it proved to be a fascinating show. The venue is a large, stripped out industrial space: uneven concrete floors, distressed iron girders, ceramic tiled walls. Perfect, in other words. The installation is a collaboration between French artist Eléonore Pironneau and ten musicians/sound artists. Pironneau invited her co-creators to chose one of her paintings and compose a short piece of music in response to it. The project explores the links between music and visuals, extending Pironneau’s interest in the idea of form as a language. In the main double-height gallery space, ten metal music stands have been positioned, all facing towards the back wall, each one far enough apart from the others to be its own self-contained audio-visual bubble. Two metal seats per music stand, two sets of headphones, and one of Pironneau’s small abstract paintings mounted on the music stand. We wandered, hovered, pounced as two seats became vacant. Painting: Life’s Little Dramas n°14, slate grey with curving lines (piano strings?), dusky rose organic forms (squashed petals? is that a nose poking in from the right?). Music: Jerry Granelli, sparse piano, lilting, almost lulling, until the jolt of a discordant note: music to my ears. Over the course of the evening I managed to experience all ten collaborations; or dialogues, tangos, riffs, interpretations – there’s such variety in the responses, both musically, and also in how the musician responded to the project. A couple of the pieces corresponded closely to the painting, it seemed to me, as if the loops, marks, trumpet like forms on the canvas were being read as a musical score. Tony Remy’s contribution, for example, with its funky, driving rhythm and noodly guitar, matched the busy seedpod forms of Emergence n°3. With other pieces, the links between the painting and the final musical product were harder for me to discern, the painting perhaps the springboard into a new work, and just as valid of course. Lola Perrin’s mix of romantic piano and whispered soap opera snippets had both humour and drama, quite fitting for Little Life Dramas 24, its swirled black and white stripes reminding me of a tea towel or apron, and those floating blotches and red spots speaking of life’s random absurdity. Aurally, my favourite was the recording by Sarah Jane Morris, low hums and layering of voices over a repeated in breath, and the break into giggles towards the end; so intimate listening to this through headphones. These were all quite intimate encounters, and I really enjoyed the experience of the installation. But interestingly, though I find Pironneau’s concept exciting, and as a creator myself I’m fascinated by the possibilities of collaboration across art forms, my dominant impressions are of the music. Several times I wanted to close my eyes to concentrate more fully on the music. This isn’t the fault of the paintings, which I am drawn to, but somehow the audio experience overwhelmed the visual. On the whole, I prefer to look at paintings in a quiet space. I love the hush of an art gallery. And perhaps, with all that language and putting-into-words stuff going on in my head, my brain can only deal with one major creative stimulus at a time. Strangely, as we left and started our walk back home, I realised I had Ravel’s brilliantly haywire La Valse wobbling and whirling around my brain. That is a change of signature.
May 5, 2013
At last, at long bloody last, spring seems to have arrived. I’m wearing footless tights, for only the second time this year. I’ve opened the bedroom window – not wide, but enough for a gentle waft of London air and London sounds to permeate the flat. The heating’s been off for a couple of weeks, though I’ve had to resort to a hat and scarf indoors on a number of chilly evenings. There’s some heat in the sun, when it’s out. But the most noticeable change is the sudden glorious splurge of green in the parks. I’ve walked through Battersea Park several times recently and every time more trees and bushes have come into leaf, and those leaves have unfurled further and the greens are more vivid and intense. The most beautiful, uplifting trees, for me, are the horse chestnut trees, with their spreading, generous leaves, like giant hands, that I have to reach up and stroke, and panicles shooting up and looking good enough to eat – frothy confections, like coconut pyramids. I love the name – horse chestnut – and the fact I can recognise this tree, and the word panicle, and the viridescent light when the late afternoon sun shines through the leaves. I’d go out now, to lie under one, only it’s clouded over, of course. I’d better close the bedroom window and pull on a cardigan. Not a hat and scarf. Not yet.
April 21, 2013
Issue Fifteen of South Bank Poetry magazine is a bit of a cracker. The strapline is ‘London and Urban Poetry’, and the current issue features many Scottish themed poems alongside the London contingent. A fitting blue and white cover, and just under 40 pages of fine poems, given room to breathe and interact with each other. I bought my copy over a month ago, direct from affable co-editor Peter Ebsworth, during the break at a previous Loose Muse evening. It’s a perfect little magazine for tube journeys, to read and digest two or three poems at a time. Some impressive names appear in this issue, with impressive poems to match: Kona Macphee, John Burnside, Patrick Deeley and John Glenday. And what a delight it was to attend the official launch last Thursday, at the Poetry Café (where else?), and hear afresh so many of the poems I’d enjoyed. Peter and co-editor Katherine Lockton read for those who couldn’t make it, but many of the contributors were there and read one or two poems in addition to their published piece. Special mentions for Peter Raynard‘s declamatory High Rise Living, Sonia Jarema‘s witty Kebab Story, the poignant Driving up to Renfrew by Sarah Lawson, me old mucker and confirmed London obsessive Joolz Sparkes performing We Live Here, and Melanie Mauthner’s beautiful – and beautifully read – First Words.
Poetry still needs great little mags like South Bank Poetry, so seek out a copy from your local independent bookshop. There’s no website (not yet a criminal offence, as far as I’m aware), but contact details can be found on the Poetry Library listing.
April 7, 2013
Thursday 4th April. Outside, the bitter easterly wind continued to savage awnings, umbrellas and most people’s spirits. We’d had snow flurries and sleet all day, and London’s pavements spattered a thin muddy muck on everyone’s boots. In the downstairs bar of Cotton’s Caribbean Restaurant in Exmouth Market, nearly 30 women writers, plus friends and supporters, gathered for the launch of the third Loose Muse anthology. The cover date is Spring 2013, and the evening of readings, performances and friendly networking was just the tonic to counter the unseasonal weather. Another stunning image by Lorraine Clarke adorns the cover, and inside there’s a wonderful variety of writing, all by women who’ve read at the monthly Loose Muse event. At the launch, I discovered some new voices – Patricia Foster, Steph Pike and Aino Huusko amongst others; and was impressed again by Nancy Charley and Charlotte Ansell, both of whom I’ve heard at previous Loose Muse evenings. Claire Booker read a cheeky and hilarious excerpt from her short play Last Man in Watford. Sally Blackmore and Loose Muse host Agnes Meadows both read a poem from a sequence they’re collaborating on, concerning stalking – chilling stuff. Also from the tough, dark end of the writing spectrum comes the story My Father & Other Junkies by Sue Johns. Tender, finely balanced poems from Natasha Morgan; Kate B Hall reading her quirky poem Boxes; Camilla Reeve‘s The Journalist’s Journey a timely reflection on lies and the media. My good writing buddy Joolz Sparkes performed her excellent sound-rich Monday night at Ronnie Scott’s and unashamedly feminist Self-made woman. And I braved the stage and microphone to read my story Song Cycle. A lovely, attentive audience, and a lively, uplifting evening. Thanks again to Agnes for making this happen.
March 30, 2013
It took me a very long time to realise it’s possible to be a serious (dedicated, life-committed), writer/artist/creative person and also to be funny, humorous, light-hearted (some of the time, at least). This doesn’t seem such an astonishing discovery, but for years I was Very Serious, and the flip side of this was to be Very Dubious about anything flippant or joky creeping into my writing. Of course, this was a reflection of my general mode of being-in-the-world, which was mostly feeling out of place, alienated, gloom-ridden, unhappy with myself. You can make your own diagnosis. So it was quite a revelation, the first time I ever read in public, at the 121 Centre in Brixton, to hear the audience laughing. And I don’t mean nervous or embarrassed tittering, it was genuine, warm laughter in response to words I had written. I shouldn’t have been so surprised, given that the story was called ‘The Joke Biscuit’, and concerned a Serious Austrian, Gottfried, and his short-lived friendship with a young London couple, of near equal Seriousness and Pretentiousness. One half of that young London couple was a thinly-disguised version of me, so I had in effect taken the mickey out of myself, but it was still years before I properly woke up to the fact that sometimes I can be rather funny and that that is Okay. I’m a very slow developer.
Now I can recognise the buried humour in those deadly dark Birthday Party and Nick Cave songs I listened to endlessly. And there’s a gorgeous bleak humour in so much of Samuel Beckett’s writing—but I still don’t like to see his work played for laughs. An audience guffawing at Beckett is a step too far in my book.
To laugh out loud, even better to make someone you love laugh out loud, is a great tonic. One of life’s simple pleasures. As far as my writing is concerned, on the whole I still favour darker themes and moody overtones, but every now and then, despite myself, I slip in a funny line or two. Who knows, by the time I’m 90, I might be doing stand-up at the Edinburgh Fringe.
That’s a joke, by the way.
March 17, 2013
I think this packed week off is catching up with me. Deep breath…
So, Wednesday night to Loose Muse at the Poetry Café. I wavered, feeling tired and a kind of non-specific low-level anxiety, and then the intermittent flurries of snow did little to improve my mood. But I convinced myself to go, and the walk to Sloane Square and sight of the new moon above Albert Bridge lifted my spirits. And I’m so glad I did go, as it proved to be an invigorating evening. Margaret Eddershaw, now resident in Greece but visiting London, read a short selection of poems, including Like George, based on an encounter with a mixed race man in Alice Springs, a powerful and troubling poem. Morgen Bailey, introduced by Agnes as a ‘prolific blogger’, shared tips and insights into the world of blogging: why you might want to blog, how often to do so (she puts me to shame!), how she got started, the downsides as well as the upsides. In addition to her main blog, she has set up five on line writing groups, and posts inteviews and podcasts with other writers. Her energy, generosity and support for other writers – established and starting out – are formidable and admirable. Notes from her talk are, of course, available here on her blog.
As ever, the open mic spots were popular, and it’s fascinating to hear the variety of work being written and performed by women, and mostly of such high quality. The evening concluded with Rosemary Harris talking about and reading extracts from her novel The Invisible Riot, currently with an agent, hopefully to be snapped up by an astute publisher soonest. Harris explained that she wanted to write about the suffragettes, and particularly the very militant and violent struggle in the years immediately before the First World War. The novel has a fractured narrative, written from a number of viewpoints, including a constable involved in violently breaking up the suffragettes’ protests. The extracts Harris read were gripping, and it sounds like an important and exciting book. It prompted quite a discussion about writing about violence, the importance of trying to understand the mindset of someone who enjoys such acts, Harris’s use of the second person as a means of exploring that character, and the way this particular part of the suffragette movement and how empowering it was for many women has effectively been written out of history. A truly stimulating evening.
As to the rest of my week, I wrote a little; thought more about my writing; started reading The Garden Book by Brian Castro; continued reading the latest Magma, Mslexia, London Review of Books; had a naughty-but-delicious fried egg on toast for lunch on Thursday, good fuel for the afternoon’s walk to Tate Britain and another rewarding look around the Schwitters exhibition; just about kept on top of my journal; updated my blog. If only I had another week off now to recover.
March 14, 2013
which began, on the evening of Thursday 7th March, with a trip to the Barbican to experience The Bride and the Bachelors: Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns. Quite a mouthful. The exhibition focuses on Duchamp’s interaction with and influence on four key American creators after he moved to New York in 1942. The main revelation for me was Rauschenberg’s assemblages and sculptural paintings. Work that’s still fresh, intriguing, not easy to pin down. In the lower level gallery, a selection of music by Cage and others interrupts/augments/permeates the physical objects on display: Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), stage sets for Merce Cunningham pieces that reference Duchamp, a Rauschenberg ‘book’ printed on thick pieces of plexiglass with a fixed title page and five pages that can be reordered by the viewer/reader. Transparency, light, chance, absence and presence: themes, knots, that recur throughout the exhibition, throughout the work of these invigorating, questioning artists. As an added bonus, on Thursday evenings and weekends, young dancers perform excerpts of Cunningham’s Events on the white stage in the lower gallery. We watched from the upper level, rooted to the spot, while the dancers below painted geometric patterns, danced in/around/against the looped soundtrack.
Sunday 10th March to the upstairs bar at Ronnie Scott’s for Jazz Verse Jukebox. My first time there, and drawn more by the Verse element than the Jazz, I have to admit. But what a wonderful, warm evening it was, while outside it was doing its best to snow. Hostess Jumoke Fashola has a smoooothly gorgeous voice, and got the night started with a few numbers, accompanied by the resident jazz trio. Next, Mark Gwynne Jones performed his verbal gymnastics, including a very funny piece playing with the film cliches of that other land ‘oop north’. Anthony Anaxagorou followed, third time I’ve seen him and I’m still wowed by his deeply engaged poems and perfectly measured delivery. After the break, Aja Monet read powerful and impassioned poems, rooted in New York but with a global reach. And then Dean Atta took centre stage to perform poems from his provocatively titled, but very necessary, first collection I Am Nobody’s Nigger. The title poem is a fierce argument against the idea of reclaiming the ‘N’ word. And for all the serious subject matter of his poems – racism, identity, absent fathers – Atta infuses them with an engaging humour.
On the jazz side, Zara McFarlane charmed with her silky voice, and I did enjoy her version of Police and Thieves, especially the solo double bass intro. Once upon a time, I learnt to play double bass… maybe one day I’ll write about it… And Jumoke rounded off the night with Nina Simone’s majestic Four Women.
Tuesday 12th March found us in the basement of the Phoenix for Liars’ League. The theme for this month’s six short stories was Song & Dance. The highlight of the first half for me was A Musical Note by Alan Graham, read superbly by Clareine Cronin. The tale of a young woman plagued by MGM style musical outbursts at moments of surprise or high emotion, it was extremely funny, with some spot-on details: a peach of a story. The stories in the second half all appealed in different ways. The Glorious Dolores by Amanda Oosthuizen, performed by Carrie Cohen, set in Paraguay and featuring an 84 year old Marlene Dietrich impersonator, was full of vivid colour and atmosphere. Katy Darby read Esther Cleverly’s The Mondegreen with great brio, and again the details of character and setting were just right. But Charlie Parker, not Parker Knoll by Alan McCormick stole the show, in my book anyway. A fabulous riff, placing Jack Kerouac in a B&B in Worthing, read with relish by Cliff Chapman. A top night. And I learnt something in the interval literary quiz! Two things, in fact, the literary origins of the band names Steely Dan and Heaven 17. Google them, if you don’t know.
And there’s more, writing, reading, eating yummy lunches at home… But now, London’s calling again, the sun’s come out, and I’m off out in a minute too.