Hi, yeah s’me, keeping up the Song of the Day feature like dedication was as word I know the definition of!
No excuses not to, I mean I am of the generation when Roy Castle clasped his trumpet weekly, ready for the signing off of “Record Breakers.” No, it’s not a euthanasim, Google it whippersnappers.
Might also explain my fondness for brass. Brass is class, and a vital element of ska. Yep, four tunes in and I couldn’t resist sharing some ska with you.
It’s a commonly misguided notion that ska is a retrospective cult here in England. It tends to convey a bygone era of Two-Tone records, boots and braces.
Yet today, while said stereotype has a grounding, ska is an international phenomenon, particularly in South America. I did write a piece about this region’s love for ska, and how it’s roots out of Jamaica bare a different tale from our own.
To show you how fresh it can be elsewhere in the world, and it’s not a reminiscence for a
load of overweight balding pensioners as perceived in the UK, here’s all-female bar one Mexican band, Girls Go Ska, who I’m secretly in love with, (so secret they don’t even know themselves….until they use Google translate!) doing an instrumental jam.
Girls and ska; what’s not to like? Have a lovely rest of your day. Very good. Carry on….
- The Next Wharf Theatre Production Will Be Glorious!
How will the Wharf Theatre follow the huge success of Jesus Christ Superstar? I can tell you this much; it will be Glorious!
How do I know? Press release, see, the production is called Glorious, and it’s the true story of Florence Foster Jenkins, dubbed “The Worst Singer in the World!” A play by Peter Quilter, directed by Liz Sharman, neither of whom have obviously heard me singing in the shower!
It enjoyed a West End run, starring Maureen Lipman, and takes a more humorous approach to its subject matter than the recent Meryl Streep film. Our wonderful Wharf Theatre in Devizes are running it from Monday 25th – Saturday 30th October, shows at 7.30pm.
Florence Foster Jenkins (1868-1944) was an American soprano, socialite and philanthropist. Her love of music and performing became evident at a young age when she played the piano and performed at various functions under the name of ‘Little Miss Foster’; on one occasion even performing at the White House.
After graduating high school, she nursed dreams of going to Europe to study music but her father staunchly refused. When an accident then left her unable to play the piano to the level she had previously, she reluctantly pursued a career as a piano teacher.
In 1909, after one failed marriage, she met British actor, St Clair Bayfield, who remained her partner for the rest of her life. That same year her father died and, having been left a considerable fortune, she seized the opportunity to pursue her singing dreams despite having little obvious talent.
The poet William Meredith wrote that a Jenkins recital, “was never exactly an aesthetic experience, or only to the degree that an early Christian among the lions provided aesthetic experience; it was chiefly immolatory, and Madame Jenkins was always eaten, in the end.”
In the 1920’s she began financing her own shows and with her charm and shining costumes she did, in many ways, find success. In reality she was both adored and mocked by her audiences but although now considered possibly the worst opera singer in the world, who sang out of tune and had no discernible rhythm people still remember her.
One especially amusing anecdote tells of Florence’s high-pitched scream when in a taxi once, which collided with another car. Arriving home, she made haste for her piano, confirming, least to herself, that the note she had shrieked was the mythical F above high C, a pitch she had never before been able to reach. Ecstatic, she refused to press charges against either involved party, and even sent the taxi driver a box of expensive cigars.
But the most perplexing question surrounding her life was whether she was in on the joke, or honestly believed she had vocal talent, this remains a matter of debate. This hilarious farce picks up her story in 1940’s New York, and sounds a blast!
This amateur production is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals Ltd on behalf of Samuel French Ltd http://www.concordtheatricals.co.uk
Tickets can be purchased by ringing 03336 663 366; from the website Wharftheatre.co.uk and at the Devizes Community Hub and Library on Sheep Street.
- Remembering Sinclair’s ZX Spectrum
Okay, given the news of the sad passing of Sir Clive Sinclair last week, guaranteed you’ll see lots of photos of him in his scarf, peddling to charge his C5, the innovative electric car of the future. Like few of his inventions, mini televisions included, the C5 flopped, simply because it was way ahead of its time. His successful inventions were too. Sir Clive Sinclair was way ahead of time, period.
If there’s one invention, I’ll fondly remember him for, though, it’s not the C5 but can only be the rubber-keyed ZX Spectrum, or “Speccy,” as we dubbed it. Sinclair never sat on a creation; his pocket calculator was only the beginning. To understand the importance of his work is to understand the era. It was a time of great technological advances in home entertainment, the like we take for granted today.
Computers, yeah, we knew of them, but to have one in every home was the stuff of science fiction. Personal computers had made it to schools, yet IT was a far cry from how it’s taught today. Picture it: a nervous beatnik throwback teacher, big black-rimmed specs, big perm, big beard, complete with leather elbow patches on his tweed jacket. He acknowledges this is the future, as he stands next to a shiny new BBC Model B and hoards of pupils gather around it, yet he’s had no training, and he doesn’t really know what the heck it does any more than they do.
To have gained the slightest teaching about computers at primary school in the early eighties was to be the most bolshy kid, who managed to push his way to the front of the over-excited class. I didn’t tick that box, shy and reserved I loitered towards the back of the crowd, interested if confused, I considered myself lucky to have just seen the thing from a distance, through the pigtails of a petite girl standing in front of me.
No, if I was ever going to get to grips with the computer, I’d need to have one at home. Yet the ZX80 and ZX81 were the stuff of the seventies, a naff era void of motivation to progress technologically for working class families; a time when the teas-made and electric blanket were cutting edge. Here, in the technological revolution of 1982, what we needed, what we must have, was a home computer, and my dad finally caved into our merciless campaign of perpetually chanting, “can we have a spectrum, dad, can we have a spectrum?”
The pitch was successful on the grounds we appealed it would be a communal thing; it would help my dad by filing his bills, finances and address book, the possibilities were endless; it would, change our lives forever. Christmas 1982 was like no other, the joint present was hooked up to the television set, after major muddles, frustrating cries from my father and annoyed reactions from my mum who realised her favourite television shows were off the cards until the trend had passed.
Mum was first to breech the covenant, hiding in the kitchen prepping Brussel sprouts. She came to the early conclusion it was the devil’s work, if Crossroads was to be missed. My father persevered, and after sweat and tears we finally had a grey screen on our television with the copyright text, “1982 Sinclair Research Ltd,” mysteriously running along the bottom. We had, as a family, entered the computer age, all 48K of it, our wants and dreams had been fulfilled, but what to do next and why we needed to do it, was a gaping mystery.
Hard to imagine now, given operating systems like Windows are common knowledge and upon booting up a new PC, you’re off applying apps and downloading programs, but we didn’t have a clue what to do, and the lone copyright message offered no help. A big orange book came with it, and my dad tilted his glasses and begun to at least attempt to understand it, while my brother and I were far too excited.
The problem was, to get it to do anything, anything at all, was to understand its own brand of Basic, which the book elucidated was a “computer language.” A bead of perspiration dripped from my dad’s brow at the thought of having to comprehend a whole new language prior to us kids getting bored with this rather expensive Christmas present.
A command prompt was where we started. Under instruction of the book, dad apprehensively trembled and pushed a key, typing a 1. Before the hour was done, he had got the computer to have captured “10: PRINT “HELLO,” followed by a second command, “20: GOTO 10.” And we looked at each other perplexed. When were we going to get to shoot aliens?
You see, dad had bought us kids two games of our choosing. Mine being a Pac-Man pastiche called “Haunted Hedges,” whereas my brother was nearly as bonkers about “Horace,” as he would be Lara Croft in the decade which followed, and his choice was one where “Horace Goes Skiing.” Young-‘uns should note, games those days were on cassette, and dad was some way away from attaching the cassette recorder to the Spectrum. Rather, he insisted above our pleas, we did things by the book and attempt to understand how to work the now blasted thing prior to blasting aliens.
Time was of the essence; the Morcombe & Wise Christmas Special would be airing soon, and Mum would consider human existence was doomed if he didn’t manage to rewire the television back to the aerial and tune it in again. He digested the next page of the book, and confidently pressed the R key, for the function RUN. Like magic the tele changed to list the word “hello” all the way down the screen. We gaped in awe at his success, whatever exactly it was. “Look!” he cried in jubilation and misunderstanding the computer was merely following the prompt of his command, his first computer program, “it’s saying hello to us!!”
As 1982 turned into 1983 my father had grasped the immensity of the task, his desire to have the computer do the things which he wanted it to do, to file and store an address book, set bill payment reminders, and the kind of stuff we’d do in a second on our mobile phones today, was too difficult a chore. Wrought with complications and complexities at learning a whole new trick, a language to unify human and computer, he spaced out on it and gave up. The ZX Spectrum was abandoned for parents, he sighed all the way to Radio Rentals, hired a second TV, put the old one upstairs and reluctantly passed the computer to us kids, to play games; the sole thing we really wanted it for in the first place.
The key to this was, that cartridges for the Atari 2600 we had prior were expensive, to buy a new game was a rare treat. The revolution of having games on cassette tape made them affordable, and we could collect them in abundance. This bought about a youth culture; Speccy was the first video game movement. You could swap games, tape-to-tape copy them, and if and when the damn tape loaded without crashing, the half-hour wait of white noise would fulfil you with the joy of a new game.
And there was a plethora of games of varying quality, but all shaped the formulas of games today even if they didn’t reflect the same graphics, speed and game play. You have Sonic the Hedgehog, we had Sabre Wulf, you had Tekken, we had Way of the Exploding Fist, you have Super Mario Odyssey, we had Donkey Kong, you have Little Big Planet, we had Bubble Bobble, you have Grand Theft Auto, we had Back 2 Skool, and you have Minecraft, and erm, okay you got me there, we were still on Lego…. But you get the idea.
Speccy was a youth culture of video games, magazines on the subject flew off shelves, kids would hang outside a computer shack in our town, boasting how they solved Jet Set Willy, despite it being impossible without “pokes,” (cheats.) You could go there for advice, if stuck in Valhalla, or Spy Hunter didn’t load. This was the first social network for gamers. Comprehend, though, online gaming was reduced to asking your mum if your mate Adam can come into play, and only permitted if he took his muddy trainers off at the door.
Educating through it was limited, but it introduced me to the terminology, to basic programming and how to create simple BIT graphics and it made me realise the wealth of maths, even if I was shit at it. I knew what a modem was, something way beyond reach, but least I was aware two computers could be linked via a telephone line. Fascinated by an article predicting one day many computers could be linked into a network, only on the example of a virtual classroom, so we wouldn’t have to go to school. I never fathomed this would happen in my lifetime, never considered the interactive whiteboard, the mobile phone app, and especially virtual reality.
As with all devises, the ZX Spectrum waned against upcoming videogame consoles, as the eighties came to a close focus was on Sega’s Megadrive and a 48K rubber-keyed processer, less powerful than a Tamagotchi would never stay standing. Not without a fight it was slayed, but every devise has its day.
Personally, the magic of both computers and videogames was replaced by raves, pubs, and hopelessly chasing girls. I bought a PlayStation when the price came down, it just collected dust. Bit of a hippy, I shunned technology for a while, forgetting everything I’d learned to the point of when discussing the idea of photocopying my first comic, and my flatmate, who was the editor of a Swindon music zine earlier in the nineties, suggested “no, print will be dead, it will all be on the wobbly web one day,” I hadn’t a clue what she was dribbling about.
The thing is, this era, where the TV streams off Netflix yet no one’s really watching, as I’m updating my blog, the wife is paying a bill on her iPad, my daughter’s sharing photos on her Insta and my son is logged into a Minecraft server with twenty other mates, what Sir Clive Sinclair achieved maybe lost in time, but I feel is gravely underestimated. His name should be up there with Charles Baggage, Alan Turing, Bill Gates and Tim Berners-Lee. Without his vision of home computers, life would be very different today.
Sinclair should be remembered as a visionary, pioneer and innovator, a concept designer like Apple, as today it’s hard to imagine a life without home computing, even if it’s updating your status to post a picture of some cute, fluffy cats. Let’s not dwell on images of him in a failed electric vehicle, he was more than that, and besides, one day our laughing at the C5 will return to bite us in the ass!
- Pumpkins & Poppies with Devizes Town Band
In six weeks, the historic Devizes Town Band will be performing at their first indoor concert for two years!
On Sunday 31st October, Devizes Town Band are thrilled to be bringing to you a very special ‘Poppy’ Concert supporting the Royal British Legion; “Pumpkins and Poppies”
An afternoon of beautiful and entertaining music, to celebrate on Hallowe’en being able to perform again and to remember those who served, those who live with the consequences of conflict and those who paid the ultimate price. The concert will be held in the Corn Exchange, Devizes. Doors open at 2pm and the performance will start at 2:30pm.
All seats will be socially distanced and the building is fully air conditioned. Tickets are £10 each and available online via the link below from today!
You can also get them from the lovely Jo at Devizes Books. We Will Remember Them. Come along to our concert and remember them too….
- We Care Bear Selfie Sculpture
“We want to be there for every seriously ill child that needs us,” say Julia’s House, “but to care for families in your community, we need your support. As part of our Together We Care Appeal, we’re creating a giant bear sculpture and aiming to cover it with the faces of everyone who cares about seriously ill children in Wiltshire – that’s YOU!“
Join them in The Brittox, Devizes, this Friday 24th, Salisbury Market Place on Saturday 25th, or Chippenham High Street on Sunday 26th.
Have your photo taken at their selfie tent, and your photo will be added to the We Care Bear. Once created, the bear will tour different towns across the county before going on permanent display at their hospice in Devizes, so the families they look after will be reminded of your support whenever they arrive at the hospice.
Can’t make that date? Alternatively, you can submit your selfie online, just visit https://www.juliashousebear.org/upload
When can I see the finished bear? Julia’s House will announce the dates soon for when you can see your photo on the finished Julia’s House We Care Bear. Sign up for an email newsletter to get your paws on the latest bear action: https://www.juliashouse.org/enews
- Onika Venus Smooths Trowbridge Town Hall
A truly wonderful night was had at Trowbridge Town Hall with soul-reggae artist Onika Venus and band….
Agreed, you may have to sift through wildly nerdy debates over Kirkby and Buscema’s cross-hatching, or season 12 of the Fourth Dr Who against season 13, but one great thing about socialising in the comics industry, unlike the mainstream music one, is level-pegging. The fact everyone gets paid peanuts no matter if you’re inking for Dark Horse or small pressing under a broken photocopier, means no snobby hierarchy, and this compares to local music circuits too, something I wrongly didn’t expect it to be like last night.
The arrogance and haughtiness of the pop star is historically documented. If I go above my station, it usually ends in disappointment, because I’m not wearing a Rolling Stone stage pass. I check ahead this weekend, because Onika Venus responded with gratitude when we reviewed her wonderful album, and on the strength of it alone, I made Trowbridge Town Hall my mecca for my evening’s intake of quality music. The message simple; make door-staff aware to allow me backstage if you would like to say hi.
Now I’m sitting in a modest room of the Town Hall, with a slight crowd of approximately forty, rather than the grand ballroom and mass gathering I was expecting, and husband half of the duo, Mark Venus comes to thank me for the review, joking, “it’s okay, I’ve cleared your backstage pass!”
Why my assumptions? Not alone the prestigious connotations of “Trowbridge Town Hall,” but the sheer quality of Onika Venus’s album, Everything You Are. Her rich, beautiful vocals commands superiority, as if she’s pre-famed internationally, rather than the veracity; she’s upcoming, gigging together for the best part of twelve years on their local music scene around Bristol and the Forest of Dean, fans of which travelled to attend in support.
Reason enough to cry her name from the hilltops, which I intend to do, because last night was absolutely fantastic, and if everyone knows Macy Grey, Erykah Badu, or even Ariana Grande heaven help, everyone should know the music of Onika Venus.
I could ponder why until the cows come home, and conclude imminent attention aside, there’s a unique crossover with this singing duo making it tricky to pigeonhole. Husband Mark very much has the style of acoustic country or easy listening, a passionate James Taylor quality, whereas Jamaican-born Onika belts out a naturally sublime soulful voice where reggae is ascertained.
In a world where traditionally, husband and wife duos are unified in style, from Abba to Sonny & Cher, or Johnny Cash and June Carter, this blend is welcomingly unique, and I have to say, works so, so well. Critics should also take heed this little-known fact, historically as well as blues and RnB, country music bears a huge influence on the Jamaican recording industry pre the era of their homegrown radio stations, where folk would hear the sounds of US stations.
I discussed this with the pair, Mark acknowledged Onika’s mother back in JA sung country songs. In turn this also revealed, like many Jamaican musicians, music is in her blood. For while soulful, there’s nothing diva about Onika, coming across reserved and shy. Reflecting in the passion of her voice, on stage she shines like a beacon, with the joyfulness of female reggae artists of yore, particularly that of Marcia Griffiths, who always held an esteemed cheerfulness in her sound.
So, amidst this modest audience, accompanied by her husband Mark on acoustic guitar, and two other members, a percussionist on snared cocktail cajon and multi-instrumental brass player, they played out tunes from their album with a perfection spectators held in awe, then took a break.
This was not before the brilliant oddity of a comical support act, namely Big Tom, a friendly Londoner with a warming smile and penchant for original music hall. Whom covered the age-old bawdy parody of the nursey rhyme, “Oh Dear What Can the Matter Be,” where seven old ladies were locked in the lavatory. This took me back to the cockney songs my own nan would sing, and I told him so within this surprisingly communal and outgoing environment.
It also gave the opportunity, said environment, to chat with Onika and Mark, the latter suggesting his eclectic influences included mod revival and two-tone ska as well as country-rock. This came to an apex in the second half of the show, whence after playing a few more songs from the album, and introducing us to some new songs they’ve been working on for a follow-up, the four-piece burst into a lively finale of reggae classics. From Dandy Livingstone to the more obvious Toots and Marley, this medley gave the crowd the incentive to dance, making for a celebratory and memorable culmination.
But if this felt essential given Onika’s origins, it certainly wasn’t pushy, and with equal joy Onika sang the songs which blessed reggae into international recognition as she did their own compositions. Yet it is in those originally penned songs where this band all gleam, the album is a must-have. I adhere to this notion so much, I’ve a CD of said album to give away, see below.
For now, though, know this was a wonderful evening, with Sheer Music’s Kieran at his beloved control tower, Trowbridge Town Hall intends to break barriers and offer a variety of events for all in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Not forgoing, Onika and her band were astounding.
WIN A CD OF EVERYTHING YOU ARE!
So, if you want a copy of Everything you Are by Onika Venus, it’s on Bandcamp, or you could win one (if you live in the Devizes area so I can deliver it!) Please ensure you’ve liked our Facebook page, and Onika’s too. But I’m not making it that easy, you will have to give me, via Facebook comment, a great example of where country music influenced reggae, post a YouTube link to the song, and let’s get educating! Winner will be the one who picks my favourite example, by chance!
- REVIEW – Creedence Clearwater Review – Long Street Blues Club – Saturday 18th September 2021
Up Around The Blues Club
By Andy Fawthrop
Well, it’d been a long old time but finally – finally! – we were back after 18 months to Long Street Blues Club, hosted by The Con Club. The original artists for this gig had been the USA-based Billy Walton Band but, once one or two other dates on their European tour had been cancelled due to Covid restrictions, found that the tour as a whole had become unviable. Hopefully they’ll be re-scheduled for 2022.
Which left Ian Hopkins needing to scrabble round fairly quickly in order to fill this date for tickets already sold – and what a great job he did at such short notice. He found two very competent acts to step in, and the gig could go ahead, even if not quite as originally planned.
Support for the evening came from an old mate of mine, Kevin Brown. He of the oil-can guitar, the blues slide guitar and, when playing on the local pub and festival circuit, Shackdusters fame. This was his first appearance at the club, playing solo. His laid-back, humorous, self-deprecating style quickly won over a large audience, who listened in rapt attention. Kevin writes his own material, based on his life experiences, so that the man and the music blend almost seamlessly. His JJ Cale tribute number was particularly impressive. A very winning performance, which elicited fulsome and well-deserved applause – so let’s hope he’s invited back in the future.
The main act, Creedence Clearwater Revival arrived with a “show” – a pre-programmed set, introduced by, and intercut with documentary voice recordings by members of the original band. Early on the band explained – if explanation it was – that their rhythm guitarist “couldn’t make it”, so they were doing the show as a trio. An odd start, but then they got on with ticking the hits off the list – Up Around The Bend, Rocking All Over The World, Heard It Thru’ The Grapevine, Midnight Special, Because You’re Mine, As Long As I Can See The Light, Bad Moon Rising, Born On The Bayou, Proud Mary, Have You Ever Seen The Rain. The show – delivered as two fifty-minute sets – was performed with confidence and aplomb. By the end we had singalongs and quite a few folks up dancing at the front.
And yet. And yet…..and yet it left me rather un-moved. I grew up with the music of CCR and John Fogerty, so I’d like to think I’m a bit of a fan of their material. So I was surprised to find the show rather unexciting. The band were professional and competent and captured, to some extent, the “feel” of CCR’s bayou-based sound. Yet somehow, something of the original CCR’s drive and energy was missing. It felt a bit “CCR-by-numbers” if you get what I mean? I thought perhaps I was being a bit super-critical, so I consulted a few people whose musical opinions I respect (as well as a few whose musical opinions I don’t respect) and there seemed to be a clear consensus – it was OK: the band were good, but not great. My own acid test on these things is – would I pay money to go and see them again? Sadly, my answer would be in the negative. It felt a bit one-dimensional. There wasn’t a whole lot of audience engagement. They’d come to play a show, and they played it. Job done. No criticism whatsoever of the great job done by Ian, but not every band can float your boat, can it?
Future Long Street Blues Club gigs:
- Saturday 2nd October – Jimmy Carpenter
- Saturday 30th October – Climax Blues Band (at Devizes Town Hall)
- Saturday 20th November – Focus (at Devizes Corn Exchange)
- Saturday 27th November – Antonio Forcione Quartet
- Saturday 18th December – Kossoff: The Band Plays On
- Friday 14th January 2022 – Chicago Blues Allstars
- REVIEW: Strakers’ Devizes Comedy – Corn Exchange – Friday 17th September 2021
You’ve Got To Laugh
by Andy Fawthrop
It really feels as if the old times are back with the very welcome return of Strakers’ Comedy Night at the Corn Exchange. A fairly packed audience of about 200, with long early queues at the bar, settled down for something we all needed – a great night of laugh-out-loud comedy. It did initially have the feel of a massed estate agents’ night out and bonding session, but once we finally got under way, all of that was forgotten.
First up was Kane Brown who wasted no time in warming to his first couple of themes – a black man in a very white town, and the obvious need to take the piss out of the sponsor of tonight’s event. Kane was quick-fire, calm, relaxed and made an immediate bond with his audience. It could be argued that he was scoring into an empty net, such was the crowd’s desire to have a good laugh after such a long lay-off, but in fact it was much better than that. Kane had a very nice line in nostalgia themes – salted crisps, the choke on cars, old TV technology – and his slot seemed to slip by in no time. Very assured, very funny and an obvious hit with the crowd.
Next up came Rod Woodward, veteran of the corporate comedy circuit, TV, Royal Variety show etc. Rod played the “I’m very Welsh” card early, followed it with low-level machine-gunning of the Strakers (a theme was developing here) and rounded out with routines on Ryanair, and the dangers of going clothes shopping with a married partner. Another great performance, also hilarious, and a great way to end the first half.
Following the half-time scrums at the bar, and the queues for the loos, the second half offered up a couple more comics. First of these was Ali Cook, another very experienced performer in terms of TV work, Edinburgh Festival and the corporate circuit. Ali combined his comedic patter with a number of sleight-of-hand magic tricks, effortlessly pulling victims (sorry – “assistants”) out of the crowd to help him on stage. Routines involved card-tricks, apparently eating goldfish, and smashing an i-Phone to pieces. Another clear hit with the crowd.
Last on stage was the wild-looking, long-haired Canadian Craig Campbell. Here was a real force of nature from the get-go. Having just done a none-too-easy gig for UK troops quarantined after recently returning from Afghanistan, Craig had a lot to say on the subject. At first this really took the audience with him, but then he appeared to lose a good few people with his crude, shouty, expletive-ridden rants about not very much in particular. He managed to pull them round with a very good story about the Dutch and the Danes, but then went off into another blizzard of shouting. A few people around me were making their excuses and leaving at this point, but other sections of the audience found him very funny. He lost me towards the end I’m afraid. I don’t mind bad language well-used, but Craig seemed to rely on the f-word almost completely to get his laughs, a thin cover for fairly sparse material. So, something of a Marmite type of performer.
Still – to badly paraphrase a certain rock legend – three out of four ain’t bad. Overall a great night, lots of laughs, and a very welcome extra step to getting our lives back again. Thanks to Strakers for putting the show on – great stuff!
- Eric Ravilious: Downland Man
Unique exhibition to open at Wiltshire Museum
Featured Image: The Westbury White Horse © Towner Eastbourne
This major exhibition explores for the first time the celebrated artist’s lifelong fascination for the chalk hills of southern England, particularly Wiltshire and Sussex.
The exhibition will feature more than 20 works borrowed from national collections and private collectors, including iconic watercolours such as The Westbury Horse and The Wilmington Giant, alongside other rarely-seen works. The exhibition is supported by the Weston Loan Programme with Art Fund. Created by the Garfield Weston Foundation and Art Fund, the Weston Loan Programme is the first ever UK-wide funding scheme to enable smaller and local authority museums to borrow works of art and artefacts from national collections.
Central to the exhibition are several of Ravilious’s best-loved watercolours of chalk figures made in 1939 in preparation for a children’s book, Downland Man. The book was never completed, and for many years the prototype or ‘dummy’ made by Ravilious was believed lost. When it resurfaced in 2012 this precious item was bought at auction by Wiltshire Museum. It will be included in the exhibition alongside some of the artist’s watercolours, aerial photographs, annotated Ordnance Survey maps, postcards and books that relate to the Ravilious works on show – material drawn largely from Wiltshire Museum’s own collection.
The exhibition will offer a new view of Eric Ravilious (1903-42) as a chronicler of the landscape he knew better than any other. From his student days until the last year of his life, Ravilious returned again and again to the Downs, inspired particularly by the relationship between landscape and people. Watercolours and wood engravings included in the exhibition show dew ponds and farmyards, a cement works and a field roller, modern military fortifications and ancient monuments.
Eric Ravilious: Downland Man is curated by James Russell, previously curator of the 2015 blockbuster Ravilious at Dulwich Picture Gallery. He said ‘I studied History at Cambridge and I’m always intrigued by the social and cultural context of artists’ work. When it comes to downland history and archaeology Wiltshire Museum has an unrivalled collection, making this exhibition a unique opportunity to shed new light on Ravilious – an artist who is well-known these days but still little understood. With watercolours such as ‘Chalk Paths’ and ‘The Vale of the White Horse’ on display, visitors are in for a treat.’
Heather Ault, Exhibitions Officer said: ‘This is a wonderful opportunity for Wiltshire Museum to exhibit such beautiful works by Ravilious. The exhibition will be an absolute delight’.
Sophia Weston, Trustee of the Garfield Weston Foundation, said: “We are delighted that the Weston Loan Programme has been able to support the display of these important works by Eric Ravilious in Wiltshire – an area of the country which repeatedly inspired this much-loved artist. The exhibition will bring his evocative landscapes to new audiences and shed light on material little-known by the public.”
Eric Ravilious: Downland Man opens at Wiltshire Museum on Saturday 25 September and closes on 30 January 2022. Tickets can be pre-booked online at https://www.wiltshiremuseum.org.uk/prebooktickets/.
The exhibition ends on 30 January 2022.
- Real Cheesemakers go Head-to-Head with Professor Elemental in Chippenham
So, you’re planning to go out-out, the decision rests on music or a night of comedy. An unnecessary dilemma, no need for a crystal ball, tarot cards or Paul the psychic octopus, you can do both in the land of chips n ham. In fact, if you happen to own a psychic octopus, this will be right up your street.
I’ve been waffling on the subject of comical music of recent, reviewing release from Monkey Bizzle, Death of Guitar Pop, Mr B, and Scott Lavene, but here’s an evening not to be missed for your dancing shoes and funny bone alike.
Lord of whimsy himself, Brighton’s steampunk chap-hop artist Professor Elemental, who’s been in a friendly feud with the very same Mr. B The Gentleman Rhymer, goes head-to-head with Calne’s nonsensical Real Cheesemakers, and the ref will be Chippenham’s own legend and Edinburgh Festival favourite Wil Hodgson in a night not to be missed or dissed.
One randomly selected lyric of Professor Elemental might whet your appetite, “this one’s for the crusty festivals and shows, where a fan tries to hug me and I get a dreadlock up my nose,” and honey, he’s got rhymes you haven’t heard yet. Expect hilarity at the Old Town Tavern on 16th October, demand trousers, horses and dinosaurs, tickets are eight quid, a brown one on the door. Facebook yo bad self, tell ’em you want in.
- Spearmint’s Holland Park
As spacey as Spaceman 3, I get a whopping chunk of cleansed retro Madchester with the opening of Holland Park, the new album from one of ‘Britain’s best kept secrets’, Londoners, Spearmint. The album drops tomorrow, September 17th, on WIAIWYA Records, and is produced by acclaimed journalist and musician Rhodri Marsden, known afor playing in Scritti Politti.
Story checks out, with there’s a clear Scritti Politti influence going on here, The Boo Radleys, Belle & Sebastian comes over in waves too. The follow-up to their acclaimed 2019 album Are You From The Future? This is one rich, uplifting record.
It mellowly plods but picks up with the third tune, Walk Away From Hollywood, only to be followed by a strings-based honour to Bowie, in a kind of Mike Berry’s Tribute to Buddy Holly. Shirley Lee, frontman of Spearmint explains the meaning behind the first single released from Holland Park, “Since Bowie Died isn’t about David Bowie, it’s about the rest of us. I remember hearing the news at the start of 2016: it didn’t seem real. Then as things came to pass that ear and since, I felt like our world had become a harsher place from that moment on, as though it had ‘opened the floodgates’. I know others felt the same way, so we wanted to capture this feeling in the song, but add some hope too.”
The spirit of Bowie courses through the record as a leitmotif, and hallmarks their typically sublime mellow brit-pop infused melodies. A record that “explores what it’s like to be in a band, what it’s like to have walked away from being in a band, what music means to all of us, and how it feels to lose your heroes.”
A concept album in the vein of the subject it depicts, Holland Park has a running theme of a seventies rock group who never quite hit the big time, based on the singer Shirley’s father’s band. It comes to its apex at The Streets of Harlesden, the following title track with an everyday chit-chatty quality, similar to Scott Lavene we reviewed yesterday, and a striking instrumental called Black Vinyl. All mood setting like a slumbering Who rock opera. There’s a dreamy but uplifting ambiance here, and it’s beguiling.
Once it winds back to the mellow Britpop for a few tunes, the penultimate is the oddity, a sudden blast of sonic punk, called She Says She Wants to Save the Pigs, and it returns with its hallmark for an uplifting romantic finale.
Spearmint plan to premiere the album live in London in November, followed by shows in Brighton and Bristol, with further gigs being planned for 2022.