REVIEW –Devizes Arts Festival Fringe – Josephine Corcoran – 16th June @ The Vaults, Devizes

Penultimate Parade of Poetry

 

 Written by Andy Fawthrop

Images by Gail Foster (except the one of Gail Foster)

 

Another gig on the final day of Devizes Arts Festival, and something a bit different for the penultimate performance of the Free Fringe – a nice portion of poetry.

Down into the dungeons of The Vaults for this one – a perfect venue for a spoken-word event (The Vaults doesn’t have a music licence). After availing myself of an appropriate libation from the wide range of craft keg and cask beers/ lagers/ ciders in the upstairs bar (where the staff were still recovering from the shock of actually getting to see and serve our esteemed leader Darren the day before [They were delighted Andy, didn’t even take my cash- Ed],) I descended into the cellar to meet the very charming Josephine Corcoran. Josephine is not only a poet, but also a playwright (having had two plays performed on BBC Radio). She also runs a regular poetry group in nearby Trowbridge.

A goodly-sized audience (including a few poetry virgins) had assembled and enjoyed two sets of poetry. In each set Josephine read both from her latest publication (“What Are You After?”) as well as some newer unpublished poems, followed by half a dozen or so local contributors in an “open mic” slot. Josephine’s contributions were thoughtful, personal and close to home, as we learned from her careful introductions to each piece. The efforts from the floor varied in style and tone (including Gail Foster’s fine villanelle regarding the passage of time and of people), comic reflections on luxury toilets and on sex, together with more personal and reflective pieces on topics such as loss of loved ones, memory, separation and even anger. Standard stuff for a Sunday afternoon down the Vaults really. But, seriously, a hugely enjoyable and well-attended event. Hopefully we can do something similar next year too.

Josephine’s latest book is called “What Are You After?” (published 2018 by Nine Arches Press) and you can find out more about her, and her poetry, at www.josephinecorcoran.org

The Vaults’ Poetry Group meets monthly at 7pm on various dates TBA. Next meeting is on Wednesday 26th June. Each month a theme is set as a prompt to inspire new work. You can come with your own work, bring poetry by someone you admire, or just come for a listen. This month, a topic suggested by the latest guest at our table is “Addiction”. Who knows where that one will go? It’s sure to be deep, with a smattering of the light-hearted and supportive conversation that is the hallmark of this poetry group. Work, screens, exercise, love – the scope for addiction is as diverse as the waves on the sea, but is there a thread that links them all? Bring along your work and let’s explore together.

And well done (yet again) to Devizes Arts Festival for putting this on as a Free Fringe event.

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REVIEW –Devizes Arts Festival Fringe – The Hot Club – 16th June @ Three Crowns, Devizes

Hot Club, Cool Atmosphere!

Andy Fawthrop

 

The final day of Devizes Arts Festival, and a day that featured some of the Free Fringe Events.

Seems like a long time ago (was it only last Summer?) that I was in the rather pleasant courtyard of The Three Crowns listening to some good music on a lazy Sunday afternoon. But here I was again, and it all came flooding back in an instant.

Founded and led by guitarist Alex Bishop, The Hot Club consists of various combinations of musicians in various formats, ranging from a simple two-guitar set-up, all the way up to a full six-piece. They meet up at The Pound Arts Centre in Corsham, where Alex is usually based. Alex also has a local folk trio called Effra.

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Our roving reporter Andy caught on camera! Image by Gail Foster

Anyhow, the music for today’s occasion was provided by a trio of instrumentalists (two guitars and double bass), three very relaxed guys knocking out some classic 1930s gypsy jazz tunes in the style of Django Reinhardt. This style of music was born in the pavement cafes of Paris, so I suppose a courtyard of a pub in Devizes is a pretty close match, right? Anyhow, the atmosphere was swinging and relaxed (chilled? yes- even in the welcome sunshine!). The packed crowd loved it, and even the (well-behaved) dogs were barking in appreciation. The wind occasionally tried to lift the small marquee, but no-one was going to let the elements spoil what was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.

If you want to know more about The Hot Club head over to www.hotclubjazz.co.uk . They seem to be very popular for weddings, parties and private functions!

I’m sure there’ll be more Sunday afternoon gigs in this great venue over the Summer, so watch out for announcements from The Three Crowns on Facebook.

And well done (yet again) to Devizes Arts Festival for putting this on as a Free Fringe event.

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Grupo Lokito Brings a Cuban-Congolese Fusion to Devizes Arts Festival

Images by Gail Foster

 

Can’t come out to play today, despite the finale of Devizes Arts Festival is all totally free. Three fringe events across town; The Hot Club (opps, nearly typed hot-tub then) at the Three Crowns at 1pm, Josephine Corcoran reading her poems and an open-mike session at the Vaults at 5pm and last, but not least, they’ve Circu5 closing the festival at the Cellar Bar, Bear Hotel at 8pm.

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For me, what’s been the best Devizes Arts Festival line-up ever, came to an explosive and marvellous conclusion last night when the Corn Exchange filled with the absolutely unique and gorgeous sound of Grupo Lokito. A packed Saturday night of the widest demographic you’d expect in Devizes, proves word is out; they’ve made a fool of anyone who attains this pompous, straitlaced pigeonhole they’ve so wrongly picked up. It has been a surfeit of talented and quality entertainment, amazingly diverse, and something our town should be very proud of.

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My thanks and praises go to all the organisers, who’ve worked their socks off but retained a smile and positive attitude throughout. So as the band members of Grupo Lokito mingled in the foyer, there was an atmosphere of delight for if this sundry group blend into a city’s world music setting, they were certainly a breath of fresh air in Devizes.

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The further away our ears travel from our perceived impressions of music, taken from what we’re exposed to at home, the harder it is, I think, to pinpoint and define the variety of styles. That’s what makes world music so fascinating. But, without recognisable covers or pastiches, and such a free-flowing sound, it does make a review somewhat tricky to write. Not helped by our brilliantly informative interview with Grupo’s keyboardist and manager Sara McGuiness, who outlined the nature of the band’s style.

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It intrigued me, Sara labelling the sound of the Buena Vista Social Club nostalgic and polarized, despite its positive effect in spreading Cuban music, to just how this night was going to go down. Indeed, Salsa dance classes had congregated, with their magnificently sassy style and gracefully romantic moves, yet I questioned if the music fitted. Salsa dancing tends to make use of traditional Rhumba, this was definably not. It was contemporary dance, do-what-ever-you-like dance, so while the salsa dancers didn’t look out of place, some arbitrarily bobbed along (myself included) and others tried to mimic the frontmen’s choregraphed hip movements, like guests on the Generation Game, none of it mattered. The concentration was on pure enjoyment of this glorious and peripheral style of music and it was thus.

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Evenly paced throughout, I observed this Cuban-Congolese fusion ecstatically. Noticing African sounds, like township jive in a particular tune, only for the next to be decidedly Cuban, and what followed them, a curiously exciting blend of the two to the point it neither mattered nor favoured one over the other; it’s just marvellous music without labels.

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I tingled when popping back to the foyer to ensure Devizes Market Place still existed and I wasn’t at Womad, informing photographer Gail it felt like I was on was holiday, a holiday I couldn’t actually afford!

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And that, in a nutshell, is the indication of a quality and exotic night. A big group hug for the Devizes Arts Festival, what a super conclusion…. Can we book Ziggy Marley next year, otherwise how are you going to top that?!

 

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Just Comedy Friends; Ed to Follow

Broken Down on the M25 Wednesday, the Devizes Arts Festival comedy event, Ed Byrne and Friends unfortunately altered to just friends.

 
Then the mobile rang…. A call from Beano artist Kev F. On any other occasion this would’ve been a most welcomed call, but I was rubbing my forehead on a plush street in Bath when I was supposed to be setting up a table at the Bristol Comic Expo. My debut stand at a convention, the next evolutionary stage of comic glory, rather than the usual sauntering the site, lugging a bag chockful of my smutty outpourings, chatting and hoping to flog a comic or two.

The curse was an egg-shaped black rubber ring, which I held in greasy fingers while frowning in abundance. Like an elephant’s trunk suspended on an earring, this was, I’d just discovered, what supported the exhaust pipe of my VW Polo, which now dragged along the road beneath the car. Bit of a design fault, I was eventually informed, fortunately from a ‘mechanic’ passer-by, once the ring bent out of shape, the exhaust dropped.

He eavesdropped my apologies, as I explained the situation to Kev. We talked of my destination, and because of the interest he exhibited, I gifted him a comic, hoping he’d fix the car. I then ventured underneath it, an attempt to assign the ring back onto its bar, and hopefully attach the exhaust pipe; breakdown services for losers! Needless to say, the effort futile. I appeared from under the car to the sound of the mechanic giggling; the guy engrossed in my homemade publication! “No,” he explained the aforementioned design fault. Humm, I see that now. “Thanks for the comic,” he acknowledged, and whistled off on his way.

A wedge of abandoned broken bin held it, not quite long enough to make it to Bristol, but after a few pitstops I arrived, fashionably late. Tense, irritated and in no mood to greet people with plastic smiles and laughs, I spent the day hoofing and sulking. My point to this anecdote, other than I’ve not much of a review to write about Ed Byrne and Friends? When vehicles breakdown on an imperative assignment, nothing is more frustrating. Therefore, to the hundreds sitting uncomplainingly in the Devizes Corn Exchange Wednesday, perhaps it’s best Ed Byrne didn’t make it.

Rescheduled for September, if he had of made it, would he have been on top form, would comical genius spurt from his mouth? Yeah, he’s professional, suppose. Still, I’d favour the feverishly brilliant observational comedy routine, the like we’ve come to expect from Ed would be best served cold. An odds-on at the bookies he’ll open with the tale of his primary attempt to make it to our backwater. Not everyone could conjure an amusing story of being stuck on the M25, I bet Ed could. That’s why these people rule the comedy circuit. See above, I’m capable of writing a comic tale of woe, but I’d never acquire the valour to perform it before an audience; it takes guts and a chunk of lunacy.

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Chris Stokes Image: Gail Foster

The support acts then, did a grand job. Opening act Chris Stokes vastly different in style to David Hadingham, who followed. Akin to a lovechild of Mickey Flanigan and Bill Hicks, I’d argue David had the posture, the visual comedy, and through crazy expressions could, just, carry off a corny gag. But his style akin to a working-man’s club, was coarse, banal but often hackneyed. References to masturbation and psychedelia pigeonholed him as outrageous, though the quality of the jokes have to match that panache.

For me, David started off brilliantly but declined somewhat, while Chris, more stiff and static to begin with, especially considering he had to break the ice after the devastating blow Ed may not appear, by joking about said devasting blow, grew in wittiness. Through local observations of his bus journey from Chippenham, to a set routine about his Black Country homeland, he improved with each laugh that passed, and importantly, had  incomparable originality. Thick and tough those laughs hailed through the Corn Exchange.

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David Hadingham. Image: Gail Foster

No doubt both these guys were remarkably funny, easing the blow dramatically, yet I’d argue Chris was the better of the two, as he played to the mostly, conventional audience. Well done to both for covering the absence of Ed, an unfortunate turn of events. Least, I think, we’d be set for a better performance from him in September than one after a car breakdown.

 

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REVIEW – Devizes Arts Festival – Moscow Drug Club – 7th June @ Exchange Night Club, Devizes

Drugs Down In The Bin!

By Andy Fawthrop

 

Well, sort of. Bear with me. In fact this was yet another Devizes Arts Festival offering that turned out to be an absolute cracker of a gig.

Descending into The Corny Bin, or The Exchange Night Club to be precise, I wondered why this particular venue had been chosen for this particular gig. But as soon as I got in there, it was flippin’ obvious. The place had been set out with plenty of tables and chairs, the lights had been set to low and sleazy, and the crowd packed into every last place had created exactly the right ambience. We were in a real nightclub – old school! As Katya, lead singer of the band, remarked immediately she came on stage: ‘wow! This place is for us! This is where we should live!’ Indeed.

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Moscow Drug Club describe themselves as “transcendent troubadours of gypsy cabaret and swing” and that’s exactly what we got. Material ranged from their own self-penned compositions, a couple from Eartha Kitt, via way of Louis Armstrong, Jacques Brel’s “The Port Of Amsterdam”, Charles Aznavour and Tom Waits. And, was that a nod towards Django Reinhard? Leonard Cohen?
Each number took us a different musical place, a different atmosphere – Berlin cabaret, Hot Club de France, old Tangiers, eastern Europe. But it was always dark, earthy, sweaty, smoky. We were in the 30s, now the 40s, now the 50s. We were listening to blues, to jazz, to gypsy swing rhythms.
It was a heady and intoxicating mixture, delivered with some style. Canadian Katya Gorrie led from the front with some cool, dark, sleazy vocals, ably assisted by her splendid 5-piece band. Stand-out performer for me was Jonny Bruce on trumpet, who belted out some astonishing solos, as well as filling in the rhythm with some spicy interjections. And I cannot remember the last time I actually heard a double bass solo (delivered with aplomb by Andy Crowdy) and where an entire room of drinkers was reduced to awe-inspired silence.

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The whole concert was fantastic, delivered with style, humour, great musicianship and plenty of warmly-felt audience engagement. For me this was a superb all-round performance – I gave it 5 out of 5, and my companion (who is notoriously difficult to please) declared it to be the best gig I’d ever taken her to! The crowd absolutely lapped it up, and the fully-deserved encore featured the song that began it all for the band:
“Moscow Drug Club – it’s a secret rendezvous!

Moscow Drug Club – where the Reds play the Blues!”

If you’d like to see and hear more of Moscow Drug Club, head over to their website at http://moscowdrugclub.com/ which includes a list of their future gigs for the rest of the year.

So – well done (yet again) to DAF for booking this wonderfully bonkers band, and bringing them to our town!

Don’t forget there’s plenty more music and other stuff before the Festival finishes on 16th June. If you haven’t done so yet, get yourself a ticket and get along to see something!

 

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Reggae, Reggae, Reggae, in…. Devizes Arts Festival?! Barbdwire Bring a Taste of Coventry to Town

All Photos used with kind permission of Gail Foster

 

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From a talk by CBE award-winning English foreign correspondent and BBC News world affairs editor, John Simpson, to the Sub-Organist at Durham Cathedral, Francesca Massey, the Devizes Arts Festival has kicked off this week, better than Tottenham. Their showcase, more varied than ever before, truly caters for all; you just need to either research, or hear me bashing on to find something suitable for you.

Personally, my time came Saturday, when the Corn Exchange was blessed with sweet, sweet reggae music! You know I love thee, local music scene, but my ongoing quest to encourage more reggae in these backwaters came to an apex last night.

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Perhaps a hard sell in Devizes, yet a genre I’ll push until the wheels fall off. Yep, said wheels won’t last to shove Devizes into the streets of downtown Kingston Jamaica, but our great hall was lively and the modest audience appreciative of what Coventry based Barbdwire delivered.

Without doubt Barbdwire could produce a “beginners guide to reggae,” without watering down or succumbing to commercialisation. For all sub-genres were presented to us last night, with tremendous panache and sublime competence.

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I often wonder how irritated Ziggy Marley gets when interviews adopt the cliché angle of his father, recollecting him once stating, “reggae is not a one-man-music, it’s a people music.” An apt quote for Barbdwire, the band a varied bunch. While originator and drummer, Trevor Evans, the former Specials roadie-once drummer, characteristically oozes a reggae archetypal, bassist Chelly’s persona rings out dub and the proficient trombonist has Two-Tone band written all over him, trumpeter John Pudge, clearly the youngest, doesn’t appear represent any reggae stereotype.

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I snatched a quick tête-à-tête with John, attired in a T-shirt embossed with “Roots, Rock, Reggae,” I was keen on querying his t-shirt gainsays against his instrument choice, brass sections being generally considered ska-related. We discussed how Barbdwire play to the audience; their ability to pull any of reggae’s subgenres out of their hat makes the band flexible, supporting The Specials, as their next gig, or Holli Cook, as they did last week.

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But centre of attention last night in Devizes, this band were an epiphany for some residents and a universal accreditation for those reggae lovers. In our preview I said, “(Two-Tone) may have challenged punk with chicness akin to mod, but today, these subcultures are inconsequential, we can bundle it all into one retrospective burlesque, select whatever element of any we care to, and fuse them without pretence or offense; one reason why a group like Barb’d Wire is fresh and electrifying.”

 

Well, while reproducing their album Time Has Come’s originals did just that, their choice of covers was equally extensive. From ska favourites like Baba Brook’s version of Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon Man and the Wailer’s debut hit Simmer Down, they also exposed the audience to roots, with Max Romeo’s Chase the Devil, Horace Andy’s Skylarking, renowned for his later work with Massive Attack, and even dub, akin to its master King Tubby.

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There were versions of reggae classics, like Uptown Top Ranking, and all harmonised by the beautifully melodic and confident vocals of Cherelle Harding, a singer who could roll on a lovers tune with the finesse of Phillis Dillon to convert without haste to toast a stepper’s riddim, at one point verging on dancehall with a wonderfully luminous interpretation of Sister Nancy’s Bam-Bam.

Make no mistake, this diversity was not delivered reggae-lite, rather an expertise and rounded acknowledgement to the many faces of Jamaica’s music export, and delivered to us adhering to all the positivity and joyfulness the genre celebrates. As an apt example, they gathered outside to meet and greet, where they were applauded with respect vowed to add our town to their tour map; something I’ll hold against them, as this was an outstanding performance!

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Long live the Devizes Arts Festival then, hopeful they’ll consider the evening a success and plan in, as they are already planning 2020, something else reggae-related. Following on, this week sees Strange Face at The Bear today (Sunday) where the Adventures with a Lost Nick Drake Recording takes place.

Monday and Christian Garrick & John Etheridge presents Strings on Fire at The Exchange. Tuesday is The Shakespeare Smackdown, and Wednesday String Sisters are at St Andrews Church.

An Audience with Bob Flowerdew at the Town Hall, also Wednesday, and Thursday, Atila Sings the Nat King Cole Story at the Town Hall. Oh, and next Saturday has a whole host of FREE fringe events across town. Check the website for booking details, but hurry, Friday’s Moscow Drug Club event is sold out. If cancelations occur find posts on the Arts Festival Facebook page, and I’ll promise to share them as soon as I spot them; have a great festival!

You Can’t See the Join; Eric & Little Ern at Devizes Arts Festival

Youngsters may ponder how we survived times of yore with just the three TV channels. Certainly, children’s shows stopped at six, new-fangled video recorders were expensive commodities and presented their users with a horrendous relay, poor sound quality and the tedious labour of rewinding. Yet we had something which barely exists today, an eminence of shows designed to entertain a family; can you think of similar today?

Variety performances outclassed anything you might deem akin today. Simon’s Cowell’s amateur talent contest TV shows remained firmly in the holiday camps, professionals reigned weekend viewers which style and panache. Contemplating it, The Simpsons is perhaps the only show the entire family enjoys, as while I’ll watch Britain’s Got Talent, one eye squints.

Ant and Dec are no replacement for The Two Ronnies, arguably the only duo to come close to the sovereigns of weekend family entertainment, Morecombe and Wise. If you never thought you ever see anything like their magic again, think again.

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Ian Ashpitel & Jonty Stephens are Eric & Little Ern, a remarkably accurate tribute that has to be seen to be believed. Spotted the posters of their Devizes Arts Festival’s event on 14th June I thought “yeah, right.” But no still image can summarise the precision of “An Evening of Eric & Ern,” you have to check these videos out.

Away from my theories, do Ian and Jonty think Morecambe & Wise are still popular today?

“We have been asked, many times, over the years what is the lasting appeal of Morecambe and Wise?” says Ian Ashpitel who plays Ernie “I think that it’s a combination of many things; they grew up with each other and had an instinctive timing that is hard to replicate. They were friends first and foremost, closer than brothers. They grew up learning their craft together. Making mistakes together, finding what works and doesn’t work as they played clubs and theatres for over 20 years before being seen on TV for the first time. They were likeable and people could relate to them, to their sense of humour and their comedy. Working class gentlemen as someone once told us. Eric was one of the finest comics Britain has ever seen and, with the perfect comedy foil at his side, it was a truly magical combination. Having played Ernie, it’s made me realise just how good he was. His timing was immaculate and they had a trust in each other that flowed effortlessly through their performance.”

“Exactly” says Jonty, “They were so relaxed together on stage, so funny, that everyone felt safe in their company. They were brilliant because they appealed to everybody, all walks of life, men-women, young-old, everybody found them funny and it’s very hard to do.”

Their catchphrases now engraved in our language, the songs and gags will never fade with time. So, in their show, it’s Ian and Jonty’s aim to replicate Morecambe & Wise’s live theatre shows, with the famous songs and sketches from their TV moments, as well as a few surprises and a guest singer.

 
Ian and Jonty first met at drama school in Birmingham in 1983 where they became firm friends. Even back then people would ask ‘are you a double act?’ to which the boys would answer, in unison, ‘No.’ Jonty is a brilliant mimic; Eric was one of many impressions he would perform from an early age. He’s a self-confessed Morecambe & Wise anorak and it was his knowledge and love which proved to be the bedrock of their story.

 

Now jobbing actors and members of The Stage Golfing Society, in 2002 Ian and Jonty would put on a review/show. They performed a five-minute sketch and were instantly told ‘you must do something with this’. It has to be said by now nature had taken its course with Jonty’s hair and Ian had fully developed the short fat hairy legs!

 

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During the run of the initial show, which had moved from Richmond to the Edinburgh Festival, Eric’s son Gary Morecambe saw the show and loved it. Support and approval from the family were massively important to Ian and Jonty and continues to be so. The show then went on a hugely successful tour, which culminated in its first West End run in the Christmas of 2013 at the Vaudeville Theatre.

 

The show was nominated for an Olivier Award in 2014. Another tour and a Christmas run at the St James Theatre London followed. Devizes has a grand chance to witness it from the comfort of their own town, one of many highlights of our Arts Festival. Tickets are £21 here.

 

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