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!
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 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.
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
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!
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?
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!
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.”
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.
A prestigious live music gig is being planned for Devizes. Top secret, if I spill anymore beans about it they’d be forced to shoot me, and I know you wouldn’t want that…..would you?
I thought not, not even if they just skimmed my kneecap with a spud-gun?
But what you can help the organisers decide is, what local non-profit charity would you want this event to fundraise for, should it go ahead?
I’ve added some worthy charities, but you can add your own if you wish. Please give us your feedback asap, takes a second, thank you! And yes, I’ll tell you all about when the time comes, just, like push me, man!
Little doubt Frank Turner is the top of his game, the prolific indie-rocker’s ninth studio album, “FTHC” is highly anticipated….
The previously released lead single, “The Gathering” only gives a small insight into the new direction of the record. Though Frank is not only able to feature guest appearances from Muse, Nine Inch Nails, Biffy Clyro and more, the supporting tour allows him to cherry-pick venues and promoters.
Frank will be doing a unique tour playing all thirty-nine English historic counties, plus nine districts of Scotland, eight counties in Wales, six in N. Ireland and a further eight counties in Ireland. The ambition is to reach all of his fans with his new record and play where most artists will not go.
Sheer Music is the obvious choice for the west country, and promoter, Kieran J Moore is delighted to have been asked. Frank has chosen The Forum in Bath for his Somerset date, which will be Friday 18th February 2022.
The beautiful art-deco Forum gave Frank one of his last shows from his previous album tour, just prior to lockdown. The venue remains a firm favourite with artists and fans alike. It will be Sheer’s first show at the historic venue, Mr Moore says, “it’s an opportunity we’re truly honoured and excited about being given!”
Given the nature of the show and the current climate, (it’s as if no one was allowed out for a year or more!) tickets will be snatched quickly, so a heads up for Turner fans, that tickets will be available in the following structure;
Album Pre Order for Pre-Sale: Tuesday, 21 September @ 5PM BST
Album Order Pre-Sale: Wednesday, 22 September @ 12PM BST – Friday, 24 September @ 12PM BST
Promoter Pre-Sale: Thursday, 23 September @ 12PM BST
Does anybody else feel like things are starting to roll again? I mean like “normal”? – not the “new normal”, not the “old normal”, but just “normal”? Just me then?!
After snuggling up with the BBC on Saturday night to witness the old “last night of the Proms”, with a cup of warm Horlicks and a packet of McVities digestives, and remembering that this was what it’s always been like at this time of year, I came over all nostalgic. You know what I mean – the slide into Crimbo & the New Year via “putting the clocks back”, Halloween, Gunpowder Plot (and Thanksgiving if you’re of a Yankee persuasion). And the “it must be Autumn because Strictly’s started up again”. Yeah – all that. Soon be snow on the ground, blah, blah, blah…
Well, Sunday in Hillworth Park proved that there’s still a bit of life left in the old Summer yet, and it’s not quite time to pull out the long-johns and big coat. A large group of D-Town citizens turned out with camping chairs and picnic blankets to be royally entertained by Fantasy Radio (broadcasting live), the talented young singer Chloe Jordan, and the massed might of the Devizes Town Band, with their version of Proms In The Park. Children played, dogs scampered around, people ate ice-creams and queued for the loos. This was England! This was Summer! All good traditional stuff.
We were treated to a wonderfully varied programme of songs and music, ably MC’d by Mark Jones of Fantasy Radio 97FM, and under the direction of the enthusiastic Sharon Lindo. There were great solos from Jim Keenahan and Bruce MacDonald, ensemble and orchestral pieces, and of course the traditional rousing coda of Sailor’s Hornpipe, Rule Britannia, Jerusalem (beautifully rendered by Chloe), and the National Anthem. We had everything – clapping, singing, dancing, flag-waving – from the enthusiastic crowd. If anyone was feeling a little blue after months of Lockdown, no-one had told the hundreds of people who were out to enjoy themselves. And they rewarded the performers with a pretty darned good ovation at the end. Perhaps we ought to ask the Town Council to build us a bandstand? Just a thought. (Yes Andy, I suggested this too; Ed!)
A really cracking way to spend a Sunday afternoon!
It’s not often that you’ll get me schlepping down to a Community Hall in the middle of nowhere (well, OK, Lavington) on a Saturday night for a dose of Light Opera, but…well…it seemed like a good warm-up for the BBC Last Night of the Proms which was due to be broadcast later that night – and so it proved to be.
Devizes Musical Theatre (DMT), in their wisdom, had chosen this slightly out-of-the-way place to perform “A Gallery of Rogues” as their 2021 production (their first since 2019 following Lockdown for most of last year). And thus, breezing my way past the various posters for WI and other local events, I found myself in this rather modern and well equipped hall.
The evening was in two parts – the first being a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Trial By Jury”, a one act comic opera, and the second being the company performing a number of well known songs from many different musical shows.
“Trial by Jury” is a comic opera in one act, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. It was first produced in 1875, at London’s Royalty Theatre, where it initially ran for 131 performances and was considered a hit. The story concerns a “breach of promise of marriage” lawsuit in which the judge and the legal system are the objects of light-hearted satire. As with most G&S operas, the plot of “Trial by Jury” is ludicrous, but the characters behave as if the events were perfectly reasonable. This narrative technique blunts some of the pointed barbs aimed at hypocrisy, especially of those in authority, and the sometimes base motives of supposedly respectable people and institutions. The success of “Trial by Jury” launched the famous series of 13 collaborative works between Gilbert and Sullivan that came to be known as the Savoy Operas.
In this production, using mostly modern dress, no scenery, and virtually no props, the guys and gals from DMT had nowhere to hide. Using only a simple piano accompaniment, it was down to the strength and quality of the voices only. And, after a slightly nervous start, they pretty well nailed it, with each singer growing in confidence as the play progressed. The call-and-response choruses, so beloved of G&S fans, were used to great effect and the whole production swung along with very few flaws. Of particular note were Naomi Ibbetson as The Plaintiff, and Tom Hazell as The Defendant. The supporting roles, especially the three bridesmaids, were also strongly played to great effect.
The second half consisted of a series of songs from various musicals including “Cats”, “Oliver” and “The Wizard of Oz”, culminating in a full-cast version of the Lockdown classic “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”. Not a dry eye in the house.
For me, it was a good evening of entertainment, and well worth the trip out to Lavington. And I’d say the rest of the audience agreed, as the applause was hard and long. However, I’m still mystified as to why a concert that clearly took a lot of time and effort to be produced was only to be given this single performance, and why at such an out-of-town venue. Surely more people would have gone to see DMT in action if this had used a more Devizes-central location?
One reason why I enjoyed Jesus Christ Superstar at Devizes Wharf Theatre yesterday evening, is similar to why I like sci-fi and fantasy genres.
No, hear me out, long winded it maybe, but there’s a point! With sci-fi you can take an earth-bound concept, and moving it from its usual perimeters, see it for what it truly is, without being predetermined via propaganda or personal opinion. Example; racism. Take a green coloured race of aliens fighting with a blue race, and from outside looking in you can see how completely meaningless and rash it is.
Jesus Christ Superstar throws out preconceptions of this renowned Easter story, bought about by biblical re-enactments and more commonly accepted adaptions. In essence, it’s a rock opera, opera is tragedy, and rock music is modernised, least it was when Tim Rice and Andrew Llyod Webber created it.
I often wonder what it was like for Michael Jackson, in the limo to the show, mobbed by obsessive devotees throwing themselves unashamedly at him. In a way, the tragic desolation and isolation of fame is more the subject in question, rather than the biblical Easter story. Just like our sci-fi scenario, it never suggests a religious connection, never states definitively that Jesus is the son of God. It takes the story out of the usual context and reconnects the dots.
The set is deliberately void, mostly of black backdrop, and props are minimal. Rather than a school play’s amateurishly painted scene, the darkness leaves the setting to your imagination. While Nazareth and Rome are mentioned, there’s no depiction of it. The concentration is flowed into the characters and music. For Jesus here is unlike another representation; in fact, I’d argue Brian from Monty Python’s “Life of” is closer! Played convincingly by Jordan Overton, if this was intentional, I found Jesus actually quite irritating. Far from blasphemous given the circumstances, for here he’s unforgiving, frustrated at the mounting iconic hysteria surrounding him. Probably more likely how it would be, especially in the modern era.
If Jordan made a grand job of it, more so did the surrounding characters, for Judas is Jerry if Jesus is Tom, the tension between the two the narrative. Arguably Peter Assirati’s performance is passionately executed greater, the focus on his despair is equal pegging, as Judas feels overexposure will be Jesus’s ruin. Like washed up rock stars or actors in the modern era, we know from tragedies like Marylin Monroe, to Whitney and Kurt Cobain, the feeling is real. In a way then, the lines between protagonist and antagonist are blurred, another reason why I liked this piece of musical theatre.
More general is the third reason; the Wharf is such a splendid asset to Devizes. This historic shoebox theatre central to town is so welcoming, if the doormat was curled at the edge staff would lie over it so you don’t trip. Chat in the auditorium is not of condescending theatre-goers and thespians, rather an almost family ambience with an age demographic to match. As with most venues, lockdown flogged this theatre, kicking it while it was down. Those who can, bearing in mind ticket stubs here are far more reasonably priced than city playhouses, are dutybound to help it to its feet. I witnessed said devotion firmly in place already, as Jesus Christ Superstar plays to a full house.
The fourth reason I enjoyed it is simply the surprise element. I went in critical, didn’t expect to actually like it, given the theme tune’s school playground variant of yore, set to ridicule it with Yamahas and dustbin lids, was wedged in my mind. Anyone younger will have to ask Alexa about this; I’ve exposed my age enough already!
I tip my hat to the performances of additional characters, Pete Winterton casted perfectly for the seventies-fashioned game show host version of Herod, breathing one humorous element to the tragedy, at least! Francis Holmes as Caiaphas made for the textbook managerial role and convincingly bellowed his solo with professionalism.
Emma Holmes and Chris Smith’s recitals of Simon and Peter, respectively, being especially poignant. None so much though as Mary Magdalene, played by Cassy Swann, who, with her astute expressions of woe and loyalty, her superior voice commanded the stage above all else. In this, full credit has also to be awarded to Victoria Warren, music director, and the band, Jennifer Cardno, Bob Ball, Claire Borovac and John Joy, for limited to a four-piece, amalgamated the show to epic and euphoric proportions.
You should note, if you go see this, at the time, amidst the hullabaloo surrounding its controversial subject, it took the best part of decade to alter from rock opera album to the stage in London, and only because of its success in the USA. True music fans will recognise this more as an album of music than a play, ergo the dynamics of elaborate stage effects are deliberately stripped back, the opening of Jesus Christ Superstar rightfully displays the band playing the overture prior to actors taking their stance. But go see it you should; decide quick and seize a ticket post haste. It’s only running at the Wharf Theatre until this Saturday, the 18th September, and last time I checked, tickets are up for grabs weekdays, Saturday is sold out.
Not as eminent as the Yorkshire pud or the Bakewell tart, Devizes does have its own pie; who knew? Furthermore, what kind of monstrosity could the filling be;a generous helping of 6X, farmer Perkin’s old boot fished from the crammer, perhaps?! How offal could it possibly be (see what I did there?)
I’ll tell you, shall I, as that’s a lot of questions to digest? Though when I do tell you, you might favour digesting them instead. Basically, it’s cold calf’s head, complete with brains, some pickled tongue, sweetbreads, lamb and veal added, with bacon, and hard-boiled eggs; nice.
It might not sound very Devizes, being it’s got brains, but the final couple of questions for today are, can we modernise it, with, I dunno, doner meat and chips? And why all the fuss now about some fifteenth century pie recipe?
While I’m happy to hear many events of The Devizes Food Festival have already sold out, they’re keen to bring back the pie, least with an opportunity to create a new Devizes Pie.
Yes, keen cooks and pie enthusiasts are being invited to create a new recipe for the celebrated Devizes Pie, which will appeal to modern tastes at this year’s Devizes Food and Drink Festival.
There will be two categories – a meat pie and a vegetarian pie – and an entrance fee of £3 per pie.
Sponsored by multi award-winning West Country Devizes based butchers, Walter Rose & Sons, the winner of each category will receive a £100 voucher to spend on Rose’s exceptional locally sourced meat, fresh fish or choose from their extensive delicatessen products.
Entrants will be asked to create a pie containing any assortment of meat, vegetables, and other flavourful ingredients encased in pastry and suitable to be served and eaten cold [as was the original]. Imagination and taste exploration is the order of the day!
Judging will take place at 12 noon on Saturday 25th September, the opening day of the weeklong festival, in the Corn Exchange, Market Place, Devizes. The Walter Rose Devizes Pie competition 2021 will be judged by Lisa Markwell, editor of ‘Dish’, the Sunday Times food magazine, Steve Cook, director Walter Rose & Sons and Chris Gay, Mayor of Devizes, who said, “this is such an excellent competition. I have eaten a Devizes pie made from the original old recipe and it is certainly not a pie that would appeal to many modern pie eaters! A new and delicious Devizes Pie, to add to all our other tasty, local specialties, is a wonderful idea. Well done, Devizes Food Festival.”
Quite; you and Terry Wogan alone, Chris!
TO ENTER: Enter on-line via the festival website or via Devizes Books, tickets will be available from 16th August. Entrants will need to register their interest, complete the entry form and purchase a £3 ticket per pie [link on website]. Each person may enter as many pies as they like, with each pie attracting a £3 entrance fee.
PIES must be served cold, measure about 20cm/8” in diameter and be enveloped in a pastry case. An ingredients list should be provided highlighting any known allergens. Two categories: Meat and Vegetarian.
But away with all this, sounds far too nice for a Devizine article, I want to get the lowdown on exactly why we have a calf’s brain pie in the first place, why we couldn’t be famous for an ice cream sundae or something like that instead!
The cookery book of one Mrs Dalgairns holds the answer, and she’s not even local, God dammit!
She was born in 1788 on Prince Edward Island in Canada, the location of the Anne of Green Gables books. Mrs Dalgairns was of American\Scots heritage and had family in India; she didn’t even know where Derrick’s Deals come from, let alone who Ruth Peirce was!
She produced a prodigious volume of recipes, 1,597 in total, in multiple editions, dating from 1829-1860 and with culinary influences that reflected her origins, but Devizes Food Festival explains, it is not at all obvious how she came by the recipe for Devizes Pie. She just stuck a pin in a map, I’d presume, a pie with brains after all is hardly apt!
Though the Food Festival say, the lack of clear connections can only allude to the fact that our pie was popular and is therefore a good one. You be the judge of that, I’m off down the Rowdey Cow, and would rather look forward to an updated recipe; the original recipe is below:
Cut into very thin slices, after being dressed, cold calf’s head, with some of the brains, pickled tongue, sweetbreads, lamb, veal, a few slices of bacon, and hard-boiled eggs; put them in layers into a pie-dish, with plenty of seasoning between each, of cayenne, white pepper, allspice, and salt; fill up the dish with rich gravy; cover it with a flour-and-water paste; bake it in a slow oven, and when perfectly cold, take off the crust, and turn the pie out upon a dish; garnish it with parsley and pickled eggs cut into slices.
You remember being given some coursework, when back in higher education, with various objectives and your task was to choose one to complete? Not really wanting to do it, you go to the student at the top of the class, and ask them what they’ve done. They reply, “ah, not much,” and this gives you the cue to do absolutely nothing. Then, on the day of handing it in, they’ve unexpectedly produced the single-most awesome project, covering all the objectives in one ingenious combination, and you stand there with zilch, except a jaw hanging and an implausible excuse, which you made up on the bus coming in?!
I’d imagine Onika Venus to be just like that. Now Bristol-based, Jamaican-born Onika plays Trowbridge Town Hall on September 18th, so, given reggae is cited as an influence, I thought I’d check out her debut solo album, Everything You Are, which was released back in March.
The title track was chosen as Songsmith’s Song of the Year 2020, and it’s easy to hear why. I’ve not been this blown away by a female vocalist since discovering Minneapolis’s Mayyadda.
Immediately this pushed my buttons, but if this opening title tune is decidedly acoustic blues, with a distant harmonica resounding in the background, there’s a truckload more going on than the first impressions here.
The premise from the beginning is as simple as, Onika Venus has the prevailing soulful voice to carry whatever genre is thrown into the melting pot, and drizzle it over you like hot sauce. It only leaves you pondering how far she will take it. The second tune I pigeonholed as RnB pop, a contemporary Macy Gray or Erykah Badu, aiming for chart success. When I’m Broken carries this concept to a higher height, and is simply, the model formula of popular music every song should aim for.
Yet, three songs in and here comes the Caribbean influence. Friday Love has a clear mento feel, it’s immediately beguiling, a good-time chugging song in the face the despondent romance theme. This will occur again towards the middle the album with Who’s Been loving You. Again, with Shotgun there’s similar appeal, perhaps the most definable as “roots reggae,” and, for me, they’re the favoured sections.
But it swaps back to the mainstay for track four, steady soul with an orchestrated ambience; Everything has its Season, is the ideal equilibrium to bless that heavenly voice and compose this euphoric moment of bliss. After a surprising modern dancehall intro, we’re back to an acoustic guitar riff for the poignant The Storm, using sax to mitigate jazz. I Need You, though, has kick-ass funk, Ike & Tina Turner in their prime.
With only three tunes to go, just when you think influences have been exhausted, there’s a duet with a male voice, supplied by husband, Mark, Mary, sounds classic Americana, as if Joe Cocker just walked into the studio and said, why don’t you try this?!
To keep you guessing what the last couple of tunes will hold, yeah, folk is strapped onto soul, Reaper Man aches of Aretha Franklin, but by this point you just know Onika Venus can carry this off with bells on. Raising the bar of comparisons is justified, believe me. For when it’s funky I’d give you Randy Crawford, Chaka Khan, and when it levels with acoustic and folk, her voice dishes out notions of reggae heroines, of Phyllis Dillon or Marcia Griffiths, and the gospel finale, yeah, Aretha will be justified, if not Sister Rosetta Tharpe; it is this magnificent.
Yet, unlike all these aforementioned legends, the style here is not monocultured, neither does it jerk from genre to genre without consistency and flow. Onika Venus gives volumes to the eclecticism, and it moulds efficaciously into one melting pot, beautifully. Prior to this solo launch, in a band called Slyde, her voice customised their breakbeat, techno and house style, to great effect, and I can well believe it. The flexibility of her skill is captured here, I’d imagine as comprehensively as she chooses personally, and just as the student who bursts in effortlessly, with the homework complete and to an exceptional standard, Onika Venus makes this look easy!
Okay, I’ll get my coat. Leave it to the professionals, one of whom announced this morning, Devizes is on his hitlist. Husband of comedy supremo Sarah Millican, and king of the one-liners, Gary Delaney delivers his hilarious tour, “Gary in Punderland,” to our honoured little town on Thursday 5th May 2022, appearing at the Corn Exchange……
The double Sony Award Winner and Chortle Award nominee is a regular on Mock The Week. Gary is the only comic ever to have got two gags in the same top 10 for Dave’s TV Funniest Jokes from the Edinburgh Fringe, and his current tour took in over 200 venues; we’re so glad to hear he’s heading our way. After selling out his Andover show, and in the absence of a Swindon show, it was decided that Devizes offered the best central location, and easiest access in Wiltshire to attract his fans. Devizions love a bit of joking about, look at the councillors we elected….ba boom!!
If you’re hunting for snark, Gary’s got it covered! Not one to get too bogged down in serious stuff, like political and social observations, he leaves that to other comedians. Gary Delaney is known for his machinegun rapid, quick fire one liners, which take you away from your daily lives for the evening, something I’d imagine we all could do with. He loves each and every gag, and you can’t help but be carried away by his infectious charm. He’s like a cheeky schoolboy who can barely hide his glee with each and every punchline.
Courtesy of Sheer Music, we’ve been holding onto this news for a while, aching to tell you, honest! So, if you’re ready to dive into a rabbit hole of the best jokes in the world, star of Live at the Apollo and sell-out sensation Gary Delaney is your man.
WIN A COUPLE OF TICKETS!!
But to help you prepare, and you know, to celebrate this fantastic news, I want you to think up your best one liner, the very crème de la crème of your wit, and either send it to us using the box below, or commenting on the Facebook share of this article. Facebook users, ensure you’ve liked our page, invited your friends to like it too, and shared the post; I will be checking!
Also, ensure you have commented on the official Devizine Facebook page’s post, and not those shared to other groups and pages, I cannot trace them all, hunting for your joke, no matter how bad it might be; for that’s a joke in itself!
Closing Date for this competition: 4th October 2021. You must be over 18 to enter the competition.
Meanwhile I’m going to arrange for a score of top comedy judges to decide on the best one, (which will more than likely be my daughter and I, or if we can, Gary Delaney might help!) and they will WIN TWO FREE TICKETS! Note, this event is strictly 16+, and wheelchair access and seats are available.
Our rambling reporter, T.B.D Rose, hangs up her walking boots for a moment, to enjoy a guided tour of our town gem, The Wiltshire Museum….
Opened in 1873, Wiltshire Museum, on 41 Long Street Devizes, isn’t much to look at from the front but holds a nationally renowned world of wonders in its walls.
Walking me through the basics of the museum’s most famed collections was its director of over 12 years, David Dawson.
David often finds that although the museum is the major attraction for visitors, the reception with locals is a different story: they often take a “oh yeah, I went to the museum 30 years ago, there’s not much there, it’s not for me” attitude, and that it’s as simply “a tiny museum full of cobwebs and it’s stuck in a part of town they don’t go to.”
As the age-old adage goes, it’s easier to look at the outside than it is the inside.
The Assize Court
For these reasons and to save another treasured part of local history, the museum is working with Assize Court Trust in a long-term plan to make the abandoned Devizes Assize Court the new home of Wiltshire Museum.
Following a consultation this time last year, a hundred-page report of what could engage visitors was produced. It doesn’t differ much from the current set up of the museum but will probably make it worth £2,000000 to the local economy, more than twice it’s worth currently.
Although he sees the enormous potential once the museum moves to the Assizes Court, David wants people to visit the museum now and hopes to reach our local readership.
So on to the museum!
Stonehenge and the Bronze Age
Having started our interview in a part of the building that was once a Georgian grammar school, it turns out the museum is in fact five buildings knocked together, including two Georgian town houses and a link building.
We begin on the ground floor covering the Bronze Age which was once a 1980s art gallery extension, the floor having originally been converted into the museum in 1872.
David gives me the rundown.
“What we’re best known for is our prehistory collection, particularly the Bronze Age, so that’s the time from about 2200 BC to 1500 BC, and what everyone thinks of at that time is Stonehenge.” The world-famous monument that needs no introduction.
For people looking for something closer to home, “Stonehenge seems a long way away, we do have objects from a burial on top of Roundway, Roundway down, which has the largest copper dagger ever found in Britain. And that’s a much earlier burial that’s about 2300 BC. And we think he, the chap who was buried there, probably grew up on the continent. But came across and was buried here.”
The objects he was buried with are currently in a traveling exhibition in the US, having been at four venues so far it will eventually be going to New Zealand and Australia.
“At the moment we’re also lending to two exhibitions in Germany, and that’s Stonehenge and the Bronze Age. And come early next year we’ll be lending some of our stuff to the British museum for a major exhibition about prehistoric Europe, because we have the best Bronze Age collection in the country.”
“So other museums have to come to us to cover the Bronze Age.”
As it’s important to note, David eloquently explains away a common misconception about our ancestors: “Most people think people at the time were like Fred Flintstone bashing each other over the head with clubs, no! These guys were really, really sophisticated.”
I won’t spoil it any further for you but this part of the museum is certainly the place for archaeology buffs.
The Kingdom of the Saxons
Here you can learn all about the Saxon people and the coming of Christianity and the branches of the Church, the most often noted one founded by St. Nicholas and brought to our shores by St. Augustine.
In addition to this often-referenced part of our religious development, David points out a less commonly known factor, “what everyone forgets is that the Irish Church survived from the late Roman period and there were missionaries coming across from Ireland, and so in Malmesbury for example there was an Irish monk who founded a monastery, before the St. Augustine type of missionary arrived.”
Among many other colourful characters, you can also learn the life story of a Christian woman of high status, who may have been an Abbes and possibly even the daughter of a King of Wessex.
The Story of Devizes
An aptly named section which, as David put it, “does what it says on the can.”
Beginning from, well, the earliest beginning to prehistory and the Romans (there having been Roman settlements here) through to Medieval town and castle, and a wonderful quirkily constructed model by John Girvan (our local tour guide, history buff and ghost walk host) of what the town may have looked like.
And also on show is a book of charters given to the town and made in the Tudor Period, which you’ll see is beautifully illustrated.
“We also talk about the story of The Battle of Roundway, and we’ve also got some cannon balls found in the town, musket balls found in the battle site,” etc.
There’s also a section on the old Prison (the museum even has one of its thick wooden barred doors) and the Asylum.
“There’s going to be a Channel Four program that’s going to dig up bits of the Prison from people’s back gardens,” says David, that the museum is involved in, which will start essentially in the second week of September.
Then you can see the majestic mayoral robe from the 1880s, we probably had our first mayor around 12000.
Fun fact if you’re a Devizes School Student: you’ll see a mourning ring in the cabinet beside the robe, it contains a lock of hair from the lady in the portrait that hangs in the school entrance.
In the next room David told me the heart-warming story of a boy and his toy submarine (now on display in the cabinet), made by prisoners of war who had befriended him while they were in Swindon building houses.
“This toy submarine was made by guys in the camp and given to a young lad in Swindon. The guys in the camp were being taken to Swindon to help build houses and they made friends with this lad and they gave him that as a present.”
With over 20,000 books and 20,000 archaeological journals, 30,000 photos and lots of archival material, and working with “over 30 postgraduate researchers every year and over 10 universities,” it’s not only a Library but also a research hub.
For anyone wanting to look through the archive, “pretty much everything we’ve got is searchable through our online database, it’s got images of everything, I think we’ve got about 15-20,000 images.”
The library’s archive of books, some donated by authors and others bought by the museum, covers the entire county.
I bid David adieu and thanked him for the informative tour: Bear in mind this was only a tour of the highlights, there’s far more in store for visitors.
Wiltshire Museum is funded by £12,780 in grant from Wiltshire Council and £4,000 from our Town Council, but they’re worth 3 quarters of a million pounds to the local economy, because as David illustrates, “when people come here, most of our visitors are making a special visit to Devizes to come to the Museum. Then of course they’re staying in B&Bs or hotels and spending money in pubs and shops and restaurants.”
Believe me, it’s not the boring, fuddy-duddy cobwebby museum you may remember. So, I for one reckon it’s time to show our support and appreciation for Wiltshire Museum!
Us locals ought to pay our prized museum a visit now and then, especially families so our kids can engage with the exhibits and have a sense of their history.
A Gallery of Rogues, huh? Can’t be, they look okay to me; it’s always the quiet one. I’m just pleased to hear the Devizes Musical Theatre is back and coming to a Market Lavington Community Hall near you!
Presenting a complete performance of “Trial by Jury,” W.S Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan together witha collection of other ditties, performed by members of the cast, and directed by Laura Deacon and Susan Braunton.
On the 21st October 1965, Devizes Musical Theatre (formerly named ‘Devizes Light Operatic Society’) was born. A society committed to the arts, with an emphasis on fun, team work and a love for all things musical. Since, ‘DMT’ has grown into the talented, passionate and friendly society that it is today.
The society performs two full-scale productions each year with a number of concerts and showcases alongside these. In two sections; youth (‘DMT Footlights’) or adult, aged 8 or 80 they have something for you! On stage, behind the scenes or front of house alike, they are always keen to welcome new people.
Rehearsals began in a back garden and they’re now ready to bring you a large slice of G&S, followed by a pot pourri of songs. A light-hearted evening’s entertainment for all the family, on 11th September. Doors at 7:30pm, £7 payable on the door. Or email email@example.com to reserve your tickets.