Songs of the Sea

Well, for a writing blog there’s a heck of a lot about singing on here. This post is no exception.

vocal chords July 19th FlyerVocal Chords, my regular choir, are splashing out in Forest Hill on Saturday July 19th (The only day that week that I’m not rehearsing or performing in Count Ory at Blackheath.

3pm St Saviour’s Church, Brockley Rise, SE23.

£5. Proceeds to Seaman’s Mission and St Saviour’s.

I will also be selling books, though not at the same time as I’m singing (as far as I know!)

There’s a bit of everything, from passionate (Ready for the Storm, Crossing the Bar) to bonkers (Sailor with the Navy Blue Eyes, Under the Sea), by way of traditional (Sea Coal, Haul Away Joe) and lots more.

A fun afternoon out, pretty much guaranteed.

LGBTHM – Cafe of Good Hope

This event was very cosy – last public reading for LGBT History Month, and local, and with friends. I think we pulled out all the stops.

Sadly Rebecca Idris had been sent to the Ukraine by her employers (what had she done to deserve that?) so was not able to join us, so we each read more than we would otherwise have done.

Here are the results.

Cath Blackfeather CoGHCatherine Blackfeather reading from her novel Mitchie, about a young woman cross-dressing to survive the western frontier of nineteenth century Canada.

Me reading from Leaving (London Lies) a story set in a pub just down the road from where we were reading.

V A Fearon C0GHV A Fearon reading two sections from her novel The Girl with the Treasure Chest about gang negotiator, Dani.

Back to Cath for a section of her latest (still looking for a publisher). I don’t think she gave us a title, so I’ve called it For the Boys for now: Gareth has an assignment…

And finally me again, with a section of A Second-hand Emotion – in which preparations for a big date are in full swing.

We all really enjoyed the event, thanks to Richard Shaw (Hither Green Hall) for organising and Bobby Mizen (Cafe of Good Hope) for hosting, and thanks for the audience for coming along, laughing in the right places, and contributing to the collection for Gay Switchboard.

By the way, at other events this month we’ve been collecting for Stonewall, and raised £35.22

LGBT History month: reading at North Kensington Library – video

This week I did two readings from Mosaic of Air for LGBT History Month, the first at North Kensington Library.

(note about the videos: my website randomly allocates different formats to video, not all of which work with internet explorer: they all work with Mozilla Firefox so try that of you can’t see them!)

Here I read from Ladies Pleasure, which is set in an old people’s home.

And a new piece Clock: most of the action takes place at the top of a thirteenth century clock tower in a north european town, although the action is set in the late nineteenth century.

And the story which gave Arachne Press its name: Arachne’s Daughters, in which a  spider gives a lecture (introduced and interjected into by Alix, playing ‘the archivist’)

and finally, Penelope is No Longer Waiting, my first ever published story, in which the Odyssey gets a different ending.

The plan is to read different stories at each event, so watch this space for more video or audio recordings, or come along to the last three events: The Story Sessions Queer Tales on 19th February, Crofton Park Library on 21st, and Cafe of Good Hope Rainbow Readings on the 26th.

Oh, and I’m going to be on the RADIO, on Out in South London on Resonance FM on Tuesday 18th February at some point between 6.30 and 7.30, repeated Sunday at 10am, talking about LGBT History Month.

King Priam, ETO, Linbury Studio

Alix’s birthday treat – Tippett’s King Priam by English Touring Opera at the Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House.

This is what happens when you get involved in community opera – you get friends with the professionals, and you go to see something because someone you know is in it, (four someones in this instance – Grant Doyle, Nick Sharratt, Charne Rochford and Clarissa Meek) and you expand your musical horizons.

Pertinent in the centenary of WWI to be at an explicitly pacifist opera, and pertinent also in LGBT history month to be at a work by an openly gay composer, and a gay relationship depicted in Achilles and Patroclus. And anyone who knows me will know I will take an interest in anything based on the Iliad. A useful pre-performance talk involved a climb to the top of the building and then a rush back down to the bowels of the sub-sub-basement that is the Linbury.

I did find myself wondering whether it is possible to write a drama about pacificism without writing about war, but then I got caught up in the action and the music and forgot about it. Tippett’s work is clever and thought provoking, allowing us inside the head of the title role as Priam speaks to both Hermes (Adrian Dwyer – excellent) and the key players in the fateful decision to condemn and then save Paris as a child.

As a chorus member I pay a lot of attention to choral work, and Tippett is generous to his chorus, giving them first shot at scaring the audience, with a stunning bit of orchestrated screaming at the beginning (which is echoed at the end), that had me sitting up and thinking, oh-ho, this is going to be fun. In the confined space (and fourth row seats) the sound absolutely battered me.  The chorus for the Trojan slaves in act three was excellent too and the chorus were well choreographed, making good use of the limited space, and very comfortable with standing stock still but still acting, particularly when they glare out into the audience as they follow the imagined course of Hector’s corpse dragged behind Achilles’ chariot.

The opera relies on trios both dramatically and musically and they work magnificently; three goddesses, three commentators – Old Man, Nurse, Young Guard), Hecuba, Helen and Andromache, Priam and his two sons, and in this production the battle scenes resolve into threes regularly too. The music for the trios was the most interesting for me – the solo instrument accompaniment for the solos I found a bit obvious and contrary after the first few times, and lacking subtlety, but then I don’t think Tippett was after subtlety.

I absolutely cannot fault anyone on their singing, the whole evening was a feast for the ears, from the piping of choral scholar Thomas Delgado-Little as young Paris, and Clarissa Meek‘s stern Nurse, right through to Grant Doyle‘s cheerfully pugnacious Hector.   Dramatically speaking Laure Meloy is a ferocious Hecuba, while Camilla Roberts is a rather sulky Andromache – Tippett’s fault not Camilla’s, Andromache is more Roman matron than Trojan widow – the implied entitlement to her position and her grief at the death her husband (ranting about whose grief is more important), is rather unappealing. I’ve always had a soft spot for Andromache and it pained me to see her characterised like this.

Much is made in the programme and the pre-performance talk of the third act scene between Helen and Andromache and Hecuba, but I found it a bit expositional (if that’s a word), and I found Helen herself profoundly irritating, I did not feel Niamh Kelly‘s sultry temptress (all Theda Bara) got close to the required demi-goddess we are meant to see, and Helen is meant to present in herself (‘I am Helen’ she sings regularly, as though excusing herself and everyone else for bad behaviour) she has a fabulous voice however.

Interestingly, the characters which Tippett more or less invents – Old Man (Andrew Slater), Young Guard (Adam Tunnicliffe) and Nurse (Clarissa Meek) get some of the best moments, perhaps because Tippett didn’t feel the need to stick to the Iliad.

The design got in the way occasionally, the metal shape mid-stage which acts as throne room, natural rock outcrop and temple, occasionally blocked the chorus and indeed the orchestra – although in seat higher up it might not have been a problem. Although the women’s costumes were mostly exquisite (especially Hecuba), and the use of bone, antler and feather, whilst illogical, was rather entertaining, I was bewildered by the thrown-together look of the male cast – nothing seemed to fit, and the less said about the Japanese style eiderdown skirt for Priam, and curtains (no really, they were definitely curtains) for Paris’ trousers the better; both Roderick Earle and Nicholas Sharratt rose above these impediments, in particular in the scene when they sing a trio on the walls, as Grant Doyle’s Hector prepares to go out to face Achilles, his bravado undermined by dread, and silly Paris still not getting it that this is all his fault. Nick also got the silliest helmet award – the only men comfortable in their armour were Patroclus (ironic since it was meant to be borrowed)  and the Young Guard.

I was disappointed that I occasionally needed the screens with the words (inconveniently to either side of the stage) Mostly the diction was crystal clear but with Charne Rochford I struggled, which was a pity as his scene with Patroclus (an excellent Piotr Lempa) was beautiful, having to glance away to work out what he was singing was a shame.

It is a bleak work, but there are flashes of bitter humour – Paris, suggesting he, Helen and Priam escape and found a new Troy (foreshadowing the Aeneid) is rebutted by Priam with you aren’t the founding sort; the chorus of slaves not caring who owns them – it’s just a change of ownership.

Tippett constantly contrasts cruelty and compassion, and a complexity of what-ifs leading from the first prophesy of Paris’ life meaning Priam’s death (but not Hector’s, as his stricken father weeps) to perhaps generations of retribution; Roderick Earle absolutely convinces as Priam in these later scenes.And it is, appropriately, the grief in the opera is the most convincingly played, with Achilles’ war cry, sung on stage by Charne Rochford, a wordless ullulation of anguish and anger, like a baying hound, fatal and threatening and despairing.

I’m sure the rest of the run is sold out, but it would be worth checking for returns, despite my minor quibbles, an exciting evening of first class music.

Opening tonight -Orpheus and Eurydice

Playing Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday this week. Platform Theatre, Central St Martins, Kings Cross N1C 4AA. Box Office

We’re singing in the chorus Thursday evening, and both performances Saturday and Sunday.

Orpheus and Eurydice at the Platform

Orpheus & EurydiceCome and watch/listen to English Pocket Opera Company‘s production of Gluck’s masterpiece, Orpheus & Eurydice. 21st – 26th January, at
the Platform Theatre,
Central St Martin’s,
Handyside Street
King’s Cross
London N1C 4AA
Short sharp and sweet, we’ll take you to hell and back, with the eccentric story of Orpheus I don’t think I will be accused of plot spoilers when I say that it is an opera that starts with a funeral and ends with a wedding. Love overcomes all. (Sigh).

We get to sing that immortal line Cerbrus the dog of Hell will crush your bones as well, (I keep wanting to sing crunch your bones, but will resist on the day, promise.) This is one of my top five favourite operas and has some of the best tunes in the history of the western world … how can you resist?

Weekday matinees it’s children in the chorus, Weekend, and the weekday evenings it’s amateur adults.

Each scene is designed by a different set designer, and its going to be innovative and entertaining. Come and enjoy.

tickets from the box office

Inspirations – Russian Fairytales, illustrations and London Bridge

Two stories came from the same picture, which I have been completely unable to trace. I think it is from an edition of The Snow Queen, and the illustrator might have been Kay Neilsen or Edmund Dulac or possibly Arthur Rackham, but as I’ve been unable to track it down I can’t confirm; maybe, like the rest of the story, I dreamt it.

The Bone Box (Mosaic of Air) definitely owes something to Kay Neilsen, whose illustration of the North Wind for East of the Sun, West of the Moon (a book I haven’t read!) influenced the design of the story and the language too. I had a reproduction of this picture on my pin board for about eight years. Neilsen’s North Wind is a solid, rather Art Deco god. This lent simplicity to the language I used, while my heroine, Adamanta, got her stubbornness from the frowning wind, and her good sense from the girl in the lost picture, in her voluminous coat. If this was a real fairytale its origins would be in Siberia, despite the lack of snow.

Another girl in an oversized coat features in All Hallows, (Tales Told Before Cockcrow) where she embodies my objections to TS Eliot’s claim that London Bridge is swarming with ghosts – ghosts don’t go anywhere, I remember thinking, and started wondering about the everyday ghosts, the homeless, with nowhere to go, and I imagined this ghost rooted to the spot, in all the surging humanity that is London and the more I thought about her the further back in time she went. This could have been really long, but I reused some scenes for the beginning of another novel, and this remains what it started as: concerned with what it is that keeps a ghost rooted to a place through time and how they might be set free by the right intervention.

National Short Story Week

National Short Story Week this year is 13-20th November.

Now that I’m so busy doing publishing and stuff, celebrating the short story is all the more important to me, so I’ve done a guest blog over of the NSSW website, all about performing at Towersey.

Also, continuing the live literature theme, I will be reading my story Mirror at the Arachne Press hosted Armistice Tales, which is on 13th November, in National Short Story Week; at the lovely Ivy House in Nunhead.

Come along and listen, and join in the ‘flash from the floor’ 100 word challenge.

Singing for water

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are only ten days to go before Sing for Water, at the Mayor’s Thames Festival. Preparation chez nous has been a bit sporadic, as we’ve only been able to get to two of Vocal Chords rehearsals. However, we had an impromptu practice with a couple of friends on Tuesday, and might gatecrash a Nunhead Community Choir rehearsal tonight if there is one (lost the list of dates) and there’s one more VC evening we can make. Preparation apart from that has gone hand in hand with decorating the hall, bellowing along to Let Love Rain Down (my favourite) or Yemaya on the MP3 while sanding skirting boards, and more mellow carolling has happened to Moon River and Gmerto while painting the bannisters. What must the neighbours think!

If you would like to sponsor Vocal Chords for our contribution to Sing for Water, which raises money for WaterAid, to bring safe clean water to those who need it, you can donate via our virgin money giving page

We have raised £690 (£853.75 with gift aid) on the page so far, and it would be great to get that to £1000.

It would also be great if you can come and swell the audience on the day. 15th September 2.30ish. get there for 2 to be on the safe side, and get a seat, there will several hundred of us singing, so space for the audience gets quite tight!

On the Side of the Angels 1

An occassional dip into the early medieval paintings in the National Gallery, London, prompted by a four-hour longeur at a conference and proximity to beauty – and my inability to resist putting words into the mouths of painted faces, and motives into painted attitudes.
Wilton Diptych 1390’s anonymous.
richard IIKing Richard II kneels on the left, gazing towards the Virgin, his hands raised but slightly apart as though waiting to catch something.

On the right, Heaven looks crowded, the sky golden and figured, more like a great gate than the firmament, pressing up against the regiments of cobalt clad angels.

The back row are there under protest, even though they all wear the white hart brooch as Richard does.  Their arms are crossed or interlinked, as they tug at each other.
Come away, they say, he’s not dead yet, and he’s not at all good, so why would we be interested in his prayers?
The kneeling,shrugging angel rose-bedecked angel, who perhaps should be interceding with the virgin, raises a hand indicating lost causes, it will shrug in a moment.
Lady, it says, there’s nothing here for you.
On the far side of the virgin, an angel points derisively, and its companion sniggers.
You aren’t going to listen to him are you?

It seems that despite the heavenly chorus, the virgin will listen.
To Richard’s benefit, he has on his team Edward the confessor and St Edmund, both English kings, like himself, and both venerated as saints – and the Baptist.

Is Richard implying that all it takes is for the Baptist (his patron saint) to give the word, and this callow youth will also be sainted? There is something of hubris here.
The only angel notionally fighting Richard’s corner carries a St George pennant, but can only bring itself to point him out to the Christ child with a furtive finger, embarrassed at the scorn of its fellows.
welcoming childThe child stands out against the heavenly blue in his golden blanket, his feet press against his mother upper arm and hand, and leaning vigorous and gurgling towards Richard, he crooks a welcoming hand.
Come on in, he says, you get used to the laughter, and it’s a great deal better than weeping – your choice, obviously.
The angels sneer discreetly and waft off, no doubt to ensure good seats at the latest harp concert.

Go and see the real thing at the National Gallery, make up your own story…

© Cherry Potts 2013