Culture and cake at ArtBeat 2015

The last day but not the last of ArtBeat

Culture and cake at ArtBeat 2015I detected a definite spring in my step as on a lovely sunny morning I walked round to Vernon House, sheltered housing for the elderly at the end of Avenue Road. We were there for a reprise of With Great Pleasure which we had pioneered at VH last year. When we arrived we were greeted by not only expectant faces but also a splendid display of home-baked goodies by Karen, one of the neighbours. As an accompaniment to morning coffee they were terrific. We had had Poems on Toast on Sunday morning; now it was to be Poems with Cake.

I counted 17 as we sat down and made the introductions. We had a lovely range of poems starting with one from Mary which her father had read to her when she was a little girl. She is still able to recite it word for word. We had an evocative poem by Norman McCaig about his grandmother chosen by Ann which led to some shared recollections about grandmothers; a reading of poetry and prose in honour of the Gurkhas from Derek; a poem by Daphne that her mother had given her on her wedding day that prompted a reminiscence from Kumud about her own wedding; a rousing poem of defiance and pride by Maya Angelou read by Brenda; and much more from Karen, Carol and others. This all gave rise to some lovely shared memories that were heart-warming and life-affirming. It became clear that Vernon House is not just a home for people but a community too. And the cakes were scrumptious. It was really a terrific morning with our friends from Vernon House asking for more return visits of this kind. Make no mistake: the show will go on!

At the other end of the age spectrum we had a great hour of story-telling for small children in the Knighton Library with an African story beautifully told by Jill Jobson. This was followed by an Indian story read by Jane Clarke and vividly illustrated by movement artist Nimisha Parma accompanied by her son on the drum. The fifteen or so small children seated on the floor around them were enthralled and many of them, when invited, made excellent expressive movements of elephants and mice. It was charming and it was great to see the children still engaging so well after a full day at school.

There were two events in the evening of contrasting kinds. At The Lancaster School Steve Cartwright played a set of songs of working-class struggle which was well received by an appreciative audience. And in Fingerprints the usual Tuesday night gathering of Knit and Natter was supplemented by some newcomers who all enjoyed helping each other out as they got to grips with their knitting challenges and enjoyed each other’s company.

The big event of the evening was held in the Knighton and Clarendon Park Club on the corner of Queens Road and Clarendon Park Road. Over a hundred people, regulars and newcomers, were packed into the main bar for a book quiz that had everyone eyes down and whispering in team huddles for an hour and a half. It was thirsty work and the bar was at risk of running out of glasses. The questions were tough but fair and everyone appreciated the challenge. After the winners were announced and prizes given out, we were then treated to a set by Leicester’s top ukulele band, The N’Ukes, who gave us some great renditions, including a novel version of Jumping Jack Flash. It was a gas, gas, gas!

And then finally this blogger was called upon to close the wonderful five days of festival with a piece of doggerel as Epilogue. So here it is.

ArtBeat 2015: Epilogue

Our revels now are ending
The curtain is descending.
Now it’s here, now it’s passed
But what a triumph, what a blast!
Friday evening, sky was blue
Drummers, dancers, singers too;
And Liz’s ode to launch the fun
For young and old and everyone.
Five full days, numbers growing
The curious gather, to’ing, fro’ing.
Musicians, poets, popping up
For pavement drinkers as they sup.
Voices United will never be defeated
Photos e-mailed, facebooked, tweeted.
Lunchtime concerts, numbers spiking
Novice poets, open miking
Richard Gill’s architectural walk
Short story winners, Chalk and Talk
200 visitors I’ve been told
Down th’allotments off Queens Road
People writing for themselves,
Memoir, poetry, fairy-tales
Celidh dancing, zumba, Latin
Where did people do all that in?
Schools and churches, cafes, bars,
Shul, Gurdwara, never far.
I’m sorry, I can’t tell it all
If I go on, it’s bound to pall
Instead I’ll draw this to a close
By mentioning someone I’ve chose
To doff my cap to, novice busker
A lad I know as Thurnby Oscar
Whose pitch was oft by Gareth’s seat
Two symbols of ArtBeat’s heartbeat!
So gentles all, it’s my delight
To bid you all “Safe Home, Good Night”

Open mic at Dos Hermanos

And still there was more

At Christchurch there was another lunchtime concert this time provided by five talented students at Leicester University who sang or played classical songs or songs from musicals such as Oklahoma and Phantom of the Opera. Leicester University does not run a music degree so these are not music students but considering the talent and enthusiasm they displayed they certainly could be. The concert was conducted by Paul Jenkins who conducted the Knighton Chamber orchestra on Sunday and who has done so much to promote music in the university and the local community.

Many of those attending then crossed the road to the Chinese Community Centre where there was a short concert of Chinese music played on traditional instruments. Throughout the afternoon 120 (yes a hundred and twenty!) people came. There were lovely Chinese pancakes and spring rolls to make and eat and visitors had the chance to practise some Chinese crafts such as paper-cutting and calligraphy. This was excellent Chinese hospitality, provided in a modest but generous manner, and an opportunity for people from one culture to get a glimpse into another.

Residents of South Lodge, a home for the elderly on London Road, took part in a With Great Pleasure meeting where they chose poems they wanted to read and talk about. A Shakespeare sonnet, and poems by William Wordsworth and Maya Angelou were read as well as one or two poems written or remembered and recited by themselves. It was a lovely occasion, punctuated by tea and doughnuts, and at the end ArtBeat organisers were asked if they could arrange another later in the year.

At St John’s Parish hall, there was a memoir writing workshop led by Mary Essinger and attended by about fifteen people curious to learn about this increasingly popular genre. After being invited to talk in pairs about a frightening incident in childhood, people were then asked to write about it and then take it in turns to read out what they had written to each other. There were some interesting reminiscences about parents arguing, and children getting lost on a beach when on holiday. I cannot help thinking that this may well lead to an ArtBeat inspired self-managing memoir writing group in the not too distant future.

Later that evening at the same venue people turned out to hear local writers Mahsuda Snaith, Stuart Hill and Andrew Sharp talk about writing. It was great to see some of the winners of the ArtBeat short story writing competition there flushed with their recent success. Each of the three writers on the panel took it in turns to read a sample of their writing and then answer questions from the floor. The event worked well, mainly because the writers were very different in background and in what they chose to write about and also because they were so lacking in ego and generous with each other. The questions from the floor revealed further insights into the process of writing, what motivates people to write and how they get started. It was fascinating to your blogger who only intended to stay for a little while but got so engaged with the writers and the subject matter that I decided to stay for the duration.

Open mic at Dos HermanosBy the time I had finished with this and got to Dos Hermanos for the Open Mic evening, things were really buzzing and the legendary Brian, king of karaoke, was well into his Presley renditions. His singing of The Girl of My Best Friend was masterly and would have had the King worried. Kenny Wilson managed the whole process effortlessly and the denizens of Dos were treated to some excellent music from a number of groups and individuals representing a wide demographic. This was a fitting tribute to local musician Lianne Ashberry to whom the evening was dedicated and an £113 was collected for charity in her memory. Excellent!

Meanwhile at The Cradock Bands Night was in full swing with many of the musicians delighted to be asked because of the fun they had had at the event last year. this was much enjoyed by an appreciative audience.

Poetry on Toast at ArtBeat 2015

Sunday Wonderful ArtBeat Sunday

Poetry on Toast at ArtBeat 2015A full programme of 14 events and activities on Sunday and there is no way I can do justice to all of them. So I will confine myself to comments on those I was able to get to and refer to any other reflections picked up from elsewhere.

For me the day started in a sunlit Fingerprints Cafe with Poems on Toast, a new time and place for the Open Mic for Poets session that had been such a success at Babelas last year. Again the event was well attended, even at 9.30 on a Sunday morning, with up to 40 people coming in and out over the hour.

Local poet Liz Gray led the event calmly at a pace well fitted for the time of day. She encouraged people to read their work and also recited some of her own including a repeat of the festival ode she had written for the launch and a wonderful poem about the Lady who lived in a Van made famous by Alan Bennett. From the floor we had an amusing poem from Becky on how a company tried to enthuse its staff to reduce their stress and live more healthily; and a poignant love poem from Lynn. The vibe in the cafe was friendly and supportive so even people not used to reading poems out loud in public had a go. A great start to the day.

This was followed by a special event; the announcement and award of prizes for ArtBeat’s first short story competition. Literary agent, Penny Kitchener of Luithlen Agency, who was one of the judges, read out the titles and names of entrants and described the qualities of their work which made them special. She said that overall the standard of writing had been very high in both the adult and the children’s (under 16) competition.

The winners of the children’s competition was Martha Yeoman, with Lucia Gozy Kirkden and Tamara Thompson runners-up. In the adults section the winner was Alison Duthie with Kate Myers and Lisa Williams runners-up. Note that these stellar writers are all women or girls. Where are the men and the boys? If they are not writing, is that because they are not reading? Congratulations to all the winners, including others highly commended; and to the judges too. The stories are to be posted on the festival website.

Chalk and Talk at Clarendon Park Community GardensIn the afternoon the sun continued to shine which made it all the more gratifying that there were at least two outdoor community events that drew in good numbers. In Bulwer Road there was Chalk & Talk in the (now not so) new community garden that is cared for by people in the neighbouring streets.

The idea was to introduce people to this amenity, enjoy some summertime music courtesy of Green Shoots, invite people to hang out and talk and perhaps try a bit of their own artwork by chalking on the wall of the garden. The music certainly helped to make this work very well.

Further south down Queens Road, allotmenteers were happy to open up their plots to the public. At the same time visitors were able to view some of the work of talented printmaker Sarah Kirby. You can read more about the special print of the allotments she has created on the blog I posted last week (“Branching Out” 16 June).

Usually a few more than sixty people visit the open day but on this occasion there were between 150-200, the difference said to be almost certainly due to the publicity going to a much wider audience under the ArtBeat banner. So many people came who said they had not even been aware the allotments existed.

Live music always adds to the pleasure of these occasions and this was no exception. People’s enjoyment was enhanced by some fantastic busking from the very talented Greenshoots Ceilidh orchestra, followed by Dead Question – a trio of 2 guitars and percussion who entertained us with a couple of great sets. They were followed up by a small group of three very talented, very young musicians who played the violin, and who also happen to have a strong link to the allotments.

Dead Question at the Queens Road Allotments, ArtBeat 2015But of course the other major draw was Sarah Kirby’s prints. Our event was truly lifted on to a different level by her participation. The newly commissioned print of the allotments was really well received and people put their money down and bought eight of the ten prints, as well as many of her cards and other prints.

There was also a friendly visit from our community police officers, and three local councillors, two Lynns and Patrick. It was great of them to come along to another ArtBeat event. All in all it was a lovely day.

Other events during the day included a specially laid-on wedding at the Gurdwara preceded by food. At Christchurch an appreciative audience savoured performances of Haydn’s Nelson Mass and selections from the Messiah by the Knighton Chamber Orchestra and Tudor Choir. At South Lodge there was a tea dance. About 40 people turned up for food, music and poetry in Lesley and Tony’s garden. And at the Progressive Synagogue in Avenue Road another 40 or so people were entertained by three professional musicians from out of town, Dean who appears to be something of a rock star and cantor Gershon all the way from Canada, accompanied by Franklyn on the keyboard.

In the evening upstairs at Cultura well over 30 people were given a class in the tango as part of a Latino dance night. Some of the moves looked extremely technical to this particular bystander, but everybody had a go. And as the instructor said at the end, dancing should be about having fun so don’t get too hung up on the moves; go out and enjoy one of the many classes on offer locally.

Finally at The Donkey there was a full house for a jazz evening with four bands taking their turn to entertain us. For me the pick were the Afro-City Swingsters, thirteen people crammed on to a small stage and playing numbers that had melody and rhythm. People, including a few in ArtBeat T-shirts, danced alone or in couples New Orleans style, to some of the Township tunes and the atmosphere was tremendous. As someone said, looking at the demographic of some of the players we want to make sure they all get their flu jabs if we are to continue to enjoy what they have to offer for years to come! But then who am I to comment?

The Clarendon Lark at ArtBeat 2015

Artbeat family day: Something of everything for everyone

Painting at ArtBeat 2015Friends Meeting House was the setting for the ArtBeat Family Day, comprising various activities. In one of the rooms a guy was taking amazing lo-tech portraits with an Afghan box camera and showing how it worked. Under a gazebo offering protection from the steady drizzle there was an art workshop for 9-12 year-olds who were shown how to paint flowers on shapes created from plastic bottles and sticking them against acetate screens to give a lovely contrasting effect against the green of the garden. Contrast was the name of the game in the Open Mic workshop that included a young and dynamic lads’ rock band and two very young and talented solo violinists playing with great control and assurance. I left just before people were swinging into the second of two energetic ceilidhs led by Steve Cartwright and Nikki Fiddler. It was great to see different generations dancing together, very much a feature of the ceilidh experience.

Polly Tuckett led a writing workshop for 7s to 11s. Half a dozen children participated, and each completed a fairy story within the hour. After introductions and a tipsy turvy example of a fairy story, the children explored what fairy stories have in common including usually a moral and something magical. Polly distributed envelopes with slips of paper with different missions, main characters, baddies, and magical elements and the children set to – discussing in groups, writing and finally dictating their stories. We had a creation story, involving travelling men and a beanstalk, submarines with bubbles, unicorns aplenty, and elephants dipping their trunks into an evil king’s bag to return money stolen from a mermaid and merman. Each of the six stories was read and taken home by the children with ideas for more stories to write when they got there. Magic!

Taster classes in dances of various styles were on offer at Avenue Primary School throughout the day and each was well attended. A fun Zumba taster session, was followed by an excellent Tango taster class and practica and in the afternoon about 30 people enjoyed a very well run Ceroc session. Congratulations to the organisers for providing such a range. Perhaps you will see some of those who took part strutting their stuff at the Latino dance night at Cultura on Sunday evening.

An estimated 50 people – of all ages which was a particular delight – heard Mariko Terashi (piano) and Anne-Marie Shaw (viola) play a superb and very well-received programme on Saturday lunchtime. Christchurch is such a good venue for these events: central, accessible, with the Worship Centre being a lovely space with a marvellous acoustic. A rich programme introduced many to the Portuguese composer Seixas and finished with a virtuoso piece by Chopin. In between, Anne Marie played Ravel and Schubert with great expression, accompanied by Mariko. A truly delightful 50 minutes in exceptional surroundings.

Afterwards it was Classical Open Mic time, starting with six of Mariko’s younger piano students taking their turn and ending with Becky Stickland playing a piece each by Beethoven and Chopin. They were followed by French Romantic songs sung by Polly Tuckett and German lieder by David Toseland both with lovely tone, and accompanied skilfully by Mariko and Emily Turfus respectively. Jonathan Speiser showed his virtuosity and class at the age of twelve on the piano and violin, Nicola Mirams playing the flute with lovely tone and lightness of touch. The whole event was brought to an end with a flourish, with a horn tone poem about the river Trent and two cello pieces. While the afternoon’s audience was as expected smaller, it seemed no less appreciative. The high standard of all these performances showed what a wealth of musical talent there is within the square mile.

Richard Gill's Clarendon Park architecture walkThere was a huge turn-out of over 70 people for the walking tour led by Richard Gill who offered fascinating insights into the aesthetics and history of the buildings in Clarendon Park. Fortunately by this time the rain had stopped and the sun appeared, lifting everyone’s spirits. Not only did those taking part ask questions but they shared information as well – a truly co-operative and enjoyable learning experience. What an appetite there is for this kind of thing!

At the Summer Harmony evening concert in Stoneygate Baptist Church Hall Carol confessed to having been to all three of the taster dance classes earlier in the day. And Malcolm, another happy concert-goer, was heard to say the programme was wonderful “just like the Edinburgh festival and all free”.

Congratulations to Rockhaq and Costa Coffee on a successful partnership in innovation, launching the festival’s first workshop in music journalism targeted at teenagers. Eight young people, four students from Leicester College and four from QE sixth form college, turned out to learn how to blog music reviews. After a few teething problems hooking up to the wi-fi, the workshop ran well. Some of the young people are considering a project that makes use of music journalism as part of their course in music performance. Others are considering how blogging could be part of a career in music journalism. The session was really positive, inspiring them to write reviews and blog them on the Rockhaq website. And take a bow Costas for coming up with some really fine cakes to maintain good energy levels throughout.

Before ending, a special mention for Oscar from Thurnby (and Leicester College) who came over to Queens Road ten days ago on Friday evening to busk outside Fingerprints in the rain as part of the promotion of the festival. Undeterred he returned today with three friends to busk at various vantage points along the Queens Road. The weather was kinder and inspired some good sounds driven by a compelling beat. I hope he’ll be back.

Clarry the Cat at the ArtBeat 2015 launch party

We have lift off for ArtBeat 2015

The gods smiled kindly on the good folk of Clarendon Park as last year with the sun making a welcome and timely appearance in the afternoon as excitement mounted for ArtBeat 2015. The launch was opened with some stunning drumming from the Samba Band. Percussion was pervasive in the neighbourhood with a Sikh group of drummers outside the old Barclays bank causing many a pedestrian on their way home from work to break their stride and admire.

Simpletones at the ArtBeat 2015 launch partyBack in the car park the drummers gave way to the opening speech from Sue King who welcomed people and thanked all those who had given time and money to getting the second ArtBeat festival off the ground. After a heartfelt rendition of the ArtBeat anthem, there was some energetic zumba dancing, followed by recitations including a great ode to the festival by local poet Liz Gray. A short set of popular American standards from the Simpletones was warmly received. Then more vigorous drumming that led to an impromptu if somewhat wayward conga around the car park by some of the less inhibited. Meanwhile people were refreshed with nibbles and bites offered by local traders, photographs were taken by festival sponsor ZigZag and ward councillors Patrick Kitterick, Lynn Senior and local MP Jon Ashworth also joined in the fun.

The two musical events that followed in the evening were very both different but of high quality. In Fingerprints, the cafe on Queens Road which Gareth Carnall had established as a musical venue at last year’s festival, we saw a return by the gifted Chris Conway, this time accompanied by Mo Coulson in a set called The Alien (Conway) and the Mermaid (Coulson). The mermaid went first, playing the Celtic harp and guitar (not at the same time!) and singing evocative songs of seals-cum-humans from the north of Scotland, her favourite town Lyme Regis where the ghost of the French Lieutenant’s Woman still walks The Cob, and yes, mermaids. Her plaintive voice resonated well with the harp to give the stories she sang a haunting quality. The first half of the evening ended with her accompanied by Chris Conway in performing what Chris referred to as much more ‘wafty’ music sending the audience mildly mesmerised into the coffee/comfort break.

The Alien’s set was more upbeat. Conway has a gift for reading his audience well. He also has a dry, self-deprecating sense of humour and prodigious talents. He can play several instruments and his songs are witty and beautifully crafted. He is a man of many genres. As well as wafty music he majors on what he refers to as “filk music” – folk songs derived from science fiction. He gave us a flavour of this with Love Space Station and Monkeys on the Moon. He also took us on a more earthly trip with a moving song called Ten Years, coloured by reminiscences that had been prompted by old photographs. Finally he made us all laugh – and join in – with Three Headed Woman.

The whole performance was greatly appreciated by a packed house of 40 people crammed into the cafe. The demographic ranged from five months to more than 80 years-old. The audience gave generously when the hat came round and left Fingerprints buzzing with admiration and good spirits. You could almost feel Gareth smiling down at us all, realising his dream of a friendly, community cafe providing space, refreshment and a welcoming ambience for the appreciation of good quality music.

Meanwhile down at St John’s Church five choirs (three of adults and two from local primary schools) came together for a concert attended by 200 people. Yes, 200!! Each choir took it in turns to sing two or three songs covering a range that included children’s songs (one about sharing a bar of chocolate), international folk and songs by well-known American singer songwriters such as Randy Newman. There was a set of songs about Shakespeare and the concert concluded with a Cherokee morning song performed by all the choirs in unison making the most wonderful sound.

The lasting impression from this joyful occasion was how much pleasure people of all ages take from singing – and listening of course. And St John’s Church provided an excellent setting for it.

So taken together, the Launch, The Alien and the Mermaid and Voices United created a tremendous opening for ArtBeat 2015.

Roll on Saturday!

The Lonesome Pines busking at ArtBeat 2015

Music Sweet Music

Clarendon Park is alive…

Busking at ArtBeat 2015…with the sound of music. Or it will be over the coming days. The range and quality of music that will be echoing around the streets, bars, cafes, churches and other venues in the neighbourhood are breathtaking. Wendy Manning, who is co-ordinating this year’s events, says there will be “something for everyone”.

Some of last year’s favourites are back. Chris Conway, a most versatile and talented musician, whose ambient music at Fingerprints is remembered as being of the highest quality will be back at the same venue on Friday evening. He and local Celtic harpist Mo Coulson will be performing The Alien and the Mermaid. For those who like singing or listening to choirs, there will be adult choirs and children’s choirs singing separately and together at St John’s Church also on Friday evening.

Classicists are likely to be drawn to the concert given by Mariko, who again performed last year. She and her musical friends will be giving a lunchtime concert on Saturday at Christchurch; a lovely setting with good acoustics. This will be followed by an Open Mic session when different musicians play different instruments. The Saturday also offers children a drumming workshop and their own Open Mic opportunity at Friends Meeting House.

And if you want to get a feeling of what the last night of the proms is like, pop along to Christchurch again on Sunday afternoon for a concert by the Knighton Chamber Orchestra and Tudor Choir. For jazz enthusiasts there will be a good night on offer at The Donkey also on Sunday.

Busking at ArtBeat 2015There is a wide range of musical offerings on Monday, including Chinese music at their church and community centre, folk under the tree in North Avenue, a lunchtime concert at Christchurch, a band night at The Cradock and another Open Mic night at Dos Hermanos where karaoke king Brian will repeat his triumph of last year and others will gig as and when. This evening will be a tribute to local musician Liane Ashbery who is sadly missed.

And on Tuesday evening Steve Cartwright will be performing songs of love and hope at the Lancaster School while the N’Ukes will round the festival off playing favourite songs at the Knighton & Clarendon Club.

And that’s not all. The programme will give you the full run-down of what is happening where and when, including the busking. The musical streets are here again. Can’t wait.