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.

Queens Road Allotments

Branching Out with Queens Road Allotments Society

Sarah Kirby Queens Road Allotments printOne of the many things in the festival that I am really excited about is seeing a new linocut print being launched at the week-end by the wonderful Sarah Kirby, artist and printmaker. Some of you may recall that last year, Sarah mounted a small exhibition at College Court of some of the prints she had made of the city’s industrial buildings.

Two members of the Queens Road Allotments Society have since commissioned her to make a print of the allotments. These have given so much pleasure, as well as flowers, fruit and vegetables, to so many local people. This print, as well as a few others with a similarly horticultural theme, will be on show at the allotments on the afternoon of Sunday 21st.

Sarah has already made prints of garden-related subjects – greenhouses, birds and so on. This print depicts the allotments both as a whole community resource but also as a series of smaller enterprises of the various allotmenteers. The challenge for Sarah has been to make those stories and people visual since each plot represents a different story. Sarah hopes that people will be able to locate their sites on the picture within what she describes as “the slightly mappy overview” that she has created. She says it is important to represent in the print how different parts relate to each other, not just the plots but what stands within the plots – the sheds, bins, butts, benches and wheelbarrows. Sarah insists that everything she has drawn is special because it represents something that somebody has done or used.

Queens Road Allotments, ArtBeat 2015Sarah is grateful that she has been given permission to do this work, for example to draw sheds which are all different even though they all serve a similar function. I reckon that lots of allotmenteers – and others – are also going to be grateful that Sarah has done this work because, having had a sneak preview, I can testify to it being a lovely print, animated by colour and detail, to give a full picture of what for some people is a mega secret garden in the heart of the city; and for those who spend their time there a wonderful release and tranquil contrast from the day-to-day rush and routines of urban living.

So this project may have led Sarah up a very different path but it is one that she is very happy to be on, wondering where it may lead next.

Short Story Competition entrants at ArtBeat 2015

Short Story Writing Talent

This year for the first time ArtBeat has organised a short story writing competition, one for adults and one for children and young people. We were not sure how this would go down, with regard to both the amount of interest and take-up and to the quality of the entries. Entrants were asked to write a short story that said something about their neighbourhood.

Not surprisingly for a first-ever competition, there was not a great number of entries but those that were entered were of a very high standard – in both categories. This is very encouraging. Not only does it reinforce the view that Clarendon Park has talent. But it means that we will have a reservoir of talent for the future – as long as these young writers choose to stay in the area.

Penny Luithlen, is a literary agent and she was one of the three judges that helped to choose the winners. She told me that the standard of writing was very high. The initial reading of scripts is very telling and she says that immediately it became clear that it was going to be hard to discount any at all. The stories felt local and there were some interesting ways in which entrants chose to interpret the brief.

The three judges (the other two are writers) found there was much for them to agree about, in particular what they liked. The children’s stories were wide-ranging and it made them think that perhaps next time there should be a category for even younger writers to differentiate them from the older children and not disadvantage them.

The judges considered who best answered the brief, who had the best variety of ‘telling’ techniques, and who told a story that surprised and delighted them and took them on a special journey. Ultimately it all comes down to personal taste. There was plenty to both agree and disagree about. In the adult category, there was a split decision in selecting the winner. In the children’s category the dilemma was that there were not enough prizes because so many of the entrants were potential winners.

Penny is adamant that those who entered must carry on writing, regardless of whether or not they are prize-winners this year. The responsibility of selecting a winner has weighed heavily on the judges but they have enjoyed the experience. They commend all those who entered for having the courage to do so. It is brave to show your work to someone else to judge. So all those who took part have taken a huge step and are commended for their talent and their bravery.

So if you want to know who won and what they wrote about, the winners are to be announced in the middle of the festival at 11 am on Sunday 21 June at Fingerprints on Queens Road. You will be able to meet those who entered and hear a little of what has been written. I can’t wait!

Clarry the Cat at the ArtBeat 2015 launch party

2 weeks to go

Michelle Dhillon of Rockhaq at the ArtBeat 2015 launchOnly two weeks to go now to the launch of ArtBeat 2015. As the bard once said “summer’s here and the time is right for dancing in the streets”.

The launch promises to be a lot of fun. Music, singing, dancing, busking, balloons, children performing, an appearance from Clarry the Cat, an ode and a speech, food and drink from local retailers and hopefully, like last year, sunshine. And all this infused with a hefty injection of community spirit.

This year we will not be graced by a visit from King Richard III as we were last. Since then of course he has found his resting place in Leicester Cathedral, as some of you may have become aware!

I know we Brits tend to obsess about the weather. But since early summer first made its shy presence felt this week, there has been a definite lift in mood in the area. The sound of flip flops and flatties can be heard on the pavements, as people in shorts, t-shirts and frocks (not all at the same time) stroll down Queens Road, Others stretch out in Victoria Park, and the red-bricked buildings take on an altogether brighter hue.

Meanwhile festival programmes have been pushed through letter boxes and more will be handed out on the streets over the coming two Saturdays.

So put the date in your diaries for the launch: 5pm on Friday 19th June at the Christchurch car park, Clarendon Park Road. See you there.

Summer Sandals

Glorious June

So June arrived on Monday and its wake the wind and the rain. But the forecast is bright and sunny just in time for ArtBeat. Only three weeks to go and we are all very excited.

Over the coming period until the launch on Friday 19th June, I will be using the blog to alert you to news, observations and conversations about the festival. Innovation and change are the drivers of the arts and the watchwords of creativity. And this in a city whose motto is “semper eadem” – “always the same”. Things don’t stand still with ArtBeat.

New people have come on board and that means new ideas and energy. For example, ArtBeat 2015 will see a wider range of activities and events for children and young people. And poetry as well as music in the streets.

Once the festival gets under way there will be a report on what happens on each of the five days. Of course, I will only be able to savour the events and activities to give a flavour of what is going on. No-one can be in more than one place at a time.

But if the gods look kindly on us as they did last year, the coming days will be bright and sunny and ArtBeat will give the summer the lift-off it needs.