Plymouth Literature Festival 2017

JB Barrington at the Hutong Cafe

Plymouth has an established and vibrant Performance Poetry culture. For Plymouth Literature Festival 17 there is a new venue on the block. The Hutong Cafe, which opened earlier this year, is building a reputation as an intimate location for evening events. Saturday saw the arrival of JB Barrington, a performance poet from Salford, a particularly interesting area of Manchester, he was supported by two local poets and a surprise extra poet from Hull.

The evening kicked off with Antonia Raine, a local poet who flipped misogyny on its head, shining wit and humour on the cliched comments and behaviours of some men that really piss women off. She was followed by another local wordsmith, Andy Blackwell who weaved local and carnal knowledge into brilliant and narrative poems, told in a range of accents that were superbly accurate.

The surprise extra of the evening was Jim Higo, a poet/ comedian from Hull, as a salve to the pride of Plymouth which lost the chance of being City of Culture to Hull he suggested that the only perceptible change in his City, now it is cultured, is that there has been an increase in the street price of heroin. Jim’s set was lively and left me an earworm that was hard to shake. His rant “ I Hate a Floating Voter” was a polemic, and although I didn’t completely agree with it, I was hooked by his performance. His incomplete Ice House Road, a tale of prostitution, left me wanting more and the poem about a lonely aged boxer cadging drinks in the pubs of Hull was unexpectedly moving. He told us that his mum thought that a Plymouth audience wouldn’t ‘get’ him when he told her where he was performing. She was wrong, the audience at Hutong definitely ‘got’ him, his tales of deprivation and humour struck a local nerve.

Wearing a brown Mac and clutching a carrier bag of stuff, the main man, JB Barrington wandered to the front of the room for the third part of the evening. He cut a stylish figure with steel grey hair and modish good looks. The previous night he had performed at the 02 at Sheffield with the Sleaford Mods, and tonight 50 lucky people at Hutong had a much closer encounter.
JB is from Salford, an award winning performance poet known for his satirical, lyrical, ‘working class’ poetry. His poems feature dole and debt, dockers and unions, proud men, strong women and the love, fun, misery and fragility of normal life where he comes from. His mum is a huge source of inspiration. Things Me Mam Used to Say might be the words of a Salford woman but the motherly advice and discipline all seemed pretty relatable. Nostalgia conjured for humble icons like the Spanish dolls that resided in countless Council homes depicting the glamour of European travels long before Easy Jet. JB points out the obvious things that it’s all too easy to overlook and forget; yet these are the things of recent social history.

You Had Me, is the tale of an ex lover-note to many, never upset a poet you might become a performance! Truly I was lost for words, it was such a great evening. Not only because it featured poetry from a man who is such a high caliber performer – I don’t know why did he agree to perform in such a tiny venue a seven hour drive from his home but I am glad he did. JB Barrington came to Plymouth Literary Festival, he was brilliant and incidentally brought another wonderful poet with him and they were both ably supported by some seriously good local talent.

Plymouth Art Weekender / Articles written for Made In Plymouth

 My Plymouth Art Weekender trilogy #1
This year was the third Art Weekender in Plymouth but having only recently returned to the area this was my first experience and I was impressed! The quantity and quality of the art was astonishing. Despite having one of the few dedicated Art Schools in the country and a well respected Arts faculty at Plymouth University, when I left 10 years ago Plymouths Arts Community was not hugely visible to mainstream Plymouth and beyond.

But things are changing and Plymouth Art Weekender is a vibrant sign of ‘Artsy’ Plymouth. I’ve attended week-long festivals which haven’t had such a voracious and high quality itinerary as PAW17. It didn’t pass me by that Art Weekender exhibits started popping up well before the weekend, and I hope some of it will hang around a bit as well. For me the weekender has been a case of ‘so much art, so little time’. I’ve written about the exhibits and events that really stood out in my weekend but there were many other wonderful pieces I would have loved to write about.

For me the first event was live music at Hutong Cafe. Hutong Cafe cuddles up to the outside of the main entrance of The Royal William Yard and is the evolving brainchild of George, Jack and Emma who opened the Cafe earlier this year. Diamond Family Archive are a Lo-Fi psych folk duo and they filled this intimate venue. The music was mesmerizing, the music swelled and grew to the point that it seemed impossible that only two men were creating it. Ambient sounds, seemingly plucked out of the night air were woven into the performance. Coupled with good wine and food, this could be the new way to enjoy live music.

Ocean Studios played host to JoJo’s photography exhibition before and during the Weekender. This exhibition features couples who have committed to life together alongside single mothers with their children. I posed for Jojo 10 years ago in his first Plymouth Uncovered book and know from experience what a charismatic photographer he is so I felt a particular connection to this exhibition. His empathetic approach to his photography gives it the quality of painted portraits, evolved over a far greater timeframe. Faces, but also hands and feet are expressive at a deeper level than in a usual portrait because of some special magic that Jojo manages to infuse into his sessions. Some of the photos in this exhibition ache with the amount of information they are trying to convey.

I was lucky enough to talk to the artist after seeing the exhibition, and told him some of the sentiments I had picked up on from his images. Ever the consummate professional he said nothing indiscreet about his sitters but I’m sure his eyes agreed with some of my thoughts. I’ve been back a couple of times to enjoy his exhibition; it is well worth the time. This diligence has nothing to do with the great coffee and cake that can be bought at The Ocean Studios Cafe next to the exhibition…

 
My Plymouth Art Weekender trilogy #2

Saturday saw bright sunshine and driving through Plymouth early in the morning I could sense there was something arty in the air. As I drove around the city I caught sight of what can only be described as human sized litter, performing strange activities. I arrived to my first venue of the day, Ocean Studios Open Studios. This event took up way more time than I had planned for and the event blew me away. It was like visiting a massive advent calendar. Every time I took a peak behind the door of a studio I had no idea what I was going to experience. The ground floor, larger, studios of ceramicists and other makers were alive with the chatter of children’s workshops.

Space was at a premium as the peripheries of the rooms were filled with proud and attentive parents who marveled and photographed the skills and achievements of their offspring. Chunky stone stairs led me upwards to smaller spaces. My nose led me in the direction of an artist who was using oil paints, brilliant jewel like colours shone off canvasses, coupled with the smell it was a heady mixture. Sadly the artist was missing, (everyone needs a wee sometime).

Teresa Pemberton was in the building and her big bright canvasses bring a smile to anyone’s face. Talking to Teresa it was easy to discover the value of working as a lone practitioner within a collaborative space like Ocean Studios. Mosaicist Emma Spring works was working on a brightly coloured commission in her studio space.Emma has been creating Mosaics a long while, examples of her work adorn the streets of Saltash and she is also closely associated with Flameworks in Plymouth. I’ve recently taken more interest in mosaics, it was great to meet her and see the process as a contemporary practice.

So far so familiar, and that is not a bad thing but on opening one of the doors I met a woman who Free-style embroiders on a machine. Who even knew there was such a thing! Ewa Morawski has recently relocated to Plymouth and lives close to her studio in Royal William Yard. She studied textiles in London and has had commissions from some interesting organisations. Her creations are stored in clear crystal boxes and as her work tumbles out it is hard to believe that the flimsy, beautiful objects are not petals and blossoms just plucked from a bush. One recent commission had her making delicate orchids for the Royal Horticultural Society; they were better than the real thing. She works on an old Singer sewing machine that looks just like the ones that retailers use to give their interiors retro credibility. Ewa creates flowers for brides and corsages but not all her work is soft and sensitive. She rocks punk sensibilities when she recreates tattoos in fabric and her version of a Remembrance Day poppy is vibrant and jazzy.

As I came to the end of my journey I connected with Shayne House. Shayne and Sarah Smalldon share a studio, Shayne is a digital marketing expert and creates wonderful prints with Letterpress and Silk Screen. Sarah produces prints and exquisite house portraits. Perhaps most importantly after four hours of poking my nose in Studios they had a lovely squashy sofa to rest my weary art tourist feet.
My Plymouth Art Weekender trilogy #3

Sunday, I planned to spend the whole day with one topic – Commit This To Memory. Jessica Wright had installed QR codes at each of the 32 sites identified by Plymouth City Council as ‘at risk’. My interest in this project was that each of these sights was already known to me from years of hunting down old bits of Plymouths history, however I have neglected them for the ten years I’ve not lived in Plymouth. The project aims to get Plymouth people involved and interested in the architectural features that Plymouth Council consider to be at risk of becoming unsustainable, to preserve their history. As a family and group of friends we love finding ‘Old Plymouth’ and the conversations and happy memories that spring out of an old piece of Plymouth architecture are precious.

In Jessica’s words- The project is about the here and the now, engagement in the present and the infra-ordinary – the little things that go unnoticed. Scan the QR codes on the stickers to find out more about the sites included in the project and use the hash tag #cttmplymouth to get involved on Instagram. Follow the project @cttmplymouth.

Following the project on Sunday got more and more unpleasant as the rain tracked down my neck, and photography became impossible. The great thing about this Art Weekender experience is that these artifacts have been around a while and will last even longer with love and respect from the city even if this particular project is transitory. Sunday’s weather defeated me but Monday, saw sunshine and climate induced enthusiasm. I popped out to three of my favourite sites on CTTM. And in the spirit of the project shared some of our familial memories.


Thanks to Jessica Wright and her project, I’ve had a great Sunday/Monday. As my personal conclusion to Plymouths Art Weekender, CTTM beautifully illustrated how art enhances life. Just visiting these architectural locations makes me enthusiastic to learn more about each of them and to experience and talk about them with other people.

The 3rd Plymouth Art Weekender, what a blast!

  

Sunshine and Art

Plymouth Art Weekender Saturday was perked up , if perking were needed, by glorious weather.

The city was like a creative ice cream van offering choice and temptation in equal measure . Following the analogy, it was great to be able to sample so many different flavours of art. Not all were served in a way that encouraged me to prolong the experience but others were made for gluttony.

In the gluttony category was the ‘Open Studios’event at Ocean Studios. Architecturally pleasing, box-like studios, make the best of the original features of the Royal William Yard. The uniformity of the studios alters immediately you open a door and step into the creative space. I loved the art and skills I experienced there, more importantly every one of the artists or makers was engaging and interesting.

Elsewhere I experienced a vignette of a pretentious arty person. If this had been a comedy or theatrical festival I would have stayed and marvelled at the accuracy or wit of the performer. As it was it was easy to move on and enjoy the work of other artists more deserving of my time, that is the beauty of a diverse art event.

Today the Plymouth Art Weekender will be robed in ‘mists and mellow fruitfulness’. The weather is shocking. Jumpers are packed for a full day of art.

Plymouth Art Weekender

Plymouth Art Weekender started yesterday. A city-wide celebration of all things arty. Yesterday theoldmortuary team took in black and white photography by JoJo at Ocean Studios. JoJo captures the human condition seemingly effortlessly. His exhibitions are thematic and this one features couples who have chosen to spend their lives together and single mothers with their offspring. I’m not sure why only single mothers were selected or indeed why these two separate subjects don’t quite work for me as a theme. Regardless, the photography has all the hallmarks of JoJo. From experience, I know that JoJo puts his sitters at ease and gently extracts the stories behind the people. I’m a huge fan of his latest book, Naked Truth, partly because the photography is skilled but more because he tells the tale of body image so deftly. Returning however to this current exhibition, I was struck by his ability to show both passivity and defiance in the faces of his single mothers and contentment in those of his couples. The more I view these photographs the more I learn about the sitters without ever meeting them, he is a very clever photographer. A longer review will be published later.

Postponed

IMG_3012.JPGThe South London Women Artists installation ‘Pillow Talk’ Exhibition at Tate Modern has been postponed from 29th September 2017 until sometime in 2018. Thanks to everyone who had promised to attend , as soon as we have a date it will be circulated .

theoldmortuary- in the press

Three years ago, when we were knee deep in rubble and dust, we contacted Cornwall Today to see if they were interested in the story of turning an old mortuary into a home. Kirstie Newton, the editor, put us in touch with Jackie Butler one of the magazine writers. We met with her in 2016 before moving back to the cottage. Jackie’s article along with photography by Tom Last and Stephanie Yates has been published this month in Cornwall Today. IMG_0523Jackie has written a great article out of a lovely afternoon natter about our two year redevelopment of the old cottage and the adjoining mortuary. What is only touched on briefly,  but is the absolute core of this build, is the amazing quality of work of the tradesmen we used. Both creative people,  we knew how we wanted the cottage to look but not how it could be achieved.IMG_0524Jason and Dave, Wayne, Pete and Justin listened to our ideas, many of them mad, and used their skill to achieve what we wanted where possible and found great alternatives when things weren’t possible. We had concrete wall desires that would have cost us a fortune if we’d used the same techniques as Tate Modern. Together we worked out how to get the same finish at a fraction of the cost. IMG_0526Wayne was tasked with painting the main room of the house in a dark granite grey.   ( Farrow and Ball Railings) . I think he had doubts but then came up with the brainwave of painting the banisters white with a black handrail. It looks epic.IMG_0525Pete put up our eclectic taste in light fittings including the legendary neon and Justin had the unenviable task of putting up tiles in a herringbone pattern. All these lovely men came to us via              http://www.superfit.uk.com/IMG_0527

They did a brilliant job.

 

Its lovely to see their hard work and our ideas in a magazine, thanks to Cornwall Today for taking an interest in our project.

New York

IMG_0491My first visit to New York and the photo I choose to publish is not iconic. I’ve taken loads of iconic photos but this one sums up my feelings so far.Writers and artists have sought to encapsulate the essence of New York  with words or images for 400 years. Here’s my attempt.

Timber piles and nuts at the Staton Island Ferry terminal at noon.

Buddha with a bobble-hat

IMG_1529I popped out, during a rain shower, to get a picture of a Cardoon dripping from the onslaught of a Cornish Summer. It was upstaged by this comedy shot of Buddha apparently wearing a bobble- hat.

Here is the intended shot.

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It’s another Nate Berkus kind of day.

IMG_1471It wasn’t meant to be an interior sort of day. Today was about painting outside walls, I attempted to paint some walls but the Cornish summer weather got the better of me and as fast as I put the paint on, it was diluted with heavy rain showers and rinsed off the wall.

Time to tackle the spare room and create a feature wall. Today’s problem is barometers . We have two! Something that is no longer needed now every smart phone or tablet has a weather App. But back in the day they were considered a fitting retirement gift from employer to worker.  Ours represent a fathers and grandfathers employers gratitude for years of loyal service. It felt too disrespectful to send these two bits of history to the charity shop.  I had boxes of framed photographs to sort through and a rusty round mirror that I thought could make an interesting addition to the wall. I picked though the photographs and selected the ones that seemed to match the dark wood of the bed and the barometers . Once that was done I measured out the wall space and marked the same area on the floor. Then it was just time to play around with positions and weed out the pictures or frames that didn’t work in the hanging plan. Once I was happy I started putting nails in the wall in the right position for my chosen pattern, after hanging the barometers and mirror I started putting the photographs into their positions. I only needed to switch a couple of frames that didn’t quite work as well on the actual wall. I’m pretty pleased with this , it has been a good use of a rainy day.

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