Friday, 28 October 2011

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists - Live and Local - Heanor Baptist Church - 13 October 2011

This stage adaptation of the  book by Robert Tressell (a pseudonym of Robert Croker aka Robert Noonan) was presented by Townsend Productions in association with Hertford Theatre and sponsored by various trade unions. This particular production was one of a number promoted by Live and Local, an organisation devoted to bringing us "surprising art in surprising places". 

 David Howe, pastor of Heanor Baptist Church, is very much to be commended on involving himself with the Live and Local project.

As regards the performance itself, I think anyone who saw this two-man performance by Neil Gore and the splendidly-named Fine Time Fontayne would agree they performed with passion and pzazz, and that the production as a whole showed wit and imagination.

In an unusual twist, the performance, written by Stephen Lowe, was punctuated with renditions of some of the  music of the time  - music hall songs, and Chapel and Temperance Hall material. The downside of this innovative approach was that it  made the performance rather lengthy and at times it was unclear how the music related to the play, if at all. I`d have to say in fairness that some of the religious songs worked well in context, but - and this is a matter of personal taste - I soon grew tired of the music hall material. Quite frankly, if I never hear another song about pickled onions I`ll be a happy man !

Another problem lay in the decision to put on the play as a two man show. With two actors playing quite an array of different characters, it was quite easy to become confused as to which character was which.

I`ve never read the book, so can`t comment on how accurately the play represented the author`s views. I did feel that it raised more questions than answers.

One character, a particularly grasping and exploitative  businessman, becomes unhinged as his business begins to struggle and eventually kills himself. Does the author intend to imply that the man is in his own way `a victim of the system` just as much as his downtrodden staff ? We never find out.

At another point, Tressell`s character Frank Owen, believed by many to represent the author himself, reflects on his inability to convert his colleagues to his brand of socialism, referring disconsolately to the fact that `they` are unreceptive to his views. "Who`s `they` ?" his friend/workmate asks. This is played as a genuine question (which goes unanswered), but one could wonder if this exchange was intended to stress Owen`s sense of separation from the very people he intends to motivate.

Elsewhere, Owen/Tressell rejects both conventional trade unionism and the newly-formed Labour Party as potential vehicles for progress. What approach does he favour ? Apart from one vague reference to "taking over the whole works" ( The machinery of the state or literally the workplace ? We never find out.) we are left with no real clue. Given the times he lived in, he could equally have been an old-style communist, an anarchist, a utopian socialist  or a believer in co-operatively owned businesses. He could have favoured change by peaceful means or by revolution. For what it`s worth, my educated guess would be that he was a utopian socialist in the William Morris tradition who believed in achieving change simply by the propogation of his ideas, which would explain why his inability to make converts was so painful to him. 

The play ends with an appeal to solidarity, which in some ways is fair enough -  every worthwhile progressive movement brings together people of differing points of view - but one was left with the sense that Owen and his colleagues don`t actually agree on ends or means. I understand that Tressell went to his grave a disappointed man, so this is probably accurate.

The performance was warmly received, and a lot of the credit for that has to go to the two energetic performers.

It has to be said that my personal criticisms were probably not shared by most of the audience, so you can if you want take my views with a pinch of salt. More importantly, if you live in or visit Derbyshire, Warwickshire and/or Staffordshire, look out for the works of Live and Local ( ) - they deserve our support !

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Bana Congo - Beeston Town Centre 15 October 2011

Derby-based Congolese band Bana Congo appeared in Beeston on 15 October to launch Broxtowe Borough Council`s `Mythical Monsters and Carnival Creations : An Event for Black History Month`.

This was their second appearance in the town centre this year and, by co-incidence, they are  the second Congolese band I have seen live. (The first, who appeared in Beeston, I think during August 2010, was a band whose name I forget, but who were fronted by a heavily-built man of Christian beliefs who I understand plays amateur rugby. If anyone knows their name, I`d be happy to have my memory refreshed.).

They played two sets. The first was a fairly straight-forward set of what people of my age used to call `world music`, but with a decidedly central African flavour. The line-up for this event was a four-piece - percussion, bass, keyboard, voice/guitar. I believe they sometimes appear with a larger band, according to what is required. Their sound was compelling - propelled along by bass playing that was melodic but also `driving`, if that`s the word I`m looking for, and with the keyboard adding a touch of melody that gave the whole concoction a bit of colour. The only criticism I would have of the first set was that, playing in a built-up area, the sound was too loud and could seem quite harsh. Oddly, you could not hear them too much until you got quite near, and then the sound hit you like wave, so I can only assume it was a problem of the acoustics of the area.

During the interval I had a business matter to see to and my son was feeling unwell, so I was delayed getting back for the second half. On my return, the sound problems seemed to have been eradicated, and the band were now playing in a slightly different style. I would describe this approach as being to combine African vocals and harmonies with backing influenced by `60s rock/pop - the backing on one tune sounded a bit like The Mavericks if that gives you an idea. The combination of styles worked well in practise - I accept it sounds a bit odd on paper -  and the keyboard player adopted a different mode of playing, reminiscent of the instrumentals Winston Wright recorded for Duke Reid (and trust me, I don`t campare anyone to the mighty Winston unless I`m feeling pretty sure of my ground !).

All in all, a great - not just good - band that I would have no hesitation in seeing again if circumstances permit.

I would like to close by commending Broxtowe Borough Council for the events they sometimes put on in Beeston. Being a bit of a muisic addict, I`ve enjoyed the bands I`ve seen there -   JT4, Joe Strange and Carmina spring to mind -  and it is nice to see them in a family-friendly setting.

Friday, 21 October 2011

More About Trains

In the recent past, we`ve managed to build up quite a reasonable stock of train-related materials, particularly back issues of magazines aimed at enthusiasts.

Here are a couple of interesting ones - The Narrow Guage was (is?) the journal of the Narrow Guage Railway Society, and the copy of Main Line show here  was published by the Main Line Steam Trust, though we also have more recent issues after publication of this journal was taken over by the Friends of the Great Central Main Line.

More stuff for train buffs will appear on this blog and in our listings in the not-too-distant future, I`m sure.