Tuesday 31 May 2016

Spies, Stories & Songs - Cold War Music

Kim Philby

At the Fringe we try to bring you some exclusives and here - thanks to the noisy Steve Roberts - we have something you'll read nowhere else. We sent Steve a batch of daft questions and he showed great patience in answering them all politely and intelligently. Not that that should surprise us.
Steve is playing at Scrivener's Bookshop on 10 & 17 July from 1-2pm. Tickets are free but places will be limited so pop into Scrivener's soon and sort out a ticket (or phone 01298 73100).

1] We have quite a lot of Fringe events this year connected with the Cold War. Why do you think we are so fascinated and absorbed by that period in history?

I think perhaps there's a bit of nostalgia around it; it was like living through history if you're a person of a certain age. I was born the year the Berlin Wall was built so it was always there and it was a shock when it all came tumbling down. We also knew who the enemy was and we understood the reasoning. There where also some great films and books and culture generally as The Cold War was a battle for hearts and minds not merely territory. Today's conflicts seem a lot more confusing.

2] Many spies who sold to the Russians came from Britain's social elite - they had little to gain from their activities, so why did they do it?

If you look in to the history of it, you'll find that many of them didn't consider themselves to be traitors because they believed Stalin to be the only one capable of defeating Hitler and fascism and also that the tide of history was sweeping capitalism away and communism would replace it. One or two dabbled because it was fashionable at the time but some like Philby were committed communists.

3] A white, male James Bond: is that inevitable given the history of the Cold War period?

Well if he's kept in the Cold War period probably, but if he is to function today not necessarily. Bond, is no longer the property of those who created him; like Batman he's an icon who can be changed whenever.

4] In your show you will draw on Le Carre - want to tell us anything about less familiar figures who inform your writing?

Yes I will draw on Le Carré the undisputed master but it was an author named Alan Furst who set me writing these songs. A great novelist who mixes fact and fiction in an exciting way and he's only the tip of an iceberg. I believe there's been a renaissance in 'spy' writing; so many superb novels from people such as Edward Wilson, Charles Cumming, John Lawton, Jane Thynne, David Downing and many more. They all write brilliantly and, to me at least, there's more to them than simple thrillers or mysteries. 

5] You are performing in Scrivener's Bookshop - we love that. It is, shall we say, "intimate": will you be looking for any audience interaction/participation?

Well first of all I'm delighted to be playing in a bookshop, I love them. I'll be happy just to play to the books! At the least I'll be hoping to get some recommendations. I just hope people find it interesting and want to listen to my songs again, find out about and read some great books.

6] What qualities do you have that might have made you a good spy? Any reasons why you would have been a poor spy?

I'd have been a dreadful spy. I'm too loud, too nervous and too temperamental! The modern day spy is a lot blander than those of the Cold War era, I might have fitted in better then than now. Foibles and personality defects were more acceptable and I have plenty of them.

If you want to interviewed for the Fringe Blog do let us know. We're pretty friendly really! [e. entries@buxtonfringe.org.uk]

Buxton Fringe

Website: www.buxtonfringe.org.uk
Facebook: buxtonfringe
Twitter: @buxtonfringe

Wednesday 25 May 2016

The Fringe's History of the 20th Century


Now we aren't going to pretend that this is comprehensive - and much of the globe isn't included but there is a partial history of events and cultural landmarks to be found at this year's Fringe.

Comedian Abi Roberts (22nd & 23rd) lived in Russia in the 1990s. Now we can't guarantee that she will provide a detailed analysis of the break-up of the Soviet Union and how Gorbachev's seemingly liberal approach resulted in the grim spectacle of Putin - but sometimes laughter is the only sensible option. Another comedian hoping to inform us on East-West relationships is Nick Hall (9th). His show - "Szgrabble" - is a one-man Cold War thriller.

Parochial - and we don't mean this as a term of abuse - is Buxton Film's programme of archive film (16th). The Media Archive for Central England holds hours and hours of film and a 45-minute selection showing aspects of life in and around Buxton between 1901-1974 will be screened. Some of this will not have been seen publicly for many, many years if at all.

Jazz and Blues may be the most important art form to emerge in the 20th century and a whole bunch of musicians will be on hand to play some for you. Dale Storr (16th) is an excellent pianist in the New Orleans tradition. He has a new album out and will be playing two, two-hours sets previewing the album.

Basin Street Jazz & Blues (10th & 20th) will sing and play a strong set of standards (and some original numbers) that will help display the breadth and variety of the music. If BSJ&B are 'coolish' then the Herding Catz Blues Band (16th & 22nd) are at the other end of the scale - a cracking electric blues band, fun to listen to. More, authoritative Blues will come from Mike Francis (17th) who has been touring for 40 years and is in Buxton as part of the European Blues Awards showcase weekend. All of these gigs are at the Old Clubhouse - opposite the Opera House.

Among women singers of jazz and blues few are more eminent than Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. Annette Reis (6th, 17th & 20th) will be drawing on their legacies and repertoire. She will be accompanied by Will Hawthorne (18th) whose band is presenting a collection of songs from the 20th century unified by their subject matter - all feature Mr or Ms Jones.   

We have more on the subject of the Cold War from Stephen Roberts (10th & 17th) who will be talking about Le Carre, the Cambridge Spies as well as singing some of his songs on the subject. The theatre company Rusted Dust bring a new play to Buxton. "The Communist Threat" (7th, 8th & 15th) is set in Vienna in 1950 where two agents await orders to execute a communist traitor.

Shostakovich 'enjoyed' a difficult relationship with his political masters. In Leningrad in 1941 as the city is under siege he struggles to write his seventh symphony. "The Conductor" (20th, 22nd-24th) is based on the gripping novel by Sarah Quigley.

Among the 20th-century composers whose work is being performed on the Fringe this July are: Martinu (Rachel Johnson & Jemima Palfreyman, 14th and Cheshire Chamber Collective, 12th); Walton (High Peak Orchestra, 10th); Britten and Barber (Peak District String Orchestra and Wind Band, 8th) and Rodrigo (Ed Billingham, 17th).

The figure of Adolf Hitler looms over European 20th-century history and Patricia Hartshorne in a new play "In the Fuehrer's Face" (19th-22nd) mixes the surreal, comic, the poignant and the dark as she reflects on that grim period.

Vera Brittain lived and worked in Buxton for a short while. Famously she didn't much care for the town but the experience was influential. In 1915 she completed VAD nurse training at the Devonshire Royal Hospital. Hear the story of her work with soldiers returning from the Front (13th). Not so very far away - geographically - but very different politically lived Rosa Luxemburg, one of the few heroines of the political Left. Her story is told by poet Jim MacCool (6th).

Aulos Productions are always welcome Fringe visitors and their work is always intelligent, thoughtful and good. "Lest We Forget" (14th, 15th & 17th) is a new play about a family that struggles to make sense of memories of their son and the truth of events in the trenches of the Somme. More new drama set in the First World War comes from Breathe Out Theatre. "War Stories" (7th, 12th & 21st) brings together Australian nurse Elsie and Manchester soldier Bernard.

Buxton Fringe

Website: www.buxtonfringe.org.uk
Facebook: buxtonfringe
Twitter: @buxtonfringe

Saturday 21 May 2016

Women's Voices and Experiences at Buxton Fringe

"By Gotham Curve" - Adrienne Brown (http://www.adriennebrown.co.uk/)

Despite all the social progress in our lifetimes it remains the case that women's voices are frequently unheard and women's experiences are discounted or trivialised. Buxton Festival Fringe does not choose or actively produce the events that make up the programme - that is down to people wanting to be part of our summer. It is good to see that this July the different voices of women will be well represented. What follows is not a comprehensive list and neither do we suggest that these events will present a coherent version of what it is to be a woman in 21st century western Europe. These and other shows in Buxton will, however, offer versions of women's lives for us all to share and learn from.

Among the comedy events are Abbie Roberts (22 & 23 July); Charmian Hughes (14 & 16); Harriet Kemsley (9, 12 & 13); Lucille Cailly (10-12); and Juliet Meyers (11 & 12). It looks like they will be drawing on their rich and varied life experiences - Abbie on her time in 1990s Russia, Charmian reflects on what life looks like at 60, Harriet's career has begun brightly but is she 'on the wrong train'? Lucille's experiences include poker and cocaine - she has had money but blown it; for Juliet an unexpected love has entered her life - a rescue dog.

Next Door Dance (20-22) is a group of five women and their show - The Beautiful Game - is a tribute to many aspects of football and the lives of its fans. In the music programme soprano Margaret Ferguson (15) will be delivering a recital of song of all sorts and Alice Kirwan (10, 17 & 19) will present a variety of solo harp music. Rachel Johnson & Jemima Palfreyman (14) return with duets for flute and piano and Elin Pritchard (19) sings eight arias that imagine how Anne Hathaway faced up to life as a widow on Shakespeare's death.

Les Trois Amies (23) are - three friends! Soprano Carol and piano duet Marianne and Heather return with a programme of song and music suitable for a summer evening. Three of the great voices of 20th century song were Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith and Nina Simone. Annette Reis (6, 17 & 20) will be singing some of the songs most closely associated with this trio. The lives of Rosa Luxemburg and Vera Brittain overlapped for a period at the beginning of the 20th century. The similarities in their experiences are slight, however. Hear something of their lives - Rosa (6) and Vera (13).

In the theatre section you could see "Dolly's Playlist" (15 & 16) in which a young woman makes sense of her life through songs that matter to her. In "Jane and Lizzy" (16, 17, 20 & 21), Ms Austen looks to her creation Lizzy Bennet for guidance. Constance Lloyd did marry Oscar Wilde but she achieved much more in a richly interesting life, "Mrs Oscar Wilde" (9 & 21) fills some of the gaps in the story. Geraldine Aron's play "My Brilliant Divorce" (15 & 16) tells of how Angela finds happiness after Max leaves her for a younger woman.

Little Glimpses Theatre Company brings the intriguingly titled "Nipple Tassles and Nursing Bras" (7, 13 & 21). Claire and Lucy meet at pre-natal classes in a story of "friendship, motherhood and burlesque". Actor and story-teller Joanne Tremarco has performed her show "Women Who Wank" (16, 18 & 19) a couple of hundred times - including some at Buxton Fringe 2015. The show is semi-improvised and may well work best with an audience that is willing to engage with questions of women's sexual experiences (rather than one that imagines that it is daring to say 'clitoris' in public). Joanne is a wonderful performer and can make you laugh and cry within moments.

Finally, among the visual artists displaying their work are Louise Jannetta (8-10, 15-17, 22-24), Paula Hobdey (9,10, 16, 17, 23 & 24), Adrienne Brown (6-8 & 10-13) and Ilsa Elford (16-20 & 22). These artists use a range of media and subject matter - but all will be willing to talk about their work and what inspires it.

Buxton Fringe

Website: www.buxtonfringe.org.uk
Facebook: buxtonfringe
Twitter: @buxtonfringe

Wednesday 18 May 2016

There's been a murrrrder!

"Breaking the Rules" - The Marian Consort are at St John's Church on 22nd July

Now, we are not in favour of murder - or killing of any sort, but at the heart of many a good story there is an unlawful killing. At this year's Fringe we have experts on hand to help us understand how murders happen and how they transform the lives of affected survivors.

Stephen Booth is one of the country's top writers of crime fiction. Derbyshire detectives Ben Cooper and Diane Fry have tracked down murderers across the Peak District. Booth's well-established series of novels have gradually deepened our understanding of the personalities of Cooper and Fry and how their private lives impact on their professional work. Stephen will be in Buxton (July 14th) to talk about his new book ("Secrets of Death").

Comedian Alfie Moore was a Detective Sergeant and in his new one-hour show (10th & 14th) "Getting away with Murder" he will reveal how to choose your weapon and dispose of the body. This is comedy remember. See Alfie on the 10th and test out Stephen on the 14th we recommend.

The Dead Secrets also insist that murder is a laughing matter and their equally new show "Hickory Dickory Murder" (9th & 23rd) is an improvised Golden Age detective story.

In the real world Polish-born Communist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg was murdered in Germany in 1919. Poet Jim MacCool tells the story of Rosa on the opening day of the Fringe (July 6th).

The composer Carlo Gesualdo was born 450 years ago. Apart from composing some of the most glorious music for the human voice Gesualdo is remembered for murdering his first wife and her lover having found them together in bed. The Marian Consort with actor Finbar Lynch tell the story of Gesualdo's last day. "Breaking the Rules" can be heard in St John's Church (22nd) and is likely to be a highlight of the Fringe.

There will probably be other murders. I'm told that Romeo & Juliet love story is grim in spots. Don't tell us though. Find an expert.

Buxton Fringe

Website: www.buxtonfringe.org.uk
Facebook: buxtonfringe
Twitter: @buxtonfringe

Monday 16 May 2016

Loving Buxton!

Buxton Festival Fringe starts in 52 days. The programme is now with the printer - see above - and 20,000 full-colour copies will be delivered on May 27th. We'll start immediate distribution of the programme on the 27th. There are 148 separate shows or events listed with nearly 500 performances over 19 days. We have much to look forward to. But before we turn our attention exclusively to our own Festival it seems right to flag up some other things that you'll want to know about Buxton.

These days many of us turn to Internet as the first source for information. So far as Buxton goes there are dozens of sites that are helpful. One that offers an broad overview of the town and its attractions is Visit Buxton. If you want an up-to-date calendar of what is going on in town then try Explore Buxton.
Between now and July 6th - when the Fringe starts - there is plenty going on in and around Buxton to give you reason to visit the town.

The Drama League presents "One Man, Two Guvnors" at the Opera House from this Thursday (19th) through to Saturday (21st). Richard Bean's comedy was a huge success in the West End and on Broadway and these are the first performances in Buxton.

Over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend (28-30 May) sees the 10th Derbyshire Open Arts Anniversary when dozens of artists will be showing their work across the whole county - from Glossop in the north-west, to Bolsover in the north-east and down to Long Eaton in the south. As you would expect there is plenty to see in Buxton and Whaley Bridge - including work at the Green Man Gallery and Louise Jannetta's Studio.

From 11-12 June a couple of dozen Buxton Gardens will be open - trail maps are available from the Tourist Information Centre and from Poole's Cavern.

The Buxton Spa Prize is now closed for entries - but expect to see dozens of artists out and about the town in the next few weeks working on their images of the town. Work has to be submitted by 24th June and will be displayed at The Green Man Gallery from 1st July.

Sales for the The Buxton Festival are good - some events sold out weeks ago - but from 1st June if you are lucky enough to be under-30 you can get tickets for £5. You'll need to book at the Box Office in person or by phone.

Right, from now on it will be Fringe, Fringe, Fringe.

Buxton Fringe

Website: www.buxtonfringe.org.uk
Facebook: buxtonfringe
Twitter: @buxtonfringe