Friday, November 28, 2014

Catch up

The family issues keep on distracting me from my blogs (and from writing - which is dreadful!), so some of the interesting events I've attended this autumn just haven't got reported here. One thing I should have blogged about (I did take notes, because I intended to) was a Manchester Literature Festival reading with Martin Amis and Nick Laird, which I did find very interesting. (It was one occasion when Amis proudly called himself a Philo-Semite, for which he's since been criticised on the grounds that it's racist to characterise a people as all good, as well as to characterise it as all bad). Amis is always very listenable to, and of course his prose is vivid and rhythmically flawless. I was very struck, too, by the sense of a lot of what Nick Laird said about literature and writing.

Another was the launch of Carys Davies's superb second collection of short stories from Salt, The Redemption of Galen Pike, a lovely evening held at Daunt Books in Holland Park. Many of the stories in this book have won or have been long- or shortlisted in major awards, such as the V S Pritchett and Society of Authors awards, the Manchester Writing Prize, the EFG Sunday Times award and others. Carys's writing is taut and vivid, with both a mythic quality and a touching insight into human frailty. I strongly recommend her book.

I thoroughly enjoyed two very recent events. Last week at Edge Hill University, C D Rose and Edge Hill Prize winning Kevin Barry gave truly stimulating readings. C D Rose's book, The Biographical Dictionary of Literary Failure (Melville House), is a brilliant compendium of talented but failed writers (and a rebuttal of the assertion that 'talent will out'). Fact or fiction? Well, it's not immediately clear, and that of course is the point: if, through external circumstances, you disappear from literary history or never make it in the first place, you may as well be fictional. Innovatively, before he read the first entry, C D Rose read the Index of the book, which sounded like a long poem and was both hilarious and moving. Kevin Barry read 'Fjord of Killary', a story from his Edge Hill Prize winning collection Dark Lies the Island (Cape). His reading was so animatedly brilliant that I wondered if the story would stand up to my scrutiny when I read it on the page, but it certainly did - as did all the others in his wonderful collection.

Here are the two writers in the Q & A afterwards with convener Ailsa Cox (C D Rose on the left and Kevin Barry in the centre):

The next evening I was at Halle St Peter's in Manchester, the beautiful Ancoats church with its elegant airy interior converted as a rehearsal space for the Halle orchestra. The event I was attending was part of the project Different Spirit, a series of installations and events curated by Helen Wewiora and produced by Julie McCarthy, Creative Director of 42nd Street, a charity working with young people under stress. This was a musical event, titled Local Recall, and the culmination of work done by Open Music Archive artists Eileen Simpson and Ben White with the 42nd Street young people in the Ancoats area and Unity Radio. Simpson and White work to explore the potential of public domain material, and for this project they revisited the free art, music and lectures that were available to the Ancoats public from the late 1880s. Using piano player rolls, the young people had remixed, cut up, looped and re-assembled Victorian popular songs, and this was what we first heard when we arrived and milled about the church - very impressive. Then there were two live piano recitals: first, musician Serge Tebu took Victorian popular songs as starting points for jazz improvisation and then recent RNCM graduates Calum McLeod and Liam Waddle played new music they had composed using the remixes made by the 42nd Sreet young people - really quite stunning.

 Finally, after the break, we saw a breathtaking film made by Simpson and White using out-of-copyright footage and making haunting visual connections between the inner workings of a player piano, Edwardian mill scenes, and mid-twentieth-century Ancoats streets. The film was accompanied by a live sound track specially commissioned from Graham Massey, founding member of 808 State, composed and played by him on the night using exclusively 1990s technology. A really startling and moving evening, which the large audience greatly appreciated.

Artists Eileen Simpson and Ben White talk about the project.

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