-- Google Analytics START --> <-- Google Analytics END -->
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK
Wednesday, February 28, 2007Tryweryn revisited Today I nominated the sculptor John Meirion Morris for the 2008 Artes Mundi visual arts prize. He asked me if I would, having read my very enthusiastic blog about his Bangor exhibition three years ago. Revisiting his website brought back to me the extraordinary power of his work, particularly perhaps in his Tryweryn sculpture, keeping us all in mind of the Liverpool Corporation's decision to flood Capel Celyn and the Tryweryn valley near Bala in 1957, an anniversary which has gone oddly unmentioned in this city so far this year.
The faces in this sculpture (pictured here) might be expressing the horror and the terror of the people of that upland community, screaming at the destruction of their homes, or perhaps the protest of generations of Welsh people politicised by such monstrous acts of violence against them. But these contorted faces form the feathers of a most impressive bird, rising in mythic force to grace new skies, fish new waters. The symbolism is powerful and the sculpture never fails to impress. I hope John gets on the Artes Mundi shortlist. After all, the award and exhibition will be in 2008 - and no one concerned with artistic integrity will fail to see the connection between his work and the culture of the city of Liverpool...
Tuesday, February 27, 2007Hell House on your trail friend of mine reminded me of that production when he presented me with a photo of myself taken all those years ago in that alarming guise. It was quite disturbing, I thought, could be something out of a horror movie. But then, last night, I watched Hell House, and now it's all in perspective.
The youth of Trinity Church, Dallas, don't go for anything as feeble or randomly entertaining as Aladdin for their annual show. To the Assemblies of God believers Aladdin might be construed as satanic, with its genie-in-a-bottle sorcery deviating from the true word. But Aladdin is mere flim-flam compared to Hell House, which is what they do instead.
Hell House is what the youth of Trinity put on at Halloween. We're not talking about a dozen actors hamming around a tiny church hall stage in front of fifty aunties. We're talking of a cast and production crew of hundreds staging what is effectively a full-blown theme-park experience for thousands of (mostly young) people who are driven between venues on flatback trailers. And the Hell House crew aren't in it to entertain. Their aim is to graphically depict a series of devilish scenes from contemporary society: school massacres, date rapes, AIDS-related deaths, fatal drunk driving crashes, and botched abortions. The message is predictably unambiguous: if you don't turn from such activities then you'll burn (punters are corralled into a constructed Hell at the end of the show which illustrates this very graphically). And the horror of it is that these cameos often focus on condemning the victim; it's not the rapist but the raped who goes to hell, not the bully but the suicidal victim.
George Ratliff's documentary crew were given full access to the Hell House team, the film following the process from the first script meeting until the last of the 10,000 visitors passed through the Hell House exit doors somewhat shocked and shaken by the terror show they'd witnessed. His crew were 'a little shook up ourselves,' by the experience, Ratliff writes in the liner notes, 'but not for the reasons the church intended.' They constantly fought the urge to impose their own belief system on the film, as they had promised the people of Trinity that the film would be an even-handed, verite-style documentary. And so it is. And therein lies its strength, and what makes it eminently watchable from start to end.
Though the rationale for Hell House is itself disturbingly hellish, Ratliff gets behind the shock-masks of the actors and reveals them as complex, sensitive human beings. The youngsters auditioning for roles such as Rape Girl or Suicide Boy do it with the same wide-eyed keenness as any prospective teen actor; their joy on fulfilling their parts is warmly evident. Of the 75,000 punters who have experienced Hell House over the past few years only 15,000 took the (intensely heavy-handed) invitation to 'commit themselves to Christ' at the end of the show (no, I've no idea what that actually means in that context), and most leave the event angered, appalled, alienated by the message. But the film shows that Hell House does make a positive difference - at least to those who take part. I was struck by the young woman's story who one night, playing a Rape Girl in a Hell House scene, spotted in the audience the man who years previously had raped her - and in that moment, as never before, found herself able to forgive and to move on from the trauma. And then there is the Trinity Church man whose wife had recently walked out on him and their six children for a guy she'd met on the internet, putting himself in the audience to watch a scene uncannily close to his own story ... because (for healing, maybe, for purging) he'd written it.
The Hell House serves a horrifically distorted version of Christianity; but Hell House the film is so thoughfully crafted and delicately nuanced that there is some redemption to be found in it after all.
Sunday, February 25, 2007Hey Yoko Recent events reawakened me to the radical work of Yoko Ono, who along with Adrian Henri and other collaborators created an event called Music of the Mind / The Fog Machine at the Bluecoat Gallery in September 1967, a performance which involved, among other things, inviting audience members to participate in wrapping then unwrapping a bandage-covered Yoko; and lots of smashing things up. Pretty avant-garde, for the time, and still challengingly so, watching it on a screen in the sanitised space of Liverpool Tate this week.
For not fitting the desired narrative of the time and place Epstein was conveniently sidelined; but Ono has had it worse: she's been reviled. In response to this I made a significant journey straight from the Tate uphill to Probe, and for the last few days I've revelled in repeated plays of Yes, I'm a Witch, Ono's latest work, a collaboration with loads of great contemporary artists in celebration of her exceptional musical output over the years. A reminder of just how good she is.
Yes, I'm a witch / I'm a bitch / I don't care what you say / My voice is real / My voice speaks truth / I don't fit in your ways / I'm not gonna die for you / You might as well face the truth / I'm gonna stick around for quite a while.
- that's the woman's triumphant response to our rejection of her over the years. And it's good that she has stuck around, because she's given us works like Revelations (on the album in duet with Cat Power), its lyrics a contemporary set of beatitudes which go way beyond mere hippie idealism, embracing knowing humour and good wisdom:
Bless you for your anger, it's a sign of rising energy.
Bless you for your sorrow, it's a sign of vulnerability.
Bless you for your greed, it's a sign of great capacity.
Bless you for your jealousy, it's a sign of empathy.
Bless you for your fear, it's a sign of wisdom.
Bless you for your search of direction.
Bless you for the times you feel no love.
Open your heart to life anyway
In time you will find love in you.
You are a sea of goodness,
You are a sea of love.
Bless you, bless you, bless you,
Bless you for what you are.
Saturday, February 24, 2007Liverpool Surreal
- I don't always like the way Paul Morley writes, but at his best he's like this. Though the fact that he's favourably on my favourite subject helps a lot. A brief extract from his Liverpool Surreal piece in the Centre of the Creative Universe exhibition catalogue.
Friday, February 23, 2007Centre of the Creative Universe: Liverpool's new canon Bill's been posting these all over town as his contribution to the new Tate exhibition, Centre of the Creative Universe: Liverpool and the Avant-Garde.
There's one on the stairwell below the Second Floor of the Tate, and there's a few stuck around what The Culture Company and others like to call the city's Creative Quarter. Because I think a so-called 'capital of culture' must have four creative quarters, I hope Bill has got out to the sticks with some of his posters too - like round here where people say "Capital of Culture - nothing in that for us" (despite our area's rich cultural heritage), or in the boarded-up streets of L4, which have been shut down by stealth by a multinational Soccer Franchise and complicit City Council set on razing a famous area of the city to the ground (in the exhibition Jeremy Deller and Paul Ryan remind us that the fated Anfield Road is the childhood home of Brian Epstein, possibly the most influential figure in modern Liverpool history and one of the most marginalised).
It's a good exhibition and the catalogue probably the best thing that's been published so far in anticipation of 2008; because it tries to map out some alternative histories of the city and gives exposure to some artists "who have continued to find their way to Liverpool outside the 'official' channels". Of course the very act of doing this creates another canon of acceptable Liverpool cultural history, and the very engrossing map of Liverpool's people, venues and movements (which covers the large exhibition entrance wall) will be worth spending a long, long time with to study the integrity of this new canon. However, at first look it's one I relate to with warm fascination. Cropped extract below; available for download in its entirety here.
Thursday, February 22, 2007Thanks, St Rocco's St Rocco's to share with her closest family and friends the first hours of life without Lynne. Deeply saddened at our loss, but increasingly impressed by the work of the ever-so-valuable hospice movement. Thanks, St Rocco's.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007The road home must start at the sea The road home must start at the sea. After all, it's probable that there wouldn't be an M62 were it not for the trade generated by the boatmen of Grimsby, Hull, and Goole. So my Lent discipline this year is to listen to one song per day from a two-tape compilation which Jim's put together of the songs of John Conolly and Bill Meek, with 19 pages of lyrics which Jim has painstakingly transcribed, and explanatory notes from the musicians themselves.
It should be a real insight into the people whose lives were lived close to the elements, whose eighteen-hour days were spent traversing the waters between the Humber and Iceland, the White Sea and Faeroe and who enjoyed an abundant harvest between 1945 and 1960, the waters teeming with fish having being undisturbed during the war years. Jim's category headers describe the fulness of their experiences: Out to sea / Tough jobs on shore / Loss of family life / Disaster / A girl grieves for her lost lover / Protest at exploitation / Fisherman's dream of heaven / Where is God? / Changing times. There'll be little sentimentality here, plenty of authenticity and reflective learning. And that, I think, is a Lenten sort of thing.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007Two new blogs Jane, whose poetry of passionate protest has featured in these pages before. She's uncompromising. And Linda, whose first blog entry reveals her hope to do a long-distance walk across the North of England later this year. Sounds familiar. She's my sister. Perhaps it's genetic.
Monday, February 19, 2007Describing what remains
- in The Extraordinary Ordinary, Rosemary Shirley's introductory essay in the catalogue to The Caravan Gallery's recent Portsmouth retrospective.
More on Perec here, including these valuable quotes:
Trains begin to exist only when they are derailed, the more passengers are dead, the more trains exist; planes have access to existence only when they are hijacked; the only meaningful destiny for cars is crashing into a sycamore: fifty-two weekends per year, fifty-two totals; so many dead and all the better for the news if the figures keep increasing! [...] In our haste to measure the historic, the meaningful, the revealing, we leave aside the essential.
What really happens, what we live, all the rest, where is it?
Sunday, February 18, 2007On Fronlief Hir In the land of prehistoric stones and ancient roads I travelled the most wonderful route last week: Fronlief Hir, which connects the ancient churches of Tanwg (nestled in the dunes near the mouth of Afon Artro) and Tecwyn (high in the rugged hills overlooking the warrens and saltings of expansive Morfa Harlech).
It would take a day to walk it; and it ought to be walked, to properly comprehend its breathtaking rise from golden coast to upland wilderness (and finally to high, humble, settlements among ancient trees); to properly explore the many hut circles, cairn circles, ancient settlements and standing stones this road connects in the high fields between Bryn-hyfryd and Moel Goedog; to fully appreciate the beauty of tiny Eisingrug with its fancy hidden-away hotel, and the green stillness of wooded Pont-Dolorgan.
But I drove it. Very slowly: suffering that anxiety of all who travel narrow high-walled lanes hoping never to meet a vehicle coming the other way; held up by cattle grids and farm gates; but mostly just awed by the views unfolding beneath me.
The high point of the road brings the greatest reward: nine hundred feet above Harlech the land below falls away and a glorious panorama opens up. Of wide Cardigan Bay. Of the wandering Glaslyn and Dwyryd rivers and the shining sands on which they meet. Of sprawling Porthmadog and silly, lovely Portmeirion glittering by the wooded waters edge opposite. Beneath us run the Talsarnau turnpike road, the single-track Pwllheli railway and the A496 (speedy route to the holiday sands). And framing the entire scene, the blue-grey mountains of Eyri and the craggy hills of Lleyn tumbling out to sea. Up here all is silence and extreme satisfaction, for the lone traveller on Fronlief Hir has discovered one of the great and gentle roadways of the Western world.
Saturday, February 17, 2007Nocturne in Chrome and Sunset Yellow In January I made no new year resolution and in February I signalled that my Lent intentions were going to be a bit contrary. But one thing I have enjoyed bringing into my routine, and hope to continue through 2007, is a poem a day. They're good for the soul. Or have been so far, all coming from Tobias Hill's recent collection Nocturne in Chrome and Sunset Yellow.
To paint the sea really well, you have to look at it every hour in every day in the same place so that you can understand its ways in that particular spot.
- Hill quotes Claude Monet in the frontispiece to his book: and informed by that sort of vision Hill's work is enthralling for me, with some wondrous attention to everyday detail as demonstrated in this first page* from his series A YEAR IN LONDON:
[* which ends prematurely but that's all he's giving away online so that's all you get unless you buy the book...]
Friday, February 16, 2007Snowdonia: an Eccles cake epiphany
We each have our favourite confectionery. Mine is the Eccles Cake. Don't ask why. As a child I resisted currants when they were presented to me in school puddings (Spotted Dick, yeuch) or dotted around modestly in Mum's sponges. But lash them together uncompromisingly inside Mince Pies or Eccles, I'd be there for seconds, thirds. Sticky pastries I would also spurn, and to this day I feel that the discomfort of messing about with fickle Danish Pastries far outweighs any pleasure. But place before me a solid stodgy sticky-topped Eccles and I will not resist.
Eccles Cakes fill, sweeten, and energise the eater in a fuss-free Lancastrian way. I guess I really began appreciating them as a football fan, for Eccles Cakes were on the canteen menu at Goodison Park for many many years and they made a tasty half-time treat, warmed-up on request by the girl working the oven, accompanied by a hot cup of tea. Compared to the more popular 'meat' pies and Bovril, mine was the sweet option, but to my mind a little sweetness was welcome on bitter winters days when the fare served up to us on the pitch had been unremittingly chilling.
In my youth I also discovered that Eccles Cakes are good for hill-walking too, providing they are packed in such a way as to remain uncrushed, for a broken Eccles in the hand is worth only leaving in the bush for the birds to peck. As energising as Kendal Mint Cake but tastier and far more filling too.
But that was in my youth. In adulthood the crisis of my life has been epitomised in The Search for the Perfect Eccles Cake. For something went wrong with Eccles, somewhere along the line. One day travelling through Salford I was shaken to discover a factory unit bearing the unmistakable signage of the classic Eccles Cake company. Something shocking to realise that Eccles Cakes were not, after all (or any longer), made in Eccles. And since that time I've become convinced that these displaced manufacturers are making their product smaller, or increasing the amount of stodgy pastry in them so as to cut back on currants.
Worse, one symptom of Everton (like every other Premiership club) taking the corporate dollar (or in our case, Yen) was the displacement of Eccles on the half-time menu by tasteless and massively expensive hot dogs. And they're not always there when you need them, so at times, stocking up for hill walks in Snowdonian Spar shops or Lakeland Lidls, I've been reduced to purchasing Chorley Cakes instead, which are like Eccles, but flattened, with all the goodness squeezed out. My adult life has been a Search for the Perfect Eccles Cake and so far it has failed.
But this week, to my great and joyous surprise, the search was suddenly fulfilled. Llanberis is of course a famed site for hearty indulgence, Pete's Eats having for decades refuelled thousands of us with pint mugs of tea (refilled) and massive plates of steaming hot meals, having stepped down off the Mountain (or driven over from Caernarfon). So it seems appropriate that if my Eccles Cake Epiphany should come anywhere it should come in Llanberis. Which it did, on Wednesday, when in the Llanberis Spar shop I happened on a package named Siwgir a Sbeis (you don't need Welsh lessons to work out what that means) and inside it, four of the largest Eccles Cakes I've ever seen. When I picked up the package the sheer weight surprised me too - either these cakes are densely packed with stodgy pastry or, as I suspected and was later delighted to find, they contained massively generous amounts of currants: beautiful, sweet, perfect - and very, very big. A meal in one.
I have, in intervening years, come to terms with the original Eccles Cake company having moved across Greater Manchester to continue their trade; so I was well-prepared to celebrate the welcome presence on the market of Siwgir a Sbeis, who are a Llanwrst company run by two 'food loving, Welsh speaking mums (both called Rhian!)' whose staff (working family friendly hours and close to home) use their own and everybody else's grandmothers' recipes, and the best ingredients, to produce the treats which I guess are selling very well in the towns around here. Thank you, Rhians, and thank your grans. For my crisis is over, I know that the perfect Eccles Cakes can be found, and that, like so much else of rare wonder and grace, they are to be found in these high hills. I shall be returning for many more.
Thursday, February 08, 2007Click to Carry I shan't be blogging for a few days so why not fill your eyes with wonder, as I've just done, at the lovely paintings and prints of Carry Akroyd and her John Clare series. Back soon. I spent today preparing my session on Heaven in Ordinary for March's Greenbelt Regional Angels Day: Leeds and the North. I won't give too much away as it's all new material and I know some readers will be there. Except to say that in keeping with the occasion and to reinforce my 2007 M62 connections it's also all-Northern. And that in the process of unearthing some good local material I came across Comma Press who have recently published The Book of Leeds, a collection of short fiction from some of the city's most celebrated writers, with stories from every decade from the last fifty years in the city's history. Not only that but they also publish smaller volumes of Leeds Stories, Manchester Stories, Newcastle Stories and Liverpool Stories, and The Book of Liverpool is forthcoming. All from a third floor office at the back of Piccadilly. There's a piece of regional co-operation which really seems to be working.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007Bringing the world's wars home Scenes of rare beauty on Scotland's west coast photographed by Simon Norfolk in Granta 96 - a soaked shallow beach mirroring wide skies in South Uist, tiny islets off a Scalpay harbour, pockmarked green Cape Wrath clifftops, a white goose sheltering beside a red phone kiosk on Loch Goil.
Yet Norfolk titles his photo essay Military Landscapes. For all the beauty in these places they conceal the ugliness of war; for all the peacefulness in these places they daily shudder beneath the sonic booms of fighter planes, or are physically blasted by practice bombardments. The South Uist beach is a missile testing range, Scalpay hosts the Lochmaddy Submarine Exercise Area, those Cape Wrath clifftops are pockmarked because they are an Impact Zone of naval and aerial bombardment, and on Loch Goil while the white goose shelters HMS 'Richmond' is undergoing sound signature testing.
Granta 96 is dedicated to writing on War Zones, and well done Granta on ensuring that they don't all describe far away places from which we readers can readily distance ourselves. James Buchan writes on Trident, hidden among the scenic waterways of the Clyde estuary at Faslane. John Burnside describes in excruciating detail his experiences at the hands of a childhood bully in Whitland. And Norfolk's pictures are introduced by Granta editor Ian Jack whose project has revealingly, brought the world's wars home:
Today, the Scottish west coast continues to be the most heavily armed region of Britain and quite possibly Europe, offering mountains and glens for low-flying fighter and bomber exercises, sea and moorland for uranium-depleted artillery fire, underground storage for nuclear weapons and naval fuel, emergency moorings for nuclear submarines. I go there every summer. The loveliness of the changing light on sea and mountain makes it hard to imagine the ominous technology buried beneath.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007The Old Guard or the Avant-Garde
Top of the pops will be the free lunchtime lectures at Liverpool Cathedral on 800 years of Liverpool History. Covering medieval Liverpool, Liverpool as viewed from the rest of Lancashire, the city's philanthropists and voluntary sector, its contribution to public health, its cathedrals, and Cosmopolitan Liverpool, it's a tie-in with John Belchem's doorstopper Liverpool 800: Culture, Character and History.
And it'll be good - some of the best lecturers on Liverpool history and in a fine venue, it'll attract a lot of lunchtime punters; but if you read this blog often then you'll easily suss that I'm looking forward all the more to the series that's due to take place half a mile down the hill and an hour beforehand: Art Lectures: Liverpool and the Avant-Garde - From Modern to Contemporary at the Tate.
That's a tie-in, too, with the exhibition Centre of the Creative Universe: Liverpool and the Avant-Garde. Five speakers will explore aspects of Liverpool's culture from 1945 to the present day, especially Liverpool's avant-garde tendencies, which, as will be revealed, are pretty radical and internationally influential.
So there we go: filmic Liverpool, photographic Liverpool, the city's role in Art Politics, the city’s status as a work of art in the mind of the artist, and investigations in the work of Adrian Henri, Yoko Ono, Martin Parr, and many others I don't yet have the pleasure to know.
In the wonderful choice of whether to go for Wednesdays with the Old Guard or the Avant-Garde, I think you'll guess which series I'll be attending.
Monday, February 05, 2007Lent intentions
I don't need them any more:
The footy shirt from the last time we won a trophy, which now chokes me if I try to squeeze it on;
The thigh-hugging cycle shorts from the days when I had (excuses for) muscles, all now turned to pulp;
The bright orange waterproof from when I once walked fells. I shan't be doing that again in a hurry (I'll be doing it again slowly; and only in clement weather neatly attired for an easy transfer to a convenient eatery);
I will be giving up clothes for Lent,
I don't need them any more.
I will refuse to be penitent this Lent,
When penitence means taking sides:
With a city emptily crying over a long-departed form of slavery, so as to absolve and expose ourselves to the New Masters of Redevelopment already inside the dock gates;
With those who, switching off on Standby, like to think they're saving the planet; embracing Carbon Offset as a Comfort Blanket; inoffensively protesting to no-one in industry, the White House or the WTO;
With anyone who would falsely insist that Christianity involves scapegoating people for their sexuality, gender, class or race.
With anyone who thinks we should give Benitez the benefit of the doubt.
I will refuse to be penitent this Lent,
When penitence means taking sides.
I will spend some time in the wilderness this Lent,
with some unlikely prophets:
With Zappa, who said the world is all one big note;
With Beefheart, in whose world view healing, liberating electricity surges through us all;
And with sage Mark E, who reminds us that our world relies entirely on the work of uh-Containers and their Drivers: "Bad indigestion / Bad bowel retention / Speed for their wages / Suntan, torn short sleeves."
I will spend some time in the wilderness this Lent,
with some unlikely prophets.
Saturday, February 03, 2007David Moyes nearly smiles The taciturn tactician David Moyes very nearly smiling after our 3-0 season aggregate derby score. Such simmering joy. Says it all really.
Friday, February 02, 2007Pranks 2 and Popper All the way from San Francisco, Pranks 2 reached my door today. In this sobering corporate-run, fundamentalist-frightened world, it's great to be reminded that to be effective, resistance should be fun. Pranks 2 celebrates the work of various 'driven individuals ... attempting to give wake-up calls', who 'deserve our support not only for their perseverence, but for their unfettered imaginations, as they reprise the eternal role of the mythological Trickster, reinvented for our hyper-media-sedated society'.
These are the likes of DEVO's Gerald Casale, who, as Jihad Jerry and the Evildoers, has released Mine is Not a Holy War, an album with a title which of course subverts itself and opens the way for Jihad Jerry to attack 'ALL idiotic, illegitimate authority spawned by fundamentalist beliefs'.
Or Stephen Colbert who used a stand-up slot at the White House Correspondents Dinner to relentlessly and skillfully savage the President, two seats away from him, and the 'tolerance' of those who share Bush's beliefs: "Though I am a committed Christian, I believe that everyone has the right to their own religion, be you Hindu, Jewish or Muslim. I believe there are infinite paths to accepting Jesus Christ as your personal saviour." Or the Billboard Liberation Front with their billboard improvement 'in celebration' of McDonald’s 50th Anniversary featuring an animatronic Ronald McDonald force feeding a hamburger to an obese child.
Pranks 2 features far more extreme examples than these, and some would say that the pranksters' extreme behaviour is a form of fundamentalism itself, it displays intolerance of others and seems to deny others the freedom to express themselves. Well, as Jello Biafra says, "that doesn't fly when the deck is stacked so far on the other side."
I like it when things connect. So it was great to see the pranksters' instincts affirmed in a far more temperate publication, this week's New Statesman. Reviewing American Fascists: the Christian right and the war on America, Giles Fraser cites Karl Popper saying something very, very important:
"Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend the tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them."
Thursday, February 01, 2007Caravan Gallery in Portsmouth
It just proved impossible for me to get to the big Caravan Gallery retrospective in Portsmouth. So I've written off for the catalogue as a consolation. If you're near the south coast, you've one week to go for a real treat.