Friday, 24 June 2016

Jacques Brel: A Life A Thousand Times

Far West Theatre premiered "Jacques Brel: A Life A Thousand Times" in Buxton last year. It was very well received at The Green Man Gallery. You can see a revised production - also at The Green Man - this Fringe on 8, 13, 17, 23 & 24 July. Simon Pennicott-Hall, the driving force behind the show and who takes the part of Brel, answered some questions for us.

1] Jacques Brel? Why should we care about him anymore?
I would argue that, in the English-speaking world, we never really got to caring about him in the first place. Brel never wrote or sang in English and only performed in the UK and US a handful of times. Even then the audiences admitted they hadn’t a clue what his songs were about. We didn’t have the cultural appreciation for foreign artists then that we do today. When he started to become really famous here, it was not because of an appreciation of his talent, it was from how that talent was translated into songs the English public could understand. Many artists (Aznavour & Distel in particular) chose to sing in English to expand their appeal. Brel absolutely refused to do this, and it was only really when Mort Shuman, Terry Jacks and Scott Walker took the matter into their own hands that people started to identify with Brel’s work.
The problem is that this, I would say, has given us a false impression of Brel. As popular and successful as some of the translations were, they are nothing like the originals, they lack the intensity and imagery that Brel chose. He was very brave, passionate, and sometimes controversial in his choices of subjects and words. In France, Belgium and around the rest of the world he was and is still celebrated as a master songwriter, storyteller and explosive performer. You cannot get this from “Seasons in the Sun”, “If You Go Away” and (in “Alive and Well and Living in Paris”) regardless of who performs them.  
The Brel that we think we cared about then, is not the Brel that the rest of the world knows. Brel did not write songs to be commercial, and I think it is important that we strip away the commerciality we have wrapped his songs up in, in the past. There is so much more to discover if we do this.   
2] Brel was a flawed figure. Not necessarily a good family man - do you feel at all uncomfortable playing him?
I’ve played a number of questionable characters in the past, so I wouldn’t say it makes me feel uncomfortable. To me it makes it more exciting. Bear in mind that when we say he wasn’t a good family man, we are talking from a standpoint of now, where there are almost set moral rules of how men should behave. Back then it wasn’t uncommon for men to behave the way he did. Even his daughter France admits that much of his behaviour wasn’t abnormal for the time.
Whilst I don’t agree with all his views, and certainly not on how he treated the women in his life, the more you research the man, the more you can kind of understand why he was who he was. It’s important for an actor to find a connection with whomever you are playing, an understanding of what made the person tick and why they held the views that they did. And there is so much to work with in Brel’s life.  
Imagine dropping out of school, taking a chance on a music career, and all of sudden record companies are throwing money at you and women are throwing themselves at you too. Who wouldn’t be taken in by this? That was Jacques. Yes, he was flawed but it shows he was human too. Many people say after seeing the show that they can’t decide whether they like him or not and I think that’s fair.  However, we could just as well be talking about any number of modern artists when we make this conclusion.     
3] You've rewritten the show from last year's premiere. What changes have you made and why?
We have updated translations of many of the songs and there are also some additional sections of dialogue. The translations are the key thing; last year, although we had retranslated many of the songs, we were still using some historical versions I wasn’t happy with. Now I can finally say that all of the translations we use are our own. There is also one brand new song and some of the songs have been switched between performers. It has been a lot of work, but I think it gives the show more balance and gets us closer than ever to the original Brel tracks.
My research into Brel is an on-going thing, so as I’ve been doing this I’ve found additional bits of text I think are important to include. There are lots of sources out there, but the majority of these are in French so it takes a while to translate and digest them. I’ve received a load of information from Editions Brel since last time, so this has helped put a lot more meat on the bone.  
4] Brel - was he a Belgian or a European?
A very good question. Brel considered himself to be Belgian and whenever he was quizzed in interviews, he would never hide from this.  As he said “Brussels is not Paris, but wherever I go in the world, Brussels is never far from me”. I think he was being genuine about this. His songs are littered with Belgian imagery, places and in a few cases, Belgian language. The only reason he wrote and sang in French was that his family, although Flemish, spoke French at home. He sang about the beautiful and not so beautiful aspects of his home country, in a way you just don’t get from his songs of other places. He was proud of the land he was born in, warts and all.
The French may believe him to be theirs, but I can’t think for a minute Brel would have agreed.  Even when he’d finished his singing career, Brel premiered the French version of “Man from La Mancha” in Brussels when - I guess - he could have done it anywhere in Europe. That speaks volumes.    
5] It is easier to feel personal sympathy for his daughter (France) rather than for Jacques - is that how you feel about the two of them?
Actually, no. With France narrating the show and not being restricted just to things she has said in real life, it is easier to make a connection with her and be sympathetic about her relationship with her father. But France has accepted her father for who he was. She is at peace with it. She was, in fact, the one who set up Editions Brel, so that her fathers’ work could be celebrated and promoted. However bitter we might feel France should be, we project a lot of that on her. She does not ask for our sympathy.  
Of course, it cannot have been easy with her father being away so often, with the rumours of affairs and the very limited communication between them. But then it can’t have been easy either for Jacques being away from the family, working ridiculous hours to make his career. When Jacques was tempted, whilst inexcusable, the fact that his wife knew and stayed with him must have been like torture. Once again Jacques does not ask for our sympathy. But in a strange way, I feel we owe it to him.

If you would like us to report on your Buxton Fringe 2016 show contact us at: entries@buxtonfringe.org.uk and we'll set that up.
Buxton Fringe

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


Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Lest We Forget - a Buxton Fringe premiere

Aulos Productions have become regulars at Buxton Fringe and their shows are always keenly anticipated by out audiences. James Beagon from Aulos took up our offer to answer questions about their Fringe 2016 show which is being performed at Underground Venues on 14, 15 & 17 July.




1] Lest We Forget is about the aftermath and the effects of the First World War. When you started writing it did you ever have a sense that there was nothing more to say about the War - or turning the question around what did you want to say that would seem fresh?

It was pointed out to me a couple of years ago that nobody really questions what happened after the First World War. In schools, pupils only tend to learn about the Treaty of Versailles and then the so-called Interwar period, usually within the context of "The Road to Hitler" and so forth. Nobody ever asks how they cleaned up the battlefields of WW1; nobody really wants to consider the nasty details. 

Similarly, nobody questions why we have the cemeteries and memorials that we know and visit today either. We just assume it was a foregone conclusion - most people consider them to be respectful and therefore a natural by-product of the war. Yet in 1920 it was anything but a foregone conclusion that they would happen, with a fierce parliamentary debate (and indeed, a national debate) on the subject in May that year. 

The closest thing a 21st century person has to relating to this idea is that famous line from Alan Bennett's play "The History Boys", where the boy's controversial and cynical young teacher cryptically suggests that the words on the memorials should not read 'Lest We Forget' but instead 'Lest We Remember'; he suggests that the appearance of clean stone memorials is there to hide the dirt about what really happened and where blame for the conflict truly fell. But even that falls far from the tree. The opposition to the memorials was not based on cynicism, but on a passionate belief that the government were essentially stealing the bodies of their sons. On the other hand, support for the memorials were fuelled by an odd alliance of those with patriotism for the British Empire and yet surprisingly liberal views on the equality of the fallen men.  

Suffice to say, the debate was not nearly as clear-cut as modern audiences might consider it to have been. Therefore, we felt there was new ground to be broken by exploring the stories of how these memorials came to be through the lens of a single family, and what sort of new ideological battles were unpleasantly fought as a result.

2] Without giving too much away do you want to tell us something about the new play and what you are looking to achieve?

Lest We Forget focuses on the story of the Ashwood family. It's 1920 and Edith Ashwood is at loggerheads with the Imperial War Graves Commission about their refusal to return the body of her son, Harry, to her from the battleground of the Somme. The five characters in the play have very different perspectives and memories of Harry, and gradually we come to see how both he and the war influenced their lives differently in turn.

When writing the play, I wanted to challenge both of the assumptions I mentioned before, the respectful and the cynical. By highlighting one family's struggle to bury their son where they want to, we hope to show that history is never a foregone conclusion. It's not about whether the war was a bad thing, a tragic thing or even a good thing, which is so often the subject of our post-war literature. It's about how it shaped and influenced society in the years immediately after it, how it influences OUR modern society and how the debates it provoked about conflict and remembrance are still as relevant today as they ever were.

3] Aulos has a strong reputation and its work is keenly anticipated. Do you have a sense of that? Do you worry about letting people down?

Constantly! But I think I'd still feel like that even if we didn't have a reputation for our previous work. If anything, that reputation is quite encouraging. It shows that audiences are engaging with our style and also our choice of topics which aren't always the most mainstream of subjects. It makes us more confident that people will always find ways to connect with our work whatever it may be, regardless of how obscure our subject matter is.

4] Is there an "Aulos Productions" style? Looking back over your work are there themes or methods that are in the DNA?

Some might say that we're a bit grim and depressing at times! But I think also we do strive to find some measure of hope in things as well. I'm an ancient historian myself and thus all of the plays I've done with Aulos have had some sort of historical or mythical link. But I'd say our true style is something which is focused primarily on character. That's certainly something we emphasise with our rehearsal process, where we will spend a lot of time doing short and long-form improvisation as well as generally devising new ideas about the characters before we engage in script-work. 

I like to think of it as having an ultimate emphasis on personal histories, not just traditional history, and particularly histories or perspectives that don't often get much popular representation. 'First Class' started off that trend with its split monologue style across the three different time periods and then 'Women of the Mourning Fields' was all about telling the stories of real women misrepresented by history. 

'Lest We Forget' in turn deals with a fictional family but in the midst of a historical event which many may not be familiar with. Therefore an introduction to this family also conveniently serves as an introduction to the question at hand. Whatever the answer to that question may be is however entirely up to you; we're just serving up additional sympathetic perspectives for your consideration. 

5] You are performing in the 40-seat Pauper's Pit. This really will be the last year for the Pit and so the final time you get to put a show on there. Any memories of the Pit you'd like to share?

It's been great performing in the space for the past 2 years. Personally, I've still got my fingers crossed that it won't truly be the end once more, but I know that's unlikely. 

I think my best memory of the Pauper's Pit was the reaction we got after the first performance of 'First Class', which went down really well. Our first performance in Buxton is always our first anywhere in the world for our Fringe shows, so up until that point, we really had no idea whether people would like it or not.


Also, the reactions of my successive technical operators to seeing the little tech cubby-hole and the swing-around lighting desk for the first time has always been consistently funny!

If you want to talk to us about your Fringe 2016 show write to: entries@buxtonfringe.org.uk and we'll set it up.


Buxton Fringe

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


Saturday, 18 June 2016

Invitation to meet Shakespearean Superheroes

Invitation just in - thought we'd better pass it on. Gatecrashers welcome - so long as you buy a ticket.


You are invited to a touring comedy play Shakespeare's Avengers Assembleth: Age of Oberon by Drake's Drummers Theatre Company.
Written and directed by Pelham Grosvenor-Stevenson, Callum Moffat and Adam Toon.

Audiences in Buxton will be treated to an hour of acclaimed new comedy writing this summer as Shakespeare's Avengers Assembleth: Age of Oberon is due to hit for five days. In a world where all of Shakespeare's characters exist simultaneously, Oberon of A Midsummer Nights Dream has gone mad. We're talking full-on Hamlet. The fairy king has kidnapped William Shakespeare, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Shakespearean Heroes International Evil Lessening Division) and his mischievous sidekick Puck has brought him the Infinity Quill. A quill unlike any other, for the Infinity Quill has the power to rewrite history itself and forge a new future at the will of its master.
Anxious of the scenario that is unfolding, Shakespeare's greatest heroes; Hamlet, Macbeth, Ophelia and Brutus decide that they should do something to stop the oncoming apocalypse. Under dubious instruction's from Puck they head to Midsummers Forest to confront Oberon and the fairies. Shakespeare's Avengers have assemblethed.

Shakespeare's Avengers Assembleth: Age of Oberon has received high praise at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2015 and is currently on national tour. It offers an alternative take on classical Shakespeare and entertains audiences with its fast paced, tongue-in-cheek delivery and writing. Rod Cotton, independent theatre producer said, 'A young, imaginative company whose work, especially at the Edinburgh Fringe [Shakespeare's Avengers Assembleth: Age Of Oberon], has developed their talents into thoroughly entertaining theatre that is highly inventive.'

About The Company:
Drake's Drummers Theatre Company is a new writing company based out of Plymouth.
Having been formed in 2014 by a group of three writers and actors, the company has gone on to have success at a number of festivals as well as produce theatre for a local and national stage. It is in the process of planning and curating the first outdoors waterfront theatre festival in the South-West. Its production of Shakespeare's Avengers Assembleth: Age of Oberon is currently touring the UK. You can see the play in Buxton this July at Underground Venues between 13-17th.


Buxton Fringe

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


Wednesday, 15 June 2016

After We Danced: Five Star Romance comes to Buxton




One of the shows at Underground Venues this coming Fringe is "After We Danced." Presented by NoLogoProductions the play is on from 12-14 July. Andy Moseley who wrote the piece took some time out to tell us something of the background to "After We Danced."

The play was inspired by two real events, the first was a couple in America, Helen and Kenneth Felumlee, who spent seventy years together, held hands every morning, never spent a night apart and died within 15 hours of each other in 2014 as Kenneth couldn't bear to live without his wife. Rather than write a play about a couple like that (because who wants a story where people are always happy!) we went with the idea of a couple who should have been together, but fate kept them apart. That brought us to the second event which is the Lynmouth Floods in 1952 that destroyed more than 100 buildings and killed 34 people in August of that year. The play is about a couple that met then, and how that event caused them to separate and not see each other again for sixty years.

I think of it as sweet and romantic but also tragic. Most of the 1952 scenes are sweet and romantic, you have a couple who are clearly meant to be together at the start of what should be a long and happy life with each other. The tragedy is that they end up spending so long apart. I made a conscious decision to give the play a happy ending and hopefully make it uplifting, which is why they are back together sixty years later. That their love has lasted is sweet and romantic, but also sad because of all the time they spent apart. 

Setting the play in the immediate post-war past was almost coincidental rather than deliberate as the idea was to have a relationship that could span a lifetime which automatically meant that it would start somewhere around 1952, but that did make a big difference to their relationship. In 1952 the country was still living in the shadow of the war with the last parts of rationing yet to end, and a lot of the things that defined the 50s, and started to shape the world beyond it, yet to emerge.  It was a different world, and I liked what that meant when it came to writing the story. Had they met in the late 50s or 60s it would have been a less innocent time and maybe their relationship would have been very different and never have meant so much to either of them. The early 50s probably also adds to the sweet and romantic element of the play because of the innocence it adds to it.


We took the play to Edinburgh last year where it got five star reviews and sell out shows, and having been to Buxton twice before in 2010 and 2013, we wanted to come back again to keep our record of doing the fringe every three years! As the last time we came was billed as the last year of Pauper's Pit, it's also nice, but sad to know, that this year is also the last year of Pauper's Pit.


If you want us to feature your Fringe show here contact us at: entries@buxtonfringe.org.uk

Buxton Fringe

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


Monday, 13 June 2016

Burbage Art Group Makes Material Gains

Red Admiral by Rachel Slaney


Burbage Art Group’s 2016 Art Exhibition, a popular highlight of the Buxton Fringe, is featuring more variety than ever this year with several artists choosing to work with fabric for the first time. 

Says organiser Rachel Slaney: “We hope to have examples of weaving as well as various fabric and embroidery collages this summer as well as our usual mix of watercolours, acrylics, mixed media and pen and inks.”

Works come in every size and medium with one of Burbage’s artists, Laura Critchlow, having had a painting exhibited by the Royal Society of Miniature Painters in London. Although the friendly group caters for all abilities, several of the artists have been nominated for Fringe Awards in the past. 

With subject matter including local views, animals, portraiture, abstracts and exotic landscapes, there is something to suit every taste at the exhibition, which takes place on Saturday July 16th from 11am to 3pm at the Burbage Institute. A free event, the show includes cakes and refreshments plus a children’s quiz with a certificate and balloon for all completed sheets!

Burbage Art Group meets weekly during school term times on Wednesday nights at Burbage Institute in Buxton and has both male and female members with ages currently ranging from 21 to 80 plus. It also sponsors young artists from Buxton Community School, usually featuring their exciting work at the exhibition.

Says Rachel: “We always welcome newcomers and if you join us now you can look forward to having your work exhibited with us in July. People generally bring something they are working on to the class but I’m there to offer advice and inspiration.”
  
Anyone wanting further information about the exhibition or pay-as-you-go classes should contact Rachel Slaney on 01538 266220.


We are always happy to report news from Fringe shows or performers. Send your stories and pictures to: entries@buxtonfringe.org.uk and we'll post them on the Fringe Blog, 

Buxton Fringe

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


Sunday, 12 June 2016

Meet Bluesman Mike Francis




Mike Francis was a welcome guest at our launch party last weekend and he sang a couple of songs for us before he had to head off for a meeting. Mike also agreed to answer some questions for us.

1] You've been on the road for 40 years. What changes have you seen in that time - in terms of audiences, the music, gigs, other musicians?

A tough answer to condense but I’ll do my best. Much of the original blues influence in Europe had come via US forces bases established after World War II. Over the last 40 years travel, communication and media has shrunk the world and the scene has become much more international. Since 1990 even though the UK has gradually become host to the tribute band, in terms of spreading the message of the blues there has been a healthy evolution of dedicated events and festivals. Amongst the forest of trilby hats a whole new
generations are able to experience an exciting piece of cultural history. Digital media has taken the music industry from the cassette to the likes of YouTube, streaming and down-loading enabling an artist to reach the whole world with much greater ease. Indeed traditional music genres and artists have also benefitted from these developments.

The likes of google search has become king and in my own case actually caused an unexpected problem. In 2009 a singer of the same name passed away in Italy somewhat ironically massively boosting their google presence. By 2011 I took the risky decision to rebrand as Bluesman Mike Francis as it was causing a substantial problem when gigging in Europe. Although in some ways it meant starting again, in all honesty it has been a pretty amazing few years and luckily I haven’t looked back since.

2] How has your music, or your approach to it, changed?

Quite simply taking advantage of a situation following a comment made by Rolling Stone's author Martin Elliott. He identified a link with my contemporary material and traditional roots of people like the late Woody Guthrie and Robert Johnson. Essentially what I have done is taken that a stage further and put together the show Story of the Blues, which will be at Old Clubhouse Buxton twice on Sunday 17th July as part of the Festival. It has an element of education but is not by any means a science lesson, just fun. I’m really enjoying being all acoustic again and even playing bottleneck slide on 12 string guitar that I so loved doing in my early days. If I can inspire and interest a new audience then the job is done.

3] Which other musicians do you most admire? Are you conscious of borrowing from them?

Sounds a cliché but over the years there has been so many. I consider myself very lucky to have toured and played with some truly brilliant performers that have provided very special influences. Naturally I have learned an awful lot and hope to demonstrate a little of my own evolution on the 17th July. Other than that I don’t want to give too much away. That would be telling…

4] Want to tell us more about the European Blues Awards as an event?

Although there’s been many different music awards springing up over recent years, the European Blues Awards celebrate their 35th anniversary in 2016. In recognition of this they are featuring a number of showcase events throughout Europe to raise the profile of the organisation and blues music in general. The first one was in Holland during May and I believe they continue throughout this summer. As well as pianist Dale Storr who will be playing shows at Buxton the same weekend on Saturday 16th I was also nominated in the awards process during 2013 and am both delighted and honoured to be involved.

5] Can white men sing the blues? An old chestnut I know but...

That’s an easy one. Of course they can! OK in some countries of Europe the dialect can sometimes sound a little unusual, but that’s the beauty of the blues. It can be performed by anyone and is essentially a very simple form of expression. Even back in the day, blues music was not solely the exclusive domain of black performers (one of the myths that I attempt to explain and dispel during the Story of the Blues show). Despite the general belief at the time, 1970’s punk rock was not the first music genre that enabled absolutely everyone to express themselves and their emotions musically.

6] If Robert Johnson was alive today would he still be singing blues or would he find another way of giving expression to being poor and black?

Haha, a great question, I like that. If Robert Johnson was alive today he would certainly still be playing and singing the blues, most importantly on a good ole acoustic guitar. Despite the advent of technology, acoustic instruments are as popular as ever before. OK he’d probably be looping the odd riff but I suspect like me, he’d be singing about the likes of Donald Trump through the finest music genre in the world, telling the Story of the Blues.

Bluesman Mike Francis will be at The Old Clubhouse on Sunday 17th July. Tickets are available in advance from Buxton Opera House.

If you want to be interviewed for the Fringe Blog contact us at:
entries@buxtonfringe.org.uk

Buxton Fringe

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


Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Partying at Pimms' O'Clock

We had a 'bit of a do' on Sunday formally to launch the 2016 Fringe programme. 20,000 52-page full-colour programmes are now back from the printer and are being distributed throughout Derbyshire and across parts of the north-west.
As ever the programmes are free and feature a lovely design by artist Helen Mint. For the party we were lucky to have free entertainment from five 2016 Fringe performers.

First off we had Egriega - who were travelling back from a wedding in Edinburgh. Theirs is a bluesy/jazzy sort of a sound and filled Green Man Gallery nicely. We look forward to hearing much more from them at Underground Venues on 7, 9 & 10 July.


Next up we had Simon from Far West Theatre who some of us heard at the premiere of his Jacques Brel "A Life a Thousand Times" show last year. He has re-written the show and is back at the Green Man with performances on July 8, 13, 17, 23 & 24.

Lewys Holt made a bus trip from Leicester to join us (returning by rail to Nottingham) to do some telepathic dancing. His 'cool' dance show on the Fringe is called "Of, or at fairly low temperature" and you can see that at the Arts Centre Studio on July 16 & 17. Lewys is an engaging chap and his show is one to put in your diary.

Darren Poyzer was due to sing for us - but he had a breakdown on the way over and had a very long wait for the breakdown service and got home at about two in the morning. Sorry about that Darren - we look forward to seeing you soon. Happily for us Bluesman Mike Francis was in town and had a car full of guitars. He did a couple of numbers and will be doing his "Story of the Blues" show at the Old Clubhouse on 17 July. Pictures of Mike and an interview will be on the next blog.

Finally, we had Will Hawthorne and his Band (Matt, Nigel and Kenny - though sorry to say drummer Kenny can't be seen in this picture).

They treated us to six songs - including three from their Fringe show "Keep up with the Joneses" which you can hear at The Old Clubhouse on 18 July. The full show includes more than a dozen songs about Mr, Mrs or Ms Jones - including the Beatles, Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead.

We had Charles on hand to manage the sound for all the musicians in a calm and unfussy way. Many thanks also to the volunteer staff of the Green Man Gallery for helping move furniture, keeping us all safe and being so welcoming.

So, the programme is well and truly 'launched' - all we have to do now is support the artists as well as we can.