Monthly Archives: May 2014

Symphony of a Swinging Pendulum

If you go to enough events, read enough books, see enough films, connections seem to appear, even when you haven’t been consciously collecting them. I think I’ve already mentioned here the unexpected appearance of areas and landmarks in London that previously didn’t mean much to me, such as Gloucester Road in Naipaul’s Bend in the River. Other connections take the form of confluences in the nature of experiences, such as occurred this weekend.

My companion had bought tickets for Symphony of a Missing Room, an event at the Royal Academy, associated with the LIFT Festival. Notwithstanding that It Felt Like A Kiss is one of my favourite ‘artworks’ ever, I’m a little bit wary of ‘immersive theatre’, and I was offered the chance to give away my ticket. However, I bore in mind advice from a friend and decided to go. Dealing with a bag involuntarily soaked in beer at Nine Inch Nails the previous night delayed me so much that my late arrival nearly caused an incident, the authorities being mollified by my companion. Auto-tsk.

At the moment the main galleries at Burlington House are closed for the fitting of the annual summer exhibition. We were ushered through the barriers and seated on some folding chairs, watching workmen in the next gallery, who were also peering at us. Colonised by headphones, we followed a lady striding carefully in time with the footsteps of our private soundtrack, and I was reminded of Russian Ark, Sokurov’s single-take journey around the St. Petersburg Hermitage. As I’d been advised from preparatory reading, eventually my glasses were niftily placed in my pocket, replaced by white gauze goggles, through which only impressions of light were visible. From then on, we were asked to walk around ourselves, or guided by fingers and hands we couldn’t see. The hands were eloquent, letting us know when something disturbing was coming up, conveying vertical and diagonal movements, all while we listened to our oral guide in her sound field of chatter and music and noises. At first, I wondered whether we were effectively walking on the spot, but that scepticism was easily swept away. I was conscious that probably two or three people were ensuring my progress at all times. How did they know where they were going, when they were probably watching me to see what I was doing, that I wasn’t about to bump into anything?

There is a lot more I could say. My usual description would be a shame, in case anyone reading will be attending (it’s on for a couple more weeks, though sold out), because part of the joy here is in the not knowing. What I will record is that as an immersion-sceptic I really enjoyed: the unexpectedness, the variety, the solicitude, the furtiveness, the dislocated camaraderie, the beauty and the sense of achievement.

The next day, we went to the Barbican, primarily to see United Visual Artists’ Momentum, in the Curve gallery. I’ve enjoyed other shows in that space, notwithstanding that I missed the one with the moving rain, owing to the persistently preposterous crowds. While this was a more traditional viewing experience, the common factor was the perception altered by darkness, with almost the only illumination coming from the swaying pendulums. There were rumbling, droning sounds coming from the surroundings, while I gradually realised that the pendulums themselves also made noises, related to their different patterns of movement. My companion had to remind a group that their nattering was out of place in an audio-visual installation.

If you stayed long enough, which many didn’t, you could see the cycles of different light sources, different movement patterns and concomitant scratchings, clicks and tocks. If there was something artificial in the dancing of the pendulums, something a little bit too lacking in uncertainty, compared with what you see in a grandfather clock, the choreography of the fleet arcing in time through the curved space was beautiful, and sometimes sinister. Two of them were hanging still and inert. I wondered whether they were having a rest, but perhaps they were just broken.

It was only because we came to see Momentum, that we were able to pick up tickets for The Testament of Mary later that afternoon, which is Another Story.

Frank of the Bigshorts

According to Wikipedia, there are a number of ‘Notable Residents‘ of Timperley, while to some people I know its main importance is its lacrosse club. As a native, I still think of the habitual sweet shops and my favoured places to ride my bike. To many outwith that blessed plot, such prominence as it does enjoy rests entirely in Frank Sidebottom. To me he was not quite omnipresent, but abundant. He would play in Manchester quite frequently, as well as appearing on local radio, notably On The Wire, and occasionally on regional TV shows. Frank’s Indie Medley was always my favourite of his songs.

After I moved away I used to listen to his Fantastic Tales of the Expected on Mark Radcliffe’s Radio Bloke show and (I think) the first time I saw him live was in Edinburgh in 1993, at which gig I bought the t-shirt named in the title of this post. Back in Manchester in the mid-1990s, I think I just missed out on the regular club nights he hosted. Hmmph.

To me he was in the same category as Edward Barton, who at one point lived in the Hulme crescents through which I had walked to the JMB for summer jobs, as a student.

This is not a Z car, this is a Z-bend

he sang, as well as preferring the poetic oblong to the dull, prosaic rectangle. People I could claim as my own. Ten years later, I went along with friends to a Sunday night cabaret (of sorts), which included a Barton performance. Noting his recrudescence, I saw him three more times, cheered that people like that can persist. During that period I saw Frank (and Little Frank) perform as well, his head never aging. The next time I had contact with him was the memorial concert in Castlefield, at which Jon Ronson performed. I saw him wandering around during the show, with his famously-cited son Joel.

A friend is curiously drawn to King’s Place, that GMG folly behind King’s Cross and he notified me of a show by Jon Ronson, promoting his book about time spent in the Oh Blimey Big Band. I remembered reading an article in the Guardian he’d written about this several years ago. However, I’d enjoyed his little speech at the memorial and approved greatly of his efforts to raise money for Chris Sievey’s funeral, which ended up providing for the statue, which (to my shame) I haven’t yet seen, being no longer resident in Mancunia. Last year I saw his Sunday Sermon at the Conway Hall and reproached myself afterwards for not attending the book signing, thinking I’d missed the chance to proclaim my Timperley credentials. Later that summer I saw him at The Night I Died. The entrance to the venue was so unassuming that he hung around and asked the people waiting next to me whether he’d found the right place (we’d been told we couldn’t come in yet).

At King’s Place he mostly read from his Frank book, before reprising his keyboard playing role at the end with Chris Sievey’s son and the band, as a treat at the end of his run of shows. This time I did buy his book and joined the signing queue. I lamented that they hadn’t played a bit longer, suggesting that 7 songs would have been the optimum number. When I mentioned my impeccable provenance, I think he thought I’d come down especially that day and I had to confess I hadn’t, nor had I yet seen the statue that had been erected with the remaining funds from the fundraising he initiated. He was gracious in the face of these failures.

Frank on a plinth

Frank on a plinth

Of course I’d been intrigued by the film Frank, inspired by Frank Sidebottom, though I knew it wouldn’t relate directly to him much. Last Bank Holiday Monday I discovered on the day that the new Curzon Victoria had a free screening for members. After tsking that I hadn’t known this beforehand, I mailed them and was indeed allocated a ticket. The Tube strike was called off that afternoon, so I could attend without transport worries. It was at the new Curzon Victoria, which at the time didn’t exist in Google Maps. Also tsk. Judging by the number of presses on the screen the lady needed to make, the ticketing system there is a little verbose (she had to explain to the people queueing behind me that they could be served downstairs if they wished). Once I had the ticket, no-one actually checked it, which was disconcerting. Unless they did check, but so unobtrusively that I didn’t notice.

The approach of this new Curzon is to have five fairly small screens, with rather comfortable seats, presumably so that they can exhibit a wider variety of films. It was about half-full, I would say. I’m not sure I can claim my experience of the film was more resonant than others would be, because the Frank of the film is strongly marked as his own character, which is a sign of its great success, I think. Ronson had pointed out in his talk that Chris Sievey had been nervous when they were discussing the writing of the film that he didn’t want it to be directly about him, because he thought it would destroy his own mystique. The trajectory of the plot and the protagonist is not the predictable one and I very much liked the irresolution of the ending, the music lingering with you. It’s another success for Abrahamson (and Ronson) and worthy of the Bard of Timperley’s memory.