The Anti-Slam: January 23rd at The Old Fire Station

‘Every time you dry your hair

You kill another polar bear…’

Anyone who has anything more than a passing familiarity with the slam poetry scene would, unfortunately be liable to have encountered the odd dreadful example of the genre. Its sins are manifold – but let us name as examples regularly found and best avoided:

  • lax composition and going too blatantly for the easy rhyme, over and over again
  • narcissistic wordcraft (this is all about me, and my feelings!!!) that fails (or simply neglects to make) any attempt at transcendence,
  • the presentation of what are, following a little consideration, facile right-on bien pensant platitudes as ground-breaking (if self-evident) pieces of revelatory political insight. “The Sententious Editorial in The Guardian syndrome”

or – rather more comprehensible and forgivable – the inexperienced performer who simply loses their nerves when presented with an attentive audience; or who prefers to emote excessively, out of dread that their words, presented in a more neutral tone, may not reach their intended effect…. the anti slam

Perhaps to counter these perils – perhaps even to alert aspiring slammers to these and other risks – was born the “Anti-Slam”, hosted recently at the Old Fire Station, which was promoted as offering “Oxford’s best poets” performing poetry. It must be said….it succeeded, admirably: some of Oxford’s best poets really were there, and so in control of their craft, and able to manipulate its techniques, to satirise its aspects most open to satirising, that they managed to present some works that were, frankly, somewhat, frequently hilariously, awful: but, it must be said, some way short in awfulness of what has sometimes been heard in more conventional slams. And rather more hilarious  The label of “so bad its good” was thus fitting.

Thus: we learned that

Snooker is a metaphor for racism and colonialism, as there the white knocks out all the other colours – and owns the table.

A direct and inevitable consequence of using a hair drier is the death of a polar bear.

Those entirely unfamiliar with what Pokémon is about learned precisely nothing from one poem - filled with allusions and references rather narrowly drawn from that field alone.

And above all, over and over again, we heard far, far, far more than was strictly necessary on the topic of bodily discharges.

There were: terrible rhymes, self-obsessed dronings, grotesqueries – of presentation as well as of substance: there were, among the delights and the demonstrations of What Is Not To Be Done:

  • the poet (Pete The Temp) walking on stage, and starting his performance by coughing into the microphone;

    'coughing'

    ‘coughing’

  • the poet (George Chopping) getting lost in his digressions and ramblings that left too little time for his actual poem;
  • the poet (James Webster) reading closely from his mobile phone (which is interrupted by the signalled arrival of a text message mid-flow);
  • the poet (A.F Harrold) ranting incoherently and being altogether abusive about cats
  • the poet (Danny Chivers) as over-ardent, and, some might suggest, intentionally ill-informed, environmentalist (dressed in hi-vis vest and campaign T-shirt), spewing forth agitprop, interspersed with a derivative of rapping in a cod-Jafaican accent

    cats

    ‘cats’

  • the angry angry poet (Paul Askew), the resurrection of Alan Parker Urban Warrior, perhaps, who throws the microphone away, rants and shouts from a shopping list of Things That Are Wrong In The World;
  • the poet (Kate Byard), the author of angst-ridden crush-smitten teenage poems written as diary entries, foolishly deciding to bring them to a public audience years after they were written…
  • the poet (Sophia Blackwell) who demonstrated precisely why, over many centuries, poets of note have generally not found menstruation an apt metaphor to describe the qualities or intensity of love

    'diary'

    ‘diary’

The poetry apart, the presentation of the evening is worthy of note: Tina Sederholm and Dan Simpson shone as hosts, aided proficiently by the most mysterious scorekeeper this side of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, the seemingly slightly Germanic “Professor Vert”.A general proliferation of velvet clothing lent an air of hipster decadence, which was possibly fitting. While the audience had the opportunity (one that was sometimes taken advantage of) to order a poet off-stage once they had been performing for two minutes, should their work be considered sufficiently awful,

Judging was conducted by a “professional” panel of jurists – Steve Larkin, the founder of “Hammer and Tongue”, Paula Varjack (the instigator of the Anti-Slam), and Sally Outon, who took delight in expressing their response to each poet’s presentation – in one instance by drawing a picture to express a despair that surpassed all words.

 

'Your face is like a rained on cake...'

‘Your face is like a rained on cake…’

In the end those three poets deemed to be the best worst, or the worst best, or something like that, were set a final challenge: they had ten minutes to compose poems on a person, an object, and a place, chosen by the audience: these turned out to be, respectively, Gary Barlow, a sock, and the moon. At least two of which are subjects on which poets have been mysteriously silent. Which almost certainly proved to be a good thing. Sophia Blackwell took the prize, deservedly, coming up with the most coherent and memorable poem of the three.

So, all in all, an entertaining evening, rather different in character from a Hammer and Tongue night: with the judging, and some the poets seeming to act in exaggerated character, this was something of the vaudeville or the literary burlesque about this offering. A most worthwhile addition to the Oxford arts scene.

Dominic Heaney

2013 – Lucky enough for some…

Watch out for this woman

Watch out for this woman

Due to problems with contracts, particularly one taken out on her by a local arts institution following criticism of their security personnel, chief reviewer Irreverend Green was forced to beat a strategic retreat this summer, leaving the OAG:RE pages blank during our transition from regular meetup group to royster-doystering arts impresarios. To counter this absence, we offer a whistle stop tour of a landscape that sped by all too quickly…

jim

Jimmy Jazz…

The year began with a night-time journey into ‘jazz (or is it?’) at Reading’s MILK bar with legendary local jazz and soul DJ Jim B Donovan. In a deserted room on a rainy Tuesday, Jim played vintage vinyl, granted requests, (no matter how obscure) and even lowered the volume when we demanded. For a few hours we were made to feel part of the most exclusive club in the world. I still get chills thinking back over the evening’s events and that wasn’t just the MILK bar cocktails….

Freud at it’s most, um, ‘Freudian’.

A fortnight later it was time for our first big social of the year at the notoriously unpredictable ‘Freud’, this time confounding all expectations by actually being open when we arrived. In the Feliniesque surroundings, we met, mingled, imbibed cocktails and a little later in the afternoon, found ourselves transported to Wolfson College for an exclusive exhibition preview thanks to East Oxford sketch supremo, Merlin Porter. Wine and discourse flowed and we kept them company all the way…

Those whom the Gods would destroy...

Those whom the Gods would destroy…

The final event of the month brought the delights of the classical world to a critically demanding modern audience with the Ashmolean Museum’s inaugural ‘Live Friday’. There were plays, displays, recitals, gladiatorial contests and toga-tying demonstrations. It was fun, it was packed, and Gods or no Gods, by the end of the evening, some of us were hammered.

Our favourite Broad.

Our favourite Broad.

February saw the birth of the OAG:RE – our arts review site, later to lend its name to the group’s first awards ceremony. The OAG:RE yawned, stretched and pointed its gaze at Magdalene Rd studio’s Drawing Show II and when all seemed to be confusion, there was new member Jeremy Darge of Broad Canvass to offer reassurance and encouragement. Broad Canvass currently offers a 10% discount to arts group members, as do a number of other independent retailers, so please ask for details.

All on the Cards...

It’s on the Cards…

Less than 24 hours after the Magdalene Road exhibition, the arts group settled back into their seats to enjoy a concert by internationally renowned ensemble, The Carducci Quartet at St John’s. A number of free tickets had been made available beforehand and we were quick to take advantage. The quartet played Hayden, Debussy and Dvorjak and when they’d finished, there was free wine. And free food. And we freely praised the musicians. Or whoever it was we were talking to.

Mammas, don't let your bablies grow up to be.....poets

Ma, don’t let your kids grow up to be…poets

March offered a change of mood when ‘prairie poet’ Ken Mitchell moseyed into town. With a little help from the arts group, Ken put together the first of two ‘Cowboy Coral’ evenings at the Isis farmhouse. The weather did it’s best to rain on his bonfire, but Ken assembled a band of musical outlaws and the sounds and stories of the Saskatchewan plains rang out loud and clear across the fields….

And with the idle hand...

And with his idle hand….

In April, Modern Art Oxford played host to two major exhibitions featuring the work of Hans Josephson and Jenny Saville. Both were fabulous, if only for the quality of debate engendered among our witty and cultured membership. For me though, it was a show dedicated to John Tweed, ‘the empire sculptor’ at Reading Town Hall, which had greatest resonance. Cast as an unreconstructed Elgar, all pomp and little significance, Tweed was capable, as reviewer Ray Bable put it, ‘on, or possibly WITH’ the other hand’ of producing pieces to rival his friend and teacher Rodin.

Take a chance on us....

Take a chance on ‘Southern Blues Fiasco’.

Also that month, after three years and over 200 meetups, the Arts Group finally threw its own creative hat into the ring. ‘The Re-rites of Spring’ at The Albion Beatnik bookstore offered a showcase for local poets, musicians and storytellers (as well as later in the year, artists, actors and comedians,) adding tea, cake, wine and good company to the mix for good measure. We’d seen the future and it appeared to be bookshop shaped.

osc 2

Shiny happy people having fun

Things were hotting up in June as we entered the Empress Ballroom for Oxford Soul Club’s latest Northern Soul extravaganza. If you’ve ever find yourself out of step with modern dance trends, visit this shrine to self expression and experience the breadth of individuality and energy on display from revelers aged 17 to 70 within. As if to underline our inherent diversity, the following day, we packed out East Oxford community centre for an evening of documentaries on ‘The Arab Spring.’ Our numbers were sufficient to prompt a change of rooms from the organisers, which created a little tension, but while we may agree to disagree on certain matters, as a group we’ll never shy away from dialogue.

Did him proud

Did the ‘Alde’ feller proud

2013 marked the centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten and Keeble College honoured the occasion with a series of free concerts. If anybody ever doubted the potency of a well-trained baritone voice, they need only have heard Mathew Dawson’s recital of Thomas Moore’s Irish Folksongs to have had such reservations vanquished. Accompanied by his brother Richard on piano, Matthew was a worthy winner of our ‘best male performer’ award for 2013.

Oxford Arts Group pose as tourists

Arts Group doing the ‘Oxford City Walk’.

The parade of cultural treats continued through the spring: Kennington and District United Church choirs delivered a stirring afternoon of ‘Grand Opera’ at the Holywell Music Rooms, with all donations going to Medic Assist international, while across town, ‘Cross Poly Nation’ presented a fertile mix of contemporary musical styles encompassing everything from rap to mini concerto. The next real landmark event however, came with a series of literary tours arranged with David Gunnell of Oxford City Walk. David was so charming, knowledgeable and passionate about his subject that we began an association which was to bear considerable fruit for the group later in the year.

M&M (Merlin and Miriam) A crispy coating of artistic talent.

By the time ‘an almost midsummer day’s dream social’ at the Albion Beatnik rolled round, showcasing the artwork of Merlin Porter, we were really getting into our organisational stride. Much of what we’d learned as a group however, could be attributed to events like Ruth Williams and Sophie Trinder’s ‘Hear the Word,’ a wonderfully intimate gathering of poetry and storytelling enthusiasts, which we attended several times in 2013, and which was just pipped to the post in the ‘best regular event’ category at the OAG:RES awards.

Stubbs the....well, not exactly 'elder'.

Stubbs the….well, not exactly ‘elder’.

Beware a sinister right handed man...

Beware the sinister right handed man…

2013 was also the year we finally made it to Elder Stubbs, a fixture of the local festival calendar, which, had it not been for virtual storm conditions, would have seen us wandering happily between a reggae sound system, the ‘Dung’ Beatles and stalls selling home-grown produce all afternoon. A few weeks later however, we were luck enough to sample a mixture of French chanson, mediaeval pop and contemporary ballads, courtesy of Bruno Guastalla’s extraordinary ‘AZUT. The ensemble’s delight at finding an audience eager to savour their musical delicacies was matched only by our pleasure at hearing their interpretations of standards including ‘Summertime’ and a theatrically sinister ‘Main droit rouge’.

Kyran making a play within a play within a bookshop within etc...

Kyran making a play within a play within a bookshop within etc…

Neil, David (William and Frederick were busy).

Everyone’s a winner….Neil nabs best regular event while David takes the best single event award

2013 had proved to be an exceptional year, but the final quarter made the experience stratospheric. We commissioned Joel Kaye to write and produce a short play for the Albion Beatnik; David Gunnell led us on a magical journey ‘Beyond The Walls of Jericho’ incorporating a surprise appearance from The Horns of Plenty; and the untimely passing of Seamus Heaney inspired the creation of another new fixture on the Arts Group calendar, ‘ConVerse’, (poetry and verse in context).

The sweet taste of toxic metal for Tina

The sweet taste of metallic gold success for Tina

The year culminated in a celebratory gathering at St Margaret’s which pulled together many of the strands woven around the group throughout 2013. There were sublime spoken word performances from Lucy Ayrton and Tina Sederholm (pictured); a blistering (if brief!) set from Jim B Donovan (Mr Jazz himself). Bruno and Paul from Azut serenaded in the evening and everything climaxed with THE OAG:RES awards ceremony, during the course of which we presented (and in the case of ‘best regular event’ received) statuettes which in a certain light, look nothing like the Oscars.

Did I mention the membership card?

Did I mention the membership card?

We’ve come a long way, but the story certainly doesn’t end here. We’ve recruited a new writer to help cover our programme for 2014, and we’re always looking for MORE, so if you’d like to contribute to the OAG:RE in any way, INCLUDING designing a new logo to replace our previous figurehead (see below) do get involved. A ‘polished’ approach isn’t necessary, as you’ll know if you’ve followed our evolution over the past 12 months. You just need to have a passion for your endeavours. That’s what drives us, and what a lot of fun we’ve had!

So you can do better?

From Jim B Donovan’s January jazz set at MILK.

Cowley Road Carnival: July 7th, 2013

Orlaith Delaney takes her leave of Oxford with a stroll among the brightly coloured gowns on the east side of town.

By midday, people had started staking out a spot for themselves on the pavements, setting up their deckchairs with their coolers of drink within easy reach. The sound systems were cranking up, thumping the dust out of the bricks and the memories of winter from peoples’ brains. The signals were clear: there will be a party here today.

1

This was the first year for some time that the Cowley Road Carnival would take place on the street itself. The event had largely taken place in South Park the past few years, but this year Cowley Road would take centre stage again. Cowley Road is a carnival on a normal day, with its smorgasbord of global cuisine, trendy bars, graffiti-covered walls and the versatile East Oxford Community Centre. So it was a pleasure to see that most of the businesses on the street were getting involved; the bars hosting music events while many restaurants set up food stalls to showcase their culinary talents.  10

5

A procession was scheduled to take place from the Community Centre to the SS Mary and John Church. The theme of the procession was Wheels of Change and would feature school children, community groups, dance groups and no doubt, the odd swept-up spectator.

By 1:45pm, Cowley Road was thronged. Parade participants were trying to make their way down to the Community Centre without damaging their outfits; revelers were trying to decide where to stand so they could get a good view. The sun was exploding down out of a clear, blue, sky – the first truly hot day of what nobody expected would become a three-week tropical heatwave for the country.

7The mixture of people in attendance was an anthropologist’s wet dream. There were families with young children, groups of teenagers, students, white haired OAPs, all vying for a good standing spot. The intelligent people stood on the shady side of the street; the sun was so hot that day it was able to penetrate 50 factor sunscreen. People saw the potential in the weather for displaying every tattoo on their bodies; men went topless, women went backless. Though it was a relief to see that, for one day at least, buttcheeks were generally kept under fabric2

A horn was blown to signal the beginning of the procession and a cheer rose from the crowd. Drums pounded, whistles blew, streamers fluttered, dancers shimmied, saxes wailed, flags waved, confetti rained, and Cowley Road turned into a river of blue, pink, silver, black, yellow, red, green, purple and white shiny bright costumes.3

The parade itself seemed quite short, and you would really have needed to have either been right at the front of the crowd and risk getting danced over or to have secured a high vantage point to fully appreciate the intended effects of the various groups’ outfits and floats. But the atmosphere in the crowd was good, and the sensory overload of a passing carnival is an experience in itself.

Once the parade has passed, the crowd began to split up. Most people instantly sought out some cold beverages or went looking for food. It was again possible to walk up the street half an hour after the procession. Stragglers were still following the smoke signals to the barbeques, or snatching hands from the ice-cream sellers along with their popsicles. But it was mostly the dedicated party-makers that now remained, enjoying the chance to show off their moves in the middle of the street or settling down to a major drinking session.8

Unfortunately, the day did not end well for the carnival as fights broke out late that evening and one person ended up being stabbed. But the early part of the day was a truly enjoyable experience, especially for people that frequent the businesses on the street regularly. The Carnival is now an established feature on the Oxford calendar, and if some people can’t hold their drink, it should not be allowed to tarnish the reputation of the event. Next year, get there early, find a high spot, slather on the sunscreen and for an hour or two, join in the carnival fun.

Words and pictures by Orlaith Delaney

 

Museum Security Guard Quarterly reviews ‘Come Draw With Me’ at the Ashmolean Museum: 28: 06:13

ashAfter a close encounter between two members of Oxford Arts Group and an extremely diligent security guard during a performance of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ in the European Art Gallery last night, we’ve been given a special preview of an article to be featured in the latest edition of Museum Security Guard Quarterly…

“..My word, the place was awash with chavs tonight. I was certainly kept on my toes. I personally averted a national disaster though my quick thinking. This lout was leaning up against the painting in my room as if it was a bus-stop.art I swooped down on him and got him out of there before any more damage was done. I suspect he was in league with that guy that defaced the Queen’s portrait recently. He disappeared immediately afterwards, so it’s obvious he was up to no good.

it was this close

it was this close

I put a warning out to my team over my radio about him, and he didn’t have a chance to launch his attack that night.

What? No, the painting will not need repairing. There were no scratches or smudges, probably because I acted so quickly. I mean, he was behaving like a horse rubbing against a scratching post. Some people! There was a woman there too, and even when I stood right in front of her and politely asked her to move forward, she just leaned further backwards!  I had to plant myself between her and the painting to protect it. She soon learned not to mess with me…

Pick on someone your own size

Pick on someone your own size

Only last week, a man was wandering around with his two children. They were running around, screaming and laughing, like all children, and then one of them actually touched the big statue in the atrium. Of course, the man did nothing to stop her. He probably lets them run wild everywhere. These statues have been preserved for hundreds of years, they have survived rain, wind, storm, countless wars – imagine if we just let children put their sticky paws all over them. A museum is no place for a child. Ever since Julia came up with the idea of ‘trails’ around the rooms, parents have been bringing their sprogs in droves.

Little man, what now?

Little man, what now?

It is such a waste. The children have no appreciation of the artifacts, all they do is try to find the rabbits or whatever else these trails suggest. What benefit is there in looking for rabbits? How will that teach them anything? If they want to play games, they should stay at home with their ibox.

The people that come through this museum sicken me. They always arrive in gangs, and wander around talking and laughing. I doubt if they even notice any of the artifacts. Most of them just do a perfunctory circuit before they head to the café to stuff their faces with cake. Often, they spend longer sitting there than they did in the display rooms.

Trail of Disaster

Trail of Disaster

Why is there a café in a museum anyway? This is a sacred place of knowledge, not a feeding trough for pigs. People need to feed their minds, not their bellies. They do enough of that already – Britain has been hit with an obesity epidemic. No wonder when our youth are allowed to spend so much time watching TV and spending time on that Facebook.

ibox thing

ibox thing

Sorry? What painter are you talking about? I don’t know who painted it. What difference does that make? You can see how important it is by the heavy gilt frame it has been given. Look, I don’t have time for this nonsense, I have to prepare for our brainstorming session tomorrow. The museum board is worried about the fall in attendance recently. I don’t know why they are surprised. People these days care not a jot for culture. You need to leave now. I’ll take that pen, thank you. Don’t even attempt to scrawl your name on the wall anywhere, I have my eyes on you. Now, get out…”

As reported to Orlaith Delaney. Captions c/o Neil Anderson

Ashmolean Live Friday: ‘Wilderness in the City’ (31/5/13)

wildernessFate had conspired to make me miss all three LiveFriday events at the Ashmolean museum so far, so I was determined not to let another pass by without my presence. I also knew that being able to go with the Oxford Arts groupies would make the night all that more enjoyable: ‘no man is an island’, and all that. However, I was left a bit underwhelmed by this month’s title– Wilderness in the City. Previous nights had been far more self-explanatory – An Evening with the Gods, China Night – but what could the ‘wilderness’ refer to? Unless I’d overlooked a natural history wing of the museum, perhaps?

A preparatory visit to the museum’s website informed me that Wilderness is ‘a multi-award winning’ festival, no less, that combines music, contemporary arts, theatre and posh food. In other words, one of those boutique festivals for people too softened by their flat screen surround-sound home entertainment system, power showers and SUVs to be able to cope with the mud of Glastonbury, but still want to be able to believe that they are hipsters with their fingers on the pulse of the current music culturewilderness in city

Wilderness in the City intended to bring performers from the festival to the museum and allow them to bounce their creative talents off the exhibits…without breaking anything, hopefully. There would be a Philosophy Slam, Baroque theatre, an exploration of pre-Renaissance British festive culture, and a chance to delve into Shamanism by ‘reaching a state of altered consciousness’. This may explain the large hordes of students at the event, though the shamanism seemed to refer to merely dressing up as animals, so the students may have been disappointed. However, it gave them an opportunity to sneer as they marveled at their own displays of wit while standing in self-congratulatory circles blocking the way for losers cheekily attempting to inhabit the same space as them.

Empty White Circles - artist's impression (Recognise the artist?)

Empty White Circles – as captured by Merlin Porter

music

I don’t wanna go down to the basement

It was to the basement the Arts Group wended our way first. For me, this and the alcohol therein helped set up the bohemian mood for the night – the space was wreathed in purple, mauve and pink light, there was a constant babble of chat and the first band, Empty White Circles, were using their melodic indie tunes to wash away the audience’s leftover troubles from the week. Some groupies went for the bottled beer, some had a nice cup of tea, and others tried out the fruit and rum punch, quite refreshing, especially at only £2.50 a glass, though I thought the rum became less evident in samples I tried later.


We attempted to plan our night, drawing up a timetable with colouring pencils left by the museum to inspire hidden artists. However, coming up with a plan was to prove difficult not because of inadequacies in the information provided but because of the sheer choice. Kids in sweetshops had it easy compared to us. We had all been given a brochure on our entry to the museum, with the events outlined, along with times, and maps showing where they would take place. The problem was trying to decide how to squeeze in as many as possible.

The night as a whole was very well coordinated – not many events clashed or, if they did, one or the other were likely to be repeated later on. in the atrium, George Chopping, host of Oxford’s monthly ‘George’s jamboree of Music, Poetry & Comedy… Possibly’, was entertaining the crowds. People were wandering around, chatting, getting lost. But this did not seem to put George off. It also added to the atmosphere as you made your way between floors, making you think a disembodied voice was attempting to impart nuggets of wisdom, if only you could distinguish what it was saying above the hubbub of the crowd.

George Chopping - coping with drones

George Chopping – Coping with drones

Our first port of call turned out to be the Classical Mystery Tour in the Greek and Roman sculpture gallery. Here Dr Quis (who?) explained the phenomenon of ‘mythory’ – when myth and history become intrinsically linked, the wooden horse of Troy for example. ruinsRuins excavated in Turkey had been identified as the most likely location for the city, which it seemed had been devastated by an earthquake. Poseidon is best known as god of the seas, but multitasks as the god of earthquakes and is often represented symbolically as a horse, so experts conjectured that perhaps the story of the wooden horse of Troy was inspired by the destruction of the city in an earthquake, hence creating mythory. This does not explain Achilles, Odysseus or ‘the face that launched a thousand ships’, but all that may be poetic license.

lute

Matthew Faulk (possibly)

Upstairs in the Music and Tapestry room, Matthew Faulk was beguiling the crowd with the lute, his playing delicate and refined, though perhaps a little too much so to compete with the background noise from the rest of the event. I’m not sure if lutes by nature are quiet instruments: they were after all designed for entertaining people with nothing to do in the afternoon except sit around in drawing rooms, conforming to societal conventions. However I believe staff began closing doors to this room at later performances in an attempt to drown this noise.

robert

Robert Rowland Smith slams the narcissists

Next came a descent on the Cast Gallery for the Philosophy Slam. I was expecting a kind of face-off between sages of yore, as if Socrates and Plato had a run-in at the local pub, but Robert Rowland Smith from the School of Life was the sole performer. Audience members were asked to shout out words or questions and Robert would then discuss the suggestions from a philosophical viewpoint. A variety of topics were covered, including love, vanity, and morality, I found his discussion of narcissism quite interesting – Robert said narcissists had spent a lot of time looking at their reflection because it was the only way to recognize who they were, rather than because they admired their own reflection as vain people do. But perhaps his discussion of human rights gave me even greater food for thought. Robert said if a human right was universal, it would be so obvious it wouldn’t need discussion. Instead, when most people talk about human rights they tend to mean human preferences. “It’s what I want, so it must be right.” Hence the debate over issues like the burqa, communism/capitalism/socialism, censorship etc.

oysterWhile the Philosophy Slam was taking place, the audience could also hear the Oyster Opera in full swing. It wasn’t intrusive, as the background noise had been with the lute performance, but the beauty and power of the singer’s voice did pique many people’s interest. And I heard it on good authority later on that not only were people impressed with the lady’s singing, some were terrified when they found themselves being whisked into a dance with her. Or perhaps they were just in fear of getting lost in her voluminous skirts.

Up until this point, the group had tackled the event together, but we now scattered in all directions to see what other wild experiences we could encounter. I fully intended to go Merry-making with the Idler, which promised a musical lecture on the festive culture of pre-Reformation Britain, but unfortunately I went to the wrong room, and by the time I found the right one, I only got to hear the applause. Iit sounded enthusiastic however, so I gathered that some merry-making did occur.

ralfe band

The Ralfe Band: play loud

Instead I returned to the basement, where remnants of the OAG were to be found. The Ralfe Band was on stage, and some people even started dancing, one young man enthusiastically so. The noise levels did not allow for much coherent conversation, though people continued to gamely try. However, many were content to sit and listen to the music that was on offer, having exhausted their senses during the previous three hours, not to mention their feet.

All in all, it was a truly enjoyable night, and everyone I have spoken to has expressed their intention to attend next month’s event or, at least, another future LiveFriday. When I tried describing it to non-OAG members, as soon as I said I went to an event in the museum, the inevitable response was ‘That’s very cultured!’ But you don’t have to be a culture vulture to enjoy it; even if all you did was sit in the basement all night sucking down the rum punch, you would have had a good time. One event in Oxford well worth noting on your calendar.

- Orlaith Delaney

John Tweed – The Empire Sculptor: Reading Museum (23rd March, 2013)

One of those Georgian buildings the town planners missed.

One of those Victorian buildings the town planners missed.

The following review was contributed by ‘X-Stream Pontiff’, Mr Raymond Babel, whose Babel Anthology, featuring new English writing and French literature in translation, will be launched on May 1st at the Albion Beatnik bookstore in Jericho. Several Oxford Arts Group members have contributed to this exciting new tome, including Mr Bable himself.

Reading (pronounced like ‘Otis’, not like what folks did on long train journeys before they invented Eyepads) is a would-be klone town (with leftover Victorian and Georgian and even older bits overlooked for renewal by a careless council). It is conveniently situated between Oxford and Smokeyvile our national capital godsavethequeen and eton college too, so that train drivers could stop for a fag and a cuppa in timesofyore.

The ice men (and woman) cometh.

The ice men (and woman) cometh.

On Saturday it was the chosen target for a select core of snow warriorz under the command of ‘Neilyboy’ Nil Anderstun on a mish to visit the John Tweed sculpture exhibition at the Museum of Reading (pronounced Otis). Tweed was a man with a split personality who on the one hand, inspired or perhaps just egged on by his friend Auguste Rodin, turned out sensitive and sensual nudes of various girlfriends, with particularly finely done upper arms and buttock muscles sleeping under their cold smooth marble.

impossible beauty

impossible beauty

On, or possibly with the other hand, after the Boer War, Tweed turned out great brooding fat Queen Vicky statues, one portrayed in a bizarre photo of the Yemen on the exhibition end wall; as well as cock o’ the walk Cecil Rhodes figures, an example of which can be seen in the exhibition surveying his domain in Bulawayo, ex Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. No doubt President-for-Life Roberto Mugabe lays a wreath there every year.

imperial majesty

supreme majesty

Great documentation, sketches, photographs etc in the exhibition fill out this hardworking artists’ career for us — and it’s free.  God bless Otis.

After the Tweed exhibition, the snowpeople looked at a stuffed stoat, a Roman suburb mock-up (with togas to try out) and a medley of biscuit tins. The Otis or Bikky museum has summat for all. Your reviewer was installed, in the Fake Bayeux Tapestry Gallery, as Xtreem Poncetiff (similar to supreme pontiff and also travels on buses, so where’s my palace and red shoes, innit?)

Not very long to reign over us...

not very long to reign over us…

And then we had cake and sandwiches at the picnic cafe, which has good soup and choc tarts.

Ray Babel of Babel Anthologies. Abridged and interpreted by Neil Anderson.

 

Carducci Quartet at St John’s College (17th February, 2013)

Guess who's coming to dinner on Sunday? (And drinks afterwards)

Guess who’s coming to dinner on Sunday? (And drinks afterwards)

This was the saga of a window of opportunity, the rush to gain access, and the utility of social media in linking those in need with those who can help. In the end everything came together satisfactorily – this time round at least.

One of the best things about Oxford is the abundance of wonderful cultural events which happen in the city, and one of the most galling (or intriguing), is that many people never get to hear about them. Part of our raison d’etre is to flag up the goods others might not yet have discovered. In this case, it was a concert by an internationally renowned string quartet, at an Oxford College, with an opportunity to meet the musicians afterwards, wine and nibbles thrown in, all for free!

When this kind of nugget turns up, you’d normally be expecting a gold rush, but somehow, this time, it didn’t happen. Whether it was the long delay between news being announced and tickets becoming available, or that people didn’t really believe access would be given to anyone outside the university, or that the whole damned thing seemed too good to be true, I don’t know, but when the go ahead was given a few days before the event, let’s just say there wasn’t any danger of being stampeded in the rush. I donned my best negotiating hat, and despite being told there was a limit of two tickets per person, managed to wangle over a dozen admission programmes from the Porter’s Lodge. These were earmarked for the group members who’d been first to sign up on the site. Or who I thought had been first. The Meetup organisation works in mysterious and sometimes peremptory ways, and had in fact been rotating RSVPs randomly, meaning the names at the top of the list when places were allocated was simply a matter of chance.

Where we hang

The kind of joint we like to hang in

Pazienza! There was still time for people to visit St John’s and collect tickets for themselves and their guests, and maybe for fellow arts group members as well. But, with the weekend looming, and missed or mis-communications, and one thing or another, some left it a little late, leading to the lucky ones being rewarded and several others missing out.

alan

anything with spinach

Still, it’s not over til the slim lady solos, and with friends and +1s dropping out with lurgies in the days leading up to the event, suddenly the Meetup conversational facility, which had finally been instituted after years of prompting, was alive with offers of tickets and last minute deals. Some members had planned to have lunch at Al Andalusia in Little Clarendon Street beforehand, which threw a little more uncertainty into proceedings as there were now two official meeting points. Then, when somebody discovered another entrance to St John’s, there were three.

In the final reckoning however, everybody who’d requested a ticket, no matter how late in the day, and turned up, was rewarded, and for those who did, well… what a reward. If you like classical music, string quartets in particular, and sitting in generously proportioned, comfortable seats in well-designed auditoriums with excellent acoustics, then, as a certain duo on Classic FM were almost wont to say, “…..you’d have loved this”

This sort of thing

This sort of jive

The Carducci Quartet themselves, comprising Matthew Denton, Violin, Michelle Fleming, Violin, Eoin Schmidt-Martin Viola and Emma Denton Cello, were superb. They played Haydn’s Ryder quartet, which was okay, but a bit dated. (I made this remark several times during the afternoon, and people were so happy, they didn’t even stare at me). They played Debussy’s string quartet in G minor, which was challenging, and in places, sublime. Then, after a 15 minute break, where latecomers were let in, and the auditorium still didn’t feel crowded, they performed Dvorjak’s American quartet, which was ultimately, immense. After that, and because the crowd implored them, they returned and encored with Britten. It was hard work, for them obviously, and in a lazy, spoiled, ‘never had it so good’ way, for us as well – the less musically educated members of the audience I mean. An hour or more’s strings when you’re unfamiliar with the pieces is something of a challenge, even if we weren’t exactly talking Wagner’s Ring Cycle. But equally, I knew it was remarkable stuff. The intensity of the cellist’s facial expressions, let alone her playing, was astonishing; the lead violinist’s fingers were a blur, and the quartet played, for want of a more technical phrase, in almost perfect harmony. You want information about tempo, variation and tone? I’m afraid you’ll have to ask an expert. I just shout out the good news, and try to get everyone to the ball on time. And enjoy it all of course. How could I not? There were around 40 Arts Group people at the event, of varying ages and nationalities, and we met in the reception room afterwards and made friends and greeted acquaintances, and drank red and white wine, and the second cellist was surrounded by Oxford Arts Groupies and had his moment of glory, and deservedly so.

'We had some of that Sevilianas at the arts group party once..." It was all quiet on the dining table front last Sunday.

‘We had some of that Sevilianas at the arts group once…” It was all quiet on the Al Andalus dining table front last Sunday.

Oh, and Al Andalusia wasn’t at all bad either, easily matching the standards I remembered from several years ago when I first came to Oxford, and never dreamed I’d end up doing this sort of thing, with the fabulous people who make up this group, and writing about it afterwards. Criticisms? Well, I suppose the prices at Al Andalusia have gone up a bit…. but on a Sunday afternoon, with the sun shining, and the promise of what’s been described still to come, you felt you could push the boat out a bit. And there won’t be another event like this for quite a while. But then again, will there?

Drawing Show II at 03 Gallery: (16th Feb 2013)

drawA busy weekend of events for Oxford’s most artistically motivated social group. On Saturday, we visited the 03 Gallery in the Castle Complex for Drawing Show II by artists from Magdalene Rd Studios. Participant Kelly Dunagan, interviewed in the Oxford Mail, stated that the works on display ‘related to the idea of drawing,’ (rather than actually being drawings, presumably). She endeared herself by adding, “some installation artists…struggled a bit”. I doubt most were too bothered about the artistic means, as long as the end results had merit. Kelly’s own ‘Swallow’ was an impressive study, crumpled and delicate, but vibrant with colour and immaculately detailed. Once the Arts Group had arrived, we had the usual argument about whether the worthy but unexceptional or the ‘risible-slash-revolutionary’ most warranted a three figure price tag, our battleground this time being a simple graphite sketch of a mixing bowl(?) with broken porcelain eggshell, and a fair to middling landscape, the discourse soon getting bogged down in the old ‘I could do that – and wouldn’t bother! – ‘Ah, but you didn’t!’ quagmire. To my mind, dismissing conceptual work offers no clearer proof of its potency than praising figurative art confirms its limitations, though I’m not sure that even makes sense. But if you like how it sounds, please send £145, the price of each work of art on display.

Claudia Figureido with all round arts many of mystery Greek Tom

Claudia Figureido and company. You can just see Tom De Freston’s unfortunate horse, top right

the art

Black and white piece c/o Tom De Freston; Closest to camera is Luke Skiffington. with Les McMinn propped against the wall.

While the the group went round the gallery, nodding and tutting before heading off to meet friends, catch buses, or find somewhere for coffee, I grabbed a pencil (symbolically perhaps) and a price list (in lieu of a guide), and made a few jottings. I probably didn’t stay long enough to do any of the work real justice, but for what it’s worth, these were my impressions: Madi Acharya-Baskerville’s miniature oil and glass paintings on driftwood had a timeless beauty, particularly the images of peasant women glimpsing a vision of paradise. Sonia Boue’s mixed media, ‘Draw me a life’, one for ‘Mum’ and the other ‘Dad’, incorporating images of gates, letters and other personal mementos, was touching and not overly sentimental. In terms of pure abstraction, Luke Skffington’s ‘Palette Drawing’ presented ‘strips of metal files cut and woven like fibres’, or ‘black and white banana skins exploding over graph paper’ (I couldn’t decide which), while Tom De Freston’s collage of black and white sketches, including what looked like a pyjama case horse being raped by tree, had unquestionable comic vigour. As far as colour work was concerned, Les McMinn served up a sumptuous purpley yellow acrylic paint stew inspired by the holy Hindu city of Varanasi, and Jo Stannard’s ‘Blue sky Cones (Four)’ on white backgrounds was quite simply that. There were several photographs in the exhibition, including a study of Iffley Lock, the structure’s reflection making a circle among the ripples, and more unfathomably, a Finnish apartment block, glimpsed through what might have been a melting ice cube.

Various works of art - can you match them to the descriptions?

Match the descriptions to the pictures? – Good luck!

Other works in the show left less of an impression, with the possible exception of Claudia Figueiredo’s mixed media collage (below left). I’m coming to realise the importance of titles in tying creation to concept, much the same as with poetry, where more obscure pieces almost always benefit from a little guidance on the part of the narrator. In Claudia’s case, a paper grille, overlaid with sand-toned card, flock wallpaper and a photo of two ice skaters, gained substance through simple application of the label ‘Cement ll’.

They say a picture's worth a thousand words - certainly true in my case.

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words – certainly true in my case…

The idea of cohesiveness in art was discussed when we met up at La Tasca afterwards. Jeremy Darge, who runs East Oxford Drawing Collective, took the lead in this exchange. It was Jeremy’s first event with the group, and he was so knowledgeable, erudite and modest, that I could have listened to him for hours without necessarily agreeing with a single word he said, but nonetheless richer for the experience, and maybe even with my mind prised an inch or two further open. Jeremy singled out Anna Morris’s ‘Passing through’ for praise, pointing out how the gold and grey rectangles combined to create a sense of flow, something I’d overlooked, or perhaps the artist hadn’t made apparent, and serving as a reminder not to ignore the obvious, as well as the abstract, when considering works of art.

So the afternoon reached a tingly climax, with talk of art, the group and our plans for the future, and what a splendid thing it is to meet with fellow arts enthusiasts in such a convivial context. Not only that, but what a rubbish idea it is to sit outside in February when somebody lacks a jacket and has to request, “the hottest coffee ever made” simply to avoid hypothermia. However, despite chattering teeth and my brain having been numbed to the point of imbecility by the end of the afternoon, it was an enjoyable outing and we were in good shape for The Carducci Quartet at St John’s the following afternoon.

Photos used by permission of Madi Acharya-Baskerville – for further information: http://www.magdalenroadstudios.com/

but perhaps not in theirs.

…but perhaps not theirs.

The art of recollecting

smoke ladyLooking at the Arts Group home page the other day, I saw that over the past four and a half years, group members have organised a total of 335 Meetups, some of which, hopefully, have provided opportunities for new friendships and acquaintances to flourish among arts and culture enthusiasts. From my own point of view, since becoming organiser in 2010, some of the most enjoyable outings of my life have come as a consequence of being part of the group and I hope you feel the same to some degree, or may do so in the future. For the present however, it seems a shame to let memories of surprise discoveries, captivating encounters, artistic misadventures or cultural revelations fade into obscurity, so I’ve started this page for members to look back on events which have left an impression, one way or another. Here’s one we attended earlier:

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