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