I want poetry and music and some laughs…

…so Belle and Sebastian sing in ‘Family Tree’.  And, whilst not in that exact order, so went my weekend.

After a day of house-hunting on Saturday – too tedious to blog about but, nevertheless, ongoing – Bristol beckoned in the evening.  The ‘Sing Out Bristol Summer Sing Out’ was my destination: venue, the Anson Rooms in the University’s Student Union.  Over the years I’ve seen many gigs there: Evan Dando’s Lemonheads, one of Badly Drawn Boy’s wonderfully everlasting shows, a superb and sweaty Ash, and the White Stripes spring to mind…  This one, however, was of a somewhat different flavour and, as such, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.

The evening began with the Stepford Singers, a really entertaining Bristol-based women’s choir who made a beautiful sound.  Their enjoyment was tangible and when their final song was introduced I felt sorry that I wouldn’t be hearing more from them.  It was the perfect opportunity to cool off though – the hall was warming by the second – and a welcome cider reminded me of the delights of the Union bar.

Sing Out Bristol are fantastic and from the moment they took to the stage until the resonance of their final notes, the evening was a treat.  The choir – find out more at http://www.singoutbristol.com – is a vibrant group and their varied programme for the evening made for an evening of laughter, poignance and sheer admiration – ‘America’ from West Side Story must be a real vocal challenge and yet it was crisp, clear and captivating throughout.  Time slipped by without even a glance at my watch and before I was ready for it, the finale arrived with both choirs – the Stepford Sisters and Sing Out Bristol – raising the roof.  Personal highlights were ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ complete with dance moves and attendant 1980s nostalgia (how could anyone forget Tight Fit?) and the male ensemble’s ‘Lean on Me’ – a mesmerising soloist was sensitively supported by his colleagues, making for a beautiful texture.

It was great to be back in Bristol again, to see some familiar faces and places, and to share in what really felt like a special evening.  I’ve already got 18 June 2011 in my diary…

What followed on Sunday was a perfect afternoon of friends, poetry and sunshine.  In Reading for the 10th Anniversary Whiteknights Studio Trail, I was party to a moment which I know I’ll treasure: Adrian Blamires, reading from his second collection, The Pang Valley (published by Two Rivers Press).  Both Adrian and his fellow Two Rivers poet, Peter Robinson, read a range of their latest poetry, framed on one side by a dazzling blue sky and on the other by friends, family, poetry-lovers, and a bemused ginger cat with striking eyes.  A friend and colleague of mine, Adrian’s latest book, the follow-up to his 2005 collection, The Effect of Coastal Processes, made an immediate impact when he gave me a copy; poems such as ‘Directions’ and ‘Tennessee Williams’ compelling me to read, and read, and re-read.

I’d been anticipating Adrian’s reading for some time, looking forward to hearing his work; for me, poetry takes on a new dimension when heard, rather than read, solitary.  When read by the poet, it feels possible to glimpse a little deeper, to catch something of the moment of conception perhaps, as voyeuristic as that sounds…

It was, for a while, as if I’d been transported back to a time when I connected with poetry in more ways than as ‘teacher’.  In my postgraduate days, I immersed myself in poetry – it was my day’s work – and for a moment, in that sun-scorched passage of time – I was back there, quenching my thirst.  Adrian read in a way that seemed, to me, characteristically ‘him’.  Having only known him since September last year it feels somewhat presumptuous to claim to ‘know’ him and yet the gentleness, the humour, the erudition and the emotion with which he gave voice to his writing made for a falling-into-place of the setting, the occasion and, perhaps most poignantly, some of those who people the collection.

It was hard to leave the afternoon behind and return to a different reality.  The Pang Valley: a resonance I’d not expected until then…

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