Thursday, February 28, 2013

Hit the North!

At the top end of Hailsham High Street, next to the Green Chilli Indian takeaway, you will find Gallery North, a not-for-profit community art gallery. As well as exhibiting a wide range of artworks - paintings and photography to ceramics, printmaking, illustration and sculpture – by local artists, the gallery organises the annual Hailsham Arts Festival every September, and is an important part of the town’s landscape.

Not only does Gallery North support local schools and art groups, and run classes and workshops, but over the past year the gallery has worked with the town council to bring life to a high street blighted by recession and the economic vandalism that Tesco and Asda have wrought on the town. By displaying the work of local artists and craftspeople in the windows of the empty shops, they have revitalised the high street; and this has even extended to artists getting out onto the street to paint murals on boarded-up shop windows.

And this week, Gallery North has emerged from its deep winter hibernation with a new exhibition by East Sussex-based artists Liz and Roger Scott, Julia Desch and Angela Anstey-Holroyd. ‘Natural Textures’ is an exhibition of photography and textiles and runs to Saturday 27th April 2013. The gallery is open from Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 4pm and can be found at 70, High Street, Hailsham.

Friday, February 22, 2013

High Church Music

St. Bartholomew’s Church in Brighton, squashed in between the London Road and the railway station, is a monument to those architectural feats of the Victorian age. Built entirely of brick in a Germanic style, it is a pre-Brutalist slab that towers above those nearby temples of Mammon, Sainsbury’s and Costa Coffee. Designed by Edmund Scott, with much of the interior the work of the Arts and Crafts movement’s Henry Wilson, it was completed in 1874. Without spire or steeple, the 135-feet height to the apex of its roof gives St. Bartholomew’s claim to have the tallest body of a parish church in the country some weight. Whether this is true or not, it makes the place a bugger to heat.

There are few things in life that could persuade me to join several hundred other people on a perishing February night and sit for two hours in the nave of this church, where the temperature inside seemed no different from the zero degrees outside, but I Am Kloot are one of them. A curious choice for the sold out Sussex stopover of their short English tour, John Bramwell’s Manchester three-piece fit perfectly into this sacred setting, even if they don’t quite see it that way.

Why I Am Kloot are not better known is a puzzle. Bramwell’s gorgeous voice - a weary, reedy burr - and his nagging melodies have spun out across six studio albums since 2001. With sedentary bassist Pete Jobson and Captain Haddock lookalike drummer Andy Hargreaves providing the mainstay of their lazy, jazz-folk psychedelic sound, they only came to national attention when their fifth album, Sky at Night, was unsuccessfully nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. Augmented to a six-piece, the bulk of their set at St. Bartholomew’s is drawn from this album and their latest, Let It All In.

Seated near the front, the sound radiates up and out into the vast space but, as Bramwell notes, those at the back are probably hearing everything 18 seconds later. Bramwell is clearly discomfited by the sanctity of the venue – the band are the only ones in the place with an alcoholic drink – and continually gazes up to check that disapproval is not going to rain down on him. I Am Kloot have a celestial preoccupation: their lyrics are peppered with references to the sky and the stars – their heads are in the clouds. They open with From Your Favourite Sky, and Northern Skies is an early gem in the set. Bullets, Shoeless and Hold Back the Night (the night is another motif) feature amongst others from the new album and the set wraps up with a glorious trio of songs – Lately, Radiation and Proof – from Sky At Night.

When they return to encore with These Days Are Mine (time is also a recurring theme: "Isn't it rich? The future just keeps on coming"), Bramwell confesses that the band have struggled with the acoustics. What sounded spiritual and elegiac to the audience, was the sound of control spiralling away from the band and up into the heavens above.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Downland: part four

The village came into sharper focus: the square tower of St. Peter’s church significant above the tree line, the roof of the estate house, a spiral of smoke curling skywards from a gardener’s bonfire. Skirting the buildings of the estate farm on the edge of the village, Ridler felt some apprehension. There was little enough light for him to be indistinguishable but an unknown figure in the village, when all were at hostelry or home, would always arouse suspicion. The first time he had come off the Downs this way, a man had called after him as he passed the pub - Ridler had not stopped - and since then he had cut through the grounds of the estate rather than navigate the final part of the village.

Ridler paused at St. Peter’s. The path to the church was marked by the war memorial. In the weak light, he could still make out the names, those very English names. Backshall, Clouting, Collingham, Notley, Unstead: the fallen of the Great War. Ridler had not fallen; many times he thought he might fall but he had caught himself and had come through physically unscathed. Other names: Cornwall, Loftus from the second war. Ridler had tried to enlist for that one too but although the Consul in New York had been polite and accommodating, Ridler knew that he had not taken him seriously. He looked down the hedge-lined path to the church; he could see no light. At one time, he would have always chanced a visit but he had not been in for a year now, even though he had several times been in the porch, at the door, before turning away at the last thinking better of it. The village was warm, still and quiet; he could see an open-doored cottage across the way but nothing stirred within. Eating in the parlour perhaps; tending their own modest crop at the back after a day of toil at another’s; sleeping in a chair by a window. Ridler coveted the simple pleasures of these simple people but not the narrow confines of their narrow experiences. Those who saw some of the world through the prism of a war were not here now: they did not come back.

He turned again towards the church and headed down the path. Ignoring the door on the village-side of the squat, Norman church, Ridler passed clockwise around the northern end of the building before coming into the porch of the south door. At closer quarters, he had seen some feint light from within as he skirted the building; this did not mean there were occupants. The flickering of votive candles had been common when he had visited the deserted church before. He listened carefully at the door. He could hear nothing. He lifted the latch and eased the heavy oak door. Candles had been lit but, beginning to gutter now, the devotees had long gone.