Morris Dancing by the sea at Broadstairs Folk Week

Morris Dancing Broadstairs

To Broadstairs for its famous Folk Week. The sense of anticipation built as we walked around the headland from Ramsgate – except amongst my kids who just wanted to go home after swimming in the sea.

Morris Dancing Broadstairs

The Morris Dancers turned the cliff top amphitheatre of the bandstand into Strictly Folk Dancing as each side took to the concrete floor led on by an announcer who seemed overly keen on the sound of his voice through the PA – with the introduction to one side lasting longer than their actual dance.

 

The central streets of Broadstairs were closed to traffic and Hooden Horses wandered the cute thoroughfares alongside banjo slingers tucking into Ice Creams from Morelli’s Gelateria.

Morris Dancing Broadstairs 2016

Morris Dancing Broadstairs

I was sucked into a second-hand bookshop and was about to leave empty handed when I discovered the natural history shelf at floor level and bagged a 1907 edition of Richard Jefferies’ Field and Hedgerow for £2.

A Birmingham peculiar

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Last Sunday took me back to Birmingham, for a screening in the Flatpack Festival of a short film I’d made of the walk I did to Twyford Abbey with Nick Papadimitriou and Peter Knapp. Nick joined me for the jaunt to the Midlands and I managed to persuade him to take a detour with me through the splendour of the Piccadilly Arcade.

Piccadilly Arcade Paul Maxfield

The beautifully painted ceiling of the arcade is by Paul Maxfield and with the glimmering lights and tiled floor recalls the dream palaces that inspired Parisian poets and German social theorist Walter Benjamin who, when he described the Paris arcades as ‘a land full of inconspicuous places from which dreams arise’, and that the arcades were ‘galleries leading into the city’s past’ could as easily have been writing about Birmingham’s Piccadilly Arcade as the Passage des Panoramas.

Ben Waddington later told me that the Arcade had been built as a silent cinema but had declined in the 1920’s and converted to a shopping arcade. Nick seemed unimpressed by the arcade, the video I attempted to shoot on my pocket camera (a Canon Powershot sx230 Hs) has a soundtrack of him impatiently drumming a rolled up copy of the TLS against his hip climaxing in an instruction to, “Hurry Up John”.

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Nick seemed to enjoy Victoria Square much more than the arcade. We’d detoured around some of the side-streets leading away from New Street and remarked on how hilly this part of Birmingham City Centre feels. It’s a city that cries out to be explored.

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After using the toilets in the Symphony Hall our explorations led us into the Museum and Art Gallery where there was a display of the recently discovered Staffordshire Hoard, “The largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found”.  The delicate filigree pattern on the jewelry and sword mounts was hypnotic – at odds with the idea of a brutal and barbaric ‘Dark Ages’.

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I was equally seduced by the work of the Birmingham Group of artists, particularly ‘Sigismonda drinking poison’ by Joseph Southall. The above painting of ‘tower block with old lady’ by Arthur Lockwood found in a room displaying architectural models of the city stayed with me throughout the day. Lockwood has documented the changing urban landscape of West Midlands with watercolour paintings, leading him to be described as “Birmingham’s very own Lowry”.

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The screening in Digbeth was looming so there was little time to absorb the ambiences of the City Arcade of which Nick was even less forgiving. Curzon Street Station (opened in 1838) was another matter – dominating the landscape on the approach to New Street on the train from Euston and soon to be the Birmingham terminus of HS2. Perhaps the reopening of the station will breathe new life into the Eagle and Tun.

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Fazeley Street Birmingham

The sun broke through as we reached the Digbeth Branch Canal at the junction of the Typhoo Basin. We had half-an-hour before the screening in an old industrial building beside the towpath and Nick told me more about his interest in the Birmingham poet Roy Fisher whilst I talked of walking the River Rea and doing the Tolkien Trail.

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We had been invigorated by our short stroll around Birmingham, it seems to offer so many possibilities for the urban rambler. We are already plotting a return.

Grow your own ideas

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The South Bank Centre at the weekend was engulfed in a festival of homespun politics and DIY culture. Grow Your Own Ideas being inspired by the work of artist Bob and Roberta Smith.

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The roof of the Queen Elizabeth Hall sprouted this magnificent wild flower garden.

During the Second World War bombsites became impromptu parks and gardens – the site around St. Paul’s was particularly lush with tall stems of flowers and blossoming Buddliea.

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Large areas of post-industrial London could look like this again – such a shame to sell the Royal Docks to the Chinese government when it could be reclaimed by nature.

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I’d filmed Bob and Roberta Smith making then installing his Mobile Brownfield Site outside the Royal Festival Hall for Pestival in 2010. His old Volvo and its trailer festooned with weeds, nettles and moss.

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Later in the afternoon on Saturday my film about Bob, Make Your Own Damn Art, was screened in the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

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Then the Ken Ardley Playboys punk-rocked out against a backdrop of old archive film demonstrating home crafts.

Make Your Own Damn Film #5

Tomorrow sees the ‘world premiere’ in of my documentary Make Your Own Damn Art – the world of Bob and Roberta Smith in the East End Film Festival. It’s 3 years almost to the day that I started filming – first at the Portman Gallery in Bethnal Green then damn the next morning as Bob created his mobile brownfield site to sit on the forecourt at the Royal Festival Hall.

The prospect of the post-screening Q&A has forced to me think again why I made the film in the first place. In truth, the possibly unexpected answer can be found on this blog – it came from my fascination with Leytonstone and wanting to learn about the place I had just moved to.

I’d seen a poster for the Leytonstone Centre of Contemporary Art and wanted to learn more about it and the artist who created it. The film in a way is the result of that curiosity. So although it’s about a unique voice in British art and the importance of art in society it is also as much about localism for me personally.
I wonder how that will go down at the Q&A tomorrow.

In the afternoon tomorrow I’ve got the huge honour of hosting the discussion and Q&A with Andrew Kotting and Iain Sinclair following the screening of their film Swandown.

I’ve been following this project – a psychogeographer’s dream ticket – ever since I first heard it mooted in 2007. So tonight I’ll be skimming back through my Iain Sinclair archive and re-watching Andrew Kotting’s short films in preparation – what a hardship.

Moleskine and The Family Friend

Two treats from Italy this week. Yesterday a package arrived from Milan from Modo e Modo containing a new Moleskine in replacement for my current notebook with the pages falling out in great chunks. I followed the guidelines on the excellent moleskinerie site, sent in a description of the problem along with photos. Monday I received an apologetic email from Modo e Modo followed by a new notebook yesterday. Very impressed.

Monday I caught Paulo Sorrentino’s new film ‘The Family Friend’ (L’amico di famiglia) in the London Film Festival. Visually very arresting, set in a town of De Chirico arches, fascist state architecture, a landscape made famous by Fellini. There is a scene, a beauty contest, which seems to directly reference the public celebration depicted in ‘Amarcord’. I’ve been in such places, descibed them in an unpublished travelogue. It’s the other side of Il Bel Paese. The foggy flatlands of the Po Delta. A land of small (abusivo) apartments built outside the walls the historic town centres, along streets with broken pavements and the incessant sound of farting Piagio Bravos and cholic kids. A very long way from the sun-drenched olive groves of Chiantishire. Sorrentino’s central character is the kind of person that feeds upon the unhappiness that festers in such places. A grotesque little man of apparently without a heart who refers to himself as Geremio ‘Heart of Gold’, a moneylender, a Shylock, a Fagin. He preys on the poor and the vulnerable and is ultimately undone by hitherto unknown feelings, for woman he has abused, not unlike Zampano (Anthony Quinn’s character) in ‘La Strada’.

Metaphors are laid on metaphors – women playing volleyball in slowmo, a naked girl sleeping in the park, the choosing of ‘le bomboniere’, the gold foil wrapped chocolates that Geremio eats. After an hour totally immersed in this world I found myself strangely unsatisfied at the end despite the retribution meted out to the heatless Geremio. The final chapter seemed to hurry to its conclusion, too keen to provide a simple resolution. It was close to being a great film, it’s a brave adventurous effort that may struggle to find an audience outside the cinephillia of the LFF.

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