Saturday 5th May 7.30pm at Lewes Town Hall; tickets £12 from Lewes Tourist Information.
First published in Viva Lewes magazine issue 140 May 2018
|Mark Bridge: not him, the other one||
East Sussex Community Choir is joined by the Corelli Ensemble this month for a performance of three much-loved Mendelssohn works. The programme ends with the symphony-cantata Lobgesang (‘Hymn of Praise’), featuring soloists Dame Felicity Lott, Shona Knight and Paul Austin Kelly. “This is very uplifting music that we're singing”, Dame Felicity tells us. “I love Mendelssohn; he's joyous and raises the spirits.” A Sussex resident since 1980, Dame Felicity fell for the area after performing at Glyndebourne: “I used to love the drive out of London and the sight of the wonderful, rolling, soft Downs.” But what prompted her to fit this particular event into her international schedule? “I thought it would be nice to do something locally, for once. I did a charity concert some time ago with Paul, the tenor, and really enjoyed singing with him.” Not only does Dame Felicity know Paul and musical director Nick Houghton, she’s also very familiar with the music. “I come from Cheltenham, where there's a competitive music festival. When I was a teenager I entered the festival and sang the duet from this with another young singer. It's called 'I waited for the Lord' and I've been singing that all my life.”
Saturday 5th May 7.30pm at Lewes Town Hall; tickets £12 from Lewes Tourist Information.
First published in Viva Lewes magazine issue 140 May 2018
It’s 1984. US president Ronald Reagan is cracking jokes about bombing Russia. There’s political tension between West and East. The CIA and the KGB are spying on each other. And Chess, an allegorical musical about international rivals, has just been announced by the unlikely triumvirate of Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Tim Rice. Their concept album heads into the top 40 and the subsequent West End show opens in 1986.
Three decades later, the musical is about to be revived on the London stage... but not before Lewes gets its own production, courtesy of the LOS Musical Theatre company. Andy Freeman, who’s directing the local version, allays any worries about the plot. “You don't need to know about the game of chess”, he tells me. “If someone's coming along, expecting to be confused by ‘Knight to Bishop's Pawn Three’ or something like that, they're not going to be.” Although the story is packed with comparisons between chess playing and political machinations, it’s actually a love story connecting American chess whizzkid Freddie Trumper, his assistant Florence Vassy, Russian champion Anatoly Sergievsky and the family he’s left at home. “It's a love triangle that pretty much spreads into a love square, if you can have such a thing”, Andy explains. “Underlying everything is the partisanship of the Americans, of the Russians, and the puppet-masters pulling the strings of their players.”
Back in the 1980s, the Cold War was a genuine threat to peace and the Berlin Wall was dividing Germany. Does Chess still have relevance to the 21st century? “There is always something going on somewhere in the world where one country is playing off against another”, Andy says. “Big countries, big organisations, they still use their athletes, their chess players, whoever, to their own ends.”
The music has also aged well, thanks to the partnership of Benny and Björn – best known as the guys from ABBA – and the storytelling of lyricist Tim Rice. “There's some cracking stuff in it, some beautiful music”, Andy explains. “It's picked up the flavour of the 80s but there's other stuff there that would sit happily in any musical written today. Some of the choral pieces are almost classical.”
As well as singing the praises of the performers, Andy is equally enthusiastic about Liz Allsobrook’s “stunning” set design. “We're doing it as a black stage, which is one of my trademarks, and we've just got white cubes that we will move around – half a dozen big ones, half a dozen little ones – they can be beds, they can be tables, they can be a desk in a TV studio or whatever. For the first time we also have this whizzy backdrop that is a flexible LED screen.”
And what about that rival production from English National Opera? “I shall go and see it. See if they can get anywhere near ours. We don't feel threatened!”
Chess runs from 10th – 14th April 2018 at the Town Hall. losmusicaltheatre.org.uk
First published in Viva Lewes magazine issue 139 April 2018
Walking into the staff café at Glyndebourne, I find myself surrounded by dozens of excited children who are taking a break from rehearsing a new opera. ‘Belongings’, composed by Lewis Murphy with words by Laura Attridge, compares the lives of World War 2 evacuees with present-day refugees fleeing war zones. As the youngsters return to the stage, Lewis sits down with a coffee. I ask him if there’s a moral to the story. “If there is a moral, it's about learning from history”, he tells me. “It's about openness and human connection. As well as entertaining the audience, I'm hoping we can make them ask questions of themselves.”
Glasgow-born Lewis has been Glyndebourne’s Young Composer in Residence since 2015, before which, he admits, “opera was quite new to me”. He’s clearly a fast learner. As well as composing ‘Belongings’, he’s subsequently been commissioned with librettist Laura to write for Scottish Opera. Should we expect more music from the Attridge and Murphy partnership? “Whether we actually brand it as that, who knows. But in terms of setting ourselves up and promoting ourselves as creators of new opera, it’s something we are interested in. We’ve reached a point now where we feel comfortable working together.”
This type of collaborative approach runs throughout Belongings. “Lucy Bradley, our director, was involved from the very beginning of the project, talking with me and the librettist about the story and trying to structure the narrative of the whole piece. And Lee Reynolds, our conductor, has also been heavily involved.”
Earlier this year, culture and arts project The Complete Freedom of Truth arranged for all four members of the creative team to visit the Italian town of Sarteano and meet young people in a refugee community. Lucy encouraged the community to perform an improvised drama that represented ‘home’. “It was really heart-warming, touching and very humbling for us to see what these guys missed”, Lewis says. “It was the first time we’d actually had direct contact with people who’d been through that situation.”
Insight from the trip has been passed on to the 65 members of Glyndebourne Youth Opera, aged between 9 and 19, who are singing alongside three professional singers: Rodney Earl Clarke, Leslie Davis and Nardus Williams. “The production taking shape here looks incredible, so I’m really excited to see what happens.” There’s a special show for schools followed by one public performance – but what next? “I would love to get it performed again”, Lewis says. “I think it is still a very relevant piece for our times. Themes of displacement and people being thrown into a new environment; these have happened throughout history and will probably continue to happen. As soon as you create conflict, people have to move.”
Belongings will be performed at Glyndebourne on Saturday 11 November. Tickets available from 01273 815000 / glyndebourne.com
First published in Viva Lewes magazine issue 134 November 2017
Bright new music for the Fading Sun festival
Some bands are happy to follow musical trends. Others are determined to set themselves apart from the crowd. 40 Shillings On The Drum is very much in the latter category, as keyboard player Seb Cole explains. “We want to take a new stance on rock music or folk music and give it a new direction.”
The band is heading into Lewes – familiar territory for former Sussex Downs College student Seb – as part of the Fading Sun festival at The Dorset Inn on 8th, 9th and 10th September. It’s the fourth year for the free festival, which aims to raise money for the St Peter & St James Hospice, the Starfish Youth Music project and Cliffe Bonfire Society.
Although the band’s music is available online, with its latest video receiving more than 25,000 views on Facebook, it’s recently produced a physical EP as well. “I think people prefer something a bit more tangible, something you can hold, look at and put in your car”, Seb says. “There's something nicer about having CDs and vinyl, even though it's less convenient.”
I ask Seb about the way the band recorded its songs. “Nothing's put in or created afterwards”, he reveals. “It's all been people in the studio, recording take after take to get the right one. I'm very much one for ‘if you're not able to play it live to an audience then you shouldn't be adding it in to your music’.”
As well as playing keyboards and singing backing vocals, Seb also co-writes songs for the band with vocalist Daniel Scully. “Sometimes Dan will have written a set of lyrics but he’ll also have in mind the way that the song would go and the melody of his vocal”. This, Seb tells me, is unusual for a lyricist who doesn’t play an instrument. “It means that you can write song after song very quickly. And every now and then, I'll send Dan a piece of music that I've written specifically for the group and he will put words to it in a more conventional manner.”
“We write about where we live, people we know, the experiences that we've had as a group, both good and bad. A lot of the time it's inspiration from the normal day-to-day of what young musicians and bands are going through. Always fighting an uphill battle.”
There’s even a hint of battle in the band’s name. Dan borrowed it from a version of the folk song ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’, which was rewritten by John Tams for the TV drama series Sharpe. “Before my time”, admits Seb. “Dan suggested it - and we were all perfectly happy with that as soon as it was mentioned. It really stands out as being something different.” As does the band.
40 Shillings On The Drum is at The Dorset Inn in the evening of Saturday 9th. 40shillingsonthedrum.uk
First published in Viva Lewes magazine issue 132 September 2017
Richard Neal, Captain of Southover Ringers
I’ve been captain since March last year. I decide what the band is going to ring and I organise the ringing according to the abilities of those present. Generally we rotate the captaincy; I have had two other three-year periods as the captain.
I learned to ring at Ripe when I was 11, so that's 44 years I've been ringing. Bell ringing is very safe. It isn’t true that ringers commonly get lifted off the ground by the bell rope. In all my time I've only ever seen one person go airborne.
We've got roughly 25 ringers at the moment, which probably means we are one of the three strongest towers in Sussex for membership. Our oldest ringers are in their eighties and our youngest ringer is about 11.
Monday night is the learners’ practice when we use our simulator: it lets you practise the technique but the sound is generated by a computer inside the belfry. Tuesday night is a more advanced practice on the 'open' bells.
We ring from 9.30 until 10 on a Sunday morning and from 6 until 6.30 in the evening. Sometimes we do longer pieces called ‘quarter peals’ on a Sunday evening. These take about 45 minutes. We send details of these performances to a magazine called 'The Ringing World', where they are published for other ringers to see and admire.
The art of bell ringing is to try and get a rhythmical, evenly-spaced sound from the bells. This is complicated to achieve because each bell is a different size, so it swings at a different rate… and a number of bells have something called 'odd struckness', which means the clapper doesn't swing evenly. A ringer will constantly attempt to compensate for these variables.
Here, we've got ten bells. The largest – our tenor bell – weighs over 17 hundredweight [885kg]. The normal number of bells is either six or eight, so we're lucky to have ten.
In the late 1500s and the early 1600s, a lot of church bells in England were fitted with a complete wheel on the bell. The bell rope wraps around that wheel, which enables you to turn the bell through 360 degrees and to control the speed of the bell. With a lot of practice, the band can learn to ring mathematical patterns that change the order of the bells. This technique is known as ‘change ringing’: each sequence by all the bells in the pattern is a single ‘change’. It's a very English art.
A ‘peal’ consists of at least 5,000 unique changes and takes about three hours to ring. Peals aren't always successful: if a ringer makes a mistake in the pattern and you don't achieve unique changes, you have to stop.
Bell ringing exercises the brain and the body together. You ring as a team and everyone is equal in that team, men and women, young and old. You never stop learning.
As told to Mark Bridge
TRINITY church, Southover High Street, Lewes
A version of this article was first published in Viva Lewes magazine issue 127 April 2017.
Bob Trotter, volunteer bicycle fixer
You’ll find us outside the Nutty Wizard every Saturday morning, at the junction of Cliffe High Street and South Street. From March we’re there from 9.30am until 12.30pm.
Dr Bike is a group of cycle enthusiasts who want to help local people to use their bikes more. We offer friendly help to cyclists who have fairly basic bikes that are in need of first aid. Most bikes go wrong because they haven’t been maintained: cables seize up through lack of oil, brake blocks wear out, gears go out of adjustment or tyres go flat. We can even sometimes unbuckle a wheel but that depends on the state of the spokes. Higher-end bikes or those needing more complicated repairs are better served by Lewes’s two Cycle Shack outlets.
At the moment there are around eight Dr Bikers in total, usually with three or four volunteers on duty each week. The service began in 1991, shortly after the first Lewes Green Wheels Day to encourage the use of sustainable transport. Pete Barnes and Chris Franks were the two original ‘doctors’. They were based outside Fitzroy House, the old library building opposite Boots, which is where Chris lived at the time. By 2014 Chris had moved away and the Farmers Market was being held on the precinct twice a month, so we moved our surgery to the Nutty Wizard building.
I've been told the Nutty Wizard was originally a public toilet before it was converted. It now hosts a youth club, book swaps days, language lessons, an occasional cafe and much more. Dr Bike helps support all this with any extra money we’re given.
We only charge trade prices for the parts we supply. Customers can make a donation for our labour, which pays for our insurance, tools and rent.
Our most important piece of kit is the work stand, which holds a bike up in the air so the wheels can rotate. It means we can fix gears, brakes and punctures without getting a bad back. We've got a well-stocked tool box, puncture repair kits, cable inners and outers, brake blocks and, most importantly, lots of good oil.
I started volunteering in November 2013. I’d previously worked in the fire service with one of the other Dr Bikers but now I am a cycle trainer for East Sussex County Council, teaching Bikeability; a road-based version of the old Cycling Proficiency Test.
Whatever your views on global warming and green travel, cycling will make you fitter and is more fun – especially when you can pedal past traffic jams on our ever-expanding cycle route network. I often find I can actually get somewhere quicker by bike than by driving, so it's win-win. If the only thing preventing you from cycling more is a poorly bike, then maybe it's time to take it to the doctors!
As told to Mark Bridge
drbikelewes.com | facebook.com/drbikelewes
A version of this feature was first published in Viva Lewes magazine issue 126 March 2017.
Lots of people sign up for online courses but don't finish them, for all kinds of good reasons. They might be unfamiliar with digital learning, or they struggle with motivation. The idea of the University of Us is to get local people together to support and motivate each other, with the help of a facilitator.
At the moment I've got a group that's studying 'Start Writing Fiction'. When we meet, we talk about anything they've found difficult, and I explain what's coming up next week and how they can get the most enjoyment out of it.
The upcoming courses that I'm thinking of are a short course on using online tools, perhaps looking at social media skills, while another is about preparing students to go to university. And I’m also looking for a course on food production, sustainability and horticulture.
People can tell me their interests by using the contact form on the University of Us web page. When I’ve found an online course that looks good, I'll give them the instructions for signing up. The online courses are free or low cost; the University of Us fees depend on the length of the course, but are usually between £50 and £100.
I worked for the Open University for over 15 years and have an MA in Online and Distance Education, so I'm pretty good at spotting the courses that’ll work well. It’s all about helping people to enjoy learning.
universityofus.co.uk / email@example.com
Interview by Mark Bridge. First published in Viva Lewes magazine issue 126 March 2017.
I love oriental rugs, especially the old ones. They are works of art, in my opinion, but it’s a dying art. Large-scale production in Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan has stopped; these were the main countries. In a couple of decades, no-one will be making traditional hand-made rugs.
Old rugs are always the best. People made them to use themselves, with hand-spun wool, with vegetable dyes and with good workmanship. They’re strong and they last for a very long time.
Kilim is the Turkish word for a flat rug created by two types of thread: warp and weft. The warp is stretched on a loom, like a frame, and designs are created by weaving different colours of weft. Halı is the Turkish word for pile rugs; they’re created by warp and weft and also with knots to add depth.
I’ve worked with rugs since 1976. I was studying journalism in Turkey and started helping a rug company with their export business. In this profession, we say "once you get the dust of a rug into your lungs, it is addictive".
When I came to the UK, I immediately opened a shop in Brighton. In 2007 I moved my business to Newhaven, where I was already doing repairs and cleaning. Now I mainly work with the trade, although I still sell directly to local customers.
I buy stock that I can repair and clean. Experience is my advantage. I do every aspect of the business myself.
01273 517744 / kalkantrading.co.uk
Interview by Mark Bridge. First published in Viva Lewes magazine issue 123 December 2016.
LewesLight isn’t exactly what I thought. Although the name offers a clue, anyone who imagines it’s a celebration of floodlit local landmarks is missing the point. “We're all about context and people”, lighting designer Graham Festenstein tells me, “not simply an engineering exercise”. And he’d rather I didn’t use the f-word. “As designers, we don’t particularly like the term ‘floodlight’. It does what it implies. That’s the old-fashioned way. We’re generally working to enhance the nature of what’s there – the colours, the materials – not to distort them.”
Unlike some similar international events, LewesLight isn’t just about creating something artistic. “It’s very site-specific”, Graham explains, “looking at the context of the space”. This year the festival is focussed on history, with a theme described as ‘The darker side of Lewes life’. It promises to go beyond familiar local events. “The idea is to investigate less well-known stories and those that have a more scandalous or darker undertone.”
The day-to-day management of the LewesLight festival is handled by three people: Graham Festenstein, Phil Rose from Sussex Downs College, who’s the festival’s Community Coordinator, and history consultant Edwina Livesey. They’re part of an organising committee that’s worked to ensure almost everyone involved has a local connection, including the lighting designers and artists who have been invited to take part. There’s been financial support from Lewes Town Council and a few other sponsors, although much of the assistance arrives in the form of equipment loans from architectural lighting manufacturers and suppliers. “The lighting companies tend to help us by providing us with equipment”, Graham says, “and they also provide personnel to help us put it in and get it all working properly.”
There’s a strong educational link to this year’s event. LewesLight has partnered with the local Sussex Downs College campus, working closely with Production Arts, Digital Arts, History, Tourism and Marketing students. It’s also developing STEM workshops (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) with local schools, supported by Sussex University. In addition, LewesLight is promoting energy-efficient lighting and explaining the importance of ‘dark skies’. All of last year’s event only generated the same amount of electricity as half a football match under floodlights, Graham tells me, which demonstrates the effectiveness of LED lights.
In fact, the 2016 electricity bill could be one of the few aspects of LewesLight that’s largely unchanged from last year’s festival. Participating locations will be better advertised, there’ll be clearer maps and the guided tours will contain more information. There’ll be different venues as well: Graham tells me I shouldn’t assume it’ll be all the ‘old favourites’ illuminated this month. “We're not doing all the same sites. There's always going to be a little bit of overlap but, if we do overlap, we'll have a different designer.”
LewesLight starts on Monday 10th, with installations around the town on the evenings of Friday 14th, Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th. leweslight.uk
First published in Viva Lewes magazine issue 121 October 2016
Most school buildings aren’t renowned for their architecture. In fact, a recent report from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) said “too many” school buildings were “dangerous and dilapidated, poorly built and wasteful”, pointing out that “good school design can reduce running and maintenance costs, in some cases by more than several times a teacher’s average salary a year”.
Flying the flag for efficiency is Ringmer Community College, which won ‘Best Green Business’ at this year’s Lewes District Business Awards. The prize has been added to a collection that also includes an Ashden Award (known to many as a ‘Green Oscar’), a National Teaching Award for work on sustainability, an Energy Institute Award, a CPRE Countryside Award and an invitation to Clarence House by HRH The Prince of Wales.
Ringmer County Secondary School, as it was originally called, opened its doors in 1958. “It was built by Ringmer Building Works, which was quite a large local company”, explains Stephen Green, the college’s Environmental Coordinator. “The site was given to the County Council by the Christie family from Glyndebourne, so it was very much a village effort.” And its design was acclaimed from the very beginning, winning a 1959 Civic Trust award with judges commending the “well considered planning, careful handling of form and excellent choice of materials”. But, as Stephen points out, energy wasn’t a major concern because it was relatively cheap.
When the head teacher started looking more closely at environmental issues around ten years ago, Stephen – a former Environmental Health Officer who’d moved into teaching – proposed a scheme that empowered the students. “We’re committed to giving every child at Ringmer an insight into the environmental issues that will influence their lives.” Nominated ‘eco reps’ were asked to audit energy efficiency and propose changes, which led to cost savings. Next came an investigation into renewable energy sources, with eight kilowatts of solar panels fitted to the roof. This was followed by the installation of a small wind turbine for more electricity and then a new biomass boiler that generates heat from locally-produced wood.
An innovative Sixth Form building opened in 2008, featuring exterior solar blinds, passive ventilation systems and ground source heat pumps. (Falling student numbers mean there’ll be no new Sixth Form admissions this month, so the building is now being utilised by other students.) In addition, there have been eco-improvements to the old classrooms. “We borrowed about £35,000 to insulate the walls and the roof spaces… and got a payback on that within four or five years".
Today, Ringmer Community College produces about 60%-70% of its heating energy through the biomass boiler, Stephen tells us, and generates 15%-18% of electricity on site. An extra 30kW solar panel installation is now being planned. “We've managed to demonstrate to students and staff that you can use a 60-year-old building in a way that saves money and improves the environment. Anyone can make a difference.”
First published in Viva Lewes magazine issue 120 September 2016
Examples of my published work, with the most recent shown first.