‘The Blacksmith’s Craft’; John Girvan at Wiltshire Museum

 

‘The Blacksmith’s Craft’ exhibition; a review

John Girvan.  He’s the ghost walk guy, the man who has the Canal Forge, the bloke who writes about the dungeons, prisons, and tunnels of Devizes.  He might have made your gate.  You might have been to his forge with your school.  You might have spotted him dressed as a Norman and wielding his massive weapon on the Market Cross.  You might have seen him on the telly with Derek Acorah.  You might have one of his books on your shelf.

What you may not know about him is that he once worked for Burtons, that he trained as a blacksmith under Laurence Love, that he has been a member of The Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society since he was a boy, and that until September 23rd you can see a selection of his work in ‘The Blacksmith’s Craft’ exhibition at Wiltshire Museum on Long Street, Devizes.

I went to a short talk that John gave before looking at his pieces.  He’s full of quips and anecdotes, and his delivery is gently camp and self-deprecating.  He showed some old photos of himself at work in the forge (he had that Angela Rippon in there once, don’t you know).  He taught us why a blacksmith’s apron has a fringe at the bottom (it’s for sweeping the anvil).  He showed a video of himself hot forging a scroll.   He told us that he made the bunker door at Browfort, the gates of St. Andrew’s, and the seat above the White Horse, and that he’s made a handful of chastity belts, and more weather-vanes than you can shake one of his finely forged pokers at.  He spoke animatedly about his workshops with children over the years, and enthusiastically about repoussé.  ‘Strike while the iron’s hot!’ he said, sparkily.

The Wiltshire Museum describes his exhibition as ‘rural traditional art’.  To me John’s work falls in to four categories; practical objects / folk art (pokers, gates, metal flowers), fun stuff for kids (what child doesn’t like a cheerful robot or a cheeky spider?), experimental works, and Very Beautiful Things.

Recent experimental works include various ladies made out of chicken wire, ‘The Three Graces’ (mixed metals), and ‘Aphrodite’, the face of a woman made of mesh with metal eyes and lips.  I could take or leave the lively chicken wire ladies, but ‘Aphrodite’ got better the longer you looked at her (many people did, and it was The Mayor’s favourite piece), ‘The Three Graces’ had a certain elegance to them, and the shadows cast by the sculptures on the wall greatly enhanced the effect of both works.

By Very Beautiful Things I mean the glorious sconces, the acanthus leaf, the flora and flourishes, the ‘King’s Chair’ with its delicate ironwork, the beaten copper leaves, ‘The Hand of the Smith’, the hot forged horses’ heads, the tiny fronds and spirals spinning from things, the witty little metal snakes and snails.

I’m not sure all these things belong in the same room in an ideal world, but the juxtaposition of the ‘Iron Mask’, one of the few nods to John’s interest in the macabre, with the humorous robot was interesting.

I asked John about his favourite piece.  ‘You’ll laugh’ he said.  Bet I don’t, I thought.  ‘It’s this’ he said, and pointed to ‘Juncture’, which is ‘two dissimilar weights of steel requiring different temperatures of heat to bring them together, set in oak’.

It’s heavy.  It’s light.  It’s simple, complex, angular, fluid, and stark.  And Very Beautiful.

John is winding down the Canal Forge these days.  He’s been there since 1980.  I asked him why.  ‘You can’t go on forever’ he said, with a twinkle in his eye.  He has a forge in his garden now, and you just know that he is going to carry on making beautiful interesting humorous things and striking while the iron’s hot until the day his fire goes out.

‘I’ve had to show people what I can do’ he said in his talk earlier.

John Girvan.  Blacksmith, artist, historian, humorist.

Go and see what he can do.

© Gail Foster 30th July 2018

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Rain Dance

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Waiting for thunder, waiting for rain
Waiting for lightning to strike on the plain

When will it come, when will it come?
The heat of the sun on the skin of a drum

Watching horizons, watching the hills
Watching the widening cracks in the rills

When will it come, when will it come?
One drop of rain on the skin of a drum

Dreaming of rivers, dreaming of seas
Dreaming of streams and delirious trees

When will it come, when will it come?
Two drops of rain on the skin of a drum

Thinking of doomsday, thinking of drought
Thinking of reservoirs all drying out

When will it come, when will it come?
Three drops of rain on the skin of a drum

Dying for water, dying of thirst
Dying of waiting for heaven to burst

When will it come, when will it come?
Four drops of rain on the skin of a drum

Crying for mercy, crying for men
Cry for the rain to come falling again!

Hearing it come, hearing it come
The beat of the rain on the skin of a drum

Waiting for thunder, waiting for rain
Waiting for lightning to strike on the plain

*

© Gail Foster 27th July 2018

Our Jerusalem

– on Donald Trump’s visit to the United Kingdom

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And in the heat of summer time

Walking by England’s fountains seen

A man who thought he was a God

And King of England’s pastures green

We did not countenance his crime

Drew lines upon our crowded hills

And sang Jerusalem, Trump is here

Among us – dark Satanic chills

Bring me balloons of tan and gold

Bring me cartoons and bold satire

Bring tea and beer; Oh, clowns untold!

Bring me the jokes that will not tire!

I will bring cheese to fuel the fight

Or something silly in my hand

This isn’t Trump’s Jerusalem

And we don’t want him in our land

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© Gail Foster 12th July 2018

Gareth Southgate

I remember nineteen ninety six
like it was yesterday – the penalty
the way that Gareth kicked the ball and missed
I bet he never thought that day that he
would ever be back in the game again
his name engraved in Lions’ hearts, their
lips aflame with songs of praise, and men
in waistcoat shops, and women swooning where
he might have been. You’ve got to love a man
who wears his pride so modestly, who’s cute
who wears a new suit stylishly, who can
(if dream we dare) bring home the Cup to boot
If on that fateful day he’d walked away
we wouldn’t be here, would we. Let us play.

© Gail Foster 11th July 2018

Years of Hurt

Whilst the majority of domestic violence perpetrators are men I am fully aware that men are sometimes victims as well, therefore this poem is written in such a way that ‘he’ and ‘his’ can be substituted with ‘she’ and ‘her’, and ‘girls’ with ‘boys.’  

When it comes to domestic violence, no-one is a winner…

Oh God, did England win? That means that he
is coming home. I’ve done the washing up
and cooked him steak and crinkle chips for tea
and put his tinnies and his football cup
beside his chair and switched the telly on
All done. I wait. It could go either way
Of late it’s gone a little bit like this
He comes in in a ‘you’re alright mate’ way
insisting on a bear hug and a kiss
and then the beer kicks in – his tea is cold
his boss is mean to him, his car is shit
and I’m the Germans, oh and I am old
I told the girls at work he didn’t hit
me, lied about the bruise beneath my shirt
Don’t talk to me of Lions. Years of hurt.

© Gail Foster 7th July 2018

TITCO does Queen

A review of The Invitation Theatre Company and Full Tone Orchestra’s Queen show in the Corn Exchange, Devizes

‘It’ll be alright on the night’ is a phrase often said following a dress rehearsal of dubious quality.  As I watched TITCO perform their Queen medley prior to their sell out show I wondered if this would prove true on this occasion.  Seems like a big ask, I thought as I watched the cast fumbling through the numbers and trudging round the stage with what seemed to be very little direction or enthusiasm.  It’s rock, I thought, for goodness sake give it some welly!  ‘Another one bites the dust’ it said on the back of someone’s tee-shirt.  Indeed.  It was so bad that I didn’t feel I could review it, so I decided to go back on the first night to see if it was any better. TITCO have produced some great shows in the past few years, and the Full Tone Orchestra are a class act.  Both have reputations to keep up and fans to please, and both take pride in their work.  A fail at this stage would not be good for either. What if, heavens forbid, TITCO didn’t pull it off…?

From the moment I walked into the Ceres Hall on Friday it was abundantly clear that TITCO had been on the glitter, and that all would be well.  Energy levels on the stage and in Antony Brown’s orchestra were through the roof, and the audience were buzzing with excitement.

The format of Chris Worthy and Jemma Brown’s production was simple.  A programme of iconic songs alternated with less well known tunes and short audio clips of interviews with Queen members, the entire cast dressed in black Queen tee-shirts in front of a plain black backdrop, a thirty piece orchestra and four guitarists to do justice to the music, solos and duets from Sean Andrews, Will Sexton, Chris Worthy, Simon Hoy, Paul Morgan, Lottie Diddams, Jemma Brown, Naomi Ibbetson, Mari Webster and Lucy Burgess, rousing altogether-now ensemble numbers by the whole company, and more glow sticks than you could shake a glow stick at.

The usual suspects gave good song, as is to be expected given their wealth of experience, but Will Sexton’s Mercurial ‘I Want To Be Free’, Jemma Brown and Mari Webster’s mellow and melancholy ‘Who Wants To Live Forever’, and Chris Worthy’s delightfully raunchy interpretation of ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ were the performances that did it for me on this occasion.  And everyone loves ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, and ‘We Will Rock You’, and (it was acceptable in the 70s, really it was) ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’…

The show wasn’t perfect, but on the Friday night the cast brought just the right amount of attitude and anarchy to the show to make any little slips irrelevant and unnoticeable, and their obvious enjoyment in delivering the songs and interacting with the audience was infectious.  The choreography was a bit dodgy, but there had been no opportunity to rehearse in the performance space prior to the dress rehearsal, so I might let them off that one.  And anyway, nobody cared…

Because on the night the Full Tone Orchestra upped the pace and TITCO upped their game, and between them they totally smashed it.

I’ve not seen an audience react quite that strongly to a musical show.  They sang, they waved their arms, they clapped their hands (‘Buddy you’re a boy, make a big noise’ etc), they stood up and whooped in appreciation.  Maybe it was something in the beer.  Maybe they were blinded by the glitter.  Maybe the dream combination of TITCO, Queen, and the Full Tone Orchestra tipped them over the edge.  I know that people love TITCO, but I didn’t realise anyone still loved Queen quite so much.  Maybe there is a little bit of Freddie or a Killer Queen inside us all.

By the end of the show the entire audience was up on its feet, singing and swaying and waving their glow sticks wildly to ‘We Are The Champions’, and demanding an encore.

Brilliant.

So what happened between the frankly dire dress rehearsal and the show, I wonder?

Someone really needs to check that glitter.

© Gail Foster 1st July 2018

The Song of the Wren

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The wren is singing, high up in the tree

Come, lay your crown beside me on the ground

Come lie with me, my love, come lie with me

For every bloom on earth there is a bee

For every queen a green king to be crowned

The wren is singing high up in the tree

I wore a gown of bright embroidery

I wear my hair with heather flowers wound

Come lie with me, my love, come lie with me

I’m wanton, wild, alive with energy

I want you brought to me in oak leaves bound

The wren is singing high up in the tree

Oh aye, what then, why then I set you free

Oh my, and we get dirty and profound

Come lie with me, my love, come lie with me

You are my king.  I shut my eyes and see

Your silhouette, with sunlight all around

I hear the wren sing, high up in the tree

Come lie with me, my love, come lie with me

*

© Gail Foster 21st June 2018