Category Archives: Heritage and Art

Eagleton Flies In and I lol

The location was a small, but beautiful chapel in the grounds of Durham’s smallest college. The audience were a mix of the great, the good and the downright ordinary, (I count my self as being definately in the latter category). They consisted of primarily of Catholic, Theology and English types with the odd Protestant Mathematical Physics person who’d sneaked in to enjoy.

The afternoon started with some archieve footage of Terry Eagleton from a OU programme made about 35 years ago. It was an interview on literary criticism related to Yates’ Easter 1916 poem, which apparently has been a recurring theme for him over the years. In this interview there was an interesting discussion of the contextualisation of language and how literary criticsm relates to this.

Next Tom Casey, the president of Milltown Institute looked at “Has Theology Come Round Again?” This was a facinating paper on the way radical theology has much more to offer in terms of ideas than much secular leftish thought. The argument was there may well be an acknowledgement emerging amongst some, such as Eagleton, that radical theology has a role to play in developing the thought of the cultural left.

John McDonagh gave a wonderfully humerous paper looking at the way Eagleton’s work has dealt with Ireland. If nothing else it left me desperate to read  Eagleton’s The Truth About the Irish.

Then it was time to listen to Eagleton himself. This was a great experience and one which made me treasure the fact I am essentially a “common lefty” because I got all his jokes, in a hilarious but deep talk. It was essentially an attack on “New Atheism” as advanced by Dawkins and Hitchens developed from his book Reason, Faith and Revolution. Within this he made the point that atheists are as obsessed with God as puritans are with sex.

The central point he seemed to be interestingly making was that Dawkins and co who promote a social Dawinism based on survival of the fittest and the myth of progress making us continually nicer are wrong but so are the assumptions of postmodernism. He seemed to be suggesting that Marxism was the only ideology which could meet the demands of the late modern situation and that within that radical theology has new ideas to offer. He gave a great description of Jesus based on the anarchist/ liberation theology models of Christ, (which I have to say I adhere to). I would, however, question this faith he places in Marxism in being able to keep the grand narrative whilst operating in a world which has, like,  moved beyond the certainties of the past.

I did agree with him thought that it is fear which is the opposite to love and fear is one of the key components of fundamentalism. On this part I thought it would have been interest to contrast him against the work of Tariq Ali to see where their similarities and differences lay. It was noteable in the list of the intellectual left who were being slated Ali’s name was noteably absent.

There was a classic line about the new atheists knowing as little about religion as Madonna does about Leviticus. This was one of those classic one liners which required you to understand about low culture. He also put some great one liners in about US southern based religion, and unfortunately I wasn’t seated in the right place to see the “new testament” crowds reaction. Basically though as a couple of Christian, culturally aware, lefties me and TOH loved the afternoon though and spent lots of time giggling.

Eagleton’s talk was followed by one of those panel discussions which took the form of those 1980’s late night BBC2 and Channel Four shows where intellectuals sat and spouted. Have to say whilst some of what was being spouted was interesting and relevant alot of it did seem a bit well out of keeping with the interactive, accessible nature of the rest of the symposium.

All in all a great afternoon spent in great company honouring a great man.

Oh and if you’ve never read any of Eagleton’s work I refer you to this column in the Guardian recently on the subject of footie and how it is now the opium of the people.

Nice little offer for the weekend

Ok, I know I keep banging on about Solas and people are probably getting bored of it…..but they have a nice little deal on this weekend, buy one get one free on adult tickets. Now that means dear concession you can split the cost between two of you and pay £40 each rather than the £60 each if you are students, etc or if you are adults you can make a real tidy saving. Think of it this way, when your friends of family are boring you with the highlights of Glasto you can tell them about this quaint little Scottish festival you were at that weekend, so much more exclusive 😉 Equally a good way to escape the footie if you’re not that way inclined.

Oh and if anybody is thinking of buying a Mac find a student and get a discount and an i-pod for one of you into the bargain, with this tidy little offer. (Seriously I could do with the i-pod if anybody wants to use my studnet status on this one).

It’s A Mystery – (Play)

Last night I enjoyed a mash up between the traditional mystery play and contemporary culture, in Durham Mysteries. This was community theatre and “high culture” coming together in an amazingly refreshing way to release the bible from the constraints that “the church” has placed upon it and pose some of those difficult theological questions that only “ordinary theology” dare raise in polite company. In the process they managed to introduce the bible narratives to far more young people than most churches could hope to.

There were 10 stories, each performed by different groups from the local community, predominantly young people. You could buy tickets for individual plays or the whole package (which worked out cheaper). I know the Gala and Cathedral tickets have sold out but think there are still tickets available for The Sands where the majority of action takes place.

The action started in the Gala Theatre with “The Fall of Lucifer” subtitled “Heaven’s Got Talent” where a group of 6th formers from a local school looked at the devil’s fall from a “talent show/ reality tv perspective”. The most amazing bit of this was they got full audience participation in a moment of wierdness. It was cool.

Then it was up to the Cathedral where I managed to, totally without any planning beyond the 30 seconds before when I clocked them sitting there with a gap next to them, managed to sit next to a couple of old friends from the church I was part of down south. There were lots of cute kids in “The Fall”, but it was “posh music” of the sort where you can’t really tell the words and all got a bit “high culture” meets school assembly. My least favourite bit.

Then it was down to the Sands, an outdoor space where we all unpacked our blankets and stuff. We hadn’t realised there were deck chairs available for those without chairs….but hey a blanket with some butties and a little to drink was good. There were 8 plays here. The odd ones, like Abraham and Issac and The Harrowing of Hell were a bit arty for my taste, but very well performed by a bunch of teenagers.

My favourites were “Cain and Abel” and “Noah and the Fludd” which followed on from each other. The former was an exploration of sibling rivalry and street culture. It involved some street dance, break dance, rap and poetry and, whilst not the most polished bit of the show in places, it was brilliant and I loved it.

Then there was Noah and the Fludd. Noah, comedy style comes to the North East. It was hilarious but raised the serious issues around what God did and why, through some interaction between her and her angels.

After the interval we moved onto the new testament. The interpretation of the passion narrative was most moving because of the way a young man was raised up on a cross with people at either side. It was seeing the ropes being pulled and how a cross was actually put in an upright position that got me, somehow….particularly when you realised it was an “ordinary job”.

However, my favourite piece in this section was The Miracle of Lazarus where they explored what would happen these days. It explored the government reaction to protest,  protesters and crowds they didn’t have full control over but also the way religion is viewed within that. The classic lines included the policeman telling the paramedic “you have to take the proper precautions when there’s a faith angle”. The disciples were described as “his 12 hardcore activists”.

I am not into “panto” but I am into “low culture” and particularly good contemporary drama which is “low culture”. I think that’s one of the reasons I loved the evening so much. Whilst the audience really was the Durham middle classes out to enjoy the arts the people on stage were a much more mixed bunch. This was a true example of what community arts is about and why amid important budget cuts we must ensure that projects like this aren’t the first to go. This was about bringing people together and developing their skills and talents. It was also a really interesting lesson in narrative preaching in terms of how the texts were taken and used to connect with a contemporary audience. Oh and one thing I hadn’t mentioned was how the inmates of one of the local jails had put together a cartoon film based on Jonah which was played in the interval. This involved Sunderland supporters changing their ways and wearing the black and white of Newcastle instead.

They’re talking about making this a three yearly event and I really hope they do, because as I say it was one of the most exciting things I have seen in ages.

Enjoying Life North of Skipton

Maddy Prior and Nick Hennessey are out on a small northern tour at the moment, (North of Skipton or North of Barnsley depending on what you’re reading). This gives the opportunity to see Prior (of Steeleye Span fame aswell as an acknoweldged performer in her own right) in intimate venues.

Last night I saw them in St. Michael and All Angels in Houghton. This was the first time they had put on this type of gig and it was a wonderful success, and so they are planning to put on some more folky stuff in the church. They don’t have a mailing list set up yet and so I think it’s going to be a case of keeping an eye on the website at the moment. This is worth doing though, this church has perfect acoustics. The setting is intimate but the sound was as good as at the vast Sage Hall One, which is the last place I saw Prior sing (on the Steeleye Span anniversary tour).

Hennessey is a storyteller and folk singer with a harp. Thus he complimented Prior and her wonderful voice beautifully. There were a couple of stories mixed in with the songs and, he may well be my second favourite storyteller now. (John Row will always be my favourite one, but then I guess I am bound to be biased). The first part of the gig celebrated love and relationships, (in the way only folk music can) and the second half mainly celebrated the culture and stories of “the borderlands”, this Northumberland site explains a little about the history of the borderlands.

If you get the chance to see either Hennessey or Prior take it because I can’t recommend them highly enough.

Peter Hook and Howard Marks – Unknown Pleasures

As we entered the Gala for “an evening of unknown pleasures” with Peter Hook, compared by Howard Marks the stage was set with an exhibition of Hooky, New Order and Joy Division rarities; the odd leather jacket, award, picture of Ian Curtis and the centre piece a Hacienda sign.

As the predominantly male audience of 35-50 year olds took their seats the lights fell and we were treated to a montage of Joy Division and New Order clips, aswell as the odd clip from Twenty Four Hour Party People. The music, as one of the talky bits said, didn’t age.

Then Howard Marks, our compare for the evening, walk on and in a slightly smashed Welsh drawl introduced Hooky before sitting down to start to enjoy the couple of pints by his chair. Peter Hook walked on and played a couple of New Order numbers, (one on a six string bass and one on a four string). Then it was into a Q&A time based on reminicing. Hooky talked about Tony Wilson and Mani from The Stone Roses with a particular fondness. He explained abit about why The Hacienda lost as much money as it did and how he’d got into DJing. Some bloke in the audience had asked, making reference to “True Faith” and “Touched By the Hand of God” about Hooky’s views on religion. He answered he was into karma but not Eastern religion, (bless dear Howard Marks at this point who got Buddhism and Hinduism a little mixed up in his follow up question).

The interval gave the audience a chance to have a wander round the exhibition on the stage, which also included some vintage NME’s I remembered reading. This was v. cool.

The second half began with more film footage including some clips of New Order at Glastonbury, which bought back memories. Then it was back into the Q&A / anacdote stuff. Great description of why Hooky thought Johnny Rotten was the biggest celebrity twat he’d met, aswell as one of the biggest influences. He also gave an anacdote about the time the two of them had gone to see the Orb and Rotten had literally got mobbed when they’d gone out to the bar. There was a classic description of Mick Hucknell getting chinned at the Hacienda by one of Hooky’s mates which we all seemed to appreciate. I didn’t seem to be alone in thinking Simply Red were probably the least wonderful band to come out of Manchester in the 80’s.

Finally there was some discussion of his latest project Freebass before he played Dark Starr which has Howard Marks on vocals. This is from the Two Worlds Collide ep and involved Howard Marks reading some wierd poem whilst some really good music was played over the top.

Marks and Hooky were wonderful, it was just like sitting in some little artsy venue, or back stage area after a gig listening to a bloke holding court, whilst chatting to a friend who wanted him to tell him about it all. This really was an evening of unknown pleasures which was well worth the “oh shit! we’re not selling enough tickets, we’ll offer a huge discount to people on our e-mail list” price of a ticket I paid. Would it have been worth it full price, at £16? I’m not so sure…that’s a sizeable proportion of the weeks shopping budget when you’re skint. Also you have no guarentee that you won’t be sat next to a tosser rather than, as I was, some bloke who was doing his own reminicing telling me all about how he and his mates had regularly blagged their way into The Tube when it was being recorded at Tyne Tees because the producer drank in the same pub as him in Easington. He also had some wonderful tales to tell about him and his mates jumping into a car every couple of weeks and driving over to the Hacienda, aswell his tales of Ibiza.

I leave you with a You Tube clip of  Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart, one of Hooky’s earlier tracks.


Bit of Sun and the English go Mad

Yesterday saw the first proper bit of sun of the year and so TOH and I headed off to the beach. I got to discover Tynemouth which is a gorgeous place with the most wonderful set of ickle hippy shops in a disused church, The Land of Green Ginger. Whilst in there we had a woman get her twigs out and ask if we wanted a reading, (and no there is no inuendo).  

After doing the middle class cultural bit going round the priory we headed to the beach and decided to engage in a bit of paddling. Note here: I now live in the North East and it’s still only early April, yes that does mean I was completely mad to even contemplate doing this….it was rather cold. Still atleast I didn’t have a Saville Row jacket on doing it, unlike a certain somebody who likes to take surrealness to new heights.

Art in the Cathedral

The Galilee chapel in the cathedral has an exhibition of “Images of God” by school children who are part of the Hexham and Newcastle Catholic Partnership.

The work is of an incredible quality for a bunch of people so young and some of it is really inspiring.

The works that really caught my attention were:
A picture of a young black child on a piece of ripped hesian sacking by Edward Maddison. It was incredibly striking aswell as quite moving.

A young, slightly androgynous male who is in the position of the cross with a loin cloth around him and a glowing flame behind by Jamie Gilling. This was also quite moving, although the figure looked younger than Jesus on the cross would have been.

Nathan Hanby’s print in black and white of an older afro-caribbean male was also quite moving.

“All for one and one for all” was a collage of Jesus’ face by year 8 pupils at St. Robert of Newminster Catholic school. The collage was made up images of Jesus that younger pupils had bought in.

St. John’s Catholic School produced a set of four interesting pictures of the traditional white Jesus, but as a pirate,policeman, farmer and hippy.

Finally Amy Hassard produced an extremely moving picture of the beaten disfigured Jesus.

There were a bunch of other works on display aswell, but these were the ones which really caught my eye. The exhibition is in the cathedral until January 31st.

100 Portraits – Sometimes life is black and white

Yesterday, I had a couple of hours to kill in Newcastle between meetings and so popped into the University Gallery to look at the Jane Brown exhibiton. Jane Brown has taken black and white portrait photos for the Observer for about 60 years and this exhibition contained 100 portraits of famous people. The subjects ranged from The Queen to Iris Murdoch, Philp Larkin, Sinead O’Connor and Quintin Crisp. The beauty of these portraits were they caught the people posing wonderfully through their eyes, quite often. My personal favourite, I think, was the portrait of Iris Murdoc which the blurb said had taken a while to take due to Murdoch’s shyness. There is a beauty in vulnerability I think, which this picture captured. Whilst the blurb said Crisp was a far more willing subject it also had a similar type of vulnerability to it, which some other pictures didn’t. It is, I think, one of the reasons Bjork also stood out.

Also on my way from a to b I caught “crunch” which is an exhibition in a disused shop window, and is Viz meets Globe Gallery in the local community. Can’t explain this one fully….and haven’t gotten the pictures I took of it uploaded, suffice to say this series of cartoons is an excellent critique on the current recession from a range of angles.

Site blurb explains it by saying “Crunch! is the culmination of an exciting shop window participatory arts project that began in June 2009. Over 100 participants worked with Viz co-creator Simon Donald and playwright Lee Mattinson to produce their own responses to the credit crunch. Participants ranged from local school children aged 13 to a retired pensioner aged 67, proving that art can be accessible to everyone. The results are amazingly varied, with cartoons from several of the participants as well as from Simon and Chris Donald, and script produced by the volunteers and edited by Lee Mattinson”

Jane Brown exhibition on until 19th Feb and Crunch is there until 25th Jan. And of course being Newcastle not London I didn’t have to pay a penny to see any of this stuff 😀

Darlington Arts Centre – Not an Oxymoron

Darlington and Arts Centre are not words that easily go together in ones mind, or atleast not in my mind. Darlington, before I got to know the place bought to mind exactly the sort of place The Jams were on about in “It’s Grim Up North”. The words arts centre bought to mind cosmopolitan cities. The two didn’t go together. But I am discovering that Darlington has and is an arts centre.

Physically The Arts Centre is a building about 5 minutes from the city centre which hosts plays, films, comedy and such like aswell as having two galleries within it. Beyond that Darlington has appointed the first “Twitterer in Residence”. As with the Baltic, and I think practically all the galleries and exhibitions up here enterance is free. You just pay to go and see performances, or frequent the coffee shop.

Yesterday I had occassion to be in the town with a few minutes to kill and a desire to avoid the snow which is getting annoying now. So I popped into the Arts Centre for a look around the galleries and happened upon Randy Klein’s Coney Island Angels exhibition in the Myles Meehan Gallery. This is a lively and colourful exhibition which evokes memories of summers when you were young, being based around a fun fair; just what you need in this weather. There is some digital print stuff but most of it is quirky and quite intricate sculpture. My favourite piece was “Roller Coaster 2003-9”; four roller coaster sculptures made mainly from steel and copper.

Oh and incase my reference to The Jams “It’s Grim Up North” has got anybody searching about in their memory banks no need to search anymore. Remember You Tube is as much your friend as Google these days.

Pharmacy; Canteen; CND; Pooh and Dorothy Day

So I have had an interesting few days doing what I don’t normally do….simply relaxing and allowing myself to be looked after. Over the last few days I have chilled out and enjoyed reading non-course related stuff aswell as a bit of quality modern art.

The first book I consumed was Now More Than Ever by Kate Hudson. It’s a history of CND and the peace movement. Now it’s not the best written book I ever read and heavily biased in favour of the Labour Party. However, it is an interesting read which makes an interesting point about the role Christians play(ed) in CND. At one point she says it was estimated that 23% of CND’s members were Christians. Whilst Quakers are primarily praised in the book, with references to their various peace camps it is clear that many different denominational backgrounds were present and active within the peace movement. CND Book

The second and best book I devoured was Dorothy Day by Deborah Kent. It was a facinating biography of a woman I highly regard. For me Dorothy Day gives a model of how one can be a lone parent, with a passion for social justice serving God. I do not presume I will ever get close to her model of servanthood, but I can seek to learn about her to find out about her faith. It is a book which was written, I think, with young people in mind. This means it is an easy to read book, but it equally contains a good story of faith and service. The language is not academic but it is still a stimulating book and one I would recommend.Dorothy Day.

I have also started reading a Return to the Hundred Acre Wood by David Benedictus. I have been greatly suprised by how much I am enjoying it. If you want to escape into a time past when innocence was more than a smoothie I can’t encourage you to read this book enough. Also and best of all, Piglet is the right colour.Pooh

Besides all the reading we made a trip into Newcastle and discovered a delightful cafe called Canteen Cafe and Bar. The review linked to says it’s expensive, but we managed to get a nice ickle deal on two meals for £8.95 which were very filling. I had a full roast within this deal. Can’t recommend the place enough. Most enchanting was the fact the menus are placed within the shells of childrens books. Ours was in a Rupert annual.

Finally it was off to the Baltic. Have to say at the moment they have the best collection of exhibitions I’ve seen there. Whilst the Pharmacy installation by Damian Hirst is facinating, it is lacking in a vital ingredient which both TOH and I were searching for….proper Calpol. The 6+ is included, but there is no box of proper wonder-drug there. You can find a box for your second generation anti-depressent of choice though. This and the Malcolm McLaren exhibition Shallow make the visit worthwhile. Note to the Tate Modern people here…Shallow actually shows how porn can be taken, subverted and made proper art. This was in stark contrast to the exhibition at the Modern we saw a few weeks ago.

The best exhibition at the Baltic at the moment is Parrworld by Martin Parr. Through photography and general tat he makes a wonderful exhibition relating to social and political history which is amusing, challenging and provoking aswell as nostalgic. Well worth a visit.