Monthly Archives: May 2014

‘Opera for Chinatown’ by The Sound Agents

The Sound Agents are artists specialising in oral history, funded by Heritage Lottery (HLF) to record the oral history of Liverpool Chinatown.

TheSoundAgents

Liverpool Chinatown is home to the oldest Chinese community in Europe. It has the largest arch outside of China and is probably the smallest Chinatown in the world. The streets are steeped in history. People from all over the world stayed in boarding houses in Nelson Street on their way to America. Some stayed thinking they had arrived in America when they docked in Liverpool, making Chinatown a unique cosmopolitan area.

The Agents – John Campbell and Moira Kenny – have written a play based on the stories they have been recording about the Blue Funnel Sailors, the forced Chinese repatriation and the Liverpool Chinese children who featured in the film The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.

The piece of theatre is called ‘The Curious Disappearance of Mr Foo’ and will be at the Unity Theatre Liverpool on 21 June. (Starring Tina Malone and Simon Wan. Directed by The Sound Agents.)

Currently the creative collective are exhibiting photographs, audio and artefacts from the oral history in the Open Eye Gallery alongside Bert Hardy, Martin Parr and UK-based photographer Jamie Lau. The exhibition Ebb and Flow is a visual chronicle of Liverpool Chinatown, an audio-visual survey of the history and changes, from 17 May – 22 June.

Sound Agents Sans Cafe

Working with Iliad and Liverpool City council they are also creating a photographic installation on three Georgian Terraces in Duke Street for the end of May.

Opera for Chinatown 3

The terrace’s artwork is called ‘Opera for Chinatown.’ The Sound Agents’ overall aim is to set up a site-specific Chinatown Museum in Liverpool. They have a particular mantra,

We do not believe in failure.

When working in Chinatown the artists employ local people and are keen to provide opportunities and experience to showcase women in roles traditionally reserved for men – thereby promoting the proverb, ‘women hold up half the sky.’

Opera for Chinatown 7

Pictured are Blue Funnel Shanghai sailors, Mr Yue, Mr Lau and Mr Woo.

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Their pictures appear on the building.

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I asked the Agents, what is the most interesting Chinese phrase that you have picked up? To which they coyly replied,

Better not repeat it. We hang around with retired Chinese sailors.

All pictures by kind permission of the Sound Agents

This post was updated on 6 June as the director of the Unity Theatre play changed

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Slave to her Rhythm

It is a simple equation, sass plus attitude = SASSITUDE. There has been a roll call of ladies with an attitude through the years who have inspired and impressed – Mae West, Bette Davis, Anna Magnani, Joan Crawford, Katherine Hepburn, Ute Lempur, Marlene Dietrich, Isabella Rossellini, Kate Bush, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Frida Kahlo, P.J Harvey, Alison Goldfrapp, Annie Clark and of course Madonna – to name a select few.

But this week I would like to salute the disco ball that hovers around the Cosmos of the one and only, Ms. Grace Jones. In an era when people are all the more obsessed with age, I love the fact that Madame J just keeps on dancing. Ignoring the usual sneers, ‘she’s too old to wear that, to dance that way’ etc. As if suddenly you hit an age and you lose who you are. Dis-Grace keeps performing in underground night clubs, mixing music with Tricky and Eno, even hula-hooping for Her Majesty’s pleasure. I wonder if Ms. Jones has a portrait in the attic of Studio 54, as she looks no different to her Seventies’ self.

Grace Studio 54Apparently her svelte, curved figure is crafted by cycling across the British countryside. She also has an alleged penchant for red wine, prompting her mates to nickname her ‘Grapes’.

I remember having a re-occurring nightmare about Grace when I was a kid. At the time she was in a car advert, where an automobile bolted out of her mouth. I also recall she was a more fearsome James Bond villain than Jaws, Oddjob or any of the other cast of crooks, playing Mayday. Even making Roger Moore’s eyebrow rise higher than usual! A feat in its own right.

grace-jones mayday

I fulfilled one of my life ambitions by seeing her in concert a few years ago in Manchester. She was promoting the mesmerizingly mega music scape that was ‘Hurricane’. The album came complete with photography and art work composed by Banksy. A surge of surreal images of Grace working at a chocolate factory on the production line, the chanteuse sculpting an image of herself to be consumed commercially. Something I regretted did not make the shelves of Thornton’s or any other confectioners.

The performance that night in Manchester was wonderfully electric. With the diva arriving on stage on a cherry-picker, wearing just a black corset and a melee of Philip Treacy hats and fascinators. A unique style being modelled for each song. Pure, unadulterated Cabaret!

I’ve also seen other self-titled divas perform, who rely too, too heavily on theatrics and special effects to woo and wow their audiences. To distract from not really having too much talent, all concert entertainment by numbers, with audio and visuals modified for the DVD release. So ladies and gentleman, Ms. Grace Jones, long may she reign. This year on her birthday, May 19th, I raised a glass in honour of Amazing Grace.

grace

I will always be a slave to her rhythm. Now get me to a discothèque.

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House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill

I always find reading horror on a sun-soaked beach throws the average tourist. The reality is that I find it is the safest place to indulge in scare tales, as the night terrors can play havoc with my mind. In the small hours a Moroccan lampshade can turn into a dark, cloaked figure ready to drag me off into hell. But at least, I think, I’ve got a lot of friends there.

If looking for a touch of horror on your travels this summer, I would suggest packing a copy of an Adam Nevill or downloading one onto your technological reading device of choice.

House of Small Shadows

Being branded by a credible UK newspaper (that is definitely not The S*n or The Daily Bigotry Mail) as the British Stephen King could intimidate or worry some writers.  Yet Adam Nevill continues to illustrate his literary craftsmanship, particularly with his horror offering. Nevill’s work has everything that makes a story of the supernatural: a dilapidated Victorian house, eccentric inhabitants, noises in the night, a psychologically vulnerable mixed-up protagonist. The Wicker Man meets The League of Gentleman.

Narrator Catherine has left her corporate job in a popular television production company. High-profile bullying saw her fired and forced to leave London to start a new career in a new town. Landing an assignment with huge potential, she is tasked to catalogue the late M H Mason’s eccentric collection of antique dolls and puppets. Mason’s elderly niece invites her to stay at the Red House – both workshop and home of the dead man. It is here that Catherine sees for herself the darkness behind Mason’s unique ‘Art’.

A disturbed imaginative investigation that taps into the innate human fear of puppets. If anyone can say that they can look Mr. Punch up close in the eye and not be freaked out, they are either a liar or a little missing of a few strings themselves.

Mr-Punch

The Red House, like that other infamous horror house Amityville, features as a prominent character in the story. The first description hints at the atmosphere that is flowing through its foundations:

All of the lines of the building pointed to the heavens. Two steep gables and the arch of every window beseeched the sky, as though the great house was a small cathedral indignant at its exile in rural Herefordshire. And despite over a century of rustication among uncultivated fields, the colour of its Accrington brick remained an angry red.

With this tale Neville gives the reader small tasters of the narrative. At the beginning of the book each chapter is miniscule. As the tale unfolds, the chapters become bigger, bursting with syntax and disturbing imagery that totally immerses the reader into the horror on the page.

I suggest reading a tale from this bastion of dark fantasy this summer. Besides you may not be the only person by the pool reading dark materials, I did notice someone dabbling in the Satanic pages of a Katie Price biography and that does indeed fill me with terror, by day or by night.

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Shakeshaft

City living has its risks, seven seagulls fly by pooping on my suits in the last year. Concrete paving slabs splashing up rainwater underneath.

shakeshaft_nun_prison

But one of the advantages has to be the cast of characters you can encounter simply walking down the streets. Who needs to pay for a TV licence? Real life is far more entertaining. This ensemble of characters is captured in the work of Liverpool photographer, Stephen Shakeshaft.

Wash house. Photo by Stephen Shakeshaft. First use DP w/c 14/9/09

The photography of Shakeshaft first flashed onto my retinas in Liverpool’s now closed National Conservation Centre. I used to visit this exhibition space and sit with a double espresso underneath the Eros statue in the café. I was stunned by the image-maker’s work and have been a fervent admirer of his art since. He does something which I think is unique in his compositions. Anyone can simply take a picture, point and click and now with the invasion of apps, airbrush, tint to vintage, fade away and radiate.

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This artist captures the resilience of Liverpudlians. The Scouse stoic sense of surety, with a cut to the bone sarcastic humour.

MARGI CLARKE PREPARING TO GO ON STAGE IN PANTO

MARGI CLARKE PREPARING TO GO ON STAGE IN PANTO

With just one look of the eye, his sitters tell their story. Take Lizzie, for example, selling fruit from her market stall, whatever the weather. She glares at the camera with a hard affection and knowingness.

lizzie

It was a treat for the eye to view his collection of images of the Liverpudlian icon Ken Dodd recently at the Liverpool Life Museum.

ken dodd

I absolutely love Ken Dodd, I find he is like a Scouse Surrealist, a genius of madcap humour. Try and explain the Diddy men to anyone, bizarre with a capital B,

Did someone spike that man’s tea?

And what about his tickling stick? Like Magritte’s pipe, it has become a signature. As the joker Dodd puts it,

A lot of people say it’s a sex symbol, but I think that’s a fallacy.

The candid snaps displayed the man on stage and backstage drinking a pint, a cup of tea, lounging on a couch. With close-up images to reveal the attention to detail that is applied to his act. For example, a worn battered make-up kit and arsenal of tricks, to help him on his missive to give the world, ‘a little drop of tickle tonic’.

If Ken Dodd was around in William Shakespeare’s day, he would have been a fool in one of his plays, all, ‘Nuncle’ and mirth-laced, with a subtle dosage of truth. Kenneth Branagh recognised this quality and cast him in his screen version of HAMLET. This celebration of the official lunatic from Knotty Ash, Mr. Ken Dodd, did leave me feeling

full of plumtiousness and gratitude.

 

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