Sunday, January 07, 2024

Beefheart, the Musical at Bury Art Gallery and Museum

We had travelled up the night before, which took a layer of stress out of the equation. Avanti trains are in nothing less than turmoil at the moment, disguising the fact that their train staff are refusing to work the overtime that the understaffed company depends on, with various explanations that have ceased to be plausible. Now, they just cancel trains seemingly at random; luckily, we were guests at the Premier Inn in Bury for the night. Clean, big beds and hot bath water: just what we needed. Gina has been really ill and we actually made this event by the skin of our teeth.

I went out for a walk on Saturday morning. It was sunny and cold, and I saw the town at it's best. The people of Bury are friendly and relaxed it seems, and I admired the big Victorian buildings that are remnants of an earlier, more confident and perhaps brutal era. I bought a paper, a slice of cake and a coffee before scoping out the gallery which is literally five minutes away from the hotel.

Once we got there for a run-through at twelve, I knew it was all going to happen. Kat, the gallery manager, plied us with coffee and food and found a quiet office for Gina to rest in. The staff seemed really excited, one and all, and Derek Tyman, the driving force behind the project Rooms To Live 11, was waiting for us to arrive. In conjunction with fellow artist Andy Webster, he'd constructed Trout House Replica, an installation that exactly matched the dimensions of Captain Beefheart's house in LA where Trout Mask Replica was devised. Throughout November and December, there have been musical events in 'the house' that have included band rehearsals, concerts and workshops. We had chosen to perform in January, and we'd needed the time because Gina has a very busy and successful year last year. There are events going through until February- check out here if you're in the area:

It had really been my decision to write something especially for this, rather than just each playing a few songs. I think you have to keep your imagination alive, and hats off to Gina, she went with it straight away. I suppose I felt that it would be good to put the time in, since this project has taken such a lot of tenacity to get off the ground and has managed to rise from the ashes of the pandemic into fruition, as only true art can!

The gallery started to fill up, which we were quite surprised about. Lots of people I'd invited along couldn't come because of illness or other reasons. When Paula Chambers started her performance, a fascinating memoir/installation about her life on a barge in the 1980s, the gallery was pretty full. She had a rapturous reception, and we were ready to go straight afterwards.

It was all a bit of an intense blur; we made a few mistakes but I think it was OK. I'm glad we had rehearsed it a lot because when one of us got lost the other managed to cover. By halfway through, I was really enjoying it, and could scan the audience to see what they thought. They didn't look nearly as baffled as I'd expected, and some of them were even smiling and... nodding their heads along in time with the... yes we had made MUSIC! Ha! We finished with everyone in the audience joining us in spelling out B-E-E-F-H-E-A-R-T at the tops of their voices. 

Maybe this was a pantomime and not a musical?

Anyway, after we'd packed up our stuff we took up our places on the 'veranda' of the house, and David Wilkinson conducted a Q&A with the three of us. Although a few people had left after the performances, most people seemed to have actually decided to make a day of it (the Stories from the She-Punks film was showing upstairs in the morning), and we talked about gender, class, music and squatting. Somehow we managed to talk about a lot of other things too, and it was simultaneously relaxing (a nice come-down after the adrenaline of the performance) and stimulating. I remembered David from the KISMIF conference in Porto: I'd not been at his presentation but Gina had, and she recounted him creasing up with laughter while he was delivering his paper on City Fun, Liz Naylor's punk-era zine. Gina introduced me to him afterwards, and he still seemed to be laughing. Imagine that at an academic conference! But KISMIF is far from normal.

So we did it despite Gina's illness (she was a trouper throughout) and although the train back was cancelled, we managed to get on to an earlier one which was a Result.

What a great start to 2024! January can be a dump of a month, so to spend the first proper weekend in a lovely gallery surrounded by welcoming people and a warm-hearted audience (someone even photographed the embroidered pockets of our lab coats)- well what could be better than that? 

Big thanks to Derek and Andy for organising it, to Kat for being such a brilliant facilitator, to the museum staff including Steve the technician for lighting up our lives, to Paula for a fab performance, to Dave for being a dude... and to Darren and Becky, and Ian and Dave, for coming along on a cold Saturday afternoon. And to Chardine Taylor-Stone formerly of Big Joanie, who had been part of an event in the gallery late last year and who came along to watch.

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