Friday, 7 October 2011

The Road to Southwold Pier

Southwold Pier wasn't the intention. To stay at home and catch up with work was, apart that is from a concert we had been invited to where one of the pieces being performed was a set of Rain Songs I had written for the Czech-born composer Karel Janovitzky. I thought the concert was in the evening but when I looked at the tickets about 11am, the message was suddenly ambiguous. It was a pass to all the concerts at the William Alwyn Festival but the blank space had 2pm stamped on it.

My head was full of writing - a short essay, a competition report, an introduction, two reviews, my university classes - and it was too late to ring for further information. So we had a hasty early lunch and drove off to St Felix's Chapel in St Felix's School, where the concert was. Except when we arrived the 2pm event turned out to be a Masterclass with the great recorder virtuoso, John Turner, who had in fact invited us. The concert was in the evening at 7:30. I was embarrassed and in despair. There was no point in coming home to work then driving out again but I had to work. On the other hand the concert in which Rain Songs was to be performed was in the evening and dear Karel was going to be there.

We attended the masterclass, and a good thing too. We learned more about the recorder in an hour or so than I had learned in my entire life: not only about the considerable range of recorders but recorder technique and the range, limitation and quality of the recorder. John T delivered his class with considerable grace and humour to a group of able very young, shy but able recorder students including their tutor, Laura Cannell, who I had first met just three weeks before when Horses Brawl performed at the Wymondham Words Festival.

John having specially mentioned Karel we decided to blow it and stay, so drove into Southwold and parked by the pier. The sun was out and the wind rising. We walked through the amusement arcade and down the pier. It's hundred feet long with a series of huts: restaurant, cafe, gift shop and the roomful of Tim Hunkin's gorgeous Under the Pier slot machines. I love such things: the poet and the child meet at the universe-as-mechanics. We tried Frankenstein and the Zimmer Frame Crossing and the Gene Forecaster. This so raised the spirit that from then on I stopped worrying. We wandered down to the T-shaped end, took photos, then back and down the beach towards town with the tide slowly retreating, then returned down the road to eat dinner on the pier.

Our food had just arrived when Karel and his daughter, Debbie, turned up, so we all sat down together and talked for an hour before returning to the concert. Which was a delight and beautifully arranged as a scoot through the playful, the lyrical, the exotic and the melancholy with the soprano Lesley-Jane Rogers now whispering, now teasing, now ringing out a storm with John on recorder and Janet Simpson on a light subtle piano. The audience contained a good sprinkling of composers, in fact all bar Geoffrey Pool from the second half of the concert, plus others like Gordon Crosse whose work comes up tonight. I hope I get another chance to work with Karel. Working with artists and composers and musicians is one of the great pleasures of poetry.

On the way out Elis Pehkonen gave me a CD with work by himself, Christopher Wright and Jane Wells, including the Party Scene from Air Kissing that Jane and I wrote together. Listened to the CD in the car on the drive home through stormy winds. I wonder if anything will ever become of the whole of Air Kissing. These finished by unperformed works are a weight on the soul, and even more on the soul of the composer, who has done so much more than the poet.

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