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Arts & Entertainment

Get your Swindon Festival of Literature tickets before the Brummies beat you to it

Director Matt Holland launches the 23d Swindon Festival of LiteratureDirector Matt Holland launches the 23d Swindon Festival of LiteratureLiterature lovers of Swindon beware – the book-readers of Birmingham are after your Festival tickets.

Swindon’s 23rd annual Festival of Literature was launched in the courtyard of Swindon Library yesterday (Thursday) – the day that tickets went on sale.

And by 8.30am, revealed Festival organiser Matt Holland, the box office had already received ticket enquiries – some from as far afield as the Midlands and Home Counties. “Don’t be beaten by people from Birmingham and Basingstoke in getting tickets,” was his dire warning.

The launch itself was a celebration of Swindon’s vibrant art scene. In a break from tradition, the brochure’s front cover is a painting – the winning entry in a competition organised by Swindon Open Studios.

Tim Carroll’s Woman Reading graces the brochure, posters and postcards, the latter produced in the hope that Swindonians will revive the pre-digital tradition of writing to friends by mail (and urging them to come to the Festival).

Over 100 Festival supporters were treated to verse by community poet Tony Hillier, and entertained by top classical guitarist Richard Durrant, whose book – The 26 Bus to Paraguay – charts his journey from Brighton housing estate to South America… via Swindon. He’ll be talking about it on May 9.

Richard also led the assembly, in Pied Piper style, to the children’s section of the library, where an Artswords project, curated by No Added Sugar’s Gordon and Toni Dickinson alongside poet Hilda Sheehan, was unveiled. The Butterfly Wall was created by Swindon people, young and old, who over the course of three days decorated 600 butterflies with paints and verse.

Swindon Festival of Literature runs from May 2 to 14, and features dozens of international, national, and local authors, entertainers, historians, philosophers, and politicians.

Highlights of this year’s programme include former Lib Dem business secretary Vince Cable (May 3) and former Labour mayor of London, Ken Livingstone (May 10).

Mr Cable’s book, billed as a carefully-considered perspective on how the economy should be managed over the next decade, is called After the Storm. Perhaps Ken Livingstone, whose new book is called Being Red, will question whether the storm is actually over, when so many citizens are still getting wet.

Austrian academic, ethical economist and contemporary dancer Christian Felber – author of Change Everything – will certainly have a view – or maybe a dance – about it.

Felber has designed what has been described as an ‘economy for the common good’ which is attracting the attention of leaders from the worlds of business and politics. In a festival rarity, Felber is getting a double bill to himself on May 11.

Actor Brian Blessed will be bringing Absolute Pandemonium – both his book and sense of being – to the Arts Centre on May 12, after Festival organisers convinced his agent Swindon ‘could handle him’. Rows A to W are suitable for the hard of hearing.

Another shouty performer – Dom Joly, he of the over-sized mobile phone – will be walking his audience through Here Comes the Clown: a Stumble Through Show Business (May 5) while, earlier the same day, fellow TV comedian Isy Suttie will discuss her book, The Actual One, which charts her very real struggle to remain a twenty-something forever.

As always, Festival-goers will be encouraged to think, rather than simply sit back and be entertained. Author and cultural historian A N Wilson (May 4) will discuss The Bible as a philosophical work of literature for a secular age, while later that day philosopher Roger Scruton will be asking the big questions – who are we, and why are we here? – as explored in his latest work The Soul of the World.

The festival will also pay tribute to Kaye Franklin, a long-time supporter of the Festival and a ‘force for good’ in Swindon, who died last year. In the first Kaye Franklin Memorial Lecture (May 3), Festival director Matt Holland will ask ‘why do we read, write, and listen to stories?’

That’s not an exhaustive list, and doesn’t even touch on the Dawn Chorus, the Swindon Slam poetry competition, the Think Slam philosophy throwdown, the children and families day, the Swindon Affair, and the eclectic Festival Finale with music, poetry and watering cans. For a full festival programme, log on to

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Eighty artists to exhibit ahead of Open Studios


Open Studios chairman Lisi Ashbridge with David Dudley and Sabine Orton of David Dudley JewelleryOpen Studios chairman Lisi Ashbridge with David Dudley and Sabine Orton of David Dudley JewelleryEighty artists from Marlborough’s Open Studios scheme will be previewing their work in the town next month.

The preview show will be held at The Mount House Gallery in Bath Road from April 15 to 19, from 10am to 5pm daily.

The preview – as well as July's art trail – is being sponsored by jeweller David Dudley.

Open Studios chairman Lisi Ashbridge said: “David Dudley is a perfect fit and we are thrilled to be working with him in a year that sees Open Studios enhanced by a number of new artists.”

“As a creative jeweller myself this event reflects all that is important in developing our community in understanding how many superb artists we have in and around Marlborough,” said David.

“Open Studios has now become one of the major events on the Summer calendar, and we feel privileged and delighted to have taken over as the lead sponsor for this growing annual event.

“I would encourage anyone to make the most of this event and, during July, visit as many of the Open Studios as possible. To add some extra sparkle this year, I will be offering an amazing piece of jewellery to be won by one lucky Open Studio visitor.”


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Marlborough & District embroiderers celebrate 40 years of stitching with a ruby exhibition

Four of the members' ruby squares [Click to enlarge]Four of the members' ruby squares [Click to enlarge]Here I am sorting through my stash of red fabrics and threads - some so precious that I have never used them while other scraps drift in and out of my magpie collection. We have been challenged by our chairman to each make a ruby square. The square is to be ten inches by ten inches, we are free to use any materials, any techniques, any design.

The squares' colour is to be predominantly red - ruby red - but to include touches of other colours. Yes you’ve guessed it, our Marlborough and District Embroiderers’ Guild is forty years old next month (April 2016.) We are celebrating with an exhibition of members’ work and, centre stage we are planning to show a block of ruby squares.

There are so many decisions to make when starting a piece of work. We are able to explore, invent and be excited by a whole range of products and materials. Our workbox is as likely to contain a soldering iron as a needle case.

We may have fabric paints and printing blocks, brushes and rollers. We may hand stitch with the most astonishing range of threads or use a sewing machine as a drawing tool, employ soluble fabrics to create lacey structures, or work with a whole range of non-woven materials.  

Embroiderers nowadays are bombarded with so much choice.  Styles of embroidery come and go and change frequently over the years.  Embroidery worked an age ago dates alarmingly.  Such pieces can end up in a charity shop only to be reclaimed by a new generation searching for vintage items.

As our April anniversary and its exhibition approaches, we have been wondering what our branch was like forty years ago. Thanks to one of our members we have a copy of the branch programme for 1976/77 and we read that meetings were held in Marlborough Public Library.  

Monthly talks and workshops laid the foundation for the way our branch works today.  In this old programme we see that Miss Kaye Norris gave a series of talks about the history of embroidery.

Kaye Norris had been taught by Constance Howard at Goldsmith’s College of Art, they remained life long friends. Some examples of Kay Norris’s work can be seen in “Inspiration for Embroidery” by Constance Howard published by Batsford in 1966.  

Constance Howard had an enormous influence on contemporary embroidery, urging that the design side of embroidery should not be overlooked and was as important as the craftsmanship.  Another book by Constance Howard “Embroidery and Colour” was published in 1976, which is as relevant now as it was forty years ago, but it appears strange to us that a book about colour has so few coloured illustrations.

Nowadays modern technology means that we have easy access to wonderfully produced books full of enticing colour, not to mention CD’s and YouTube with its instant access to the world of “how to do it range of crafts”.  Followers of Pinterest and blogging embroiderers abound.

Our own branch now communicates with members online and we have published a newsletter since 2001. One of our members designed our website and another writes a regular blog showing photos of talks, workshops and outings.

Lorrain Lockwood's woodpecker designLorrain Lockwood's woodpecker designIn 1977 Mrs Vilma Wells gave a design workshop with an exercise based on black and white counter-change. The results of this can be seen in the woodpecker box top designed by Lorrain Lockwood who also made the box.  Lorrain was a founder member of the Marlborough and District Embroiderers Guild  

Lorrain’s embroidered Cockerel was part of the branch challenge of 1977. Then members were given a preprinted picture of the cockerel and told that they could use any method excluding gold work or canvas work.  Both of these pieces were in the 1978 July exhibition.

Early meetings of the Guild moved from Marlborough Library, to the Scout Hut, and then to the Bowls Club.  Now our Branch meets in Kennet Valley Hall in Lockeridge and we currently have a membership of sixty-five.  As well as monthly talks with regular and exciting workshops, we run a stitch day for members who want to come and do their own work.  

We run a six-session course, Design to Stitch, which covers machine techniques with a chance to experiment with design. Young Embroiderers began in 2003 and continues to thrive, meeting regularly during school holidays.

The ruby squares are now complete and they will form a very exciting display.  We do hope that you will come and visit our exhibition in Lockeridge, in April 2016 and see for yourself – details of the exhibition can be found here.

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Animals and Feelgood to headline Mantonfest


The Animals and FriendsThe Animals and FriendsThe Animals and Friends and Dr Feelgood have been unveiled as the headliners of this year’s Mantonfest.

Sixties blues band The Animals are best known for their worldwide hits House of the Rising Sun and We Gotta Get Out of this Place.

The current line-up includes original drummer John Steel and keyboard player Mick Gallagher, who replaced Alan Price in 1965, along with Danny Handley and Roberto Ruiz.

Rhythm and blues favourites Dr Feelgood have been touring since 1971 with a rotating lineup – none of the original members of the band are still performing.

Nonetheless, fans can expect hits including Roxette, Back in the Night and their 1979 top ten singleMilk and Alcohol to be rolled out.

The line-up also includes festival favourites Straight Six, Skedaddle and The Banned alongside Barrel House, The Clive Collective, Onyx, The Harry Miller band, and nine-piece ukulele band The Ukey D’Ukes.

Mantonfest takes place on Saturday, June 25 at Manton Grange Watermeadow. For more information, or to book a ticket, log on to

 Mantonfest is supported by Marlborough News Online


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The dead rise in Marlborough

ZombieZombieIt’s the newspaper trope we always wanted to use – heralding the zombie apocalypse. But the dead really will be rising in Marlborough today (Thursday).

Teenagers will be transforming themselves into zombies as part of the Happiness arts day, which takes place at the former Youth Centre in St Margaret’s Mead.

As well as getting made up, the young people will have the chance to learn more about the entomology of zombies, and decide for themselves how the undead state – real or imagined – equates to their own happiness.

Thirteen to nineteen year olds will also be given the opportunity to create a graffiti mural, and have a go at The Lyric Generator, How to Survive a Story, No Rules Junk Art, karaoke, spontaneous dancing, vent-a-wall, inside-my-mind box, Spoil-a-space, and N.O.I.S.E. over the programme of events, which continues on Wednesday evenings at the former Youth Centre until Easter.

But it’s not all fun and games: participants can also gain a nationally recognised Arts Award.

Happiness Arts is funded by Arts Council England and the Marlborough Community Youth Fund. It is aimed at teens aged between 13 and 19, or up to 25 for young people with disabilities.

Attendance is free, and the drop-in, drop-out event runs from 11am until 4pm. For more information log on to


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Robin Nelson on the Mozart and Mendelssohn works to be sung in Marlborough by the Swindon Choral Society


Robin Nelson with the Mozart score Robin Nelson with the Mozart score Mozart's C Minor Mass is, says Robin Nelson, a "complete and utter world beater".  He is busy rehearsing it with the Swindon Choral Society for a performance in Marlborough College Chapel on Saturday, March 19 - the full details are here.

The Mozart Mass will follow a performance of the choral part of Mendelssohn's Hymn of Praise - a work not as often performed as the composer's Elijah, but, says Nelson: "It is full of nice juicy harmonies - it's lovely."

Robin Nelson, former head of music at the College and now living in Avebury and - incidentally - writing his highly entertaining musical memoirs for Marlborough News Online, has been Musical Director of the long-established Swindon Choral Society for the past twelve years.

The Society performs four times a year drawing on a membership of about 100 singers, who come from a wide area including Cirencester and Marlborough.

"I like", he tells Marlborough News Online, "doing really great pieces. Together over the years we've done Bach's St John Passion and his B Minor Mass, Beethoven's Missa Solemnis - and last year Dvorak's Requiem."

Next of their 'great pieces' may well be Handel's Solomon - which includes the much-loved instrumental passage 'The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba'.

For next month's performance, Robin Nelson will be mustering 90 voices of the Swindon Choral Society, the Oxford Sinfonia - a chamber-based group which specialises in Mozart's work - and four experienced soloists.

Elizabeth Atherton Elizabeth Atherton Elizabeth Donovan Elizabeth Donovan Both the Mozart - much of which is written for the chorus in eight parts - and the Mendelssohn call for two soprano soloists.   He has persuaded Elizabeth Atherton and Elizabeth Donovan to join this performance.  They both have wide experience in opera as well as oratorios and masses.

Elizabeth Atherton has sung many times with the Swindon Choral Society - most recently in Dvorak Requiem, which also featured tenor Alexander James Edwards who will be singing in the Mendelssohn-Mozart presentation. The bass soloist will be Alex Jones.

Some people, says Robin Nelson, think much of Mozart's early work is "not very profound", but then he composed three pieces that are both profound and very beautiful: the Requiem written on his deathbed and left unfinished, his Ave Verum Corpus setting of a fourteenth century hymn for the Eucharist, and his great C Minor Mass which is also an unfinished work.

This Mass - "Essentially it is", says Robin Nelson, "an incomplete masterpiece" - was written to show his doubting father how good his son was at writing on serious and great themes, and as a votive offering for his bride, Constanze - a singer in her own right and someone his father thought was unworthy of marriage to his genius of a son.

The Mass lacks an Agnus Dei: "It's so frustrating that it's incomplete."  Some conductors choose to repeat the opening Kyrie to close the work.  

The score for the Mendelssohn Hymn of Praise is huge.  The work is known officially as the second of Mendelssohn's five symphonies - written for the Birmingham Triennial Festival and delivered three years late.  

Its first 72 pages are scored for orchestra alone - a symphonic prelude in three parts.  Robin Nelson and the Swindon Choral Society have chosen to perform only the choral part of the work, which is constructed on the lines of a Bach cantata.  

Mendelssohn was, Robin Nelson explains, "besotted by Bach - and recognised what a towering genius he was."  He was one of the first to revive interest in Bach's music, which, a hundred or so years after his death, had fallen out of fashion.

The Hymn of Praise shows clear influences of Bach - most obviously in the reworking of the Bach chorale Now thank we all our God.  In a work of ten choral movements, another highpoint is the duet for two sopranos with chorus I waited for the Lord.

The Mendelssohn is sung in English and the Mass, of course, in Latin.  Proceeds in excess of costs will go to the Marlborough Brandt Group.

The Swindon Choral Society is giving Marlborough a chance to hear two pieces of music - one a true masterpiece, the other a lovely piece by a follower of Bach.


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Wiltshire's youth orchestra becomes the West of England Youth Orchestra

The West of England Youth Orchestra rehearsing at the Wiltshire Music CentreThe West of England Youth Orchestra rehearsing at the Wiltshire Music CentreThe Wiltshire and Swindon Youth Orchestra has a new name - its members have chosen to call it the West of England Youth Orchestra.

A change of name became necessary when Wiltshire Council stopped funding the county's two youth orchestras - classical and jazz.  A decision made as part of its austerity programme that cut the county's school music service.

Last autumn the Wiltshire Music Centre (WMC) in Bradford on Avon took over responsibility for running the orchestras.  And in order to make them viable, WMC widened the catchment area to include young musicians from Bath and North East Somerset (BSANES) and beyond.

The classical orchestra was founded in 1964.  It provides tuition and performance opportunities alongside professional players for young people playing at and above the Grade Seven standard.

In addition to an existing transport support scheme for young players living far away, a new bursary scheme has been introduced to assist with fees.

James Slater, WMC's Artistic Director, is delighted the players have chosen the new title for their orchestra: "There are not many youth orchestras playing at this standard in the country, so it's important that young people can join from further afield.  The orchestra performed two sold out concerts at the Centre last month, so now everyone is just looking forward to the next course."

The commercial property company HPH Ltd of Bath are the two orchestras main sponsors - and the orchestras receive financial support from Wiltshire Music Connect (funded by Arts Council England), Swindon Music Hub, BANES Music Service - and private donations.

The West Country Youth Orchestra meets three times a year in the school holidays to rehearse and perform symphonic works.

Their next concert - under their professional conductor Timothy Redmond - is on 1 April 2016, when they will perform Dvorak's Cello Concerto in B minor with leading British cellist Matthew Sharp, and Laura Rossi's score Somme100 FILM - commissioned by the Imperial War Museum as a live soundtrack to the 1916 film The Battle of the Somme.   It marks the centenary of the Battle.

Full details of this concert can be found here.

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