Storytime with Joanne Harris at Huddersfield Literature Festival

Joanne Harris HLF2015 image c. Kyte

Photo by Kyte Photography

Its Huddersfield Literature Festival time again! Yay! On Friday 6th March my excellent friend Ben and I visited the cellar of the Lawrence Batley Theatre where  Joanne Harris made her contribution to the festival with a new and exciting project, which she called Storytime.

Joanne began the evening by introducing the concept of her Storytime. She had joined Twitter a few years ago and started telling stories on it because that’s what she does; tells stories. If you are a twitterer I’m sure you’ve experienced these bursts of stories of a slow day at work, while “researching” that important thing you were supposed to be working on ….

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 Joanne was not alone on her stage in the cellar of the LBT. As well as a range of lighting and colourful projections to accompany each story, she had a band of helpers. Literally. Her stories were accompanied by a drum set, guitar, keyboard, bass, a flute and other miscellaneous percussive instruments.

Following Joanne’s introduction, we were treated to a musical introduction from the band. They played a beautiful song including the lyrics ‘There is a story the bees used to tell, long ago, long ago…’. This is how Joanne begins each of her twitter stories. The music, composed I believe by Joanne’s husband, was rather haunting. The melody was calm and lilting but with a dark edge to it. It was almost like accepting a warm invitation but once inside, a minor sequential cadence tinged with a sceptical coolness wrapped around the room, trapping us all inside. ‘…long ago, long ago, which makes it hard to disbelieve.’

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Photo by @Cat_Lumb

Each story once told was summarised in musical form by a song or an instrumental. Who knew that Joanne Harris was such a talented flautist? As a writer and flautist myself (show off) I have never considered putting the two together. But that’s what the whole evening was about; challenging storytelling norms. There was one point when Joanne leaned towards the mic without her flute where I was worried that she was going to sing. Then she did. And I was pleasantly surprised. What a beautiful voice. But writers aren’t supposed to be singers. Writers are solitary creatures who only surface once in a while to sign a few books and push the boundaries of blood to caffeine ratio.

I think there’s often a supposition about what people should be and how we identify with them. This is a philosophy that Joanne is trying to dispel. A lady in the audience asked the question “In your short stories tonight and actually in many of your novels, there is a feeling of ‘seize the day’. Would you agree?” Joanne did agree and she talked about this at some length.

When I saw her at the Huddersfield lit fest last year (where she was talking about her excellent book The Gospel of Loki) she made the point of saying that she didn’t subscribe her writing to any particular genre, preferring instead to tell her stories and letting them land where they land.  So it is with her Storytime on Twitter. The stories had been ephemeral in nature, flying through the twittersphere and being sporadically caught by readers. Now the stories are being saved and collated and are even being published soon in a book titled Honeycomb. But that all came from sitting down and telling a story in a different way.

The stories themselves were often quite dark, again belying the apparently safe, cosy nature of ‘Storytime’. My favourite was about a toymaker (I think he was a toymaker. Or a carpenter. He was a handsy sort of person anyway) who one day, noticing that his once lovely wife is no longer perfect, sets about fixing her to his satisfaction. A poignant parable about the struggle for unattainable perfection and (as my friend Ben surmised) the throwaway, consumeristic way that many of us live our lives. Thought provoking stuff.

All in all, Storytime was a magical evening. It was very refreshing to see a writer not only thinking outside the box, but dispelling said box altogether. An amalgamation of stories, music and theatre, Storytime with Joanne Harris and friends is something that I would certainly like to see more of.

There are still many fun events to get involved with in the Huddersfield Literature Festival. You can find out about it here.

 

P.S. Joanne, it was very lovely to meet you again. Thank you for signing one of your books for me. Should you need an additional flautist and/ or keyboardist for your future projects, I am always available. I’m really good. And sometimes modest.

P.P.S It was also very lovely to meet Jennifer and Lynne of Kyte Photography. You should check out their book of famous people from Yorkshire ‘Yorkshire Made Me‘.

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Taking Country Music from the UK to Nashville and back – Ward Thomas, From Where We Stand

Ward Thomas are the UK’s up and coming Country Music songstresses from Hampshire.  The twins have been singing together since they were 3, in impromptu wedding performances, choral groups and down the local.  They are currently wielding their guitars and their songs between here and Nashville, delighting us with their pseudo American twangs and their Stetsons.

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I was lucky enough to chat with the talented duo at the beginning of July.  You can read my Interview with the girls here.

I’ve been a fan since I first heard them, and I’ve been SO excited to hear their debut album, From Where We Stand.

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I haven’t been obsessing about these two for ages to anyone that will listen (I have) so here’s a quick overview of Ward Thomas’s debut album and why you should love them as much as I do.

First of all, this is your summer soundtrack sorted.  There is something for everyone, every mood and every place.  There may even be some sneaky tear jerkers in the there for the emotional listener amongst you.    Ward Thomas told me that they saw themselves as lyricists and they have certainly demonstrated this throughout their debut album.  They communicate issues that they clearly feel deeply about through their music.  The subjects are reflected in the music; there are some obligatory knee slappin’, Yee Haa! numbers that we expect from a Country Music/ Americana  group as well as some slower, soulful tracks.

Try, as the title implies is a soul searching, reaching high number.  This is embellished with the use of a gospel choir, perhaps harking back to the days of Lizzy and Catherine’s time as choir girls as wee nippers.

A Town Called Ugley, puts me in mind of a track called Hallowed Ground by KT Tunstall on her album Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon, not so much for the sound but for the message.

Caledonia has a lilting and peaceful feel.  Lizzy and Catherine’s voices sway and pirouette around each other. The haunting harmonies evoke a longing for a time and place maybe just that little bit out of reach.

Push for the Stride is the perfect early morning, get-up-and-go song. Also, perfect driving song. It parts the clouds and lights up the sky and lifts the spirit, this one.  I hesitate to use the word “favourite” when talking about a track on a brand new album, but this one certainly stands out from all the others on first listen.

Way Back When has a much more stereotypical twangy Country Music sound.   Ward Thomas have taken this sound and made it their own with their insightful lyrics and those addictive harmonies.  In the second track of the album, Ward Thomas encourage us to be mindful of those that have gone before us, taking heed of their experiences while creating our own stories to tell to future generations.  I like this one.  I imagine it would go down very well at a family gathering where several generations huddle around a campfire and tell each other stories.  Nice.

Take That Train is another example of the beautiful harmonies created by the sisters as well as the well thought out lyrics.  This song is a tale of courage, adventure and having faith in oneself.  In it, the main character explains why she has to “take that train”.  She wants to “put the wrong things right…can’t be afraid of that train.”  The guitar solo after the bridge, (which ends prematurely in my eyes) helps to illustrate the solo journey that the woman has to take.

Whether you’re a fan of country music or not, give this album a listen.  Ward Thomas so clearly love what they do, you can hear it in their voices and see it in their videos.  It’s a definite must for Nashville obsessives, country music buffs and all other humans.  From Where we Stand will be taking up its residency in my car as my driving soundtrack for the foreseeable future.   Have a listen and buy it here.

*Pictures from http://wardthomasmusic.com/galleries/

I Blame Nashville

Dear Country Music

Well, its happened.  To quote Rachel from Friends, “I’ve become my father. I’ve been trying so hard not to become my mother, I didn’t see this coming.”  No, I haven’t gone prematurely grey, or taken up driving heavy goods vehicles for a living.  (My dad had the misfortune to turn grey pre 21 and now sports a rather fetching snowy shade. And he’s a lorry driver) No, no – I have developed a slight obsession with you CM (can I call you CM? Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue does it but I am lazy and it is easier to write CM than Country Music. Knew you’d understand).  For this new obsession with you, I blame ABC’s very amazing telly programme, “Nashville”.

Nashville Soundtrack 1

I won’t lie to you CM, I always hated you when I was but a wee nipper.  Maybe hate is a strong word, but I certainly wasn’t about to go around loving something that my dad loved.  Why, you say? Why, when this could have been such a lovely thing to share with my old pops?  I hear ya loud and clear my friend but I’ll tell you for why.  Because he was old and therefore obviously not cool I couldn’t possibly accept that his taste in music was anything but archaic and for the old and the senile.  Sadly, this is the way my immature brain worked.  I should also point out at this stage that about 86% of my youth was spent playing the flute in my local wind bands and orchestras. V cool.

But now, I take all those foolish thoughts and highly insulting comments back.  CM, I  have misjudged you.  You are actually one of my favourite things.  I especially enjoy those jaunts we take in the car.  And when you sing for me while I whip up a selection of delicious baked goods in my kitchen.   I know what you’re thinking.  This declaration of love is all a bit sudden.  You are suspicious, and rightly so.  I would be too.  You are wise.  Yes, it is quite possible that I will drop you just as swiftly as I whisked you up in my arms.  But you are forgetting that you are already deeply engrained into me, whether I wanted you or not.  So, yes, I will probably grow tired of the Season One Volume One Nashville Soundtrack fairly shortly (NEVER! How amazing is  track 9, with Rayna’s super talented daughters (the scarily brilliant Lennon Stella and Maisy Stella) covering Juliette Barnes’ “Telescope”?! I could listen to this on repeat forevs) and I will most likely never learn how to strum the guitar that my mother bought me for my 19th birthday as melodiously as you do.  But you have inspired me CM.  You are beautiful and unique and whenever I hear you, I am transported to a place where everyone is attired in the check shirt uniform of the mid west, complete with saddles and spurs, enthusiastically chewing on something that should probably be in a bin.

I do realise that you have been around a lot longer than circa 2012 when my new favourite show started.   I know this because now that I am old and listen to BBC Radio 2 of an evening, I get to listen to documentaries about how you’re getting all famous and popular over here on our tiny islands of the UK.  They play all your good songs from the old days as well as some new songs that you’ve got kicking about.  Good for you, CM.  Good for you.

So now I will tootle off to discover some more of your rather extensive back catalogue.  And to all my other musical loves; Rock, Jazz, Classical, Indie, Steps, I send my apologies for my absence.  I may be some time.  I blame Nashville.

Yours sincerely

Alicia Bruce