A football final and 18 songs at the Liverpool Philhamonic

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Hall; Part of the 300-strong choir

Hanging on to daughter’s arm, enjoying the atmosphere, I made my way through a couple of riotous street parties in Liverpool last Saturday afternoon, en route to the iconic Art Deco Liverpool Philharmonic Hall where I was going to sing in a big Cheshire and Merseyside Rock Choir concert.

I had to arrive early for sound checks (we had a live 5 piece band and very good they were too), line ups and a quick run through of some songs as a warm up. We knew it might be a bit busy in Liverpool as The Reds had reached the final of the European Cup being played in Madrid. Busy and lively it was. Daughter had taken me early, the rest of the family and friends were to follow later.

We parked then linked arms to make sure we stayed together as we walked to the venue. Liverpool was buzzing, the atmosphere was good humoured and boozy. Inhaling the beer we had to laugh and just go with the energy. We stalled at one point in a narrow street, where it was very lively, a red smoke bomb had been let off and the crowds were singing. Stuck in the middle of it, we just joined in with the crowd singing “When the Reds go marching in”. There were smiles all around and high spirits, but at no point did we feel threatened. It was a great warm up to the concert for me and I arrived energised after experiencing a footie crowd in full voice.

While daughter went off to look at Liverpool’s two cathedrals before meeting the rest of my fan club, I did the warm up, line up, got changed, ate a snack, applied the red lipstick and sat with voice part friends (all lower soprano) from my choir.

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We lined up backstage as music from the band played something beaty, the lights swivelled and swirled and the dry ice machine pumped out atmospheric clouds. Then it was time to walk on stage, take our places and perform. No nerves for me, just pure excitement, and knowing that I was perfectly capable of singing all 18 songs we were performing, word, note and moves perfect. I was more than ready.

Our opening song was Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now  – there was no chance of that as the energy was high right from the start! We sang rock, pop and gospel, old songs from the 80s, current pop songs, ballads and the emotional Rock Choir “anthem”, Labbi Sifre’s Something Inside So Strong, a powerful song which brings a tear to a few eyes as we sing it. The concert ended on a high for our final song, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, followed by our encore, The Communard’s Don’t Leave Me This Way.

While I’d been singing my heart out, Liverpool had won the European Cup, so back on the streets it was even rowdier with an even higher charge to the atmosphere. What  a night. More street parties and celebrating happy people. Daughter and I linked arms, said “See you at home” to the rest of our group and went once more into the partying fray to get to the car.

I’d been looking forward to this concert but never imagined it would be partying all the way before and after the performance. It’s an experience that will stay with me for a long time. I’m still glowing now.

Jack-in-the-Green

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The May Day parade in our small town is always led by the same three characters: first comes the Marshal, mounted on a gleamingly groomed horse, followed by the Town Crier ringing a bell and calling “O-yez”. Behind him comes Jack-in-the-Green, a walking tree mounted on a wood and wire frame. It’s all very English.

Jack is my favourite character as he represents the pagan origins of May Day celebrations. I wonder, each year, what sort of shoes the person in Jack’s green costume might be wearing. This year the shoes were hardly visible. I spotted a flash of sensible brown leather. Maybe the days of the white trainers and socks, which in years past have provided chuckles of amusement for the watching crowd, are over.

P1020628The Green Man, who Jack-in-the-Green represents, is pagan but his image appears in Christian churches around the world.

I always look out for him when visiting a church or cathedral on my travels. He was sitting high up in the wooden beams of Bridlington Priory in Yorkshire, his face a carved roof boss.

Ooops George, watch out for that pothole!

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These gentlemen cyclists were taking part in the recent Knutsford May Day parade which  has a strong Victorian flavour as the Prince and Princess of Wales (later to become King Edward VI and Queen Alexandra) visited the town in 1887 when a special version of the festival was rolled out for them.

The local vintage cycling enthusiasts always dress up for the parade and ride their penny-farthings and boneshakers through the streets, often veering alarmingly close to the onlookers as they wobble along.

It becomes even more interesting when they reach the hill, as they have here. Some of them get off and walk if they’re riding bicyles with no brakes.

Morris dancing on May Day

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These smiling women are part of a Morris dancing team who took part in the traditional May Day parade in our small Cheshire town. They danced through the streets, accompanied by music played on a small accordion and a tin whistle, with a drum beating time. The ladies wear wooden clogs and hold wooden shuttles, which would have been used in the cotton mills in the north west. These are decorated with bells and ribbons.

Bells also feature in the costume worn by men Morris dancers but worn on their clogs. This group, also at the parade, have music to dance to and they carry small twisted ropes which they wave as part of the dance. The steps are heavy and noisy; stamping rhymically on the ground in time to the music, the dancers change places and make different formations and patterns as they weave around each other.

This group wear staw hats decorated with ribbons and flowers, and have been coming to our May Day parade for over 30 years. I couldn’t help noticing how some of the are now getting on a bit. There’s not been a big influx of new blood over the years, but it’s good that these grey-haired gentlemen are still able to enjoy this very English traditional form of dance and share it in the streets on a sunny day.

Morris dancing is thought to have been around since the mid 15th century. It’s traditional folk dancing associated with Maytime, the Maypole and the May queen. I’ve always understood that the stamping style of dance is meant to awaken the earth from its winter slumber and the small twised ropes held and waved by the dancers are symbolic of seeds being scattered on the ground. May Day has its origins in pagan festivals, the awakening of the earth and the Celtic festival of Beltane.

Solstice sunset

Solstice sunset

I took this photo from the Great Orme, Llandudno, North Wales, as the sun was setting. It was close to the date of the Winter Solstice. The view is towards the island Anglesey, which is connected to the mainland of Wales by the Menai Bridge.

It was cold when I took the shot – typical of a dark and wintry day in the northern hemisphere when astrologically and astronomically the Sun enters the sign of Capricorn. With busy lives and disturbing events happening around us in a world full of change, it’s good to remember and reconnect with natural events which occur at this time of year.

Connecting with the position of the Sun in relation to ourselves on Earth is something we can do relatively easily at this time of year. On 21st December the Sun is at its furthest point from the northern hemisphere, making this the shortest day and longest night of the year. Meanwhile, down in the southern hemisphere the Sun is riding high in the sky as the exact opposite happens.

The winter solstice is a festival of light and in the northern hemisphere it coincides with Christmas. This Christian festival takes place at the same time of year as the pagan celebration of the solstice which celebrates the gradual and at first impercetible return of the light of the Sun after the long days of darkness. It’s the turning point of the year and marks the return of the light and the rebirth of the Sun (the Son in Christianity…?), together with the promise of the warmth and energy the Sun brings to make crops – essential to life – grow once again after the earth has lain dormant.

This is the time of year when people of all faiths, and none, have festivals of light, or of special significance in their own faith, when we can express our connection with the earth, our life upon it in relation to others we meet, families, and our place in the solar system.

Here in Brexit blighted UK, we’re going through some very dark days as we have no idea what is going happen, and unfortunately neither do our politicians (or maybe they’re just not telling us…?) But it’s a dark and difficult time as we enter yet another government/PM-created limbo waiting to discover what will happen on 29th March 2019.

So here are some suggestions of what you and I could do at this time of year to bring light into our lives, and the lives of others around us:

  • light a candle – simple and easy – remember the sayng that it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness
  • call a friend – reconnect with someone you’ve not been in touch with for a while
  • perform a random act of kindness – just do it!
  • take a risk and smile at strangers as you walk down the street – this one is very rewarding
  • say hello to someone you don’t know – you could follow up the smile with this one
  • glow with joy and a warmth of spirit…and it will come back to you in spades

And may the warmth of friendship be wrapped around you at this time of year.

It’s beginning to look a lot like that time of year again….

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I’ve just put our very ancient vintage Christmas tree up. It’s an artificial one, made of plastic (shock horror – but it’s not as bad as it sounds). I bought it long long ago – so long ago I can’t remember when, and certainly when excessive use of plastic wasn’t a known problem –  but it was probably sometime in the late 1970s or early 80s. It cost £17, which was quite expensive at that time.

Daughter, who was at primary school when we got this tree, recently sent a link to a short video outlining the pros and cons of plastic v. real Christmas trees. Watching this with the 30+ years of annual outings our tree has had in mind, I know its carbon footprint debt was paid off long ago. We did have a real tree for several years before we went plastic; at the time it seemed more sustainable to have an artificial, reusable tree than to “kill off” a real one every year.

Our trusty tree looks surprisingly good and passably realistic (if you ignore the brown plastic trunk and branches), especially when the lights and baubles are in place hiding the more naff details. It has its own peculiar cachet.IMG_0507

Comparing it with artificial trees in garden centres, it can certainly hold its own, and doesn’t appear too dated. Of course it’s a bit of joke in the family as it has been around for so long, but when grandchildren stayed last year they thought it was pretty good and there were no complaints. Nine-year-old granddaughter’s eyes might have widened a little though, when we told her how old the tree was!

This year, with an 11 month-old-puppy now part of our household, we’ve decided to introduce it gradually to keep the excitement and potential destructive chewing under some kind of control. I put it together in another part of the house, added the lights, then brought it into the room where it now stands, as yet untrimmed. There was interest, sniffing, a quick grab at the festive “skirt” I’d put around the base, which he sank his fangs into immediately. That won’t be going back! Then said puppy, curiosity satisfied for the time being, settled down to snooze beside the tree. Maybe that’s a good sign.

As long as he realises it’s not a pee post!