I clicked on that facebook ‘Review of your 2015’ thing and it threw up 4 random photos, 3 of which I don’t even recognise. So here’s my own pretty random review of 2015’s highlights without the aid of friendface. No world events, no links I clicked or petitions I signed, just things I remember doing. Thanks to everyone who helped make this a memorable year. Here’s to a happy and peaceful 2016.
THE MOONWALK: The first five months of the year were dominated by training for this overnight marathon through London. Being of an age, Louise Timothy and I took the organisers’ advice and checked in with a podiatrist beforehand. I was ridiculously excited to be told I have mechanically perfect feet, my joy only slightly tempered by the situation from the ankles up. Setting off at the dead of night on 16 May, we crossed the finishing line the following morning, raising £1,593.18 for breast cancer charities through the generosity of friends and colleagues.
OUT ALOUD 1: What happens when you put Sheffield’s LGBT choir, the Friends of Edward Carpenter and Radio 2 Folk Music award nominees in a room ten days after the, shall we say disappointing, general election? The perfect musical antidote is what – a full house at Firth Hall for a concert with inspirational new songs written by Out Aloud’s musical director, Val Regan and “exquisite harmonies that truly shine” from O’Hooley & Tidow, restoring spirits, recovering mojo and generally cheering each other up. As an aside, I’d finished the Moonwalk marathon at 8 o’clock that morning and needed to be back in Sheffield for the final rehearsal at 2 p.m. The train guard (sorry, Revenue Protection Manager) spotted all the Moonwalkers heading back up north, asked where each one of us was getting off and stirred us from our gaping mouthed slumbers just before our destinations. What a gent.
SHEFFIELD DOCFEST: There were 20 venues, two opening galas, virtual reality at Site Gallery (the big hit with festival goers). And then there was an hour spent in a darkened room listening to a radio documentary in Danish, with subtitles projected onto the screen. Rikke Houd’s THE WOMAN ON ICE unpicks the story of Karen Roos, a Danish woman who disappeared outside the settlement of Angmassalik in Greenland in 1933. The threads, the voices and the atmospheric soundscape were mesmerising. A deserved winner of the festival’s In The Dark Audio Award.
BETTE MIDLER: “I know you’re all going to want to sing along to this one… Please don’t. There’s only room for one diva in this room.” And there was. She worked an Arena crowd like a cabaret room and it was marvellous. If not for Bette my best live gig of the year would have gone to Sharleen Spiteri and Texas on their 25th anniversary tour. Another sound woman who can work a room.
THE SUN AND THE MOON: Oh the portents… The total eclipse was seen via my phone’s JMW Turner mode; the blue moon was via the Impressionist mode. On the night of September’s blood moon I woke at 3.01 a.m. precisely and took it as a message from the gods to get my photographic act together, dig out the proper camera and catch the event in slightly sharper focus.
BRUGES: Remembering the dead. Celebrating life. Visiting the First World War battlefields, cemeteries and the Menin Gate for the first time since a school trip many years ago. We also spent time at Langemark, a German war cemetery. On both sides, the scale is so immense and sobering. Two things in particular evoked the personal stories behind the numbers:
- Andrew Tatham’s poignant history and art project based on 21 years’ research into the lives of the men captured in A GROUP PHOTOGRAPH – Before, Now & In-Between at the Flanders Fields museum.
- Meeting a mourner at the Irish Farm cemetery (so called because Irish regiments had been based in the farm buildings just outside Ypres). She didn’t seem that much older than me. She had found the grave of her uncle. She had not known him, obviously. Her mother, just a baby when he left for war, had not known him. In the hundred years since he was laid to rest there, no other member of the family had ever visited his grave. She cried as though she was crying for them all.
Bruges itself was as beautiful, charming, mediaeval, cobbled, beery and chocolatey as you could hope for.
OUT ALOUD 2: Our friends Heart Core in Mönchengladbach were not only celebrating their 20th anniversary but also offering a masterclass in hospitality – food, drink, singing at their homes, singing in the street, singing in a lantern parade, singing at their concert, singing in a crypt. And then there was the cheesy disco. Some of the choir brushed up their German in advance. To my shame, I wasn’t one of them but I tried my best with Arschloch (rude) and the ‘boom boom’ of “Ich gei mit meiner laterne, boom boom”. All the right booms, not necessarily in the right order. Danke.
THE HURST ARVON CENTRE: A week in John Osborne’s former house. Writing, listening and story telling. How lucky was that?No phone signal. No wi-fi. And I imagine the first time Thomas Mann’s ‘Death In Venice has ever been greeted with howls of laughter (charades).
THE ART HOUSE, Wakefield: Opened! A Grade II building saved. A community of 34 artists built. Three years of hard work rewarded. Some friends for life made.
WALKS AROUND SHEFFIELD: In all weathers, with the best companions and most wondrous sights.
A little reminder that pre-Roman Britons called February ‘Solmanath’ – mud month.
A mediaeval altar piece – I’m thinking ‘Adoration of the Mystic Lambs’.
SITE GALLERY: My rewards for chairing Site’s board over the past six years have been many. Watching the gallery blossom under Laura Sillars and Judith Harry has been a joy, as has being introduced to the ideas of artists and collectors from around the world, culminating in GOING PUBLIC: International Art Collectors – a collaboration between collectors and Sheffield’s visual arts venues to share the best and most challenging contemporary art and artists. As if that wasn’t enough of a high to stand down on, I was presented with two works by Zoe Beloff, one of the artists in Site’s ‘family’ whose work I most admire. An absolute surprise and joy. Oh you shouldn’t have, but… yes please and thank you. What a lovely way to end the year.
AND FINALLY, SWFC:
“We’ll always have
Paris Arsenal. We didn’t have, we, we lost it until you came to Casablanca Hillsborough. We got it back last night.” As Ingrid Bergman almost said. Happy New Year, everyone.