News from Todmorden U3A

Our monthly Groups’ Showcase for June starred The Photography Group convened by Nigel Plant

More to follow

Bernard Lockett and Neil Smith enthral U3A Todmorden

 May and June have been musical months for U3A Todmorden.  In May, members enjoyed the return of Bernard Lockett whose talk focused on the political and social satire of Gilbert and Sullivan.

It’s hard to imagine Gilbert and Sullivan as anything other than pillars of the establishment, but Bernard Lockett showed us that their brilliance lies in the way the bite of Gilbert’s satire gains acceptability through the softening effect of Sullivan’s music.

Nevertheless, Bernard proposed that since G&S performances were attended by all classes of society, one can imagine the lower classes in the gallery enjoying a laugh at the expense of the socially elevated in the stalls.

Such laughter would, for example, have come at the expense of Parliament (‘Iolanthe’), the Law (‘Trial by Jury’) or corruption in government (‘The Mikado’).

The practice of offering high office to unsuitable men is highlighted by ‘the ruler of the Queen’s Navy’ in ‘HMS Pinafore’. This opera spotlights the fact that the stationery magnate, W.H. Smith, a man of no marine experience, had been shoehorned into the Admiralty as its First Sea Lord. (Bernard pointedly observed that there are today 42 Admirals in the Royal Navy even though it does not have that many ships.)

Gilbert’s social commentary is often acute. ‘Princess Ida’ advocates the role of women in society to clear up the mess that men – who ‘at best are but a monkey shaved’ – have made of it. It makes the case for university education and votes for women.

And in ‘Utopia Limited’, one critic has observed that ‘English prudery, English conversation, English company promoting, the English party system, the English War Office and Admiralty, the County Council, and the English Cabinet’ are all taken to task.

Once again, Bernard’s talk was illustrated with DVD excerpts from the operas which were highly entertaining and reminded us that although the operas are considered ‘light’, they offer substantial challenges to the singers.

Neil Smith in June, by contrast, offered us musical entertainment of a delightfully different and varied kind. Neil’s reputation as an international guitarist is among the highest, and together with his skill and musicality in styles ranging through classical, rock and jazz, he has clearly enjoyed a rich, rewarding and, occasionally, bizarre life.

These unusual experiences include being Molotov-cocktailed in Belfast, a performance for Blair and Clinton that was interrupted several times by an argument among their aides, avoiding a honey trap in a Moscow hotel, being bodyguarded by a Greek national hero, ‘Tassos’, and just missing the chance to go to Hamburg as a fill-in guitarist for The Beatles.

Neil has played for people such as Elizabeth Taylor, The Queen Mother, the Red Army in Transylvania, and General Sheikh Mahtoum III. His performances around the world at embassies are innumerable and include an encounter with an embassy 007 who quizzed him on the USSR and Arabia.

This wonderfully varied anecdotal talk was punctuated by lovely short excerpts on the guitar – Greek dance music, Rodrigo’s Guitar Concerto, the March of King Brian Boru and others. Neil’s talk was well balanced, delightfully engaging and a tribute to good musicianship.

Our homegrown showcase speakers have been Alan Fowler (Social History) and Nigel Plant (Photography).

Alan’s knowledge and expertise are prodigious, and his group’s main focus is on the history of 20th century northern textile towns. They make use of autobiographies and Mass Observation documents. They have a current ambition to study Todmorden local papers from 1918 as a turning point in the town’s manufacturing life.

Nigel is an experienced photographer with 20 years’ experience of clubs at national and international level. Sometimes the group runs sessions on camera technique (filters, tripods, range, shutter speed etc.), but generally bases sessions on looking at members’ photographs. They also mount their own occasional exhibitions in the Information Centre, and organise outings.

 Other News and Information

The AGM takes place at the next meeting on 20th July.

Members are reminded again that subs should be paid as soon as possible, with Gift Aid if possible. Convenors are reminded to check that those attending their meetings are paid up members.

Peter Gibson, our long-serving and much-valued Technical Officer, wishes to relinquish some of his responsibilities. Anyone with a technical or practical bent who is willing to help take over some of what Peter has been doing, should contact Peter directly.

Pam Lonsdale from Community Transport Calderdale addressed us in June and highlighted the range of services they offer. The service relies on volunteers to help with transport to hospital or shopping for those who through ill health or isolation need support. Contact details for CTC are 01422 845479 and their website is www.ctcalderdale.co.uk

 

Todmorden U3A’s next meeting will be held on Thursday, 20th July in the Central Methodist Church in Todmorden at 1.45. This meeting will our AGM followed by a talk by Geoff Tansey titled ‘Food: Wars or Peace? Challenges and Opportunities in 21st Century’.  Our contact details are (website) www.u3atod.org.uk, (email) enquiries@u3atod.org.uk, or (phone) 01706 812015.

 

Taken the Mayor’s Day, May 13th 2017

U3A  Chairman Ernie Rogan and Cllr Christine Potter, Mayor of Todmorden                    .01

Professor Scott Scores a Euro-Hit  

 by Anthony Peter

Thursday, 20th April saw the return of Professor Derek Scott of Leeds University to Todmorden U3A. Last year we were treated to Orientalism in music; this time we were nearer home, looking at that very peculiar Occidental phenomenon, The Eurovision Song Contest.

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The contest’s final will take place this year on May 13th in Kiev. Professor Scott opened with some musings on whether Brexit will affect voting patterns, and whether Russia, whose entry has been refused by Ukraine, will make a fuss. ‘It’s so unpolitical’ he said with jocular irony.

Indeed, this was a jocular talk, but, as one would expect from a professor of critical musicology, one that was underlain with some serious analysis and questioning. How often does a country’s indigenous music influence its entry? Has a European style developed? What are the key ingredients that are likely to ensure success?

Professor Scott thought that national styles were not significantly represented. Swiss singers do not yodel. In 1972, Luxembourg won with a French song sung by a Greek, and in 1978 they were represented by a Spanish duo singing in French. Many entries now are in English.

Perhaps this international blending is what Eurovision is all about. After all, the EU’s adopted motto is ‘Unity in Diversity’. However, in 1990 the Italian entry, ‘Insieme’, though sung in Italian, had a chorus of ‘Unite, unite Europe!’ sung in English at a time when the UK was agitating about the upcoming Maastricht Treaty!

But what are the characteristics of euro-pop? ‘Easy Listening’ is the predominant style – an urban entertainment representing ‘freshly-minted traditionalism’.

Popular songs are likely to fall into one of four categories.

‘Enjoy Life’, featuring songs like ‘Congratulations’, ‘J’Aime la Vie’ or Germany’s 1987 entry ‘Let the Sun into Your Heart’. These songs invariably have a strong 2 or 4 beat rhythm.

Then there is the oddly named ‘Public Spaces for Leisuretime Pleasure’ category. Professor Scott mentioned such classics as ‘Cinéma’, the Swiss 1980 entry placed 4th, or Germany’s magnificent ‘Theater’ that was placed 2nd the same year.

There is a particular European fondness for songs that hint of the fairground containing musical devices that suggest mechanical movement. ‘Puppet on a String’ and ‘Boom Bang-a-Bang’ are obvious examples, and that lesser known German entry in 1962, ‘Zwei Kleine Italiener’.

Category 3 might be described as ‘Quasi-Sacred, with Secular and Light Political Overtones’ such as Katrina and the Waves’ winning number ‘Love Shine a Light. The use of the tambourine and the gospel descanter are also popular elements in such songs.

And finally, the tremendous world of ‘Visceral Onomatopoeia’ which must include refrains ‘free from linguistic restraint’ such as ‘boum bang-a-boum’, its variation ‘boom-bang-a-bang ‘,‘ding a dong’, and perhaps the mother of them all ‘Hard Rock Hallelujah’ Finland’s bizarre 2006 winner.

Less notable was Spain’s ‘La La La’ which won in 1968 when Cliff Richard was pipped by General Franco’s bribed juries. (Remember, ‘It’s so unpolitical’!) Though the phenomenon of countries voting for each other can perhaps be explained by expat populations, which is why, for example, Germany often supports Turkey so strongly.

What else do composers of Eurowinners need to look out for? The obvious one is the AABA structure: catchy tune, repeat it, have a variation, then repeat it again. If that can include a key shift upwards to reinforce the emotional sincerity of the song, all well and good.

A happy tone, a party mood, a major key, a solo and a duet, a 2 or 4 beat rhythm, a tempo that is fast but not too fast, and a catchy refrain are other things to include.

To illustrate this, Professor Scott had written us his own Eurovision entry. With lyrics that probably categorised it as ‘Quasi-Sacred’, and illustrating ‘Unity in Diversity’, we listened enthusiastically to ‘Be Nice to Nice People (Be Rude to Rude People)’. Surely, we were thinking, this would have had a better chance than Jemini or Joe and Jake?

Ernie Rogan thanked Professor Scott for his illuminating and entertaining talk describing him as ‘an upmarket Terry Wogan’. Certainly, the 130 members attending enjoyed an afternoon full of Woganesque humour and intelligibly presented academic analysis. Perfect!

Our monthly Groups’ Showcase starred The Coffee Club convened by Jean Pearson.

Jean spoke about it as the brainchild of Ahmed Commis, and emphasised its value as an informal opportunity for a meeting of minds. Conversation is about learning and friendship, and embraces the international, the national and the parochial. The club’s strength is perhaps that it has no formal agenda, so every meeting is a surprise.

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Meetings take place in the upper room of the Polished Knob opposite Todmorden Market on, usually, the first Monday of the month at 11.00.

Other News and Information
Ernie Rogan reported that he anticipates that, following his ‘pay-your-subscriptions-as- soon-as-possible-and-with-Gift-Aid-if-possible’ drive, 50% of subs will have been paid to date. If you want to pay by standing order, the form is at http://u3atod.org.uk/join-us/membership-renewal-form-2017-18-v1 ; if you want to pay at the May Members’ Meeting, that will be possible as well.

Ernie also reports that he is making his pastoral way, by invitation, round our groups. He visited Art Appreciation last month, and learned about knitting as an art. He is due to visit Novel Appreciation shortly. If convenors would like to welcome Ernie to their groups, just get in touch with him.

Gail reported that a new group for the study of Old English is about to get under way.

Remember that there is usually an opportunity at monthly meetings to book your place on a Let’s Go outing. Places usually go fast, so you need to get in there quickly. The recent trip to Chirk Castle was a lovely day out in the fresh air, ebullient wind, and modernised medieval buildings.

Todmorden U3A’s next meeting will be held on Thursday, 18th May in the Central Methodist Church in Todmorden at 1.45 which will feature the return of Bernard Lockett whose subject will be ‘The Social and Political Satire of Gilbert and Sullivan’. Our contact details are (website) www.u3atod.org.uk, (email) enquiries@u3atod.org.uk, or (phone) 01706 812015.

Old Flames and Steamy Memories      by Anthony Peter

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Granville Dobson was U3A Todmorden’s Guest Speaker at our March meeting, standing in at short notice for the indisposed Alan Hemsworth whom we had hoped would reveal The Riddle of Humpty Dumpty’. It’s always a bit of a tall order to step in at the last minute, and Granville did us proud. If the title of his talk, ‘Old Flames’, had led us to expect a naughty excursion through the love-life of his youth, Granville soon disabused us of that misconception. The old flames he had in mind were the steam locomotives he serviced as boy and man, during his timeas a fireman on the footplate. Granville was 41 years with British Rail and gave us a quick resumé of the development of the railways in Yorkshire and Lancashire. He was an expert on the Low Moor Shed in Bradford. He gave us an enthusiastic run down on the achievements of railway engineer Sir William Stanier, whose engine designs brought LMS out of the doldrums and who restored the Low Moor Shed. He also reminded us of a few key railway dates: 1948 nationalisation; 1958 Low Moor shut to steam engines; 1959-1964 dieselisation at Low Moor; 1963 and 1965 The Beeching Reports; 1966 closure of branch lines all over Yorkshire; and 1967 – the closure of Low Moor Shed. Granville had a lot to say about the bitterness between ASLEF and the NUR, and even more about Ernest Marples, then Minister of Transport, whose road-building interests just happened to coincide with Dr. Beeching’s recommendations for closing rail lines. Unsurprisingly, Mr Marples ended up living abroad. But Granville’s personal recollections were given equal weight in his talk. He described his affair with rail as ‘hot, dirty, uncomfortable, dangerous and wildly exciting’, especially as a fireman with one foot on the loco and one on the tender. In 1946 as a boy on a visit to London, he was invited into the cab of  a Stanier Pacific locomotive called  ‘City of St Alban’s’ and consequently, when he left grammar school, he felt called by the romance of rail rather than a white collar job. As a beginner he was on £5-17-00 a week. That earned him the privilege of cleaning out the fireboxes, chipping out razor-sharp ‘cabbages’ of clinker. He used a spanner as a hammer and at the end of the day he went home covered in red dust. There were no washing facilities at work. When he was able to, he applied to be a fireman, was accepted, and worked his way up to mainline operations. He operated under many different drivers. One, Jack Crampton, had the reputation of burning more coal than any other driver in the region, but though incompetent was generous. Harold Leroy had an explosive temper and disliked graduate managers. Another colleague, who was a maniac when trying to make up lost time, once refashioned his false teeth by the heat of the firebox because they fitted badly, only to discover that they were his wife’s. Health and safety was different then, too. A badly bleeding finger was something to wrap up and put up with as you shovelled coal – no fun if you were on a line with 43 stops and the engine needed a constant supply of fresh steam. This was an immensely enjoyable talk, and our appreciation was shown by Granville (who never had time to cook bacon and eggs on a shovel) selling all the copies of his book he had brought in case of interest from our members. Monthly Group Showcase A new feature for our U3A groups, this month it was the turn of Jazz Joy, and group convenor David Greenhough spoke about Jazz, the love of his life. David owns 20,000 vinyl jazz records, all a consequence of hearing Big Bill Broonzy at an impressionable age.  For £2 a session, to cover room costs at the Fielden Centre, members can enjoy a couple of hours of unadulterated pleasure in the company of both jazz and the intensity of David’s measured, knowledgeable and humorous enthusiasm. Ernie Rogan also urged us to pay our subs as soon as possible, and to consider seriously the advantage of doing so by standing order. And we were reminded that by Gift Aiding our subs, U3A can claim free money from HMRC. Finally, members will be pleased to know that several convenors have attended a First Aid course run by Don Buxton, a Yorkshire Ambulance responder, and are now more confident about handling a crisis should one occur. Our next meeting will be held on Thursday, 20th April in the Central Methodist Church in Todmorden at 1.45 when our speaker will be Professor Derek Scott whose subject will be ‘Eurovision Song Contest’.  Our contact details are (website) www.u3atod.org.uk, (email) enquiries@u3atod.org.uk, or (phone) 01706 812015.

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