Bernard Lockett and Neil Smith enthral U3A Todmorden

by Anthony Peter.

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.

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