Operational difficulties


The Festival’s last two major ticket events were the Piatti Quartet’s final concert (on Saturday night) and the English Concert’s performance (Sunday afternoon) – both in St Mary’s Church. And both the string quartet and the chamber orchestra needed a platform/stage, and the church (unsurprisingly) had services most of Sunday morning. So curate Graham Atfield had to announce at the start of Parish Communion that there were a few “operational difficulties” – in short, the congregation were cut off from the altar by the tall platform, and some parts of the service had to be re-arranged. The choir were relegated to the front pew (in mufti) and the offerings, like the congregation, had to circumnavigate the large stage – and, were also met on departure by Festival workers and an orchestra heading in the opposite direction. Also a few tourists were disappointed as the tower (and “the best view of Rye”) was less available, writes Charlie Harkness. But St Mary’s are used to such shenanigans as they frequently host concerts, and indeed had the BBC in filming for “Mapp & Lucia”. Explaining to Japanese tourists at that time what was going on was rather difficult as cameramen and sound engineers trooped up and down the tower.

Still whirling

Dervish, the traditional Irish music band who played at the Community Centre on Friday September 26, first played at the Arts Festival three years ago, writes Ray Prewer, and once they started to play it was obvious where their name comes from as “dervish” relates to a spiritual group who become enraptured by music – and the Whirling Dervishes in particular span themselves to music to induce a trance-like state.

Formed 25 years ago in Sligo, Dervish first played in pubs and in the early years the composition of the band was fluid. But it has now settled down as Cathy Jordan (vocals, bodhrán, bones), Tom Morrow (fiddle, viola), Shane Mitchell (accordion), Liam Kelly (flute, low whistle), Michael Holmes (bouzouki) and Brian Mc Donagh (mandola, mandolin); and they have won many awards and performed live in many countries. The band certainly managed to “whirl” the audience as, from the first reel, people were tapping their feet along to the music and soon they were clapping in time as well, encouraged by the band. There were breaks from the dances with some songs from Cathy Jordan, whose voice is hauntingly beautiful. By the end some members of the audience were dancing in the aisles, and I am sure I saw people doing a jig as they left down Conduit Hill.

PS: The centre’s lighting technician Del Smith is more used to “lighting” local drama groups and the Rye Players (re-formed as “Acting up in Rye”) are back November 20 – 22 with the panto “Old Mother Hubbard” (which has two Rye News writers among its cast !).

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Whirling up a storm at the community centre

Another blunder is coming . . .

Anthony King’s list of “Government blunders” pulled a big crowd at the Festival’s literary event, but his list of solutions was much shorter. Find the facts, consider alternatives, consult, and take your time. Tony Blair, for instance, wanted to march “yobs off to the nearest cash machine” to pay fines, not appreciating that most of the likely offenders were the least likely to have a credit card. Ditto the politician who, at a time of petrol shortages, urged us all to “keep a jerrycan full of petrol in our garage” in ignorance of the fact that a third of car owners do not have a garage, never mind the health and safety risks! An entertaining talk as [full disclosure, I had been a senior civil servant], writes Charlie Harkness, and I had seen and stopped a few blunders in my time – but others still happened. For example “wired Whitehall” still believes that everybody has a computer, can use it, and has good access to the internet. They should visit Rye…. which is why Rye News still has a long term plan to produce a “paper version”.

Happiness attracts the crowds

Gyles Brandreth (entertainer and ex-politician) talked about happiness (between jokes) and said, surprisingly, that people said they were happiest during World War II because they felt tested to do their best and communities really worked together, writes Charles Harkness. And he clearly judged the age and mood of his audience well by getting everybody to join in a hokey cokey as a grand cultural finale. Vicky Pryce (economist and ex-prisoner), however, had a less than full house at The George, but talked intelligently and compassionately about the bad economics of separating women from their families – and silenced critics by saying her fee as a speaker was going to a charity for ex-prisoners.

Out on the fringe

The School Creative Centre (in the old Freda Gardham School) is literally out on the fringes of Rye, and hosted a number of fringe “art” events, writes Charles Harkness. The open studios featured a wide range of skills and styles and I added to my haul of paintings, prints and photos bought over the summer’s hectic “arty” period. But the wintry months from October to March (as in other seaside towns) are more Arctic than arty – though Rye has its haul of concerts.

The centre also staged a number of talks and Chris Cleere’s on art conservation proved surprisingly interesting – and topical. He worked for some years on a World Heritage site literally next door to Russia’s Black Sea fleet in the Crimea, which gave him a lot of insight into the current relations between Russia and the Ukraine, the local Mafia’s operations and the endemic corruption beneath the surface. An expert in restoring a particular kind of stone used in many historic buildings, his latest conservation project is very different: a Typhoon propellor  (probably WWII) dredged up from Rye Bay, which he is both restoring and turning into a work of art. The aircraft might have been one of those used to shoot down flying bombs launched by Hitler against London in the last stage of the war.

Moving Snow

When Peter Snow’s talk on “When Britain Burned The White House” (in 1814 actually, not long after it was built) had to be moved from Thursday back to Monday, the festival box office did a masterful job of tracking down ticket-holders and alerting them to the change, writes Charles Harkness. However, I thought it was (like some other talks) in the Lamb House marquee, when actually it was in the Methodist Church, and I was redirected just in time. The festival feels a bit like a coach tour in its second week: it’s Wednesday, it must be Sackville-West.

Banging on a bit

Former Times Vatican correspondent Richard Owen told us about his book on Lady Chatterley’s villa where the wife of D.H. (Women in Love) Lawrence was fatally attracted to an Italian officer, writes Charlie Harkness. “Lady C” (banned as obscene for many years) was probably based on the villa’s owner, an attractive, lively and independent-minded woman, and (commenting on “Lady C”) Owen said Lawrence “does bang on about it sometimes”. So I made my excuses and left, as they used to say in the News of the World.


Jane Gardam (allegedly in her eighties, but precise age in Rye can be a minefield you tiptoe through at your peril) was allegedly making her final public appearance when she talked about her book Last friends, writes Charles Harkness.

Sources and sauce

Robyn Young, who talked about her book on Robert the Bruce (fighter for Scots independence), is apparently moving on to the Tudors – where she might find some competition, writes Charles Harkness. But Samuel Pepys has been flogged to death as well, and writers say it is a matter of sources and sauce . . . and how much your imagination can add to the known facts.

From Reigate with love

Andy Stuart (festival Jack of all trades, including housing miscellaneous artistes) claimed to have found a super-fan who was driving to and from Reigate each day, writes Charles Harkness. However, I met someone on the historic churches tour who had come from Potters Bar.  Motorists may say though (and I am not one) that motorways mean that Potters Bar is an easier trip than cross-country from Reigate?

Throwing her voice

The French Connection exhibition at the East Street Museum includes some very rare loans of Rye documents from the Public Records Office says former mayor and historian Jo Kirkham – whose ability to talk over, through and around traffic noise on the festival’s medieval walk must surely have been acquired in the council chamber, writes Charles Harkness.

Jo’s dancers display their talent

The current generation of Rye Dance(rs) have loads of enthusiasm and talent to judge by their performance at the Milligan Theatre on Saturday September 20, writes Dan Lake. They breezed through a variety of their finest dance routines from the past year and showed they can also sing by putting on a version of the 1996 film/musical Matilda. Rye Dance Centre is now in its 33rd year under the direction of Jo Fletcher and continues to go from strength to strength. This show showed why. 

Dance (photo Dan Lake)
Dazzling: Rye Dance Centre students (photo Dan Lake)

Students in the spotlight

This is what you do to earn yourself a good GCSE pass: get yourself on stage, writes Dan Lake. This production of Into the Woods at the Milligan Theatre was the junior version of the Stephen Sondheim musical. The show combines the stories of several Grimms’ fairy tales, with main characters from Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella, among others – with a healthy mix of tenderness and laughter. Into the Woods was staged as part of Rye College year 10 performing arts students’ coursework, on which they will be graded in their final GCSE exam results.

Stage struck: Rye College students in performance (photo Dan Lake)
Stage struck: Rye College students in performance (photo Dan Lake)

Dress to impress

The sensational red dress worn by Rannveig Karradottir in her performance as Violetta in La Traviata is on display at 113 High Street, formerly Nest, writes Tony McLaughlin. The dress, designed and made by Rye Studio School students Jade Tate and Bella Woodcock, has been grabbing the interest of passers-by all week.

Wardrobe mistresses of the future: two students made this dress for a diva  (photo Tony McLoughlin)
Wardrobe mistresses of the future: students made this dress for a diva (photo Tony McLoughlin)

Doggy chorus digs Beethoven

As Queens Head regulars will know, the pub welcomes and is popular with dogs and its Piatti Quartet gig, Beer and Beethoven, went down well with the canines, several of them accompanying the opening number “Let’s do it”, writes Seana Lanigan. The next piece by Beethoven didn’t have words so the dogs quietened down a bit, although one rascal had to be taken home. Apparently this aficionado is  sharing his home with the Quartet and, hearing them practice for five hours a day, has become an enthusiastic and vocal music fanatic.

Howls of appreciation greet Piatti, beer and Beethoven (photo Seana Lanigan)
Howls of appreciation greet Piatti, beer and Beethoven (photo Seana Lanigan)

You put your left leg in . . .

Margaret Tucker from Northiam joined Gyles Brandreth on the stage of the Milligan Theatre in his one-man show, Looking for Happiness, to help him lead the audience in an all-singing, all-dancing rendition of the hokey cokey, writes Seana Lanigan. Brandreth has just published a book, 7 Secrets of Happiness, following on from his experiences with Dr Anthony Clare, the radio psychiatrist. Bizarrely, this publication wasn’t for sale at his show, although a book of old woolly jumper patterns seemed to be going like hot cakes.

Take your partner: Gyles Brandreth welcomes Margaret Tucker to the stage
Double act: Gyles Brandreth welcomes Margaret Tucker to the stage (photo: Seana Lanigan)

Last-minute stitching

As part of the Arts Festival students produced their own photos in an exhibition following a recent visit to Rwanda . . . and then used the photos to inspire clothing designs for a fashion show in aid of Rwanda, writes Dan Lake. Alex Quisi, photography learning coach at Rye Studio School, discussed the photos after the show which featured dresses and costumes inspired by and, in some cases, based on the photos. The show was organised by students Jade Tate and Bella Woodcock, who said: “A lot of hard work went into organising it and thankfully we pulled it off – even though we were still sewing dresses 10 minutes before show time.” Rwanda Aid was founded by Peasmarsh retired headmaster David Chaplin.

One of the organisers Jade Tate on the catwalk
One of the organisers Jade Tate on the catwalk

African leader in audience

Ralph Mguni, secretary-general of the Zimbabwean’s African People’s Union was in the audience at The Rain That Washes, a play about a young man leaving Zimbabwe at 14 to join the rebellion against white rule, writes Kenneth Bird. It was much acclaimed at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe. Dr Mguni was on his way to Brussels to support the case of a white farmer facing eviction. In a lively question and answer session, the audience was urged to support the return to full democracy in Zimbabwe, but without indication of how outside help is possible.

Pilgrims progress on a ploughman’s

Minor snag on Tuesday’s Romney Marsh churches tour, writes Charlie Harkness. St Eanswythe’s door at Brenzett still locked and doorkeeper distant (with suspected illness). Historic Churches Trust guide ploughed on anyway with script (as harvesting nearly over) and architecture enthusiasts recovered over very filling ploughman’s lunch in Ship at Dymchurch (appetites unaffected by stories of Black Death, purgatory and fickle religious trends). Appledore coach driver (familiar with Rye) needed 17-point turn to pass car (no owner in sight) parked on road near St Mary in the Marsh. But hay wagons, with flying straw and seemingly precarious bales, were less passable on the main Marsh road because of the sharp bends, not very level crossings and limited visibility.

Sun and bubbles helps . . .

Repeating the tented venue at Lamb House seemed a brave decision to those critics at last year’s festival AGM who remembered the noise of wind, rain and electric hot-air blowers drowning speakers’ voices, writes Kenneth Bird. But this year’s start could not have been more different: greeted in bright sunshine by Robert Stephenson’s grand-daughter offering a flower petal to each guest; a black inner tent lining giving the stage area a dramatic sense of occasion; comfortable chairs – and a glass of Prosecco on the lawn to round off the ideal English Sunday afternoon.

It takes 22 to tango

Relax those thighs, loosen up those knees and spread your toes: festival goers enjoyed a tango lesson with Alan Mitchell and Ella Sharp at the Community Centre on Conduit Hill, writes Seana Lanigan.

Tummies in and take your partners (photo: Seana Lanigan)
A ladies excuse-me? Take your partners, please (photo: Seana Lanigan)

A new twinning

A spectator watching the procession was heard to say that Rye should twin with Barcelona, whose festival of La Merce later this month features many puppets, writes Charles Harkness. Rye is currently twinned with Rye in the United States. Fourteen other towns in East Sussex have only a single twin, but seven have two and Hastings has four. However, a great many towns have processions starring giant puppets – often in mainly Catholic countries – so Rye could end up with lots of twins.

A piano is not just black and white

Every concert needs backstage people and props and the verger at St Mary’s in Rye, Clive Pollard, recalls a few pianos. The Imperial Bosendorfer was nine-and-a-half feet long, and had 97 keys. The normal piano has only 88. The extras are painted black and give added bass. One Steinway (somewhat valuable) arrived on a remote-controlled frame that tipped and tilted after the legs were unfolded. Japanese Mitsuko Uchida would play only on the Albert Hall’s Steinway – no other – which was duly delivered to her, writes Charles Harkness. The church hosts classical and choral concerts all year, with several during the festival, and the jazz festival ones even had a bar – apparently.

Refreshing trade

Seven- year-old Milly Dolan set up a weekend lemonade stand in Church Square to refresh thirsty visitors to the town. Festival goers hope she’ll be doing the same again, writes Seana Lanigan.

Young entrepreneur: Milly Dolan (photo: Seana Lanigan)
Young entrepreneur: Milly Dolan (photo: Seana Lanigan)

Arty architecture

Art has played a larger part in this year’s festival, but comments were made on Sunday (which was also Heritage Open Weekend) that perhaps architecture too has a place in the festival. Winchelsea celebrated its architecture and history over the weekend, writes Charlie Harkness, with free openings of various cellars – including the one where medieval graffiti has recently been found – the Chapel and the Custom Hall and Museum, but Rye stayed firmly shut and did not participate, though this was a nationwide event now in its 20th year and matched by similar events in other European countries.

Sprinting cut

Schoolkids at the back of the opening procession barely got a rest as former Mayor Jo Kirkham cut the tape so fast to open the East Street Museum’s French exhibition that only those at the front of the procession had time to pause. Could she be going for a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the fastest tape cutter, writes Charles Harkness. Kids at the end of the procession were saying “I thought we had a break” as the giant puppets rolled on remorsefully.

Fond farewell to a good friend

Veteran actor Sir Donald Sinden, who died just as the festival started, is remembered by local luvvies, writes Charles Harkness. He came out with endless jokes, said Andy Stuart (one of the festival organisers) and endless stories about Larry (Olivier) this and Dicky that (Lord Dickie Attenborough, who also died recently). But Sinden, who lived in Tenterden, was also an expert on church architecture and president of Rye Conservation Society. And “a brilliant stand-up comedian” twittered Ashford MP Damian Green.