Singing the Line into Existence

Singing the Line into Existence

Singing the Line Into Existence, is an incredibly imaginative and exciting art project in the making, set up by a group of local artists. As yet it is in the early stages and they are  seeking Crowdfunding as a way of raising money to get the whole thing done.. The group are determined to get what is really an important multi-discipline project off the ground and are doing their best to raise £8,000 to put their ideas into action.

There has been a movement for some time to see the rail line from Carmarthen to Aberystwyth re-opened, and it would have a profoundly beneficial effect on the whole of West Wales. It would be great from a green perspective, and it would re-connect places that have been virtually out of touch for years. Until people come to this area they have no idea of the vast spaces between towns and villages, and the art brings all of that into its scope. Many ways to raise the profile of this issue have come forward but none more inventive or imaginative than the multi-artist led project just opened titled ‘Singing the Line into Existence’. Led by artist Joanna Bond, a ceramicist, and dancer, the plan is to work up the interest in the restoration of the  line by using music, dance, storytelling and film-making to revitalise the idea and bring it to the front of the consciousness of local people.

Involved in what will be a bilingual project alongside Joanna, are musicians Ceri Rhys Matthews, Elsa Davies, Mary Jacob, and Lynn Denman, video recording and video artwork from Jacob Whittaker, storytelling with Peter Stevenson and Guto Dafis and many more people are involved. People may support the idea of  the re-opening of a rail line into West Wales on a theoretical level, but this is a way to join in attracting attention to it, and helping to create a wonderful piece of artwork. All there is to know about the project and how people can contribute is here on  Wordpress at:

Peter Stevenson : Teller and Collector of Stories.

Folk Tales of Ceredigion

In Ceredigion Folk Tales, by Peter Stevenson, published by the History Press, folk stories local to our own county are, possibly for the first time, given a whole book to themselves, without being tucked into a general Wales-wide folk tales collection. The book is most interesting to those of us who live here, as all the stories are connected with recognisable places, and when one can read a story which has come from Llangranog, or Bettws Bledrws, then one has a reason to read on, as familiarity breeds curiosity. In a way it is like looking into a neighbour’s window to see how they live, though in these stories the people we encounter are very different from those we are likely to meet today. Many of these are the stories that the generation who came up in the 19th and early 20th century would have been telling one another, and within them is the evidence of the certain belief in a world of magic, of conjurers, of tylwyth teg, and otherness, of babies swapped for fairy folk, and animals that have magical presence. Also, within what is a very eclectic mix there are stories about people known for their exaggerated characteristics, like Sir Herbert Lloyd, otherwise known as ‘The Wickedest Man in Ceredigion’ for his evident greed and cruelty. There are the well-known tales, still told today and widely known, like Twm Sion Cati, Tregaron’s own Robin Hoodalike, with his tricks and idiosincracies. Stevenson acknowledges Pritchard, who was the man who made Twm Sion Cati famous and lost his own nose along the way. Indeed he was a storyteller in his own right and a huge character who died penniless. There is also a short piece about Sion Cwilt, the thief and outlaw of Synod Inn who wore a patchwork coat, whose exploits will now live on through the next generation as the new primary school at Synod Inn is named after him, though what brought Cwilt his fame, may be best overlooked. With contemporary tales of Aberystwyth ghosts, and strange things on Borth Bog, and the continuing stories of Nanteos, it can be deduced that though our modern society may have a more prosaic view of life, the stories of strange occurrences and extraordinary happenings are still being enjoyed, that people love to be scared, horrified, amused or simply amazed, and the joy for a storyteller like Peter Stevenson is that these are continuing evidence that folk tales will go on being requested, for ever. (Peter Stevenson launched his book Ceredigion Folk Tales at Awen Teifi, Cardigan High Street on Saturday 19th April with musical accompaniment on harp and fiddle.

Wonderful Nola Rae

There is a partial review of Nola Rae at Small World Theatre in the Tivyside this week, but if you would prefer to read in its entirety then you can read it here. It was only short to start with, but not quite as short as the para on the sports page suggested!

Review   Nola Rae

Mime is an exciting and exacting theatrical medium and when done well it can, for members of the audience, be a sublime experience raising everything as it does from smiles, laughter, sympathy and more. Nola Rae, appearing last Thursday evening at Small World Theatre, created just such an experience for those who were there to see her. She is an internationally acknowledged first class exponent of the art, and to say she does it well is an understatement. She is without exaggeration a masterly performer and a major figure in her field. It would not be an over-statement to say that the audience for the event were spellbound from the word go. Without a word being spoken and sharing the stage with simple puppet figures a story was told which lacked nothing of the power and detail, that one hope for from such a story. In fact magic appeared to be done in this show, where cloth puppets came alive and contributed to the action with Mozart the clown, sharing all manner of wordless conversation and behaviour; at times co-operative and at others showing signs of bitter power struggle. The characters were, of course, given their extraordinarily convincing personalities by Ms Rae’s skilful manipulation of them and simultaneously her own constantly comical and understandable response to them.

Beginning with playing the role of Mozart’s father Leopold, discovering that the baby he is toting around on his shoulder is a genius on the piano, Nola Rae took the audience step by step through the story of Mozart’s life. It was funny and magic, and at times achingly sad. One might wonder how such an intense story of one of the greatest composers ever, even played in large part for laughs, could be expressed without words. It is the power of mime using facial expression and bodily movement, transmitting the meaning from stage to audience, ditching the interrupting translation of words,  entering straight into the emotional centre, the heart. From birth to ignominious death, Mozart’s life was spelled out with every twist and turn from the child prodigy composing his own music, his capacity to play the piano without effort, through the years of adult concerts, with royalty in attendance for his exquisite composition and performance, then lust and drink, family life, encroaching madness and such sad, moving scenes at the end as he approaches and reaches the very end of  his life.  Mozart Preposteroso –  it appears that there is nothing that can’t be said without words.

Scrap Book by Carly Holmes

Review  Scrap Book

Scrap Book is a first novel by local writer Carly Holmes, known to many who attend the Cellar Bards where she sometimes reads her stories among the poetry. There are in fact moments in this very interesting book, when it seems to be about to break into poetry. The use of language, the structure of the sentences, the interesting pauses, and the one-liners create a rhythm and a timing that begs to be read aloud, and all of these qualities carry a reminder of poetry. Also, the plot can be seen in itself as rather reminiscent of  poetry in the sense that it is developed in a circular, outward spreading, non-linear way adding detail and experience, darting backwards and forwards in time, but equally staying in the same place, rather than in a plot driven novel in which the reader travels from A to B enabled by a series of events in between. Here in fact we stay with A where the examination of the relationship between three women, gran, mum and daughter, is carried out in the manner of the peeling of an onion. The character of Fern is the person we get close up to, she is the youngest of the three, and her experiences of love, not only as a lover herself, but also as something observed in others from a child’s perspective, make for fascinating insights. And of course there is already poetry in the book in the laying out of the spells, the graphic way of displaying that gran had magic on her side and may not always have been kind with her spells. When she creates a spell to send the married man away who has loved her daughter it seems she is successful, and though it is many years later that it is discovered, the response is, one feels, softened but  not altered by the time which has elapsed. It is as though the determined retention, and drawing into the present, the painful moments, in the three womens’ lives, means that they are on a permanent continuum to self-destruct, which cannot be broken and is sadly an observation that is relevant to many people. The spells throughout the book feel genuine, and whether they are, or whether they are designed for purpose does not matter, as they imbue the book with a sense of how magic, real or perceived, intended or unintended, changes things. Something of the island location also changes how one perceives things as they  happen and this is captured with a sure hand,  creating an atmosphere reminiscent of  Irish writer, Jennifer Johnston’s work, where the freedom from mainstream life carries its own paradox of claustrophobia. It is an engaging first novel exploring themes related to the eternal verities of life and how they are dealt with by the women; with lovely writing that has been captured and nailed to the page in case it takes flight into poetry.

Helen Booth and Synapse

The current exhibition showing at Oriel Mwldan is ‘Synapse’ by Helen Booth, an artist who showed previously at Mwldan in 2007, and who was awarded the prestigious Pollock Krasner award in 2012. Her work with installation, drawing and painting is all about interconnectedness, some of  which is explored through works in graphite and oil on gesso, and some with paint, and most interesting in this particular show in an installation titled ‘Strings’. This piece is composed of multi-layers of strings, some hanging in dense cluster, and others drawn out and stretched, capturing something akin to the complexity of the threads of a spider’s web. Periodically a light sweeps across the strings, which highlights the darker corners of it, and illuminates the mass from which the detail is drawn, and the fact that all is connected. The work is inspired by The Nature of Spirit a work written by Alan Turing in the mid-1930s. Turing’s work indicates the idea that there is a direct connection between the internal workings of the brain and the universe as a whole, and the more one looks at the work on display the more one sees the connectedness everywhere. Along with the installation are largely monochrome paintings and drawings the essence of which is the effect of light, in ‘Separation’ the image captured is from the view in the artist’s studio window during the winter, and the presence of snow, and the skeletal landscape are the central theme of the picture. The more geometric pieces as in ‘Hidden Landscape’ bring out once more the idea that beyond everything we see in natural colours and shapes there is a structure which is joining the one to the many, and through the fragile imagery the artist attempts to illuminate those things which might normally be lost in the darkness which is in opposite to the light. This is an experimental work in total, by a conceptual artist who is attempting to encapsulate difficult ideas into a form which will be both enjoyable to the observer and offer them food for thought. In her own words ‘Light makes geometry of landscapes and rock formations and distills everything else – skeletal trees and melancholy weather – to scratches, scuffs and scars.’ Synapse is showing at Oriel Mwldan  until 17 May 2014

A conversation with Helen about the exhibition can be seen on theCul Culture Colony website

An Easter Surprise

I can’t help thinking that the last thing I planned  for Easter was to do a storytelling performance. It is at least two or three years since I referred to myself as a storyteller, and the reason for my giving it up, was that I am no longer as free and easy in my movements as I was, and I do not feel as good about getting up and performing. However, when Glen Peters of Rhosygilwen invited me to join in their Easter celebrations by entertaining with stories on Easter Monday I was swept away on a moment of enthusiasm arising from the happy memories of previous engagements, telling tales of medieval doings, or river adventures of mermaids and royal fish. It seemed as soon as it sank in that rather than panic, what I needed to do was get help. So I invited a few friends in to perform with me. Beth Guiver is herself a budding storyteller and already building a strong reputation amongst those who have seen and heard her. Geoffrey Summers and Jonny Preece are members of Cardigan Theatre and are happy to be doing something a bit different.  I am enjoying the novelty of telling my stories with the assistance of others. There are none of the practical difficulties of doing it alone, carrying, standing, etc which tire me out. Just the nice bits, like telling a good story that makes people laugh, like Massive Aunt Morfa, or makes children think like The Hat Rabbit, or just makes them giggle, like Yukio and Shimizu. All these stories I have written and have lain in a file for years. So this is their outing as well as mine. I hope people will come. It should be a good show for us as well as for our audience.

Stories and storytelling

The following article appeared in the Tivyside Advertiser on 4th February. As too often seems to happen no-one to whom it really mattered actually saw it, which is sad. It happens all the time and sometimes makes us journalists wonder why we bother if the people we think will appreciate the publicity are not aware they are getting some. Reading a local paper is a prerequisite to understanding one’s own community since no-one can ever be a part of the life of the town without knowing at least a little about the local politics, education, and entertainments!

Storytelling Week

For seven days from Saturday February 1-8, storytellers around the UK will be telling tall tales and spreading the word that storytelling is not only alive and well, but kicking its way back into the mainstream. All of this is to celebrate Storytelling Week and in St Dogmaels at the Coach House, storyteller and former teacher, Beth Guiver will be showing why the form is growing in popularity especially for children.

‘Hearing a story from a real person, is so much more exciting and involving,than watching it on the tv,’ she says.

Having spent the past year telling stories at local carnivals and fairs, and venues like Jigso, and the Wildlife Centre, Beth knows well what children like.

‘I will be telling my Animal Wonder stories,’ she says. ‘Children love them. The characters fascinate them and make them laugh, like the frog who drinks all the water in the world, and the very clever monkey who outwits a dangerous, though charming, crocodile!’

Adults are of course welcome to sit in with their children, and it is not unusual for them to enjoy the storytelling as much as their youngsters do. Beth Guiver’s Storytelling event is on Saturday February 8, in the Coach House Museum/Cafe, St Dogmaels at 2.30pm and entry is free.

Birds and books at the Riverside Cafe


An exhibition currently showing at the Riverside Cafe in Newcastle Emlyn, brings together two gifted artists working in different disciplines, and each producing genuinely original work with distinctive style.

Eve O’Neill, a sculptor who uses a mix of materials to create her uniquely exquisite small birds, is known to many, as the birds once seen are never forgotten. They exert a powerful appeal, perhaps because they are, in plumage and shape, so like their live counterparts but they have the additional thrill of being available to touch and enjoy at close quarters. Eve has extended her work into creating larger pieces, and currently in the cafe are examples of the direction her work is taking with a delightful top hat with birds perched on it, titled A Charm of Goldfinches and an exquisite replica of  a powdered wig in 18th century style titled Madam de Pompadour’s Bird Song. ‘This is the beginning,’ Eve says, pointing out a trio of chicks in the wig, with beaks wide, singing or begging for food. ‘The next ones will have sound and lighting.’.  These beautiful creations  capture the excesses which were practised by those who wore them at the time, carrying as they do everything from birds and floral displays, to costly jewelled embellishment and trailing ringlets.

Maya Mitten whose work is hanging simultaneously, creates in collage. She breathes new life into books and prints, to bring them to a new and different incarnation as objects of art which require a second look. She conducts surgical operations on the books, carefully cutting out their middles and inserting images and glazing them. Like all her collage the images inserted range from curious to beautiful. The largest on display in the cafe is ‘The Kingdom of Mittendom’ a fantastic free-ranging landscape, with a nostalgic appeal. The Lost Circus and A Dream I Had,  turn landscapes into new stories, with characters that beg to be in a weird or wonderful narrative.

The show has been a great success and has certainly captured the attention of many of the customers who dine at the cafe and will continue to be there for the next fortnight. The two artists plan to show again this year from 18th May, for a week at the Corn Exchange Gallery in Cardigan’s Guildhall.

Tom Martin at Oriel Mwldan

Tom Martin  Wunderkammer

This is a lovely show. I spent ages in the gallery just examining tiny bits and pieces and trying to work out how he had put some of the things together. What follows is the review written for the Tivyside.

Though there is no translation of the title on display at Wunderkammer, the exhibition now showing at Oriel Mwldan, its meaning is well known in Continental museums to mean a cabinet of wonders, or curiosities. Printmaker Tom Martin’s current show very much lives up to this description, with some exquisitely made curiosities, in a collection of rainbow, hand-painted work. Many of the items and compositions are striking and beautiful and the word ‘curious’ is apposite here, since much of what one sees is very much out of the ordinary, and surprising. Available close to the entry point are white cotton gloves which viewers are invited to slip on, should they be tempted to play with what they see hanging on the walls and sitting on tables. Even opening the white pristine drawers and moving their contents about is not off  limits.  In fact this is exactly what the artist wants,  that the viewer might be moved to change and rearrange what is there for their own pleasure, to create something new by extracting the small pieces and placing them differently, thereby creating a whole new design. Moving them around can become a mesmerising experience, similar to one’s feeling as a child when resisting the end of a game, with ‘just one more’.

In a glass cabinet filled with magical items, tiny proscenium theatres have mini-characters moving across the stages. These are constructions which come out of matchboxes! Also in the cabinet is a  Myriorama, a dinky box of 16 handmade screen prints whitch fit together in any arrangement. Everything throughout the show has been created by hand by the artist; like the ‘Pyramid Grid’ which appears to be a brilliant multi-coloured square, until when getting closer to it, the squares within the square are seen to be tiny open boxes, each filled with miniature pyramids.

This is a genuinely exciting show and a free artist-led workshop is coming up in the next few weeks for students of schools and colleges. For further information on this please contact Isie Smathers, Mwldan gallery co-ordinator on 01239 623929 or email  Wunderkammer is showing at Oriel Mwldan until 22 March.

John Sharkey – A Final Review and a Fond Farewell

Today I noticed that my copy of The Meeting of the Tracks, by John Sharkey, who died last week, had appeared in a prominent position between book-ends on a window sill. How did that get there I wondered? Later it came to me that it would be nice to put the review I did of that book onto this blog. The book, published by Carreg Gwalch, came out in 2004 and I set about finding the review in my computer archive for that year. I searched for a good hour but it was not there. Disappointed I left the computer alone, and went to get some lunch. Stirring the soup and thinking about the good conversations John and I had shared over the past ten years, I found myself saying aloud to him, ‘Well John, sorry darling. I’d have liked to blog it but it’s gone. Unless you know better of course!'( The touch of sarcasm because John was prone to argue any decision to the bitter end.)Half an hour later, soup spoon in my mouth, into my brain came the words ‘Random Collection’. My reply to this suggestion was that as I only created a folder of that name in 2013 it could not contain the review. But when the words returned with an insistent repetition, I went to take a look and there, of course, it was. Apparently I had moved the file, and erased the original though I have no memory of doing so. I recognise that the most likely explanation for what happened was that my subconscious went searching while I made my soup, and that it had nothing to do with John finding it. But those of you who knew him will know, there was something in his smile and a twinkle in his eyes if he won an argument and  as clear as day I saw him, as I opened the file and in my surprise I shouted aloud ‘Oh My God It Is Here!’ If you never read it, and you were one of his many friends or acquaintances now might be a good time to acquaint yourself with the things he loved – the ancient Celts and their art.


Rock Art in Ancient Wales

by John Sharkey. Review by Liz Whittaker

‘The fun in writing this book has been following up the observations, hints, asides and suggestions of earlier writers. Antiquarians, prehistorians, travellers and archaeologists have unknowingly contributed to the making of the work although any conclusions drawn are mine.’

Chasing around looking for ancient carvings, cupmarks and spirals on monoliths and burial passages is not everyone’s idea of entertainment, but reading about them here is fascinating, the more so because though the subject matter is obscure, it is imbued with Sharkey’s passion and within the first few pages it becomes apparent that this is not a dry re-hash of archeologists’ views but as he makes clear in the above quote, he is having fun with both the research and coming up with new ideas.

He draws on art, poetry and legend and this varied material keeps the work stimulating, transporting the reader, as it does, beyond the mere recording of place,size and shape of carving into the realms of imagination and inspiration. He introduces the work of Edward Lhuyd the scholar and natural historian who was Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum in the 17th century, and whose writings include the first recorded sitings of ancient stone carvings.

Challenging the preconceptions of the establishment and the assumption that ‘one explanation fits all’, Sharkey observes that Wales has its own symbology and works his way intuitively to fresh conclusions. His impatience with the lack of imagination and original thinking in archaeological spheres is seen as inevitable, as his is a visionary approach to the subject and an attempt to bring light to bear on  what he refers to as the ‘hidden ritual configuration and the enigmatic quality expressive of much of the wild countryside of Wales’.

The symbolic markings are less profuse in Wales than in Ireland and in Brittany, but just as curious and even more curious is the fact that they do not last forever once they are exposed to the light. It is as if once seen, they fade and disappear over time to the naked eye, and only become observable when treated to rubbing. The description of this in relation to the Blaenawen stone and the Ty Illtud cover-stone expose a mysterious process which gives an incredibly life-like characteristic to the stones. It is, Sharkey hints, as though it is of their own choosing they show or hide their decoration, and is an example of what he feels is the ‘two-way’ communication between ancient rock art, laid down by men in the past, to the men of today.

It becomes apparent very early in the text that Sharkey’s fascination with his subject is profoundly enduring. This, the last in a quartet of books exploring layers of history and mythology in carved stone which he has completed during the past ten years, marks a kind of personal evolution in his opinions and his mode of expression. His knowledge, his particular blend  of intuitive guesswork and scholarly research, plus his moments of wry insight into the peculiarities of what he does, make this an accessible and informative read.