Friday, 16 January 2009

Uni Gets Student Thumbs Up

Alexandra Square, Lancaster UniversityLancaster University has climbed 10 places in the Times Higher Education’s annual rankings of student satisfaction.

After more than 12,000 full time undergraduates across the UK rated their own university on a list of 21 factors chosen by the students themselves, the Uni now ranks 20th out of a total of 101 institutions assessed in the survey which aims to show which universities offer the best student experience.

Factors ranged from relationships with teaching staff to links with industry, tuition in small groups, a good library and a good campus environment.

The main areas which students considered most important were the quality of staff and lectures, helpful staff, a good community atmosphere and vibrant social scene.

The results complement other good results for Lancaster recently. The 2008 Research Assessment Exercise showed that 92% of research at Lancaster is recognised as world leading or internationally significant and, aking into account the high proportion of staff submitted to the RAE, Lancaster University emerges in the top ten in the country overall for research quality (link is Excel spreadsheet).

In the THE-QS World Rankings 2008, Lancaster is ranked in the top 200 universities globally and is one of only 29 UK universities included in the list. Nationally, The Guardian places Lancaster in the top 10 in the UK while the Independent ranks Lancaster 12th.

Despite the positive comments on the University, there appears need for some improvemenst and not all its policies are popular. In what looks like a pretty draconian measure, late last year student union newspaper SCAN recently reported that second year students at the Lancaster University Management School have been told they must use CVs radically altered by University staff when applying for placement schemes.

In the wider Lancaster community it continues to be criticised for its apparent lack of a coherent transport policy with car use by students and staff contributing to Lancaster's traffic problems, despite regular buses almost every ten minutes to campus during term time. It's still regarded by many as aloof and out of touch and the huge number of students there (and the University of Cumbria) present their own challenges to locals, not least of which are late night noise in some areas.

The University, which has an annual income of £149 million, no doubt bolstered by the commercial rents from the many businesses now operating there, from longtime operators such as Waterstones and Spar to relative newcomers such as Diggles and Sultans restaurant, employs 2,250 staff and has some 17,415 students, says it is committed to further enhancing the student experience as part of a £300m redevelopment of campus.

Work has begun on a new student learning zone to provide different types of learning environments, flexible social space and up to date technology. A continuing programme of major refurbishments to the college bars and social spaces continues and planning permission has been granted for a new £20m sports centre.

In Review: Billy Liar

Andrew James Buckley as Billy Liar
Andrew James Buckley as Billy Fisher

by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall
directed by Simran Babra
performed by University of Cumbria Final-Year Drama Students
review by Jane Sunderland

Based on Keith Waterhouse’s novel of 1959, Billy Liar is the story of one day in the life of Billy Fisher (Andrew James Buckley), a bright but bored and immature young clerk, who indulges in fantasies, produces melodramatic untruths, gives two young women the idea that they are engaged to him, and dreams of life as a script-writer. On this particular day, the two fiancées, Barbara (Jenny Daniels) and Rita (Louise Greenwood), encounter and confront each other; his grandmother Florence (Paula Jane Riley) dies; and Liz (Fiona Jane Rhind), the one girl he cares about at least a little, reappears in his life and persuades him to take the night train to London with her. He leaves home with a suitcase, but... The play’s ending (accompanied by ‘The Great Pretender’) does not disappoint.

Billy Liar is dated in several ways. In the era of date-rape drugs, it’s hard to find Billy putting ‘passion powder’ into a drink intended for the straight-laced Barbara amusing. Although Waterhouse and Hall are obviously critical of this, it’s equally hard to believe in Barbara and Liz valuing an engagement and a ring so much that they are prepared to ignore the huge deficiencies of the person they’re supposed to be engaged to.

Yet some issues still resonate: parents’ expectations of their children and disappointment when they do not live up to those same expectations; resentment by children of their parents’ expectations and indeed of their sacrifices; young people’s dreams. Billy’s parents Alice (Laura Anne Wilkinson) and Geoffrey (Matthew Watts), and grandmother, in many ways constitute a close-knit family, but one in which tensions are not hidden, and the family dynamics created by the actors are convincing. 21st century snobbery may not be about brown shoes (which Billy insists on wearing) but class consciousness has not gone away. And the confused racism articulated by the elderly Florence is dismissed or at least not encouraged by the rest of the family.

Occasionally the acting proved a little disappointing and wooden (Matthew Watts is an exception here, alternating between tenderness, grumpiness and no-holds-barred criticism of his son), although less so as the story develops. In contrast, the gestures, exaggerated movements, physical interaction and choreography are smooth and impressive, and this is where Andrew James Buckley really comes into his own. Director Simran Babra is to be congratulated here.

This show is genuinely funny and, towards the end, moving, as we see Billy finally struggle (if only a little) with who he is and who he might be.

Billy Liar runs until Saturday 17 January, 2009. All performances begin at 8pm and tickets are £8 full price/£6 concessions. To book, contact the Dukes box office on 01524 598500 or email For more information, visit their website at

University of Cumbria Drama students will also be producing and performing Laura Wade’s Colder Than Here, from 21 to 24 January, 2009.

Related Web Links
University of Cumbria drama productions

The Book
A brief review

The Play
By Willis Hall & Keith Waterhouse
Script on Google Books

The Film (1963)
Starring Tom Courtenay and Julie Christie

IMDB Entry

Channel 4 Overview
Film Trailer (on YouTube)
Film locations for Billy Liar
(it was largely shot in Bradford and Baildon, although the final scene, supposedly set on ‘Central Station, Bradford’, with Liz leaving for the Big City was actually shot in London itself on Marelybone Station!)
Film critique
Appreciation of Julie Christie' work in the film on Criterion Confessions

The TV Series (1973)
This ran for two seasons on ITV and starred
Jeff Rawle as Billy
IMDB Entry

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Canal Corridor Plans Go To Public Enquiry

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Hazel Blears has decided that Lancaster City Council’s resolution to grant planning permission for the controversial Canal Corridor North planning application, which centres on a major shopping development, will be tested at a public inquiry.

The development, named Castle View by preferred developers Centros, encompasses a site is formed by the triangle of land bounded by Stonewell, Moor Lane, the Lancaster Canal, Alfred Street and St Leonards Gate.

No date has yet been set for the inquiry, although it is likely to take place later in 2009. The plan has been opposed by a number of groups and individuals, including the local It's Our City, who have offered alternate suggestions for the land. The group has thanked people who wrote in asking for the inquiry on its web site. "I'm getting so many positive messages which I will remember when we face up to Centros at the inquiry," Cal Giles told virtual-lancaster.

Centros Miller, now Centros, unveiled its initial plans for the Canal Corridor in May 2006, which include shops, a department store and some green space. The Musicians Co-op would have its own new building and both the Dukes and the Grand could see additional features. A multi-storey car park is also part of the scheme.

The inquiry will be a chance for all parties to make their case in front of an inspector who, after hearing the evidence, will make a recommendation to the Secretary of State as to whether the development should be given permission.

Coun Roger Dennison, chair of the council’s planning committee, said: “Lancaster City Council’s planning committee supported the application on the grounds that the development will help to further the regeneration of the district.

“What is important now is that the inquiry is held at an early date so the issues can be discussed, and a final decision issued, as soon as possible.”

• Any further correspondence concerning this application should now be sent to the Planning Inspectorate at:- The Planning Inspectorate PINS SAC(B)Room 3/17, Temple Quay House, 2 The Square, Temple Quay, Bristol, BS1 6PN. Their telephone number is 0117 372 8918 and fax 0117 372 8181.

It's Our City Campaign Site
Centros' Castle View Development Site
Council Regeneration Strategy documents on the council web site (PDF files)
View our list of Planning Committe and Cabinet members, sourced from information in the public domain
• Read the
report Council planners seem to want to forget advocating two new food super stores for Lancaster and Morecambe, more quality shopping and careful consideration of "edge of town" retail developments which were among the findings of a 106 page report on Retail Needs in the Lancaster and Morecambe area (PDF document), commissioned by the Council in 2006.

£20m funding package for Northwest tourism industry

The Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA) today announced a £20.6 million funding package for the region’s tourism industry, which will ensure that the region’s five sub-regional tourist boards are in a strong position to support tourism businesses during the current economic climate.

The funding has been allocated to Cumbria Tourism, the Lancashire and Blackpool Tourist Board, Marketing Manchester, the Mersey Partnership and Visit Chester and Cheshire and will enable each tourist board to maintain the lead in developing and promoting the visitor economy in their area.

Each tourist board will work to support opportunities for growth in the visitor economy and to create high-quality, high-value visitor experiences. This support includes investment in training programmes, improving visitor information, more product development (we assume for growing number of souvenirs sold in Tourist Information Centres) and more marketing activity, all with the aim of helping ensure that the region’s tourism industry is well placed to face ongoing economic challenges.

“The current economic climate will inevitably have an impact on the tourism industry, which is why it is now more important than ever for us to continue to invest in the region’s tourism offer," commented James Berresford, Director of Tourism at the NWDA. "The NWDA is committed to supporting the region’s visitor economy and this investment will ensure a strong climate of support for tourism during these challenging times.

“If we continue to invest in infrastructure, training, marketing our unique offer and, above all, maintain a quality, value-for-money visitor experience, the Northwest can continue to develop its competitive advantage and capitalise on the increasing trend to holiday at home.”

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Dukes Season Launch (Tuesday Jan. 13, 2009)

In an informal, upbeat early-evening launch, Dukes Director Joe Sumsion and new Producer Julie Brown tempted us all with snippets of what we could look forward to in Winter, Spring and Summer of 2009 - both touring and 'home grown' work. And we heard from young people from DT3, key people from Ludus and the Nuffield, the Director and Designer of Jamaica House (see below), and singers from Sabbat. The Dukes is growing in the diversity of its offerings ....

Sabbat (by Richard Shannon, directed by Amy Leach, and designed by Miriam Nabarro) is a dramatic new tale based on the famous Pendle witches. It is a powerful new play commissioned by The Dukes that attempts to unravel the mysteries behind the famous trials of the notorious Pendle Witches. Did Alice Nutter (herself unusual in being relatively wealthy) and the others really attend a witches' Sabbat on Good Friday, 1612? Or were these innocent Pendle folk used as scapegoats during a time of paranoia, superstition and persecution? Sabbat runs from 29th January – 21st February.

Jamaica House (by Paul Sirett, directed by Gwenda Hughes and designed by Alison Heffernan) is an emotional drama set on the twelfth floor of an empty tower block. Former resident Jean returns to the crumbling tower block Jamaica House for one last time but finds it hard to say goodbye to a building she has lived in for nearly thirty years. The second Dukes production of the season, it runs from 19th March – 11th April.

The July outdoor adventure in Williamson Park (opening July 2) is Jason and the Argonauts. In this story of love, honour and heroism, based on ancient Greek myths, Jason and his crew journey in search of the legendary Golden Fleece. They encounter countless obstacles in their quest: giants, perilous seas, vengeful gods and the bewitching song of the Sirens. We will travel with them around the magnificent lakes, dells and gorges, taking to the high seas, visiting Mount Olympus, the realm of the gods, and challenging the monstrous hydra in a sensational final battle.

A new ticket offer will also be launched, allowing customers to enjoy all three shows for the price of two. Holders will also get a Dukes discount card offering 25%off other events.

Alongside these Home Grown pieces, The Dukes will be playing host to national touring work including Queen Bee, a chilling new drama from The North East Theatre Consortium (8 and 9 May). Three women find themselves forced together in an isolated Northumberland house in this contemporary gothic ghost story.

Straight from a sell out show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year, Top of the World present Paperweight on 21st May, an (almost) silent comedy of two men trapped in mindless office jobs whilst Queer Up North and multi-award-winning Starving Artists bring a new one-man show, Eat Me, to the venue (30th May).

For people who like their theatre a little more physical, Precarious present their astonishing boundary-pushing work The Factory on 25th April. On 2nd May, clowning, puppetry and performance are combined in Lost in the Wind by Lost Spectacles.

Two side-splitting comedy shows also feature, Who Writes this Crap? (17th January), based on the critically acclaimed Penguin paperback, and 1000 Years of German Humour (8th May) with award winning German Comedy Ambassador, Henning Wehn, in the show that took the Edinburgh Festival by storm.

A new version of Peter Pan from The Children’s Theatre Company, Minneapolis and Visible Fictions will be showing on 30th April and 1st May. Featuring the work of world-renowned shadow puppetry artists, this production combines live action, shadow art and vibrant storytelling. And DT3 will play host to another great piece of theatre for young people when Loci Productions return with their acclaimed show, Mind the Gap, on 28th February.

For younger children, Monster Productions return with another magical journey, The Garden of Dreams (17th and 18th April). Also making a return visit after a recent sell-out performance is the hilarious and very well-known James Campbell (21st February), the world’s only stand-up comedian for children.

Music lovers will be spoilt for choice with the Dukes hosting local, regional and national talent. Singer-songwriter Charlie Winston will be appearing on 28th February, while popular Lancaster band Dose take to the stage on 7th March. DT3 supported label Barnbox return for a night of music on 24th April and the heady strains of jazz will be heard when Lancashire Sinfonietta perform on 9th May. Also in May, you can follow in the footsteps of fan Chris Evans and see the mirthful Lancashire Hotpots, with their comedic observations on 21st Century life.

The start of a new creative partnership between Ludus and The Dukes will be signalled on 23rd January when Ludus present the world premiere of ID:me, a new piece of dance theatre. And on the evening of 8th February, artist Sumit Sarkar will take control of The Dukes in a groundbreaking new event, Co-mission, featuring contemporary culture, creativity and curry!

The University of Cumbria return in January with two productions from the 3rd Year Drama students, Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall (14th – 17th January) and Colder Than Here by Laura Wade (21st – 24th January). From the international stage, live opera, classical music and ballet will be streamed by satellite direct from The Royal Opera House, London including Handel’s Messiah (5 April),Ondine (3 June) and La Traviata (30 June).

For more information or to book for any event in the autumn season, call Dukes box office on 01524 598500.

For more information/images/interviews please contact:
Maria Major, Press Officer,The Dukes, Moor Lane, Lancaster LA1 1QET: 01524 598509


The new season ticket allows customers to see three shows for the price of two - Sabbat, Jamaica House and Jason and the Argonauts. Tickets are available on any performance including Saturdays and can be transferred free of charge (up to a week before). Customers also get a free discount card giving the holder 25% off other events, 10% off drinks at the bar and 50p off programmes.

The Dukes cinema also offers independent cinema. With one of the biggest screens in the North West and state of the art projection and sound facilities, there is a year-round programme of film, including foreign language, independent, blockbusters and family favourites.

Spring Season At The Nuffield

Following up on our Free Theatre Tickets Story, the Spring Season at the Lancaster University's Nuffield Theatre features a number of Nuffield commissions and co-productions, including exciting new project from Sonia Hughes (Weeding Cane).

The Theatre is also celebrating 20 years of performance company Reckless Sleepers, and in advance of a new Nuffield commissioned work in the next year, is pleased to present one of the best pieces from their back catalogue, The Last Supper.

The Strange Names Collective will be presenting three “comically nightmarish” performances and there is a triple-bill of fresh work from up-and-coming regional artists in the Live Art North West Showcase.

In February, the Nuffield welcomes contemporary dance company Candoco, who bring their renowned integrated disability dance company to Lancaster with a new double-bill from choreographers Hofesh Shechter (whose own company impressed Nuffield audiences last year) and Nigel Charnock.

This season also sees the Nuffield collaborating with colleagues from the Lancaster International Concerts Series in a day-long celebration of the work of composer Steve Reich. Reich has been a major influence on a generation of composers, choreographers and performance makers, and the event includes a fantastic performance of Reich’s work from new music ensemble Psappha.

Spring 2009 listings: More Info on our What's On Pages

THE GRATITUDE OF MONSTERS – The Strange Names Collective
A triptych of comically nightmarish performances challenging ideas of progress and civilization. ‘Blurs a line between performance art, stand-up, and theatre.’ – Time Out.
8pm, Thursday 29th January £10/£7 concessions

IN TRANSIT 3 – Live Art North West Showcase
In Transit is a touring project presenting the next generation of boundary pushers working in live art and contemporary theatre in the North West. Featuring: Leentje Van de Cruys - The Best Party Ever (6pm start), Krissi Musiol – Making A Big Deal, Chris Fitzsimmons and Interrupters – Past Indefinite
8pm, Tuesday 3rd February £8 / £6 concessions

SIGHT IS THE SENSE - Tim Etchells & Jim Fletcher
Comical in its apparent naiveté and preposterously encyclopaedic in scope Sight is the sense that dying people tend to lose first explores the absurdity and horror of consciousness as it tries and fails to seize and define everything that it encounters.
8pm, Thursday 5th February £10 / £7 concessions

A multi-layered, surreal and wonderful story that begins with Muhammad Ali as Billy the Kid and ends by the seaside with a lobster, a lost bride, a handsome sailor, Napoleon Bonaparte and the mysterious arrival of a submarine. 8pm, Wednesday 11th February £10 / £7 concessions

A dramatic double bill of fierce new work from top choreographers Nigel Charnock and Hofesh Shechter.
‘Candoco is the company for which choreographers reserve their wildest and often most inventive work’ - Observer
8pm, Thursday 19th February £10 / £7 concessions

STEVE REICH SYMPOSIUM – Lancaster International Concert Series in association with the Nuffield Theatre
A day of concerts and discussions devoted to the work of one of the world’s most influential composers living today.
'There's just a handful of living composers who can legitimately claim to have altered the direction of musical history and Steve Reich is one of them.' - The Guardian.
11am, Saturday 21st February £35 day pass / £8 morning concert only / £15 evening concert only

SONG OF SONGS – Weeding Cane
Song of Songs delicately explores the impossibility of love through the lives of the women on stage. At the heart of the show is a circus aerialist whose craft relies on her strength, daring, and her ability to fall. Can the performers apply these skills to their search for love?
8pm, Tuesday 24th and Wednesday 25th February £10 / £7 concessions

THE LAST SUPPER – Reckless Sleepers
Reckless Sleepers invite you to dinner, to sample the last meal requests of the famous and the not so famous, from Marilyn Monroe to Beethoven to prisoners on death row.
8pm, Wednesday 4th – Friday 6th March £10 / £7 concessions

• Book your tickets now at

Free Theatre Tickets For Young People

The Nuffield Theatre at Lancaster University and The Dukes in Lancaster have been awarded £30,000 to fund 6000 free theatre tickets for young people.

The tickets for a range of live shows will be available for young people under 26 over a two year period. The scheme, which starts this February, is aimed at attracting younger audiences to the theatre.

The theatres are the two local beneficiaries of the Arts Council-backed scheme. 99 successful applicants, representing more than 200 venues across England, have been invited to take part in a pilot scheme to give away 618,000 free theatre tickets to under 26 year olds in the next two years.

“We're really pleased to be working with the Dukes to attract local young people to our programmes, and to help establish regular theatre-going as part of young people's lives," says the Nuffield’s Director, Matt Fenton. "The great thing about the scheme is that it allows young people to make repeated visits and really develop their tastes and opinions.

"Between us, The Dukes and Nuffield Theatres offer an experience of every kind of theatrical performance, from established texts and new writing, to physical theatre, devised work and installations."

The national free theatre scheme is supported by £2.5 million additional funding to the Arts Council’s core grant from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Attendance at arts events traditionally drops in the 18-26 age range and so this initiative is specifically targeted at young adults and their families. The scheme is designed to reach new audiences and develop a new generation of theatre-goers.

A key UK venue for presenting and commissioning experimental theatre, contemporary dance and live art, the Nuffield regularly commissions major new works from established companies, as well as providing a range of artist support, bursaries, residencies, summer schools and professional development projects. Upcoming performances that should benefit from the scheme include Candoco Dance Company's Still and The Perfect Human (performing on Thursday 19 February 2009) and Weeding Cane's Song of Songs (Tuesday 24 February 2009 to Wednesday 25 February), directed by Sonia Hughes.

Joe Sumsion, Director of The Dukes, is also delighted with the scheme.

“We know that when people get a taste for live theatre they often come back again and again. This scheme gives us the chance, working with the Nuffield, to offer thousands of young people the chance to see great theatre in Lancaster at no cost to themselves.”

Upcoming shows at The Dukes such as Loci Productions Mind the Gap (performed on 28 February) and Jamaica House (which opens on Thursday 19 March) should benefit from the initiative.

Explaining the reasoning behind the scheme, Arts Council England, North West's Interim Executive Director, Aileen McEvoy said: "We want young people to grow up with a strong sense of the possibilities the arts give them. The free theatre offer is an exciting new step in that journey.

The scheme will be launched nationwide on 16th February, with the Arts Council promising "a week of special activities at all participating venues," and a website set up to provide details of all participating organisations and direct links to book free tickets.

Web Links
• The Nuffield Theatre
The Dukes

Monday, 12 January 2009

Platform hopes to pack 'em in!

The new Platform Spring and Summer 2009 brochure is now available and packed with details of the exciting and varied programme of concerts and events on offer at the popular Morecambe venue over the next few months.

The first show, comedian Jason Manford has already sold out and the Promenade Concert Orchestra Viennese Concert on Sunday, 25 January looks set to follow suit.

Folk fans will enjoy Lau from Scotland, Appalachian music and dance with Debby McClatchy and Dave Swarbrick's band Lazarus in February. March sees a St Patrick's concert by traditional Irish band Craobh Rua and the good old favourites The Houghton Weavers (pictured above), another sure-to-sellout event. Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham will play Scottish jigs and reels in April and singer/guitarist Dick Gaughan will be in concert in May. The beautiful voice of Irish singer Cara Dillon completes the folk menu at the end of June.

Simon Yates, "The Man Who Cut the Rope" will tell his story on 13 February and the ever popular Henry Blofeld returns with a brand new "Evening With Blowers" in March.

One of the highlights of the season is surely a debut appearance by one of UK's finest soul singers, Ruby Turner who's at the Platform in February. Ruby has performed in Morecambe before at the Light and Water Festival and, old virtual-lancaster team members recall, at Lancaster University back in the 1980s when the Union ran events in the Great Hall.

You might also choose to celebrate St Valentine's Day with a Sunday afternoon concert of love songs with Wendy Sharrock and Brian Lancaster accompanied by Charles Edmondson or enjoy an evening of nostalgia with Gerry Marsden in his night of songs and stories in February and the hugely popular Alan Price in May. Also in May, The UK Beach Boys will be evoking memories of the long hot summers of yesteryear, followed by The Manfreds on their "Let 'Em Roll" tour in June.

Other highlights include The Hamsters, playing the music of Jimi Hendrix and ZZ Top, Masters of the House singing songs from the musicals, comedian Mark Steel, Western Swing from Lancashire's Swing Commanders and gospel, blues and swing from Tipitina (includes a workshop for those who would like to join in) and the music of the Boomtown Rats, performed by two of the originals with a new band.

“The closure of Morecambe's Dome later this year will be a sad day for many of us," commented Coun Jane Fletcher, cabinet member with responsibility for arts and leisure on the planned line up, "but Lancaster City Council continues to provide a large and varied programme of entertainment that caters for everyone’s taste, be it via festivals and events, grants to other arts organisations as well as through its popular Platform venue in the heart of Morecambe.

"The Platform's Spring/Summer brochure is more packed than ever with concerts and events ranging from music, comedy and dance to theatre and cabaret not forgetting a whole host of children’s shows and community events and we really hope people will come along, support and enjoy this marvellous facility."

The events listed above are just a taster of the shows on offer. To find out more, simply pick up a free copy of the brochure at Lancaster and Morecambe Information Centres or by telephoning the Box Office on 01524 582803. Alternatively catch all the events on the Whats On pages.

Poetry, Pose and Paddy Garrigan at Spotlight

Music from top Lancaster performer Paddy Garrigan will round out this month's Spotlight Club performance event at the Yorkshire House on Friday (16th January), which kicks off with its usual opne mic session to which all comers are invited to particpate on a first come, first imelighted basis.

Also on the bill are poets Jim Turner, Matt Carter and Peter Daniel Edge and prose writer Kevin McVeigh, along with musician Mikey Kenney.

Based in Lancaster, Jim Turner works part-time in a wholefood co-op. When not shovelling lentils, he's to be found in the hills wandering about, climbing or writing. After studing literature and philosophy for several years, Jim stopped writing essays and started writing poetry which he finds much more rewarding.

Kevin McVeigh was born and bred between the Lakes and the Bay and has had various mostly not that interesting jobs. "I've been trying to write for 25 years and have almost reached the bottom of the page on several occasions," says Kevin, who currently works in Mental Health administration. "My non-fiction, book reviews, author profiles and criticism has been published in fanzines and journals in several countries, and my occasional writing about music has gone down well too.
"The rest of what I write is a mix of the personal and the imagined -- I sometimes say that every word is true, I just changed the order for dramatic effect."

Matt Carter is a writer, editor, poet, and occasional artist, in between selling books and
designing web pages. He quite literally wears many hats and says that in his spare time he does pretty much the same things, but doesn't try as hard. He wishes people would stop writing books about sexy vampires, because he's working on a horror novel and will need the shelf space soon...

Peter Daniel Edge studied Philosophy at Sheffield University for a year and then dropped out to become a landscape gardener. "That was quite hard work," he acknowledges, "so I became a student again, this time studying for a Horticulture degree at Myerscough College, near Preston. I completed the Foundation Degree last year and am still studying to qualify for a degree there this year as well as working as a gardener at an estate a couple of days a week, so I'm a gardener / student.
"My poetry seems to be quite nature themed and I try to make it have a fair bit of energy and passion with some political feeling as well."

Besides his solo work, Mikey Kenney fronts the band One Chip Potato and the Transcendental Watermusicians, as well as playing the fiddle for Dan Haywood. Check out his music on MySpace. "The recordings are terrible quality by today's standards, I am aware of that, but I think that, despite their hissing and clicking personality, they do succeed in getting the songs across. I was supposed to be using some decent gear in a certain basement room at One Chip HQ, but the room is currently being haunted by a ghost that enjoys messing about with the faders on the multitracker. I had to make do with an ELFtone Sunbeam dictaphone instead."

Faster than a sleeping bullet, more powerful than a ukulele, capable of drinking warm beverages in a single bound Paddy 'Wainsoct' Garrigan, who is sure to bring the night's entertainment with a bang, is a singer, musician, writer and, he freely admits, "an exceedingly amateurish cyclist". Best known for playing guitar and singing in The Pier Group and The Wierdstring Band (and for doing anything but play guitar in The Wisemen), Paddy, who describes himself as "Glad to be Grey", has contributed a myriad of instruments to ensembles such as Dan Haywood's New Hawks, Moonstone and Colonel Blimp & The Amazing Exploding Bananas, and Sonic Tradition.

• Compered by the irreverevent and quite wicked Simon Baker, the doors open at 8.30pm, admission £3/£2 (conc). If you're a performer who'd like to be considered for the Open Mic session, email organiser Ron Baker or Sarah Fiske at

Local MEP in Gaza

North West MEP Chris Davies has become the first British politician to enter the Gaza Strip since Israel began its attacks and has called for action to be taken to stop Israel’s attack on the territory.

Lancashire-born Mr Davies, who has visited Gaza three times since 2006 and is a member of the European Parliament delegation to the Palestinian legislature, was among nine European politicians to visit Gaza, which is still out of bounds to foreign journalists, even though the Israeli Supreme Court has ordered that the ban should be lifted.

“If Israeli politicians believe that the bombing and terrorising of a civilian population is going to destroy Palestinian resolve and reduce the causes of conflict then they are profoundly mistaken," Davies said in a press statement.

“The earth shook each time and the explosions frightened me, but many of the children in the shelter seemed to regard them almost as part of everyday life because they were 600 metres away.

“The big powers must act to enforce the latest UN resolution," he opined. "Words are not enough and action is now needed to end the slaughter of innocent civilians.

“Israeli civilians have the right not to live in fear of rocket attacks from Hamas, but their current offensive will not work and is killing unacceptable numbers of innocent people. Israel must stop the slaughter now and find another way to peace."

Earlier this month, Mr Davies condemned the ban on journalists from entering the Gaza strip, and feels the Israeli Government is ignoring its own law to stop the horror unfolding in Gaza from being exposed to the world.

“Israel must let the world see the truth. If the Israeli military action is as accurate as they claim, then why not allow foreign journalists access to Gaza to verify their claims? In the absence of independent observers the world has no choice but to assume that Israel has something to hide.”

He also called for the world’s leaders to get off the fence and to condemn the current military action.

“Those of us who defend utterly the right of Israel to peacefully coexist with its neighbours cannot defend the actions of the Israeli government in Gaza," he said. "It is completely unacceptable for Hamas to fire missiles into civilian populations in Israel. It is also wholly wrong that the people of Gaza live their lives under siege at the best of times and currently are living in a hail of bullets and bombs.

“If the international community cannot condemn brutal levels of civilian casualties including women and children, in a conflict shrouded in secrecy by the law-defying Israeli Government, then what hope do oppressed people across the planet have of a world that will come to their aid?”

Earlier this month, the president of the European Parliament also called for a cessation to the violence on both sides with immediate effect - as yet to no avail.

"The life of a Palestinian has the same value as the life of an Israeli," said Parliament's President Hans-Gert Pöttering as he expressed his growing concern about the conflict in Gaza.

"It was a big mistake that Hamas declared the end of the ceasefire. It has to be strongly criticised that Hamas recommenced rocket attacks on Israel but the massive Israeli reaction... is an escalation that is totally disproportionate.

"Such military actions will not lead to a lasting peace in the region," Pöttering argued. "Killing and injuring civilians in such a dimension will only strengthen Hamas and will push the people of Gaza and the Palestinians even further towards extremism."

Protests against the Israeli action have taken place in Lancaster over the past few weeks, while elsewhere in the region demonstrations have taken place in favour of Israel's attack.

Phone Mast Upgrade for The Priory?

(with thanks to Max): Lancaster City Council has received a planning application to upgrade the controversial telephone mast on the Priory on Castle Hill.

The phone mast (disguised as a flagpole) saw opposition when it was first put up a few years ago. Now they want to upgrade it.

If you want object to the application you have until the 29th January, you can do so in writing, or by going here on the Council web site. The Application Reference no. is 09/00011/FUL

Information about what kind of things you can put in your objection is at:

• More information about phone masts in Lancaster can be found here on

Sabbat at The Dukes

A new play based on the story of the Lancashire Witches is set to open at Lancaster's The Dukes this month. Sabbat, which opens on Thursday 29 January, attempts to unravel the mysteries behind one of England’s most famous legal trials and imagines the events leading up to the execution of the witches at Lancaster Castle in 1612.

This new dramatisation will be directed by one of the rising stars of British theatre, Amy Leach, who scooped a prize at the prestigious Manchester Evening News Theatre Awards last year for her production of Dr Korczak’s Example at The Royal Exchange.

The new play begin on Good Friday 1612. High on a hill in the wild and lawless area of Pendle, a secret meeting is held at Malkin Tower. By the end of the year, most of those present have been sentenced to death at Lancaster Castle - hanged for the crime of witchcraft. The Pendle Witches, as they became known, were believed to have been responsible for the murder by witchcraft of seventeen people in and around the Forest of Pendle.

The play attempts to unravel the mysteries behind one of England’s most famous trials, that of the notorious Pendle Witches. Did Alice Nutter and the others really take part in a witches’ Sabbat? Or were these Pendle folk innocent victims at a time of persecution, paranoia and superstition? Sabbat imagines the events leading up to the trial and execution of The Lancashire Witches and asks: who held the real power behind the tightly closed doors of Pendle? How many lives are destroyed by laws born out of fear?

“It’s great that we’ve managed to attract Amy to direct for us here at The Dukes," commented Joe Sumsion, Director of the venue. "Her work is energetic, original and passionate – she really is one of the most talented young directors working in Britain today. And as a ‘Lancashire lass’ it’s very fitting that her first show for us is Sabbat – a young Lancashire artist re-telling one of the most famous of Lancashire stories.”

"From an early age, I've been watching productions at The Dukes and it's a pleasure to be invited to direct for the theatre," says Amy, who is equally thrilled to be working on the show. "I'm especially excited to be directing such a fantastic new play which is inspired by the stories, the history and the weather of the county where I grew up. We've got a talented team working on the show and I look forward to telling this gripping story."

The PendleLife web site notes the arrest and trial of the so-called Pendle Witches is probably the most well-known of the witch trials that took place in the UK in the 16th and 17th Centuries. This has come about for several reasons, not least the fact that unlike many witch trials, the case of the Pendle Witches was documented very thoroughly (if not very open-mindedly!) at the time by Thomas Potts, and the transcript published as a book (The Wonderful Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster). Also, the sheer number of people involved, the surprising confessions, and the conspiracy theories that abounded make the tale a juicy one that has lived on in history. Eevn today, it's said Pendle reputedly has a sizeable pagan community, and the tale of the Pendle Witches dominates the local tourism industry.

Sabbat runs from Thursday 29 January to Saturday 21 February. More information on The Dukes web site. To book tickets, book online or call the box office on 01524 598500.
Read the authentic confessions of the Pendle Witches online

In Review: Candle Light Baroque with the Lancashire Sinfonietta

It has been a quarter of century since the CD was unleashed onto the world and what a difference it has made. No longer does the music lover need to stand up to change the record halfway through a symphony. No longer are delicate moments disrupted by crackling and hissing. No longer does one have to journey to a concert venue to enjoy Classical music, as one can stay at home and listen to concertos and sonatas at concert level over the headphones.

But now and again, it's still nice to go to a Classical concert even if it is just for the atmosphere, for they have a reverential festive atmosphere which can be highly satisfying.

I expected to visit such an event on 12th December 2008 at St. Peter’s Cathedral where the Lancashire Sinfonietta under the direction of Terence Charlston (harpsichord) performed Purcell’s Chaconne from King Arthur, Vivladi's Winter (the fourth part of Vivaldi’s cycle of concerti, known as the Four Seasons, Violin Concerto in F minor), the overture to Bach’s Suite No 1 in C major, Bach’s Concerto for Harpsichord & Strings in D major and his Concerto for Oboe, Violin & Strings in D minor and finally Händel’s Concerto Grosso in B flat major.

The evening started with Lancaster’s bishop Patrick O’Donoghue accepting a Marque of Excellence for Lancaster Cathedral presented by Malcom Stonestreet, Chair of the North West Multi-Faith Tourism Association, and Mike Wilkinson, Chief Executive of the Lancashire and Blackpool Tourist Board, for services to the arts. After the usual self-congratulatory speeches and applause, came the music.

The evening had been billed as ‘Candle Light Baroque’. What I saw were some candles in front of the altar (the performers had desk lamps lightening up their scores), a few candles in some alcoves along the walls and a not inconsiderably large amount of artificial light radiating from both the front and the back of the cathedral. It must have been a true candle light evening for those members of the audience wearing sunglasses but not for the rest of us. Now that I think about it: did the billing of the evening contravene the trade’s description act?

But what amused me most was the audience. The concert took place in the main part of the cathedral – you know, the bit where people do the whole worshipping thing – but the atmosphere was one of a crypt. Deadly silence with only polite clapping in-between. Clearly Lancaster’s ‘crème de la crème’ had come out for an event where one had to be seen… and not much else. Furthermore, I have been to concerts - such as Phillip Fawcett’s performance the previous week - where the audience has been older but far more enthusiastic. I have been to concerts at Old People’s Homes where the excitement of a little bit of chamber music could be felt in the air. I have been to wakes where the deceased showed a larger zest for life.

And the music? Charslton’s harpsichord playing during Bach’s Concerto for Harpsichord & Strings in D major was as good as anything Glenn Gould did on piano, Rachael Clegg on oboe was pretty skilful and Sarah Branchwood Spencer performance on her mid-18th Century Milanese violin was excellent - when one was able to hear it, as the fairly large string section more often then not drowned out the other instruments. Still, when the performance was excellent, which was most of the time, the sound was warm and crystal clear and…

Okay, both the strength and the weakness of the Lancashire Sinfonietta is that it is an ensemble that draws from various excellent orchestras – but the members are guest performers, so there is never time to establish a coherent assembly with its own sound. Yes, it has produced some excellent CDs but if there is no chemistry between the members at one given time there is no way this can be rectified

The evening ended with a brief encore: a well executed Händel larghetto completely taken out of context. It was also the only piece that the living dead truly applauded, as they were probably glad that the whole thing was over and they could return to their coffins.

Ever heard of the concert that sometimes sounded like a CD and sometimes like a badly mixed tape being performed in a tomb?

Regrettably, I have.

Review by Humble Sam
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