Friday, 26 June 2015

Blending Science and Art: Experimentation at The Storey Today

A unique arts event - "Constants & Variables - as Part of the Understanding The Ritual Exhibition" - takes place at The Storey today (Friday 26th June) from noon, featuring the work of Adam York Gregory and Gillian Jane Lees.

Gillian has created a pattern, cut and sewn a dress from paper. Adam has created ink using candles, gum arabic and water. Wearing the white paper dress and using a metal teaspoon, Gillian will transfer twenty full vials, across her lap, into twenty empty vials.

The task is complete once all the ink has been transferred from one set of glass vials to the other. each drop spilled represents a degree of failure, indelibly marked and recorded on the white paper.

By their very presence, the audience will be recorded as variables in this performative experiment.

Gillian Jane Lees is the co-artistic director of Proto-type and a freelance performer and collaborator. Adam York Gregory is a scientist, visual artist and film maker.

Together their practice seeks to explore the notion of 'the imagined ideal' through subjective performance, objective experimentation, documentation and observation.

• "Constants & Variables - as Part of the Understanding The Ritual Exhibition" 12 – 6.00pm, The Storey Gallery Friday 26th June 2015.

• You can see more of Gillian and Adam's work at

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Roseacre Wood shale gas application refused

Members of Lancashire County Council's Development Control Committee (DCC) have voted to refuse the application by oil and gas company Cuadrilla to explore for shale gas at Roseacre Wood by drilling, hydraulically fracking and testing the flow of gas.

The application for Roseacre Wood was recommended for refusal for the following reason:

"The proposed development would be contrary to Policy DM2 of the Joint Lancashire Minerals and Waste Local Plan – Site Allocation and Development Management Policies in that it would generate an increase in traffic, particularly HGV movements, that would result in an unacceptable impact on the rural highway network and on existing road users, particularly vulnerable road users and a reduction in overall highway safety that would be severe."

The committee approved a separate application for the same site to enable Cuadrilla to monitor its operations. The monitoring arrays are designed to monitor seismic movement and water quality. The approval is subject to conditions controlling time limits, working programme, site operations, times and hours of working, highway matters, protection of public rights of way, drainage, noise, protection of trees, ecological and archaeological protection, restoration and aftercare.

The full reports relating to the applications can be viewed on the Lancashire County Council website.

County Councillor Marcus Johnstone, cabinet member for environment, planning and cultural services, and member of the DCC, said:

"The Development Control Committee has listened very carefully to many hours of evidence both for and against the proposal, and considered the report of the council's planning officers. The decision to refuse this application has been reached by a vote of the committee, and each member of the committee has ultimately cast their vote based on the evidence they have heard and whether they think the proposal is acceptable."

The DCC will meet again on Monday 29 June at 10am to continue the hearing on Cuadrilla's application for exploratory fracking at Preston New Road. This was deferred yesterday to enable members to consider legal advice regarding the Lancashire Minerals and Waste Plan policy CS5, which deals with the sustainable production of minerals.

Frack Free Lancashire, Friends of the Earth, 38 Degrees and Greenpeace are calling for support for a "Don't Frack Lancs! Rally in Preston!" from 9am outside County Hall on Monday. You can find out more about it on their facebook event page.

Fracking decision deferred until Monday as Council hustled by corporate lawyers

Demonstrators outside County Hall today
Photo by Miles Newman

Members of Lancashire County Council's Development Control Committee have voted to defer consideration of applications relating to a site at Preston New Road, Little Plumpton, until 10am on Monday 29 June 2015.

The deferral will give councillors time to consider written legal advice requested during today's meeting.

The written legal advice will be shared with the committee at the beginning of  Thursday's meeting (10am, 25 June, 2015), which will then continue with its scheduled agenda, to consider applications to explore for shale gas at Roseacre Wood, by drilling, hydraulically fracking and testing the flow of gas, and for monitoring their operations.

The advice will then be published on the county council's website, via a link from its planning page

Crowds of protesters came by coach, train and tractor convoy to demonstrate their opposition to Cuadrilla's applications for exploratory fracking at Preston New Road and at Roseacre Wood.

Despite overwhelming regional and national opposition to fracking, the Council has been threatened publicly and privately by political and business interests. The government has made changes in legislation eroding the powers of the local authority to protect local communities from damaging developments, prioritising the interests of business over democracy or public welfare.

So, from the day that Cuadrilla set its sights on Lancashire, it was always going to be an expensive business to defend the county against a company with the government in its pocket.

As Chancellor George Osborne's leaked email made clear, it was always going to be the case that if Cuadrilla's applications were declined, Cuadrilla would appeal and the regulatory framework would be modified as necessary to allow the Secretary of State to recover and allow the applications. If this was not threat enough, it now seems that there is an implied threat that Cuadrilla may use ISDS legislation to sue the Council if it should have the temerity to do the job it was elected to do.

The council faces a difficult decision which will be costly whatever is decided. But if fracking is refused, the damage is recoverable. If it goes ahead, the damage will blight the region for generations to come.

Every generation has its predatory forces to face and its battles to fight. This is ours.

If you've ever wondered what happens when our politicians say yes to dirty energy, here's your answer:
Posted by 38 Degrees on Friday, 19 June 2015

38 Degrees campaign video:
Lancashire people talk about fracking

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Local Cinema Round-Up for the 24th June to 2nd July 2015

For up to date local cinema links and day-by-day  listings of what's showing on local screens every week visit the Virtual-Lancaster Cinema Page. Read on for the weekly round-up, and reviews.

This week sees four new films arriving at the local cinemas. We have comedy animation with the much anticipated Minions (U) and comedy drama with Queen and Country (12A). Science fiction adventure somes with Terminator Genisys (12A) and finally there is the romance/horror/Iranian cowboy A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.

Unfortunately the region has lost the horror film Insidious: Chapter 3. Also it is looking like the films Mad Max: Fury Roadand Pitch Perfect 2 may soon be coming to the end of screening. However we do see the return for just one showing of the The Water Diviner.

There are three offerings of music this week. We have Take That at the O2 (encore); the documentary Heaven Adores Youabout the singer-songwriter Elliott Smith and Amy Winehouse with AMY gala. Also, for one day only, there is a screeing of English National Opera: Carmen.

The main offering of laughter this week comes with the delightful Minions. Other comedies are EntourageMoomins on the Riviera and Pitch Perfect 2. For drama there is Jurassic WorldThe Longest RideSan Andreas and the excellent Mr. Holmes.

One film of note is Audrey Hepburn's Funny Face, being screened as part of the Journey Cafe series, helping people with memory problems.


Jurassic World
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Bryce Dallas Howard, Irrfan Khan, B.D. Wong, Chris Pratt
This is the fourth installment in the Jurassic Park series and the best of the sequels. Jurassic World is a theme park in Costa Rica that has been open for some two decades. However visitors are starting to get bored with the sight of tame dinosaurs. Hence, their lab has been using genetic techniques to create a real monster dinosaur, Indominus Rex, to rekindle interest. The park is managed by Claire Dearing (Howard) and Owen Grady (Pratt) is an animal behaviourist working with the Dinosaurs. On the day that Claire brings her two nephews to the park the Indominus Rex escapes. She must work with Owen to save her nephews and save the day. The movie has number of fine action pieces though the action gets in the way of character development. Also there is a romance element between Claire and Owen. The dialogue in not always believable, but there are jokes and the film pays homage to the original Jurassic Park. For an audience not yet jaded by dinosaur action, this is an entertaining action film.

Director: Pierre Coffin, Kyle Balda
Certificate: U
Cast Includes: Sandra Bullock, Michael Keaton, Steve Coogan, Jennifer Saunders.
The film is both a spin off and a prequel to the Despicable Me franchise. The Minions have always existed on earth and the movie begins by tracing their evolution. They have the purpose of serving the most despicable of masters though not very successfully. The race finally retired to the Antarctic where they fare badly. Hence Minions Kevin, Stuart and Bob decide to seek a new master for their race to work for. In a villain convention in Orlando they decide to serve the supervillain Scarlet Overkill (Bullock) who is planning to overthrow the Queen of England. The film, using skits and Musical numbers expands on this plot. The Minions were the best part of the Despicable Me franchise and so it is fitting that they have their own film. The movie is very entertaining, inoffensive and funny and will delight all ages. However this reviewer would have liked more minions and fewer supervillains.

Mr Holmes
Director: Bill Condon
Certificate: PC
Cast includes: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker.
Director: Bill Condon
Certificate: PC
Cast includes: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker.
A Sherlock Holmes film that is loosely based on Mitch Cullin's 2005 novel 'A slight trick of the Mind'. Holmes is aged 93 and has retired to the Devon coast where he lives with a housekeeper Mrs Munro (Linney) and her son Roger (Parker). His passion is now bee keeping. His memory is fading and Holmes suspects he is succumbing to dementia. He is unhappy with the way he has been portrayed in Watson's accounts of his famous adventures and wishes to address this by writing his own account of one of his cases. The film is much slower than the portrayal of Holmes in recent TV series and Holmes himself has a more fragile and human character. Much of the sequences in the film are flashbacks and McKellen makes a superb Sherlock Holmes. An excellent film.

Pitch Perfect 2
Director: Elizabeth Banks
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Anna Kendrick, Elizabeth Banks, Rebel Wilson, Adam DeVine, Brittany Snow
A sequel to the the 2012 movie 'Pitch Perfect' with many of the cast from the previous movie continuing with their roles. The Bellas are an a cappella singing group at Barden University who have previously won a national competition. A hilarious 'wardrobe malfunction' during a performance means the group will be disbanded unless they can redeem themselves by winning the world a cappella tournament in Holland. This requires beating their rivals, a techno group called Das Sound Machine. This is one of the better teen movies and is the highest grossing musical comedy. A worthy successor to the original film.

San Andreas
Director: Brad Payton
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Dwane Johnson, Carla Guging, Ioan Gruffudd, Alexandra Daddario, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Art Parkinson
A magnitude nine earthquake hits California, demolishing Los Angeles and San Francisco. Chief Ray Gaines (Johnson), a pilot working for the LA Fire Department, rescues his estranged wife Emma (Gugino) from a crumbling building. The the two of them fly to San Francisco to save their daughter Blake (Daddario). Blake meanwhile been rescued by an engineer Ben (Johnstone-Burt) and his brother Ollie (Art Parkinson). This is a feel good disaster movie, following the lives of a half dozen people against the backdrop of a devastating series of earthquakes. There is impressive CGI footage of levelled cities and widespread destruction. Also we have fine acting from Daddario and Johnson, the latter playing his archetypal action character with a soupcon of humour. A proficient and watchable film.

Director: Paul Feig
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Jude Law, Rose Byrne
Susan Cooper (McCarthy) is a CIA agent who works at a desk. However her partner Bradley Fine (Law) is assassinated in the field whilst another agent Richard Ford (Statham) is compromised. Despite lack of practical experience, Cooper volunteers to go underground and infiltrate the network of the arms dealer Rayna Boyanov (Byrne) in order to avenge Fine's death. In truth the plot does not really matter in this film, simply enjoy it as a tremendous send up of spy movies. McCarthy brings all her comedic talents to bear in this spoof and Statham also sends up his usual macho roles. Great performances, great comedy.

The Water Diviner
Director: Russell Crowe
Certificate: 15
Cast Includes: Russell Crowe, Isabel Lucas
Joshua Connor (Crowe) is an Australian farmer, water diviner and greiving father. He lost his three sons in the First World War Battle of Gallipoli and after a four years period he decides to travel to Turkey to locate their bodies. In doing so he comes to terms with the Turks as he finds obstacles to be overcome in getting to the battlefield. This is Crowe's first experience as a director and the result is a sombre but beautiful film, well acted and with a strong anti war message.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Review: Haffner Orchestra

Haffner Orchestra
Saturday, 20 June 2015
In the Ashton Hall, Lancaster

Reviewed by Henry Prince

Haffner Orchestra, Ashton Hall, Lancaster
One of the great joys of attending a live orchestral concert is that not only does one hear the music and feel the atmosphere, one can also ‘see’ the music. Many listeners may not be aware, for example, that the soloist’s first note of the Elgar cello concerto is accompanied. Despite hearing the work many times in radio or television broadcasts or seeing it played on DVD and on YouTube, unless one has access to the score, that fact can be easily missed because it is hidden by the visual attention normally devoted exclusively to the soloist. In fact the low strings supply the root in the opening E minor chord, the solo cello sounding the same note unaccompanied only in the second statement of the chord.

Other examples of the value of ‘seeing’ the music occurred in the opening Larghetto. The first note of the movement is an open-string G marked piano for first violins. Only a visual observer could have experienced the effort that was exerted by the section in preparing to play that first quiet sound perfectly. Another example: when the low strings at one point take a break from playing and bows go down, the listener is immediately alerted to pay closer attention to the exquisite three-part ensemble of first and second violins and violas. There were many such visual nuggets to be found in the performance.

It must be daunting to play the Elgar cello concerto. Surely there is always the risk that any deviation from the well-known Du Pré recording will be considered unacceptable. Thank you for your bravery, Megan Rolf. Your performance was wonderful. You and the orchestra seemed to inspire each other to give your best. Everything was solid: strings, wind, soloist.

The second half of the concert was given over entirely to Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony—a massive work stuffed full of contrasts and climaxes. By the time Beethoven was writing it in the early years of the 19th century, all the tools ever to be required by him or any other future composer had already been invented and were in the bag. During his lifetime, Beethoven used them all and employed quite a large number of them (maybe all) in this work alone. Key change, imitation, homophony, polyphony, fugue, theme and variation, AB form, augmentation, diminution—everything is there. The compositional device he preferred, however, was the sonata form element known as ‘development’.

Beethoven could develop any motif, however unsuitable it might seem. The Eroica is one huge swimming pool of developing themes. Trying to spot them all is hugely entertaining. Beethoven loved to pluck a passing rhythm or group of notes and blow it up like a toy balloon almost to bursting point, only to let it go and look for another to play with. Whereas the Classical composer kept the development section neatly boxed between exposition and recapitulation, Beethoven seemed to delight in seeing how much music he could wring out of as little material as possible.

Of course, the listener does not need to be aware of all the compositional games going on to enjoy the exciting sounds coming from the concert platform. But occasionally a little knowledge is needed to avoid being tricked by the composer. The programme note drew attention to the fact that critics at the first performance wrote that the horn had commenced the recapitulation section in the first movement a bar or so early. It certainly sounded that way on Saturday but we all knew that it was only Beethoven’s little joke.

The members of the orchestra clearly enjoyed the Eroica enormously, as did the house. What a pleasure to see so many smiling faces! The orchestra believed it had done well and the audience agreed.

Megan Rolf and Bob Chasey
It is always well worth the effort to arrive a little early in order to hear the customary pre-concert talk. It is then that the listener has the opportunity to be made aware of what to listen for in the performance. In my on-going quest to find a rational explanation for why this orchestra, of which I continue to be a patron, seems to have improved every time I hear it, I took a mental note of two points made, respectively, by soloist Megan Rolf and conductor Bob Chasey. The first was that the player had observed that the members of the orchestra did not cocoon themselves in their individual parts but instead looked up and engaged with the whole of the performance. The other point was that the conductor’s job was not to entertain the audience but to facilitate the performers.

Putting the two pre-concert-talk points together with the fact that, as I learned later, the orchestra had been encouraged to play without a conductor at times during rehearsals, it seems to this reviewer that the players’ potential is simply being released little by little. Under a conductor who is able to harness that collective capability, this orchestra cannot help but continue to get better and better.

H. Prince

Haffner Orchestra’s website:

Concert Programme:
Elgar: Larghetto from Serenade for Strings
Elgar: Cello Concerto
Beethoven: Symphony No.3 (Eroica)

Tickets were priced:  Adults £13.50, Concessions £12.50, 18 and under free

Next Haffner Orchestra concert: Saturday, 28 November 2015, Great Hall, Lancaster University

Monday, 22 June 2015

National demonstrations in Preston this week as Council decides fracking applications

Lancashire County councillors have been receiving messages from all over the world urging them to reject Cuadrilla's applications for fracking exploration at their meetings this week.

The New York State legislature outlawed fracking last December.  Last week, 850 of the state's current and former elected politicians have written a letter to Lancashire's councillors asking them to note the findings of a two-year study by New York State Department of Public Health. With regard to the industry's claims that it would bring jobs to the region they stated:

"We are sure that the fracking industry will promise jobs and prosperity. We urge you to treat  these claims with deep skepticism. The experience in the U.S. is that these claims are false and  vastly overstated. Meanwhile, local communities are faced with significant costs including road  and infrastructure damage, emergency response, heightened crime rates, and lingering  contamination and pollution. Additionally, fracking threatens to negatively affect existing  economic sectors. Like Lancashire, New York has strong agriculture and tourism sectors. We  believe that fracking would put these at risk.

"To safeguard the county’s economy and environment, and to protect the health of its citizens,  we urge you to say no to fracking in Lancashire."

Legal pressure
Tomorrow, Tuesday 23 June, the council will begin deciding Caudrilla's application to frak at Preston New Road, with a decision expected on Wednesday. The Council's Officers have recommended conditional approval for this application. At a previous meeting they recommended that the application be rejected, but a panel of lawyers from Cuadrilla persuaded them to defer the decision to give Cuadrilla time to amend its application.

Furthermore, the Council was reminded by a pro-fracking central government of limitations to its powers, and the possibility of these being further limited by future legislation planned to ease the way for fracking companies. (See previous news item: "Fracking battle heats up: leaked Osborne letter shows plan to force permits through"

In keeping with the legal tone of the debate, the officers' recommendation for approval comes with 48 conditions, 44 of which must be met prior to any development taking place. However, the region is overwhelmingly opposed to fracking so, although onerous, these conditions, designed to cover the council's back, don't come close to reflecting the wishes or the welfare of the region, but do serve to illustrate the very heavy levels of pressure being brought to bear on the both officers and elected councillors from a government made up of politicians with strong personal financial interests in the oil and gas industry.

Smear Campaign
Complaints have been lodged against the officers' reports' 'smear campaign' against expert witnesses. David Smythe, emeritus professor of geophysics at the University of Glasgow, submitted written evidence to the council on what he saw as the risk of fracking to water pollution in the Fylde. He also gave a 30-minute presentation at a pre-meeting of the committee last week.  The planning officers’ report said of Professor Smythe:  “Comments that the geology of Lancashire is not suitable for fracking have been provided by a professor who retired 18 years ago and is now living in France running a B&B. Evidence in the US and UK is to the contrary.“  This statement was “a calculated denigration of an expert witness”, Professor Smythe said. He said he took early retirement from the chair of Geophysics at Glasgow 16 years ago and then spent about 10 years consulting for oil companies throughout the world. (His wife, not he, runs a B&B).

Other expert witnesses have also been denigrated in a manner generally considered inappropriate for a planning report. Human rights lawyer, Damien Short, was concerned about the democratic process of previous Council meetings in which he noted that Cuadrilla always was given the opportunity to speak last, and thus their words where always the last the council heard, with no opportunity given to rebut inaccurate of misleading statements.

On Thursday 25 June the Council will consider Cuadrilla's application to frack at Roseacre Wood, with a decision expected on Friday. Officers have recommended that this application be refused.

Labour MP for Lancaster & Wyre Cat Smith has set up a petition calling on councillors to reject the applications, citing serious environmental and health concerns and warning that 'A green light for fracking could open the floodgates for applications in Lancaster and Morecambe'.

Demonstrations planned

Protesters are expected from across the UK from Tuesday to Friday with Green Party leader Natalie Bennet joining them outside County Hall on Wednesday to add her support to the anti-fracking demonstrations.

Council officers have warned of 'potential disruption', leading Green Councillor Gina Dowding to point out that this would be insignificant compared to the disruption planned by Cuadrilla 'who, if granted their applications, will disrupt the quiet lanes of rural Lancashire for years on end, threaten our clean source of water, risk polluting our air and ride rough-shod over our local communities; all for a quick buck that that will add to carbon emissions and will not solve our long term need for sustainable energy."

Lancaster contingent
Lancastrians intending to join the protesters will be travelling to Preston together on Tuesday morning on the 8.28am train from Lancaster Train Station, meeting on the platform at 8.15am.