Jousting and flames of war help Warwick Castle ride triumphant

Review: War of the Roses Live @ Warwick Castle 

lady with smoke best

Flames were lit and lances lowered during a floor-pounding charge through one of British history’s most bloody conflicts. The pulsating War of the Roses show barely gave the all-ages crowd packing the wooden stalls at the sides of a jousting arena pause to finish off ice creams.

Invited to file into the spectator galleries supporting the House of York on one side and House of Lancaster on the other, the audience raised cheers and boos while the protagonists of the venomous feud took us back to 1455 with a stamping of hooves and clash of steel.

Charging into the intractable dispute that initially revolved around two death-locked branches of the royal family under Henry VI and his cousin Edward IV respectively, the combatants lunged into chest plate-beating performances with battlecries, jousting and swordplay aplently.

Knights on horseback galloping in with lances lowered made for one of the most enthralling stunts, the clash of wood taking place at speed and close to a roped-off spectator line.

smoke good

But there was also a dollop of blue and red pageantry as the characters dashed and swaggered from one end of the strip to the other, flags aloft on horses sporting fly rugs showing the rider’s allegiance.

Pointy visors down and in full metal armour, the knights demonstrated their martial prowess with the wooden lancing poles, piercing flames, sending splinters flying and charging down dummies as the twice-daily show unfolded over a chain mail-ripping half an hour that was all about the disputed crown.

Recreated over the length of the sandy arena around 200 metres long, all the key moments of the royal blood feud were suitably amplified, including the role of the castle’s own legend Richard Neville, a formidable powerbroker who earned the nickname Warwick the Kingmaker.

flag aloft

runners

Lady knight good

The action also took a spear-headed charge through the Richard III story, with an appearance by the princes in the tower, and had the deposed king himself shout the Shakespeare line “a horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!” in one of the crisply-acted battle sequences.

It was a storybook ending to a thrilling, palpitating spectacle that took all ages and nationalities on a relentless charge through the blood-soaked power struggle

Over the river from the jousting arena Richard III’s short and brutal reign is symbolised by his unfinished work on the Bear and Clarence Towers, among a number of places in the castle’s main grounds that form a real-life backdrop to the War of the Roses story.

Joust wotj flames

Jousting is also strongly linked to the castle, with Warwick having been granted a licence for the practice of the battlefield art in 1194. Legend has it that Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick, was the greatest exponent in English history, having never been beaten.

Heels and hooves finally came to a shuddering halt with the advent of the Tudors as flares were lit and flags raised aloft for a new dynasty, the closing chapter played out at one end of the sand-covered arena that lies under the castle’s skyloft trebuchet.

squire

It was a storybook ending to a thrilling, palpitating spectacle that took all ages and nationalities on a relentless charge through the blood-soaked power struggle.

The fate of England may no longer rest at Warwick Castle, but this account of those who fought, perished and prospered in its pursuit is more than worthy of its place under the battlements.

*Review of 12.30pm show on 13.8.18 by Yunzy

Take sides at War of the Roses Live, an action-filled family show 

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Record allotment crowd taken on enthralling march to Parliament

Mikron Theatre marked one hundred years of women’s fight for the vote with a bounding turn at St Mary’s Allotments in Leamington Spa

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Mikron brought fresh air to the story of women’s fight for the vote at St Mary’s Allotments

Sunflowers reaching for the heavens and truly bulbous pumpkins made for a bountiful entrance to this allotment patch on the fringes of town.

An audience pitching up with foldable chairs, sun hats and buggies also made this an idyll of plenty, with a record crowd of more than 250.

What followed under blue sky and fluffy white clouds was outdoor theatre at its finest. Voices projected to the very last seat many rows back in the car park-turned-auditorium, the canal-faring theatre company told the tale of women’s fight for the vote with gusto, humour and boundless energy.

Historical accuracy was here too, the story of a less-well known Pankhurst, Sylvia, reignited with spark, charm and conviction in an utterly belting performance by Daisy Ann Fletcher in the lead role.

In context, this is some of the best theatre I have seen.

The hopes, attitudes and misconceptions of 1918 were boomed forth in a merry, breathless whirl that enveloped all ages of the crowd, from those in buggies to those who pursue gardening as a way of life.

Remarkably, Mikron did this for nothing more than a whip-round.

In a way, the massing created by a core belief in a greater good was reminiscent of the hundreds that gather for the local Parkrun every Saturday in a sports field overlooking the allotment.

votes snip

With a gazebo knocking out cake, spring rolls and tea in white china, it was the most sociable occasion in memory at the allotments.

Song, dance and audience interaction helped Mikron’s multi-talented quartet –completed by James McLean, Christopher Arkeston and Rosamund Hine – kept the audience in their hands as they flitted between scenes and characters.

Above all, it was fun. As Revolting Women unfolded, Sylvia’s dedication had taken the crowd in its wake, all the way to Parliament.

A hundred years on, Mikron is telling the suffrage story in unusual and improvised spaces across the country, aided by a vintage narrowboat and van, the travelling troupe’s primary modes of conveyance.

No elitism here, just their mantra of ‘theatre anywhere, for everyone’.

Sylvia would surely have approved.

By Yunzy

Mikron, theatre anywhere, for everyone

 

Roving theatre group to mark 100 years of suffrage at allotments

 

revolting women
Mikron will follow the story of women’s suffrage through the eyes of Sylvia Pankhurst

A tale of women who took a stand for the vote will play amid the apple trees and raspberry bushes at St Mary’s Allotments in Leamington Spa.

Mikron Theatre Company, who travel by narrowboat, train and van, are returning to this idyllic corner of town for another rumbustious outdoor show.

Revolting Women follows the suffrage story through the eyes of Sylvia Pankhurst, who fought for the vote alongside other women in the East End.

Set in 1918, the story revolves around Sylvia and another campaigner called Lettie, who join forces to make their voices heard in Parliament.

Mikron combine song, dance and audience interaction in family-friendly shows that often trace the unsung heroes of British history.

The award-winning company employ their vintage narrowboat, The Tyseley, in marathon annual UK-wide tours, performing everywhere from living rooms to lifeboat stations.

Mikron producer Pete Toon said: “We’re chuffed to be coming back to the allotments with our Suffrage show, Revolting Women. It’s always such a great crowd and we can’t quite believe it’s come round again. We couldn’t do it without the support of chairman Jim Layton, and all the St Mary’s plot holders, so we’d like to send them a huge thank you.”

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Revolting Women combines political satire with song and audience interaction

Revolting Women marks the eighth year running that Mikron has visited the allotments, which are in fine fettle after enhancements part-funded by the National Lottery.

Before the show the allotments will be awarding its annual prizes for Best Gardener, Best New Gardener, Best Shed and (new this year) Worst Shed.

Mikron overcame a grounded canal boat to visit the allotments last year 

A spokesman for the allotments said: “We’re delighted to welcome Mikron back to our glorious allotments for what is now a long-standing association of high-quality, engaging outdoor theatre and a chance for visitors to see what we have to offer here.

“We’re looking to rolling out the chairs and hay bales to visitors old and young and hoping they will enjoy a cup of tea and a slice of cake on our glorious patch.

“What makes Mikron so impressive is their mantra of ‘theatre anywhere, for everyone’ and their plays at the allotment show this truly works.”

Mikron allot
Mikron told a British story of fish and chips at the allotments in 2015

Mikron, a registered charity, head from north to south each year performing at venues including pubs, cafes, living rooms, village halls, marinas and dry docks. The versatile cast of four unpack set, props, costumes, musical instruments and lights before bringing characters, stories and songs to life.

*Revolting Women takes place on Tuesday August 7 at 6.30pm in the car park at St Mary’s Allotments on Radford Road. The awards will be held from 6pm with music, refreshments and a barbecue. The show is free but a whip-round will be held afterwards.

Mikron: Theatre anywhere, for everyone

Lookback rekindles the fire in Leamington and Warwick’s musical belly

Punks, Ozzy Ozbourne and the district council all played a role in shaping a local scene that made waves much further afield. Fire in the Belly retraces the groove over five decades.

Early Varukers Bath Place
Punk disruptors The Varukers at the former Bath Place Community Centre in Leamington

The sights, sounds and packed dancefloors that put Leamington Spa and Warwick on Britain’s musical map over the course of five decades have been brought to life in a new book. Fire in the Belly pays homage to the movers and shakers who helped shape genres such as blues, rock and skiffle and three waves of punk as well as the record stores, gigs and venues. Focussing on the period between 1950 and 2000, the book weaves together many aspects of musical life in the towns which made their influences felt way beyond Warwickshire.

Musical pacesetters included rock and rollers Woody Allen and the Challengers and punk band The Shapes while Banco De Gaia, the Edgar Broughton Band and The Varukers were among the acts who established themselves in the national scene. Many of the surprising and often bizarre stories from the period are told in print for the first time, preserving a musical heritage that had been in danger of being forgotten. Co-authors Jim Layton and Keith Hancock carried out interviews and research to trace the road from Arthur Renton’s antiquarian book, gramophone and music shop opening in 1957 to just short of Nizlopi laying claim to Leamington’s first number one single in 2005 with the JCB Song.

Jim said: “The musical landscape in Leamington and Warwick over the 50 years was a place of incredible change and development, from skiffle in the youth clubs in the 1950s through to the complexities of music harnessing world sources and new digital elements in the 1990s. Our towns have punched well above their weight in music-making, with national interest coming Leamington’s way in the 1980s and 1990s. We hope to pay respect to all those involved, not only the musicians but the shops, fans and promoters, and to tell some lively stories.”

“Over the 50 years there was some massive creativity and innovation from two relatively small towns, and some villages, in the heart of Warwickshire”
Rocking Chair Blues Band
The Rocking Chair Blues Band were among local acts in the 60s

The towns played host to balls, big dances and receptions, a 24-hour ‘jiving marathon’, the council’s Pop O Tec venue, mini-festivals on the Campion Hills and sometimes raucous ‘Twang and Twist’ rock-pop concerts. The Edgar Broughton Band – one of John Peel’s favourite live acts – are a name already familiar to many blues and rock fans. But some of the more off-beat and bizarre episodes from the town’s musical tapestry are also relived, including when co-author Keith’s former band, The Jay Bee Kay Peys, managed to win over an expectant 350-strong crowd who had turned up to see the Bee Gees after a case of mis-advertising. The Leamington band, who rolled out a few covers, still hold the record  for attendance at the Pump Rooms. More rebellious and disruptive times followed with progressive rock in the 1970s, with the decade opening courtesy of a performance by Black Sabbath at the Jephson Pavillion in the Jephson Gardens.

Legend has it that Ozzy Osbourne got his vermin-biting idea when the noise and vibration from the band scared river rats who ran across the stage – some as big as a cat. Punk’s arrival also upset the genteel order of things, with names such as The Shapes being among the ‘first wave’ that arrived in the mid-1970s.

The authors go back through the doors of The Crown Hotel in Leamington’s High Street, a place of incredible importance in the evolution of blues and rock music in the town where a sense of camaraderie extended across gigs, workshops and a cricket club. Many other pubs, cafes, haunts and characters, all with their quirks, contributions and eccentricities, are explored in the book.

Reopened and supporting local music – Head records on Facebook

Keith said: “Over the 50 years there was some massive creativity and innovation from two relatively small towns, and some villages, in the heart of Warwickshire. What is striking is not only the enthusiasm and motivation of the musicians but the supportive infrastructure. There are lots of examples where music was enabled by schools and teachers, youth clubs and groups, record and music shops, parental support, musicians’ workshops, readily-available venues, local recording studios and willingness of people, especially the young, to turn out to hear new sounds. Despite digital technology and the internet, many of these elements are still around and the town still has some fire in the belly.”

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Authors Keith Hancock (l) and Jim Layton with Head’s Simon Dullenty

Fire in the Belly will be stocked at the newly-reopened Head music shop in Leamington Spa, which is keen to back the local scene. Owner Simon Dullenty, who also worked at the former Fopp store, said: “It’s important to have the connection with your local community. Leamington has an independent vibe to it and we stock music by local bands so what we plan to do is have a launch day where we have up-and-coming and established artists to play in the store. We’re always trying to support local music. I remember putting Nizlopi on in the old Fopp store 15 years ago. We sold the single before it became a hit so it’s an example of what can happen.”

Head has reopened in the Royal Priors’ lower precinct amid a resurgence of interest in vinyl and is supporting an ‘alternative sounds’ night featuring local acts including Roddy Radiation and Jackdaw with Crowbar at the Zephyr Lounge on September 29.

Alternative sounds live on as local bands share bill at Zephyr Lounge

Simon said: “The customer reaction has been fantastic, people are coming up to us and saying how happy they are that we’ve reopened. A lot of people have started to buy vinyl which has been an upward trend since Record Store Day started and it’s a reaction to the internet. This is almost the opposite of what’s happening with music on the internet and shops like these have a niche market. We’re not about to be millionaires and retire any time soon, but people are interested in buying the physical product and just browsing. It’s not a phone shop, it’s not a coffee shop, it’s something different, and people like that.”

*Fire in the Belly will be available from Head, Kenilworth Books, Warwick Books and Waterstone’s Leamington from Wednesday July 25. For orders and queries contact fireinthebelly2018@gmail.com

Revitalised rock and pop favourites to amp up camper festival

PREVIEW: Camper Calling, Ragley Hall, Warwickshire

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Feeder will bring their new rock sound to a stage in deepest Warwickshire

Feeder will deliver a road-shaking set of anthemic rock when Camper Calling returns to the neatly-clipped grounds of Ragley Hall estate. The seasoned Welsh band are among the headliners at the third instalment of the family-friendly outdoor music festival that unfurls its VW-shaped awning over the August bank holiday.

With a discography stretching back 15 years, chart-eating monsters such as Buck Rogers and Just the Way I’m Feeling will be batted out along with their reinvigorated sound. The indie-rockers’ gig beside a usually sedate Warwickshire lake will come straight off the back of their 2018 ‘Best Of’ tour in their 21st anniversary year.

“I remember sitting in a classroom at school aged 11 drawing pictures of flying V guitars and dreaming of being in a band, a band that could fill arenas and stadiums,” said lead vocalist Grant Nicholas. “The dream came true and here I am 25 years later with Feeder and still riding the rock and roll train.”

Melanie C will continue the Cool Britannia thread as she headlines on the opening Friday night. Protracted speculation over a long-mooted reunion with Baby, Posh and co has not stopped the singer-songwriter continuing to fuse pop, R & B and electro elements into her own blend.

Mel c

Sporty is promising her repertoire of solo hits – she has seven albums to choose from – plus a few surprises. Quite apart from reprising Wannabe, she is on a mission to redux her sound.

Lucy Spraggan wins hearts with tea, toast and barking dogs

“I wanted to make an album that I would listen to now,” she said of her latest long-player, Versions of Me.

“I love playing my old hits live, but like everyone else, my tastes have moved on. I’m not a leftfield artist, I never will be.

“I write pop songs, but my aim this time was to approach every aspect of them differently, to be more creative with structure and sounds”

The coral

The Coral – who also turn 21 this year – are set to have mums, dads and footwell-sized pet dogs dancing when they close the festival on the Sunday.

The bill also includes Scouting for Girls, The South, Bruce Foxton and From The Jam, Neville Staple, Craig Charles and his funk and soul club and a return for Artful Dodger, who got the party started for the younger crowd last time round.

Camper Calling’s third year takes place by the lake and stately home in the rolling grounds of the Ragley estate, with VW vans a popular but not essential mode of arrival. Camping, creative craft workshops, campfire tales, a funfair, lake activities and a children’s circus show are also there for the taking. Street food stalls return and grown-ups can seek refreshment at a craft ale and cider tent.

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Crowds bask in sun and sound as Lucy Spraggan performs at last year’s festival
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Camper Calling is back for a party beside the lake and gardens on the Ragley Estate

Events director Shelley Bond said: “We are so excited about this year’s magical main stage line-up. It’s a total honour to announce a former Spice Girls as our Friday night headliner.

“Mel C is the epitome of class. It’s great to have some girl power at the top of our bill.

“It’s also amazing to announce Brit-indie rock favourites Feeder as Saturday headliners and psych-pop legends The Coral as Sunday headliners.

“We’re trying to bring together the nation’s best-loved acts and these headliners offer a nostalgic throw back to the 90s and 00s.

“They are sure to play hit after hit as well as new and exciting tracks.”

Camper Calling takes place between Friday August 24 and Sunday August 26 at Ragley Hall, near Alcester in South Warwickshire.

Join the calling at a family-friendly music festival

The ferret rustler who remained defiant to the last

The hollow eyes and unkempt demeanour piqued Martin Kenny’s interest as he leafed through a book of habitual criminals used by Victorian police. The history writer traces the story of George Mullis, whose misdemeanours spanned two decades.

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George Mullis stares back in his police mugshot. County Records Office

The striking image of George Mullis stood out from the moment I turned the page to find his piercing gaze staring back at me from a Victorian  rogues’ gallery entitled the ‘Book of Known Criminals’.

Such low-level criminals have provided material for situational comedies for many years. One of my favourites is the opening sequence of Porridge, which resonates to the closing of a prison door along with a judge pronouncing: “Norman Stanley Fletcher you have pleaded guilty to the charges brought by this court and it is now my duty to pass sentence. You are an habitual criminal who accepts arrest as an occupational hazard and presumably accepts imprisonment in the same casual manner.”

These words could just as easily be applied to George Mullis (alias Trinder/Payne), an unsophisticated yet defiant petty criminal whose mugshot and personal details reside in the neatly-compiled book at Warwick Records Office. Simply from preliminary research, I found a long list of his crimes and appearances in courts in Banbury, Warwick, Leamington, Stratford and Alcester.

Mullis first came to the attention of the police in 1888. On October 20 of that year the 16-year-old shoemaker was charged by Banbury magistrates with stealing a post office account book from his grandmother’s house at Balscote. The teenager received a three-week sentence with hard labour, the start of a life of offending with frequent short spells of detention.

More than a decade later Mullis, now listed as a labourer, was brought before the courts for trespass in pursuit of game and stealing chickens and rabbits. The offences landed him with a cumulative three-month prison sentence with hard labour. After sentencing, Mullis replied, “Thankyou sir.”

However it would be the petty criminal’s theft of a ferrets and a gun at Haselor near Alcester that would earn him a place in the archives. His use of the alias Trinder, listed on his charge sheet, was of little use as an accomplice gave evidence against him. On November 29, 1901 the Stratford Herald reported that the case had been committed for trial on the strength of his partner in crime’s testimony.  At the hearing in January the following year, Mullis expressed his displeasure at his accomplice and being sentenced for a gun he apparently didn’t want to steal. “The man has no right to leave a gun in an open barn like that,” Mullis protested.

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Rap sheet: Some of George Mullis’s crimes. County Records Office

Following his release six months later Mullis was soon behind bars again, having once more been collared for taking ferrets and rabbits. In October 1906 the Banbury Advertiser reported yet another case involving a ferret where the indignant thief demanded the return of his ill-gotten gains. Unable to resist a humorous spin, the newspaper reports that “the police could not detain the ferret”.

History dating back to the 12th Century can be unearthed at the County Records Office 

Mullis also appeared in the press several times for obscene language, including one occasion when police officers heard the offending words as they walked past his house in Compton Street, Warwick.

At court, Mullis used the defence that he was talking to his dog.

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Mullis’s particulars recorded in fountain pen. County Records Office

Mullis’s hapless life of petty crime would come to an end in November 1938 when he fractured his femur after falling down the stairs at his house. On February 25 the following year his death was reported after a 17-week stay at Warwick Hospital. Mullis’s wife would give evidence at the subsequent inquest that the stairs were unsafe at their former home. I often find it interesting to trace the story behind an old photograph and the eventful life of George Mullis gives an insight into crime and punishment in Victorian and Edwardian Warwickshire.

A most respectable arsonist; how Emma Jeffcoat let the maid take the blame 

Mother’s Day goes vegan at poetry-inspiring wrap stop

REVIEW: Eggelicious (E2), 3 Wood Street, Swindon, SN1 4AN

Rating: ★★★★★

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Mother’s Day special. The vegan Poppadom Crunch was added to the menu ahead of the day

Morning prep is underway as I arrive at Swindon’s favourite toasted wrap joint, with ingredients red, green and yellow being gently sliced and heated behind the counter.

Pulling up a stool at the slender counter, I have a front-row view of the open kitchen where owner Ash has full pans of spinach and lamb on the hob. The Asian influence is much in evidence with coriander, dill and ginger among the herbs and spices I can discern.

Eggelicious has the mantra ‘slow food fast’, and it’s this careful prep work that gives the toasted bundles the wholesome pep that have put the name on the map.

E2, so-called because it was the second outlet in the stable, even has its own laminated ode floating around the counter. Written by a loyal customer, the homage praises the pan-Asian food and owners to the hilt. With no shortage of fans, it’s fair to say the independent, family-run business has reached something approaching cult eating status within the borders of Swindon. A street food feel is combined with Ash’s solid knowledge of food science, a combination that appeals to the gym bunnies, workers on the go and footballers who flock through the doors.

Starting life in the former Tented Market, which has since been mothballed awaiting development, the wrap stop expanded to E2 in the heart of the borough’s Old Town and most recently to The Crossing, a food court in the Brunel shopping centre.

The two existing branches stay true to the open kitchen approach, the orders being made from basic ingredients under the customers’ eyes. Innovation has played a part, too. A few days before Mother’s Day, Ash has added two themed wraps, one being a meat option comprising chicken in saffron, orange and tarragon spices.

It’s a tempting-sounding fusion but also an insight into what makes Eggelicious tick.

The former food chemist chose saffron because of its use throughout Europe and the Middle East and to recognise the formative cooking influences of his mother.

Eggelicious- slow food fast 

Keeping an eye on the hob and a couple of brews he readies on the counter, Ash tells me how egg coriander on roti used to be her equivalent of beans on toast.

Unhurried the prep work may be, it only takes minutes to conjure up the Mother’s Day vegan option, the intriguingly-titled Poppadum Crunch.

I take up the option of a light sprinkle of chili over the spinach, potato and crushed poppadom.

Chef Texanita Dias with the wrap
Chef Texanita Dias with the vegan wrap made created by the food stop in Swindon’s Old Town

Based on Ash’s home meals, it’s a barnstorming fusion of perfectly-judged flavours and textures. The soft vegetables and spices complement and enhance each other in the tightly-packed and filling square gracing the counter. Season-round wraps that jump from the menu include a chicken, pea and halloumi affair and my ‘usual’, which combines most or all of spinach, paneer, potato and chickpeas.

Specials chalked up on a blackboard include the Thai lemon, lime and pepper marinated chicken. Customers can also build their own wraps, with fillings such as eggs, masala chickpeas, halloumi, sweet potato mix and chorizo added to meat or fish or combining on their own to make a vegan or vegetarian bundle. Tapas and plated specials give another dimension to the menu.

Vegetarian and vegan options are available in spades and it’s worth noting that Eggelicious was way ahead of the current curve for meat and animal product-free dining. Just ask the former Tented Market crowd.

With its warmly embracing spice, soft crunch and tender potatoes, my wrap is a surprisingly slow eat that leaves me feeling nourished. In fact, I take half back to the office with me for later consumption. It’s another reason why I will remain a regular at what is, for my money, the most vege-licious counter in town.

By Yunzy