Thursday, January 24, 2013

Heaven in a Nightclub ... the spiritual roots of jazz in the Waterside Theatre (Fri 1 Feb)

As part of the City of Culture 2013, there’s an evening of jazz up in Derry’s Waterside Theatre on Friday 1 February at 8pm.

Three artists – Bill Edgar, Ruth Naomi Floyd and Randy Pendleton – will perform examples of ragtime, blues, spirituals, funeral bands and much, much more. The Heaven in a Nightclub jazz concert will be interspersed with historical information about the spiritual roots of jazz. So you’ll go home with your foot tapping and your brain enriched!
Dr Bill Edgar is a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia. His approach is that “jazz ought to entertain” but its background is deeply rooted in the history and social and spiritual experiences of African-American people who were reared in slavery yet nurtured on the Gospel message in every aspect of life.
Heaven in a Nightclub is organised by Contemporary Christianity and the Presbytery of Derry and Donegal. Tickets (adult £8, concession £5) are available from the Waterside Theatre box office, or in bulk from Billy McIlwaine (028 7134 6718 or billymcilwaine AT hotmail DOT com).

Sunday, January 13, 2013

One Rogue Reporter - putting "meat and two veg" on the menu at Out to Lunch

Part comedy, part rant and part personal redemption crusade, Rich Peppiatt’s one man show One Rogue Reporter hit the stage at the Out to Lunch Arts Festival on Friday.

The ex-journalist was open about his less than illustrious career as a journalist at the Daily Star (which included including being sent out dressed in a burqa); a career that ended with a very public resignation letter. Whether looking for salvation or revenge, creating the show gave the newspaper industry a taste of its own medicine in parallel with the Leveson Inquiry.

The show’s title was taken from the phrase News International used to dismiss – or explain – the initial phone hacking allegations, though it also describes the ex-reporter’s career change from newsroom to the stage.

Peppiatt’s routine is peppered with montages of clips from Leveson, videos showing that newspaper editors don’t appreciate being door stepped, and dissection of the Daily Mail website (“where ‘public’ has no ‘L’”). [Rich – if you’re reading, note that as well as being a terrible story, the online Mail story you illustrate also has a missing apostrophe, a crime against grammar!]

In amongst the misdemeanours and doubtful practices, Peppiatt did find room in his 70 minute routine to praise some stories and campaigns from the newspapers he targeted.

Two sections of the performance stand out as particularly shocking. One confronts an ex-editor with his own private, saucy text messages to a woman who wasn’t his wife. The fact that the ex-editor agrees that such correspondence from other people could be made public makes his squirming all the more visible.

On the International Forum for Responsible Media blog, Athalie Matthews describes the second instance better than I can:

On the recurring theme of spherical objects, the show ends unforgettably with close-up hidden camera footage of [News of the World chief reporter Neville] Thurlbeck’s naked nether regions as he receives a full body massage at the naturist Dorset guesthouse he stayed at ‘in the call of duty’ – but evidently enjoyed somewhat beyond it. Don’t eat beforehand as Thurlbeck’s meat and two veg are not a pretty sight – unless of course you are the guesthouse’s owners Sue and Bob Firth who secretly filmed him in the event that scores should ever need to be settled. If ever Thurlbeck rued one of his own headlines it will now forever be: “The Guesthouse where All Rooms Come with Ensuite Pervert”. And if anyone doubted the rumours that he seriously enjoyed his stay – or missed the internet footage – this one’s for you. Mrs Thurlbeck, please stay away.

For a Belfast lunchtime audience, I was surprised how few people turned their heads at this point!

Apparently I have to take some personal responsibility for this tasteless image being shared with a hundred or more lunchtime festival goers as I suggested that CQAF’s Sean Kelly check out the show during its Edinburgh Fringe run. Who thought I’d help bring pornography (even if devoid of eroticism) to Belfast?

By reaching down to the level of the gutter, the show succeeds in its mission to highlight examples of the poor standards of journalism and lack of editorial leadership in national newspapers. Maybe it was the lunchtime audience – always a downer for comedy – that meant some of the material ended up falling in-between being funny and being preachy.

While some changes have been made to the show to reflect the publication of the Leveson report and various legal proceedings, I wonder whether in the months ahead the show will need further updates to reflect how newspapers are adapting (or not) to tighter regulation?

If you want to explore the messed up world of tabloid journalism, check out Rich Peppiatt’s show as One Rogue Reporter tours the UK.

The Out to Lunch Arts Festival has reached its half way point - check out the programme for lots of great shows still to come.

Update - Andrew Johnston has posted a review for Culture Northern Ireland.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs // Joe Lindsay tells the story behind the dream #otl13 #agonyecstasy

In a welcome return to lunchtime drama, the Out to Lunch Arts Festival – in conjunction with Skewiff Theatre Company – delighted today’s packed venue with The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.

It’s not the first time Joe Lindsay has taken to the stage and put on an American accent. Back in 2009 Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival he played the role of radio shock jock Barry Champlain in Talk Radio.

In today’s one man show, Joe Lindsay stepped into the shoes of monologist Mike Daisey to tell us about the rise and fall and rise of Apple, its clay-footed boss, and the reality behind the assembly of the shiny electronic goods that dominate pockets and desks across the western world. The script was based on version 2.0 [PDF] of Mike Daisey’s original script – ie, the version with the made up bits removed – and was superbly abridged by Vittoria Cafolla.
“… to be in love with Apple is a little bit to be in love with heartbreak itself, because they break your heart, again and again ... because Steve Jobs was the master of the forced upgrade.”
Later he quipped:
“Steve Jobs was always the enemy of nostalgia. He understood that the future requires sacrifice. Steve Jobs was never afraid to knife the baby.”
The audience laughed knowingly as they remembered favourite features, functions and even products that changed (and sometimes disappeared) in the name of fruity progress.

For the next hour, Joe Lindsay flitted between the nature of geekishness, the differences between Steve Jobs and the much caricatured Steve Wozniak, boardroom tussles at the electronics giant, conditions in the Foxconn’s Chinese factory and its over-efficient manual build process that assembles Apple’s beautiful products.
“Shenzhen looks like Blade Runner threw up on itself.”
One thread of the narrative hears how Mike Daisey went to China to try to meet Foxconn workers and find out first hand about their lives. Workers who had “fought their way out of villages to make a better life for themselves in the city” found themselves employed on production lines for 12 to 18 hours a day assembling Apple’s beautiful products before bedding down in company dorms. Yet nets had to be erected to catch jumpers wanting to kill themselves by suicide.

Joe Lindsay is tall and gangily, and throughout the performance was dressed in a white shirt and black jeans. Yet even when seated he had presence on the sparse Black Box stage. His hand gestures and way he held his arms was very Jobs-esque. While the sweary tale was told from the perspective of Mike Daisey, each character mentioned had been given their own individual visual personality and auditory palette.

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs is a play that challenges its audience about the impact of the technology they hold so dear. The play highlights how the flawed personality and incredible drive of Jobs created a company that was commercially successfully, yet required thousands of far away labourers to pay a heavy price for consumers’ shiny wares.

The play finished with the lines:
“Today we are jailbreakers. Today we are free. Help spread the virus.”
The play isn’t without hope. Apple have finally started to pay more attention to conditions in their factories. Their market presence and strength means that they can impose (improved) changes to working conditions on their suppliers. And their power may even extend to improve conditions in the manufacturing industry in general: bringing a little more humanity to the lives of hundreds of thousands of other workers on other company’s production lines.

Apple’s recent moves to bring some product manufacturing and assembly back to North America may also change their worldwide business practices as workers will be able to speak out much more readily and be closer to consumers, bloggers and journalists.

But next time you reach into your pocket to lift your phone, boot up your slim line laptop, or use a scroll wheel to change the song on your MP3 player, spare a thought for the human sacrifice behind the device your touching.

A testing piece of theatre, expertly performed to a packed audience.

Monday, January 07, 2013

The First Shades of God (Jamie Bryson): unremarkable theology, but an insight into the mind of the protest-organiser

Jamie Bryson has come to prominence recently as one of the leaders of the flag protests across Northern Ireland. As Chris Donnelly pointed out in his recent post on Slugger O'Toole (and was echoed later in the Belfast Telegraph), Jamie Bryson is a well known loyalist in North Down where he unsuccessfully stood at the council elections under the banner of the new party Community Partnership Northern Ireland Vice chair of the North Down Somme Association, he was not welcome to take part in the November 2009 Royal British Legion-organised Remembrance Day service. He speaks and writes about becoming a Christian under the influence of fellow protest organiser Pastor Mark Gordon.

Figures released last week showed that one book in every twenty sold in the UK in 2012 was from the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. Or as one person suggested to me on Twitter: “slightly less depressing if you say that 19 out of every 20 books bought wasn’t the Fifty Shades trilogy”!

While there’s a fine tradition of leaving the names of films and songs into sermon titles, most clerics would hesitate to allude to exotic fiction in the first of a planned series of books. But not Jamie Bryson. Perhaps his introductory words to The First Shades of God give us a clue about what he hoped to accomplish:
When I began to write this series of shades I wanted to acheive [sic] one thing only, to provoke debate and discussion. I hoped this would then lead onto the mainstream thinking of many of todays [sic] Christians being challenged by new radical ideas which literally turns it all upside down. Things need to be turned upside down, we live in a world and pacfically [sic] here in a Country where evil is potrayed [sic] as good and good potrayed [sic] as evil.
The short book is basically a series of short homilies and starts by answering the question of why young people aren’t attracted to church? “Victorian hymns in victorian formats from hymn books that quite frankly were lucky to survive the war” are partly to blame, along with “thou’s and how’s [sic]”.

I disagree somewhat with one of Bryson’s conclusions that “young people … do no [sic] want rules and regulations”. An element of discipline and respect is often appreciated by folk of all ages. Ask any teacher. Or perhaps ask any organiser of a Protestant marching band rehearsal: I bet rules are a necessary part of keeping practice night from careering into mayhem.

The Psalmist’s pleas for innocence are examined; the difference between faith and feeling is explored; the image of Jesus in Revelation; the sense in searching for love in church; finding Jesus in boredom; changing the world; and lots, lots more. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is mentioned a few times and Batman is in there too with the quote “it’s always darkest before the dawn”!

I found it impossible to read Jamie Bryson’s book – written in summer 2012 – without thinking about the flag protests. How did Bryson’s words shine a light on his involvement in the organisation of the protests, the protesters’ demeanour, and the demands of the Ulster People’s Forum.

In a long but ultimately weak chapter examining the “the use of force”, Bryson writes:
One of the most important revelations I have had is that no one is totally right but yet no one is totally wrong.
He’s referring to differing brands of Christianity, and it doesn’t seem to apply to politics! Soon afterwards he adds:
I don’t however feel God wants or expects us to be ‘sheep’ within our own culture. I have a strong feeling that many followers of Jesus are looking for human leadership, and this has it’s [sic] place, but not when it replaces the leadership of Jesus. ‘follow me’ says Jesus.

I have no doubt that leaders are needed in this world and indeed God ordains many for this role, the problem issue I have is that the ‘followers’ can become so dependent on their earthly leaders that they fail to look beyond them to the real leader, Jesus. Many look to the front of the Church and if the Pastor told them to burn their bibles they would shout with hands high and hearts abandoned ‘praise the lord’ and strike their match. Human leadership should supplement your relationship with God, not replace it or overtake it.

Humans get things wrong, and if people follow blindly it usually leads to disaster.
Surely this can apply to political leaders as well as religious ones? In the same chapter Bryson explains his feelings about a “feared grey area”.
I as a follower of Jesus believe a man has the right to take up arms to defend himself and his country … Murder. Killing.

… And to be clear I also support groups that act outside of the Government to protect their people. If the Government is incapable of protecting peoples [sic] lives, then others must assume responsibility …

It is easy for people to sit around and in the midst of enjoying their freedom forget that murder had to take place to allow them this freedom.
Given the context in which people like me are now reading Bryson’s book, he could easily be badly misunderstood and misconstrued. The kind of force he’s talking about seems to be that of one country against another: he uses the example of Hitler marching towards Britain.

The chapter concludes with an admission from the author that he had “deliberately not quoted directly from scripture” because “scriptures can be found to justify or condemn almost anything”; he wanted to “encourage soul searching” not just to “justify your pre conceptions”.

The chapter on spiritual warfare finishes with the thought:
The challenge as Christians is to realise that when humans may say things that are hurtful or attack us, this may be a spiritual attack from Satan. Do not cast down the person but instead look beyond them to the root cause and realise these attacks come from the evil one.
Deconstructing the popular hymn Amazing Grace, Bryson advises his readers to “ask God to open your spiritual eyes, to give you the wisdom to see things not through the eyes of the world but through Gods [sic] eyes which he puts not in your head, but in your heart via his Holy Spirit”.

God’s banner and the security that Christians are supposed to find when nothing can separate then from the love of God – not even separation from a flag – never seems to be how the protest organisers see the situation in which they find themselves.

Another chapter and another song, this time Everybody Hurts by REM. Bryson looks at sorrow and heartache:
Once you have been rejected once it is easy to become a prisoner within yourself living in the fear of rejection – this fear follows the heartache. Jesus Christ suffered the ultimate rejection, he was nailed to a cross and rejected by his own children in his own home. What did Jesus do? Cried out ‘forgive them father, for they know now what they do’ I would contend that ‘greater love hath no man than this’.
Bryson finishes the chapter with a poem. I’m just quoting the last few stanzas:
So wen your [sic] rejected, heartbroken or sore
Remember that Jesus went through it before
His grace is sufficient for every trial
So face all that heartache and face it with a smile
Soon Jesus will wipe every tear from your eye,
No more will you have heartache and no more will you cry.
In the end Bryson’s book failed to live up to its promise to challenge this reader with “new radical ideas”. Instead it fell flat with a series of unremarkable and haphazard observations that were theologically light and didn’t merit the book’s risqué title. A further disappointment was the complete disconnect with some of the conclusions and my perceptions of the author’s brand of civil leadership.

The other failure was the lack of editing that meant the book was quite difficult to read: dodgy spellings, the general lack of apostrophes and inconsistent capitalisation was very distracting and hugely detracted from Bryson’s message. If there are any more of these books, he needs to get a friend to proof read them.

The short book – takes about an hour to read – is available on the Kindle. If you’re an Amazon Prime customer, you also have the option to borrow it for free through the Kindle Store on a Kindle device (but not on a table or Mac/PC).

Cross-posted from Slugger O'Toole

Argos say they're no longer taking paper vouchers

I'm not sure why Casio put such good batteries in their 'cheap' digital watches, since the plastic straps break every 12-18 months, while the watch face carries on telling the time for many years beyond that. It's difficult to find replacement straps for some of the models, with a new watch costing less than sourcing the strap and the + time-to-locate.

So I popped into Argos this morning to pick up another watch of the same design I've been wearing for the last 10 years or more. I've been carrying a paper Argos voucher in my wallet for a while, so this seemed like a good opportunity to use it.
"Haven't seen one of those for a very long time ..."
One call to the store support line later, and the news was that Argos stopped taking these vouchers a couple of years ago. However the paper voucher has no expiry date mentioned in the text on the back - and I didn't ever notice signs up in Argos to warn customers that the vouchers were being withdrawn (M&S had quite a publicity campaign when they withdrew their paper vouchers).

In the end, the Rosses Court staff were great and applied a discount to the value of the voucher.

I suspect that since vouchers aren't actual currency, stores are quite within their legal rights to refuse to take them at any time. However, from a customer service perspective, I was glad that Argos honoured the voucher.

But if you've any paper Argos vouchers in your drawers or wallets, best get them out and spend them as quickly as possible. And that probably holds true for other antique specimens from other retailers.

Update - Michael suggests:

In the law of contract, a paper voucher is an offer which you can choose to accept. Offer + acceptance + consideration (in this case the watch) = binding contract. If there is no date on which the offer expires it is basically on the table forever. Unless the Terms and Conditions state otherwise.