Sunday, 24 March 2013

If love is the answer, what was the question?

Sally Bavage writes:
Peter Spafford
Peter Spafford  began this evening of words and music with a quick poem that melded the trial lines left on the ancient exhibition typewriters in the Terry family house in York which is now open to the public – yes, that family of chocoholics and no, not produced by monkeys but youngsters more used to computers with cut ‘n’ paste than cutting words.  The final line?  Love life, love chocolate.

Two songs from Peter set the words of George Borrow - a nineteenth century lyrical travel writer - to his own blues-style keyboard accompaniment (Sweet Things) and then Slow Cooker, a more jazzy homage to extracting and savouring life’s flavours at a more gentle pace.

Gloria (Jeffries) was up next with four songs accompanied by guitar.  Leeds Brig by the ‘river of Aire’ was followed by a song inspired by Shakespeare’s line ‘The iron tongue of midnight hath tolled twelve’ from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was about about searching for love.  Other lines from Titania included:

The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems' thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set.

Then as now…

The Sheffield Fox was based on the work of John Clare, the early nineteenth century poet who celebrated rural life, and then finally Song finished a delightful set that explored love of nature through the ages. Gloria varied the tone and the mood expertly, to the warm and appreciative pleasure of the audience.

Matthew Hedley-Stoppard
Poet Matthew Hedley Stoppard took a more light-hearted look at life.  Fresh from a children’s party – we all shuddered for him – and probably still OD-ing on cake, his set of witty ditties was a change of mood.  The Pyramus and Thisbe of Matlock kissed virtually through the plexiglass of a Post Office counter, pensioners long past seduction.  A first house in Leeds felt a bit like a Wendy House to young marrieds who were still settling in to the awe of being grown-ups. Back to Matlock for an ode about what goes on in the parks – and your blogista has been there and could see, from Matthew’s vivid lines, exactly what he meant.  Rioting in London was the scene for a tragedy as a widower saw his home burn down and with it the memories of his wife.  

Other poems included the finding of abandoned crutches in a local park and a new version of Ten Milk Bottles.  Matthew’s poetry is that of observation of the small things that make up life and love – and love of life.  For more of his work, go to in May when his latest collection A Family Under Glass will be published. 

Maggi Stratford
Maggi Stratford and Peter dueted four songs, all rather melancholy, mournful and melodic.  A Victorian merchant ship, the Smiling Thru, comes to grief, leaving the wreckage of the boat and the men strewn on the rocks.  Now there’s a metaphor.  L’Eclousier, by Jacques Brel, follows a canal lock-keeper’s life, fishing out the drowned along with other flotsam.  John Anderson, words by Robert Burns, made the older members of the audience smile to hear of life in love in old age, and Love Letters Straight from the Heart was the golden oldie to take us to the interval.

A quick poem from Peter introduced the second half – Not Waving – riffed on young love, then the young We Be Happy  – Alex Rushfirth on keyboard, Francesca (Frankie) Pidgeon on acoustic guitar and vocals, and accompanied this time by Joe Campbell on electric guitar - took to the stage like experienced hands.  The confidence of youth was evident in their three numbers, each with Frankie reminding me of a young Marianne Faithful with that delightfully breathy voice.  All the gentle songs were about love, for, of course, even at that age it can be painful and powerful.  They will be playing again at HEART on 29 June as part of Headingley LitFest’s first Youth Fringe.  Do catch them. You can find out more about them on Facebook (

We Be Happy
We were moving towards the mellow end of the evening: some pithy poem portraits from Peter about the important things in life for some of the elderly at a lunch club – Best Thing, This is My Life, Time, Bikes – and one that referenced the opening night of this year’s LitFest on Friday 8 March with a look at the conflicts in those of dual Irish/English nationality. Two more ballads from Gloria, three final songs from Peter and Maggi, again with a French theme and we were ready to go home.  Not quite – the final song encouraged audience participation as we sangalonga Bowie, cuecards helpful here, to his single Where Are We Now?

As long as there is sun (repeat)
As long as there is rain (repeat)
As long as there is fire (repeat)
As long as there is me
As long as there is you.

Life and love in a simple refrain.  It may have been Arctic outside, but inside the Heart Centre it was warm and mellow. Thanks to Peter Spafford and friends for making us love life.

Richard Wilcocks adds:
It was exciting to witness the birth of a new collaboration between Leeds's best known chanteuse Maggi Stratford and Peter Spafford on keyboard. Teamed up with the spirit of the brilliant Jacques Brel, they are sure to go far. Having seen Maggi with Encore!! on previous occasions at various venues (including the Howard Assembly Room), I was struck by the ease with which the two of them were able to convey pathos and charm. Bis! 

Maggi et Peter, vous avez créé en nous 
ces sentiments spéciaux, passionnés, et nous 
sommes convaincus que nous étions dans un café de France.

Photos - Richard Wilcocks

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