Saturday, 19 March 2016

A Manxman in Leeds

Richard Wilcocks writes:
Doug Sandle
It was just right for a pleasant Sunday afternoon - homely, intimate and indulgently nostalgic. We were invited to share the thoughts and memories of Doug Sandle, who was, of course, brought up on the Isle of Man even though, in his words, he "doesn't share the genes" because his parents were "come-overs" during the Second World War. Fortunately, he did not dwell on the genetic side of things. His mother had no idea where the place was when his father first invited her to join him there, and looked for it in the South China Sea. With the aid of slides on a Powerpoint, Doug soon filled us in with plenty of facts and figures: it is in the Irish Sea, one third the size of Hertfordshire, had a population of 84,000 last year, is not part of the UK (so will people there be voting in the coming Referendum?) and has the oldest parliament in the world, called Tynwald. So far, so tourist board. It is old-fashioned in many ways, its legislation lagging behind the mainland's sometimes in terms of progressive thinking, but it has had comprehensive secondary education since 1946 and it gave women the vote in 1919. The film industry has used it for location work (it was used for Letter to Brezhnev and Alfred Hitchcock's last silent movie, entitled The Manxman) and it has plenty of heather-clad hills, craggy cliffs and beautiful beaches, which turned it into a popular holiday resort in Edwardian times. In the popular English mind (if there is such a thing) it is well-known for its three-legged swastika badge, kippers, tail-less cats and motorcycle racing. So far, so tourist board.

Maria Sandle
Doug then made a series of quite surprising connections, not just by telling us well-I-never facts (how many people know that the Bee Gees were born and brought up on the Isle of Man?) but by making connections specific to Leeds. He did this on a personal, autobiographical level with anecdotes about when he first arrived in the city, for example when he bought a pint in the dour and unfriendly Three Legs pub on the Headrow, eagerly anticipating that it would be full of warm-hearted compatriots, and by reading his own poetry, some of it dating back a long time, like the lively descriptive poem he wrote about the journey from Liverpool, where the ship docked, to Leeds by train. He read from prose that he has written too - for example the account of when in his early years he played the drums in a group and found himself sitting at the kit of the drummer of the Ivy Benson All Girl Band. He is very fond of the memory of Ivy Benson, who was born in Holbeck, Leeds. She played during the summer season on the IOM during the 1950s, where Doug and his pals at school knew the group as "Ivy Bunsen and the Bunsen Burners". 

The Retrolettes
Perhaps the most surprising link between the island and the city was the poet Eliza Craven Green, who was born in 1803, and lived for a time in Meanwood Road. She spent some time as a thespian on the IOM before leaving to live in Manchester and then eventually back to Leeds - she is buried in St Mark's graveyard. She wrote the words for the IOM's unofficial national anthem - Ellan Vannin - in 1854. This was amongst the songs about the island sung by Maria Sandle. We later heard the Bee Gees version, which is on their last album.

Maria, along with the two charming Retrolettes (Teresa and John) produced some new songs about the IOM which I had not heard before, some with a music hall flavour which must have been aimed at holidaymakers a century ago. People can easily get entranced by the Isle of Man, sometimes literally, as Ray Brown's worrying tale about bad luck following his venture into an ancient burial site showed. Respectful visitors should be nice to the fairies, especially when crossing a certain bridge. They are a superstitious lot back there, says Doug. Do they also believe in homeopathy? He is entranced by the place where he was brought up, and his entrancement was catching. It was a fascinating afternoon.

Opening of Ellan Vannin


Ming Wei Chong writes:
This splendid performance resonates with me - being a University of Leeds graduate and having come from another country. The links between Leeds and the Isle of Man, history, personal experiences - beautifully encapsulated in the poetry, music, story and song. Very insightful and entertaining, Doug illustrates his strong sense of cultural and national identity as well as his encounters as 'A Manxman in Leeds'. 

The attraction of the Island for writers and painters were exemplified throughout. Doug reinforced the Island as a superb holiday destination, whilst reminding us to say 'good morning/ afternoon little ones' when we visit the Fairy Bridge in the south of the Island!

Audience comments
Excellent talk and slides also music from Maria Sandle and The Retrolettes.

A very enjoyable afternoon.

A personal pleasurable indulgence. Brilliant prose and music and entertainment. Surprising facts and a real bonus of a show!

Brilliant - a great mix of history, story and song and very entertaining.

Very interesting and felt privileged to be part of this event. Though Irish and an admirer of the Isle of Man I will definitely be visiting soon - much more informed now. Thank you.

An entertaining and moving afternoon with Doug and friends. Music, memories and 'spooky stories'. Thank you.

Excellent talk and songs - especially as I have strong Manx connections.

Brought a tear to my eye.

Fascinating historical and geographical information and coincident - beautifully helped by lovely apt songs.

Very enjoyable afternoon. Learnt a lot about the Isle of Man - and songs complemented the performance.

This is a fine cosy venue. The performance was very warm and entertaining.

A very nice afternoon with Doug Sandle giving us some information from him having grown up on the Isle of Man. I also enjoyed the singing from his wife Maria and The Retrolettes. I did think though that the venue was a bit packed out.

Informative, entertaining and quirky!

Very enjoyable mix of music and memories

Excellent entertainment.

Good event especially The Retrollettes who are simply Divine - but seriously - very entertaining a bit chaotic but nice and informal.

Delightfully disorganised event. Interesting and entertaining collection of memories and poems. Loved Doug's poems - not so sure about the music.

Interesting and informative

Lovely

Interesting (illegible) mix

Good - the singers; the tea and biscuits. Entertaining. Not so good - The speaker didn't appear to have rehearsed his talk and tripped over his words. The projector was badly sited so someone's head was in the way of the beam. The lights needed to be dimmed when screening slides. a centre isle is needed so people can move about. The singers were not introduced properly so that we knew who they were and their connections. Small children should not be admitted as they are disruptive. The ticket showed the wrong address for the venue. Venue too small.  

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