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Connecting art, music, drama, poetry and life coaching

Often at the Literary Festival you hear of books, songs and ideas which may have crossed your own mind and life at some point. But what is amazing is the way in which these have played a part in other people’s lives as well.

My 2018 Literary Festival journey began with the mention of two books ‘Watership Down’ and ‘The Hobbit’ which gave inspiration to Gibraltarian Michelle Attias. Hers was one of the first events. Life Coach Michelle found her way back home talking about how she had recently revisited these books and was inspired to write her own ‘Look Inside: Stop Seeking Start Living’.

Michelle Attias

As a child it was her siblings who encouraged her to read them and as an adult she found her aim was to create a book like “Watership Down” on personal development but it was “The Hobbit” which inspired her to tell her story.

“My brother (Levi Attias) tried to wake me up to the magic of it,” she told her audience.

It was after her life had been shattered, her marriage ended, and left without a home with her girls, that on a visit to Morocco at the top of the Atlas Mountains in “peace and silence” her inner voice spoke to her - “we must all listen to our inner voice,” she stressed.

“I was called to action and adventure.”

Her writing career soon kicked off and today her articles are read by people around the world helping them to face their battles in their own lives. Highlighting the importance of taking one step at a time, she says: “sometimes you can't see the long journey but we need to stay on our destination.”

After a series of questions from the audience Michelle said: “we miss the present moment which is where it's at”. She was adamant that it is by putting aside the past and the future and living for today that one can access what is inside “if we only listen and connect with our inner self”.

A very different story was that of Picasso’s Guernica. I thought I knew about this work but how wrong I was because I was totally unaware about the journey it had taken starting in Paris (moving to UK and America) before it arrived in Madrid. Yes, I knew the work had been born in Paris but its time in UK was unknown to me. James Attlee brought great detail to his talk at The Convent, and how great to see young students from Westside in the audience.

James Attlee signs books

Having worked for 10 years at the Tate Modern when offered the chance Attlee took up the challenge of writing a book on Guernica “Guernica... painting the end of the world” even though at the time he had not seen the painting itself.

Picasso was not a political artist, he said, but events in Spain changed this for him. Picasso was the director of the Prado in exile. In fact he had been living in Paris since 1934 but kept in touch with what was happening.

Did you know Picasso had never been to Guernica?

The work was as a result of a commission to create a work for the Spanish Republican Pavilion at the Paris World Fair in 1937 when the news arrived of the bombing of the Basque town.

Over the years the painting - its image has been used for many conflicts and Atlee argued its message is just as relevant today.

Conductor Sir Roger Norrington was very clear on his ideas of how classical music should be played. At speed and as it was written.

Sir Rpger Norrington at the Garrison Library

Speaking to former BBC journalist Nick Higham he reflected on bringing the pioneers of early music to new audiences with the great orchestra’s right across the world.

“They never played vibrato. It was not written down at the time,” he stated.

Best known for historically informed performances he spoke of “knowing what the instruments tell us about how they should be played” and how he had always wanted to know about “their tradition and what they wanted”.

Slow does not work, he insisted. It is all in the speed.

I had read somewhere that as a conductor he was dignified, serious and revered but that he was also a lot of fun. And he certainly proved this at the Garrison Library.

On the violin “real feeling is in the bow and not in the vibrato,” he stated.

Sir Roger believes all music is written to de danced.

“Baroque is dance music. Our impression of 17th century music is coloured by what was created in the 20th century.”

“I do music because I love it. I approach it from an intuitive point of view and with real feeling for the music. The constant conversation in the music is what makes it.... everybody danced then... dance was the television of the 18th century and they wanted to make the music speak and make them feel.”

Journalist and Sky News presenter Stephen Dixon is a friend of Gibraltar.

Stephen Dixon and James Neish

Interviewed by James Neish at the Garrison Library he brought a different Stephen to the room – or at least – the Stephen not seen on television, although he admitted that more and more he was closer to his real self on the small screen. Stephen has had a long and interesting career in broadcasting starting on radio until reaching the Sunrise breakfast show on Sky News.

With a long list of people interviewed over the past decades from all walks of life it is former American president Obama he would one day like to interview.

His book on poetry ‘Love is the Beauty of the Soul' is a personal journey and an eye opener giving an insight into the man behind the microphone.

His poems are up close and personal. They tell of the man – his loyalty, the importance of family and friends and of choosing the right path.

Stephen has a calming effect on those around him. You can tell he likes people – and as a journalist valuing other peoples stories and wanting to tell them.

You want to be his friend, not surprising when what matters most to him is in “what you are after work and how you are as a human being”.

At 95 Nicholas Parsons is a consummate professional. He is both an accomplished and skilful broadcaster and entertainer. Not knowing much about Edward Lear I was not sure what to expect.

Nicholas Parsons

Well after an hour I not only wanted to know more about Lear but I would have sat for another hour listening to Mr Parsons. His delivery was impeccable.

For a man his age performing for an hour presenting Lear’s amazing fantasy world through narrative, poetry and prose – without a script or scrap of paper – was quite simply astonishing. The performance was based on his one man show on Lear, who is best remembered for his nonsense verse including The Owl and the Pussycat, The Jumblies and The Pobble and The Dong with a Luminous Nose.

Of course Mr Parsons is a champion of the festival and champions the festival wherever he goes, and I have no doubt he will return for another year. I look forward to it.

Dame Felicity Lott is an opera singer you should listen to. She is well known for her powerful and wonderful interpretations and varied repertoire especially in the French language. The fact is she will not sing in a language she does not know.

Dame Felicty Lott and Nick Higham

She has had a distinguished operatic career. Not surprisingly much of her singing has taken her to France and she has performed in the world’s most prestigious opera houses.

Her journey into the world of opera as she explained to Nick Higham was as a result of arriving in France to further her French degree.

Wanting to fill up her spare time she found a French music teacher who would become her biggest influence believing she could become a singer. Well, the rest is history. Over the years she has contributed to award winning productions at English National Opera (Lady Macbeth of Mtensk, Jenufa, Force of Destiny, Magic Flute, Lulu) and Glyndebourne (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet).

Soon she can be seen at the National Theatre in the return production of The Follies by Stephen Sondheim where she plays the part of the opera singer Heidi Schiller.

The highlight of the festival for me has to be the all inspiring Sheila Hancock. She is, as I said when I introduced her on the day – film, television, theatre and musicals royalty. She has also, as Nick Higham said, been described as a national treasure. But when you get down to it, this lady is down to earth and no nonsense please.

Her trajectory as an actor is well known – as for me I wanted to know about the musicals – her Mrs Lovett (she was the first to create the role in London) in Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, Cabaret for which she won an Olivier in a supporting role. Those of you who saw her surely can’t forget the ‘pineapple song’. Then there was her performance as Mother Superior in Sister Act but add to that Oliver, Gypsy, Annie and so much more.

Through all her ups and down, having lost her second husband John Thaw, she has moved on taking on the challenges that life has given her... she wrote about their life together in The Two of Us and the Just Me. At 85 her latest film Edie is about a woman recently widowed who wants to break away from the expectation that she would settle into a life of quiet solitude and decides to climb Suilven, one of the most challenging peaks in the Highlands.

She had to get fit and strong. But Hancock climbed the mountain and conquered her fear of heights.

The audience at The Convent was enthralled as she talked about her life and how facing ones challenges is always about “turning life into something positive... life is full if amazing things. I learnt to be a fighter when I was young. I lived through the Blitz when I was 7 and 8 year old. You were bullied then and I had to fight back and find the way to move on. I did.”

On Brexit she was furious at what has been going on in UK.

“We need friends,” she stressed, as she referred back to the war years and what her father and others of his generation had fought so hard to achieve for future generations.

Heartbroken about Brexit at one point she remarked, “I am European.”

Life, she said, was about building bridges not walls and breaking those long established links is not the thing to do.

Robert Daws another accomplished actor presented a new play at The Convent.

Robert Daws

This was a beautifully staged performed reading of “Wodehouse in Wonderland” skilfully and brilliantly written by William Humble.

This one man show is full of wit and humour offering an insight into the man who was PG Wodehouse through his writings, his much-loved characters such as Bertie Wooster and Jeeves, and a serious of letters and interview taking us to Pelham Grenville Wodehouse’s spacious home in New York State in the late 1950s.

Wodehouse was one of the top lyricists on Broadway for 20 years writing with Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and Gershwin and Daws performed the songs integrated into the text with gusto. I very much look forward to a full production of this... sometime next year.

Remaining at The Convent one of the last events at this year’s festival brought back memories of the Humpreys estate in the1950s and 60s. Henry Valerga in conversation with Humbert Hernandez and with the help of his guitar took us back to his childhood... the days when he and his brother Dennis would look in and listen to the music coming from inside ‘El Universal’... of the girls his brother would comment “they dress differently to mummy and daddy”. Then there was his own ‘Famous 5’ adventure on the day he and his friends crept into the now long gone Arengo’s Palace.

The Alameda gardens he referred to as “our Disneyland”.

On the music front he told of the day he opened a book pointed to the word “odd” and how his first group became known as “The Odds”. This was the journey of the boy from Red Sands.

This too was my journey at this year’s Literary Festival, a wonderful feast of words and music which will long live in my memory... as I look forward to next year.

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