It was quite a journey. Over the weekend, Richard Crowe (our Creative Programmer for the South West) and I went to Weymouth and Portland, two opposite ends of Bristol and on to Taunton to experience for ourselves the range of amazing work going on as part of the Cultural Olympiad. All the projects we were able to get to are Inspire projects, recognised for their excellence and taking their inspiration from London 2012 – and Richard had curated them into a weekend called Count Me In.
Our overwhelming impressions, as we headed out of Somerset County Cricket Ground after the breathtaking Park Life by NoFitState, was how excited and enthusiastic the various communities were who got involved over the weekend – from the surprised onlookers in Weymouth, to the hard-core band watchers at Teenage Rampage, to the families with children at The Bristol Do.
I don't think many of the 3,000 people who came to see Park Life on such hallowed cricket turf had ever seen anything quite like this sort of circus. They cheered, oo'd and aah'd in all the right places and organiser Robert Miles from the Brewhouse Theatre and Arts Centre was clearly pretty impressed with the response. I can only imagine the early conversations with Somerset: 'well, we want to stage a circus on the pitch... yes, there might be fire...'.
On Saturday morning, against the backdrop of Weymouth's seaside ice cream colours and donkey rides, we enjoyed watching the next generation of morris dancers take centre stage throughout Weymouth as part of the Dinosaurs Not Allowed project (the brainchild of John Clifford from Open Morris) . We also enjoyed watching the shoppers who were surprised to encounter such unexpected entertainment...
Then we headed off to take in as much of B-Side as we could, including the delicious I Scream Van (from which a young woman emerged stating 'that's the best thing I've ever done!'), Hywel Davies' gorgeous sound installation, Liz Crow's disturbing film piece and the gentle charm of Charlie Henry's Beachcomber's Museum.
The man behind B-Side is Alan Rogers, Weymouth and Portland Arts Development Officer, whose invitation to 'explore the flip side of the seaside' manifested itself in such charming, considerate and respectful pieces, most of them very playful and all aimed at an audience that might not be immediately enthusiastic about things like a multimedia arts festival.
In order to make it back for the Dinosaurs Not Allowed finale on the Esplanade, we had to cut our visit to B-Side short which felt like a real wrench. However, the finale created a highly infectious atmosphere of joy, enthusiasm and fun and involved most of the sides dancing together in a final reel.
Then on to Bristol to take in the Teenage Rampage summer tour, being showcased (yes, in a tent) at the Brisfest in the Harbourside area.
Teenage Rampage has been part of the Cultural Olympiad for two years now as and it’s going from strength to strength. The brainchild of Matt Booth at the Bristol Music Foundation, it auditions the best of young music talent across the South West and pairs them with music industry professional mentors, including producers with whom they record their tracks. The acts range from solo singer-songwriters to four-piece rock swaggerers, all with their unique sound and take on the world.
What struck me most was that, even when the crowd at the beginning of a set wasn’t huge, the tent would be rammed half an hour later with passers-by following their curiosity and staying put. The BBC Blast team filmed the whole thing, Teenage Rampage's own apprentice stage managers ran the show (having mastered their craft at Glastonbury this year) and I lost count of how many shivers went down my spine as each act took to the stage and made it their own. The acts were contending with a lot of other sound systems nearby, battling to hear themselves think against everything from samba bands to death metal. They made it look easy.
From Teenage Rampage, we headed to St Paul's for The Bristol Do, which has been 'providing playfulness, oddity and spectacle for Bristolians and visitors alike' for three years now. We were awed by the bravura (and altitude) of Circolombia, charmed by the young company formed by Cirque Bijou and revived by the crowds of families and pets out for the afternoon around their neighbourhood, chatting away happily and enjoying their own village fete in the heart of the city.
And then to Taunton for Park Life.
Unfortunately we didn't make it to any Bandstand Marathon events, nor to the events in Swindon, Okehampton and Eden in Cornwall. There was a lot more London 2012-inspired activity going on this weekend in the South West than we could ever have covered on our own, but perhaps you were there. Do you have impressions to share? The events are all listed on the London 2012 map and you can post comments with feedback.
What's clear is that the momentum towards 2012 is really building and we have some really inspirational projects delivering right now. Bring on next year!