The riverside at Castlefields

The riverside at Castlefields

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Shrewsbury's 1960s Clock Tower

My letter to the Shrewsbury Chronicle, published on July 22, 2010.

Shrewsbury's 1960s clock tower: a carbuncle on the otherwise beautiful face of a medieval town or a striking example of the architecture of its day and something to be treasured? Discuss.
As someone who has wrestled with this question over several decades, I was both amused and intrigued by Neil Felton's recent letter (July 15) protesting against suggestions that the clock tower should be demolished. Mr Felton refers to the building as ”classic“ and says Shrewsbury's skyline would not be the same without it. Well, while many might disagree with the first part of Mr Felton's argument, no-one can quibble with the second part. The clock tower is an unmistakable element in the town's skyline.
Mr Felton goes on to say: ”Instead of talking about knocking down this iconic building, let's start thinking about celebrating its 50th anniversary in a few years' time.“
I suppose really it's all down to a matter of perception. Many of us who love Shrewsbury think of it as a lovely old town boasting many fine ”black and white“ timber-framed buildings and also many elegant Georgian and Victorian structures. But then we start to go a bit wobbly when we have to try to justify the more modern stuff.
Believe me, I am one of those who goes a bit wobbly when I'm showing off the town to visitors and we stumble across the Shirehall or the big town centre shopping complexes or indeed the Market Hall.
I read with interest the other day that the 1970s steel-and-glass shopping centre at Milton Keynes has just won Grade II listed status – much to the bewilderment of many locals. The Secretary of State – having been persuaded by English Heritage and others – that the building was worthy of such recognition – conceded that it has never been universally loved. Now, there's an understatement. But, as Tina Turner might put it, what's love got to do with it? The UK's oldest rollercoaster (doubtless an eyesore to many) – built in 1920 in Margate – has been given Grade II listing, as has the 1964 concrete signal box at Birmingham New Street. Clearly, love (at least the widespread love of the public at large) is of little consequence here.
On the other hand, Mr Felton did seem to express a love of sorts in his letter defending the clock tower.
Our eldest son once suggested knocking down the monstrous market hall but keeping the clock tower because it truly has become an integral part of the skyline. That sounds like the start of a slightly different debate.
But perhaps some of us (myself included) need to update what we think of as being precious.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

ELO Experience at Theatre Severn

Apart from the amazing Bootleg Beatles, I've never really felt the urge to go and see a tribute band. But partly because this lot sounded really rather good, partly because it was an excuse to meet up with some old friends and go along as a little gang, and partly because it would give me my first chance of seeing the spanking new Theatre Severn, I thought I'd give it a go.
Well, it was a success on all fronts. Mightily impressed with the smart, ideally-situated Theatre Severn. Mightily impressed with my old friends (still old, still friends). And mightily impressed with the ELO Experience.
My youngest son said they did get a bit Butlins at times (lots of arm-waving and clapping) which, I thought, was fair comment from the 16-year-old music critic dragged along there by his dad, but you could not fault the note-perfect renditions of Jeff Lynne's poptastic hits. I especially enjoyed Wild West Heroes and The Diary of Horace Wimp (two recently rediscovered ELO gems as far as I'm concerned), but the whole thing was great fun and made me want to dig out my ELO CDs again. You just can't beat a good tune.
The lads in the band (who are from Hull incidentally) clearly don't take themselves too seriously (how could they? - This is good-time rock 'n' roll meets irresistible melodies meets 1970s hairstyles). No. This is just escapist entertainment done with great style.

Severn Valley Railway Pub Crawl 2010

It's hard to explain really, but, frankly, the Severn Valley Railway Pub Crawl, which has been organised each summer for the past seven years by my younger brother Tony, is a joy.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, it's like stepping into an Ealing Comedy for the day.
Gorgeous steam locomotives, pints of beer, plates of chips, vintage railway carriages, pints of beer (have I said that already?), pretty-as-a-postcard station platforms, excellent company, outrageous discussions (politics, pop music, half-forgotten television shows), laughter, pints of beer, male bonding, and pints of beer.
The day ends with a pub meal and - well - several more pints of beer really.
This was my third time on the SVRPC so I'm really just an enthusiastic amateur compared with the others. But Tone must be congratulated for masterminding another day to remember.