HAT - review

Get Knitted – Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, York 23.11.01

Yorkshire Evening Press

There really must be magical properties in the Hat.

On the Wednesday, it was the lead item of Radio 4′s Front Row arts magazine, ahead of all things London; on Thursday, women marched on Newcastle’s Millennium Bridge, so buoyed by that night’s performance. On Friday, a new musical sound filled the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall air; a grasshopper symphony of knitting needles.
Hat was the brainchild of The Shed alternative arts impresario Simon Thackray, of Brawby, and it had begun with somewhat woolly thinking about creating a new woollen hat to celebrate the birth of the new millennium.
More than a year later, as can be the case with a piece of knitting, something rather different from that initial pattern emerged: a warming piece of performance art that would knit together four monologues written and told by Barnsley bard Ian McMillan with pastoral music composed by South London blues and jazz guitarist Billy Jenkins. Former James member Andy Diagram would contribute the suitably northern brass sound of the cornet and a sonic landscape of samples; Hallé Orchestra musician Angela Harrison would play viola and… knitting needles.

The audience could attend pre-show knitting classes with Hat sponsors Sirdar, the Wakefield wool firm and knit contentedly in the shadows of the performance: rather less sinister than a similar practice when execution was all the rage in France. Simon Thackray would shear his hair to a crop for that sheep-in-summer look.

The hat trick of Hat performances in Halifax, Newcastle and York had a woolly, unfocused first half, a show-off showcase for the four participants to introduce their skills. McMillan gave an amusing guided tour to Wool In History, a sort of If I Wooled The World piece of Glen Baxter surrealism in which, for example, a ball of wool rather than an apple landed on Isaac Newton’s head. Jenkins went through his dazzling guitar repertoire, in the company of an equally playful Harrison, and Diagram’s one-man factory band performed what probably should be called Fanfare For The Woollen Man.

Hat itself was much better. Comic poet Ian McMillan revealed new skills as a spinner of yarns (aptly on the theme of yarn spinning) in the spooky story-telling tradition of Grimm, Dahl and Saki, and Jenkins introduced subtlety to his normal manic repertoire. Knitters clicked away contentedly, in shear pleasure.

© Charles Hutchinson

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