Creativity in and out of the 70’s at Hilda’s Lounge

18 May

Hilda’s Lounge took place at the Richard Jefferies Museum as part of Swindon Festival of Literature, 13 May 2016. Guests Robert Vas Dias, Sophie Duffy, Caroline Day and Barry Andrews were each in conversation for an hour.

First, confession: I was not around for the ’70s (or, for that matter, a large amount of the ’80s). I am therefore reliant on Hilda Sheehan’s ’70s lounge (located deep in the Richard Jefferies Museum) conforming to stereotypes found in BBC ’70s shows and themed nightclubs.

The result is one that I can believe: the wallpaper seems to be have been lifted straight from Abigail’s Party; a grand-looking record player, lava lamp and copious amounts of Babycham contributing to an atmosphere one can one only describe as ‘locked in time’. I’m told that Babycham is a typical part of this environment: after watching a few people enjoying it a little too much, I can see arguments for and against it.

Having been allowed time to take in this fragment of the past, we are thrown into our first guest talent. One might assume that Hilda’s guests would be there to similarly impart memories of the ’70s. This would not necessarily be the case.

The opening guest, poet Robert Vas Dias, spent his time between talking about Mina Loy, the Black Mountain poetry scene, art (a passion of his) and reading selected favourites from his own catalogue. Aside from a few understandable memory lapses, this was a man of unparalleled energy and purpose, talking entirely on his terms about subjects he has clearly been studying for a very long time.

Where Robert’s talk seemed to cover everything but the ’70s, novelist Sophie Duffy had a ball discussing with Hilda the subject of her first novel, The Generation Game (when not reflecting on their mischievous exploits on retreat!). Her memories and subsequent extract from her book seemed perfectly pitched to the intimate audience present.

Artist Caroline Day on the other hand, talked exclusively about the here and now of her work, focusing on her use of social media to promote the different projects and exhibitions she works on in Swindon. Clearly an engaging lady with a love of her own work and willing to promote anything art related, she answers every question with a certain zeal; certainly proving her own claim that she likes challenging, unpredictable work.

Most of musician Barry Andrew’s work occurs after the ’70s: the work that does – his years in an early XTC – are skirted over in favour of his long-term band Shriekback. After a cursory exploration covering their popularity in the states, unusual merchandise and the internet’s effect on music sales (Barry was distinctly more pessimistic in comparison to Caroline’s measured confidence concerning art) he treated the audience to a demonstration of new work-in-progress.

Present with Barry was a rather strange handmade doll. This was Vile Homunculus, a figure that has been present throughout Shriekback’s existence. Vile Homunculus is now becoming the subject of a musical, something that Barry has wanted to pursue for a while. With a few explanations of the various characters involved and some snippets of prepared music, Barry showed off a world-building exercise that has the potential to be rather exciting.

All events were accompanied by a generous helping of hot beverages and cake, served ably by volunteers from the Richard Jefferies Museum.  I would like to take a moment to the praise the children from St. Joseph’s College who were polite and enthusiastic in equal measure – a testament to the work they and the museum’s staff have put in.

Videos of all these talks will be available soon. Words by Sam Loveless.

All photos ©Jennifer Berry, 2016.



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