Is the Sun, a God, a man, a woman or simply a giant ball of hydrogen?‘ asks poet Simon Barraclough. The prickly question of gender is resolved quickly, with feminine pronouns assigned throughout. ‘She creates shadows for children to dodge‘ and ‘She hands out colouring books to chameleons in the morning.’
More questions are posed in Sunspots, this epic ode to the Sun, such as does the sun get depressed? An unusual conjecture, explored in a smart comparison of the dark patches found on the solar surface -the titular sunspots- with the blemishes, physical and metaphorical, found on our own little blue planet.
In this performance Simon is as near to being a sun worshipper as were the Pagans, the Egyptians and the Aztecs before him: exultant and celebratory, fearful and accusatory. This is the Sun, our nearest star, looked upon as benevolent deity, vengeful matriarch, astronomical wonder, with a narrative that arcs to an inevitable retaliatory endgame.
Garbed in a yellow jacket, that divided the audience, he breathes life into the sun, creating an autonomous being, a sentient body who feels, who questions, who observes all of humanity, in its depravity and wanton destruction.
Hearing the ways in which our kind are sometimes described, it is as good we can’t get near our sun, for fear of destroying that too. Sunspots’ worthy ecological undertones are measured and counter-balanced by the science fiction and apocalyptic, sometimes graphic imagery. I recall a phrase where maggots eat flesh from jaw and socket.
The work is dense with word play, epic simile, metaphor with acknowledgement of classic art and literature. There’s a teasing section pitting famous painters, Turner and Van Gogh, one against the other; a reference to Aesop’s fable ‘The North Wind and the Sun’ where the sun shoulders no responsibility for the traveller’s cloak. Simon must be no slouch when it comes to reading and research, such is the breadth of his cultural palette.
Sunspots could well be viewed as an epic poem very much in the classic Greek tradition, containing as it does; the prerequisite elevated diction and invocation of a muse to inspire the poet. A more vast setting than the heavens themselves, could not be asked for and indeed, the fate of an entire race is held in the balance throughout.
The ambient music largely composed by Simon, with instrumentation and arrangements by Oliver Barrett is uplifting with swollen synths to stir the soul. The music and vocals provide a complimentary soundtrack to the film collage, created by Jack Wake-Walker, with footage gathered over eighteen months in the States.
The visual element to Sunspots is particularly eye-catching with reds, oranges, purples and blues: all the colours of the sun. Merging layers of sunrise and sunset create patterns: fast-moving and frantic to prolonged and foreboding.
Quite a brilliant way to launch the Humber Mouth Literature Festival 2015, inside the Hull Central Library, among bookshelves stacked with texts documenting revolution, illustrious endeavour and momentous change.
The book Sunspots by Simon Barraclough that accompanies the performance, took the resident poet at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, three years to complete. Sunspots is currently touring festivals and art centres until 2016.
A remarkable devotion to the sun, a paean simultaneously scientific and spiritual, culminating in a plaintive solar cry as live trumpet sounds threnody.