It's time to come clean, culture vultures - how many classics have you not seen, heard, or read?

Forget "What are you reading at the moment?", the most interesting conversation is about what you have failed to read, see or hear


When two or more culture vultures get together, the conversation
will naturally be about what they have read, seen or heard
recently; the books, shows concerts and albums that have really
made an impression.

But I'm beginning to think that the more interesting conversation is about what they have failed to read, see or hear.

Visiting The Independent Bath Literature Festival this week, I went out to dinner with the organisers and some other guests, and over dinner I volunteered that I felt a little guilty that there was still the odd classic I hadn't read – OK, more than the odd one. There were a few Dickens novels. More than a little Trollope and Thackeray and (gulp) War and Peace.

To my relief, one of the literary supremos at the table confessed that she too hadn't yet embarked on War and Peace. She was saving it for a "long illness", a very long one, I imagine.

Even those at the top of their literary game have their dark secrets, unopened tomes that may stay that way as the frenzy to keep up with the outpouring of contemporary novels precludes going back to those missed classics, unless there's a particularly virulent flu epidemic.

And that's just one art form. I'm always surprised by the number of arts worthies who write about their cultural life and breezily admit they have never seen an opera. The drama and the trauma, not to mention the music, of Madam Butterfly and Rigoletto pass them by.

But even in film we all have our missed classics. Most of us have at the cinema or on TV or DVD notched up Citizen Kane and Casablanca and Psycho; but how easy it is to drop Ingmar Bergman or Federico Fellini into a conversation, knowing their style and mood, and fully intending one day to see the movies.

In pop the problem isn't just the lack of time to listen to the classics, it can also be a lack of inclination to what another generation tells you is a classic.

There may be under-30s out there listening to The Grateful Dead but I suspect not many, just as I suspect there are many theatregoers who have not seen Marlowe on stage, but feel they have. When it comes to the classics, the memory can play tricks. We intended to see or read that masterpiece for so long that it now feels like we did.

I'd like the great and the good of the arts world to admit that there are classics they have neglected. Certainly, my dinner conversation convinced me that the great works hitherto ignored provide a springboard for a livelier and more passionate discussion than a routine swapping of current works one has enjoyed.

It's not necessarily a sign of cultural inadequacy to admit to having missed the odd classic. It's a sign that life is short. That the definition of a classic is ever more flexible, and they are large in number.

Perhaps festivals should henceforth include a confessional session on the classics we haven't quite got round to. A cultural therapy session.

Ditch the fees: another performer sings my tune

Not long ago the comedian Sarah Millican gladdened my heart by refusing to perform in venues that charged booking fees. Now let's hear it for the singer Lucy Rose (above). On her tour she's not actually refusing to perform in such venues, but she is doing her own research on how to bypass booking fees, and then tweeting to her fans the information on how they can buy tickets with no fee attached.

It's when the performers start taking action that those charging these fees sit up and take notice. Lucy Rose is my artist of the week.

Brewhouse closure leaves a soulless feeling

Cuts feel unkinder when they affect a venue one knows. When I worked in the West Country I knew the Brewhouse Theatre in Taunton. Now it has been announced that the place is to close as a result of a combination of national cuts by the Arts Council and of Somerset County Council axing its entire arts budget. People talk of the heart going out of a town when its football team disappears. And I think that the soul goes out of a town when its theatre closes.

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