iamhyperlexic

Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

Review: Matt Abbott: Two Little Ducks rehearsal, The Red Shed, Wakefield, 9 July 2017

I am going to try to write this without giving any direct information away about the content of Matt’s performance.  If you want to know what is in it, including why it is called Two Little Ducks, you will have to go and see it.

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/matt-abbott-two-little-ducks

The blurb on the Edinburgh Festival website is fairly accurate, except for two things.

First, Matt Abbott is not what I would call a “new voice”.  He is an established voice (established, but not establishment).  He may not be a regular on BBC Radio 3 or 4, but he does appear quite often on other mainstream channels.  I know quite a few performance poets, but I can’t think of anyone who does more paid gigs than Matt Abbott does.  The audience at The Red Shed was about 40 people, which is close to capacity.

Second, do not let the blurb’s references to politics put you off.  Many of the pieces make reference to people or circumstances which are affected by lack of money, or displacement, or homelessness, or other injustices.  But Matt’s work is observational, or humanitarian, rather than explicitly political.  It is nothing resembling a manifesto, and it is resplendently free of any vestige of preaching.  It is also mixed with just the right amount of humour.

It is getting the mix just right which characterises this performance.  It is not a single narrative.  Rather, it has three main threads (I won’t tell you what they are) which are distinct, but related, and are coherently woven together.  There is a parallel between the way the pieces are arranged, and the format that A Firm Of Poets, of which Matt is a founder member, uses: instead of a succession of single pieces from four or five different performers, this solo performer delivers a succession of pieces on different themes.  The recurrence and development of the themes is expertly handled, like a poetic symphony.

As a rehearsal, this was excellent.  It was not the fully-worked-up performance, but it was very close to it.  I could feel adrenalin starting to flow once Matt got into it, and the audience had started to respond.  This will only intensify once the Edinburgh programme begins.  No two of the performances will be quite the same.  Don’t just go and see it: go and see it more than once.

There is also a mystery ingredient.  Much of the material in Two Little Ducks is new, but there is one particular piece which, unless you were at The Red Shed on Sunday 9 July 2017, I guarantee you have never heard.  It appears nearly at the end of the performance. It is a piece containing a deeply personal revelation.  It makes the whole performance more intense, and draws the themes together.  Even if you know Matt Abbott personally, I am certain that the nature of the revelation is something you would never be able to guess.

My wife, Valerie Anderson Gaskill, and I, will be doing a joint performance at Cluntergate Community Centre in Horbury, Wakefield, on 1 October 2017, as part of Wakefield Litfest.   That performance will have a bit more pizzazz, and a better balance because of hearing this performance.

After he had finished, one of Matt Abbott’s new fans asked if I was his father.

Review: Unity Words, 28 June 2017

The first performer was Lily Gaskell.  Despite the similarity in our names, I could not get much out of her performance.  Lily Gaskell and Louise Distras, who played the music slot at Unity Words in May, are different people, and there are some differences between their performances.  But they are very similar.  Just about all my reservations about Lily Gaskell are the same as the ones I had about Louise Distras.  If you are going to play a solo guitar and sing, you need to have a reasonably sophisticated picking technique, and you need to vary your playing and your vocals to create something resembling a tone palette, rather than a massive splurge – certainly if you are going to play to audiences of people who are over 30.

Jamie Thrasivoulou, the first spoken word artist, performed without a microphone.  His voice projection was just right for the size of the room.  He is from Derby, and has an East Midlands accent, which is something I always notice, because the East Midlands accent is, in my opinion, the most under-represented regional accent in England.

Jamie is a very energetic performer, but he uses variation in volume and vocal style to good effect.  He has quite a varied speech register, combining references to drug-taking and homelessness with descriptions of Cyprus, and mentions of Allen Ginsberg.  He recited mostly from memory, but he also read from his collection, ‘The Best Of A Bad Situation’.  For (at least) his last piece, he put his whole body into it: he was throwing his hands about, staggering from side-to-side, occupying the stage.

I can think of two comparisons to make.  The obvious one, which I gather that Jamie has heard before, is with Sleaford Mods: ranting about working class liberation in an East Midlands accent, while wearing a polo shirt.  The less obvious one is with the late and lamented Michael Smith, from Jamaica.  I didn’t understand every line that Michael Smith uttered, but I could always feel it.  That is how Jamie Thrasivoulou’s performance struck me.

Ralph Dartford stood in for what would usually have been the mentored poet.  He is practising for his forthcoming show, ‘Recovery Songs’.  He did a piece about childhood friendship, a piece about Hillsborough (on the day that David Duckenfield was charged). He contravened his own principle, and read a piece from the screen of his smart phone.  He did a piece about a drug addict.  The recurring themes in his set were substance abuse, relationships, and the passing of time.  As a dry run, it was pretty good.  I would be interested to hear the material again, when it is the final performance.

There were three Pandemonium Poets.  The first was Tony Gadd.  He has a North Eastern accent, and began with a piece called ‘Siren’s Tears’, about government cuts to emergency services.  He did another piece which was somewhat disparaging about Wetherspoon pubs.

The second Pandemonium Poet was Tim Fellows.  Like Jamie Thrasivoulou, he is from Derbyshire.  His first piece was about a mining accident which killed a member of his family.   The next was called ‘Cumulo Nimbus’, and was about depression.  The last was a comic piece about trogging the food at funeral receptions.

The last Pandemonium Poet was Steve Harrison, who has performed at Unity Words, before.  The subject matter of his first piece, ‘Apron Strings’, was Yorkshire pudding batter, but it is an inter-generational poem, about the poet’s mother.  The next was about a Wetherspoon’s pub in Wellington, called the William Withering, the botanist who discovered digitalin.  Steve’s pieces are quietly-spoken, well-observed, and have some nice elements of craft about them.

The evening’s new performer was Caitlin Lyons.  This was her first public performance.  The subject of her poem was anxiety, of which she clearly has personal knowledge.  As a subject for one’s first ever public performance, anxiety is a difficult one. Caitlin’s delivery was excellent.  I suggest that, if she wants to develop mental health as a subject for her work, it is one of those things that is best looked at from a sideways angle, but her delivery style is pretty much there.

The headliner was Maria Ferguson, from Romford, in Essex.  She started talking about how she loves pubs, and we had the third reference of the evening to Wetherspoon’s.  Maria’s show, and publication, is called, ‘Fat Girls Don’t Dance’.

Maria Ferguson’s work is contemporary, what I call “urban” (by which I mean appealing to and understood by people who live in towns and cities), and most of it is unrhymed.  She has a varied delivery style, and some parts of her pieces are sung rather than spoken.  She gets away with this much better than some other artists.

Her main themes are a sense of place and identity, gentrification, feminism, friendship, and the passing of time.  Towards the end of her set, she offered the audience a choice between a piece about her favourite country (Tunisia), or one about going on a sunbed (with the underlying theme of subverting the mainstream image of ‘Essex girls’.  The audience were unanimous in asking for both pieces.

Review: The Ted Hughes Poetry Festival, evening, 24 June 2017, Mexborough Business Centre

Janine Booth had already started her set when we arrived.  Neither Valerie nor I had ever heard of her, before.  As we were entering the auditorium and faffing about with our tickets and trying to be as quiet as possible, I could tell that she was from London, and that she was reciting a poem that was political.  Political poetry usually makes me cringe, especially if it is rhymed, which this seemed to be.  I listened, and got ready to cringe.  But I didn’t cringe.  It was #1 delivered with controlled anger, not shouted or gone through like a times table.  #2 The poet sounded as if she knew what she was talking about.  #3 She had something to say that was not something I had heard said just that way, before.  It was engaging and lively and not the sort of thing you hear very often.

It turned out that Janine Booth might have been carved out of a slab of Valerie’s imagination.  She is from London.  She is vehemently anti-Tory.  (The poem we had walked in on was about hating Tories.)  She works on the London Underground.  She went on to do a poem about angry, middle-aged women, among other things.

Her final piece was a pastiche of ‘Hallelujah’, by Leonard Cohen, and, in my opinion, was a little step too far.  It didn’t have quite the same measure of craft and authority as the rest of the set.  Apart from that, Janine’s set was excellent, and I wish I had not missed the beginning.  Valerie bought two of her books.

Next was Tim Wells, another Londoner.  Valerie and I heard him for the first time at 7 Arts Centre in Leeds (near where I grew up) when he was supporting Kate Fox, earlier this year.  I had a chat with him, afterwards, about our shared passion for ska and reggae.  We had heard some of the same sound systems, in Leeds, though not at the same time.

Tim Wells has one of the most distinctive delivery styles I have ever heard.  His short pieces, which deliberately end before the audience expect, put me in mind of a Cockney version of Ivor Cutler.  I find his longer pieces fascinating.  I just want to hear what he is going to say next.  Tim Wells is one of the purest performance poets I have ever heard, in the sense that, for any given line or stanza, it is often not obvious what devices he is using: it usually isn’t rhyme, or metre, or repetition.  He just has a poetic voice –  an original, contemporary, poetic voice.  His speech is certainly Cockney, but it is also easy to understand to my middle class, West Yorkshire ear.

By the time Tim Wells finished his set, the atmosphere in the auditorium was already well on the way to healing the North-South divide.

Linton Kwesi Johnson looked much as I had imagined him.  I have seen images of him, before, on television, and in magazines such as ‘Black Music’ in the 1980s.  That was decades ago, of course, but his appearance was still in keeping with my expectations.  He wore an umber fedora, which he kept on before, during, and after his performance.  He wore a red tie,  a tailored jacket and trousers.  He was thin.  Despite the greyness of his beard, he doesn’t look old.  As many people used to say of my late father, he looks distinguished rather than old.

Linton Kwesi Johnson broke two of the basic rules of performance poetry.  He delivered long preambles, some of them as long as the pieces they preceded.  He also elided straight from the end of one poem into the preamble for the following poem, with hardly a second’s pause.  (This is what I call, “Doing a Gaia Holmes”.)  But there are mitigating circumstances in both cases.  The preambles were to do with the struggle for justice, both generally and with reference to specific campaigns, of black people in Britain, and he was talking mostly from first hand experience.  Also, the elision had the benefit of silencing all applause until the end, which was helpful to one’s appreciation and enjoyment of the performance.  I strongly suspect that he did this deliberately.

I first started reading the Liverpool Poets in about 1983.  I have since heard the late Adrian Henri, and Roger McGough, live.  I first heard the recordings, and read the pamphlets, of Linton Kwesi Johnson in 1982 or 1983.  In all the time I have been reading and listening to poetry, this is the longest span of time between first encountering a poet’s work, and then hearing them, live.  About 35 years.

Most of Linton Kwesi Johnson’s set was from his early work: the work with which I am the most familiar.  Some of these pieces I have not listened to for 20 years, but I know parts of some of them by heart.  ‘Sonny’s Letter’, for example.  The hairs stood up on the back of my neck, more so than in just about any other live performance I have ever heard.  My vision became blurred.  I don’t know why: I wasn’t in tears, but I couldn’t see, properly.  All I could see was a thin, well-dressed West Indian man on the centre of a stage in a hall in Mexborough.  That man was the one and only Linton Kwesi Johnson.

I thank Steve Ely and the other organisers of this festival for bringing such an eminent performer to Mexborough.  It was an unforgettable experience.

Janine Booth and Tim Wells can both consider their reputations enhanced, because their sets supported and complemented LKJ’s set.  The common threads were: a sense of pride in one’s own identity, and the struggle for justice.

On the way out, Valerie shook LKJ’s hand.  He was having a cigarette.  As we left, he sounded as if he was hacking up a lung.

Review: The Price of Happiness by Kate Fox, s2 ep1, BBC Radio 4, 11:30 19 June 2017

You can listen to the programme on BBC iPlayer Radio for the next 29 days from today, or download it, if allowed in your territory:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08twgfv

Kate Fox is just about the best and most celebrated poet with whom I have a nodding acquaintance.  I have heard her perform live at Unity Works in Wakefield, and at 7 Arts in Leeds, and I had the pleasure of having a bit of a chat with her on both occasions.  She has national coverage (otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about her on the BBC) and is one of the most effective campaigners in England for the belief that contemporary poetry can be relevant – sometimes, even, vital – to everyday life, and is worth paying to hear.

Like Matt Abbott, Ian McMillan, Kate Tempest, and some others, Kate Fox mixes her spoken word career with other art forms: in her case, stand-up comedy.  Today’s programme also had some musical accompaniment.  There were elements of audience participation which, to my great relief, worked very well, and were not at all an embarrassing mess.

The subject of the programme, entitled, ‘The Perfect Body’, is the amount of money that people – mainly women, but men, as well – spend on their appearance, and whether it is worth the expense and effort.  As regards hardly caring at all about what other people think of my appearance, I enjoy some advantages that Kate Fox doesn’t.  I’m male, and, although I did spend a long time in childhood being regularly taunted about my appearance and voice (I went through an artificial puberty at the age of 7) my circumstances were such that it never got to me.  All it did was to give me a rational fear of the mob mentality.

Despite the fact that this is not my kind of subject, I found the programme engaging and well worth listening to.  The most engaging parts were when she was talking about her own, idiosyncratic experiences, rather than talking generally.  But even the statistics about how much people spend on what items and procedures I found interesting. (There aren’t many statistics that I don’t find interesting, as long as they are derived from reputable sources).  She even mentioned the subject of cosmetic surgery (which, if I ever see it mentioned in a TV programme, causes me to change channels immediately).  Kate, if you are reading this, I know someone who may be getting in touch with you about your experiences.  The parts about being <adjective meaning ‘above average size’> and having large breasts provoked the most masculine reaction in me.  I find <adjective meaning ‘above average size’> women much more attractive than thin women.  I like women with big bosoms.  I know lots of men who are the same, but I unreservedly admit that this aesthetic does not fit the mainstream in this era (though it would have done in many previous eras – probably every era at least until Elizabethan times).  Even I get it that breasts beyond a certain size can not only be a problem socially, and psychologically, but can cause other problems, not the least of which is chronic backache.

A female comedian doing a live performance about women’s relationships with their own bodies, from a point of view which is socially mainstream (or working class, if you will allow) but personally quirky and idiosyncratic, invites comparison with Victoria Wood.  The fact that Kate Fox’s accent and outlook are also unmistakably Northern makes the comparison even more irresistible.  I am delighted to say that Kate Fox’s use of self-deprecation and trying to make a virtue out of one’s own ignorance or alienation is much less than Victoria Wood’s.  Even where Kate Fox uses these devices, the way she uses them is, in my opinion, more subtle and better-crafted than Victoria Wood’s.  This may or may not have something to do with the fact that Victoria Wood was from the North West, and Kate Fox is from the North East.  She now lives in North Yorkshire, but her accent is North Eastern.

This is the first time I have listened to one of Kate Fox’s BBC Radio programmes.  I will certainly be looking up the others on iPlayer Radio, including a short extract from The Verb on BBC Radio 3 about swearing.  Based on one hearing of this one episode of The Price of Happiness, the Kate Fox persona I perceived was different from the one I have heard live.   Live Kate is freer, quicker, expects the audience to keep up with her in more of a lively fashion, expects the audience to be more imaginative and unshockable.  BBC Kate sounds very slightly inhibited (duh – almost as if she were appearing on the BBC).  One of the reasons I will be listening to more of her programmes is to try to detect moments where BBC Kate tips over into Live Kate.

On the subject of performance poets on the radio, there is a rumour that I may be re-appearing on Phoenix FM, broadcast from Halifax, in July.

 

iamhyperlexic reacts to the recent attacks in Manchester and London

It was never my intention to make this an explicitly political blog, but something has happened recently that I feel the need to respond to.  If I respond here, it saves me time and effort on social media.

The thing that I need to respond to is not the attacks in Manchester and London themselves, but the reaction of someone on my Facebook timeline to those attacks.

The people on my Facebook timeline, in the aftermath of a terrorist incident, tend to fall into three categories: 1. The majority, whose concerns are humanitarian, who worry about the people affected, including not just the public, but the people who work in the emergency services; lament the conditions that seem to have led to the attack, and fervently hope that something can be done to improve things.  Call these people naive if you insist, but, if the world is going to improve, these are the people who are going to bring about that improvement.  2. The minority (among, as I said, my Facebook timeline) who want somebody shot, or hanged, or tortured, or whatever: the stale, cartoonish, right-wing, knee-jerk reaction.  I have reduced this body down to about 2 or 3, and I only maintain those for personal reasons, which need not concern us, here.  3. Neither of the above.  This is the category that concerns this blog post.

The person whose post I am engaged in repudiating is an atheist.  I am also an atheist.  It remains to be seen during the course of this dispute how similar our atheism makes us.

When he says, ‘Members of so-called Islamic State ARE Muslims too, despite denials by some Muslims and some on the left,’ I completely disagree with him.

I live in West Yorkshire, where there are a lot of Muslims, most of whom were born in the United Kingdom.  I spent 12 years working in the IT industry, in Leeds.  During that time, I worked in teams where 50 per cent or more of the members were Muslims of South Asian origin, usually, but not always, male, and, usually, but not always, born in the United Kingdom.

These Muslims hate Al Qaeda and ISIS more than I do.  They hate them for all the same reasons that I do, plus the fact that they are personally worried about the destabilisation of the communities and businesses that they and their parents have worked so painstakingly to create.

These Muslims also hate the government of Saudi Arabia.  The very idea of not allowing women to vote, or drive, or occupy political office, or run businesses, is something they find utterly ridiculous.  These Muslim husbands, if their wives had a good business idea, would not think, “This is proscribed by the Quran”.  They would think, “This might put us on an earner”.

I am a white, British man who grew up in the Jewish part of North East Leeds.  Between me, and the Muslims of West Yorkshire: we eat the same curries and kebabs; we are addicted to the same kinds of sport; we attended the same universities; we work in the same companies; we are concerned about the same kind of political issues.  Apart from the practice of Islam itself, the only things that we don’t have in common are the consumption of alcohol, and – possibly – attitudes towards homosexuality.  The last one is, in my experience, academic.

I have socialised with Irish people who were openly sympathetic to the IRA.  I have never met a single British Muslim whose reaction to Al Qaeda and ISIS was anything other than revulsion.

The last conversation I had with a British Muslim, a few hours ago, wasn’t about the atrocities in Manchester, or London.  It was about cricket.

Review: Unity Words 31 May 2017

I was asked at what time the event should start. ‘It’s up to you,’ I said.

Stan Duncan from the Black Horse Poets, who was due to appear as one of the Pandemonium Poets, bought me a drink: an expensive 275ml bottle of Holsten Pils.

Another one of the readers offered me a bribe, about which, the less said, the better.

Matt Abbott opened the event.  His poem, recently posted on the internet, called ‘Kick Out The Tories’, evoked rapturous applause.

Stan appeared as the first of the evening’s Pandemonium Poets.  He read a poem about coal-mining, containing medical terms, but, ultimately, and poignantly, about dust.  He read a poem about the recent atrocity in Manchester, which rhymed ‘religion’ with ‘smidgen’. He read his dog shit poem, influenced, as he acknowledged, by Benjamin Zephaniah.  The note of righteous indignation, and the use of repetition, show the influence.

The main compere, Geneviève Walsh, was introduced by Matt Abbott.  Somebody needs to explain to me, in language that an idiot could understand, why the compere has to be introduced by another compere.

Gen informed us that Facebook has started recommending what she should do with her ashes.  Her piece was about a pair of broken sunglasses, and she produced what purported to be a genuinely broken pair of sunglasses.

The second Pandemonium Poet was the evasive and slippery Lee McHale.  He did a poem about getting stoned.  He did a ‘Roses are red’ poem.  He forgot the words.  He mentioned a band that he used to be in.  He finished with a poem called, ‘Ted the Teabag’. Taylor’s of Harrogate should be very pleased.

Call me a risk-taker, but I think Lee McHale has much more to reveal.

Matt Abbott introduced Geneviève Walsh, again, because, say what the hell you like, Gen has just not got the hang of this compering business, yet.  She broke the microphone stand, albeit, not on purpose.  She can smash everything in the room except one of the beer pumps, if she likes, if we can just get a compere who is a compere, not a compere introduced by another compere.

A certain kind of last-day-of-term feeling seemed to pervade.  I don’t mean that in the sense of finality: I mean liberation, and spontaneity, and well-being, and hope for a brighter future.

Marina Poppa, who happened to be sitting next to me as she got up to read, was this month’s mentee.  She started with ‘Sweary Mary’.  After this, she forewent the hand-held mic, in the interests of freeing her arms.  Next, ‘I Do Not Like These Tory Gits’.  She acknowledged her debt to the forthcoming headliner, Jackie Hagan, and did a poem about performing.

She did a poem about shit.  She did a poem which was a tirade against sexual objectification.  She did a personal poem about a friend whom she lost to alcoholism.  She did the pubic hair poem.  I call it, ‘the pubic hair poem’, because I have heard it, before.  I also believe in fighting deforestation.

The music was provided by Louise Distras.

Louise’s performance evoked rapturous applause.  What she did is not my sort of thing, but she had nearly all of the audience in the palm of her hand.

Distras is a guitar and vocals solo performer.  Her vocals are best when she is at one end or other of the pitch and volume scale (low pitch and loud, or high pitch and quiet). She has a remarkable voice.  She seems to belong to the vocal school of Give It Everything You’ve Got, which is not a bad thing.

I am not going to write a song-by-song critique of Louise Distras’ set.  It suffices to say that I agree with most of her philosophy, which cries out for freedom and justice.  And she can really sing.  However, her right hand guitar technique is rather basic.  Most of it is what I would call, ‘thumping’, occasionally punctuated by a bit of left-hand damping and plectrum picking of the bass strings.  Even I can do that.  I think she picked the treble strings in one number.

Louise Distras has toured Europe, and so, what do I know?  In my opinion, she needs to develop a palette of tones and emotions, including not just some more advanced right hand technique, but some extended chords.  The audience at Unity Works gave her, at every time of asking, rapturous applause.  But I was not convinced.  Call me an old git, by all means.

And then, after an interval, Matthew Hedley Stoppard came on.

This man is living in the wrong decade.  He should be in the 1950s.

He described himself as, ‘a nervous, repressed librarian.’

He was wearing a green, knitted, tie.  I hate green, knitted ties.  My father had one. Somebody gave me one as a present.  I think it was fucking home-made, which made it worse.

Again, I am not going to provide a piece-by-piece description of Matthew Hedley Stoppard’s set, mostly because I don’t want to dilute his material, and I want you to go and pay to hear him.

He was nervous.  His hands were shaking.  He was brilliant.  He is Northern, and British.  He is fucking Larkinesque.

He finished with the words, ‘Thank you for looking in my direction, and feeling awkward.’  I rest my case.

Jackie Hagan opened with the words, ‘I had my leg off, and got loads of funding.’  She said she was glad not to be in Manchester (she comes from Liverpool) because it meant that, for once, she could not see a girl eating an artisan Scotch egg out of a shoe, or a group of 21 year-olds, playing Scrabble, ‘ironically’.  (You could see those things in bloody Leeds.)

As I told her, after the event had finished, she shares in common with Char March the attribute that the banter she delivers in between pieces is as good quality as the pieces, themselves.  In other words, the banter is part of the show, rather than being, as it is in 98 per cent of cases, an impediment that makes you want to rip someone’s face apart with meat-hooks.

Jackie Hagan lavished subject matter on us. I don’t know if she realised the extent of what she was doing, but that doesn’t matter.  She gave us stuff to think about, and I do not mean clichés.  Among these philosophical gems were such items as the following:

Is the straight guy, in the graph-paper shirt in the front row of this audience, the catalyst for more reaction?

If I hitch my skirt up, as somebody is going past, will it benefit anybody?

To what extent does the film, ‘I, Daniel Blake’, fetishise the concept of, ‘the deserving poor’, at the expense of, ‘the poor’?

Is it better to sit in the light, or drink in the dark?

Is it better to buy ‘Schrödinger’s Scratch Card’ (a scratch card that you deliberately leave for 24 hours or more before scratching, so that before it goes into ‘a collapsed quantum state’ you still have the hope that it might win something)?

Further to all that:

Rob Reed (with whom Matt Abbott and I appeared at the Cluntergate Centre last October, as part of Wakefield LitFest) won the Fray Bentos Chicken Pie, for the best heckle.

Outstandingly the best reference to bisexuality or lesbianism throughout the evening was, ‘Relief Manager at Carpet World’.

Jackie finished her set by drawing eyes on the stump of her (right, from her point of view) leg, which has been chopped off just below the knee.  She drank most of a pint of lager out of the cup of her prosthetic leg, and that is not the sort of thing that you see every day.

Jackie Hagan is a brilliant performance poet, and, if you have not heard her, live, you should do so.  Her speech register is certainly Scouse, but she is by no means an alternative, female version of Stan Boardman: her philosophy is profound, and universal.  People who have been to Oxbridge and live in the Cotswolds should, for their own good, listen to Jackie Hagan.

Obituary: Saxa (1930 – 2017)

2 Tone is my music: Jamaican ska fused with British punk.  Musical fashions come and go, but this is the music that I live or die by.  This is the music, without which, life is simply not worth living.  This is the music that sustains everyday activity, as well as inspiring me to greatness. This is the music that I try to persuade my son to listen to (and I have tickets to see Toots and the Maytals and The Specials, later this month). 

 The 2 Tone movement only shows one truly great saxophonist, and his name is Saxa.  He died on 3 May 2017, at the age of 87. 

I listened to jazz before I listened to 2 Tone.  In my opinion, the greatest saxophonist of all time is not Charlie Parker.  I completely get Charlie Parker’s innovation and genius, in much the same way, speaking as someone who plays the electric guitar, that I get Jimi Hendrix, even though he is not my favourite guitarist.  The greatest saxophonist of all time, in my opinion, is Paul Desmond. 

But Paul Desmond never played for a 2 Tone band.  Saxa did.  Saxa played in The Beat aka The English Beat, my favourite band of all time. 

And Saxa’s out-and-out virtuosity bears comparison with any of the jazz greats.  He just made the saxophone do what he wanted it to do, and his musicianship was borne out of ability to express, as well as technical skill. 

If you had put Paul Desmond or Charlie Parker in a 2 Tone band from Birmingham, they would have struggled.  Saxa’s playing sounds as natural as it sounds in keeping with the conflicted nature of the music.  2 Tone is rock music, not jazz.  It is hard and jagged.  The tracks are quite short.  But Saxa found his own place, and made himself at home in it.  His riffs were usually when I would move into the middle of the dance floor, but slow down and get some breath back.  You could go from moving on every beat, to only moving on every other beat, or every fourth beat.  That might give you enough time and energy to consider whether or not to kick the idiot who thought it was clever to stand stock still in the middle of the dance floor, for no apparent reason.  [This blog does not condone violence.]

It isn’t music you just listen to: this is music that is poured into your bloodstream, like petrol into an engine.  The engine doesn’t ‘like’ the fuel: it simply cannot function without it. 

 In my belief system, we don’t say that people have ‘passed away’, or gone to join some hypothetical something-or-other in the sky.  Saxa has died.  But we still have the example of his musicianship.  We still have his music: that endures, and will continue to inspire and educate, as well as captivate and entertain. 

 “I said STOP!       

                         I’m dead.”

Review: Unity Words, 26 April 2017

The show started with The Gudrun Sisters, Seonaid Matheson on violin, and Jacqui Wicks on ukulele and vocals.  This is not just turning up and playing: this is serious musicianship.  Jacqui introduced the set by saying, ‘For people who have not seen us before, we sing songs about harlotry, heartbreak, alcoholism, drug addiction, the devil, despair, and death.’  I responded with my accustomed ‘underwhelmed yay’.  

The set featured a song in which the narrator has murdered her lover by cutting his throat, and who is trying to persuade the judge to send her to the electric chair.  This was followed by ‘the one cheery one’, Frim Fram Sauce.  The violin, ukulele and vocals combined to produce maximum filth.  This is truly the devil’s music: you can feel yourself morally degenerating as you listen.  

Seonaid plays the violin just as well pizzicato as she does with the bow, which starts to look like taking the piss.  

The stage in the Café Bar at Unity Works is in a room with floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides, which means that the visual backdrop is a view of the Theatre Royal, and the traffic on Westgate, the main street.  A bus went past.  It was the 232 to Waterloo Garage, which seemed somehow evocative of the bluesy nature of the performance. 

A change of mood was introduced by the old trade union song, ‘Which Side Are You On?’ The chorus was also the evening’s first piece of audience participation.  This produced a fervently presented, Arthur Scargill-style pointing finger from Gav Roberts (who was there as a member of the audience, not a performer). 

The last number in the set was ‘La Vie En Rose’, another cheery one: shome mishtake, shurely.  The coda sounded like the closing theme music to a film, the kind of film that makes you sad that it’s over.

We had ten minutes to recover before Mark Connors came on.  He was wearing a very fetching black shirt with little white squares all over it, which I had to resist the urge to try to count.  He introduced a piece called ‘How To Avoid Being Sectioned’ (as in the Mental Health Act) but had to pause as an ambulance went past with its siren on.  There was more audience participation with a piece with a chorus that went ’96. 96. 96. 96’.  There was a piece about an inauspicious start to a stepfather-stepson relationship, a subject also dear to me.  I have written poems about bereavement, but not about an undertaker.  Mark’s piece, ‘One Step Beyond’ (partly a reference to the ska track) is about an undertaker, called Hadrian.

This is my kind of contemporary, confessional poetry.  It is what Kirsten Luckins once told me off for calling “urban” poetry.  I mean “urban” in the sense of being understood most by people who live in towns and cities, not as synonym for rap. 

 You can buy Mark’s debut poetry collection, ‘Nothing Is Meant To Be Broken’ from Stairwell Books.  (Other debut poetry collections are available from the same publisher.)

http://www.stairwellbooks.co.uk/html/collections.html#NothingisMeanttobeBroken

In keeping with a quaint custom of Unity Words, the compere had to introduce another compere.  Joe Kriss introduced Geneviève Walsh, in her capacity as the latest mentor for the Pandemonium Poets.  This evening’s line-up featured three female poets.  Susan (surname not given) appropriately continued the Satanic theme with a rhymed poem called, ‘I Met Him’.  Darinka Radovanovic, who had appeared before as a Pandemonium Poet, did an unrhymed piece called ‘Invisible Innocence’, about domestic violence.  She wore a strikingly enormous yellow scarf.  Malika, who had travelled from Manchester, wore a broad-brimmed black hat.  Her piece was called ‘Manchester Calling’, a personification of the city which evoked a combination of craziness, sleaze, and constancy. 

Next up was Matt Nicholson.  I already knew a poet called Matt Nicholson, but this was a different one.  He had his set list written in block capitals, on a piece of paper, on the floor in front of him, which was considerate, because I was sitting in the front row, and it meant that I could read it, upside down.  His first piece was called ‘How Long Have I Been Asleep?’  It was an anti-establishment, political rant.  Next was ‘This Pub’, followed by, ‘Ambition Is A Quiet Moment’.  He introduced a piece called ‘3D Printer’ by saying, ‘Confession time.  My weird addiction is to awful, American sitcoms.’  The title of the piece is opaque: it is actually about cynicism and lack of regard for one’s fellow beings.  He did another piece about pubs, another favourite subject of mine.  This was called ‘Beneath This Old Sod, Lies Another’.  ‘Memento From The Sea’ is a poem about feelings associated with a single instant in time.  I was intrigued by the line, ‘It was a fried moment’.  He finished his set with ‘The Straw House’, the title of which summed up the transient character of much of the set’s subject matter.   Matt’s performance was entirely in keeping with the emerging themes of the passing of time; trying, and not always succeeding, to do the best with what we have, and mortality.

This was further reinforced by the fact that the evening’s headliner, David Jay, had had to disembark from his train, and catch a Megabus, because someone had committed suicide by jumping onto the line.  Nevertheless, he did arrive on time and seemingly in a composed state of mind. 

David Jay wore a rather remarkable, black jacket, which had epaulettes: not fascist dictator-style, gold epaulettes, but epaulettes, nonetheless. 

David Jay’s performance was one of those which require the reviewer to put down the notebook and give his undivided attention, for fear of missing something.  He recites from memory, and, indeed, some of the last part of his set was improvised, seamlessly.  He uses multiple speech registers, and sophisticated breath techniques, some of which reminded me of Zena Edwards, who had headlined here in February.  He uses the movement of, not just his hands, but his whole body, to reinforce was he is saying.  There was a post-modern moment when he took out of his inside pocket a plastic water bottle, which I noticed had no water in it. 

The recurring theme of violence, and the poet’s opposition to it, was emphasised by bouts of shadow-boxing, done very convincingly.  The recurring line with encapsulated this was, ‘They misuse the metal’.  At one such utterance, he tapped the microphone (which his performance did not happen to use) as an example of metal which had been put to a peaceful use. 

The audience at the Theatre Royal lent a more dynamic character to the back-drop by coming out of the theatre.  I don’t think they got paid for this. 

David Jay also used beatbox drumming and imitation of a scratch turntable in his performance.  Some of what he was doing seemed like drama as much as poetry.  Seldom have I seen such a range of techniques used in a single set.  Only once did he consult a piece of paper, in the last part of his performance.  His pieces are generally much longer than mine.  He must practice constantly, or have a prodigious memory. 

As he finished, the fifth ambulance of the evening went past, but with no siren on.

Possibly the most memorable line of the whole evening was said by Malika, in conversation after the performances had finished.  ‘I went to my friend, Seb’s, house, and threw up in his mother’s cake-tin.’

Rude manifesto

Basics

1.      Rude boys and rude girls are equal. 

2.      Rude boys and rude girls do not discriminate against rude people from the LGBTQ community.  If yah rude, yah in.  This manifesto uses the term ‘rudie’ to include every member of our movement.

3.      No racism.  Our music is based on black music.  Our movement is multi-racial.  We hate racism, because we hate hatred itself. 

4.      I said, No racism.  ‘If your friends are racist, don’t pretend to be my friend.’

 

Violence

5.      Rudies are generally opposed to violence.  Our movement is about love and understanding. 

6.      Rudies, if subjected to, or observing, violence in a relationship, will report it to the relevant authority.

7.      Rudies will under no circumstances take part in sport-related hooliganism, or any form of religious sectarianism. 

8.      Rudies will, before engaging in violence, demonstrate the principle that, if you look hard, you don’t have to do anything. 

9.      If rudies are up against racists or fascists, they will stand up for what they believe in, in whatever way they consider appropriate, bearing in mind the long-term interests of our movement. 

 

Rudies will, at such times, bear in mind the legacy of such people as Darcus Howe.  They will not engage in behaviour likely to besmirch such legacy. 

 

Hair

10.  Dreadlocks, or

11.  Short. 

12.  In the latter case, preferably with sideburns.

13.  Bobs, featherheads, and other styles are allowed for female rudies.

 

Clothes

14.  Keep it simple. 

15.  If in doubt: jeans, boots, braces, T-shirt, Harrington jacket.

 

Roots and Culture

16.  Rudies will do everything possible to strengthen and expand the reach of reggae and ska music. 

17.  When such music is played in a public place, rudies will skank, to the best of their ability. 

 

Politics

18.  Rudies believe in One Love and One I-nity.

19.  Rudies believe in No-one Left Behind. 

20.  Rudies pay their taxes. 

21.  Rudies campaign for political change. 

Review: Unity Words, 29 March 2017

Before we go any further, I will admit that this article is not a review of the whole event.  Two people performed, namely, Geneviève Walsh, and Steve Williams, whose performances were of particular interest to me.

The first act was Ric Neale, on electric piano and vocals.  What he does, he does very well.  What he did on the night, he did to the appreciation of the audience.  Not mi sart a riddim.  Not mi sart a lyric.

Steve Williams arrived on stage wearing a bow tie and 1970s shirt ruffles.  He was clearly going to make a statement.

He mentioned that his poem, ‘Swifts’ was about this relationship with his father.  He also said, “I had to come out to him, twice.”

‘Boy, Mid-flight’, is not a poem about the arbitrary murder of a young, gay man.  It is a poem about the emotional connection between the narrator, and a young, gay man who gets killed.

After delivering this tour de force, Steve seemed to gain confidence.  He took the microphone off the stand, in a Luke Wright stylee.  I think there might have even been a bit of flex-wrapping.  The audience was hooked.

Let’s get this clear: a predominantly straight man gave demonstrative fashion direction to a predominantly gay man.  In Wakefield, West Yorkshire.  That is my world.  That is the world that I will fight for.

I was in tears by the end of Steve’s performance.  This was a testament to Steve’s talent, and to his mentorship with Matt Abbott.  I understand that Matt contributed to the choice of shirt front.

The Impunity Words mentoring scheme goes from strength to strength.

The Pandemonium Poets began with Stan, from the Black Horse Poets.  He did, ‘Leaving Footprints in the Sand’, a poem about the terrorist attack in Tunisia, and, ‘Strangely Enough, McGough’, a pastiche of Roger McGough.

Stan was followed by Stewart from Featherstone.  His rhymed poem would have been more brilliant if he hadn’t forgotten the words, three-quarters of the way through.  I commend him for using sun-glasses in a way that actually was relevant to what he was reciting.

Geneviève Walsh arrived on stage, looking like a 32 year-old goth who was going to launch the hell out of a debut collection.  She has blurbs from Kate Fox, Louise Fazackerley, and Steve Nash, and an introduction from Henry Normal.

I don’t get a mention in the text, but I did get a mention in the intro to, ‘They Ain’t Heavy’.

The headliner was Jess Green, from Leicester.

I didn’t like her rap style.

I didn’t get her persona: who is speaking.

There were fast bits and slow bits.  The fast bits were too fast, and the slow bits were too slow.

My delivery style derives from W. H. Auden, Louis MacNeice, and Alan Bennett.  You may say it is antiquated, and that makes me out of touch with contemporary audiences.