The musical support was provided by Ichabod, who is from Chesterfield. When he took to the stage, I thought, ‘Oh, bloody hell. Here we go. Another person who strums a guitar and sings. Possibly another person who strums the guitar and sings VERY LOUDLY for emphasis.’
I have decided where the boring strummers go wrong: weak or clichéd vocals, weak right-hand technique (assuming that the player is right-handed), hackneyed subject matter.
Ichabod is a master of the acoustic guitar. Without any electronic trickery, he makes an acoustic guitar sound as strident as an electric guitar, but with control. He made the guitar speak with both hands: the left hand fretting a rich variety of chords, with some pagan magic techniques that normal people should not have anything to do with, and the right hand varying from plectrum to finger-picking.
Ichabod’s voice is 20 per cent slow-tempo Elvis, 20 per cent Willard Grant Conspiracy, 10 per cent Herman Munster, and the rest, his own. He made a big mouth shape, almost as if he was going to swallow the microphone. The guitar fretboard looked like a lollipop stick. The soundboard looked like your mother’s/grandmother’s/great grandmother’s embroidery tin.
Like all great performance artists, he kept the preambles to a minimum. “If you have liked any of my stuff, it is available nowhere.” That kind of nihilistic style works well.
I didn’t get most of the subject matter of his songs, but his guitar technique, and his vocal style deserve not just to be heard more widely, but to be rammed down the throat of every “dink-ding-a-ding-dink-dink-ding – I wrote this song when I met some guys from Trieste” abuser who has ever tried to take to the stage.
Geneviève Walsh appeared with a larger-than-usual bouffant hair style, which was coloured blue. That is not sexist. Geneviève Walsh is a full-time goth, and so it is reasonable to comment on her hair. To say nothing of her taffeta skirt, 18-hole Doc Marten boots, and corset. Even by Gen’s standards, she looked dressed to impress.
The poems she did were something like: 1. Why Are We Wearing Clothes? 2. The Woman In The Library. 3. You Sometimes Fall Off Chairs. 4. There’s Always One. 5. Run, Dickhead. 6. When The Last Of The Ink Runs Dry.
She went from one piece to the next, effortlessly. She was her usual, brilliant, self. She has a voice, and it is her own. I am older than she is. I’m a bloke. Mi av a diffren’ sart a riddim. But she speaks to me.
Geneviève has a collection coming out, soon. It will be called, ‘Dance Of A Thousand Losers’.
Next came the Pandemonium Poets, of which there were three, rather than the usual five.
Phil Pearce from Leeds delivered a poem called, ‘Fuck You, Cancer.’ It was an excellent start to a career in writing poetry.
Joy Bruce, from the Portobello estate in Wakefield, recited a piece called, ‘A Daughter’s Prayer’. The controlling idea of the poem was brilliant.
Simon Widdop, my friend from the Black Horse Poets, gave the best performance I have seen of him, yet. He had a hammer in his last line, and it knocked everybody’s teeth out.
Ralph Dartford, the compere, did two poems: Mr Samson, and Oxford Blue Shirt, both with bite in the last line.
And so we now come to Luke Wright. It is late, and you might expect me to gloss over this part and just try to get to the end. Well, I’m not going to.
I saw him before he was due to go on. I know enough about live performance to know what that feels like. He had travelled a long way.
He looked like a work-shy fop. His hair was cut to a number 2 or 3 down the sides, with a kind of collapsed Mohican, and a hair-band holding part of it, down the middle. It was blond. It looked in very good condition. It made you want to run your fingers through it, and caress it.
He looked like a different person from the one I saw at the Theatre Royal, supporting John Cooper Clarke, about 4 years ago.
He wore a cravat, which he ostentatiously undid and put on the microphone stand. He wore a grey morning coat, skinny-jeans, and slip-on Doc Martens.
He took the mic off the stand, and wrapped the flex around his hand. This was about the point that I started to fall in love with him. I had put up a stout resistance until then.
His first poem was called, ‘England, Heal My Hackneyed Heart’.
He then delivered an exposition about Georgian history, during which certain things, not the least of which was his dress, slotted into place. Anybody who is interested in, and really gets, Georgian history is all right, in my book.
I unreservedly admit that my impartiality as a reviewer may, from this point onwards, be called into question.
This led into a poem about Edward Dando. They buried him in Clerkenwell, beneath St James’s bells. My late mother used to live in Clerkenwell, near St James’s Walk.
He said, “cunt” four times. ‘I make that Hilary Mantel look like a right cunt.’
His next piece was called, ‘Let’s All Go To Grammar School’. I usually hate political poetry. When I hear political poetry, I usually think, “Please, make it stop.” I wanted this to go on and on. It was controlled. It was eloquent. It was brilliant. The voice (in the vocal sense) he used reminded me at times of Johnny Rotten, and again of Rik Mayall.
Next, ‘This is IDS’ (as in Iain Duncan Smith) in a Georges Perec stylee, using only the vowel, ‘i’.
[Mildly disparaging remarks concerning, and impersonations of, Kate Tempest.]
‘One Trick Bishop’. ‘Who rings the landline at midnight?’ [Mildly disparaging remarks about Seamus Heaney, Gillian Clarke, and Carol Ann Duffy.]
‘Burt Up Pub’. An entire, narrative poem, using only one vowel: U. Including explicit references to anal sex. This was a lexical and inventive tour de force that few other writers, living or dead, could equal, and none could exceed.
His final piece in his scheduled set was entitled, ‘The Houses That Used To Be Boozers’, and took his stage persona towards the Jack Sparrow direction.
He was entreated to do an encore, of course.
This was a performance by a relatively well-known artist who has, in my estimation, matured and developed very positively since the last time I saw him.
What I saw from Luke Wright this time was genuine virtuosity, the right kind of combination of subtlety and power, the right blend of preamble with directness. This was a spoken word performance that particularly delighted spoken work performers, but delighted everybody else, as well.
As I felt after seeing Louise Fazackerley, I hate Luke Wright, because my having seen his performance means that I have to rethink my entire approach to spoken word.
But I will rethink it.