Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

Monthly Archives: October 2016

Review: Unity Words 26 October 2016

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. 

‘The Data Quality Analyst’s Lot’ by Hilaire

I am not entirely sure about the ending, but this is a well-crafted piece about a very difficult subject. It is worth not just reading for enjoyment, but studying as to its technique, as well.

A companion poem to Let Me Die A Youngman’s Death, by Roger McGough

As part of the recent Wakefield Litfest, I had the privilege of hearing Roger McGough give a reading in the main hall at Unity Works, and a brief chat with him afterwards, when he was signing books.  Valerie and I bought a copy of ‘As Far As I Know’.

I mentioned to him that I was the ‘Throwing Mother In The Skip’ chap, as shown in the Litfest programme.  He asked how long we had been performing.  I said 5 years.  Valerie said much longer.  I remarked that the spoken word scene in West Yorkshire is very active at the moment, with the centre of gravity arguably in Wakefield.  He seemed pleased, or, possibly, relieved.

I only need Brian Patten, now, and I have got the set.

Here is a pastiche I wrote.


Mad dancing

Let me skank a youngman’s skank

not a white-man’s wedding reception dance

not a silk shirt and money-in-the-bank

performance, but a once-in-a-lifetime

struggling, bubbling, youngman’s skank.


When I am 15

and aerobically rootical

may I hear the lyric

‘Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone’

in a students’ union hall

and dance harder because I knew it before.


Or when I am 21

in a cashmere suit

having cashed my first pay-cheque to boot

may I win the dance-off

while looking well-gay

at the East Kilbride YMCA.


Or when I am 35

skanking in broad daylight in Forster Square

may I be berated by a homeless man

and yet be taken by the hand

by strangers, and be complimented by

the polite lead-singer of the rude reggae band

which is playing at the time.


Let me skank to the last of my breath.

Let me skank in spite of the booing,

infarctioning  to my decease.

Don’t tell me off for “mad dancing”:

that would suggest

I didn’t know what I was doing.


Throwing Mother In The Skip: 1 October 2016

The Cluntergate Centre has two performance spaces: a smaller one, called the café, and a larger one, called the main hall. Out of concern for how many people would arrive, it was provisionally suggested that we should use the café. In the event, we used the main hall. The lighting in there is more controllable. We put café-style seating near the stage. I borrowed Jared’s amp (the one I had bought him for his birthday) to play the music.  Many thanks to Darren Bailey and, on the night, to Julie Yarrow.

Valerie was in charge of the bar. She had some help from Jane (Jared’s mother, my previous partner).

All the people I have mentioned so far appear in poems in my debut collection, ‘Throwing Mother In The Skip’. This was the first reading I have ever given at which they have all been present.

Rob Reed and Matt Abbott arrived in a taxi, a fact of which Matt had to try and make light by describing it in a posh accent. Despite his TV celebrity status, Matt still finds the mere act of riding in a taxi uncomfortable.

At 5am on the day the performance was due to start at 7:30pm, I was in my kitchen, drinking gin and sawing wood, in order to rebuild the stand that the mock skip requires to make it usable on stage. I am glad to say that Valerie slept through all this, and I managed to complete the task without injuring myself.

I think I thought of nearly everything, apart from who was going to collect the entrance money from people who were going to pay on the door. This was admirably taken up by Sarah Leah Cobham, in a display of initiative that would have done credit to the young Napoleon.

The audience was 25 people. This was pretty good, considering that only 5 tickets were sold through the ticket website. And they were 25 very good people.

The distance record, as far as I know, was taken by John Darwin, late of A Firm Of Poets, who had come from Manchester. YES, DEAR READER. SOMEBODY CAME FROM WEST OF THE PENNINES TO SEE THIS SHOW IN HORBURY. It was fortunate that I had communicated with him earlier about the best route to take. If you are coming to the Cluntergate Centre from Kirklees, or anywhere to the west, do not go via the centre of Wakefield: go via Dewsbury. The 126 and 127 bus from Dewsbury stops virtually at the door of the centre.

Rose Drew and Alan Gillott, my publishers at Stairwell Books in York, had also travelled a long way, and it was great to see them. They want to publish my debut short story collection, provisionally titled, ‘Something I Need To Tell You’, of which more later.

After a bit of messing about with the voice mic and Jared’s amp, Matt decided he would make a foray behind the curtain, and see if he could get the PA working. This he did, in a very short time. We were in business, with voice on one system, and music on another.

We started on time.

First up was Rob Reed. Rob reads from a medium-sized notebook with a black cover. He marks his running order with Post-It notes, which he tears off as he goes, and aggressively throws on the floor (before assiduously picking them all up after his set has finished). He did the modern, long run-up comedy routine based on multiple sophisticated word-play on the word, “Hello” that I had heard before. Everybody got it. He did serious stuff. He did other humorous stuff. He did stuff that defies classification as either serious or humorous. That was why I asked him to be there. That is why he went on first.

Rob is the only person I have ever heard to utter the phrase, “Jeremy Corbyn riding a dinosaur”.

It had occurred to me, before the show, to try to make up jokes about Matt Abbott’s recent TV celebrity. I needn’t have bothered because, of course, the best person to make fun of Matt Abbott’s TV celebrity is Matt Abbott himself.

Matt was also acute enough (ACUTE, I said) to observe that Rob had had a skip behind him while on stage (albeit a mock skip) and yet had broadcast his Post-It notes all over the place in the most wanton manner imaginable.

Matt’s set showed his accustomed variety. Politics. Pies. L20 1BG, which is about his mother’s cancer diagnosis. It appears in the Wordlife anthology, edited by Joe Kriss (ISBN 978-1-5272-0073-9) and, by something approaching chance, had been read by me on the last edition of Themes for Dreamers on PhoenixFM, broadcast from Halifax.

I started at the kitchen door. Valerie and Jane, who had been managing the bar, were sitting down. I stood in the doorway, off to stage left, and performed the prose piece that I call, ‘Buried Treasure’, which is an impersonation of my late mother. It has only been performed once before, at the now-defunct Sportsman in Halifax. It is quite an experimental piece. I think I just about got away with it.

Next: a piece I call, ‘Unfortunately’. https://www.facebook.com/sarahleahcobham/videos/10208832249377853/

Then a new poem, read from a piece of paper, and then onto reading from a copy of ‘Throwing Mother In The Skip’.

This was the first time the line, “with inadequate French bacon” got a laugh. Rose Drew attributed this to my having fore-shadowed it with the “Buried Treasure” piece about my mother. That seems like a good explanation.

Enough people turned up. The venue was great. The concept I had had in mind for the show worked. I expect to be running similar events at the Cluntergate Centre in the near future. I learnt a lot, and the next one may be even better.

We still need to insure Matt’s hair.