I arrived at Unity Works after having a bad day at the dole office, and still suffering from the residual effects of the respiratory infection which has threatened to kill me throughout the month of January, and from which I am still dying on alternate days.
Ralph, darling, and Simon, darling, can you please not bollock me as soon as I step through the door? I know you mean it in a laddishly affirmatory way, but we who like to pretend when it suits us that we have Asperger’s syndrome don’t take to that sort of thing.
The compere was Geneviève Walsh. Whoever is compering is introduced by Ralph Dartford, one of the originators of the event, and The Compere-Finder General. Ralph is very keen on obtaining an enthusiastic response from every audience, and so his arrival on stage sometimes has to be done twice, in order to reach the required decibel level.
Gen’s hair is still in its bouffant, blue period. She conducted herself with her accustomed style and vigour. Gen also hankers after an enthusiastic response from the audience, though in a more negotiated, rather than imperative, manner. Information recently received via Facebook reveals that, “William does this amazingly deflated ‘yay’ at every single Unity Words. I enjoy it so much, I want to set it as my text message tone.”
The programme for the evening was: support poet, Pandemonium Poets, the first of 2017’s mentored poets, headliner. There was no music slot, this evening, and I did not miss it. Some of the musical performances in 2016 were great, but I believe that spoken word does not need music in order to provide a rich variety of entertainment.
The support slot was performed by Kieren King. Despite his long CV as both performer and compere, this was the first time I had heard him. I enjoyed his lament about the subordinate cultural position that Salford has to put up with in relation to Manchester. I enjoyed his piece, ‘She Talks To Pigeons’, which he wrote as an escape from the memory of when he was forced to take a job as a PPI cold-caller. I was interested in two pieces he did which were pastiches: one about Alan Turing, which was a pastiche of computing terms, and another which was made of parts borrowed from fairy tales. He recited a poem called ‘Party’s Over’, that had been written by his father, who used to be a spoken word performer. He finished with a piece in which he addressed himself at various ages that he has passed through, not in chronological order. This is the kind of confessional, consolatory subject that I write about. I would have preferred it delivered with more swagger, and a bit less self-deprecation.
The sounds during the intervals were provided by DJ Sharon Shepherd. It was all good. I particularly enjoyed the brass band version of ‘Sexual Healing’.
The evening’s Pandemonium Poets were: Sarah Leah Cobham, Stephen Harrison, Darinka Radovanovic, Matt Tully, and Susan Wainwright.
Sarah Leah Cobham is someone I work with as part of the Writing Wrongs project. She has only started performing spoken word recently. She says she gets nervous, which I am sure will wear off, soon. When Ralph Dartford returned to the stage to introduce the next performer, he was fanning his face with his notebook, as well he might. It was filth, but it was subtle and erudite filth: not just filth for the sake of filth.
Stephen Harrison’s pieces were well-crafted, and one of them contained yet another gag about Matt Abbott’s recent TV advert.
Darinka Radovanovic gave what was billed as her first ever spoken word performance, a piece about her Balkan roots, called ‘My Father’s House’. She delivered it very eloquently and movingly.
Matt Tully performed a piece about a dislikeable character watching porn on a train. This contrasts with the other piece of his I have heard, so far, which is about finding peace and solace in a sex shop.
Susan Wainwright performed a piece entitled ‘Could Be Upsetting’. It is about child sexual exploitation, and murder in self-defence. She delivered it with gravitas enhanced by a touch of understatement.
Hannah Batley is one of 2016’s Pandemonium Poets. This is a poetry and performance tuition scheme, run by Ralph Dartford, in which a number of emerging poets (usually five) pay a fee of GBP 5 each, to have 2 hours of intensive training with members of A Firm Of Poets. My wife, Valerie Anderson Gaskill, was one of December 2016’s Pandemonium Poets, and she describes it as, ‘A proper shot of adrenalin’. Ralph has decided to take this a stage further in 2017, and offer longer courses of one-to-one training. This has been blessed with funding from the Arts Council. Hannah Batley is the first beneficiary of this scheme.
She did a 15-minute slot, featuring four relatively long pieces. The first three she delivered standing up, from memory (Hannah is a tall woman). The last one, sitting down, read from a fragment of a recently-rediscovered notebook.
I wrote 4 pages of notes in preparation for this review. As Hannah was getting up to go on stage, I wrote, ‘Hannah Batley’. While she was giving a brief introduction, I wrote ‘4 pieces’. That’s it. I didn’t write anything else, because I was too busy listening. If you want to know what her work is like, go and listen to her perform. If the event is ticketed, and you have to pay, then pay.
The headline act was J. B. Barrington. From his name, I was expecting a nineteenth century explorer. What arrived on stage was a bloke from Salford. Another one. The second of the evening.
He used a few props, as I did, when I did the support slot in December. One was a genuine Woolworth’s record department bag. You don’t see that every day.
I have somehow ended up with J. B. Barrington’s hand-written set list. (And no, I did not steal it, you defamatory bastards.) He did: ‘You Had Me’,
Spanish ‘Things Me Mam Used To Say’, ‘Grapes of Wrath’, ‘Posh Nosh’, ‘Spanish Dolls’, ‘There’s A Reason’, ‘Don’t Look Down’, ‘The Bingo Queue’, ‘She Holds His Hand’, ‘Sunglasses’, ‘When I’m Gone’, ‘Motosave’, and ‘Shampoo, Cigs, and Shit Roll’. He writes in partly joined-up block capitals.
I have managed to get this far in a review of a programme that contained two contemporary Salfordian performance poets, before mentioning the John Cooper Clarke metrical machinegun. Both Kieren King and J. B. Barrington used it.
The most remarkable thing about J. B. Barrington’s set was that the political poems were the best. As I said when I reviewed Luke Wright’s performance at Unity Words, usually, when I hear political poetry, I just want it to stop. I agreed with every word that J. B. Barrington said about the obscene fact that basic, humanitarian provision increasingly has to be funded by charity rather than from taxation.
It was a great pity that J. B. Barrington had had to drive to Wakefield, because I would have loved to take him on the traditional visit to the Inns of Court to have a few drinks and talk about poetry. I would love to talk to him about every aspect of it: how he chooses what to write about, rhyme, metre, delivery, the relationship between poetry and social class, and how he justifies charging seven quid for a stapled pamphlet (Woodchip Anaglypta And Nicotined Artex Ceilings). Yes, I know Suggs has read from it live on stage, but it is still stapled, not glued.