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.