I asked Nathan Penlington to mark our 500th post and look back at the blog to date. There’re plenty more to come and we’re working on more gigs for the summer.
I met Tim Wells twenty years ago. He was standing in the doorway of an upstairs room of a pub just off Carnaby Street. Blu-tacked to the wall was a photocopied poster in the cut & paste style of ransom notes of old that spelled out the enigmatic words The Hard Edge Club. A huge man wearing an eye-patch took my £2 entrance fee. I’d arrived.
This was back in 1995, when there was only a handful of regular nights in London that you could go and hear poetry performed, that is aside from the nights that branded performance poetry with dual capital Ps, and those nights that mumbled with the writers’ group energy of self-serious reading. The Hard Edge Club was a love child of alternative comedy and ranting poetry, a venue that allowed writers and performers to wear those influences proudly, but in combination formed something new. Something funny, brutal, honest, absurd, and democratic. At times the poetry was terrible and brilliant simultaneously. Sometimes it was just terrible. That was its joy.
It makes sense that I’d meet Tim Wells there. At that point Tim had already been involved in live poetry for almost 17 years, the kind of poetry that isn’t afraid to get itself dirty, fight back, and use funny to sucker punch you with truth and emotion.
Stand-up and spit is a continuation of that spirit, a look back at the influences and influence of ranting poetry. It is a history of a movement that was never a movement, run in the margins of music zines and on photocopied flyers, performed at music gigs and sold on tapes and records.
In the past 499 posts Tim has unearthed a huge and important collection of material, much of it helps to rewrite the conventional histories of UK poetry, and bridges that gap between the influence of punk and the rise of Hip Hop. Thanks to Tim’s ongoing research the significance of rant can no longer be ignored, and has become especially relevant in the current political climate.
Tim asked me to delve in and pick out some highlights – so, in the style of music zines everywhere, in no particular order, here is my Stand up and Spit top 10.
1: John Cooper Clarke and Frank Sidebottom do karaoke – this an absolute joy, somehow conjuring up the spirit of music hall.
2: Michael Smith Documentary – filmed a year before he was killed, the documentary features Linton Kwesi Johnson and CLR James. The influence of Michael Smith’s album Mi Cyaan Believe It continues today.
3: The Big One – putting its mouth where its money is, or something like that, this was Stand up and Spit’s glorious live celebration of rant – including Cooper Clarke, Mark Thomas, Ginger John, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Joolz, John Hegley, Attila the Stockbroker, Porky the Poet.
4: New Cross Fire – the tragedy, the response by the police, and the rise of race tensions in the face of National Front hatred, were tackled by many ranting poets including Benjamin Zephaniah and Linton Kwesi Johnson.
5: Gladys McGee – This is great. Tim writes, “Whilst not a ranter she did gig with us and was a genuine working class voice”.
7: Guttersnipe zine documentary – from a time when the BBC would take a risk with its community programming, an in-depth look behind the scenes of a Telford punk zine.
8: The Poetry Olympics – a review from the NME, 5th December, 1981, sums up the divide between poetry factions. A lot hasn’t changed over the years.
9: The collier’s rant: Cecil Sharp House – Tim writes, “whilst ranting poetry isn’t folk music, it is working people having a voice. It wasn’t lost on 80s ‘zine writers that the broadsheets and songs of the Georgians and Victorians were also the voice of ordinary people”.
10: Sleaford Mods – 2015: Cameron’s and the Tories’ utter disdain for the populace; cuts to welfare, arts and education; the dismantling of the NHS; tax evasion and corporate greed; police brutality and the erosion of human rights. If there was ever a time for new rant it is now.
Feel free to rail against my choices. Post your top Stand up and Spit picks in the comments.