One of the better releases of 2021 was south London band Dry Cleaning’s debut album New Long Leg. The spoken word vocals of Florence Shaw, and the John McGeoch guitar stylings, have been pricking more than a few ears.
Andy T poem from anarcho punk zine Anathema, first issue, 1982.
Man and the Second Class Citizen
Have you seen the big man flexing his tattooes?
as he drools over page three he’s thinking of you
he thinks of every woman as his sexual slave
MR IRRESISTABLE who never has to pay
girl hitch hiker needs a lift for fifty miles
MR LORRY DRIVER picks her up with evil smile
the girl feels nervous when he starts to stare
she screams when he stops and asks for the fare
he beats her round the head rips off her clothes
RAPES her twice then breaks her nose
throws her out the door she falls down in a field
big man drives away to get his next meal
transport cafe rapists talk about their day
laughing at the women they used on the way
LOOKING AT HIS MUSCLES THE BIG MAN SMILES
TWENTY FIVE MILES AWAY A BROKEN BODY LIES……..
Andy T, Nov 81
Paul Weller poem from the second issue of his zine December Child, 1980.
A Jazz Poem
As I hopskipjump
Up the high street
Leap of the pavement baby
Jump into warm puddles
Someone’s playing a
Jazz sax solo
It come drifting
Out of a window
Real surreal like
The sun is hot
On my back
It’s after the revolution
And it’s safe again.
I’m sipping beer
And smoking a cigarette
I’m dressed in colourful
clothes and baby I don’t care
I am young again.
Paul Weller, 1980
The Human League live in Jamming, number 8, 1979.
The band’s singer Phil Oakey is called Phil Dakey throughout the review and I’ve kept that.
Human League – Marquee
Showing films and slides during a set used to be a ploy to make you forget the group were stationary; with the Human League it’s hip again (Just an observation…) This was the first time I’d seen the Human League, having been very impressed with what I’d heard, and they’re a group I’ll go and see again and again. The Human League are: – Phil Dakey (vocals), Ian Marsh (synthesizers), Martyn Ware (synthesizer, occasional backing vocals), and I think, Adrian, who operated the slides. These are, obviously, the vocal visual point, and they really are something special. Sometimes the visuals connect in a way you wouldn’t imagine, but they can be frightening – 10 doctors surrounding an already cut-open patient followed by a smiling butcher brandishing knives.
The songs are all very strong and grip you in a mystical way – Zero As A Limit, Circus Of Death, Being Boiled, and many others with even more ridiculous names, not forgetting my favourite, Blind Youth. The only song not to feature slides was their incredible version of You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling (I can’t explain why they do it, maybe it’s just to seem even more confusing). The encore was Rock’n’Roll Parts 1&2, joined on stage by Spizz. A bit too calculated, but a great finish.
Generally, the Human League are better on record or session than live – although of course the slide show is something special. Howabout a new gimmick then – a free slide with every record??!!
But best bit of all was when Phil Dakey looked at the slides, looked at the audience, and asked… “Do you understand all this?”
Mod poet Aidan Cant had poems in The Pacemaker, Pilot Issue, 1981.
What day is it? What paper to buy?
the Sunny Jim Mirror or the Private Spy,
it’s good news week mate, but I’m, not to blame,
when a top-floor shop of surgical wargames,
burns to the ground in a heap of flames.
Jason King with his mop of false hair,
likes nothing but flicking with commissionaires:
everybody flies by Dan-Air,
and a DC-10 comes down in flames,
the werewolves of London have been unchained,
we’re in a fit of depression and a trough of rain,
but you can join the army or the human zoo,
if you’re out on a limb with nothing to choose,
you can ransack a house or even wreck a train,
but please don’t sneeze when I’m singin’ in the rain.
I’ve got a special disease and I love the pain.
But it’s good news week son and never too soon,
cry the werewolves of London by the silvery moon,
and everybody dances to an old Kinks tune,
while a man with the green and defective genes,
who’s fathered nine sons and a number of has beens,
play Chinese Chequers for a packet of jewels,
he plays Russian Roulette to the proper rules.
He’s got a van full of handles,
he’s one of them vandals.
A mouthful of marbles and a box full of candles,
the pox and the filth it creeps around,
like a Sun reporter going underground,
for a nuclear attack, he can feel it in his bones,
and just for a crack he’ll even start one of his own;
and be another Philby for the big red eye,
and drink to everyone’s health before they die.
From Resister, April, 1988, an anarchist feminist zine from Leeds.
There was a window of a few years where music festivals had a lot of poetry. Poetry thought it a space at the table but music festivals soon put them right.
This feature by Aoife Mannix is from The London Magazine, August/September 2008.
I read at the Hyde Park gig mentioned, and was delighted to see Eddy Grant’s set, and also at Latitude before being banned.
Mud, music and words
Poetry, it seems, is the new rock’n’roll. Or at least the latest trendy thing to have at your festival. From the O2 Wireless to Latitude, Glastonbury to the Big Chill and the Summer Sundae Weekender, they’ve all taken to pitching a poetry tent where revellers in wellies can soak up the spoken word. While some mainstream programme choices, like Jay-Z headlining at Glastonbury, have had a lukewarm reception this year, poets have been warmly embraced by the weird and wonderful world of sunshine and mud that is the traditional music festival.
It might be the element of surprise. As a ten year old boy in a primary school once said to me, ‘I thought all poets were dead.’ The education system has a lot to answer for in promoting us poets as men in wigs, waving quills around and writing verse as incomprehensible as it is irrelevant. Often I’ve dragged friends of mine along to their first poetry event, only to have them tell me, ‘You know I really enjoyed that and I didn’t think I was going to.’
Festivals may be about drink, drugs and getting sunburnt, but people are also genuinely hungry for a bit of spiritual nourishment. At the O2 Wireless festival, forty nine poets who had featured in The London Magazine and its sister publication Trespass, delivered their words of wisdom to an enormous beer garden. Generally considered to be one of the UK’s more commercial festivals, this was the first time poetry was let loose on the crowds in Hyde Park. There was a lovely moment when a group of young revellers surrounded the stage during 73 year old Scottish poet Eddie Linden’s slot. As he stood proclaiming his verse to the sky, they were snapping away at him with their mobile phones. Sascha Akhtar performed on the same day with her unique blend of electronic music and richly worded verse and said of the performance:
Eddie’s voice rose like fire, and the winds started up, trees rustling with recognition and Eddie’s red cap blazed like his words. I felt at that moment that this was what it was all about, why we were all there, to slice through the madness with nothing but the word.
During my own reading I had a rather over-enthusiastic heckler, who shouted ‘will you marry me?’ from the crowd. Afterwards he very politely bought a copy of my book.
Of course there are plenty of festival goers who are already fans of the spoken word and who would actively seek out the poetry arena. Latitude, in Suffolk, is living proof of this, as a music and cultural festival that is also one of the largest poetry events in Europe. The poetry arena was packed out this year, with sixty poets providing over fifty hours of performances. Even here, however, there are still new converts to be made. I remember the young man listening to Salena Godden at one in the morning, who said to his mate, ‘Is she a poet? She’s really good. And she’s well fit. I could get into this poetry stuff.’ The big plus for poets performing at festivals is the chance to reach new audiences that might otherwise never dream of listening to poetry. Perhaps wandering drunkenly past a poetry tent and being strangely moved by the wry observations of Roddy Lumsden or the political integrity of Adrian Mitchell could be the first step to buying that poet’s collection and carefully poring over every word.
There are definitely challenges to performing to a festival audience. Folk primarily go to festivals to have a good time so it’s not really the moment to premiere your twenty minute ode to suicide. Some might agree that this implies a general dumbing down of the arts, and that it encourages poets to pander to the masses, but in my experience festival goers are remarkably open minded and up for anything. There is something about being in a large field surrounded by people sporting everything from angel wings to cat suits, top hats to flamenco dresses that encourages a willingness to step out of your comfort zone. There’s a communal feeling of excitement, imaginative possibility and sheer joy in living. This is, after all, what poetry is about: providing a meaningful alternative to the crushing boredom of media clichés, brushing aside the superficial ad-speak, and reclaiming the freedom to form our own identities.
Phrased & Confused have taken the potential for fusion of the arts one step further at Leicester’s Summer Sundae Weekender by commissioning artists to experiment with combining music and spoken word. Of course, the line between poetry and lyrics has always been blurred. A good poem is as much about the sound and the rhythm as it is about meaning, and the same can be said of a good song. A long tradition of artists like Patti Smith, Leonard Cohen, Linton Kwesi Johnson and John Cooper Clarke have prepared the way for the likes of Sascha Akhtar and Scroobius Pip, who continue to draw poetry and music fans alike. It’s also a two way street; as music festivals open themselves to poetry, poetry festivals are embracing all kinds of poets and musicians. This year’s Ledbury festival, the largest poetry festival in the UK, featured Mark Gwynne Jones and Psychicbread – a collective describing themselves as ‘a conspiracy to fuse poetry, film and music’. The festival also played host to Luke Wright, Edinburgh Festival star and Latitude Programmer. The likes of Wright and his Aisle 16 cohorts exemplify a new breed of poets who are drawing a young, savvy audience to their poetry/comedy hybrid. In the capital, the South Bank’s Literature Festival closed with Polarbear’s If I Cover My Nose You Can’t See Me. An exhilarating show, blending poetry, hip hop and story-telling, If I Cover My Nose You Can’t See Me was produced by Sarah Ellis for Apples & Snakes and directed by Yael Shavit. The show also included live visuals by graffiti artist Goonism, as well as music from DJ Afrosaxon and singer-songwriter Jamie Woon.
Festivals can also be a source of inspiration for the writers themselves. For those poets who find the whole thing a little intimidating, here are some words of encouragement from this year’s Glastonbury poet in residence, A. F. Harold.
It was a lot more fun than I’d expected. I’d never doubted I’d be able to write something, after all that’s what I do, but I was quietly impressed with some of the things that I found to write about, and having the job coloured everything I saw. As a rule I can’t think of anything worse than spending a weekend with 150,000 people in a field with tents and chemical toilets and all the rest – with all those bands playing I’ve never heard of and late nights and expensive food. All of that is anathema to me (give me an early night and a long bath and a good book and a Buffy DVD and I’m a happy man) – but being there with a purpose… oh, that made it all alright…
As I see it, the purpose of poetry is to enrich, enlighten and entertain. Festivals offer a great opportunity to make connections with people, and attract a larger audience to the spoken word in a context far removed from the dusty poetry section in the library. The cross pollination of music, poetry, stand-up and visual art is becoming ever more common, events that embrace other art forms can only benefit from their increasing popularity. Some of these poets, like Eddie Linden, make unusual ‘groupie’ magnets, and can help inspire the next generation of poetry lovers with their passionate performances. Long may festival programmers have the imagination to embrace poets, and long may poets respond with verve, enthusiasm and pride in our aural tradition.
Melody Maker, 28 November, 1981. There’s a review from the NME here.
The Fall’s first album reviewed in Smash Hits, May 17-31, 1979, by Red Starr.
THE FALL: Live at the Witch Trials (Step Forward)
Incompetent or invigorating? I’ll go for the latter as the darlings of the John Peel set arrive in provocative style on an independent label. Hard and uncompromising but energetic and almost tuneful – oddly this is near to mainstream rock and pure punk. Like they say, a rebellious jukebox. Seek this out. Best trax: “Rebellious Jukebox”, “Two Steps Back”. (7 out of 10).
This Ethel Carnie poem is from her 1911 collection Songs of a Factory Girl. She was a working-class writer from Lancashire who began working at cotton mills aged 11. She edited an anti-fascist journal, The Clear Light and her poems were published in the Freedom paper, where she took up the cause of Anarchists imprisoned in Soviet jails.
She lived 1 January 1886 – December 1962 and was the first working-class woman to publish a novel.
Dearer than woods, bursting to new, bright green,
Where whistling blackbirds shrill ‘mid rose-starred briars;
Trails of white-petalled strawberries, April-washed,
Are these grey streets, vast crowds, and silvery spires:
Wide lawns of fair loveliness, where Dawn
Trips, leaving diamond traces of her feet:
And bramble bushes hung with gossamers
Wake not within my heart a thrill so sweet
As when surrounded by this mighty throng,
These varying streams of great humanity,
Bearing their little toll of flowers or weeds
To the vast ocean of Eternity.
List to this murmur that doth rise and fall
Like surge of billows – richer than the notes
Of blackbird, or the cuckoos madrigal,
Or rapturous joy of bursting linnet-throats!
The lady’s cultured accents, the hoarse call
Of violet-sellers help to swell that sound;
The child’s thin treble and the beggar’s drone,
Make up the song that floods the air around.
Dear, busy hive of warm and throbbing life,
O! what are bees and birds, and chainless sea,
Compared with men and women? These do make
The charm that draws one evermore to thee.