There’s a lot of talk about how mainstream poetry is nowadays, but back in the 80s we were covered in national music papers, to a predominantly non-poetry audience. It seems to me, that whilst we are in a healthy place with spoken word, we’re still reaching to niche audiences. Who’s to blame? I leave that for you to decide.
The NME, 5 May, 1984 reviews that years Poetry International.
Fairly typical benefit gig reviewed in the NME, 21 May, 1983. The fabulous Dolly Mixture, ranting’s own Benjamin Zephaniah, the lovely Damned, and more.
Damned, Dolly Mixture, Benjamin Zephaniah, A Popular History of Signs
Such a strange assortment could only mean a benefit gig. Artists For Animals was the cause, and a well filled Greyhound (how apt) gawped at The Animals Film on video during lulls in the action. Mildly surreal, but there was much to enjoy.
A Popular History Of Signs hail from North London, but this trio’s spiritual home is located even closer to the Pole. APHOS play atmospheric yet dramatically charged music of a style usually associated with Yorkshire and the North West. The gang Of Four’s agit-prop is welded to the Factory sound, but APHOS transcend their evident influences to resonantly addictive effect.
Benjamin Zephaniah has allowed himself to be adopted as a token by righteous whites hungry for the sound of suffering in Babylon. Feted by the first few rows of upturned, all-whte faces at events like tonight’s, he’s selling himself short, not least artistically. His poetic rhythms are strong and lilting, hence lending themselves naturally to a song. Linton Kwesi Johnson realised his potential by switching from band to maestro – remember the power of ‘Sonny’s Lettah’? Benjamin Zephaniah should be doing the same with ‘Margaret Thatcher’.
Captain Sensible officiated throughout, and with earnest bashfulness demonstrated his commitment to animal rights by reading out some of his poetry on the subject. William Blake he ain’t. Then reverting to his more familiar self, he introduced his protegees Dolly Mixture, who immediately warmed up a hitherto low-key affair.
Rachel and Debsie are singing very well these days, and though Hester’s drums lack finesse, their all-round performance sparkled with enthusiasm. With their polka-dot party dresses and eagerness to please, Dolly Mixture are quaintly and ingenuously English, and their ’60s teenbeat-style set drew me even further back to childhood’s untroubled fun.
Finally The Damned came on to play ‘Smash It Up’, a latterday ‘Hokey Cokey’ reminding us that although they’re pretty dodgy elsewhere, they’ve always been a good pub act.
The NME, 5 February, 1983, reports on an early open mic festival
Seething Wells and Little Brother share an EP on Radical Wallpaper, it’s Swells’ second, and Benjamin Zephaniah has one to himself.
From the NME, 18 December, 1982
From NME, 31 March, 1984
As per usual for any poetry festival, some highs and lows on this bill.
An outstanding, and typical, bill from the ‘alternative cabaret’ promoters. They’d usually have a poet (often a ranter), a comedian, a musician and a ‘weird turn’ on the bill.
This bill from NME, 31 March, 1984 has some top drawer names: Pauline Melville, Benjamin Zephaniah, Mark Miwurdz, Billy Bragg, Matumbi, The Popticians (John Hegley’s band), Left Wing Teds and many more.
From NME, 31 March, 1984.
The poetry promoters launch their first book.
Poets of a certain age, and stage of inebriation, sometimes flick through the book and ponder ‘where are hey now?’.
There’re some decent poets in the book: Attila the Stockbroker, Benjamin Zephaniah, Mark Steel, Little Dave, Nick Toczek, John Hegley, Claire Dowie, Ginger John, John Agard, and Marsha Prescod amongst many othes.
Emily Harrison reading the book en route to a gig.