Tag Archives: Linton Kwesi Johnson

It Dread Inna Inglan

LKJ’s single reviewed by Vivien Goldman in Sounds, 12 August, 1978.

Poet And The Roots: ‘It Dread Inna Inglan’ (Virgin)
Linton Kwesi Johnson, most militant man in reggae internationally in this ya time now. “Dem frame George Lindo in Bradford Town and the Bradford blacks dem a rally roun'” … to a Dennis Bovell rhythm ominous as a riot shield at party time. If only Liddle Towers were around, his fate would benefit from a third musical appeal from Poet & The Roots. If they ever get me, Linton, a 7″ version of my tribulation would do me a treat, thank you.

Poetry Olympics Weller

The lead up to the 1981 Poetry Olympics in the NME, 28 November, 1981.

Weller yes, but no Jam at Poetry Olympics

Sorry, but Paul Weller won’t be joined by The Jam when he appears at the Poetry Olympics next Monday (November 30). Last week’s NME news story, reporting that the group would play, was based on some mis-information.
However, Paul will still be there to read his own poetry, as part of the three-day event being staged at London’s Young Vic theatre, starting this Saturday (28) with, amongst others, Linton Kwesi Johnson and John Cooper Clarke.
The Weller set will last up to half an hour, and he’ll be sharing it with two collaborators in his Riot Stories publishing venture, Aidan Cant from Newcastle and Anne Clark from Croydon. Work by both guests has appeared in Riot Stories and December’s Child, and further contributions, including work by Weller will be included in a special Poetry Olympics issue of New Departures.
The Monday session at the Young Vic is now sold out.


LKJ and Clarkey’s singles reviewed in Sounds, 3 November, 1979, by Alan Lewis.

John Cooper Clarke:
Splat/Twat (Epic).
‘You make life a fairy tale – Grimm… here, do us all a favour, wear this polythene bag… speaking as an outsider, what do you think of te human race?’ These and other gems from Liverpool’s answer to Pam Ayres, recorded live at the Marquee. Trouble is, this is supposed to be a ‘Twin Grooved Single’, but my needle (sharpened only yesterday) refuses to pick up the ‘Splat’ track, if indeed there is one. Is this a conceptual joke?

Linton Kwesi Johnson:
Sonny’s Lettah (Anti-sus Poem) (Island).
Police victimization and its inevitable backlash described with chilling effectiveness in the form of a prisoner’s letter home to his mother. As ever, LKJ’s cool, almost deadpan delivery is a more deadly weapon than any amount of ranting and sloganeering.

From Bard To Verse

Clarkey and LKJ in Sounds, 20 March, 1982.

From bard to verse
John Cooper Clarke/Linton Kwesi Johnson
Old Vic

John Cooper Clarke doesn’t so much read poetry as batter your ears senseless with it. Looking like an anorexic refugee from Belsen, he teeters around the stage of The Old Vic with just a microphone (bearing striking resemblance to himself) for company and delights his audience with the now familiar 100 mph torrent of words in action that fall from his razor sharp tongue.
Seldom, I suspect, has the Old Vic born witness to so many four-letter words and scathing irreverence in poems like ‘At Majorca’, (“Where the Double Diamond flows like sick”) and ‘The Day The World Stood Still’, “A sympathetic look at a nerve gas attack.”
Cooper Clarke is sharp, aggressive and above all, very funny. Tonight’s performance was without music. Both he and Linton Kwesi Johnson performed solo, apparently in an effort to become accepted as poets and not musicians, although personally I would never have thought such a confusion likely.
As soon as Linton Kwesi Johnson launched into ‘Five Nights Of Bleeding’ it was obvious that he had never needed the musical accompaniment he has on his records. The ingenuity of cadence, tone and verse construction makes the music superfluous, coupled with a delivery so rhythmic that he managed to create what I would have thought was impossible, a foot tapping poetry recital.
Cooper Clarke’s acerbic wit is contrasted with the overt romanticism of his reggae stablemate. But what is most disturbing about the evening is their joint failure to reach the audience about whom their poetry is centred. Kwesi Johnson’s poems about the riots and his numerous references to his friends in Brixton fell not on the ears of working class blacks, but on an almost exclusively white middle class audience.
Neither did they look like they’d ever strolled down Cooper Clarke’s ‘Beazley Street’ (“where anyone with two ears is a nancy boy”) and one is left with an uneasy feeling that these two heroes of modern poetry have succeeded only in popularising their art for the middle classes. The subject of their poetry, urban working class youth, don’t seem to have got a look in.

Cathi Wheatley

LKJ JCC Olympics

Linton and Clarkey compete for gold in the Poetry Olympics, from the NME, 27 September, 1980.

JCC to take on LKJ in Olympics
John Cooper Clarke and Linton Kwesi Johnson’s participation in the first Poetry Olympics is now set for tomorrow night (Friday) at 7pm.
It takes place at Poets Corner, Westminster Abbey (admission £2) – and it’s the first time a live reading of this nature has ever been staged there. JCC represents Britain in the event, which also features poets from seven other countries, including LKJ on behalf of Jamaica. The aim of organiser Michael Horovitz is to create a cycle of international poetry reading every four years.
This will be JCC’s last appearance before he sets out with Pauline Murray and The Invisible Girls on the ten-venue ‘Girls Night Out’ tour, which opens on October 2 and includes a major London show at the Lyceum (9). This will be the first time Clarke has performed live with a band, as The Invisible Girls will be backing him as well Pauline – and their line-up is now confirmed as Steve Hopkins (keyboards), ex-Penetration bassist Robert Blamire, Durutti Columnist Vini Reilly (guitar), Paul Burgess from 10cc (drums) and producer Martin Hannett (bass and keyboards).
* JCC was fined £50 at Stevenage Magistrates Court on September 11, after pleading guilty to possessing 1.23 grammes of cannabis on June 26. The court was told that a detective constable “had reason to call” at Clarke’s flat that morning, whereupon it became obvious that “drug misuse had taken place”.

The chaps still looking sprightly in 2015

Mud, Music And Words

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.

Aoife Mannix

Grinding Bass

LKJ’s Bass Culture reviewed in Grinding Halt, number 6, 1980.

Linton Kwesi Johnson Bass Culture
Linton Kwesi Johnson’s third album is as full as ever of bitterness, hatred and solid reggae. He reads his poetry as the rumbling beat behind him fits in with the mood of his words. The opening track is Bass Culture – a rumbling, rolling, heavy beat behind Johnsons deep, mellow voice. Street 66 is another slow number, but less cumbersome, and concerns a typical L.K.J. subject – a police raid. Reggae Fi Peach is probably the best track on the album. Johnsons inspired (ab)use of poetry is to be seen at its best in a powerful and adamant condemnation of the S.P.G. in particular in lines such as ‘The S.P.G. dem a murderer/ We can’t let them get no furderer’. This track is certainly Johnson at his gruff, forceful best, with the catchy, punchy reggae beat flowing along smoothly and keeping the song moving. Di Black Petty Booshwah is without doubt the most commercial track on the album, and Johnson comes as close here as he ever will to actually singing to the melodious, infectious tune.
Side two starts with another bitter, but more light-hearted number – Inglan Is A Bitch. Again the backing fits in with the tone of the poetry. As for Lorraine, this is quite a departure in style for L.K.J. – a love song, albeit a frustrated love, but this shines forth the dreary landscape of the album, like a rose growing amongst barbed wire. The piece is instilled with that specially tender and moving quality that possessed by all gruff and rebellious rockers when they let down their guard for a moment. However Reggae Sounds is another heavy piece of reggae, and leads into Two Sides of Silence – a confused and disorganised affair – disorientating like a reggae Swell Maps number. Thus the album comes to an end. All in all, this album is very much what might have been expected. Nothing to quite match ‘It Noh Funny’ on Forces of Victory, but with a few pleasant surprises as Johnson tries out some new ideas. This album is unlikely to win Johnson any new fans, but it will keep happy those he already has. Undoubtedly an album for exiles and the victimised.

Destroy Babylon

Jamming!, number 21, 1984 reviews the anthology News For Babylon: The Chatto Book Of West Indian British Poetry.

News For Babylon: The Chatto Book Of West Indian British Poetry
Ed. James Berry (Chatto & Windus, £4.95)

An exciting prospect – a collection of poems by forty black writers, the majority born in the Caribbean (‘descendants of the silent labour force of old empire speak’), all with experience of life in a white society.
Some will be familiar through performances of their works (LKJ, Benjamin Zephaniah and editor James Berry). The poetry is written in either standard English or – often more effectively – Creole, or Jamaican Patois. The influence of reggae’s toasters can be seen here regarding several of the younger writers.
Speaking of the poetry included, Berry claims it ‘exposes a collective psyche laden with anguish and rage’, yet the majority of the work is surprisingly tame, the predominant mood being one of sad resignation. This yearning feeling is well expressed in Mustapha Matura’s ‘When …’-
‘When will I stop hearing Violins/
and hear only Drums,/
When will I stop
When will I stop seeing Grey/and
see only Colours.’
There is much bitter disillusionment at the reality, as opposed to the expectancies, of life in Britain, the emphasis throughout being of a cold, joyless society where the necessity is to maintain one’s pride (‘a positive vibration in a wicked land’).
A reaffirmation of heritage is stressed, as in Jawiattika Blacksheep’s furious ‘Hallelujah (No STORY-Reality-TRULY!!!)-
But such moments are rare, and more anger is needed. This is a volume which will rest on classroom shelves of liberal schoolteachers when it should sear the flesh from their palms and stand their hair on end.
Some fine poetry here but, but, but …
Whether it will reach the agents of Babylon to whom it is addressed is doubtful. More regrettably, should it do so, it will cause them to lose little sleep.

Anthony Blampied