Cultural things I’ve been enjoying!

Little Girl Blue. My friend and I decided to go to the pictures to see the new documentary about the life and music of Janis Joplin, Little Girl Blue. The film explores all aspects of Joplin’s too-short life with interviews from friends, old lovers and her siblings.  What really makes the film are these amazing sequences where Cat Power (as Joplin) reads Joplin’s letters to her family, each of them fillJanised with moments of such gut-wrenching and naked pain, that exact shade of desperation that comes out in her voice.

She adored performing, she adored being adored – so much so that she seemed to just put up with the rest of the dull times when she wasn’t on stage.

Her story is a sad one, as we all know, and this film confirms that Joplin really was a fragile young woman hiding behind that belting voice. Still, she remains an inspiration.  She gives an incredible vocal. Joplin’s been there with me from the start (I even had a teddy called Janis). I urge everyone to go and see this film. Oh and listen, again, to Pearl. It’s an absolute blinder.

The London Review of Books. A few months ago I decided to get an introductory subscription to the London Review of Books. I’ve known people who’ve read the LRB for years, always people who I considered to be far more intelligent and academic than me and so I had the impression that I’d find it too taxing, too dry.

I think my decision to get a subscription was influenced by the cheap price (never been one to turn down a bargain!) and by some sort of vague desire to kick myself up the arse and try a bit harder to be ‘clever’. I was expecting to plough my way through a couple of articles and give up. I’ve been so surprised, it’s a joy. LRB

In the past few months I’ve learned about everything from UK Dance Halls and their cultural importance after the war to the rise of modern finance, I’ve learned lots about Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, about William Empsom and so much about the complicated situation in Syria too. And I’ve just now read the best and clearest explanation of the sorry mess that Jeremy Hunt has got Junior Doctors into.

And it’s done something really great for me, it’s made me feel clever again and not just because I can ponce around the country showing the world I’m reading the LRB (although I reckon that helps). No, its articles do an excellent job of explaining, sometimes pretty complex, ideas in a way that manages to be easy to follow without being patronising.

I often feel that I’ve lost the ability to focus on things for long as a result of pinging around the internet skimming articles posted on Facebook or Twitter. The LRB has long, clear and interesting articles that draw you in and keep you there. Also, there’s loads of them in each issue so they last for yonks (I’m weeks behind). It’s my new favourite train reading! At £1 an issue for the 1st 12, it’s worth giving it a try.

Karen DaltonI was bumming around the internet when I stumbled across a list of Bob Dylan’s 25 musical heroes (apologies it’s the Telegraph). And I came across Karen Dalton for the first time.

She is another just incredible, deep, rich, gut-wrenching, world-weary vocal. I’m really interested in the quality of her voice and its texture, there’s something about it I can’t quite put my finger on. Karen Dalton If you’ve not heard her before, have a listen to this beautiful song. In fact, even if you do know her, listen and remember how great she is.

I have a feeling the refrain from It hurts me too is going to find its way into one of my poems pretty soon – gloriously heartbreaking yet understated. I can’t believe she’s been around all this time and I’ve only just discovered her. What a treat!

What I learned from Johnny Bevan by Luke Wright  There’s still plenty of time for you to catch this at Soho theatre, so do it! If you’re not in London, it’s touring the country.

It’s me old mucker Luke! Last night was the first time I’ve seen this show (it clashed with Melody up in Edinburgh) and I was not disappointed. It’s a story of class and politics, the heady hope for change, a story of future and youth and friendship.

Johnny Bevan

It’s expertly written and performed and Luke takes on a number of characters with ease, I’ve never seen him with an acting hat on before but it suits him and he’s utterly convincing.

Ian Catskilkin of Art Brut provides a rich soundtrack which is used perfectly to underscore and punctuate the text, adding accent to the action. The piece is particularly pertinent at the moment when we’re stuck with a Conservative government,  all of us willing change. There’s a foreboding sense, though, that history repeats itself in politics. In 2016 we’re back where Luke’s characters were back in the early 90s.  

Luke also looks wryly at the fetishization of poverty by setting a festival Urbania in a abandoned council estate. I found this aspect of the show particularly affecting. Luke uses an image of Balfron Tower as his abandoned council estate. I lived in Balfron tower for 18 months as a property guardian when I first moved to London.

Towards the end of my time there, a theatre company took over a couple of floors to stage an immersive production of Macbeth. This was while original council tenants were still living there. 90 theatre goers traipsing through their building every Friday and Saturday night, gawping at the run-down council estate. It was fucking disgusting. I overheard one cast member saying to another “it’s so cool but can you imagine actually living here? Eugh!” Needless to say I protested, needless to say I got evicted. I’ll stop before I go off on one, another story for another day perhaps… But What I learned from Johnny Bevan really taps into this disgusting trend of poverty porn. Go see it! 

That’s it for now, I hope you’re all happy!

January (part two)

The second half of January was pretty exciting too. There were quite a few things to focus on. Lots going on at once! I’ll talk about the couple of gigs I did first. I performed my audience interactive poetic monologues at the Hackney Attic as part of a great night called The Salon, all money raised went to L’Auberge des Migrants. I’d only ever tried this piece once before and it relies heavily on a willing and focussed audience to fill in lots of the gaps. Luckily, I had one! It went really well and I was generally pretty pleased with my performance. There was a fantastic all-female line up on the night and a particular highlight was Sherika Sherard who is fucking boss. Give her a listen.

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Performing at the Salon

The next night, I did Tongue Fu at RichMix. Great Night, great venue.  Tongue Fu is a long-running and very successful experiment where poets read with a live, improvised soundtrack by the house band and improvised VJ visuals. I was absolutely terrified! The way I like to tackle performance is to be really well rehearsed so that I feel completely in control, any sort of improvisation scares the living daylights out of me. After a scary moment or two in the first poem though, I felt as if I relaxed into it. I was pretty worried about the sections of song: would the band be able to pick up the key I was singing in an adapt their improvisation to the melodies I was singing? To my absolute amazement, they did! They were so talented and responsive to changes in the poetry. I was seriously impressed. I also felt honoured to share the line-up with the amazing Kayo Chingonyi, Debs Newbold and Dan Cockrill. I’d never seen any of them perform before so that was a real treat.

A quick round up of other projects…

The end of the month saw us back in the rehearsal room for Melody. Huge thanks as always to Clapham Omnibus for providing us with the most valuable thing possible- free space! I had forgotten how much fun I have in the rehearsal room with Lucy. We’ve had a great few days and Melody is in it’s best shape yet. Melody’s little tour begins at the Space in the Isle of Dogs tonight (!!) as part of their excellent One Festival. If you live in London, please come and watch (Melody is also on on the 17th and the 20th) – you can buy tickets here.

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Back rehearsing at Clapham Omnibus!

A book, a book, I’ve written a book! My debut collection of poetry is due to be published this year in July. I’ve got a deadline of the 31st of March so I’ve been pulling lots of my poems together, editing like mad, writing new stuff. It’s hard! But then I suppose writing a book should be hard…  I’ve really been enjoying the process and have just sent a first draft off to a few poet pals to cast their sharp eyes over. Watch this space for more news on the book soon!

And extremely excitingly, just before Christmas, I bought a loop pedal. Oh my, oh my it’s the most fun thing to play with in the world. It’s very portable and I’m working on a few new performance poems using it now. You can see a little sneak preview here.  The person who inspired my to start experimenting with a loop pedal is Hannah Silva. If you’ve not already heard of her then please check her out, she’s excellent.

That’s all for now.

Much love.