Nice to see WPM back after a long hiatus as a part of the celebrations for Book Week in Scotland; nice too to see it come to Greenock to celebrate the newly minted Beacon Arts Centre, a lovely facility by the water with stunning views and a great wee theatre. It’s going to liven up the arts in Inverclyde, and the healthy audience suggests it’ll be well used.
The Clutha disaster hangs heavy, though. It’s just been announced that one of the probable victims is John McGarrigle, a Glasgow poet. I don’t think I ever met John, but the Clutha was a favourite meeting point for many of the poets I know like Jim Ferguson and Graeme Fulton, and he was a popular figure among them. Hostess Kirstin Innes and short story writer Alan Wilson read two of his poems, and superstar Tom Leonard reminisces about him. All of the acts pay their respects in poignant and sensitive ways, just as it should be. I read at the Clutha a few times years ago; it has always been a haven for radical writing and music, and I sincerely hope it rises again.
First on the bill is Rachel McCrum, Jenny Lindsay’s Rally & road partner. She has a gorgeous voice, honeyed with Northern Irish. Her poem about learning to sail with her father is lovely. Herald big-hitter Neil Mackay reads from his new novel, ‘All The Little Guns Go Bang Bang Bang’, interestingly about two 11 year old ‘hitmen’ in Northern Ireland. Martin O’Connor‘s writing for theatre and drama projects is terrific, playing and expanding and exploding not just Glasgow vernacular but the very essence of what it is to be Weegie, including a terrific Glasgow singalong party (‘Gie’s a song, Eddie…’) and the fractured prose of a union meeting. Excellent.
Adam Stafford wowed me at WPM 2 a few years back. I really like the way he builds his music live through looped guitars and beatboxing; it’s a fascinating process, and he has a lovely voice over the top of all that. He has trouble with his loop pedals tonight, and unfortunately has to abandon his set after a couple of numbers go awry. No shame there – he gives us enough to emphasise what a talent he is.
The night finishes off with ex-Delgado Emma Pollock. She’s lovely, has one of the sweetest voices you could ever hope to hear and is a real superstar of the indie folk rock scene in Scotland. Just her voice and an acoustic guitar, her four numbers are a delight, and she ends with the hit Paper and Glue. A real touch of class on the water.
But the star of the show for me is the venerable Tom Leonard. I haven’t seen him for years and years, and I am absolutely and childishly thrilled that he remembers me. He’s quite open about having been on the wagon for ten years or so, so I hope he doesn’t mind me telling a wee story about him. When I was Principal Teacher at Linwood High School, I asked him to do a reading for our kids and, of course, he generously agreed. I picked him up from the station and he looked just a bit ragged. He’d been round at Eddie Morgan’s house the night before, he said, and they’d stayed up late sorting out the world, telling stories about mutual friends and had, he admitted, more than a few wee golden sweeties. As a result, I suspect the last thing his head wanted to do was to spend the morning with a bunch of weans. So in he comes, gets himself seated – and he absolutely blows the kids away. They loved him, his humour, his charm, his downright humanity. He and Morgan were gold dust when it came to engaging pupils with poetry and with their heritage. The man’s a legend.
So he dips into his encyclopaedic knowledge to tell stories of poets from Inverclyde, reminisces about his friendship with W.S.Graham, reads a touching poem he wrote for his son’s wedding, lambasts the establishment with ‘Being a Human Being‘ and just about has me falling off the chair at the beauty of ‘June the Second‘, one of those tiny jewels of a poem, like Morgan’s ‘Strawberries’, that captures an infinitesimally small and specific moment of love that, because of its impossible humanity, seems utterly universal. So short, so brief, so seemingly uncrafted, it is one of my favourite poems.
So a good night; well done to Inverclyde Libraries for tempting WPM out of semi-retirement to come doon the watter. In the past, I always fancied reading at WPM, but was never invited. Dammit – it’s a class act.
PS – Rachel McCrum says that Rally & Broad is coming to Glasgow for a short residency at the Tron. I’ve never been to one of their events, but by all accounts they’re fantastic, so make sure you get tickets…
A fab, vibrant wee event to celebrate the launch of National Collective Glasgow.
All the acts listed above gave their time and their talent free in order to entertain a crowd of around 200, who had a whale of a time. Shambles Miller started proceedings off with that wry style of his, including “Rapture” a song that is gorgeous in its sadness while being about a guy intent on getting his leg over the girl of his dreams as the Apocalypse approaches. Leo Condie then blew Mono away with his repertoire of Brel and Brecht songs. I love Brel, and Leo’s barnstorming, acrobatic, bonkers ’Amsterdam’ was just brilliant – and I got to take part too!
A couple of surprise guests turned up too. Biggest cheer of the night went to Liz Lochead for a bravura performance of Corbie’s speech from ‘Mary Queen of Scots got her Head Chopped Off”. Lochead has been turning out fantastic live performances for decades, and it was a real privilege to have the Scots Makar’s presence. Eleanor Morton did a set too, and while she had to compete with a noisy bar area that wouldn’t shut up (come on guys, bit of respect for the artist there…) she was just great. She has that awkward geekiness of the socially inept down to a tee, and her two musical numbers were hilarious. What sounded like a teenager’s angst-laden You Tube cry to the world was turned on its head beautifully with a simple “I call that song ‘PacMan’” at the end. Her ‘I’m Really Good at Clubbing’ was a riot, a beautifully paced evisceration of the desperation we all feel when we don’t quite fit in when we really, really want to. She was a star.
I know of at least two people who came along skeptics and went away converts to the cause. If every one in the audience goes out into the big wide world and convinces just three others, and they each then convert three more - well, 2014 might just be one of the best years ever.
A really fascinating evening organised and hosted for the SWC by the elegant Chiew-Siah Tei, Diverse Voices brought together writers and artists from Polish, Indian, Mexican Spanish, Nigerian, Chinese Malaysian, Scots and Japanese backgrounds. Diverse it most certainly was. Biographies of all the readers can be found at the SWC blog, along with a brief report from Chair of the SWC Douglas Thompson, who is working tirelessly to develop the organisation and deserves much praise.
Highlights for me included Martin Stepek’s insights into his Scottish-Polish family, intriguing because they seem to have ended up in the UK after the War not by having come westward, like my father, but having taken the epic long way round, eastwards through Asia. Beautiful young Mexican poet Juana Adcock’s poetry melds English and Spanish together in a way that she describes as ‘Spanglish’ but is nowhere near as clumsy as that tourist pejorative suggests; she makes the two languages sounds as if they should be married. In addition, she generously reads the work of a young Mexican fiction writer she is translating. Eunice Buchanan’s Scots poetry can be whimsical and light, but ‘Esk’ is something of an epic; she has a lovely, lovely voice. Ryotaro Hoshino reads the original work and his translations of Akutagawa Ryunosuke’s short prose. To be honest, his Japanese was beautiful enough to listen to on its own; just soaking up the sound of a language you don’t understand is a privilege in itself. There was so much else to enjoy, such as the handsome Ogba Uweru’s charming comic poetry or Leela Soma’s passionate account of child exploitation in India.
For myself, I had been thinking about reading something lyrical set in Poland in 1921, or something meaningful about my identity as a Polish Scot, but Martin beat me to it so I just decided to stand there and swear a lot and talk about sex; it’s in my nature, I suppose. ‘XPet’ is a reworking of a scene from an abandoned novel from some time ago that I’m trying to shape into a short story. I’ve been struggling with it, but edited it down by a third for this reading and I think I may have cracked it. The pace feels right, a lot of dead wood that referred to events in the novel was excised, the emphasis shifted and it ended up working very well as a performance reading. I have no idea if it’s publishable (far too many ‘fucks’, of all descriptions) but I think I may have discovered a new party piece that might be worth investing time into learning by heart and rehearsing. And I can always try it in ‘Front and Centre’, a wee Canadian magazine that seems to like my worst excesses…
An event I hope can be repeated, it’s well worth checking out if you see it on again.
Had a great night at a burlesque version of Marta Adamowicz’s A Little Bit of Theatre tonight. Top wordsmith was my pal Alex Cox, who’s becoming a regular with his in-yer-face and laugh-out-loud monologues. He really is becoming a brilliant literary voice; highly productive and benefitting from his involvement in theatre workshops, he’s at the top of his performing game. A real stand out – as is, apparently, Ronald Reagan’s penis.
For myself, I read “Business”. It’s from Occasional Demons, and is a darkly comic Poe-inspired tale of antiques and murder. There are two versions of it: in the collection, it’s unpunctuated, and needs to be a helter-skelter rant of wild paranoia. However, it was previously published in Something Wicked, an anthology of Scottish crime fiction, and the editors had wanted a punctuated version. It’s that I do tonight, and it really helps hold the pace, allowing me to play the jokes a bit more. Love it when an audience laughs nervously as the narrator goes to fetch a hammer…
The burlesque is huge fun. Lily Minogue does a fantastic Priscilla, Queen of the Desert act, including a rip-snorting mime of Fascinating Aida’s scandalous song “Dogging“. Star of the naughty bits, though, is Raven Rose, a deliciously lovely young woman who is well on the way to perfecting the art with real charm and wit and grace. Very sweet and very sexy.
No chance following that…
Thanks to Marta Adamovicz for giving me a second spot at A Little Bit of Theatre this afternoon. Fellow performers included Glasgow Writers’ Group pals Emma Briant and Mary Dowds, two young women who have very distinctive voices and oodles of talent, along with comedian John Sheppard and poet / rappers Bram Gieben and Leon Deeside.
As it’s Easter, I decided to read something a little more redemptive than usual, so went for an oldie, “Teuchter Dancing when the Lights Go Out”. It was the default performance piece when “Occasional Demons” came out and I was whisked about all over the world to do readings; well, Inverness and Ullapool, anyway.
I’m not happy with my reading, though. It’s a piece that relies on pace, and I didn’t get it right. I was up on stage a couple of acts early after a rejig in the running order, so hadn’t quite composed myself: but the couple of stumbles and misreadings were my fault. Still, I think I managed to get the timing of the key moments just about right, and the joke about a marriage proposal got the biggest laugh of the afternoon…
… until Caroline McKenzie took the stage. Her recounting of her night-time reflections on the relationship between the Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote and the Acme corporation was the highlight of the set. Perfectly nuanced, beautifully paced and very, very funny, McKenzie should have an awfy bright future ahead of her. Great stuff.
Was at a lovely book launch last night for J. David Simons’ third novel, “An Exquisite Sense of What Is Beautiful”. Set in Scotland and Japan, Simons describes it as a story about political and personal denial.
I really like David’s writing: it is elegant and beautifully crafted, and he has a distinctive voice redolent with lovely rhythms. Think about the all the information and connotation packed into the first sentence of the first chapter:“‘Your favourite season is the one you are born into,’ Edward’s mother, a bitter child of winter, used to tell him.
I could spend half an hour analysing that sentence with a class full of teenagers. What made Edward’s mother ‘bitter’? What kind of person was she? Why “used to tell him”? What has happened to her? How do we imagine Edward feeling about that? Is he a child of winter? How do we know? What would be the effect of a winter mother on a summer child? A spring child? What does it mean to have a favourite season? Do we know any fortune-telling idioms or sayings similar to this? “Monday’s child is fair of face…” – why do we believe these sayings?
And that’s just one sentence. David is such a nice guy and such an accomplished writer, I’m very much looking forward to reading “An Exquisite Sense…”; I’m battering through Hilary Mantel’s wonderful “Wolf Hall” to get to it as soon as I possible can…
For all sorts of reasons, I’ve been very quiet of late; hopefully I’ll be doing more in March. However, it was nice to be given the opportunity to stand in for a late cancellation at Marta Adamovicz’s “A Little Bit of Theatre” event at 13th Note in Glasgow. Since the demise of Words per Minute, there has been a dearth of regular opportunities for live reading in Glasgow, so this is a welcome relative newcomer.
An informal spoken word and music event, it has a nice, eclectic feel about it, with readers, performers, film, music and comedy to keep the interest levels high. Marta herself is a charming, warmly eccentric hostess and a pretty mean film maker. Amongst the highlights was fellow Glasgow Writers’ Group pal Alex Cox giving an excoriatingly funny reading of “Jesus is a Fat Fuck”, full of sly metaphysical wit and tons of grab-you-by-the-throat vernacular. Star of the show for me, though, was final stand up Keiron Nicholson, a guy with an instantly likable personality and well-worked routines on everything from computer geekdom to the inanities scrawled on the walls of Phnom Phen torture memorial site Tuol Sleng. He’s effortlessly funny and, I hope, destined for stardom. He’s in a new show for the Glasgow Comedy Festival on March the 29th at the State Bar: well worth checking out.
For my own slot, I satisfied an itch to read the whole of “The Beauty that Brendan Sees”; I’ve done sections of it on podcast and live, but I’ve been pretty desperate to do the whole thing. Called in only the evening before, I didn’t have enough rehearsal or editing time, but managed to perform it with minimal reference to the script and, I hope, a fair amount of the required charisma. As for the dodgy American accent – well, now that’s out of my system, I can put it to bed and revert to in-yer-face scary Glaswegian stories. It may be more authentic, but audiences are much less likely to sleep at night…
Hope that title gets my blog lots and lots of hits!
Many thanks to the lovely people at Edinburgh live event organisation “Illicit Ink”. They invited me to do one of their website podcasts, and I recorded it with the charming Tom Moore last month. You can find it here:
I’m reading an extract from “The Beauty that Brendan Sees”, the gay-themed story I was proud to have had published earlier this year in New York gay magazine “Chelsea Station“. While it has the usual dose of rampant sex you’ll find in many of my stories, here, it’s done much more gently; I must have been feeling very good about the human race when I wrote it. I also answer some of Tom’s rather unusual questions in which I display some sadly geeky knowledge about Kazakhstan that I will now never be able to verify in person…
Hope you enjoy it. I’m hoping they’ll let me perform at one of their upcoming shows, which, interestingly, are always themed. Coming along soon is “School”, and while I have quite a lot of work that would fit that particular subject, none of it could remotely be described as gentle. I love the job, love working with kids – but it’s a treasure chest of misanthropy!
I’ve been very quiet lately – always the same at the start of the academic year when I’m chasing my tail – but I’ll be back on the gig trail soon and have a few film outings to report.
However, I’ll be workshop leading at the Aberdeen City Council’s annual “Northern Writes” event – my third year in a row, so they must be getting sick of me by now – on the 19th September in the Belmont cinema. It’s a day I always enjoy because of the creativity of the young people I get to work with.
Videos of last year’s event are available online. In part 2, at around 18 minutes, you can see me reading “Bellflowers”, which was published in the “1000 Cranes” anthology in support of Japanese earthquake relief. You can get a good sense of the workshops we all did, as well as an interesting Q&A which showed just how perceptive these young people are. Unfortunately, sound and vision don’t always tally.
Then on the evening of the 17th October, I’ll be leading a workshop as part of North Lanarkshire’s “Encounters” Cultural Festival. I worked with a creative writing group last year, and they were kind enough to want me back to do some more work with them. The workshop will be at the Sir John Wilson Town Hall in Airdrie, from 6.30 to 8.30pm. It’s free, but if you fancy coming along, book up at the Encounters website. Perhaps see some of you there…
Waterstones’ in Argyle Street hosted the Glasgow lauch of NWS 30, and a lovely evening it was too. Zoe Strachan compéred like a professional, and readings were by Alison Irvine, Ross McGregor, Maggie Mallon, Derek McLuckie, Lorna Callery and yours truly. All the readers were great, and the line up was interesting and eclectic. I particularly liked Alison Irvine’s “Nightcalls” which started the evening; she has a beautiful voice and the rhythms of her story are beguiling. Lovely stuff.
Of course, Derek McLuckie blew the place away. “Park Bum” is classic Derek, witty and sexy and delivered with a verve that leaves you breathless. He really does perform his work fantastically well, and in amongst the speed and the self loathing and the sex there are moments of quiet loveliness, like “Sometimes yi see a kingfisher flash, like a stray streak of rainbow…”. It’s a real pleasure to see him and chat again after so many years.
In retrospect, I’m not that happy with my reading: I found myself more nervous than usual at the beginning – I had to give my hand a little silent row for shaking – perhaps because I was last to read and was given a very generous introduction by Zoe that set up huge expectations, and then three pages in I got that dreaded sudden attack of dry mouth and I’d put my water bottle behind me (“Just stop and take a drink, you fool, take a drink!”). However, I got to the end, approximate Texan accent and all. Opinions on the accent were divided between “You got that spot on”, “That was a good stab at it” and “You should have read it as yourself”. I’m very conscious of pace and rhythm in a reading, and I feel that without the accent, the rhythms and inflections that were necessary just wouldn’t come across; still, at least the story itself seems to have gone down well.
So lovely too to see my heroic pal Jenny Allan. Jenny retired early a couple of years back and is now off to Ethiopia to do VSO work with teachers. She’s one of the most admirable women I know, and I’ll miss her. Bon voyage and hurry back, Jenny; you’re a star.