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…
Words Per Minute hold a “Sex Special”, later than usual and closeted in a red-lit dungeon way, way at the back of The Arches. It’s the usual blend of able readings, but it doesn’t quite live up to the billing for me.
I can’t help remembering the Paisley Writers’ Group as a result of seeing Derek McLuckie last night. We had a full on attitude to sex as one of the drivers of human behaviour and, therefore, as fertile ground for the most challenging writing we could push. Suhayl Saadi’s lyrical aesthetic saw him write the wild, Baroque S&M fantasy “The Snake” under the pseudonym of Melanie Desmoulins. Graham Fulton – whose latest book launch I hope to attend next week – wrote about adolescents wanking off at the back of classrooms during biology lessons (“Sex Education”) or desperate casual sex and flushed johnnies on a Friday night (“Love Finds a Way at the Liberal Club”). Derek was… well, just Derek. As for me, I wrote stories like “Twitchy” and “The Bus Fare Down the Tubes” because sex and danger were inextricably linked. By my mid-twenties, in a catastrophically dysfunctional relationship, I had learned that dark things can happen between two people.
This evening’s readers are all perfectly fine writers. Lynsay May is charming and Alan Gillespie is as engaging and witty as ever. Derek Taylor and Kei Miller are fantastic voices, full of verve and wit and humour. Taylor’s “Ode to Penis”, with the knowingly delivered line “I’m a lot to take in” is a hoot, as is Miller’s beautifully read, enigmatic opening to his novel in progress about the life and death of an 80-something Jamaican immigrant. Caroline Bowditch introduces a film of Scottish Dance Theatre’s rather lovely “The Long and Short of It”, and Tragic O’Hara ends proceedings with some pretty nifty songs (his CD is unfeasibly good value). It’s all solid, mildly sexy stuff.
However, only Zoe Strachan fulfills the remit for me. Sharing a scene from her new novel “Ever Fallen in Love” in which a young gay man DPs a suspiciously compliant girl with the object of his desire, it is, I think, the only truly erotic reading. Full of the unsaid motivations that underpin what people do in bed, it’s absolutely emotionally – and sexually – honest. The smell and the sweat and the ambivalence and the pain tingle the senses: this is sex.
Of course, this is a pre-watershed show, and so the organisers have perhaps wisely gone for material that is charmingly rude but hardly challenging. It’s another good event – just, I feel, more akin to a Safe Sex Special.
Gill Hoffs, Jamie McIntyre and Martyn Murphy all read some thoughtful fiction, while Kathrine Sowerby is a gentle poet who competes well with intrusive noise from the downstairs Arches restaurant (note to management – WPM deserves to be treated better). However, the most successful pieces come from three writers who seem more aware of their audience, and of the difference between a writer’s reading and a writer’s performance.
Andrea Mullaney is an experienced writer who uses a range of interesting voices. One story is written as a one half of a conversation; it’s a style I often find difficult to engage with, but her ability to switch pace and tone is highly effective. Alex Cox of the Glasgow Writers’ Group is doing his first reading, although the way in which he inhabits the heads of a fucked up Presbyterian minister and a bigoted, resentful weegie suggests he’s been doing it for years. Pace is the key, and, despite a couple of fumbles with his copy (staple it, Alex!) he judges that fantastically well. Best for me is fellow Glasgow Writers’ Group member Alan Gillespie, who is first up. His gently told tale is marvellously subtle, the poignancy of a parents’ separation revealed ever so gently through a main plot that involves a football lost down a sewer. The voices and the observation are impeccable.
Sad to see the audience numbers have dwindled, and hopefully a couple of big-hitter events will give what is a fantastic venture that should be treasured a boost. Perhaps the line up for their female novelists bash on Saturday the 9th of July will do just that.
Ten months of the best west coast writers’ showcase, and still going pretty strong. Alan Bissett is a late stand in for a sick rapper, and is, predictably, the most polished and accomplished of the readers. His reading, from his first novel “Boy Racers”, is a fine scene of penile humiliation at the hands of the terrifying Rangers-supporting Wendy.
Juana Adcock writes in Spanish and English. Her work is lyrical yet tackles muscular subjects, such as the astronomical scale and inhumanity of Mexican kidnapping. The sound – which seems a bit echoey – doesn’t help her project, but she’s clearly talented, as is Hannah Nicholson, originally from Shetland. It’s fantastic to hear new young writers in proud Scots. Lost a little in the echoes and just perhaps a little fast in its delivery, nevertheless she does well. JL Williams, originally from New Jersey, has just had a collection of poems inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses published. Her work is clever and erudite; unfortunately, lovely though it is, I’m afraid I’d need accompanying notes to understand the layers of allusion and reference, but that is most definitely my fault and not hers. A retrospective showing of Swimmer One’s WPM3 slot completes the lineup: check out the WPM YouTube channel for more.
However, the show is stolen by the musical act, Shambles Miller, who sings of being angry about how kids misuse words like “epic” and “random”. Smashing voice, good guitar and intelligent, witty lyrics. Cannae ask fur mair.
First WPM of 2011, and the first I’ve been to in The Arches. The venue is cool and suits the event well, so thumbs up for the new home.
The performances are good too, with a couple of real stand outs. Claire Askew’s poetry is exceptional in its ability to take every day stuff – snow, her partner’s atheism – and spin something rather special out of them. Best is her final piece, a gently witty warning to anyone in her eyeline that they may well find themselves the subject of a poem. She has a fantastic voice, and her performance is slick and persuasive, with hardly a glance at her text. Lovely talent.
Another great voice is Allan Radcliffe. His story of a chance meeting of a young waiter and a louche gay revisiting his past is poignant and lyrical. He has a beautiful turn of phrase that is elegant and he isn’t afraid to take the time to paint a scene. Gently told and very convincing.
Allan Wilson’s story proves a little difficult to get to the heart of, largely down to it being a dialogue piece, always difficult to do live because of the need to differentiate many voices, and Sara Thomas’ performance piece – the musings of a live statue done in full costume – is a little distant too, written as it is in the second person. Sian Bevan’s opener is really well written and performed but, perhaps because she is first up, some of her Brigitte Jones-style humour falls flat with the audience, who perhaps need a few more drinks down their necks. However, all three have evident talent.
Singer songwriter Michael Cassidy finishes off the afternoon. His songs are well written, well sung and delivered in a cracking Paisley accent.
All in all, a pretty good afternoon.
Word Per Minute continue their monthly showcase of writing in typical bright and breezy fashion, but it has a much more experimental air than WPM2, which I attended in June. First up is Skye Loneragan. She performs the first ten minutes of her new solo show, Plucked of Purpose – The adventures of PB. Perhaps because we’re only seeing the briefest snapshot of the whole performance, it’s difficult to grasp the context of what’s going on, and just as it’s beginning to tip into something with a little more verve and wit, it has to end.
Kirsty Neary doesn’t quite hit the mark either. Her prose reading is juxtaposed with a film show; however, the prose – an oddly phrased fantasy with nameless characters and switching perspectives – doesn’t build enough bridges with the reader / listener to make them want to care about what’s going on, and the film, which has some undeniably arresting images, ends with the rather clichéd and patronising “Here Endeth the Lesson”. It’s a piece that sounds as if it has promise but needs a careful reworking. She’s a young lady with bags of confidence, though: there’s already a multi-media disc of the work available at the show.
Sian Bevan is much more engaging; her brief story about a woman trying to break into a male dominated story-telling academy is nicely told. Bevan is renowned as a stand up., and this is entertaining enough to suggest she’s worth catching.
By far the best for me, though, is the most “traditional” of the five acts; Kirsty Logan’s story, “The Rental Heart”, is a lovely little parable with a nice premise – that each new lover requires the insertion of a new mechanical heart. It’s a poignant tale which is told beautifully by Logan in a distinctive, assured and persuasive voice. Other than a slight time slip at the end – a jump in the timeline of three years to get to the denouement feels a little clunky – it’s a fine, fine story from a real talent.
Last up is Zorras, a multi-media performance troupe. As with Loneragan, they perhaps suffer because of the brevity of the slot they’ve been given, and it’s difficult to really get into what they are doing. However, musician Y. Josephine has a show-stopping blues voice.
The afternoon seems to lack a bit of oomph, which at the previous WPM was supplied by big hitters Sophie Cooke, Alan Bissett (albeit only in voice) and Adam Stafford. Of course, WPM is about giving performance time to new writers, but this time I felt it needed something that just raised the bar a little. However, it’s an event that’s growing into itself and is well worth supporting.
Words Per Minute is a new monthly showcase of writing, film, music and anything else the organisers and charming hosts, Anneliese Mackintosh and Kirstin Innes, can get their hands on. This afternoon’s line-up includes Craig Lamont, a new young writer, Rodge Glass and Adrian Searle on their graphic novel project Dougie’s War: A Soldier’s Story, poet Emily Ballou reading from The Darwin Poems and a bizarrely compulsive sound performance from Iain Campbell.
The second half of the afternoon works really well. Sophie Cooke’s reading is as darkly elegant as her writing, and the short film The Shutdown, beautifully written and magnificently voiced by Alan Bissett and directed by Adam Stafford, is fantastic, and thoroughly deserves the Best Short Documentary prize it has just won at the San Francisco International Film Festival. Ending the day, Stafford performs from his current album, and the way in which he builds his vocal sound scape is mesmerizing.
This is a brilliant idea to offer a regular performance venue to new and established talent. Reading work to audiences has always been a joy for me, and I know how vital it is as an editing tool; you just don’t now what a piece is really like until you hear it and see an audience’s reaction. Anneliese Mackintosh and Kirstin Innes deserve huge praise for getting this up and running.