Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Worcestershire Literature Festival (June 2011)

The first ever Worcestershire Literature Festival took place this year with many writers, poets and performers involved over a 10 day period.  My humble contribution was helping to organise an event on the first Saturday that included Supine Orchestra, Jazzman John Clarke and my good self 'Poet and the Loops' on electronic beats and spoken word (and some accordion thrown in for good measure).

We arrived mid-day in Worcester with the intention of attending an afternoon session and to drum up some support for the evenings event.  Unfortunately, the venue in question had shut down, so we found ourselves downing a few pints (shame!) in a pub called The Old Rectum (or something like that) over near the river.

Worcester is an attractive place to visit, and a little later we wandered into town to watch a group of young poets bravely reading out their work to the afternoon shoppers.  We also found the Literature Festival office, where there were free books and useful information on the festival attractions, which this year included John Cooper Clarke, Chris Redmond and a talk by the son of Mervyn Peake.

The festival was founded by Lisa Vector-Ventura who is the Director and also a talented writer and poet in her own right.  She and her team have worked hard to make this a two week long celebration of all forms of writing, with a little music thrown in for good measure.

My gig took place at the Worcester Arts Workshop, a funky left of field venue run by volunteers and with a great performance space in the old cellars.  Naturally, the night kicked off with an open mic session (if you've read any of this blog you'll know why) where anyone could get up and read or sing or tell a few jokes.

Nikki told us how she had come to like her men with muscles and not afraid of spiders.  Lisa, yes the same Lisa as above, offered a light hearted poem about reaching thirty.  Matt read some dark and effective horror texts by candlelight.  And Daniel (left) read a poem about someone taking ages to choose something in a shop, and another about a guy who had nothing better to do than dig a hole.

Jazzman John Clarke (below) from London was first on after the open mic.  John took us through a range of poems some of which were a homage to jazz and the beat poets, whilst others were reflections on modern life and intrusions such as lap tops and mobile phones.  Listening into a mobile phone conversation also gave John the word fragments for a 'found poem', which was made up of a one sided conversation.  I liked the idea that you could gather words and phrases in that way, and reflect them back on the world in a different context.

I was on after John and started off with 'Holding ourselves from the edge of the headland' and 'A good year for the spiders'.  The mid section of my set was blighted by feedback and some unpredicted chaotic kaoss, but I managed to pull it back with an accordion piece in homage to my least favourite tipple - L.L.Loopy Juice.  The beverage that sends you a little bit mentalist and sees you ending up trying to have sex with a table leg!  As I hadn't sound checked the accordion, I took the instrument to the audience and squeezed my way through each and every one of them.

Supine Orchestra ended the evening with an hours worth of quality song writing and clever lyrics.  Some new songs off their latest album and some even newer ones that I don't think they've recorded yet.  This was exactly the right end to an evening that began with spoken word and poetry, through to jazz and digital beat poetry, and on to the Americana tinged backwaters of songs about growing up in Coventry.  The whole evenings entertainment was a veritable feast of highs and lows, of the dramatic and the humorous, of lyrics and music, and all round cheerful depressions.

We had a great night at the Worcestershire Literature Festival and very much hope it will go from strength to strength.  A remarkable achievement to say this was the first ever programme.

And finally, I have to give a big shout out and thanks to Ruth Inglis, the festival organiser, who asked me to play and also looked after my family and other reprobates during our stay in Worcester.  We were inspired, we were entertained and we were always educated!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Anticx Stage at Parklife 2011 - Manchester (Saturday)

Haven’t been around this  blog much of late.  Mostly because of gigs in Sheff, Leeds and Manchester.  So I thought I’d write up my most recent experience at the awesome Parklife Festival.
In the centre of Manchester the hard rain was beating me down as I wrestled two bags of electronic gadgets and a customised kaoss stand through the crowds and onto the bus.  The place was packed with weekend revellers who were also heading out to Parklife.  An hour later and the clouds had parted, the sun was shining and I was standing in a field full of wonderful artifacts, sculptures and all walks of life people.

I’d got the gig courtesy of Anticx Asylum, the Manchester based art and performance collective who are leading the way for all kinds of new music, cutting edge dance, poetry, comedy and performance in the City.  They had been given the Roshambo area of the park to fill with interesting and different goings on, and they had worked incredibly hard to make this an exciting and fun space to hang out.

Back stage I dropped my stuff off next to a Charlie Chaplin esque mime artist who sat quietly waiting his turn to go on stage.  Then I was approached by a woman who asked me if I’d like to "come in her vagina!"   In fact, I hadn’t taken a wrong turn down some dodgy back street, the vagina in question was an art installation made up of a labryinth of tunnels through which you have to crawl (see pic of bald eagle right).  When my turn came I was ejaculated into a dome shaped tent where various artists were entertaining a relaxed and friendly audience.  There was a good vibe in the womb, so I stayed a while and watched an all female choir singing some sweet songs.  Slap and Giggle doing a comedy piece about a Cereal Killer - the snap, crackle, pop variety.  Fun Box giving a retro BBC interview to a fictitious writer of erotica.  And the talented singer song writer Hugo Kensdale, battling valiantly against an amplified back drop of a highly danceable Dubside set.

After the Busking Tent I headed towards the circuit bent screaches and blips of Noisy Toys and the men in white coats and thick rimmed glasses.  Here you could participate in making noises with friends and complete strangers, and every now and again the sounds would fit together, but most of the time it was just a horrible joyous mess.  I plugged in one of my own noise gadgets and played along for a while, until I found a sound fit to make your ears bleed, and the men in the white coats didn’t carry me off for interfering with their parts.

I didn’t much venture into the vast area of the park where gigantic stages and dance tents were attracting massive crowds.  Mostly because I was waiting my turn on stage and checking on progress through the long list of different acts (see pic left).  But also because my preference is for the eclectic and relative unknowns.  I tried the various arm chairs and seats which the Anticx team had carefully designed and put together - cut in half bath tubs, painted tyres, giant haystacks covered in turf.
On the main stage a young poet by the name of Greg Saxton was telling the audience how he went insane, to a background of classical music and dubstep.  An energetic band called Rachel Whatever thrashed out some rocking good tunes.  And the street dancers that had out performed each other on the main Anticx stage were now pulling crowds in the audience, as they entertained with one armed hand stands and head spins, whilst DJs played exactly the right beats and the sun continued to shine through. 

I found myself back stage again and the white faced mime artist was still sat in the same place, quiet and unassuming, waiting for his moment, whilst all around him were scenes of an organised but chaotic human circus.  And I watched a humpty dumpty Mancunian in a track suit fall from the perimeter wall and scamper away from the security guards. 

Later, I was sorry to have just missed the young comedian Joe Greensdale in the busking tent.  When I got there Joe was outside being congratulated on a job well done by a succession of people leaving the busking stage.  His would have been a risky (or should I say 'risque') set I suspect, judging by what I’d seen at the auditions.

When my time came James, one of the Anticx volunteers, called me to the back stage area.  The mime artist was also waiting to go on, now quietly positioned behind the stage.  James had done a good job of keeping everything to time, not an easy task I reckon when you’re dealing with so many varied performers, characters and random happenings.  I was following a succession of dance troupes, so got a bit of heckling from two female students at the front “Excuse me! What you doing? This is the dance stage!” They shouted.  I meant to tell them to look to the sky and see that this stage was for everything and everyone CABARET!

I started up the opening synthetic strains of ‘Holding ourselves from the edge of the headland’.  I set a four part vocal harmony around an 80bpm machine beat and was so happy to see the street dancers moving to this challenging piece.  Then, for one night only, I played ‘The Smells of Manchester’ and noticed smiling faces and dancing feet remained intact.  I finished with a shortened version of ‘Disappeared Friend’ so I’d just about squeezed everything into the alloted time, which went by in the flash of a kaoss pad.

Have to say the PA guys did a brilliant job of getting through my rapid soundcheck and performance.  Not helped by the fact that I was constantly turning the volume controls up and down, and also using a vocal mic that has a feedback mind of its own.

It was a fantastic day for me.  And I felt very privelidged to be at Parklife in 2011 - particularly because I got to perform the new beat poetry.  So I’d like to thank all of the Anticx team for letting me play, the ones that voted for me in the auditions, the ones that didn’t, the ones that weren’t sure people would get it.  In the end, its all about the art, and having a proper good time. 

And what of the mime guy?  Well there was me thinking I didn’t like mime - but he was spot on, brilliant!  So I think that was the whole point of this stage, to expect the unexpected, and to be surprised at what you end up enjoying and how you end up finding that out.

Next week Worcestershire Literature Festival with Jazzman John Clarke and Supine Orchestra.