Sunday, 23 January 2011

Tour Report

Whew, what a week! I've been chilling out with my friend Michelle for the weekend after spending the earlier part of the week on yet another teeny-tiny tour of gigs around the North East and in London.

This time last week I was sitting round a low table on the fifth floor of Norham House in Newcastle, sharing some fantastic vegetarian soup with a group of people from Apples & Snakes North East and people from the local theatre community after the performance section of the inaugural Newcastle scratch club. At one in the morning some of us were still there, drinking wine and hanging out at the back of the building, looking onto the husk of the old Odeon cinema and discussing future plans. Scratch club was a good gig for me both professionally and personally, and I'll be going to the next one, and the next, and the next. I really think it'll help me develop my performance and take things to the next level. And there was great stuff at the gig from Amina Marix Evans, Jennie Pascoe, Poetry Jack and a whole load of other cool people.

Monday saw me visit the Lamplight Open Mic in Stanley. An excellent set from me at this gig was only marred by the fact that I had to leave before seeing the second half in order to get home to Washington at a decent time by bus. But what I did see included brilliant work by Jules Clare, Steve Urwin, Mark Speeding, Jaene Davies and many others. Another good gig.

If it was Tuesday it must have been Middlesbrough for a quick open mike spot at the Electric Kool-Aid Cabaret of the Spoken Word in Blu Basement. This was more of an opportunity to check out the venue and the gig, and it was impressive, to say the least. It was also good to catch a performance by WN Herbert, Andy Croft and Paul Summers, the last gig of their Three Men on the Metro tour, and Paul's last gig before he leaves for Australia. They were all great and you really should get their book.

I didn't sleep very much on Tuesday night, and then on Wednesday I needed to be up and about early for a train ride to London, where I planned to read at Jawdance, an Apples & Snakes open mike night at Rich Mix, a fantastic arts venue in Bethnal Green. This was one of the biggest stages I've ever been on and I was kind of intimidated by the size of the crowd and the slickness of the gig, which had a long list of guest spots, poetry films and even resident artists drawing everyone who performed in addition to the open mike stuff. However, the compere for the evening made a monumentally shit joke near the start of the night which relied on a whiff of dog-whistle transphobia for its punchline and I surfed through my performance on a wave of mutilation thereafter. It must have worked, I guess, because reaction to my short set was uniformly positive. Amazing how popular getting on stage, snarling and staring at the crowd like some kind of make-up-wearing old testament prophet will make you. Fortunately the night was saved by a great performance from the magnificent Anna Chen, who I urge you all to check out. She's great.

And to be honest the night needed saving, because I was going back to literally one of the worst hotels in London. The County Hotel, Bloomsbury. Look it up. Let's just say I figured it probably wasn't the hotel for me when I noticed reception was being manned by a German skinhead. Put it this way: when I got back to the hotel, Highlander was on and when I was watching the scenes in that horrific fucking bad-days-of-New-York flophouse that the Kurgan stays in I was thinking 'actually, that's not that bad. And to make matters worse, London under Boris Johnson seems to have became some kind of Mormon township where even hotel bars close at eleven pm and off-licences close even earlier. I had to go back to a room in the shittiest hotel in the world, and I didn't even have booze to make things better. If I hadn't had a decent chat with Helen G from Bird of Paradox at the gig, and seen Anna's set, I would have had one of the shittiest nights of my life despite the gig.

Fortunately morning came soon enough and I shambled, on maybe three hours' sleep, to King's Cross to get a train back to Newcastle - a city where it is a lot easier to get drinks after midnight than our nation's capital. Overall it was a good tour, and there are more gigs lined up - the rescheduled launch of At Grand Central Station We Sat Down and Wept, on February 8th at Centurion, a spot at the Black Light Engine Room in Middlesbrough on Feb 25th, more Scratch Club fun...there's lots coming up. More soon.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

New Stuff 2

Alarm Clock Briton

I sit by the harbour
and I wake in bed cursing the moment
when I realised I could set any tune on my phone
as my alarm clock noise, and my own laziness

for never changing it after
our summer trip to Whitby,
where we ate breakfast in the Caedmon Cafe,
poky, basic, vaguely disappointing
(so appropriately named after a poet),

wondering if Raoul Moat would be shot
or Shakineh Astani would be stoned,
lying in a four-poster bed,
in a courtyard hotel, with sun
streaming in through the nets,
and Julianne Regan singing Martha’s Harbour
seemed perfect to wake up to there,

but now, on working mornings in the winter depths,
dark outside and cold beneath the duvet,
Julianne’s voice has become the soundtrack
to my oppression, a reminder that I am
a galley slave, my love,
in the trireme of late capitalism,
and the nearest thing to freedom
is a fumble for the snooze button
and ten minutes of half-sleep wondering
if I’ll have time to shower or shave,

deciding to do neither, fuck it, take an extra ten
then drag my filthy self to work,
this isn’t BO, this is olfactory terrorism,
propaganda of the smell,
and I hope that it gets up your executive nose
as much as your anal timekeeping rules
are a pain in my arse,

and I somehow make it to the bus stop,
start reading my tweets in the queue,
and find that fucking dickhead, Clegg,
is saying how much he admires

What does that Westminster posh-boy know
about the hopelessness of waking in the dark
before another day of toiling for a boss
that you think is a twat,
every minute of the working day
a betrayal of all your ideals,
a punch in the face from a pair of brass knuckles
sculpted to form the word compromise?

Probably quite a lot actually,
but a deaf guy in a Chilean mine
could hear the dog-whistle he’s making,
same as that crap about curtains closed all day,
demonise the disabled, the unemployed,
the casualties of a neoliberal war
on the idea of universal human dignity,
the notion that you can be worth something
other than a salary, an arsehole’s idea of Sparta,

where you can throw people out to die
and still be the hero, turning beings into burdens,
and we all know where that leads,
the first Nazi posters showed ‘cripples’, not Jews,
and I wonder how far Alarm Clock Britain really is
from Kinder-Kirche-Kuche-land,
and I wonder who the next group will be
in Nick’s purely-rhetorical crosshairs:
trans people who cost the NHS less
than it takes to lance one boil on Thatcher’s arse,
old people who’ll be told that Dignitas
is the only way to ease the 'pension time-bomb'
that’s ticking like the clock that Clegg’s so fond of?
Asian men or long-haired ex-English teachers
with a ‘creepy’ taste for poetry?

And the Nescafe turns sour in my stomach,
I gag to keep my bolted cornflakes down,
and I hate that scheming right-wing scum
are trying to say that getting out of bed
puts me on their side somehow,
when it’s only rage against their fucking world
that stops me staying on my arse forever,
and I realise that I have to change my tune
Julianne’s acoustic melodies will have to be replaced,
and tomorrow morning, I vow that I’ll wake
to a voice shouting Fuck you,
I won’t do what you tell me.

                                                                     *    *   *
Nick Clegg can kiss my fucking snooze button.

Monday, 10 January 2011

New Stuff 1


Surprised how slim you looked, how young,
red cotton briefs that made you look like Sybil Starr,
my room the way it was, the bed half-broken.
I lay, my body rhymed, at last, with yours,

though clothed: the same smooth legs,
same swelling breasts, the same receiving void
between the legs, the origin of worlds,
here, at the end, yours given, mine achieved.

I felt you shaking in my sleep and cried
then, as you came around, I wiped my eyes.
You looked at me and barely said it’s time.
All I could say, at last your daughter, was goodbye.

*    *    *

The musician Paul Heaton fell out with pro-Labour pop music initiative Red Wedge when they refused to endorse his demand that the British music industry be nationalised. I kind of have the same feeling about poetry: I think the government should pay all poets a modest living wage as a kind of insurance policy for the spiritual welfare of the nation. Partly this is because I genuinely feel it would do some good, but partly this is because, if I was paid to be a poet, then after writing poems like this one I could take some flexitime, go home and nurse myself with comfort food and feelgood movies for the rest of the day, instead of having to go into my quote unquote 'real' job and toil in the macro-geometry of the corporate Archon for seven hours after having to confront something literally traumatic.

Traume is German for 'dream', and this poem is based on a particularly heartbreaking dream I had this morning. In the dream, I was a girl, meaning, I guess, that I'd transitioned fully. The woman lying in my old bed with me was my mother and, just so you have all the facts in before you page Dr Freud, she was dying. It was a horrible dream, and what gave it a particular horror was the thought that here I was, finally a real girl, as it were, but all I got to say was goodbye, as the final line has it. Fucking heartrending.

So the logical thing to do with that as a poet is write something based on it. Writing as magic: binding the demon, making something beautiful out of the pain so it works for you instead of against you. Whatever. This is my effort at such. I'm not entirely happy with it ('swelling' breasts, particularly), and would welcome suggestions for improvement.

(As to explaining who Sybil Starr is, I did attempt a rather long explanation but it quickly got off-topic and turned [as most conversations with me generally will] into a vituperative attack on the scientific validity of the theories of Sigmund Freud. Suffice to say that she's the kind of girl who'd be very popular with the narratrix of NSFW, though, if you do intend to google her, you should be aware that quite a lot of Ms Starr's work is itself NSFW. I'm not really sure how an allusion to a female wrestler called Sybil, of all things, wound up working its way into such an already strange dream, but there it is, as Francis Bacon used to say. Odd place, the subconscious.)

(On a related note, the phrase 'the origin of worlds' is, of course, a reference to this similarly NSFW piece by Gustave Courbet.)

Sunday, 9 January 2011


Hello. Yes, I've been away for a bit. I didn't plan to be, but a combination of work stress, christmas busy-ness and what, if it wasn't actually swine flu, I can only assume to have been some kind of weaponised rhinovirus, kept me away from blogging for a while. Plus, sometimes it's nice to take a little time off, y'know? It helps you come back refreshed.

Something else I plan to start back up soon is my writing, and performing. Again, these took a back seat for a while, but starting later this month I plan to get things moving.

On Monday 17th, I'll be doing a spot at the open mic at the Lamplight Arts Centre in Stanley. I read at one of their slams late last year, and am looking forward to having a bit of space in which to breathe with a set this time, rather than the do-one-poem-and-off rush of slam performance. I am also quite pleased that, because I have the day off after this gig, I should theoretically be able to sleep off the absurdly long journey back from Stanley that it involves (usually involving having to get a bus to Newcastle to get back to Washington - an absurd state of affairs, especially as the bus to Newcastle takes an hour). If all else fails, given that I have the day off, I shall just sleep in a skip and come home on tuesday when the buses are keeping a sensible timetable and going to Washington directly.

Then on Tuesday it's a trip down to Middlesbrough for the Electric Kool-Aid Cabaret of the Spoken Word. I've been wanting to go to this since I ended my last mini-tour in October by performing in Middlesbrough, and was ticked off to miss the November gig featuring Degna Stone. I will be going down to Middlesbrough this time, but will need to be back in Newcastle by early the next morning to take advantage of a cheap tickets offer which will enable me to read at one of two open mikes happening in London on the 19th: either Touch Me I'm Sick, hosted by the guys from Vintage Poison, who I was impressed by on my last gig in London; or possibly the Apples & Snakes organised Jawdance, depending on who can fit me in. Then it's another early start (required by the cheap ticket deal) to get back to Newcastle on the Thursday, at which point I will stop manically running about gigging and actually be able to indulge in the rock & roll lifestyle people expect me to enjoy.

Before all this, however, I'll be going to a 'scratch club' night in Newcastle occurring under the aegis of Apples & Snakes North East. Basically this is a night where you can experiment and try out new work. Obviously this entails actually having new work to try out, which is what this week will mainly involve. I'll be doing some kind of writing exercise every day, and will post the preliminary results, and a description of the process I arrived at them by, on here...hopefully Sunday will give me more of a chance to work them up, and maybe some will even be presentable enough to take on tour with me! Who knows? Well, not me, but I need to get back into a writing routine somehow, and this is as good an excuse as any. See you tomorrow, then.