Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Some time ago when I was first researching the possibility of a move to Newcastle I stumbled across a fact that almost put me off the place. According to the brilliantly inspired source of fictional knowledge known as Wikipedia, Newcastle is one of the driest cities in the UK, with an average of only 121 rainy days per year.

Now I say this is something that almost put me off the city as I am a man who likes his rain, however I can confirm that this fact is utter rubbish. It’s rained here non-stop for over a week now. In fact I was almost laughed out of town by estate agents I was brave enough to share this nugget with.

To honor the weather in verse I headed to the Lit & Phil yesterday evening for a reading by some of the UK’s top poets including Don Paterson, author of 2009 Forward Poetry Prize winning collection ‘Rain.’ Incredible to see three giants of contemporary poetry (w/ Jo Shapcott and Sean O'Brien) in support at this fundraiser for the beautiful Lit & Phil which is in need of various improvements to bring the 1825 built library in line with public expectations.

Meanwhile, the rain keeps falling…

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Joanna Newsom @ The Sage, Gateshead

Joanna Newsom has always been a surprise. From the time in Cambridge where Melanie and I sat entranced listening to an enthusiastic barman describe his latest find, ‘The Milk Eyed Mender,’ to the time I discreetly heard rumour of a three disc extravaganza appearing in under a month (‘Have One On Me’) to the time I stumbled upon her performing at The Sage in Gateshead following a haste move to the North.

Seeing Newsom in person is another surprise itself. Once master of playful childish voices, her voice has now grown stronger and more commanding and the three-minute ditties of ‘Milk Eyed Mender’ have given way to lavish fantasy fueled classic arrangements (courtesy of musicians and composers Ryan Francesconi and Neal Morgan). ‘Y’s’ was a vast departure when it hit the shelves in 2006, containing sixteen-minute tracks that had more in common with prog rock than the folk-pop brush critics usually used to describe her sound.

I have to mention the poetry of her words, ‘your soul is something I stir into my tea’. Small gems thread into detailed and arguably personal adventures. ‘In California’ she seemingly dismisses her early stuff ‘My home, on the old Milk Lane/where the darkness does fall so fast/it feels like some kind of mistake’. Her words shape-shift and envelope you till you can’t ‘remember your own name’ to quote set highlight ‘Good Intentions Paving Co,’ a song that sends shivers through my face everytime she wavers into ‘and the tilt of this strange nation,’ before the track polishes off with a fantastically hazy trombone solo. In a special touch the violinists downed bows to click their rings against empty bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale, a nice nod to the locals.

In a set drawing heavily from ‘Have One On Me’ Newsom also dusted off ‘Inflammatory Writ’, ‘The Book of Right On’ and ‘Peach, Plum, Pear’ as well as ‘Cosmia’ and ‘Monkey & Bear’ from ‘Ys’. A perfect set would it have been if only she had included ‘Baby Birch’ and ‘This Side of the Blue,’ but that gives me an excuse to see her again one day.

Supporting Newsom, who brought him out of ‘semi retirement’ was folk legend Roy Harper. Still strong after 40+ years in the music business Harper treated us to a range of classics from 1970’s release ‘Flat Baroque and Berserk’ including ‘Don’t You Grieve’ and ‘Francesca’ to more modern releases like ‘The Green Man’. All tracks were accompanied by top introductions and political/spiritual disagreements with the topical Papal visit, Harper rather slyly enjoying the Pope’s label for us atheists as ‘militant extremists’.

All round a fantastic night, and my first proper gig in the Newcastle/Gateshead area. It’s important though to state this gig at the Sage was on the southside in Gateshead, where we’ve recently lost a car park. Make sure you don’t mix the two up…

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Jog on the Tyne

Imagine fifty four thousand people running across a bridge. Next consider their clothing, a Bananaman outfit perhaps? Or a well built fella in a tutu, a bumble bee suit, Batman and Robin, a unicorn hat, where’s wally, panadas, firemen, donkeys, matching chickens? Then conjure the sounds, the chants, the claps, yells whistles and bells, the oggy oggy oggy’s and the oi oi oi’s, a band playing Georgie folk tunes on a roundabout in Gateshead, a drumming group and the piecing overhead cry of the red arrows dispersing red white and blue over the Tyne, and you get the 30th Great North Run from Newcastle to South Shields, the North’s answer to the London Marathon.

It can get a little rocky on the Tyne bridge as the joggers still fresh after a mile in clamber over to the clapping revelry of watchers and supporters. At points its like being on a boat as it bobs along the waves.

Since beginning in 1981 the Great North Run is the largest half marathon in Europe, and estimates that over 1 million runners will have completed the course by the time it reaches its 35th anniversary.

Up with the larks this morning to take pictures I was greeted all round with good spirit, and being new to Newcastle it was a welcome pleasure in contrast to my London roots. The run really is an institution up here and one I hope to participate in this time next year. A jog on the Tyne sure is all fine, all fine.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Anthony Joseph in Soho

At the same wonderful Apples & Snakes gig where I filmed Joolz Denby, was poet, musician and academic, Anthony Joseph, reading from his most recent collection ‘Bird Head Son’. Taking for his theme his Trinidad roots, the book explores family, ancestry, language and the mythology of the Caribbean island all in Joseph’s surreal and musical style. You can buy 'Bird Head Son' direct from Salt Publishing here.

Here he reads and discusses ‘Jack Spaniard nest'.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I hung my head

I’ve been re-listening to Johnny Cash’s American recordings this week and there’s a cover of a Sting track (from his 2002 album ‘Mercury Falling’) that strikes me as particularly relevant. On first listen it’s a murder ballad telling the story of a young man who upon taking his brother’s rifle accidently shoots a man.

The perpetrator claims he was practising his aim when the rifle went off without intent to shoot the lone rider on the prairie, similar to that of a gang of youths intent on scaring another when one accidently knifes the other and leaves one of them dead. ‘I hung my head’ is a story about shame, it’s a warning to think before you act. The protagonist didn’t want to kill anyone, his thrill was the role play of the situation. Although when playing with dangerous instruments so carelessly the situation will inevitably end in tragedy.

To me this song should be taught in schools. Don’t be foolish, don’t carry knives or guns, don’t pretend to hurt people or practise your aim, because inevitably it will end in tears, shame and a public stoning from the tabloids (modern day Gallows if you will?). Think before you act! There, rant done for the morning.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Joolz Denby in Soho

Recently I was tasked with helping Apples & Snakes with a new filming project. The challenge was to create a film of a poetry reading that varied from the traditional 'front on' approach with a static poet square in the centre. We also wanted to make it as clear as possible to the audience what the poem was actually about.

So, we asked the poet to tell us about the poem, then we filmed them from two angles to add a bit of diversity into the mix. First up was Joolz Denby...

Joolz Denby performs 'Smoking Joe' from Apples and Snakes on Vimeo.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Trashed Exultations

So my Keyhole followers, I’ve been absent for a while I know. But it’s been for a very good reason.

Last night saw the first ever Trashed Organ event. You may remember I rambled on about this organ from Clerkenwell Green a few months ago, but since then the beat up musical instrument became a idea for an event, which became a night of poems and music, which actually happened.

Our colosseum? The eclectic Duchess pub overlooking the industrial splendor of Battersea Power Station that held court to a ramshackle parade of ditty day dreamers, gramma correcting, cock jangling, love struck writers.

We had stories of house hunting colonists on safari, fabric softeners and horrendous chat-up lines, Bakerloo and Victoria, sausage sandwiches, Norton Cannes, piratical marketeers, south London chav lads sprouting angel wings and the charming rustic rhythms of A Polystyrene Hat.

With a line up boasting Courttia Newland, Katie Bonna, Ben Gilbert, Sam Peczek, and fellow organ grinder Rob Haughton the night far exceeded all expectations.

So, thank you’s are due to our fantastic audience who gave up a World Cup Wednesday to come to our trashed delicatessen half a mile from the nearest tube. Please accept our trashed exultations! We also thank you for taking part in our fancy little game, ‘Trashed Laureate’. Congratulations are in order for the winner of a bottle of our home brew port with the line ‘The elephant man was ok. He was just born in the wrong dimension.’ Truly profound.

So what next I hear you cry over a violin stringed moment of off-key bliss? Stay tuned our trashed friends, for Trashed Organ 2: Judgement Day, coming soon…

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Punk Magazine

I stumbled across this video the other day of Punk Magazine founders, John Hallstrom and Legs McNeil (resident punk) talking about the infamous 70s fanzine in NYC. I admire their DIY ethos and the ‘just whack it’ approach, to which the interviewer can’t quite understand where they get the funds to keep the enterprise running. There are some amusing comments towards the end about ‘London kids’, to whom punk is only fashion, “Would you want a safety pin up your nose?” and “They’re all morons.”

All in all, the sarcasm adds to the image and help creates an inspiring document for anyone who wants to make and distribute something themselves. Although I do think they're hiding something...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Spilt Milk

A weekend treat to go down with the sun. A new and exciting bundle of chapbooks, pamphlets, and micro anthology’s to review for Hand & Star. I like it when poems arrive in short punchy bursts, an afternoon long package that can be devoured, critiqued and praised over a few short Sunday hours with a glass of water and a bourbon biscuit.

In other news my poem ‘July’ features in issue 2 of the delicious 'Spilt Milk', a culinary platter of warm foamy words, which can be viewed online here, enjoy!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Plate of Chicken

During a recent trip to NYC I stumbled across NoLita bookshop McNally & Jackson. Amazed at a poetry section that gave more shelf space to poets I’d never heard of I pulled out the rather square shaped book of Matthew Rohrer’s gastronomically titled ‘A Plate of Chicken.’ Inside were sixty-one pages given over to a collection of seven line stanzas, acting as the spinal vertebrae of one continuous poem drawn over a long hot New York summer.

At first glance it’s a random assembly of lines that have little coherence with each other, that read more like catharsis for the author, purging the substance of his mind to fill the chicken bones with meat (the book doubles as a flick-book, depicting the devouring of a plate of chicken). But look again and see the first and last lines of each seven line stanza conclude with the same word, weaving a small theme into every poem;

If you don’t pay attention you’ll slip into a hole.
Don’t we all understand evil?
I knelt to the floor to stare at the baby.
Infinite variation in each moment. We’re home.
Coffee smells better than riches.
I like to lie back and think of my next job.
I plan an elaborate leap into a deeper hole.

It’s full of poetic instructions and garbled imagery, and at times Rohrer takes the role of throwaway philosopher for the mundane. ‘The gate to hell is through the loop of a neck tie.’ Cleverly crafting one-liners that you'll want to add to your facebook status. Although Rohrer’s meal can be a tough one to chew at times, with his penchant for one liners that read like quotes on the back of witty birthday cards, he delivers some hugely stimulating ideas;

My function, is to be in love between two people who hate each other.

Rohrer himself states, that the chicken title seemed right to put across his attempt to unite poetry with the mundane and everyday, rather than attempting to be prophetic. For him, poetry is a way to explore the normality of life, spilling out hundreds of poems in a few days just like the hundreds of words we use everyday to explain whatever it is we do.

There is no resolution to anything in ‘A Plate of Chicken’. The meditative nature of these lines give us little insight to the normality of the poets life, but remind us their existence isn’t to change anything, but to just live on. The book has so many great lines it’s hard to pull a quote that does it justice, although there is one that has stuck with me, and seems to live up to the instructional, philosophical, mundane tone the poems favour, and makes me want to give it a go.

When all hope seems lost, write your name on paper and flush it down the toilet.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Sparks

I have a new review up on Hand & Star of Ben Wilkinson’s pamphlet ‘The Sparks.’ I gave it 4 stars as it’s a great short read full of shadows, weather and flickering lights. A stormy bunch of poems, good to read with a cup of tea by the window.

Be sure to also check out Ben’s blog, Deconstructive Wasteland for musings and literary news.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Trashed Organ

Walking back from Exmouth Market yesterday with a 6pound beef stew curry in hand shouldering a light rain, we passed a trashed organ on the side, by Clerkenwell Green. Its rain-splashed keys, grimy with car exhaust sat restless like a child in a waiting room. Its electronic boards hung like eyeballs from sockets pulled by fox mouthed scavengers, and the pedal hung limp like a deck bound beaten fish. An empty paper cup spewed grassy moss and a cigarette butt pouted from the roof like a decapitated tree stump. I smeared a finger along it’s music and didn’t hear a sound.

Later the spice from the food would creep in on stilts and blade its way over my mouth. I had to drink a glass of water.

Sunday, February 28, 2010


Donald Dunstan, a 46 year old electrician with a slightly tubby belly, massive sideburns and bushy eyebrows. Donald is unusually tall, clocking in at 6’7. His work mates call him ‘Duny’ (after the Australian slang for toilet) on account of his time specific bowel movements. He was originally born in Clacton-On-Sea, although now lives in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire with his wife and two children, a girl and boy, 21 and 17 respectively. He’s somewhat conservative in views and left school at an early age to pursue a vocation. A photograph of him with a bucket and spade and his parents on Clacton beach sums up his most consistently happy memory. He secretly hopes one day his family will settle there. His ambition is to retire as soon as possible, and his greatest fear is never being able to afford to.

Donald is the product of a fruitful day spent at The Royal Court taking part in a playwriting workshop hosted by Penpals and London literature developers Spread the Word.

Led by award winning playwright Alia Bano, (featured in today’s Observer) author of the critically acclaimed Shades, it was great to dedicate time to developing ideas for the stage amongst peers, and before long I had a pen portrait of the somewhat unexpected Donald. Here’s a typical conversation with Donald, using the 10, 9, 8, 7, 6… words game.

(Don and Friend are sitting in a pub)

Don: Lost my pension the other day. Company went completely broke.

Friend: Money’s safer under the mattress these days, you know?

Don: Until some sod breaks in while you’re away.

Friend: Heard about that, what did you loose?

Don: The cash that’s under the mattress.

Friend: Christ, that’s rotten luck mate.

Don: I know, I’m skint.

Friend: Next rounds mine.

Don: Whiskey, thanks.

Friend: Sure.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Exploring Downtown

When I open my eyes Sunday has began. I shower, dress and explore downtown with The Velvet Underground’s ‘Sunday Morning’ playing in my head.

I take a left outside the Holiday Inn down Howard Street and cut across Broadway. I meander my way through the closed boutiques of Soho and Noho until I find myself in the Village. I pause for a moment in Washington Square park and watch the dog walkers circle the paths. A few moments later I stumble across several shop windows with puppies in them.

I’m looking for a record shop and am having no luck. The Virgin in Times Square has closed down, and the Jazz Record Centre on 26th was another victim of recession. I’m after the expensive jazz cds you only get in Rays on Charing Cross, ones from the Tzadik and Nonesuch labels. Instead I find adland signified by the polished buildings of Saatchi & Saatchi and Euro RSCG. Both offices have Kandinsky rip off’s on the walls, a usual favourite of banks in London, although I imagine it’s to demonstrate the limitless of their creative expression. It’s wallpaper to me. I’m now back by the Hudson, then I walk East down Charlton Street and find a church playing ice cream van music. Churches are strange in NYC. Beautiful buildings, but lacking in history compared to European equivalents.

At midday I find myself gravitating towards NoLita. I walk down Spring Street, lunch at the organic Spring Street Natural Restaurant and shop at Canadian import McNally & Jackson as it begins to rain. I spend too much on poetry books. The amount of new writing journals is astounding, and their presentation creative. ‘A Plate of Chicken’ by Matthew Rohrer’ reminds me of a poem I wrote called ‘Chicken Skin Music’ (a domestic heart attack) after the Ry Cooder album. The book introduces me to the Brooklyn based Ugly Duckling Presse, a non-profit art and publishing collective focusing on emerging and forgotten writers. I admire their design.

On the way back to the hotel I pass Elieen’s Special Cheesecake and think of my Nan.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Devoted and Disgruntled NYC

We rise as the first yellow taxi belts its horn. The sun is still sleeping and for now our only light is an orange eco friendly lamp.

By 6.30am we’re on the subway. ‘N’ train to 42nd Street, ‘1’ train to Columbus Circle, coffee and a Panini to go. At 7am I’m on a ladder sticking up the 4 principles of open space. ‘Whoever comes are the right people,’ ‘Whenever it starts is the right time,’ ‘Whatever happens is the only thing that could happen,’ ‘When it’s over it’s over.’ They read more like philosophical quotations. Instructions for dealing with modern life. Rules to help free yourself from the conventions and expectations of others. Tell yourself these four things often enough, and life doesn’t seem so pressured to ‘get it right.’

The first guests arrive at 9.30. Laurence & Tarah from Anderson amongst them. Improbable Artistic Director and leading Open Space practitioner Phelim McDermott opens the space at 10.30. What’s strikingly different about the NYC one over the London D&Ds is that the participants are up in seconds to call their sessions. In London a serene politeness usually settles over the crowd as they wait for the first brave soul to break the silence and call a session. The New Yorkers are queuing at the word ‘go’ to call theirs over the microphone. I decide to call a couple of sessions around Funeral Customs and creating trailers for theatre shows.

The first session I attend, called by Steven Ginsburg of Hartbeat Ensemble discusses Free Theatre. Ginsburg himself runs an activist-based theatre company interested in social change and creating new works that challenge the status quo. He wants to discuss ideas of a ‘free’ theatre model whereby the audience sees the show for free. We discuss various models; pay what you can, complimentary ticket giveaways, but we also discuss how theatre and performance worked in the past. With the noblemen and landowners inviting the travelling gypsies to perform in their manors, and inviting all the peasants along to enjoy the show. Theatre was less ‘institutionalised’ then, without a real industry to call home. It’s great to see so many artists trying to work out models to give the audience something for free, but it’s hard to see how anything can be truly free when we live in an age where time itself has a monetary value.

At lunchtime I go for a walk around the area. I feel a cold coming on and the fresh sun air is light and full of wellbeing. I take a left outside the church and walk along 58th West until I reach the Hudson. I see a kid with nunchucks in his back pocket, at least it’s not a knife I find myself thinking.

The day wraps up at 6pm, and after meeting many fabulous people, including the beautiful Juliet who bakes the best brownies I’ve ever tasted, we retire to Lafayette.

Saturday draws to a close in Little Italy where we’re encouraged to add sambuca to our espressos.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Church of St Paul the Apostle

The setup for Devoted and Disgruntled begins at 9. It’s the first time Improbable have done one stateside. It’s an arts/theatre meet up held in ‘open space’ where participants are encouraged to set the agenda for the meet up by raising questions about areas of the arts that interest them.

We get there a little frazzled after the Lower East Side - Upper West Side subway dash, but the trains seemed nowhere near as busy as London. And although no regular announcements told us to let passengers off before we got on, everyone treated each other with respect, straight from the pages of the unwritten laws of the commuter.

After 4 hours of drawing butterfly's and bees underneath The Church of St Paul the Apostle we escape into the sun for some natural vitamin C. Central Park is beautiful with its naked trees and fifty odd statues. The day is warm; around 8 degrees and we begin to sweat. We check out the Alice in Wonderland Statue, record some buskers play jazz on a sweet afternoon, and finally make our way to the Guggenheim.

Sadly a large proportion of the museum is closed due to installations being set up, but we see our share of Kandinskys’ and the roots of impressionist painting. We have the most amazing lunch there. A Wright Salad with a ‘gently boiled egg.’

Next we walk for perhaps too long. Right down Park Ave from 88th to 43rd yet we get to see Josh Harnett get of out a cab with a little dog in his arms. I think I know where he lives. We stumble through Grand Central and I imagine The Untouchables.

Back at Lafayette we regroup and head back uptown to Times Square were David Blaine is raising money for Haiti. We meet our friends from Anderson, IN who we haven’t seen in a year and a half. We grab a drink at Ruby Tuesday’s before jumping in a cab downtown to Bleeker Street, where Bob Dylan once lived.

We catch up over Sam Adams in a trendy Village bar.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Battery Park & Friends

Holiday Inn filter coffee is tasteless, but the bed is soft. They give out polystyrene to save on the washing up. We take a stroll downtown and breakfast at a Dunkin Donuts. That’s two fast food joints down. We pass ground zero and I’m surprised at how small the area is. Everyone says that apparently. The flame that never goes out is a fitting memorial; though I wonder how much gas it takes to run. Battery Park is beautiful and we watch an old man feed squirrels. Does it everyday he says as they effectively mug him, dashing for his bag when he strays more than a foot. We meet some kids collecting for their baseball team. They give us Skittles for dollars, and the cynic in me says they’re stolen, but it doesn’t matter.

We board the Staten Island Ferry with the workers, and watch the coastline expand. Lady Liberty waves and winks as we pass and I catch her pose on my camera. A delightful couple take our picture and we take theirs. I spend the rest of the crossing trying to catch seagulls with a photographic net.

We wander the island uphill and enjoy the view of Manhattan. Back in Battery Park we hit the first restaurant we see. It’s quiet and has a great view of the Statue. We trade ideas for logos, and our waiter gives us a free glass of wine at the end, we tip heavily.

I impulsively buy business cards on Broadway to advertise this blog. We visit Wall Street, check out Washington’s declaration, browse a pet shop then head back to Lafayette. We change and walk all the way to Times Square.

The walk is fantastic. Up Lafayette, past Public Theatre, Union Square, Flatiron, Empire State, and see the Chrysler stretching out to the right. Times Square makes Piccadilly Circus a poor mans neon valley, even the NYPD is all singing and dancing.

We ride the ‘N’ subway home and feel like locals.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Traveling to New York City

Black cab to Heathrow terminal 3, sixty quid. Check in three bags and the attendant doesn’t blink an eye that we’re over our economy passenger allowance of one per person. We’re there at 6.45 and the flight isn’t until 12. We find the showiest place in the terminal. Down a bacon bun shaped like a burger and a glass full of fruit salad.

The plane sits still for an hour and a half. Outside it’s snowing animal shapes whilst a man sprays a suspect yellow heating liquid over the wings. The ice thaws and the cabin crew make the safety demonstration the best ticket in town. I now know how to tie a lifejacket and inflate an emergency escape route.

I watch The Time Travelers Wife on the plane, a disappointing film of an enjoyable novel and catch only half of It Might Get Loud. It’s great to see Jimmy Page still rock out, Jack White’s epileptic guitar beatings and I now respect The Edge.

When we land customs keep us penned in for two and a half hours. I enter the US an exhausted man, but the officer said I look like DiCaprio.

‘Lafayette, Downtown Manhattan’ and we’re moving. I suspect the driver’s taking us somewhere else for ten minutes before I see my first Manhattan sign post. I’m a suspicious person. Thankfully he takes the bridge from Brooklyn, and my first sight of the Big Apple is a Christmas tree. It’s like those competitive suburban streets where the wives try to out do each other with Xmas lights, except Christmas is over. It’s a city made out of playing cards with pinpricks for the light.

My first taste of New York cuisine is a Burger King.