Monday, 21 April 2008

Sneyd Colliery Explosion, 1942

Grahame Shrubsole, head of MMU Cheshire music faculty, turned everything round for me when I was a student. My first year as an undergraduate was really exciting. To be among people who took music and writing seriously was mind-blowing for me. My creativity doubled over night. I was lucky, too, in that I had been in factories for most of my working life and I had a highly developed work ethic. I worked six times harder than the majority of students I met and for seven times as long. Alas, the music part of my degree took a dive in the second year. I was taught by a different bloke and we did not see eye to eye. He awarded me what I felt to be (an still do) unjustifiably low marks for everything I did. It was difficult to take from a guy whose own experience was severely limited and whose own compositions were lamentable. He was exciting himself with ideas that I had shunned as passe when I was fourteen-and-a-half. The only good thing about him was that he was incapable of irony. I mean, he really didn't get it at all. Here's a quick example: One day, he was drinking from a novelty mug that had something mildy blokey on it. He plainly thought this accoutrement made him look like one of the guys. I forget what the slogan was - something tossy like: 'Tea? I'd rather have a beer'. He was making a show out of drinking from it, drawing attention to it. I flattered the child in him by nodding towards it and saying, 'Nice mug.'
'It was given to me by a grateful student,' he told me.
'Leaving then, were you?' I said.
He didn't bat an eyelid even though I must have had a right sly look on my face.
'Yes,' he said.
'Thought you must have been,' I said.
But apart from the occasional small victory like that, he brought me down. I was disenchanted and, after two years of studentship, seriously out of money. Amy will confirm our low financial status. We had peas on toast for tea one day. I took a year out then went back. For my third year I had Grahame as tutor. He is a musicologist - a man with an awesome knowledge and experience of music. He is respectful of everybody and can communicate even the most complex of theories. He understands muliplicities of musical traditions and knows how to push the envelope in the 21st century. You can imagine my delight when he so generously offered to arrange a song of mine (blimey, there's a pun there, as will be seen) for male voice choir.

The song came about because Lynda saw an article in the Sentinel about a local mining disaster, showed me and I wrote a song about it and started doing it with Boneshaker. When my biography, Battling Jack, came out I was giving a reading at Kidsgrove library and I had the pleasure of meeting a man who had worked down the pit in question at the time of the disaster. His interest in the Turpin boxing family had brought him to the reading and we got chatting during the interval. This man's son, I found out, sings in a local male voice choir and it gave me the idea that my pit disaster song and therefore a significant piece of North Staffs social history, could be part of the repertoire of a local men's choir that has its roots in the social life of the local coalfields. The man's son thought the idea was a good one but explained that before a choir master could make a decision about it the song would have to be aranged in four parts: two tenor, two bass. I went to Grahame for advice . . .

I had a meeting with Grahame today and he played me some of the musical sketches he has made for the arrangement and they are fantastic. I was prepared to have to compromise, as is often the case with collaborations but, to my huge delight, his ideas are both empathetic and innovative. It has lifted the project to another level. I can't wait for the next move.

Adam has posted our Up To Scratch version of Owed To Paddy O' on our MySpace page today. Have a listen to his playing of the low whistle. You will agree it is everything I claimed for it. I am one lucky geezer.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Owed To Paddy O'

I did my second recording session with Adam today for my 'pAUSE fOR a pOEM' installation. We put the music to 'Owed to Paddy O''. Me on guitar and Adam on low whistle. What a soulful sound he makes on that thing. A single note played the way he plays is enough to send shivers up your spine. His timbre and vibrato reminds me of a hero of mine in my New Orleans Jazz days: the clarinet player George Lewis. Have a look at and a listen to George on You Tube playing Burgundy Street Blues. A different kind of music to Adam's but the same life vibe. I'll get the Paddy O' track posted on our Up To Scratch MySpace page. It qualifies because we have been doing that poem on our duo gigs.

Joyce of the CCC has agreed to do the Braille copies of the installation poems, which is brilliant. I was intrigued by Braille. How did it work? I knew that the black squiggles on the page that we interpret as sounds were changed into bumps but in exactly what way I could not imagine. It turns out (if I have understood Joyce correctly) that there are two kinds of Braille: 1 & 2. Braille 1 has an arrangement of bumps for each letter. Braille 2 is similar but has some short cuts built in. Some commonly ocurring parts of words - like 'ing' for instance - have a single collective symbol representing the three letters. The effect of the transcription on my poems will be that the line lengths will be much extended - perhaps one line becoming two lines - but the all-important line breaks will be preserved. My pictorial poems will lose their shape but that hardly matters as that element is an addition rather than essential to the meaning. I've been asked why I am doing an installation for blind people? Well, I'm not. I'm doing an installation for everybody. I'm just trying to make sure visually impaired and blind people aren't left out. I am well pleased with how it's progressing. I've even found time for a couple of new poems. They'll stay on ice for a while and I'll have another look at them before I release them into the wild.

I bumped into Alaa, one of my uni students, by the sarni shelves in Tesco. My teaching was cut short this year as reported. I didn't realise how much I missed the students and the Writing workshops until I spoke to him. They are such good people and talented writers with such goodwill towards other people and their work. Roll on the new academic year.

I heard yesterday that some venues have been holding back from inviting me to do poetry gigs because they thought that I was still recuperating from the road accident I was in. The happy fact is (happy for me, anyway) is that I am up and running and up for anything as of yore. So thanks for the consideration but bring on the poetry gigs. I have the words. I have the desire. I have the motor . . .

My poem, READ / A / BOOK, commissioned for the National Year of Reading is to be sent to not only all Cheshire libraries but to all Cheshire primary and junior schools. I have sent in the photo Lynda took of me reading to an amusing tree to be put on it. I thought if it is insisted my picture's on it then it would be made more tolerable if there was a smiley tree in it too.

Monday, 14 April 2008

FLASHBACK: Friday Jan 18, 2008

My official take-over as CPL from Jo Bell, CPL 2007. The gig was at Neston Public Library on the Wirral. Neston is an amazing place - a seaside with no sea. Where there was once sea, there is now grass. It's brilliant, especially when the wind blows the grass into waves. Ironic. I do like to be beside the leaside . . . It got silted up through lack of use. Time and tide wait for no man.

The library has just celebrated 100 years of existence. 'Neston Free Library' originally. What a social innovation that was! Books on free loan to the working classes. Many a kid chucked out of formal education early must have furthered their studies there. How many horizons did it widen? How many future trade union leaders did those shelves foster?

It was a good gig. Lynda and I enjoyed Jo's stuff. Lynda said she thought Jo's voice had a compelling, sophorific quality that suited her work well. I agreed. Jo read first as the out-going poet then I read as the in-coming one.

There was a bit of a mouthy geezer in the audience who shouted at me in the Q & A session we had at the end when I inadvertently attempted to answer a question addressed to Jo. It turned out to be John Gorman (ex Scaffold with R. McGough, M. McGear). The last time I'd spoken to John was on the set of Ready, Steady Go! in 1965. He was with Scaffold, I was with Cops n' Robbers. Obviously, I had more reason to remember him that he had to remember me (check out McGough's 'Let Me Die A Youngman's Death'. He does some terrific stuff).

A discussion arose about 'modernity'. It came out of the fact that I often use rhyme in my poetry. Someone suggested that rhyme might be a thing of the past and, if you want to be modern you won't employ it. I was surprised. I hadn't thought about it much - never seen myself as this thing or that thing, modern or otherwise. I'm not consciously trying to belong to any club or society or movement so it has never been an issue for me. I'm lucky enough to be able to rhyme or not rhyme at will (ie. lucky enough to have spent a lot of time reading, had good mentors and to have been free to work hard at writing). I use rhyme when it feels right to do so and prose poetry when ever that feels right. Perhaps it's probably more to do with rhythm than rhyme because rhymes have got a big elbow when you use them staccato fashion and a more-gentle nudge when you use them legato. What I love about as well is that it brings attention to the rhyming word pairs and you can build up some extra images that way. I don't think I could I be without rhyme all the time. It wouldn't feel natural. Nature rhymes. Have a look around you.

A young guy at Neston suggested that maybe the use of rhyme was so retro it represented a new modernity. Take your pick. My compatriot in San Francisco, Jack Hirschman, now in his seventies, doesn't use rhyme as far as I know. Jack is a wonderful wordsperson. One of the beat generation, a socially aware poet. Maybe that approach to writing is city stuff. Metropolitan - hums of the city. It was great to hear people discussing it all.

When I did some gigs in France, the hosts labelled me: 'W. Terry Fox (GB) Folk Poete'. I think I like that. Yeah, I suppose that is what I am, a folk poet. Two of my favourite poets, Thomas Hardy and John Clare were rhymers. They, like me, were also folk fiddle players and lovers of traditional folksong. Maybe that's where the rhyming comes from.

The people at Neston - in the library and in the town - were exceptionally friendly and pleasant. Lynda and I hope to go back there soon.

Friday, 11 April 2008

'Dance of Fools' Review

The Congleton Chronicle has given my 'Dance of Fools' collection a terrific review. Big thanks to 'JAE'. I had not realised I was so preoccupied with the inevitability of my own demise until I read this piece.

Chris, who runs the 'Room at the Top' cafe in Congleton (his menu is ace with loads of vegetarian options which pleased Lynda. There are newspapers put out for customers to read, art installations, etc. It has some of the Bohemian vibe of the Soho coffee bars in the early sixties) has kindly put 'D of F' on sale there. A donation to his pet charity, the RNLI, will be made for each copy sold. I made a weak joke about climate change and the fact that I was concerned there wasn't a life boat within miles of where I live, which prompted Chris to tell me that there was once a lighthouse in Congleton. It was built to warn motorists of a notoriously hazardous bend in a road. The lighthouse was switched off during WWII for obvious reasons and became redundant when the road was made safer. It apparently remains in history as the only ever inland lighthouse.

Better news on my 'pAUSE fOR a pOEM' installation: the CCC are sorting out the braille transcriptions for me. I am really encouraged by that. Which reminds me: when I was planning this project, I thought having my poems transcibed into braille would turn reading them into a tactile experience (you know, "feel the poem"). It seemed a reasonable proposition to me until I spoke to Colin Antwis, Secretary for Chester National Society for the Blind, who said as patiently as he could, 'No, Terry. It's just reading!'

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Cheshire Poet Laureate 2008 / 09

My aim is to keep a running notebook on my tenure as Cheshire Poet Laureate.

The trouble with diaries, logs, journals and blogs, as I am just finding out, is that they take time to write. The more you write, the less you have to write about. This blog was organised for me by my long-time mate Karl who is a pro software engineer of the highest order and should not have been bothered with such a lowly task. But he did it in 2 mins flat whilst eating his tea so I don't feel too bad about it. I am three months into my laureateship and I will back date my notes, sometime, to cover the beginnings.

Today I have been recording 11 poems for my 'pAUSE fOR a pOEM' project. I have been doing this with Adam who I make music with from time to time.
Naturally, there will be music with one or two of the poems. My 'pAUSE' project is intended to be a poetry installation in a museum or art gallery and to be inclusive of the hard of seeing and of blind people. I have experienced some mild official resistance to this so I will have to go it alone. You can be hard of seeing in more ways than one, can't you?

Had a phone call this evening about 'Footprints' - an environmental project in Alsager involving the public library, mosaic art and young people's poetry. I'm up for it. Sounds great. I'll tell more when I know more.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

hello world

how's it going?