Pretending poetry, songs of liberty and Ursula le Guin


The thing about running your own business is that holidays become almost entirely theoretical. It’s a holiday to leave the computer for long enough to hang out the washing on a sunny day, it’s a holiday to take the long way to the post office, it’s a holiday to read something that isn’t for work, or to listen to something that requires your full attention on the radio, or to take a day to learn new songs.

The thing about running your own business is that you can build a holiday in anywhere you want to, and around anything you want to, and justify it as ‘work’.

So a week in Cumbria because one of the poets in The Other Side of Sleep had organised a reading in Grange-over-Sands and it’s too far to go and not stay over, and if you have to stay over, well…

A few days with friends in Bath and a stop over with another on the way to Cheltenham.

So I briefly pretended I’m a poet last week. As I said whilst doing so, I am not a poet, I occasionally write poetry, it really isn’t the same thing. So here’s me pretending to be a poet, with one poem and two flash fictions that happen to kind of work as poems.

cherry grange os

If you want to hear how real poets do it you can listen over on the Arachne Press website. I’ll be pretending again at the Cheltenham Poetry Festival on Saturday in the company of Angela France, Math Jones, Bernie Howley, Kate Foley and Jennifer A McGowan.

In the meantime I’ve been listening to Ursula le Guin on Radio4, first an epic 2 hour catch-up with The Left Hand of Darkness, and then a 30 minute documentary, with the woman herself, and various writers who admire and were influenced by her, including Neil Gaiman,  Karen Joy Fowler and David Mitchell. I found myself falling in love with LHD all over again. I read it first in my teens, and again about 5 years ago, and I am in awe of le Guin’s talent and the subtlety of the adaptation for Radio by Judith Adams, everything I remember is there, and the bitter, bone deep cold swells through the recording so, so well. Listening to Gaiman and Mitchell say words to the effect of ‘this is why I became a writer’, I wonder: is this why I became a writer? (and unlike ‘poet’ I do identify as ‘writer’ because even when not writing I obsess about it – think about my characters, interrogate my bad habits, consider plot twists, discover great titles in over heard conversations…) and I think the answer is probably YES.

The Left Hand of Darkness has been one of  my favourite books since I first read it, and unlike many others was even better on the second reading, and still made me cry (and I think another re-read is due). Discovering it so early, probably about the time I began to seriously think I might write ‘for real’, it must have had a huge impact. It is hard to tell, I read voraciously at that point, three books a day at weekends, back to back, swimming in words. I’m sure I amalgamate many of those books in my mind, not sure what comes from where, but LHD stands out from the morass, as do other of le Guin’s books: The Tombs of Atuan and The Lathe of Heaven in particular. They are doing an adaptation of A Wizard of Earthsea (My first ever le Guin read, when I was probably nine or ten) on Radio4 Extra next week – LISTEN!

Did you think you were going to get away without a reference to music? Ha! fooled you.

I spent Saturday immersed in songs about making choices and community and freedom, taught by the marvellous Lester Simpson in preparation for the next ‘big idea’, a celebration of Magna Carta in the week of the actual 800 year anniversary of the first draft being signed (if you ignore the change of calendar in the 18th Century). Nearly 50 people turned up and we sounded amazing. Here’s a sample…

You’ll get a chance to hear the songs we are working on in a more polished format at West Greenwich Library, 7:30 on Thursday 18th June. More on that nearer the time. There is a call out for STORIES for the event over at Arachne, you have til Mayday.

Right. Off to my next ‘holiday’, in Bath for readings of Solstice Shorts at Oldfield Park Books, this evening!

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Folk. Always


I  have been singing folk carols for something like 6 hours today, because Vocal Chords, my regular (as opposed to occasional forays elsewhere) choir, are doing a recording. Carols in August, why not?

I love folk music. It’s something to do with the ability to tell a story, and not be afraid of really going for it, whether it’s the Dunstan Lullaby which gets its point across in 3 verses (one of which is repeated) of 4 lines, in which only 2 lines change, or something like Anarchy Gordon which goes on telling its deadly tale of lost love, brutality and despair for verse after verse after… (I’ve not counted – 24?) And then there’s the deceptively simple tunes, some designed to be sung solo, some raucously joyful harmonies. I like loads of types of music – I sing in operas, I was in a punk band briefly, but you could say that folk is my default setting.

So when the idea for Solstice Shorts Festival landed pretty much fully formed in my head in January, as soon as I realised that there would be music, folk rose steadily to the top of my list of possibles. Partly because the theme is Time, and I was struggling to find much classical music that was suitable and that I liked whereas folk is chock full of it; partly because it became clear there wasn’t going to be much room so the musical groups needed to be small; partly because so many pop/rock songs we thought would work turned out to have seriously dodgy verses (either plain bad, or offensive).

(Help us get the festival to happen – contribute to our crowd fund)

Folk is adaptable. That’s why folk carols exist – when the church took against the gallery musicians and insisted on carols that could be directly linked to the bible, the people who had been singing and playing carols since who-knows-when, stood outside the church and sang in protest, moving to the pub when it turned chilly. (Is this really how it happened? Or is it just another good folk story?)

Anyway, the point is, FOLK. so I contacted our friends Sue & Nyge at The Goose is Out and asked for suggestions. So, provided we get our funding, we have folk music happening on 21st December – the Winter Solstice – from Sunrise to Sunset, interspersed with new short stories.

Let me introduce you to our musicians:

(Help us get the festival to happen – contribute to our crowd fund – think of this as the chorus)

Ian Kennedy and Sarah Lloyd

Ian and Sarah are local musicians who delight in blending their voices in live unaccompanied harmony. Their repertoire covers traditional folk songs, including nursery rhymes and the occasional long ballad. Having warmed their vocal chords at The Goose is Out Singarounds, they now regularly sing floor spots at the Goose club nights in Nunhead, Tooting, Sharps and Islington folk clubs and as far afield as the Towersey Festival. In the last year, they have supported both Thomas McCarthy and the Copper Family for sell out nights at the Ivy House Community Pub in Nunhead. Earlier this year, Ian and Sarah performed as a duo at Cecil Sharp House for the launch of the EFDSS Yan Tan Tethera textiles and song project. They are also founder members of the Dulwich Folk Choir.

Shadrack Tye

Shadrack Tye have won critical acclaim from audiences and promoters alike for their performances at venues and festivals in London and around the country. All members of the same family, they perform folk arrangements and original songs bringing to both a multitude of musical influences.Tina and Paul have had long careers playing for top London orchestras and as music educationalists, while Sony artist Sam also sings with vocal jazz harmony group Vive, recently featured on both BBC television and radio.

I look forward to hearing some more of their stuff because it’s different and very, very interesting…..like it very much …

Mike Harding- Folk Show

In their first year out Shadrack Tye were invited to play in the Folk Rising series at Cecil Sharpe House and also performed at the Purbeck, Wessex and Folk Thing festivals.In 2013 they debuted most successfully at the Rochester Sweeps and Broadstairs folk festivals, while this years firsts included Gate to Southwell and  the London Folkfest at the Bedford, Balham as well as an invitation to return to the main stage at the Wessex Festival. More recently they have headlined at venues in London and the south, most notably at the famous Bush Hall in west London.

Last year they achieved multiple radio plays on the Tom Robinson Show, BBC Introducing Mixtape and Mike Harding Folk Show and in addition, after being heard live by the producer of the International Ronnie Scott’s Radio Show, they were given the opportunity to record their much-loved cover of “Big Yellow Taxi” for the Joni Mitchell Special aired in the UK, USA and Canada.

They were also the featured band for Spiral Earth’s “Introducing” article in November 2013.

Their self-released EP – “The Lovers Tale”, was described by Mike Harding as “damn fine” and they are currently creating their next album due for release in 2014.

Rosemary Lippard

Rosemary has been singing British Traditional Music in folk clubs for nearly 3 years now. She often sings unaccompanied but is also in folk duos, with consummate guitarist Tim Graham, and as Country Parish Music with Steven Collins, founder of the Owl Service and Stone Tape Recording. She has played at gigs for The Goose Is Out in South East London, Leigh On Sea Folk Festival, Oxford Folk Weekend, The Islington Folk Club (from whom she won the Trad2Mad award in 2012) and the Green Note Cafe, Camden supporting artists such as Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick, Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin, Ewan McLennan, Long Lankin, The Askew Sisters, and Jim Causley. Rosemary hopes to be doing a few gigs this September, with Tim Graham, around England and potentially Wales… and for there to be enough gigs to call it a tour…

Pepper and Shepherd

Pepper and Shepherd are James Pepper and Anthony Shepherd. They play intricate, honest folk music on mandolin, guitar, ukulele and harmonies. They formed in 2009 and both live in Peckham, South London.
Their second album, Kings on the Rye was released on last August Bank Holiday. A bittersweet collection of eight original folk songs, written, recorded and produced in a tiny flat on Peckham High Street in the spring of 2013.

(Help us get the festival to happen – contribute to our crowd fund – you are thinking of this as the chorus – yes?)

And finally, and most personally, Summer All Year Long

Summer All Year Long (SAYL) is a group of friends who meet in my living room to sing for the pleasure of it, and sometimes do this in public, usually in connection with an Arachne Press event.

Since January we have been ploughing through what seems like thousands of songs about or related to time, trying things out and rejecting them, or making up arrangements. A lot of wine has been drunk, many, many songs have been discarded, and we are getting very excited about the few that have passed the no-one hates it, we can all sing it, the arrangement sounds great test. Not all of them started out as folk songs, but they are now!

(Help us get the festival to happen – contribute to our crowd fund – We’ll be very grateful and there are loads of fun and interesting rewards…)