Hey everyone As I think you will agree it has been a wee while since the First Monday of this month. However such was the quality of a truly brilliant night at Words and Music I have only just got my breath back from what has to be one of the best nights the wee back room has ever seen.
As we gathered we didn’t know what to expect and had a number of apologies from those unable to make the night. These included Catherine Baird, Alex Frew, and our champion Stephen Watt who said he was going have a quiet night with the girlfriend as I he hadn’t had many of them during August due to his goings on at the festival. This meant that in his words she was ‘due a good night’. Yes Stephen I’m sure she was but as an award winning poet you could have chosen another way of expressing this noble sentiment of your desire for her companionship.
Anyway, that’s enough about those who couldn’t make it so let’s tell the story of those who did turn up and made it the night one which will live in the memories of those attended for a very long time.
Needless to say as per usual nobody actually wanted to be first up so as compare I took the liberty of kicking off the evening with the Karaoke Queen. This I think set the tone for the evening of madness which was about to ensue.
As I departed from the stage it was Lesley McKay who got the show on the road as the first official reader of the night and her set included a poem inspired by the late great Sorely McLean and her poem the girl with the auburn hair was an excellent way to kick off the night
Next up was a man whose work will always go down well with those of us who know quality poetry and it was good to welcome Pete Faulkner back to the Sammy’s stage. His poems the girl in the churchyard and the sleeping princess both had strong moral messages and evocative imagery which are so often the hallmarks of his work and bring his poems to life as he reads them as they enable him to truly engage with his audience.
After Pete it was the turn off another regular to entertain the crowd and entertaining is something at which Steve Allan truly excels. Whether it be in poetry or prose Steve can connect with the listener and make us laugh till we are in danger of doing ourselves an injury or a mischief simply by looking at the ridiculousness of every day situations.
In his story the wrong scissors, Steve recalls a visit to the barbers in which he hears the personal problems of the young girl who seems all too annoyingly able to multi-task by chatting to her friend and to him as she cuts his hair. Yes even going to the barbers can require the skills of a social worker or potential agony columnist but to paraphrase the late Irish comedian Frank Carson ‘That Steve Allan’s a funny lad it’s way he tells them so it is’. This is true and the way he told this story had us doubled up with laughter.
You know it’s often said that laughter is the best medicine and if that is true what better proof than the words and music and occasional rant from our very own doctor of satire Andy Fleming. Actually in the real world which all performers must occasionally visit Andy is a qualified doctor of something far more complex than comedy, maybe that’s why he’s so good making others laugh because it takes real intelligence to write and perform satire to the standard he does.
On this occasion Andy performed two songs the pound shop, written in tribute to these bargain basement treasure troves and the stuff you can find in them, and the brilliant and highly topical one star review. Well as the song which is written from the perspective of a struggling artist says in a very pointed way any fool can be a critic, and many critics prove the point. This is a topical song at any time but I think it was all the more relevant in the first Words and Music after the Edinburgh fringe.
John McGlade had the unenviable task of following Doctor Fleming and he delivered the perfect poetry prescription by regaling us with yet more topical material in a set which typifies the style of this talented wordsmith.
This month’s selection included a public service announcement on behalf of Rolf Harris Uncle Andy, and my personal favourite of a brilliant selection If I Were DG at the BBC. This was hard hitting observational comedy wrapped up in the clothes of poetry. Like the quality poet he is when John McGlade selects his targets he isn’t known to miss them and believe me this was no exception to the rule.
As John left the stage it was Susan Milligan’s turn for the spotlight. In a set which was much improved from last month, Susan returned to the form she is capable of, with butterflies and my reality being particular highlights in my opinion.
After Susan It was the turn of another Tollcross Writer Linda Grant to entertain the company. It is my opinion and I don’t think I’m alone in this that more than any other performer in the last 12 months. I don’t know what has happened to her but she really seems to have discovered a confidence which she just didn’t have a year ago.
On this occasion she decided to entertain us by performing a piece which she had performed at her Edinburgh gig in the Captain’s Rest bar and to say it departed from her traditional style would I think be putting it mildly it even shocked Robin Cairns and this is a man whose not easily shocked.
Well when I say shocked I mean in a positive way. I think what surprised Robin and I have to say a significant number of others in the room was not only the improvement in the quality of her work this has been getting slowly but steadily noticed over the last few months but the difference in the delivery of it.
After Linda had stunned the room in to a state of silence, it was Craig Scott who led us to the bar break with a top quality set which has become the trademark of our youngest regular performer.
Craig started his set with a poem on the complexities of online banking. This was a highly humorous and thought provoking piece and it very ably demonstrated why I prefer to do all my banking in branch.
This was the highlight of a brilliant set which included his signature poem tangled webs and a poem entitled God’s won’t which I would love to see him perform at a faith and unbelief meeting I think it could provoke a very interesting discussion. As Craig completed his set it was time for the company to enjoy a much needed bar break and if anyone though that this would signal an end to the madness believe me when I say they couldn’t have been more wrong.
As I call the room to order we kicked off the second half by introducing our featured writer for this month Robin Cairns. A man who needs no introduction to the Words and Music crowd Robin has been a loyal supporter of the event for the past 10 years since making his debut in early February 2003. The host of an excellent spoken word event at Cafe Rio Robin is the man I call the maestro and he doesn’t get that accolade for no reason.
On this occasion Robin’s set was a mixture of the old and new of serious and comic and showed the versatility of the man and his work. He started with a brilliantly crafted poem titled the 23 poems I wrote last week. This is a very clever and witty poem which a poet seems to be offering the audience the chance to select what they would like to hear but by the time they get to choose his time is up. This is craftsmanship at its best and even managed to fool someone in to trying a select a title.
Other poems included in this excellent and innovative set included the brilliant Ballad Of Homeland Songs. This is a poem in which Robin explores the sometimes difficult relationship between masculinity and communication through places he has visited and situations he has been in whether as a worker or a boss. It should be noted that Robin is a sign writer to trade This is something he tells us more about in his poem I dig holes. In this poem however Robin illustrates that is often only over a beer that men will talk about what really matters. This is when an alcohol induced sentimentality takes over and they sing the songs of the homeland wherever that homeland may be.
He ended with another musical poem and explained that in what must have been a moment of insanity that there was an old woman who swallowed McFly and she didn’t stop there, no she swallowed almost every boy band of the last 30 years for which some people would I am sure be very thankful. With that Robin concluded a set which consisted of only five poems but as I always say it’s not about quantity it’s about quality and this was a set of top quality.
After our featured writer took his well deserved applause it was time for our featured musician and in Bob Leslie we had a musician who has taken to Sammy’s like a duck to water.
In his set Bob covered everything from a parody of cowboy life in his opening song beans and beer to an illustrious ancestor Sir Alexander Leslie who founded the Russian Army. He also delivered a song which in many ways is about growing up and reaching maturity. Is it just me or did anyone else think that this may have been a not so subtle hint to vote Yes in the independence referendum a year from now. Other songs included a song about empty nest syndrome and the excellent and witty Twa Corbies which was the perfect way to finish a brilliant set from a man who will I think become a regular feature at Sammy’s just like the man who recommended him the late Kenny Caird.
Following the featured acts is never an easy ask. However if anyone can do it then it is my good friend and mentor Derek Read and this was no exception. Derek delivered a short but thought provoking set which had a strong focus on green issues including an exceptional poem on a wet walk to West Loch Tarbet. Well if you ask any of the Tollcross bards we’ll waste no time in telling you he’s always been a wee bit environmental.
After Derek finished his wanderings it was a joy to welcome back to the stage a very good friend of words and music Sandy Hutchison. Sandy is a born entertainer as his selection of both words and music proved with a poem pea and ham and two songs. The parting glass and that Ivor Cutler classic Turtle In My Soup. Anyone who thought the madness stopped with Robin were I am delighted to report very much mistaken.
Jim Ewing did try restore some sanity with a set which consisted of haiku. This is not and I repeat not an easy art form but I have to say that Jim is becoming a bit of a master of the art.
After Jim it was the turn of Maryanne Hartness to entertain the company. This is always one of my personal highlights as Maryanne multi-tasks by making us think and smile at the same time. Yes I know it’s a shocking way for a poet to behave. I mean to say whatever next she’ll be trying to make us behave like grown up’s. I think she might be on to plumbs with that one. Anyway her poems were as always of the highest calibre. Pitlochery Dam is an excellent piece on the value of family ties and Bog Man a fitting tribute to the late Seamus Heaney a poet who inspired so many of us to take up or at least make a worthy attempt at the craft of poetry.
As Maryanne rejoined the company it was time for Suzanne Egerton to take the stage and enthral us with another chapter of her novel. This is becoming a regular and much valued feature at Words and Music and the story of a women’s journey after coming out has a powerful resonance for me as I had many fears to face after making my decision but I have to say I have gained far more than I’ve lost since doing so. Anyway Suzanne’s novel is a highly enjoyable five minutes of our time and she shows prose readers in the company the way you can not only read your work in a way which makes it come alive you can also stick within the time limit whilst doing it.
Next it was the turn of Jane Overton to get up to perform a short but brilliant set In which she asked us Can I Have A Word? Well she needed to talk to somebody, especially since found out that Barbie was having a Mid Life Crisis. I mean there are some secrets you just have to share.
With that rather dramatic announcement it was time for a debutant to make her entrance and in Anne Coll, we have unearthed a poetic gem. Her set consisted of three poems Age Of Romance, This Heart and This Day, all of which had some connection to the upcoming independence referendum and I regret to inform better together that this is yet another poet they have failed to impress with their too wee, too poor, too stupid mantra.
In her opening comments Anne informed the gathering that Alex Salmond said he wants poets to inspire the nation. Well First Minister I think you might just have found another one to add to your ever growing list. Anne’s voice may be a new one but there is no doubting its authentic and passionate sincerity. I look forward to hearing a lot more of her work in the months and years to come.
And so that brought us to the end of another night which if truth be told and it will be was up there with the very best of them and in 20 years I have attended my fair share of top quality nights. So i decided to end the evening with a set of comic poems on relationships.
This set went down particularly well at the Edinburgh Courtyard Readings as it traced the various stages from beginning to end. I kicked it off with Leave It To Fate a poem on the problems and perils of dating for the single girls in these busy times. I followed this up by performing House Rules which should be subtitled the sensible woman’s perfectly reasonable demands before moving in with her boyfriend. When you’ve heard or read the poem you will understand why I believe it should have this subtitle. I then concluded the night and the evening with a poem on break up’s Over and Done. This is what the night was when I had finished performing the last poem in my set.
As we chatted at the end of a brilliant evening, a number of poets such as Steve Allan, Andy Fleming, John McGlade, and Craig Scott said how much they had enjoyed the night. I have to admit I also enjoyed the evening and agreed with the sentiments expressed.
So as the sleeping princess was awakened by hearing homeland songs this heart said Yes to making our voices heard and the perfect place to hear them is the wee back room at Sammy Dow’s the home of words and music where we will always let the people sing of their stories and their songs.
Love And Best Wishes