Better Together Or A New And Better Land Some Said We Were Voting For Madness So We Thought We Would Leave It To Fate

Hey everyone As we get ready for the October Words And Music it is time to reflect on events at the September edition. As this was last gathering before the referendum I had hoped to introduce a wee bit of light hearted rivalry between the camps with one of our featured slots representing each side of the debate.

As it turned out this was not possible as our featured musician yes supporting Citizen Smart made the mistake of thinking that it would be being held on the following Monday. As those of us who know our Sammy’s history will tell you this is a mistake more common than many people think when the first Monday of the month is also the first day of the month.

As for Better Together their representative on the night was our featured writer the one and only Chris Young. Yes there can only be one Christopher and whilst the world would be a better place if there was more than one I think it may also be more confused and chaotic than it could cope with. So with a great night lined up it was time to crack on with the evening’s entertainment.

As is becoming tradition I kicked off the night to allow those in attendance to get settled before taking the stage. As the theme for the evening was on personal choice I decided to tackle this head on with an opening set of two poems.

The first of my choices Suited And Booted was specifically chosen for this very reason. This was a poem on the early stages of my gender reassignment written not about my coming out at work on my Christmas night out but on selecting an outfit for my first day as a working woman the following Monday morning and the strange but brilliant feeling of liberation and empowerment that making those choices gave me.

I then went to shock my friends by declaring that I intended to vote no in the referendum. Now the fact that my friends are an intelligent bunch and my jacket was covered in yes badges may have suggested that there may be a catch in that story. I believe this could be the reason why my poem I’m a just a girl who can say no was never shown by the BBC on the following day’s Reporting Scotland. You see the fact is I was saying no to the UK and I don’t think our colonial masters would have liked that fact one bit.

Next up was a force of nature Words and Music has come to know and love. This force of nature is known is Lesley Mackay. During an excellent set Lesley read a poem Departing from a Maltese poet and a fairy story entitled Threads which was I have to say just a wee bit on the scary side.

Following Lesley was our recent comeback kid JJ Turner and in a brilliant set of breathtaking quality JJ showed the gathering exactly why his return was so welcome. Covering topics from domestic abuse to mental health which he touched on in his final poem see me, this was a man on top of his game and unafraid to tackle the social taboos that the chattering classes would prefer were left untouched.

With only two of the billed readers having read at this point this was already turning in to a night of serious quality. This was further enhanced when our defending champion Alan MacGlas took to the stage. In his introduction Alan told the audience that he doesn’t do daisy’s and unicorns. Somehow this didn’t surprise us as Alan is not a man known for messing around and I’m delighted to say he didn’t change his direct style.
His poem Right Thinking started with the line ‘thank god for paedophiles’. This line was used as a recurring theme throughout the poem to remind us of the dangers of demonising those we so often see as ‘other’ and the dangers we face when we give a place to fear and hate.

As Alan went back to his seat it was the turn of Pete Faulkner to entertain us and as he read a short story he didn’t let us down Pete who was making a welcome return to Words and Music after a summer break said that he wasn’t originally going to read anything on this occasion but had been requested to do so by Pamela and as anyone who knows about Sammy’s and the history and tradition of the event will tell you that refusing Pamela is one thing you never do.

After Pete it was Susan Milligan’s turn to take the spotlight and her story Sleepless in Seattle talks about her difficulty in watching that particular movie as she has issues with regards to finding a partner or should I say being given what she sees as a fair chance of finding a partner. The second of her spoken word pieces was a poem entitled Gray on the misplaced importance of colours. Susan finished her set with a version of Kiki Dee classic Amorous and by doing this she is undoubtedly playing to her strengths. It seems to me that Susan is now adopting the Oran Mor approach to Words And Music. I’ll explain this by saying that Oran Mor offer a play, a pie, and a pint at lunch time Susan is offering a poem, a story, and a song and I have to say it worked a treat though she does need to watch her time.

Next up to the stage was that wise old owl Freddie Fingers whose sets can always be relied upon to both educate and entertain in equal measure and this was no exception with food for thought going down a storm amongst the regulars.

John McGlade was the man to follow Freddie this is never an easy task but someone has to do it and on this occasion it was John who was given the honour. In a set which was as diverse it was topical John revealed how Limerick’s cured his travel sickness, his nieces favourite things on the internet and his poetic opinion on talks about talks. He also shared his thoughts about a rather unpleasant bus journey back to Glasgow on the road home from the Edinburgh fringe.

Linda Grant was next up to claim her five minutes in the spotlight and this rapidly improving writer gave as polished a performer as I have seen her give in almost four years of attending Words And Music. On a night in which the material could be said to be topical Linda performed three of her best poems The Cricket Ball, My Glasgow and Voting For Madness the last two in particular resonating with the theme of the night. This I have to say was impressive when you consider that one of Linda’s catchphrases is I don’t do politics. However I should perhaps enlighten you by saying that when I first got to know her, Linda’s most well known catchphrase was I don’t do poetry. Well she does now and it’s going from strength to strength.

It was Suzanne Egerton who took us to the break with an excellent story which contained a very dodgy and highly believable character short fingered Tommo the night club doorman. Though serious in tone, the story like much of Suzanne’s work had more than a liberal sprinkling of black humour and certainly kept us all entertained in the way she tends to do. So that concluded the first half of the evening and I have to say it had set the bar so high I don’t think there has ever been a pole vaulter in the world who could have reached those dizzy heights.

After the bar break it was time for our featured writer Chris Young. As anyone with a fully functioning brain will know Chris is one of my closest friends on the spoken word scene or for that matter anywhere else. A highly intelligent and likable man Chris is like myself active in political circles, he is a member and indeed former parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats at both the Scottish and UK elections and therefore does not share my vision of an independent Scotland and prefers that we remain part of the United Kingdom. Bearing in mind that this would be the last Words and Music before the vote his selection as featured reader was no accident indeed it was carefully planned that we have one of our featured acts to represent both the yes and no camps which is why he and Citizen Smart were this month’s selections. You see everyone was saying that there were more than TV debates to bore the backsides of any floating voters so i thought that by bringing some culture to the issue we could through performance have a presentation from both sides of debate at Sammy’s and speaking on a purely personal level If I had to listen to anyone from Better Together, No Thanks, or whatever they were called that day, then I would sooner listen to Chris than Alistair Darling, Ruth Davidson, or Jim Murphy.

As he started his set Chris did caution us that there may be some politics involved but there would also be other stuff and that meant he could have a chance to plug his new collection Greetings From Glasgow which just to confuse you was launched in Edinburgh but not at the book festival nor on the fringe. Are you confused yet? If not don’t worry there’s plenty of time for that later.

Anyway, Chris started his set by reading a poem which showed he is very much a proud Glaswegian as it was entitled Umbrella. This is something no Weegie should ever be without due to the fact that it is quite often raining in this city and I don’t mean men. Well certainly not in my local area of Baillieston. He then moved on to Retaliation Analysis and warned himself to stop self heckling.

The next poem in his set was I Am You which was written on the topic of race and is powerful reminder that all of us have more in common than what divides and I have to say this appealed to the internationalist in me.

For his next trick this multi talented multi-tasker decided to give us a song. Entitled Gold, the song tackles the idea of running a race which Chris does not only in the physical sense to keep fit but also metaphorically every time he stands for election or even enters a poetry slam. I suppose the message behind it is to try to be the best you can be then you’ll attain your own personal gold even if you don’t win the race you are competing in on that particular occasion.
As he reached the tail end of a very enjoyable and thought provoking set Chris concluded with two of what I think are his best poems one of which Genuinely Worried I heard for the first time on the night. This was Chris making his impassioned plea for the union and giving his own unique take on why he believes we are better together. Believe me when I say that even as an opponent in this debate I was impressed by the way he stated his case using examples from Geography, History, and Economics to put forward his case. For his final poem of a brilliant 20 minutes this adopted Govanite read Come to Glasgow in which he extols the virtues of the city he calls home. At the end of his set he got a round of applause that some political leaders will never experience and the thing is he actually deserved it.

As I said earlier I had hoped to have Citizen Smart as the featured musician but unfortunately he couldn’t make due to a genuine mix up over the date. However this has happened with other performers and I dare say it will happen again but rather than look at it in a negative fashion I prefer to see it as an opportunity for those who have made it to be given a bit more time and this was what happened on this occasion.

First to benefit was Monica Pitman who performed her poem the daftie on a night when she hadn’t planned to perform. After it was the turn of Sandy Hutchison who sang what many consider to be the unofficial national anthem of Scotland Freedom Come All Ye and left a lump in my throat as he did so. Honestly the words in that song are beautiful and they contain so many fundamental truths about why Scotland should be independent I can’t help but get just a little bit emotional every time I hear it.

After that red raw emotion I think the old place needed livening up again and in Andy Fleming we had just the man for the job. Particular highlights of an extended set were Just Say No, the brilliant Shredding Valentines, Scottish Poetry Tonight, and a song he doesn’t sing nearly enough One Star Review.

As soon as Andy had exited the stage his place was taken by fellow Ayrshire man and proud son of Kilmarnock Alex Frew. Alex is as regulars will know a man not given to outbursts so when he reads a poem titled Fuck You If Your Poor then goes in to a full blown Anti-Tory rant you think to yourself that you may just have been blown away by its power. Alex followed that with a rap on the unpredictability of the Scottish weather before finishing his set with a poem called An Average Kind Of Man and believe me that when it comes to talent that is something Alex Frew most certainly is not.

The penultimate performer of the evening had to be persuaded to get up and even then he only performed one poem. However when the performer is Jim Ewing and the poem is Bromance you have to say that both performer and poem are worth hearing.

At this we had arrived at that time when the last poet standing had to bring down the curtain on another Words And Music and that poet was of course me. Being a die hard supporter of independence I thought it only fair to warn those still amongst us that I would be presenting the case for a Yes vote in my first two poems and closing the night with a wee bit of comedy. The poems I selected were I Am National Collective. This is a poem dedicated to the cultural wing of the independence movement and I wanted to share its positive vision of our country’s future.

The second of my poems for yes was An Invitation To Better Land. This was written in response to a letter from Sophie a 19 year old Better Together campaigner which was aimed at targeting female voters. The letter informed us that Sophie was proud to be part of the United Kingdom. It also let us know that Sophie did not want to leave the United Kingdom and we were told Sophie was just a normal teenager. Except, well, she wasn’t you see what the letter didn’t tell us was that Sophie was a very active member of her local Conservative Party. Naturally this prompted a response and as is so often the case with me it came in the form of a poem. A poem I might in which I did not miss my targets. Well if your reading this the chances are you know what I’m like. So let’s just say that I am to unionism what Tony Blair is to world peace.

I finished my set with a poem on the problems of dating or more specifically finding the one. Leave It To Fate examines all the potential ways to find the one, but somehow reverting to type and going as we say in the West of Scotland down the dancing. Needless to say this poem got more than a few giggles as we ended the night on a high.

At the end of the night I congratulated Chris on an excellent set and just as I was leaving I was complimented by JJ, Samantha, and Rebecca Turner and also by John McGlade on the quality of my poetry in particular Invitation To A Better Land which JJ said absolutely nailed the case for independence. Indeed he even went as far as to say I should send to the girl who sent me the letter in praise of Better Together. I have to say however, I’m not sure I would do that as it is quite a long poem and they tend to have the attention span of a goldfish. Anyway it was nice to be told that people enjoyed my work, it was I think a fitting end to a top quality night.

Indeed as I look back on the events of an action packed evening, I must admit to a quiet glow of satisfaction at the end of what I consider to be one of the best nights the wee back room has ever seen. As I brought the gathering to a close I said to those remaining of the 28 who attended the night that whatever the result of the referendum life and Sammy’s would go on because we have to. You see as poets and musicians it is our duty to kick the establishment where it hurts right in the principles and to do it as often as required and no matter who won or where the real power lay we would still have backsides to kick be they in Edinburgh if independence was declared or Westminster if we stayed within the union. Now there is one vow I can make on behalf of the Words And Music constituency and that is no matter where laws are made if they are unfair or unjust it will be the poets and musicians who will hold you accountable for your actions.

Now I know there may some who say they are not political and didn’t really get what all the fuss was about whether Scotland was better together within the UK or whether we should be a new and better land with independence. There were even some who said we were voting for madness, so we thought we would leave it to fate. I mean some would ask isn’t that what we always do on the First Monday of the month? and you know what, I think it might be. Talking of fate, I wonder what it will have in store for us at the October Words and Music one thing I do know, it won’t be long till we find out.

Love And Best Wishes
Gayle X


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