Hey everyone. I can’t believe it’s been three weeks since arctic weather welcomed us in to March with snowy conditions which would have been more appropriate in the bleak mid winter than the early part of a Scottish spring. This however was the scene which greeted us on the First Monday of this month and lead me to an edition of Words and Music where the atmosphere was anything but frosty.
This was a unique edition of Words and Music as it officially ended our 24th year at Sammy Dow’s, and I think it’s safe to say that our wee back room has seen many memorable nights during that time and this I have to say will certainly fit in to that category.
With the weather being less than hospitable I left earlier than usual. This was partly because of the winter conditions but mainly due to the fact I had arranged to meet our featured writer David Lee Morgan at Queen’s Street Station to safely escort him to the venue. Well we couldn’t have the BBC Slam Champion getting lost on his way to the venue. Yes that’s right we had the BBC Slam Champion as featured writer at Sammy’s.
You may be wondering how we managed to pull of a feet like that, well I’ll tell you. Thanks to outgoing Scottish Champion Miko Berry I had heard that David who is based in London was coming up to Scotland for a few days and wanted to perform at some gigs whilst he was here. When I heard this, I made the arrangements as quick as possible and announced him as featured writer well in advance.
Despite a few people being unable to make it for a variety of reasons ranging from climate to health there was I am glad to say a decent turn out on the night in a crowd which contained more than a few new faces. This is always good to see and adds a certain something to the evening.
As is now custom I kicked off the night with one of my poems. On this occasion the poem of choice was a story to tell. This was the first time I had performed this poem which relates to my gender transition was only written at the beginning of the year. I am glad to say it was very well received and having to paraphrase the words of Pink got this party started I invited the assembled companies to bring their talents to the stage.
The first of the billed readers to entertain the company was a newcomer to Words and Music and believe me John Moody made a very promising debut. In his first Sammy’s set, John, a relative newcomer to performance scene read three poems, Children Of The Edge, Reflections On Technological Wars, and Ukraine 2015. All of the poems selected were powerful, passionate, and thought provoking pieces of work from a voice I’ve got to know over the months at Glasgow writers and who will be welcome on the Sammy’s stage any time he chooses to grace it.
Like John, I first met our next performer on those Thursday nights at GoMA as part of Glasgow Writers and in the last two years Lesley MacKay has become very much a part of the Words and Music family. This month Lesley read The Less Work Hard and The Staines Of Stenas the later piece being heavily influenced by her frequent visits to Norway where she travels in research of her novel.
The attendance may not have been the 30 plus I hoped for but among the 18 who did turn up we had last three Words and Music Open Poetry champions and it was defending champion Alan McGlas who was first of our trio of trophy winners to take the stage. As someone who not only poetry but enjoys hearing it read well. I particularly enjoy Alan’s work as he an excellent who knows how to connect with his audience and bring his work alive to the listening public.
Alan performed three pieces the first two of which Remembrance, and Sergeants, Stripes, and Military Medals, were both in memory of his grandfather. In his first piece Remembrance Alan talked of a war of which his grandad never talked but did have nightmares. In his second piece Sergeants, Stripes, and Military Medals, expanded on this theme he talked of the character of the man he clearly loved very much. These quotes from the poem were I thought particularly poignant
‘The Halo Of Holiday’ illustrated that all children view their grand parents with rose coloured glasses and this was a beautiful way of expressing that heartfelt sentiment without being over emotional. ‘The Conservative Morals Of A Labour Man’ was another line which caught my eye as it reminded me of so many of my male relatives especially my Labour voting uncles who were though left wing in the quest for economic equality were very socially and culturally conservative in the sense that they were very afraid of any change to the old traditions.
I have to say however that my favourite line in this poem describes how his grandad stayed alive due to the fact that he was ‘ A 19 year old who thrust a bayonet in to his 19 year old opposite’. In one devastating sentence McGlas sums up the deadly horrors of war with greater accuracy than any image I have ever come across. Our current holder of the Hughie Healy Memorial Trophy then finished his set with a short prose piece entitled The End Of The Line and with he reached the end of a very entertaining and educational set.
Next to the stage was another former champion, this time it was 2012 champion Steve Allan whose unbelievable but true tale of being put through to a Help Desk had us splitting our sides with laughter as he lamented the tragic story of how an attempt to be helpful confused the hell of him and left him wishing he hadn’t bothered. This is an example of British bureaucracy at its worst and most incompetent and West of Scotland at its best as it is always brilliant when it shows the pomposity of officialdom and jobsworth Jimmy’s who’ll play it by the book even when the book is in need of a re-write. In fact I think I could be forgiven for saying that this sorry episode drove Steve completely environ mental.
As Steve left us laughing it was time for another new face to make their first appearance at Words and Music and like fellow newbie John Moody, Jeanette Laird first came to my attention when she joined Glasgow Writers at GoMA at the beginning of the year. As was the case with John I was quick to spot Jeanette’s potential as an open mic performer and when I mentioned Words and Music she needed no second invitation. In fact such was her determination she had even brought along her own personal fan club consisting of her sons and one of their fiance’s to cheer her on. This was great news for her even if spoken word nights weren’t quite their scene. However they had nipped out for a bite to eat and only just made it back in time to see Jeanette make a mighty impressive debut in which she read Dawning In Pollokshields, Weather Fish, and Waiting For The Telephone. The last of her three poems was read in French which as I remarked at the end of her set is a language so romantic it could even make phrases like that well known Glaswegian term of endearment A’m Gauny Kill You Ya Wee Ned sound like a seductive proposal.
At the end of another promising debut it was time for 2013 Words and Music champion Stephen Watt to make a long awaited and overdue return to the wee back room. I’ve always been a big fan of Stephen’s work as he is a reasoned articulate voice whose poetry equally well on the stage or on the page. In a short but excellent set Stephen read two new poems Lay Down My Arms and the brilliantly but bizarrely titled Wardrobe Filled Out With Chihuahua Dresses. Both poems captured the imagination of the audience as Stephen used both pathos and humour to engage his listeners in that way he does and when he does he has few if any peers.
Next up to the stage it was the turn of Susan Milligan who read three poems Real, Meet Me On The Corner and Dizzy before finishing what was her worst set in a good few months with a slightly off key rendition of Gladys Knight’s classic hit Help Me Make It Through The Night. As I’ve said recently Susan is on journey with her writing and has taken a fair step forward in the last few months but this was a dire remember of how bad she can be when she goes down the self indulgent route.
As Susan made her way back to her seat she was followed to the stage by Linda Grant. This was not Linda’s strongest set nor was it her best, but it was a safe set comprising four poems Strange Affair, the Bizarrely titled but strangely amusing Loved, Hated, And Didn’t Care, Yesterday’s Darling a poem on teenage crushes and Always The Bridesmaid. As I say this was not the best night Linda has ever had at Words and Music but it was certainly a step up in quality from the previous set and she got the night back on track after a slight lapse in standards.
After Linda’s safe but steady performance it was time to welcome Shaun Moore back to the fold. It’s amazing to think that Shaun has only been performing his poetry since last summer such is the quality of both his poetry and his performances. Reading three poems Shaun gave those in attendance plenty to think with a selection which was I have to say typically topical.
In his first poem Sean ranted and raved in the most complementary style on the subject on slamming. This is a style of poetry at which Shaun excels. With his fast paced delivery he is a natural for that scene but there is much more to his style than that. This a man who like a rock star performing a ballad can and does surprise people by switching the tempo of set in less time than it takes someone of us myself included to switch on a light bulb. In his next poem Dear Chief Abbot, Shaun had a gentle pop at Ayrshire Labour MP Cathy Jamieson when he penned a piece on her letter to the monks of Buckfast Abbey in which she complained of the effects of their tonic wine of the working class population of Scotland. Sean however took a slightly different approach to Ms Jamieson as he suggested that Buckfast could actually be the sponsor the Labour Party have been waiting for. They could even market it as the working class drink for working class voters. This poem showed Sean at his best as he used that lethal combination of humour and social commentary so favoured by so many of us and he used it to excellent effect. For the final poem of an excellent set Shaun showed the greener side of his nature as he a very evocative piece on Barra. At this we went to the bar break knowing we had two brilliant featured acts to look forward to and believe me I was eagerly looking forward to seeing them after my wee diet coke.
As we resumed after a busy and enjoyable first half of the evening it was time for our featured writer to take to the stage. Now I don’t know about anyone but I felt a genuine air of excitement as I introduced David Lee Morgan to the Words and Music faithful. I had performed with David the previous week at Colin McGuire’s Talking Heids event so I knew exactly how electrifying this man can be and why he won the BBC UK Slam at the Edinburgh Fringe last August. So naturally when I heard he would be willing to be featured writer at our event I almost bit his hand off. Yes it’s true to say I was looking forward to his set and trust me I wasn’t disappointed.
David started what was a breathtaking 20 minutes with a poem entitled River in which he illustrated just how easily he can make flow as naturally as any stream. This was his way of gently warming up the audience for the feast he had in store, and his next poem The Gift of Pain he demonstrated emotion at its most raw and simplistic and yet somehow also manage to show pain at its most powerful. This was following A Travellers Love Poem which again showed a warmth and humanity which typically characterises the man’s work. This was followed by Visit to Grandpa’s, Field Research, Star Child, and Crazy Santa’s in which he states ‘Santa made me a revolutionary communist’ All of these excellent poems contained so many pearls of wisdom that I found myself gratefully making in them in to a literary necklace with golden jewels put in the centre of it.
I have to say that the greatest jewels came in his last three poems Crazy Santa’s which I have already mentioned, Bullet which chronicals the London riots of 2011, though it is equally applicable to much more recent events as the Ferguson shootings in his native United States. David finished what I have to say is one of the most breathtaking ever seen in the wee back room with a poem which he cites as his stab at wisdom. Entitled What Is To Be Done? David asks some searching questions about the state of global humanity in this poem and comes up with more than a few radical answers to those questions. One of my favourite passages in this piece comes when talks about spreading the word from heart to head, to street. To me this was what the yes campaign in last year’s independence were brilliant at doing in the less affluent working class areas of Scotland but what we singularly failed to do in the more affluent areas of our nation and that is why the unionists managed to keep a fragile and temporary hold on Scotland for their union. The other line which I thought was outstanding was ‘You Work They Rule But You Are More Than Just A Talking Tool’ This magnificent piece of insight to me highlights the hope of solving the democratic deficit between the people and their leaders in every democracy on earth. This was the perfect way to end an excellent 20 minutes of poetry which former Words And Music Champion Stephen Watt has since said was an education and you know what he isn’t wrong.
After David had entertained and educated the company it was time for our featured musician and Ian Noble we had another new face to Words And Music and boy did he do us proud. Ian started his set with a good a cover of Brother Can You Spare A Dime as I have ever heard. He then followed this with his own song I Don’t Want To Be Adjusted. For his next Ian who is also a very talented spoken word performer read his poem Dangerous a sharp and observant take on the world we live in. Our musician then went back to his music playing three more of own tunes, Streams, Hesitation Blues which I must admit particularly enjoyed and Just Another Day.
You know I always think our featured musician gets a tough shift having to follow our featured writer but Ian Noble not only stepped up to the mark he made he made his mark and will be welcomed back to Words And Music any time he wishes to grace our stage.
After two brilliant sets from our highly talented featured acts it was time to get back to the other performers on the bill. However despite having a crowd of 18 we had reached the penultimate performer of the evening. This was the first time Ann Coll, had appeared at Sammy’s since the referendum and her poem This Day was her reflection on how it felt to vote for her country’s independence and the devastation she felt on the dream being defeated for now. Anne also performed three other pieces Bide Away, Grammar, and Touch Of The Human Race before leaving me to wind up the evening and bring one of our most enjoyable ever evenings to a close.
Since it was March I knew St Patrick’s Day was just around the corner I started my set with Inspired which had been Inspired by a visit to Donegal more years ago than I care to remember. I then followed that up with a poem on George Square At Night in which I illustrated the importance of the geography of safety to us all. I then moved on to read A Very Ugly Valentine about the valentine I never got which was masquerading as an election communication from Nigel Farage and his cronies and never have I been more relieved not to get any card in my life. I then followed up with my take on the last week of the referendum, as I documented events from the heady heights of the final weekend of the campaign to the bitter disappointment of early hours of the Friday morning when we given the news that our vision of a fairer Scotland had lost to unionist self interest. After this I reading Waxing Lyrical which I wrote in tribute to the beautician who helped me change my perception of waxing from torture to treat and finished up with another new poem on the theme of my gender transition The Road To New Beginnings and thus ended our 24th year of Words And Music.
You know in a lot of ways The Road To New Beginnings was the perfect poem to end not only this edition of Words and Music but this chapter of our history. As we get ready to celebrate what will be our 25th Birthday in the First Monday in April, it is with heartfelt thanks that I remember that it was the club’s initial founders, who took their own road to new beginnings in that year of culture that was 1990 and give birth to club which is still going strong today. There are many reasons for that not least the friendships made during those years which tie some us together like family. Now in any family the roll of honour has to start the parents and especially the mum and in our that means it starts with Pamela Duncan.
Pamela, who will always be our club’s First Lady no matter if her modesty says otherwise has been instrumental in keeping the club going and helping it grow to what it has become today. For many years she worked in partnership with the man she jokingly referred to as her poetic hubby and our poetic dad Hughie Healy. This is the man whose name adorns our championship trophy and the man who proceeded me as compare and from whom I learned my trade. I have much to thank him for and will be eternally in debt to him and to Pamela for all they have done over the years. Also l remember the contributions of respected Glasgow Poets Jim Ferguson, and Jim Craig, who legacies will remain a vital part of our history. Indeed Jim Ferguson holds the record number of competition wins with four victories and is the only poet ever to have won the event three years in a row in 1997,98 and 99. I also have to say it was the other Jim mentioned in this tribute Jim Craig who after a year of persuading me finally got me along to Sammy’s in 1993 and the rest as they say is history. However a special mention must be given to the woman whose idea it was to set up home at Sammy Dow’s on the First Monday of each month and that is Janet Paisley. As Pamela herself told me if it wasn’t for Janet we wouldn’t be here and for that Janet I think I can say that all the Sammy’s family thank you with all our hearts. So on the night a crazy Santa gave a girl a literary necklace the man at the help desk had a story to tell of a road to new beginnings.
Love And Best Wishes