Stroll on … Mid-Feb Shuffle

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Keeping me company on those early morning strolls across the Heath …

  1. Jessica Williams : Theme for Lester Young (Goodbye Pork Pie Hat)
  2. Judy Collins : Hard Lovin’ Loser
  3. Ella & Louis : April in Paris
  4. Elton John : Rocket Man
  5. Billie Holiday : When a Woman Loves a Man
  6. Dusty Springfield : A Song For You
  7. Johnny Young’s South Side Blues Band : Tighten Up On It
  8. Ray Charles : When Your Lover Has Gone
  9. Joe Henry : Struck
  10. Joe Turner : You’re Driving Me Crazy
  11. Bonnie Raitt : Not Cause I Wanted To
  12. Lennie Tristano & Lee Konitz : You Go To My Head

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February Poem : “What Would You Say?”

What would you say of a man who could play
three instruments at once – saxophone,
manzello and stritch – but who can neither
tie his shoelace nor button his fly?

Who stumbles through basements,
fumbles open lacquered boxes,
a child’s set of drawers,
strews their contents across bare boards –
seeds, vestments, rabbit paws?

Whose favourite words are vertiginous,
found, dilate? Whose fantasy is snow?
Who can trace in the dirt the articular process
of the spine, the pulmonary action of the heart?

Would you say he was blind?

Would you say he was missing you?

I wrote this, the nucleus of it, in the early 1990s, when I was a participant in the Community of Writers Poetry Week at Squaw Valley in Northern California; a residential seven days in which we were set the task of writing a new poem every day, said poem to be collected in the early hours of the following morning, so as to be workshopped in the group sessions which began around eleven, eleven thirty, under the guidance of one of the tutors – Sharon Olds or Robert Hass, Lucille Clifton, perhaps, or Brenda Hillman. No lightweights at Squaw.

There was some discussion amongst the participants, I remember, about the fact that most of my poems were quite strongly tied to a narrative [not so surprising, given the day job] and why didn’t I take advantage of the situation and try to write something that, instead, centrally, of telling a story, was driven by language, words and the sounds of words?

I tried. Floundered and tried again. Finally managed, on my second visit to Squaw Valley, a five line poem called Out of Silence, which became the title poem in my New & Selected Poems some twenty years later. And before that, the poem above, which succeeds, I think, in being about sounds, about words; but which is also a kind of story. A mystery. A puzzle. A puzzle to which the answer, as anyone who follows jazz will know, is the blind, multi-instrumentalist Roland Kirk.

You can hear me reading the poem here, along with the band Second Nature, and with some marvellous flute playing by Mel Thorpe, giving it his best Roland Kirk.

Hopefully, and with a little patience, here goes …

An Honorary Kind of Fellow

Yesterday, Thursday January 16th, I was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by Goldsmiths’ College, University of London, “in recognition of my significant achievements and contributions to literature.”

Since the Great Hall at the College is in the process of renovation, the ceremony  was held  at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre, close to Westminster Abbey. Suitably got up in a fine set of robes and a rather fetching tasselled black cap, and to the stirring accompaniment of a five-piece brass ensemble, I processed into the Hall along with the various dignitaries who would make up the platform party. After a stirring introduction by Chair of Council, Dinah Caine, and an address by the College’s new Warden, Professor Frances Corner, hundred and hundreds – or so it seemed – of graduating students passed swiftly up the ramp and across the stage, pausing only for a quick handshake, while excited parents took photograph after photograph and we all clapped enthusiastically.

The last new graduate seated, the College Orator, Professor Alan Downie, stepped to the rostrum and proceeded to make my writing career sound rather more substantial than much of it actually was. The Council Chair presented me with a certificate which I stepped forward to accept, doffing my hat in the accepted fashion before making a a short speech of thanks.

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That’s me on the screen, accepting the certificate from the Chair of Council, Dinah Caine, with Professor Downie at the rostrum and the Warden, Professor Frances Corner, to the left

 

Like a number of my fellow students, when I came to Goldsmiths to begin a Teachers’ Certificate course in English and Drama, I was in my early 20s – the year, 1960 – before the heyday of the Beatles and the Stones, and, if the poet Philip Larkin is to be believed, before sexual intercourse, which didn’t begin until 1963.

True, quite possibly, for Larkin, beavering away at the Brynmore Jones Library at the University of Hull, but not necessarily so at Goldsmiths ….where, as editor of the weekly Smith News, I was hauled up before the VP and admonished for writing an editorial suggesting the College accept that a proprortion, at least, of its students were sexually active and, as a safety precaution, wouldn’t it be a good idea if condom machines were installed in the men’s and women’s toilets?

Surviving that, and one or two other warnings, when I left Goldsmiths, three years later, flourishing my Teachers’ Certificate, second class, it was with a strong belief in the importance of culture and the arts in education – education that was truly comprehensive – and with a number of strong friendships that persist to this day. 

After 12 years of teaching English & Drama in secondary schools, however, I was tempted into the writer’s life by a fellow Goldsmiths student who had been asked to leave after failing his teaching practice – I think he turned up for a PE lesson without either his plimsols or an adequate lesson plan. He had gone into publishing, setting himself up later as a writer of pulp fiction, a path I was, initially, to follow with Avenging Angel, a 50,00 word epic following the exploits of a band of Hell’s Angels terrorising the town of Stevenage.

Well, it was a beginning, the beginning of time spent learning a craft, a trade – a trade I’ve been fortunate enough to have practised for some 45 years and which I’m pleased and proud is being recognised here today. Thank you. 

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The formal proceedings over, there was a champagne reception and some swinging jazz in the mould of the Quintette du Hot Club de France, after which I was unpinned from my robes, made my final farewells and set off with Sarah and Molly in our search for the 88 bus stop somewhere on Whitehall.

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Happy family!

All photographs: Molly Ernestine Boiling

Music for the New Year

Music for the New Year comes in two parts. First, the CDs/Albums that have found their way most often onto the stereo ….

Jarrett

Feldman

Mulllova

 

Dreaming My Dreams (Remastered)

And second, the tracks that came up yesterday on my kitchen-bound iPod shuffle …

  • Donall Og : Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill, Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill & Dónal Lunny
  • Private Life : Grace Jones
  • Aretha : Rumer
  • Never Not You (Remember to Breathe) : Girlboy
  • Streets of Baltimore : Gram Parsons
  • Is This America? (Katrina 2005) : Charlie Haden
  • My Father : Judy Collins
  • Stalin wasn’t Stallin’ : Robert Wyatt
  • 22 : Lily Allen
  • Still Crazy After All These Years : Paul Simon
  • Pancho & Lefty : Townes Van Zandt
  • One Good Year : Slaid Cleaves
  • Luka : Suzanne Vega

Happy Listening!

The Jazz Steps Story

Jazz Steps is the name under which jazz has been promoted in Nottingham – city and county – for some 20 years, and now there’s a book, nicely produced and copiously illustrated – The Jazz Steps Story – which tells of the development of the organisation and the people behind it, as well as chronicling the many and varied gigs that have taken place under its guidance.

More than that, it also tells the story of live jazz in Nottingham from the Nottingham Rhythm Club, founded in the early 40s, and the Dancing Slipper – which featured a goodly number visiting American jazz players with top British bands throughout the 60s & 70s – to Limelight Club evenings in the Nottingham Playhouse bar, which was where I first read in a poetry & jazz session with the fine little band that were then called, rather cheekily, the MJQ, or Midlands Jazz Quartet. With just a few changes of personnel and several changes of name – from the MJQ to Second Nature to Blue Territory – that was the same group I would be happy to read with on occasion for another 20-plus years.

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The book costs £15 and is available at Jazz Steps gigs and Notts libraries, or from the Jazz Steps web site

Here’s a little taster from my Foreword …

Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the Charlie Resnick novels or, for that matter, the short stories, will know that the connection between Resnick, jazz and Nottingham is a strong one. Following, more or less, in my footsteps, Charlie would have had his first taste of local jazz Sunday lunchtimes in The Bell, closely followed by evenings at the Dancing Slipper in West Bridgford or at Bill Kinnell’s short-lived Gallery club in Mapperley.

Then there was the Old Vic and, on one night I particularly remember, Charlie Parker’s old sparring partner Red Rodney was up on stage with Pete King, the two of them, alto and trumpet, sailing through the fast and intricate lines of Bird’s bebop tunes as if they had been playing together half their lives.

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Best of 2019

Here they are, not necessarily the best, more my favourite books, films and art exhibitions of the year; the ones that gave me the most pleasure, the ones I remember most positively and fondly.

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BOOKS

Fiction
Bernardine Evaristo : Girl, Woman, Other
Mary Gaitskill : This is Pleasure
Lavinia Greenlaw : In the City of Love’s Sleep
Tayari Jones : An American Marriage
Liz Moore : Long Bright River
Rosie Price : What Red Was

Singers/musicians autobiography/memoir
Lily Allen : My Thoughts Exactly
Liz Moore : The Words of Every Song
Amy Rigby : Girl to City
Tracey Thorn : Another Planet

Poetry
Rebecca Goss : Girl
Lavinia Greenlaw : The Built Moment
Tony Roberts : The Noir American & Other Poems

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FILMS

Dirty God : Sacha Polak
For Sama : Waad al-Khateab
Foxtrot : Samuel Maoz
Hale County This Morning This Evening : RaMell Ross

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second string  …
Last Black Man in San Francisco : Joe Talbot
Marriage Story : Noah Baumbach
Peanut Butter Falcon : Tyler Nilson & Michael Shwartz
The Shoplifters : Hirokazu Koreeda

ART

Harold Gilman – Beyond Camden Town : Djanogly Gallery, Nottingham
Mona Hatoum – Remains To Be Seen : White Cube, Bermondsey
Albert Irvin & Abstract Expressionism : GWA, Bristol
Lee Krasner – Living Colour : Barbican
Joan Mitchell : Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris

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Helene Schjerfbeck : Royal Academy
George Shaw – A Corner of a Foreign Field : Holbourne Gallery, Bath
Felix Vallotton – Painter of Disquiet : Royal Academy

Photography
Luigi Ghirri – Cartes & Territoires : Jeu de Paume, Paris
Dave Heath – Dialogues with Solitude : Photographers’ Gallery
Chris Killip – The Last Ships : Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle
Don McCullin : Tate Britain

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Hoping to be back next year …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Far Cry

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It’s not often I go back and look at my own work – there’s so much good writing out there just waiting to be read, why would you? – but a positive tweet from writer Nikki Copleston had me pulling a copy of Far Cry from the shelf and thumbing through the pages. Partly set in Cornwall, partly in and around Cambridge, the starting point of the story is the disappearance of a young girl and her best friend when on a camping holiday with her friend’s parents. The girls in the last year of primary school. Eleven.

I can still remember when the basic idea came to me: I was walking along a narrow, winding path on the cliff edge leading away from Cape Cornwall when a sea mist descended suddenly and for several moments I was completely lost. Unable to see where I was going. So easy to step off the path and stumble down towards one of those old mine shafts.

Suppose, I thought … suppose …

Suppose the girl – let’s call her Heather – had gone off with her friend –  Kelly, that sounds right – gone off on their own with the usual warnings. ‘Take care now, the pair of you.”  “Look where you’re walking.” “And whatever you do, make sure you don’t get lost.”

When they don’t come back after several hours – hours in which Kelly’s parents, increasingly desperate, have gone out searching – Kelly’s father, Alan, calls the police.

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I’ve always liked that first sentence – They came in two four-by-fours, slow across the field, wheels sending up small plumes of muddied earth. Something about the matter-of-factness of it, They came – who are they? And the rhythm in slow across the field where the word order throws the emphasis on the word slow – so much more effective, I think, than had I used slowly – and then the way – or is this just my imagination? – the sound of the word plumes seems to rise up in the middle of the last part of the sentence when spoken.

Holiday over, I had something, the beginnings of a story. But not yet the beginning of a novel. Too simple, perhaps? Too straightforward? What if one of the girls is found, but not the other: Kelly, but not Heather. Who, then, is going to be the novel’s central character, who am I likely to be most interested in?Heather’s mother, it has to be, shaken by loss, riven by guilt at having given in to her daughter’s pleas and allowed her to go away with someone else. Ruth, that sounds right, it has to be Ruth.

Ruth – and this is my story developing, doubling – Ruth who, having managed against the odds to build a new life for herself – a second marriage, another child – is brought face to face with the cruel possibility that that daughter, too, might have disappeared. And so it is with Ruth that the novel begins. This is Chapter One.

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Ruth 2The scenes I remember liking in the novel, the ones I enjoyed writing – and reading, afterwards – are those when, just for a moment or two, Heather appears to Ruth, as real as if she were still alive. There than gone. Her presence sending a shiver along my spine. 

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Growing up with Soccer

“Give me a child till the age of seven,” as the Jesuits were wont to say, ‘and I’ll show you the man.” Something similar pertains when it comes to taking kids to watch soccer. I couldn’t have been more than six or seven when my dad first took me to White Hart Lane to see Spurs – young enough to sit on his shoulders in order to follow the action. If you lived in our part of north London, it had to be either Spurs or Arsenal, and even though Highbury was geographically closer, my dad, for whatever reason, was a Spurs man through and through. Hence the early indoctrination. As I remember it, the first few games I attended I was more likely to show my support for the opposition, this based on the simple fact that Spurs played in white and white was boring. It didn’t take me long to see the error of my ways and I became an earnest supporter, so that by the time I’d reached secondary school, I’d be playing for one of the school teams in the morning, before rushing home and then cycling to Tottenham with my dad in the afternoon and paying a small amount, a quid or two, to leave our bikes in the safety of someone’s front garden.

Going back to that first season and my first game, future England manager, Alf Ramsey, would have been at full back, and future Spurs manager, Bill Nicholson, at what was then called wing half. Nicholson went on to be Spurs’ most successful manager in the period when they won the Double – FA Cup and League – in 1961, the Cup again in 62 and the European Cup Winner’s Cup in ’63, beating Atletico Madrid 5-1 in the final. The Glory Days indeed. And a strange time for my enthusiastic support to start to wane. But by then I’d moved up to the East Midlands, to Nottingham, and, after a brief flirtation with Notts Forest, I became the avid supporter of Notts County that I am today. Which is not to say I don’t still follow Spurs’ fate closely, go to games occasionally, and listen to the commentary of their European fixtures on the good old-fashioned radio.

Perhaps the truest test of allegiances came in 1986 when Notts were drawn at home to Spurs in the Fourth Round of the Cup. Spurs went ahead early on through Clive Allen, who was having one of those rare periods in a striker’s life when they can’t seem to stop scoring, and Ian McParland equalised for Notts around midway through the first half. Both teams came close to scoring in the last ten minutes, but it was not to be.The replay was at White Hart Lane, Wednesday, January 29th and Spurs won 5 – 0.

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But back to the Jesuits. When my son Tom was of an impressionable age and I was still a stalwart Spurs supporter, all of my attempts at persuading him to follow in my footsteps resulted in abject failure. I went as far as buying him a Spurs shirt, which he wore a few times before it became lodged at the bottom of the washing basket and forgotten. Liverpool, he’d decided – they were going through a purple patch – were the team for him and he’s still a Liverpool supporter today and, as you can imagine, loving it. With my younger daughter, Molly, I had more luck, though not immediately. She was quite young when she first came with me to Meadow Lane, making sure, that first season or two, that she brought a book with her, which she proceeded to read throughout the game, occasionally looking up in response to some excitement in the crowd. Only gradually did the time she spent bent over her book become replaced by her interest in what was happening on the pitch – until now, as anyone who sits close to her will know, she’s amongst the most fervent of fans.

This is us at Ebbsfleet last Saturday, smiling through the wind and occasional rain, almost as if we knew in advance that a headed goal in the second minute of extra time would see us home 3 – 2 winners.

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