iPod Shuffle, February 2017

poetry-rd-quotes

  • Pancho and Lefty : Townes Van Zandt (from Live at the Union Chapel)
  • Satie: Ogive No. 2 : Sarah Rothenberg (from Rothko Chapel)
  • Famous Blue Raincoat : Jennifer Warnes (from Famous Blue Raincoat)
  • Sitting on Top of the World : Mississippi Shieks (from Stop & Listen Blues)
  • Cold Enough to Cross : Joe Henry (from Scar)
  • Three Guitar Special : Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys (from Anthology, 1935-73)
  • No One Gets In : Bill Frisell (from Disfarmer)
  • Driving Home : Liz Simcock (from Seven Sisters Road)
  • Let Him Roll : Guy Clark (from Old No. 1)
  • My Girl : Otis Redding (from Otis Blue)
  • In a Mellotone : Duke Ellington (from Highlights of the Great 1940-42 Band)
  • I’m Pulling Through : Billie Holiday (from Billie Holiday & Lester Young, Complete Studio Recordings)

billie

Totally Wired for Sound

Thursday of last week saw the first of what is, for me, a surprisingly long list of readings, mostly of poetry with, here and there, a modicum of prose levered in. Totally Wired is a monthly series that takes place in the Wired Café Bar in the centre of Nottingham, and organised by the poet, Becky Cullen, along with two lecturers from Nottingham Trent University – Rory Waterman and Andrew Taylor – both poets themselves. It’s no surprise perhaps that the majority of the audience are on the young side [let’s face it, anyone south side of fifty or so registers as young to me these days] or that a good number – the majority? – are students from NTU. What is a surprise is how many people are there, extra chairs having to be hauled up from the back of beyond, so that by the time Andrew has gone round collecting the names of those poets who want to read from the floor and the event is due to begin there’s a real sense of being squeezed up close to one’s neighbour and sharing their air – in my case, that of my  daughter Molly Ernestine, who’s come along for moral support and is prepared to step into the breach should I falter.

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The first four readers do two poems each, good poems read well, and, after an introduction from Andrew, I’m on. One of the most difficult things for me, when working out which pieces to read, is what to begin with. It doesn’t want to be too long, too obscure, too – for God’s sake – too dull. I used to make a habit of kicking off with “What Do You Say?”, a sort of riddle of a poem, to which the answer is the saxophone player Roland Kirk – which is fine when I’m doing a poetry and jazz gig with the band, but less successful otherwise – most people tend to scratch their heads in mild bemusement and I can’t say I blame them.
So, emboldened by the fact that not long since I was in Nottingham to take part in a Frank O’Hara tribute at the Five Leaves Bookshop, and surmising there may be more than one or two O’Hara fans in the audience, I opt for “Poem (In Imitation of Frank O’Hara)”, which is exactly that and turns out to have been a reasonable choice.

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After a pause in which I take the risky step of asking people not to applaud after every poem (as if!) on the grounds that I could probably fit in another poem in the time lost, I make my way through the remainder of my twenty minute set. You can see, feel, the audience listening, responding in what I think of as the right way – a couple of laughs in the right places – and I can relax and enjoy what I’d doing.

At the interval, Molly hustles and sells the relatively few books we’ve brought with us; I chat to friends, drink another (seriously good) flat white, and wait for the second part of the evening and half a dozen more readers – a good number reading for the first time – and it’s a real pleasure to hear so many good new poems – some humorous, some heartfelt, some both.

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I say my goodbyes, shake hands, and Molly and I set out for the station and the London train, the sounds of poetry and the strong sense of having had a better than good time reverberating around us.

For those who like to keep abreast of those things, this is what I read …

“Poem (In Imitation of Frank O’Hara)”
“Apples”
“Slow”

“Apparently”
“Winter Notebook” [Also with quite a few changes]
“Chet Baker”
“The U. S. Botanical Gardens, Washington D.C.”
“Curve”

… Nothing too unusual, save for “Slow”, a poem I dedicated to Lee Harwood and Paul Evans, and which I thought to read after receiving a positive comment about it from John Kieffer on this blog, and the little poem set in the Botanical Gardens in Washington D.C. – as I said, the last thing you might expect coming out of. D.C during the week of Trump’s inauguration is a love poem.

The U.S Botanical Gardens, Washington D.C.

The floor is azure blue tile
slick with the residue of that morning’s watering,
green hose slack within the leaves.
We used to come here, safe, and sit
not touching, humidity high in the nineties
and helicopters hovering, a block beyond the Hill.
In the display of medicinal herbs, I break
small leaves into my hand:
yarrow, for internal bleeding; foxglove
for the muscles of the heart.

When we meet again a year or more from now, by chance –
the departure lounge at Heathrow, hurrying
along the platform at Gare du Nord,
and your eyes as, uncertain
whether to offer your cheek for a kiss,
you hold out, instead, your hand,
I will slip into it these remedies I have long carried:
the knowledge that, nurtured, passion flowers
in the darkest places.

The keen-eyed will note that’s been trimmed and altered a little since it was published in Bluer Than This (Smith/Doorstop, 1998)

The next poetry reading I have coming up is at Words & Jazz, Downstairs at the Vortex, in Dalston, East London, on Thursday 23rd March, after which I’m back in Nottingham on Wednesday, 12th April for an evening of Poetry & Jazz at Bromley House Library, with Ian Hill (saxophones) and Geoff Pearson (double bass). Then, on Friday 28th April, I’m at the Poetry Café in Covent Garden [or, just possibly, at Bar 48, Brixton, please check] for Fourth Friday, where I’m hoping to be reading alongside Debris Stevenson, with two sets from singer-songwriter, Liz Simcock.

On Tuesday, 23rd May, along with Leah Fritz, Danielle Hope and others, I shall be reading at Primrose Hill Library, North London, in a benefit for the Marie Curie Hospice in Hampstead, and on Thursday of the same week, the 25th, I’m reading with the John Lake Band as part of the Brighton Festival Fringe.

Oh, and I might sneak a few poems into my session at Almondbury Library, Huddersfield on Thursday, 9th February, when I’m talking about my 40-odd years as a writer.

 

 

 

iPod Shuffle May 2016

  • Keep It To Yourself : Amy Rigby
  • Pennies from Heaven : Billie Holiday
  • Cocaine Blues : Rambling Jack Elliott
  • Blue Spirit Blues : Bessie Smith
  • Let’s Fall in Love : Spike Robinson & George Masso
  • Stepping Back In Time : Liz Simcock
  • Jennifer Lawrence : Girlboy
  • The Times You’ve Come : Jackson Browne
  • Falling In Love Again : Billie Holiday
  • Anthropology : Art Pepper

A pretty good shakedown, I think, beginning with one of several very fine songs written and recorded by Amy Rigby, comparatively little-known in this country and last heard of living in the Hudson Valley with Reckless Eric. In a small attempt to rectify this, here’s some basic info from her web site …

Amy Rigby is a songwriter, musician and performer best known for her album Diary Of A Mod Housewife and Little Steven’s Underground Garage favorite track “Dancing With Joey Ramone”. She was part of the late 70’s downtown NYC no wave nightspot Tier 3 gang and formed bands the Stare Kits, Last Roundup and The Shams before beginning her solo career. For the last twenty years she has toured the US, Canada, UK and Europe, appearing on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, World Cafe, Whad’Ya Know, All Things Considered, BBC Radio 6 Music’s Marc Riley Show and Mountain Stage.

and here’s Amy doing the song live …

Two Billie Holiday tracks have to be better than one. Pennies was recorded in 1936 with a Teddy Wilson group including Benny Goodman on clarinet and Ben Webster on tenor, and Falling in 1940 with Sonny White on piano and Roy Eldridge on trumpet.

The Bessie Smith track, one of her best, I think, was recorded in 1929 with James P. Johnson on piano. There are quite a few mentions of Bessie in August Wilson’s play, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, currently at the National Theatre. Rainey was happy to be known as the Mother of the Blues, as opposed to her only significant rival, Bessie Smith, who claimed the title Empress off the Blues. As Paul Oliver and Giles Oakley point out in their essays in the  NT programme, the younger and more glamorous Bessie was more appreciated in Chicago and the cities of the North, to which many  black Americans had migrated in the early years of the twentieth century, whereas Rainey retained the bulk of her following in the more traditionally minded South.

What else? Girlboy are Hayley Hill & Matthew Blake, an electrohop (their description) duo from San Diego and their sexy and slightly subversive song in praise of the many charms of actress Jennifer Lawrence has rarely been out of my various self-selected playlists since I first heard it played by Tom Robinson on Radio 6 Music. [Is it still called that?] Catchy as all-get-out.

The Art Pepper track I’m especially fond of as it has Pepper playing clarinet, an instrument  on which he has a beautiful tone but on which he comparatively rarely recorded. I was thinking about Art Pepper recently when watching the first series of Bosch, in which Titus Welliver plays Michael Connelly’s LA police detective Harry Bosch; it’s clear from the novels that Connelly is a big Pepper fan and I was a little disappointed that the soundtrack, even in the scenes when Bosch is alone in his apartment, was devoid not just of any Pepper but anything distinctively jazz-like, but then, in the final episode, there’s a sequence in which Bosch’s teenage daughter comes to visit and he puts a Pepper track on the stereo – Patricia, which Pepper wrote for the daughter that he, like Bosch – though for different reasons – saw all too little of.

 

Bits of a Writer’s Life …

On Friday evening, April 22nd, I was at the Poetry Society’s Poetry Café in Covent Garden as one of the guest readers in this month’s Fourth Friday, a long running evening of poetry and music organised by Dix Schofield and the indefatigable Hylda Sims. I’ve read there before and it’s always been enjoyable, but for some reason – the range and quality of the readers from the floor, perhaps? – this seemed an especially rewarding evening. The other guest reader, Danielle Hope, whom I knew from the days when I published her work in Slow Dancer magazine, was sharp and funny, and Liz Simcock – now back solo after several years of working with a small band – was in fine form.

4th Friday

My daughter, Molly Ernestine, had come along and we took the opportunity to air what has become our poetry party piece, a shared reading of the poem, “Hollywood Canteen”, which I wrote some good few years back when my older daughter, Leanne, was living and working as a dancer in Paris – the central section of the poem, the section Molly read, and which Leanne herself used to read – being more or less a transcription of Leanne’s words on the occasion in question, when we’d just come away from watching Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams.

Here’s the poem …

HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN

It seems too much of a cliché
almost, to tell it, but there,
up on the counter
of the Hollywood Canteen,
there among the images
of Marilyn, James Dean,
she pushes back her plate,
lights her cigarette
and right over the juke box
she says, nineteen:

I hate films that end like that,
stuck out on the porch
in the middle of nowhere
watching the sun go down –
as though it could ever happen,
Jesus! It’s like your parents
bringing you up to believe
it’s possible to tell the truth
out there, when one minute
after they let you out into the world,
you can see everyone else is lying.
I mean, you just try being nice out there,
just try it! You won’t last five minutes
and I’ll tell you this, I haven’t met
a single person since I was sixteen
who wasn’t a bitch underneath
and I haven’t got the strength
to stand up to them, not on my own,
and that’s what I am.
And happiness, that’s a laugh
and one thing I am sure of,
it isn’t sitting out on a dumb porch
in the middle of Iowa, staring
into some technicolour sunset.

She turned her head aside
and closed her eyes
and when she did that
she was as beautiful
as I had ever seen her.

What do you think, she said,
the pancakes with the maple syrup?
You think we should have the ice cream
as well? Maybe the chocolate sauce?

Seeing my face, she smiled.

The following day Molly and I took the train up to Stevenage for an afternoon event at the library, as part of Hertfordshire Libraries Litfest 16. Aside from a  few occasions when Notts County were the visitors to the Stevenage F.C. ground on Woodhall Way, this was, I think, the first time I’d been back in the town since I spent several years teaching in the English department of Stevenage Girls’ School in early 1970s.

The plan was to give an overview of how I managed to kick start a writing career and then keep it on track from its starting point in 1975, when my first book – Avenging Angel, written at the kitchen table at my flat on Webb Rise during my last year of teaching – was published; then, after some Q&A, to concentrate on the Resnick books, in particular Darkness, Darkness, and the challenges  in adapting that novel for the stage, which is one of projects I’m currently working on.

While Molly ran through the slides before we started, there was just time for me to completely, and embarrassingly, fail to recognise one of my former fell0w teachers, as well as a former next-door neighbour and three former pupils, two from my A level English class, one of whom had passed, and one failed – even at this remove I felt responsible, though it hadn’t stopped her from becoming a teacher herself in due course.

A slight hiccup in the technical department at the beginning – the computer froze and slides we’d checked previously refused to appear – gave me the opportunity to begin the session with an unplanned reading of my Chet Baker poem, which I was pleased to do as it allowed me to dedicate it to one of the long-time stalwarts of the British jazz scene, sadly no longer playing, bassist Pete Blannin, who was with his wife in the audience. I remember seeing Pete with the great Humphrey Lyttelton Band in the early 1960s, as well as with groups led by the likes of Tubby Hayes and Tony Kinsey. It’s a bonus for me that he likes crime fiction.

IT problem solved, things moved along smoothly; there was a good, attentive crowd – I’d guess around 50 – and no shortage of interesting, even challenging questions. My good friend, Sherma Batson – another former pupil, now county councillor and recently Mayor of Stevenage – taking me to task for killing off one of my running characters, Lynn Kellogg, thus giving away the plot of Cold in Hand in a single swoop. But never mind. Friends still.

Just before the end, Molly left her spot at the desk, where she’d been working the laptop, top join me in a reading of one of the scenes from the Darkness, Darkness play script – its first public airing. As I pointed out, despite working in various other forms, I had never, up to the present, written anything for the theatre, my only experience in that area having been putting on plays when I was still teaching, something that gave me a great deal of pleasure at the time, not least for the large numbers of students it was possible involve, and still gave pleasure in retrospect. At Stevenage, I remember with particular fondness a version of Alice in Wonderland, with a soundtrack ranging from Bach and Vivaldi to Miles Davis and Jefferson Airplane, and Split, a play about a teenage girl with schizophrenia that was built up almost entirely from improvisation. Those were the days!

That I could even begin to venture into such areas was almost entirely due to my great friend, the late Tom Wild, a wonderful and talented man who died far too young; seeing the work that Tom did with secondary modern children in Yorkshire, often using improvisation as a way into Brecht and Shakespeare was an inspiration for me and, I’m sure, for the pupils involved – I doubt if they will ever f0rget it.

Here, finally, is a little Stevenage Girls’ School memorabilia [no flash programmes in those days!]

Alice 1

4th Friday 1

Split 1

Split 2

 

Giggin’ Around …

With several events I’m due to take part in on the (near) horizon, time for a little gentle self-publicity …

This coming Friday, April 15th, I shall be at the Poetry Café in London’s Covent Garden as one of the guests in Hylda Sims’ long-running monthly poetry and music evenings, Fourth Friday. The other poet reading on this occasion is Danielle Hope and the music, as is quite frequently the case – and why not? – comes from singer-songwriter, Liz Simcock. It all kicks off at 8.00pm and there are floor spots for any poets wishing to try their hand. And this is Liz …

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUDwAWQ1sEA&list=PLsTBkU5Nq459CiFEDCAzMayjqW30Cs_Uk&index=1

The following afternoon I shall be returning to Stevenage for just about the first time (other than for a visit to Broadhall Way by Notts County) since I taught there in the early 1970s.

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My plan is to talk about some forty years as a professional writer, a career which started in what some might call less than spectacular fashion with Avenging Angel, a tale of everyday Hells Angels published under the so-trying-to-be-trendy name of Thom Ryder and written – the first draft anyway – during my last year of teaching. Shows promise, but must work harder.

avenging

As you’ll have noticed from the poster, your admission money gets you tea and cake, added to which there should be a free book of mine – not including, I’m afraid, Avenging Angel – for the first 25 ticket holders to arrive.

http://websites.uk-plc.net/Hertfordshire_Libraries_ticket_sales_and_free_tickets/

And finally, a little further ahead, on Friday, June 3rd, as part of this year’s Derby Book Festival, along with the band, Blue Territory, I shall be reading in a Poetry & Jazz evening at the Cube Café/Bar in Déda on Chapel Street, beginning at 9.30pm.

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iPod Shuffle, April 2016

  1. Easter Parade : Jessica Williams
  2. My One & Only Love : John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman
  3. Beautiful Love : Anita O’Day
  4. Sunny Afternoon : The Kinks
  5. Blueprint Man : Liz Simcock
  6. Morning Song for Sally : Nanci Griffith
  7. Lights of Laramie : Ian Tyson
  8. Old Man : Neil Young
  9. Under a Blanket of Blue : Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong
  10. Frost & Fire : Everything But The Girl
  11. Worried Life Blues : Johnny Shines
  12. Joe Turner Blues : Mississippi John Hurt

Jessica Williams’ take on Easter Parade lifts it a long way from memories of Fred Astaire and Judy Garland and no small blessing in that. I’ve always enjoyed the way she takes tunes and gives them a good old shake up and runaround before easing them down and leaving them relatively unscarred. She usually includes a couple of Monk compositions in any set and makes as good use of them as most. I’ve seen her perform live twice, once at the Purcell Room on the South Bank in London, and once at a free gig in a park in Sacramento. Ace, both times.

Johnny Hartman is a singer I’d never really listened to until his voice was featured prominently in Eastwood’s The Bridges of Madison County [and what a good and under-rated film that is] but after that I sought him out and found at least two fine albums, one with Coltrane and one with the trumpeter, Howard McGhee. Anita O’Day, on the other hand, has always been a favourite, and this track comes from her 1955 album, Anita – one of the first 12″ LPs I owned – with, if my memory serves, Barney Kessel’s guitar on some tracks and a ‘choir’ of four trombones on others.

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Blueprint Man comes from singer/songwriter Liz Simcock’s 2008 album Beachcomber and finds Liz is nicely ironic mood in a song and arrangement (nice banjo! not something I say often) that bring to mind some of the late Dory Previn’s work, pieces like A Stone for Bessie Smith and Mary C. Brown and the Hollywood Sign. Tough whether Liz knows Previn’s work at all I’ve no idea.

Incidentally, if you’re within reach of the Poetry Café in London’s Covent Garden on Friday evening, April 22nd, you can hear Liz playing a couple of sets either side of poetry readings by Danielle Hope and myself.

https://fourthfriday.wordpress.com

The Year Ahead

Belated Happy New Year! Here’s what it has in store for me so far …

EVENTS

Thursday, 21st January. 8.00 – 11.00pm
WORDS & JAZZ
Vortex Jazz Club / Vortex Downstairs
11 Gillett Square, London, N16 8AZ
This is a lively and well-attended Poetry & Jazz event, hosted each month by Nicki Heinen. I shall be reading along with three other poets: Richard Scott, Ann Macaulay & Will Roychowdhuri, & music will come from Rachael Cohen (sax) with Mark Lewandowski (bass).
Details & Info: http://www.vortexjazz.co.uk/event/words-jazz/

Thursday, 25th February, evening.
PIGHOG POETRY
Redroaster Coffee House, St. James Street, Brighton BN2 1RE.
Another regular and lively Poetry venue where I shall be reading with Chrissy Williams and poets from the floor.
Details & Info: www.facebook.com/Pighog

Saturday, 19th March. 10.30am – 12.30pm
BROMLEY HOUSE LIBRARY
Angel Row, Nottingham, NG1 6HL
As part of the Library’s 200th Anniversary Celebrations, crime author and Nottingham native Daniel Pembrey will be interviewing me about my writing, the Resnick books and their Nottingham connections, notably Darkness, Darkness (2014) the final book in the Resnick series.
Details & Info: enquiries@bromleyhouse.org

Saturday, 2nd April
DEAL2NOIR
The Landmark Centre, 129 High Street, Deal, CT14 6BB
I shall be one of a number of writers taking part in this one day festival of crime writing near the Kent Coast, organised by Susan Moody.
Details & Info: https://dealnoir.wordpress.com

Tuesday, 12th April, 7.30 – 9.00pm
NOTTINGHAM CIVIC SOCIETY
St Barnabas Cathedral Hall, Wellington Circus, Nottingham, NG1
Illustrated talk about my 40 plus years as a professional writer, including the various connections between my work and the city of Nottingham and the surrounding area.
Details & Info: http://www.nottinghamcivicsociety.org.uk

Friday, 22nd April, evening.
FOURTH FRIDAY
The Poetry Café, 22 Betterton Street, Covent Garden, London WC2H PBP
This is a monthly poetry & music event hosted by Hylda Sims. I shall be reading alongside one other poet, yet to be named, and music will be from singer-songwriter Liz Simcock. There are also readings from the floor.
Details & Info: https://fourthfriday.wordpress.com

Saturday, 23rd April, 2.30pm
HERTS LITFEST
Stevenage Library, Southgate, Stevenage, SG1 1HD
To celebrate World Book Day I shall be returning to the town where I taught English and Drama in the early 1970s to give an illustrated talk, My Life as a Jobbing Writer – From Blackboard to Best Seller.
Afternoon Tea for all and a free signed book for the first 25 ticket holders arriving that afternoon.
Details & Info: 01992 555947 http://www.hertsdirect.org/libraries

Friday, 3rd June, Evening
DERBY BOOK FESTIVAL
The Cube, Déda, Chapel Street, Cathedral Quarter, Derby, DE1 3GU
Poetry & Jazz with the band Blue Territory
Details & Info: http://www.derbybookfestival.co.uk

In addition to which, the band and I will be playing three Nottinghamshire Libraries poetry & jazz gigs in October, venues and dates to be confirmed.

POETRY

With poetry in mind, I have two new poems in the new issue of The North
http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk/north-menu

and one forthcoming – March? – in the online magazine, London Grip New Poetry
http://londongrip.co.uk/category/poetry/

FICTION

As if to prove that old pulp stories never die, the four Scott Mitchell crime novels I wrote for Sphere Books in the mid-1970s – Amphetamines & Pearls, The Geranium Kiss, Junkyard Angel & Neon Madman – are to be republished in the States with a new introduction, in both paperback and Ebook format, by Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Press.

Distribution will be through Open Road Media, who have a nice little video on their web site, showing me walking on Hampstead Heath, sitting in the garden, and expounding on the writing of crime fiction from the comfort of my settee.
http://www.openroadmedia.com/contributor/john-harvey/

RADIO

Towards the end of last year, my dramatisations of two Inspector Chen crime novels by Qui Xiaolong – A Loyal Character Dancer & When Red is Black – were broadcast on BBC Radio 4, along with a third – Death of a Red Heroine – adapted by Joy Wilkinson. Three more books have now been commissioned, with Joy this time adapting two and myself the third – A Case of Two Cities – in which the Inspector visits America.

THEATRE

Together with Jack McNamara, Artistic Director of New Perspectives Theatre, I’m working on a dramatisation of Darkness, Darkness, the 12th & final Resnick novel, for Nottingham Playhouse. Details soon!

Whew! …