Tag Archives: Custard Factory

Liz Lochhead & Liz Berry with LiTTLe MACHiNe @ Birmingham Book Festival

It’s all over. The last event of Birmingham Book Festival 2012 took place last Saturday. There was no room to be sullen, however, as the ‘Closing Party’ celebrated the positivity of the festival.

The party took place in the Old Library – one of the many buildings which make up the eclectic mix of venues in the Custard Factory. Built in 1866, its Victorian gothic features prove its status as a precious piece of Birmingham’s history. The venue was also particularly appropriate having been one of Birmingham’s first free libraries. Although it has now been emptied of books, the evening brought back a literary atmosphere.

The two featured poets were, strangely, both called Liz. The first Liz was Liz Berry, a Black Country ‘lass’ who now lives in London. Her poetry was terrifically influenced by the West Midlands. One piece called ‘Birmingham Roller’ was written in a Black Country dialect and it felt like a perfect piece to emphasize an important purpose of the book festival, which is to celebrate and raise awareness for local talent. She also read a great piece called ‘The Fishwife’, which was inspired by the old tradition of inviting a fishwife to a wedding. She was a great performer, and definitely a poet to look out for.

The second Liz was Liz Lockhead, a renowned Scottish poet and playwright. She was appointed as a Makar (national poet of Scotland) in 2011 . When Liz took centre stage she commanded her environment. As several people walked in late, she ushered them to their seats asking them to sit down and enjoy the poetry. She read a selection of poems, including some from her latest collection A Choosing: The Selected Poetry of Liz Lochhead.

Later, Liz was joined by the very talented LiTTLe MACHiNe – a three man group who specialise in setting famous poetry to music. They collaborated by taking her poem ‘Trouble is not my middle name’ and putting to music. They had only prepared the piece a few hours prior to the performance, so it felt fresh and spontaneous.

LiTTLe MACHiNe then took the audience on a historical tour through British poetry. They interspersed personal and contextual tales amongst the music and poetry, giving the concert an intimate and cosy atmosphere. Their set included a vast range of poetry from Shakespeare to Carol Ann Duffy. Their renditions of ‘Ozymandias’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron’s ‘We’ll Go No More a Roving’ were highlights of the set.

They certainly added a new dimension to well-known poetry. If the crowd had been slightly bigger, and a few more people had been willing to get on their feet and sing along, then the Old Library would have truly come alive on the final night of the book festival.

Lauren Carroll

@laurenxcarroll

Advertisements
Image

‘Read. Write. Think.’ – Birmingham Book Festival Launch 2012

The fourteenth annual Birmingham Book Festival was launched on Thursday by a series of central figures in Birmingham’s literary and cultural development. Namely, the festival director, Sara Beadle, the chair of Writing West Midlands, Philip Monk and Birmingham’s director of culture and the exciting new library project, Brian Gamble. Sara Beadle told the audience that the festival is about ‘more than books (…) it is really about ideas.’ This seemed fitting, not only with the diverse content of the festival itself, but also in reflecting Birmingham’s vision for literature and culture in and around the city.

As always, the Custard Factory provided a comfortably sociable and airy setting; the launch was held in the appropriately named Yumm café and the adjacent indoor courtyard. As a regular attendee of spoken word events and writers’ meetings in Birmingham, such as Apples and Snakes ‘Hit the Ode’ and ‘Poets’ Place’, I recognised many of the faces at the launch party. However, due to the prestige of the long-standing annual festival, the event attracted a varied audience and by no means was it a ‘writers-only’ crowd.

Before the featured act, and after the speeches made by the organisers of the festival itself, the new Birmingham Poet Laureate was announced. This role has proved vital over the past seventeen years in reaching out to communities and schools.  We were also reminded that Birmingham was the very first city in England to have a laureate. Jan Watts, the now former poet laureate, read some of her poetry which reflected upon her experiences over the past year. She claimed that she would not be able to rest as a poet due to being ‘too busy with the vibes’ she is constantly surrounded by in Birmingham. I assumed this was a reference to the highly interactive and energetic literary scene driven by many of the city’s accomplished writers, readers, editors and general arts organisers. The new poet laureate, Stephen Morrison-Burke, introduced himself with an accomplished spoken word piece about what it is to be young, uncertain and to have embarrassing moments on the streets of Brum. It is exciting to consider what he will bring to the role. Jan Watts was very much a mother-figure to Birmingham’s poetry scene, whereas the young Stephen Morrison-Burke will perhaps stand as an innovative source for poetry in the city.

After all of the informative and surprisingly inspiring formalities, the featured poet and comedian, Elvis McGonagall, took to the make-shift stage. He informed the audience that he had ‘been suffering from his poetry’ and now it was our turn. In a booming Scottish accent, and a fetching tartan blazer, his politically mis/informed poetry certainly entertained the entire audience. He moved his head slowly and fixed his eyes in one place as he spoke about stygian gloom and Wallace and Gromit. A particular favourite, partly due to an unsettingly accurate impersonation, was a poem composed of a series of words and sayings too-often used by David Cameron.

The evening was a unique and captivating way to kick off the next eight days of the festival. The festival line-up this year looks fascinating (if I could go to everything, I would); for example, talks by various and extremely well established writers, such as Simon Armitage and Jackie Kay, an eclectic mix of writers workshops, a spoken word play and an evening of story telling. In addition, this year the literary festival seems to have embraced a political and digital edge. A talk to be given by a group of Libyan bloggers and the launch of a collection of poetry/essays set in Palestine are definitely one of a kind and therefore not to be missed.

For a full list of events: http://www.birminghambookfestival.org/events-2012/full-festival-programme/

Alana Tomlin                                                                                                            

@alanatomlin