Tag Archives: music

The Gentlemen Press presents: Poetry Espionage

The event is held downstairs in the Six Eight Kafé, Temple Row, Birmingham. There are small tables with small chairs and small candles. Cosy and kooky; your perfect location for a gathering of new musicians and poets.

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Joseph Sale is hosting. Humble as ever, he recites just two of his marvellous poems tonight and only picks up a guitar during the interval. His warmth and buoyancy creates an atmosphere of genuine intimacy and unity between performers and audience.

Max Merrick-Wren is my new favourite musician. He wields guitar and harmonica as if they’re extra limbs, for the most part with his eyes closed. His voice is soothing; his passion consistent throughout. I prefer his own songs to the Dylan cover, especially the gently powerful ‘High Horse’, with its climactic ending. The only constructive point I have is for him to inhale more quietly. I can’t wait to get hold of an album.

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Joseph Sale performs ‘The Necromancer’, a haunting piece about raising the figures of history, listening to the ‘silence that became their voice’. Like the mysterious woman I am ‘wonder-morphed’, both by the ideas Joe evokes and the words with which he (appropriately) brings them to life.

Carl Sealeaf gives us two-and-a-half poems, due to an endearing bout of memory loss. The first half of ‘Growth’ is wonderful, expressing his fear of ‘acting out someone else’s definition of growing older, broader at the shoulders but still shrivelled at the heart’. His last piece about macaroni, festivities, ‘stale air’ and ‘oil-smeared hands’ culminates beautifully with a sad and simple point about family. I am left uplifted by his art but saddened by the things it says.

Next is the Italiano Duo, playing for the first time together in this country. Their covers include ‘New Shoes’ by Paolo Nutini, ‘Back to Black’ by Amy Winehouse, and ‘Warning Sign’ and ‘Clocks’ by Coldplay. Their nerves show a little but their gift is undeniable; Winehouse is obviously their favourite since their attitude and the volume are cranked right up. They shouldn’t be shy; their talent deserves confidence.

Elisha Owen offers us six poems in a voice perfectly suited to recital. She carries us with a quiet pensive joy through the vivid Spanish landscape of ‘Handprints’ where ‘the water creates a rhythm that foreigners dance to’. She reads ‘Prostrate Shadows’ where Muslim men are ‘sentinels beckoning the sunrise’, ‘Racing’, ‘Long Jump’, ‘Origami’, in which a seven year old boy  tries to sell her his art, and finally, ‘In the Days Before They Made Them Biodegradable’, where one plastic bag is transformed into a family treasure.

Sean Neil performs three songs; solemn, honest and touching. His strumming could flow better and he needs to use his diaphragm more, but bearing in mind that I can’t sing and play to save my life, that he wrote all of his own songs and that they’re very good ones, I hardly have a right to comment. His work is reminiscent of Damien Rice without the Irish accent, which suits me fine.

386765_299333770097854_1784160791_nNext is Giles Longley-Cook. We flit through dreary rooms in ‘Reflections in Jordan’ and the joys of alcohol in ‘The Budweiser Gita’, while he drinks pointedly from a bottle. After a disturbing piece on the politics of the Holy Land, Giles pauses to let us listen to the whirring of a fan and the sounds of the café above before stating, hauntingly, that ‘I have never fully known silence’. This poem strikes me in a fresh and thought-provoking way before he thunders on into a mock Christmas carol for his finale.

Aliena and Peter follow up with a few covers as well as some of their own compositions (lyrics by Chris who sits bashfully in the audience). The guitar is a bit too loud but Aliena uses this to her advantage and blows us all away with her vocal power; Peter is both talented and utterly unassuming. My favourite song is ‘Avenue of Cosmonauts’, sullen and gripping and very bass-y.

Ben Norris reads a delightful poem derived from his lecture notes on the European Novel. It is sharp and witty, diving from humour to seriousness and back again. The wonderful twist is that although lecture notes in poetry is an innovative idea, the piece insists that nothing is ever truly original. ‘Meaning is contingent’, he claims, ‘his name is Echo’. Ben proceeds with a touching poem ‘Southern Hemisphere’, and then reads ‘After Babel, After Pisa’ concerning theories of the University Library’s reconstruction, and a lovely piece about keeping hold of somebody by collecting physical memories.

Joe rounds the night off with ‘Circles’, a farewell poem that reminds me of Bilbo’s ‘The Road Goes Ever On’. Profound and heart-warming, it weaves in circles of thought about this little gathering of artists and the common desires that brought us together.

‘We must not shake,’ he encourages us, ‘we must not fear, to seek the dream that brought us to this place’.

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A special thanks to The Gentlemen Press for running this event. We hope to see more from you soon.

For more information, visit www.gentlemenpress.com

By Danielle Bentley

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Birmingham Book Festival: Caitlin Moran and Stuart Maconie

Listening to the Caitlin Moran and Stuart Maconie talk was like sitting in a pub with friends when the perfect conversation occurs, littered with anecdotes, references and in-jokes. A conversation in which you are so absorbed you don’t want to leave the table, despite a million things happening around you.

Birmingham Book Festival created a faux-pub backdrop for the two writers. Moran and Maconie sat on stools, clutching bottles of water but swigging it like alcohol at a bar. They debated everything from libraries and television to feminism. Both writers brought entirely unique perspectives to the topics they were debating. Moran spoke quickly and confidently and although she used obscure references and phrases, they were neither pretentious nor alienating. Birmingham-based Maconie offered a male viewpoint on topics, such as feminism and sexism within the work place, punctuating Moran’s anecdotes with experiences of his own.

They both started out as music journalists and expressed their views on how the publishing industry has changed. In their day journalism offered a window of opportunity for a teenager with no specific qualifications. In their discussion about the dwindling opportunities of the arts world, the pair also commented on the number of privately educated pop stars who dominate the charts. Both writers were keen to stress that these bands shouldn’t be condemned. However, they expressed concern about the lack of opportunity for those involved in the creative industries without privileges or connections.

Despite this concern, Moran showed a high sense of appreciation for the changeability of contemporary culture. This gives people the opportunity to make things new and undergo personal revolution. Moran celebrated having a voice, be it within her journalism or in her day to day opinions on the mundane. She   admitted that when she first started writing she adopted the tone of a Victorian gentleman, writing in a voice she thought others wished to hear, instead of her own. She soon realised that what characterises great writing is originality, and therefore encouraged everyone to express their individuality in whatever they do. You shouldn’t be shy about having an opinion on anything, from the mundane to the important. This seemed particularly relevant regarding the diverse appreciation for arts and culture within Birmingham.

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

Lottie Halstead

@LottieHalstead