Thursday, 27 November 2014

Poetry Pop-Up, Remembering Nick Drake

Normally, I go across the river to Clyro on a Wednesday evening, to the musical evening at Baskerville Hall, thanks to Brian, who drives. This week, however, I was tempted by the Poetry Pop-Up at Tomatitos. There's one at the end of every month, organised by Marva Lord. I don't know much about performance poetry, but I do know about Nick Drake, so I decided to go along.
There have been several events focussing on the work of Nick Drake in the area recently. On the Tuesday night there was a musical evening at the Castle Hotel in Brecon. Some of the people at Tomatitos had been there, and said it was a really good night. Another event was at the Tabernacle at Talgarth, an old Baptist chapel which has been transformed into a music venue, and was highly recommended by the chap who was talking about it.
We started late, waiting for two chaps who had been inspired to drive to Tamworth-in-Arden to lay flowers on Nick Drake's grave. It was a 170 mile round trip, and they thought it was totally worth it! The singer/songwriter died at the age of 27, while suffering from depression, partly brought on by the lack of interest in his music by the world at large. Today, he would probably have found his audience.
So we started off by chatting informally, and I had to admit that I hadn't heard of Nick Drake until I started reading Phil Rickman's Merrily Watkins' series (though I was aware of his sister, Gabrielle Drake, who appeared in a purple wig in the early 1970s series UFO). One of the main characters in the Merrily Watkins series is Lol Robinson, a musician who is deeply influenced by Nick Drake's music (and becomes Merrily's boyfriend).
Marva led the conversation around to a discussion of song lyrics as poetry, and read out some that she thought were particularly good, including The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (which she brought up to date with some modern references), a song she chose because of the news from Ferguson, Missouri. She has a great knowledge of blues singers, something I'm totally ignorant about.
Someone else in the audience said that another singer who would be worth commemorating in the same way as Nick Drake would be Paul Robeson - especially in Wales, where he had seen the similarities between the black experience in the United States and the Welsh experience of English rule. He was a noted campaigner for civil rights as well as a singer with a wonderful voice.
Some of the other regulars had also brought poems to share. Chris the Bookbinder had brought the lyrics of a song he had written with a friend in 1979 - or at least, the lyrics he had reconstructed from hazy memories of the song he had written with his friend - called Ursula Was.
Another chap, ex-army, had brought along The Naming of Parts, reading the instructor's dialogue with an authentic military bark. He said he thought that the class who were learning the names of the parts of their rifle must have been subalterns rather than squaddies, because at one point the instructor says "Please"! I first heard this poem at school, when Mr Jones, the Classics teacher, read it out, (he'd served in the desert during the Second World War) and it had stuck in my memory so well that I could join in with some of the lines.
The second half of the evening was a performance by Llew Watkins, with songs accompanied by an autoharp, which is an instrument with lots of strings, like a harp, or a very tiny piano, and a bar across the widest part of the base with buttons like an accordian, which are pressed to get different chords while the other hand strums the strings above. He was reading his poems off his phone, because his printer had died! There was a set of haiku poems, each based on one of Nick Drake's songs, and several more of his own work. Chris had brought copies of the latest Quirk magazine along, and one of Llew's poems, the Griffin, was printed in there, so he could read that one off the page. Llew has come up to Hay from London, where he lives in Limehouse and is involved in the performance poetry and music scene. He was talking about a performance that is in the process of being developed, a one night only magazine. He's been making eight foot tall pages, using papier mache, some of which will have cut outs to show a performance behind them. He's taking the part of the contents page. It sounds like the sort of thing Tim the Gardener was telling me about, when the surrealists were doing strange things on stage in the middle of the First World War.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Transition Hay AGM

This year the AGM will be taking place at Cusop Village Hall, at 7pm on Monday 1st December.
There will be updates on what the group has been doing in the last year and campaigns they have been involved in, including the community gardens, the Hay Ho Sunday bus, the Hay Town Plan, the Affordable Housing group, the energy group and the woodland management group.
Anna at Drover Holidays would appreciate it if people who want to go to the meeting contact her so she has a rough idea of numbers to expect. Her phone number is 01497 821134, and her email is

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Lucky Seven

Saith Lwcus Y Gelli Gandryll.

Hay has a brewery! Lucky Seven Beer comes from Garibaldi Terrace, and is available at the Wholefood shop as a bottle conditioned real ale. The one I tried is a Pale Ale, brewed with Simcoe and Citra hops - very flavoursome, at 3.8%.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Small Business Saturday

Weobley Ash, local meat and apple juice.

Friday, 21 November 2014

The University of Cusop Dingle Discusses Dylan Thomas

The group met in the little sitting room to the side of the bar at the Swan. It was small enough to be intimate, but the group was large enough for a lively and wide-ranging discussion after the talk. This was given by Patricia Daly, who has been a fan of Dylan Thomas for years. The title was "Dylan Thomas: Famous for all the wrong reasons".
This is the 100th anniversary of Dylan Thomas's birth, somewhat overshadowed by the commemorations of the Great War, and Pat was talking about "brochure-culture", the way the Welsh Tourist Board's brochures encouraging people to visit Laugharne, where he wrote a lot of his work, superficially encouraged the myth of the drunkard poet who died a tragically early death.
The real man behind the myth was far more interesting, as is often the case, and he didn't drink himself to death - he died of bronchial pneumonia made worse by the mis-diagnosis and treatment he got in New York. As Pat said, if he had been in Britain with the NHS, he would probably have survived, but the pressures of an American tour and the lack of health insurance or anyone around him prepared to pay for treatment up front meant that it was far too late when he finally was taken into hospital.
It was an excellent talk, including extracts from Dylan Thomas's work, and several people in the audience said it ought to be published. It led to a discussion about the way a myth obscures the real person behind it, bringing in DH Lawrence as another example, and also Lawrence of Arabia, whose myth was written by a journalist who was only in Palestine for ten days! The background knowledge of the audience was impressive - I never knew that DH Lawrence's German wife was related to Baron von Richthoven! Lewis Carroll is another author whose myth bears little relation to reality, with an emphasis on the photos he took of Alice Liddell overshadowing the rest of his long and interesting life.
Then there was a discussion about outsiders and creativity - how Dylan Thomas may have felt he had to play the part of the "no good boyo from the Valleys" when he went up to London, for instance. It was noted that he didn't seem to need to drink when he came back to Wales, and Wales was where he did the bulk of his work. DH Lawrence, similarly, came from a provincial background and married "above himself" as they used to say then. Caitlin, Dylan's wife, came from the milieu in London in which he found himself, so she had the contacts that he didn't initially (and a gold designer swimsuit that cost £17!)
Nature vs. Nurture was another topic of conversation - apparently Dylan Thomas's great uncle was a Welsh Bard. His Bardic name was Gwylym Morlais (after a local stream) and Dylan's middle name was Morlais. Dylan comes from a character in the Mabinogion, the great cycle of Welsh myths. It would be interesting to see if there were any similarities in style or subject matter between the Welsh bard and the English-speaking poet, but it's something that could only be done by a Welsh-speaking scholar. Dylan's father, too, was a poet, but trapped by the need to make a living for his family as a grammar school teacher in Swansea. He nurtured Dylan's talent from a very early age, and it was pretty certain that Dylan grew up thinking himself to be something special. He was also given elecution lessons to get rid of that undesirable Welsh accent.
We also talked about poetry more generally, and how poets need to make a living to support themselves - difficult in Dylan Thomas's day (he needed the patronage of the Bohemian set in London, starting when Edith Sitwell recognised his talent), and difficult today, when there doesn't seem to be a large audience for poetry. The modern education system came in for criticism here; apparently Dylan Thomas is not taught in schools because the poems are "too difficult".
"And Shakespeare is easy?" one chap asked from the back.

Having said that, there is a regular Poetry Pop-Up event at Tomatitos. The next one is on Wednesday 26th November, and is based around the work of Nick Drake.

The University of Cusop Dingle will be meeting again in the New Year, on January 8th, at 7.30pm at the Swan. This time there will be a small charge so that they can hire a room. One of the people who has agreed to contribute a talk is Tracy Thursfield, who thought she might talk about Yeats and the influence on his poetry of the Golden Dawn society.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Midwinter of the Spirit

Good news for Phil Rickman and his fans!
Midwinter of the Spirit, the second of the Merrily Watkins series, will be made into a TV series. Filming on the three episodes will start next April, and the film company have said that they want to do as much filming as possible around Herefordshire. Merrily is the Anglican priest in charge of Ledwardine, a fictional village in deepest Herefordshire, though most of the other locations in the books are real.
This is the book where Merrily starts her Deliverance Ministry (which means she becomes the diocesan exorcist), taking over from the dour Rev. Dobbs. Some of the main cast of characters had already been introduced in the first book, Wine of Angels, which is more of a prequel. It was intended to be a stand-alone story originally, but has developed into a series which uses Herefordshire folklore and real places in stories of supernatural mystery, also featuring recurring characters including Merrily's teenage daughter Jane (here rebelling by becoming a practicing pagan); Merrily's boyfriend, musician Lol Robinson; Sophie, the secretary who serves the Cathedral, and DS Frannie Bliss and his boss Annie Howe on the police side. Here, much of the action takes place around the Cathedral - the Dean and Chapter are about to discuss whether they will give their permission to film there, according to the Hereford Times.
If the first mini-series goes well, more books could be adapted for TV.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Children in Need

Fund raising this year included a couple of cyclists in the Buttermarket, a local fireman and his son, their bikes fixed to one place, where they were intending to pedal for twelve hours to raise money. I saw them at about half past ten, but they started off at 4am!