'Just like a chat down the pub': Luke Wright takes a break - after 100 consecutive online shows
There were times during his 100 consecutive online shows when leading performance poet Luke Wright felt that he “desperately wanted it to end, that it’s all been too much”. Whether he meant lockdown itself, or his amazing, marathon spoken word stint, or both, it didn’t really matter.
But he had started the shows at the beginning of lockdown because “cancelling all the dates in my diary seemed such a negative thing”, and this felt like a positive. Fellow poet Steve Pottinger had sent him a “very kind and nice” message about his online performances, saying “it was just like having a chat down the pub”.
During his extraordinary run Luke never delivered the same set two nights running. On some nights he performed entire shows - from his back catalogue, such as What I Learned from Johnny Bevan, and Frankie Vah, and his current show before lockdown, The Remains of Logan Dankworth.
This 100th gig hadn’t passed unnoticed. There had been a full-length feature in the Telegraph on Friday, in which they had dubbed him “the bard of lockdown … my dad reads the Telegraph”. One fan and friend had put together a two-hour compilation of the best of his online gigs. He kept checking the screen to see who was watching and saying hello, and named a number of fans “who kept popping up, day after day”.
If Luke seemed a little weary, well, that was understandable. At one point he said: “I’m lost for words, I’m quite emotional.” But in between his reflections about the last 100 days, he found time to deliver some poems, too.
He topped and tailed his set with “an old favourite” – ‘Essex Lion’ – and his contemporary reworking of that poem as ‘Essex Virus’, with its joke about resorting to the Guardian if they run out of loo rolls, and the spectacular rhyming of “Italy” with “shittily”. In between there was a short, poignant poem called ‘X’, another about his son learning to read, and one about tough times at the old-fashioned school he attended, after he had earlier mentioned that “I’m adopted. I grew up not knowing what my parents looked like.”
There was also an epic poem called ‘The Lay-bys and Bypasses’. I began by thinking it was about a lorry driver – “In a motor they can’t hear you scream, so why not scream?” – before getting that it was actually about Luke himself. It ends on a uplifting, affirmative note: “A carload of friends on a festival weekend … it might have been June, the sky was huge and blue … yes, I’m here, I’m here, I never thought I would be, but I’m here … I claim to know this country … I love and loathe it, like I love and loathe myself.” And then a few more words before he signed off for a nine-day break, after which he will return online with a weekly, Sunday show. Luke Wright is not an overtly political poet, and he had noticed during lockdown that there “is a lot of judgment out there on social media”.
“None of us is perfect,” he said. “Huge love to all of you for tuning in all the time. It’s meant the world to me, it really has.” He hardly bothered to mention it, but there is a place where you can contribute something if you’ve enjoyed his online shows, and it’s here.