Catch the choo choo to Write Out Loud Wigan's Christmas party at the Old Courts tonight
It's over a year now since Wigan’s Tudor House hotel closed its doors to patrons, poets and other people who like to drink a lot ... At the time it felt like a cruel blow. Many of us had found our performance feet on that stage, ranted, laughed, sung, poured our hearts out to its rafters, steeped the ancient woodwork with as much angst as beer spillage. To have time called on all that history hurt, to say the least.
To his credit, Wigan host John Togher soon found a replacement in the sepulchral bowels of the Old Law Courts, otherwise known as the 'Bailiff's Bar'. It seemed strangely fitting that poets should henceforth tremble and quail on the exact same spot where generations of Wigan felons had done the same, though I daresay none of them were ever heckled whilst pleading their case.
Once known as the bearpit of the poetry world, Wigan has always had a reputation for being more rumbustious than your average poetry venue. Its no-nonsense regulars are straight talkers and they'll soon voice their disapproval if a poet tries to over-extend his slot. That being said, I think you'd be hard pushed to find a more supportive or attentive crowd than you've got right now at the Old Courts. There's no more background noise from the Ladies hand dryer and the bar, as we had at the Tudor, and the audience really does listen. The last year has also seen vast improvements to the room, such as a new external bar area, a larger stage, and most importantly new wheelchair access point and ramp.
I'll always miss the Tudor because I have a lot of nostalgia for those early days, but turning up at the Old Courts last month, I realised something quite fundamental - it's not just about the venue - it's about the people. There's a real connection between poets in Wigan. Even though we might not see each other often, we ride the ups and downs of each other's lives through our poetry - and that brings you closer. It's a hard thing to explain, but hopefully fellow poets will get it.
Perhaps a secret to the enduring success of the Wigan venue lies in its management. I've been around the poetry scene long enough to realise that many venues fall prey to the bickering and petty jealousies of rival poets. John Togher organises his night phlegmatically, a pint of Guinness in one hand, the poet running order in the other. He's hands off and very inclusive to all newcomers.
Without doubt, John is lucky to have the support of a hard core of faithful regulars. Worthy of special mention is the outrageous Darren Thomas, arguably the best compere in the north-west, who regularly entertains audiences with his irreverent humour and witty off the cuff banter.
That audience spans the generations - from old George with his ukulele, (who used to find it hard leaving the house but now travels all over the north-west performing his stuff) to the young Eva Curless, who at the tender age of 18 only narrowly missed winning this year's slam heat. We really are blessed with so many entertaining and talented poets - Dave Carr, Gordon Zola, Dave Morgan, Ian Whiteley, Shaz Star, Richard Green, Matthew Derbyshire, Susie Mason, Alex, to name but a few. Every so often, the big guns roll in - Louise Fazackerley, Joy France, Laura Taylor - taking a breather from their busy careers and coming home to their roots, the place it all began for them.
On Thursday 10 December it will be our Christmas party and my sisters and I will be performing our own version of the Chattanooga Choo Choo. The song was of course originally performed by Glen Miller and his Orchestra, but made even more popular by close harmony singing group, the Andrews Sisters. Famed for their swing/boogie woogie style routines, the Andrews Sisters toured the world, performing for allied forces during the second world war, often in army uniform. Not to be outdone and to provide some authenticity for our audience we'll be dressing up, too. There'll be nothing authentic about the lyrics though, as we've adapted them to suit a merry bunch of poets at Christmas.
Did I mention the fact that Wiganers like to have fun? Why not come along and join our Christmas party at this open mic night, entry free, at the Old Courts, Crawford Street (behind the parish church) at 8pm. We look forward to hearing from you! More details