Tony Walsh reads 'This is The Place' at Ariana Grande concert for Manchester bombing victims

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Leading performance poet Tony Walsh will be reading his world-famous poem about Manchester, ‘This is The Place’, which he delivered at the vigil for the Manchester Arena bomb victims, at a remembrance concert on Sunday featuring Ariana Grande and a host of other stars.

Ariana Grande was the star of the concert where 22 people died on 22 May. Also appearing at the remembrance concert at the Old Trafford cricket ground on Sunday will be Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Coldplay and Take That.

Speaking to the Manchester Evening News Tony said:  “Huge thanks to Ms Grande and her team for this beautiful invitation. I’ll be very proud to bring my poem and the spirit of Manchester to such a global stage on Sunday.

“I’ll aim to channel the strength that Manchester has shown in recent days and I won’t let you down. My thoughts and respects will be with those who have lost their lives, their families and loved ones, and all of those who have responded so magnificently on behalf of our city.” All proceeds from the charity concert will go to the We Love Manchester Emergency Fund.

Tony Walsh first affirmed the indomitable spirit of the city of Manchester at a vigil in memory of the victims of the previous evening's terrorist bombing after the concert at Manchester Arena. The vigil was held in Manchester’s Albert Square. Shortly after a five-minute silence held at 6pm, Tony read his poem about Manchester, ‘This Is The Place’, introducing it by saying: “We stand here in a truly great city … it falls to me to try and sum up what makes this city, its people, its communities so great, with a poem.”

Flanked by figures such as the House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, and the Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, Tony began his poem by listing the city’s many achievements, its inventions and industry, its football teams and its music. He also paid tribute to suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, “from Moss Side”. And his poem concludes: “And there’s hard times again in these streets of our city, but we won’t take defeat, and we don’t want your pity.”

On the following day he said on Facebook that he had been overwhelmed by the worldwide media reaction to his poem: "I'm in a complete whirlwind here, but nothing, zero to what the families and emergency services are facing here in Manchester. Heartbreaking. We stand with them.

"I must have given 30 live and recorded TV and radio interviews since 6.30am today - China, USA, Australia, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal, France, the World Service, Sikh TV, Kurdish TV, plus all the UK channels, the Today programme on Radio 4 … I can't walk across Manchester without people stopping me: geezers with tears in their eyes, old Muslim couples, security guards, business women, skate kids. I've cried and welled up so many times today and I've not even begun to process the news and the global reaction to the poem. Poetry, bloody 'ell. Manchester. Choose love."

Tony Walsh has often been dubbed Manchester's unofficial poet laureate, and 'This is The Place' was orignally written for the charity Forever Manchester. In 2015 he was commisioned by the Manchester Arena to write a poem to mark its 20th anniversary year. Two years earlier he read out his poem in honour of Sir Alex Ferguson at the renaming of a road in tribute to the former Manchester United manager.

Tony is a former housing and communities officer and worked with many of the most deprived communities in Manchester and Salford for nearly 20 years. He became a full-time poet six years ago. 

His poem at Tuesday's vigil in Albert Square was seen and heard and prompted reactions around the world. The New Yorker said: "Who would have thought that a poet could have offered succor on a day like this? But he did. His name is Tony Walsh, a Manchester writer who goes by the handle 'Longfella' - because of his greater-than-average height, one assumes. In front of a crowd of many thousands in Albert Square, in the civic heart of Manchester, as late-afternoon sunshine bathed the Victorian facade of the town hall, and as people in the crush climbed on statues to find a better view, and as a few held up homemade banners expressing love and solidarity, and others held bunches of flowers that they had brought to the ceremony, Walsh delivered a performance of a poem so resonant that the crowd cheered and laughed, and the eyes of the grown men who stood on either side of me grew glassy." 

In an article for the Guardian, the novelist and former Forward prize judge Jeanette Winterson wrote: "Tony Walsh’s poem, 'This Is The Place'”, rapped out by him in fierce lines at Tuesday’s vigil in Manchester, did what public poetry should do – found words where there are no words. We say, 'I don’t know what to say.' We say we’re lost for words. Words have lost us. The poem gives us back the words we need.

"The bombing was a public event, as well as a heartbreaking series of private losses. At times like this we need to come together to express our collective despair and bewilderment: Manchester as a city; Manchester as proud northerners; Manchester facing the world, but facing the world in tears. The poem is memorable. That’s part of the point of poetry – you take it with you to hold on to. You listen to it again, listen to it with others. The poem becomes part of what has happened, as well as a way of talking about it. We don’t need soundbites or comments when we’re hurt; we need something that feels alongside us, and lets us own our feelings. We need a way of grieving that is both private and public. A poem can do that. Tony Walsh spoke for everyone in Manchester. At the end of his poem he spoke to the world: Choose Love."

In an interview with the Guardian Tony discussed why his poem had made such an impact, at such a moment: “It’s ancient and it’s in us. I teach what I do, and in some ways I don’t so much teach it as allow people to find it in themselves. Particularly with rhyme, there’s a reason it’s been around for thousands of years. We live through rhythms and heartbeats. I think we’re hardwired to receive rhyme. When you get that balance between meaning and rhyme and flow, there’s a music to it which we respond to instinctively.”

You can now buy prints, mugs or T-shirts of Tony's poem about Manchester, 'This is The Place', which all helps to raise cash for victims of the terrorist bombing. 

 

Background: Tony Walsh's 2013 interview with Write Out Loud 

 

 

 

 

◄ 'A Day Such As This' by Tom Harding is Write Out Loud Poem of the Week

'I will not speak ill of Jack Flick. I will rarely look at the scar he made on my cheek' ►

Comments

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Tim Ellis

Tue 30th May 2017 13:24

Great to see Tony get the recognition he deserves at last, but it's a pity it was such a tragic event that made it happen. He was one of the first guest readers I saw when I started going to open mics about 15 years ago, and I've always regarded him as one of the greats among performance poets.

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Julian (Admin)

Sat 27th May 2017 17:59

A superb piece, Greg. Tony was a member of our first steering/working group and credited Write Out Loud with helping him get started. However, as much as this might do his career some good, knowing Tony, his sole motivation will have been to express his personal response and, as Jeannette Winterson says, to help others articulate theirs. He loves his home city, and Manchester loves him. Well done, Tony.
Ironically, the blast happened very close to where my mother was trapped in a bomb shelter that was hit during the Manchester Blitz, and she often recalled her pride at how everyone pulled together to help each other. Love overcoming hate.

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Greg Freeman

Fri 26th May 2017 17:55

Tony was always a great champion of Write Out Loud from the early days, and has emerged as the acknowledged cheerleader for his home city in recent years. It's remarkable and wonderful to see him demonstrate the power of poetry in such a way.

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Graham Sherwood

Fri 26th May 2017 11:59

I see Tony joined WOL in November 2008!

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