The Wrong Trouser(s) Town
Hebden Bridge forms part of the Upper Calder Valley situated in amongst the hills of West Yorkshire. It shares its Metropolitan borders with those lesser known Yorkshire hamlets namely ‘Semi-consciousness’ and ‘Let’s get the hell outta’ here’ - yet for some reason - it’s a popular town. A VERY popular town.
‘Trouser Town’ is another pet name for Hebden. Although where, or indeed how, this tag first dropped its pants is anyone’s guess? It has some connotation with the town’s association with a once thriving textile industry - as much as it could be construed as a reference that ALL the town’s residents appear to wear…trousers. If you ask me? It’s ALL pants.
One thing that Hebden IS knowingly associated with - is Art…and, of course, poetry. Ted Hughes was born and lived in a nearby village called Mytholmroyd - a quirk he shared with a friend of mine who also suffers the indignation of being born ‘just t’over t’ hill’.
Fuelled by this and other semi-interesting facts, it was time to venture over toward the dark side of the Pennines and reacquaint myself with flat beer and insipid humourless souls, and not least - their poetry.
However, I wasn’t brave enough to venture deep behind enemy lines as a single splinter-cell. Ooh no.
I took with me a group of Lancashire’s finest performing poets. Unfortunately, this group had to disembark before we’d left the environs of Wigan but they were quickly replaced by some sizeable poetic Morsals. Namely - Isobel, Ian Hayles, Shoeless Carol and John Togher. Still… a significant bunch of tightly-packed stanzas that anyone can be expected to muster at such short notice.
The Hole in the Wall was the name of the event’s venue. A quirk I found quite ironic. It was, afterall, the twentieth anniversary of the collapse of The Berlin Wall. Not the literal collapse - but the time when unfashionable East Germans flowed through the heart of my television celebrating a new found freedom. An experience that I wrote about a few years ago and had nestling in written poetic form in my trusty sack - as it were.
I was MORE than ready.
The downside to travelling to the other side of the poetic world is that it usually brings with it a bout of abstinence. In my case - alcohol. Watching these events unfold through the glass-bottom of juice filled pint pots gives these events a whole new dimension. Not quite INTO the Twilight zone but certainly sneaking a peek through its letterbox. Armed with a newly acquired manual ‘How to Make Meaningful, Pleasant but Totally Irrelevant Conversation’ I mingled with yet another bunch of colourful but equally reserved characters. After several nods and bouncing of brows, I decided that maybe I didn’t really belong here after all. Then I looked that bit closer. The bit that usually remains out of intoxication and its reach. I watched and saw other equally sober and anxious looking individuals. I saw others who would throw their heads back, forced by jets of sincere laughter and who seemed more than comfortable with social interaction. I saw agitation. Concentration. Sensed constipation and saw the odd libation. It pains me to say it - but it WAS an…‘eclectic’ mix.
That’s the beauty of Write Out Loud. It’s similar to that early ‘A-Ha’ video from 1985 - ‘Take on Me’. The one where he enters an animated world of fantasy from the hum-drum bowels of reality. The Cyber-world of WOL doesn’t quite feel like reality - because it’s not. There’s a distance involved that either softens the blow or exaggerates the punches. The real world of WOL is… is much more reliable. This can of course work to both a person’s advantage as much to their disadvantage and before I digress too far…the poetry.
Sean Cavanagh was the evening’s compére. Reliable and modest in equal measure, Sean introduced the 20 or so that had gathered to Michael Greavy, whose reading included a slow, deliberate piece titled ‘Pigeon Egg’. It set the tone for Aaron (?) who maintained s-l-o-w del-ib-er-ate, intense momentum which brought about some wistful staring into my immediate personal space before toward a ceiling and its ridiculously oversized glitter-ball. These early bouts of melancholy were interspersed with comic relief in the form of a drunken heckler and his almost incoherent verbalisations of how he was interpreting the event. They ranged from a ridiculous demand that John Darwin should ‘get yer hair cut’ to a completely bizarre request that Freda Davis should ‘Do it joined up!’ These rather perplexing and equally banal Tourette like statements were initially a distraction - but no more so than the sounds resonating from downstairs and inside the room’s walls which ranged from a mild musical rhythmic thud, to an intermittent but regular sound of vibrating and worryingly regurgitating pipe-work. Add this together with the hiss and crackle of a real wood fire and you begin to get the idea.
However, as the evening progressed, I found myself looking forward to the next random statement blurted from this man’s spirit-frazzled lips. I had every empathy with him. He looked every inch the seasoned drinker. He had a remarkable likeness to Wigan’s infamous ‘Baz’ while in between bouts of complete gibberish he would say something equally relevant and profound. It’s just that his timing was all wrong. Although to be fair, this is usually the first thing to go as you sail toward the dangerous shorelines of drunken oblivion.
In between the heckles there were some great performances. We were fortunate to catch ‘Catherine’ who, although from Northern Ireland, is Hitch-hiking her way around the rest of the UK to perform at poetry events just like Hebden. Well, maybe not exactly like Hebden, but that’s what she’s hoping to do. She had an assured, warm persona that she used to its maximum affect to tell us about her time living in Omagh and the consequence of the infamous ‘bomb’ ... and her Dyslexia. She does it in a way that makes statements but they’re implicit and subtle. I couldn’t help but think though that if she hadn’t already performed in Manchester and its inner-circle of performance, then she may be in for a shock. There are other people out there who are doing a very similar thing. She certainly has the potential to be among ‘the best of those who consider themselves to be the best’. Good, provocative stuff.
Steve Mellor read ‘The Sun Shone’ a poignant and reflective piece and I enjoyed talking to Steve before and after the event. We seemed to share an anxiety of these type of events but at the same time I sensed his enthusiasm and willingness to learn more about what makes ‘the poetry scene’ tick. With the latter I can’t help him. Can anyone?
Simon Rennie read a clever and humorous poem (well it made me laugh) titled ‘Soul-mate’. It could quite easily have been called ‘Sole-mates’ or ‘Seoul-mates’ but it was succinct and easily comprehendible. However, were Simon truly excels is in the written poetic word. On t’page. I have in my possession a copy of his new book of poems titled ‘Little Machines’ published by The Knives Forks and Spoons Press Bury (ISBN 978-0-9563928). I look forward to reading it - without the distraction of heckles or hissing pipes.
The loveable and more than likeable Dermot Glennon read his work with a sincerity that convinces most people that he CAN be sincere. However, DG has mastered the art of fake-sincerity that perhaps he should consider a vocation in politics? Funny stuff. I laughed, and so too did others once we realised which way it was going.
Cayn White is Yorkshire’s finest performance punk poet. I know this because he tells both me and everyone else. Who am I to argue? Cayn always delivers in a self-assured style. In his self-assured way. He has heaps of self-assurance. So much so that he’s in demand. Not content with one poetry gig - the poetry whore goes off and performs at another venue! Leaving the sound of laughter ringing in all our ears competing with some of the evening’s other inexplicable noises.
Julian Jordon indulged us with a festival of alliteration and clever wordplay. Often his poetry is tied in linguistic knots and you have to be quick to decipher its meaning - which itself is a challenge - this is the man who puts ‘man’ into ‘Semantics’ . Very witty. Delivered in true JJ style.
Paul Blackburn. I’ll be frank Paul. I had no idea what you were talking about. I know you haven’t been well lately, so we’ll leave it at that!
Ian Hayles and Christine Dawson. You don’t often see those two names sharing the same bill - let alone in the same breath. Last night however, they treated us to a delivery of drama based poetry concerning just what you can do, and what fun could be had, with small edible foodstuffs. In their case - a Stottie Cake and a Lychee. In reality it looked improvised which was probably because one part had to be re-written (the lychee - which else?) to accommodate the fact that the poem was dropped on one of its performer’s toes - as it were. Performance poetry with some performance energy. Bravo.
‘Deborah’ read some poetry that was clearly more comfortable and absorbing sitting on a page. The words and structure felt hurried and much of what she had to say went missing or felt lost in performance. She was competing against some ever increasing distractions - which I thought was unfair but sadly unavoidable in a busy public house.
Isobel, on the other hand, had no trouble telling those that had gathered that she wished she was gay. It was all poetic license and as a first time performance in Hebden (Yorkshire) she did us Lancashire folk proud.
We had an Antipodean participant in Ross Kitely. A character who oozed charm and snarling bitterness in equal measure. He poetry was built with some skill and his performance was equally memorable. A very assured set of poems.
John Togher said he was performing ‘The Waiting’ and duly made us wait. I don’t know what it is about Togher, but he’s developing his comic…his comic…anyway…
He did well - so well in fact - that they TIMING! comic timing… that we applauded him off.
Fresh from his hair cut - John Darwin recited his work from memory - although it WAS close to hand - and delivered some powerful if not phonologically convoluted or challenging pieces that did confuse me a little. It doesn’t take much - although I think John even confused himself on one occasion when he forgot the opening lines. He could have gotton away with it if he’d not declared his momentary forgetfulness so soon. Great poet.
Winston Plowes barged his way into the early evening before he later closed the event with his thoughtful words, but for me the real star of the event was Chris Buckley. It could have been Dave Buckley, I’m not too sure - I just know that he was the inflatable drunken heckler that every pub has - only to be let down (if you excuse the pun) by a society that doesn’t appreciate the joys of getting in very crispy, bendy states of inebriation. He read a poem about Squirrels and worms - which coincidentally rhymes with ‘squirms’ which would have been a fair description of an audience reaction. Ooh, and wince. I saw more than ONE sizeable wince.
That's the beauty of this performance poetry lark - you never know who you're going to meet. Some people think that it's the same desert - but a different tent. Hebden has by no means got the monopoloy on colourful intoxicated characters. However, in between the kerfuffles and barked heckles I read a poem - but not about the Berlin Wall. Coincidentally, it's 20 years since we first became aware of Walllace and Gromitt and I was torn between the two. Instead I chose neither - but it leads me to my last line. If Hebden and its Bridge ARE Trouser Town - in the words of W & G - they're the wrong Trousers Town.
Incidentally. I measured the journey from Wigan to Hebden and Hebden back to Wigan. Remarkably, it's the same distance. So the Lancashire possé would love to repay the hospitality at the next Tudor night. You'll be back in Hebden for just after midnight unless you have to negotiate driving-rain and heavy fog - in which case allow 3 days for your journey.