Genevieve Carver: The Unsung
Genevieve Carver is a Sheffield-based poet interested in finding the humanity amidst the chaos. She performs regularly at prestigious events across the country, having supported artist such as Buddy Wakefield and Hollie McNish. She has been awarded various literary prizes, including highly commended in the Troubadour Prize and reaching the long-list of the National Poetry Competition. In 2016 she was a semi-finalist in the Hammer & Tongue UK National Poetry Slam.
Her new show The Unsung is at this year's Edinburgh Fringe and following the opening night I spoke to the writer, musician and performer about the creative process and what went in to constructing the show:
Why did you choose the 'Unsung' and their stories as the basis of your show?
In the beginning it was the stories that found me in a way. I remember hearing the story of Sandor Feher - the violinist who died on the Costa Concordia cruise ship when he went back down into the sinking ship to fetch his violin - on the news, and just being compelled to write about it. After finding a few such stories that piqued my interest I realised I had a theme, and decided to run with it. I think as a society we place so much importance on fame and financial power, but there are so many people with amazing stories that never get heard.
Have you had any direct contact with any of the families or other individuals connected with the people you write about?
Yes, the father of Scott Johnson - Radiohead's drum technician who died when the stage collapsed on top of him whilst setting up for a show in Canada - came to one of our shows and has supported us ever since. The family just lost a 5-year legal battle meaning they aren't owed any compensation and the staging company is continuing to trade without any consequences, which is awful. From a legal point of view it's like Scott's death never happened, so it was actually really encouraging for the family to find out that we had chosen to commemorate him and that he hasn't been forgotten.
What was the writing experience like? It has the potential to be quite an unhappy time of work and research, did you have to combat that at all?
I'm really lucky to be working with fantastic musicians who I have a great creative relationship with, so the writing process was actually incredibly positive. I think if I'd been working on the project on my own, as you so often are as a writer, it would have been more depressing, but working collaboratively with Brian, Tim, Sarah and now Ruth, has been brilliant. It's also worth pointing out that the subject matter isn't all doom and gloom - although there's tragedy in the fact these people died for what they love, what we are trying to do is celebrate freedom of expression and how far people will go to defend it.
The Unsung ***** (Five stars)
Genevieve Carver. Olive Studio, Greenside. August 21st-25th. 3.15pm. Tickets £9/£7
Genevieve Carver’s decision to write and perform a show based on the deaths of largely unknown people is an interesting one. The individuals she writes about are all connected in some way with the music industry but are mostly not made prominent through any particular celebrity connection or achievement, and it is precisely this lack of fame or notoriety that makes their stories – and her interpretations –both fascinating and personal.
Carver and her wonderfully talented musical band (Ruth Nicholson, Tim Knowles and Brian Bestall) weave together beautiful poetry and perfectly balanced musical accompaniment with a deft and hugely engaging level of ease. They blend story, melody and emotion to navigate what may seem at the outset to be a bleak journey ahead but what in fact soon becomes quite the opposite, as the poems celebrate lives that should have touched us but perhaps didn’t until this very moment. The narrative journey is further enhanced by Carver’s patter and backstory for each of her poems, contextualising the work and providing a fascinating insight into her subjects. There is just the right mix of stage movement as she and the band play different instruments to underscore the poetry, and they maintain a sombre demeanour on stage as befits the chosen genre of work although at times a few more smiles might have served to lighten the mood slightly and balance the room.
The real star of the show is the poetry itself which shines through with clever constructs, resonance and imagery that flows beyond the music and connects us with new places, people and stories, touching corners of the world with a deep understanding and sympathy. For the friends and families of those covered in the poems like The Lady in the Car (Anne Naysmith), The Fiery Angel (Lina Prokofiev) and Maybe You’ll Go Out Tonight (Shifty Mick) this would be a deeply personal, touching and fitting tribute and celebration. For the rest of us this is quite simply a truly beautiful piece of work of which Carver must be justifiably proud.
The Unsung studio album and book is available to buy at Genevieve Carver’s website along with more information about this and other projects.
Write Out Loud reviews: Five stars – Truly exceptional. Four stars – Brilliant. Three stars – Really good. Two stars – Some strong points. One star – Not recommended.