Tributes paid to performance poet, musician, and historian Dave Reeves
Poets, publishers and arts organisations have paid tribute to West Midlands performance poet and musician, historian and poetry activist Dave Reeves, who has died at the age of 65.
Dave Reeves was born in Netherton, Dudley, in the Black Country and had a number of jobs, from civil servant to industrial labourer, before becoming a freelance performance poet and musician. He edited and published Raw Edge Magazine, a regional journal of new writing from 1995 to 2008; ran the long-running internet radio station Radio Wildfire, assisted by his son Vaughn; and was poet-in-residence at the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley, from where he ran a regular open mic night. Dave was also a mature student at Ruskin College, Oxford, where his thesis was on the jew’s harp.
Much of his work revolved around Black Country dialect, using squeezebox, harmonica, and props to present his original material. He also collaborated with a range of artists in performance and public art. His widely-admired Black Country Dialectics was published by Offa’s Press in 2011. There were other chapbooks and pamphlets, notably from Stride, and many oral history booklets. He co-edited the Poetry of the Black Country with Emma Purshouse, for Offa's Press, in 2017.
Emma said: "I don't think the spoken word scene in the Black Country would even be happening as it is now, if it wasn't for the ground-breaking work done by Dave Reeves. He was a maverick and a force for good in the world. Always supportive of other writers, always providing platforms for other people to share their voices with the world by way of ventures like Radio Wildfire.
“He published some of my early poems in Raw Edge magazine, which gave me so much confidence as a young poet. And there have been so many other people saying exactly that on social media. He made a real impact on many people's lives. I've been lucky enough to perform with him, work with him on projects and edit a collection of Black Country poetry with him. He was always fun and funny, an upbeat man, who had the twinkliest eyes in poetry. He lit up a room, and when he performed he gave his all, and audiences loved him. I shall miss him so much."
Fellow poet and collaborator Heather Wastie paid tribute to his work as a collaborator, and to “a very clever wordsmith”.
She said: “One of his collaborations was The Whirled Service with composer and multi-instrumentalist Tom Cook, an eclectic mix of ambient improv and global influences, a blend of spoken word, comment, humour and music. In 2015-16 he and I teamed up to form Jiggery Spokery, a show for streets, cafes and cabarets. With two accordions, poetry, song, parodies, visuals and audience involvement we took live literature and music to festivals and other celebrations, and had lots of fun in the process!
'Bizarre connections and laughter'
“I first met Dave at a writing workshop he ran many years ago, and first worked with him on a bus in the Black Country for Moving Finger during one of his many community writing projects. He was an entertaining and original performer, a kind and generous man. Conversations with him were like no other, usually involving bizarre connections and laughter.
“I remember watching him on stage accompanying himself on harmonica, in awe of his ability to time his in- and out-breaths so that he could switch seamlessly between harmonica and speech. During the time we collaborated, Dave performed his darkly comedic poetry, and played melodeon, jew’s harp, kettle and, for one of my pieces, part of an old Hoover. Squeezebox duets with him were exhilarating. It is thanks to Dave that I started playing piano accordion; it was his suggestion, and he took me over to the Accordion Centre in Birmingham to help me find my first instrument. I owe him a great deal.”
Poet Roz Goddard posted on Twitter when she heard of the news that Dave Reeves "was a huge force for good on the Midlands poetry scene and steadfast friend to many. A wonderful poet, collaborator, innovator, performer, listener, editor, publisher and dear, dear friend."
Another fellow poet, Julie Boden, said: “Dave Reeves was a Renaissance man; a poet, historian, writer, artist, performer, creative thinker and a catalyst in promoting other people's creativity. I worked with him on numerous creative projects over the years. He was always positive, inspirational, welcoming, well-prepared and also had an incredible ability to ad lib - whether improvising musically, poetically or MCing at various events. More than this though, Dave was a treasured friend. He was a man of integrity, a kind soul, a do-er who was there to help pragmatically when needed. Such a force for good in the world, he leaves a great Dave-shaped hole behind him, as many of us miss his humour, open heart and humility. “
His publisher at Offa’s Press, Simon Fletcher, described Dave as “sensitive, diplomatic, and kind”, and added: “I enjoyed his company enormously. His performances were rumbustious, warm and funny and made us all feel connected wherever we hailed from. He wasn't the best time-keeper I've worked with but he always apologised charmingly … He loved mountaineering and the mountains, particularly the Pyrenees, and that is where I shall think of him in future. He will be greatly missed.”
'Engaging a broad spectrum of people'
Dave was also involved in many community projects over the years. Trudy King worked with Dave while she was a creative arts officer with Sandwell metropolitan borough council, facilitating projects for adults in day and residential care. She said: “Dave had a wonderful way of engaging a broad spectrum of people, including schoolchildren, teachers, older people and carers. His unique sense of humour was ever present and he always seemed to be able to put people at their ease, enabling people to participate, write and make new innovative work.”
In 1992 he led a project called Beneath Four Moons - writings from Sandwell, resulting in four illustrated books and a touring exhibition. It was a six-month writer-in-residency project in libraries, school, residential homes, sheltered accommodation, community and day centres, and was a winner of the Libraries Association/Holt Jackson Prize for Community Initiative.
In 1993 Dave was writer-in-residence at Age Concern Day Centre, Sandwell, producing a book of reminiscences by the people from the day centre called All Dressed Up. In 1994 he led a cross-generational project with Friar Park Day Centre (for older people) and Park Hill Junior and Infant School - both in Wednesbury. The book published by The Moving Finger was Wednesbury's Child - a collection of reminiscences from Friar Park Day Centre and writing by the pupils from Park Hill Junior and Infant School. During the summer of 1995 Dave was writer-in-residence at Causeway Green Day Centre - The Moving Finger publishing a book called Making a Meal of It, a collection of reminiscences, stories and poems on the theme of food and feasting.
Trudy added: “1997 saw the production of a book called An Onion in the Ear (and other ways we show we care) - again compiled and edited by Dave after a series of interviews by us with residents from Birchfield Resource Centre (for older people) and writing workshops led by Dave with pupils from Whiteheath Junior School, Oldbury. In 1998 he led another cross-generational project for us called More than Riches which was a gathering of writings and reminiscences about cherished memories and other things valued in life. The participants were people attending Walker Grange Day Centre and the pupils of Locarno Junior School. In the summer of 2000 Dave worked with residents from Greenhaven Home as part of a writing project for Centro, resulting in writings on the glazing at West Bromwich bus station.”
More recently he had been working with the arts and health organisation Creative Health, who said: “Dave was a wonderful, creative and generous man. We were very pleased and excited to work with Dave as part of the Still Lively programme. Dave worked with over 100 older people from Wolverhampton and Staffordshire to create a six-part poem which he performed at Wolverhampton Art Gallery.”
Dave had hoped to move to the South of France to live and work. A friend, Eric Doumerc, a French lecturer in English at Toulouse University, said of him: "I will always remember his self-deprecating sense of humour, his tough intelligence (sometimes too tough for me...) and his warm and wonderful personality. In this age of Brexit madness, he was a wonderful ambassador for his country and a very dear friend."
I met Dave three times – twice at the Back Country Living Museum, and once on the platform at Kidderminster railway station, where he compered a group of us known collectively for that day as the Steam Poets, as part of the Worcestershire literature festival. Dave had had his doubts about the success of this venture – and on the day only one paying customer turned up specifically to hear us read – but nevertheless he MCd the event with warmth, grace and style. On my first visit to the museum he interviewed me about Write Out Loud for Radio Wildfire. He regularly used Write Out Loud’s Gig Guide to publicise events he was involved in, and was also often in contact about possible news items.
Dave had been suffering from prostate cancer, but his son Vaughn said he continued to write and work from his hospital bed. Two short performances recorded a week before he died will be available as installations at Art in the Park in Leamington Spa next month.
Dave Reeves was engaged to be married in June to Ali, his long-time partner, before events overtook them. He is also survived by his son Vaughn, and granddaughter Harlow. He had lived in Leamington for some time, and his funeral will be held on 31 July at 12 noon at Oakley Wood crematorium, Oakley Wood Road, Leamington Spa, CV33 9QP. Afterwards there will be a celebration of Dave’s life, with poetry readings, from 2pm onwards at Katie Fitzgeralds, Enville Street, Stourbridge DY8 3TB.
PHOTOGRAPH: ALI McK