Sunday 29 May 2011

Sign Of The Ages (after Gil-Scott Heron)

In the end he avoided mirrors,
he recognised someone that didn’t look like themselves.
In the end he avoided mirrors,
there are other ways to look at what time does to us,
this is why we have memories, dreams and sunglasses.

Do you know what it sounds like when a man smashes
into pieces like a crushed tablet?
when a man has enough cracks to slide fingers into his chest, to spread palm
over heart to shake it, yelling


He was an immigrant who felt at home
when he got used to the hatred –
this is what happens when you give every piece of yourself
to a world that prospers on the mutilation
of the good natured.

I’m young enough to feel like I can exchange my pieces
for something that can’t be fed back to me in a dog’s bowl,
to feel like I might have a hole wide enough to reach
into my heart and throw it at you and wait for my gold.

But this is not 1961, and I’m not a black man in America,
and I probably spend too much time in the mirror.

It truly is a precious time when we sit down and feel like we’re inside it.
When we’ve unplugged the television and thrown it through a window,
when we’re young enough to look exactly how we want to be remembered.

Before we're at the end, avoiding mirrors.

Saturday 28 May 2011

R.I.P Gil Scott Heron

Last year I saw Gil Scott heron live at Bestival. A big outdoor Festival on the isle of wight. He walked onto the stage looking like one of my Dad's old west indian friends at the bookies. Black flat cap, drowsy eyes, grey bushy beard and skin like an old tire that's rolled itself over too many dirt roads. I'm sure if I got close enough to him he would have smelt like a piano in a smokey basement bar.

Gil smiled and waved at the crowd. He looked painfully thin. My girlfriend at the time turned to me and said "he looks like he's on his way out". Writing this now I feel I've only just realised what she was saying.

Gil sat down and gave a powerful but nostalgic performance. The tone of nostalgia felt so strong I didn't feel present in the moment. He turned to the audience and spoke about the day he recorded Winter In America with the Midnight Band. He followed this with a slow, obscure and minimal version of Home Is Where The Hatred Is. It's one of my favourite Gil Scott Heron tracks and I only recognised it during the chorus.

A lot of the people around me weren't engaged with Gil. They couldn't relate and started their own conversations, this really annoyed me but I was surprised that my girlfriend (who had never heard of Gil Scott Heron before I banged on about having to see him) she was moved and as transfixed as I was. "Wow... a voice like that belongs only to a man who's seen some shit" she said.

It's true, he sang I'll Take Care Of You with a voice that climbed out his throat wounded, bleeding and naked.

I got to say Gil did seem detached.He could have had the same form and sat in an empty theatre, playing half-drunk at 2am. It was a set for the hard-core fans... but more than anything... I believe it was a set for himself.

This is the way I'll remember Gil Scott Heron.

Smiling at his piano in front of thousands of people with just a few sun rays squeezing through the cracks of a grey cloud.

Thanks for coming out Gil.

Friday 20 May 2011

Chill Pill At Soho Theatre 1st June

Created by Mista Gee (host of Radio 4’s ‘Bespoken word’ and ‘Rhyme and Reason’), Raymond Antrobus, Deanna Rodger, Simon Mole, and Kim-Leng Hills, Chill Pill is at the cutting edge of underground poetry.

After a hugely successful first outing at Soho Theatre, this night of word based entertainment is back.

Show kicks off at 7.15pm.

As well as the Chill Pill poets, the night will feature:

TSHAKA Campbell is an established spoken word poet. Recognised as an accomplished artist and performer, Campbell was voted one of the 25 people to know in San Francisco. He has toured internationally, and has performed at a variety of venues from the legendary Apollo Theatre in New York to the Poetry Café in London.

The LEANO - Folk/Hip-Hop Band Based in London. After appearing at Chill Pill's Scream Bar shows last summer and completely blowing EVERYONE away we HAD to welcome them back to our space.

ADAM Kammerling - Brighton Spoken Word Slam Champ.

Equally at home in the furnace of a Rap Battle as he is on a poetry stage, Adam’s verbal arsenal and range is very impressive. Whether exploring serious ethical issues or illustrating the frustrations of working in a cake shop when you’re hungry, Adam writes with a lyrical rhythm, rhyme and humour that complements his naturally relaxed delivery and amply showcases his poet's eye for the important absurdities and minutiae of urban life.

Jessie Disco Biscuit - 18 year old Cambridge based Slam Poet.

Jessie Disco Biscuit is a name you want to google as soon as you hear it. She's been rocking poetry nights in Cambridge and word got out to us that she's "the next Kate Tempest". Making her official London debut at Chill Pill - We bring her to you LIVE!


Pics from the last So-Chilled Show featured Tim Clare, Harry Baker, Greeds, Keith Jarret & The Chill Pill poets -

Sunday 15 May 2011

A Fasinating Experience At Church

This morning I gave a Poetry Reading at the Stratford Unitarian Church.

About 20 people were present, aging between 40 and 80 as well as a few children. It started with a service delivered by a man called Julian.

His presence was gentle, you could feel the kindness in his heart just from the way he stood, smiled and welcomed you as a stranger without looking like he’s trying to work you out. Genuine friendliness is always refreshing when you live in a city.

I noted the pauses Julian gives between his sentences when he talks. It shows real consideration and weight to the presence of the voice in his words. I admire this greatly.

The service was held in a small hall with five rows of blue fold up chairs. The windows were dyed with bright colours. Light blues, orange and purple so when the sun shun through them it intensified the warmth and you felt like you were bathing.

My body seemed to adapt to another type of gravity. I thought of my stomach as a lottery machine and my guts as white feathers and ping pong balls in a spin cycle.

After a few hymns I was invited to stand behind the podium and read some poems. I started with a new one about loneliness called ‘Hey! Look! The Sun Is In The Sky And It’s On Its Own’.

I felt slightly awkward at first, unsure if my being there was understood or appreciated but I locked eyes with one particular woman who was sat in the middle row. She had wrinkles around her eyes and mouth. Her hair was the colour of dried out straw. I’d say she was about 40. The purple and blue lights made a disco of what was otherwise an intensely sad face. She looked like she’d been crying recently... but I wasn’t sure. I kept reading the poem and the energy between me and this woman was electric.

Not to come off like I was being some kind of prophet but I felt like I was saying something she needed to hear. Somehow, I felt this connected me to the entire spirit of the room.

I was followed by a man called Steven who sang in the Eurovision contest in 1983.

You might imagine some kind of croaky voiced washed up Elvis impersonator with a toupee, but actually he sang a beautiful song about his friend who has become a Dad. It was touching.

After the service I was thanked and got into a conversation with a man who has recently lost his wife to cancer. He was tall, with brown and greyish hair. His eyes were so blue they looked hopeful no matter how his face moved.

I asked him if grief is like heartbreak. He said “they are exactly the same but the belief you won’t get over it is stronger”. He said, almost embarrassedly that he’d read a self-help book called “The Power Of Now” and explained how the history of love for his wife cannot settle inside him. I contributed ideas from philosophy books I’ve read about how time is psychological but it felt too easy to recite ideas that have derived from pain that is not my own.

He told me about the last conversation he had with his wife. She was on her deathbed; she’d hugged him and made a joke about how a man so full of life will find love again in 6 months... the only time he broke eye contact with me is when he said “it’s been a year and a half”

I listened, surprised how this conversation didn’t make me feel awkward... I was looking into his eyes and felt like giving him a hug.

After he left I had a rather profound conversation with Julian in the empty hall.

Some of it I actually want to keep for myself but I will touch on what he said when I told him of my (non-religious) beliefs.

“I don’t know if there is an afterlife... I don’t think Jesus is the sole answer for everything... However, if life is a journey he makes a great travel companion”

Hearing this from a minster you can tell is so well connected to himself and his world felt incredible... like he reached into my heart and shook it while saying “hey Ray... look like this... beautiful isn’t it?”

Thursday 5 May 2011

Did Rock & Roll Kill Poetry? Part 1 w/ poet Christian Watson

Not many people know that singer Pete Doherty and comedians Mark Lemar and Phil Jupitus started their careers as poets.

Going around reading poems, bantering in venues across the country and then crafting their banter into stand up, or poems into indie songs at the request of their commercially minded managers.

Why is poetry something to avoid if you wish to reach bigger audiences?

Some people (mostly poets themselves) blame Rock & Roll.

I asked punk poet Christian Watson for his take on the debate.

Christian, Did Rock & Roll kill poetry?

To say that Rock & Roll killed poetry is simplistic and, ultimately, untrue, mainly due to the fact that poetry is all around us, even if the vast majority of people choose to ignore it. I would say that the proliferation of Rock & Roll during the late fifties and the whole of the sixties denied poetry a place in the Western mainstream culture, sidelining an art form which has within it vast reserves of power.

To me, there is nothing purer than the human voice, and Rock & Roll diluted that purity by joining it with African beats and European melodies, creating a sound which no longer needed to be listened to, merely felt, and at that point the words became merely another instrument and lost the power they have when they stand alone.
I have always thought that if you need to add music to your words so that someone will listen to them then you are wasting my time.
For as long as I can recall the words in music have always had the most power over me, Hip Hop, Punk, Soul, Blues, Indie, whatever- whether it be Mr Lif breaking down the post 9/11 American mind state in 'Home of the Brave' or Ian Curtis summing up working class ennui better than Saturday Night and Sunday Morning ever did with the lines "When routine bites hard/ And ambitions are low"- the music always came second. I don't care about genre, I just want words that mean something, not just to me, but to the voice singing/rapping/screaming them, and Rock & Roll, along with its degenerate offspring, has made it so that meaningless lyrics are not just easy to get away with, but in fact have become the norm in mainstream pop music.

In the mid fifties the poetry readings were starting to occur in places that they had never touched before, such as coffee shops, bars, jazz clubs and anywhere where the young and the hip were hanging, New York to Long Beach to London. Poetry was becoming a place for the young and discontent to express themselves.

Poetry became so popular that in 1960 J. Edgar Hoover was quoted as saying that the three greatest threats to American life are "Communists, eggheads and beatniks"- yes, beatniks, a media term for the young people who were smoking dope, reading poetry, squatting in cheap apartments and engaging in lifestyles that were totally removed from the type of society America was looking to create post World War II. This generation were looking for meaning and trying to express thoughts and feelings that were, to a point, illegal to express- the examples of Ginsberg and Burroughs obscenity trials can be taken as evidence of this, not to mention the trials of Lenny Bruce(a comedian who was first arrested in 1961 for apparent obscenity- the forefather of people such as George Carlin, Bill Hicks and Doug Stanhope)- and I believe that Rock & Roll diluted this self expression as it gave the discontents a way to express their feelings with sounds rather than words, using guitars and drums to make noises that their parents disapproved of, whilst at the same time singing lyrics that meant little or nothing.

Of course, there are always a few who go against the norm, who can fuse brilliant words with emotive sounds, but on the whole most bands and musicians are happy making something that sounds nice, yet is mentally unchallenging and lacking in verbal finesse. The sounds they create alienate their parents and elders, therefore those creating the sounds can feel they are rebelling, when all they are doing is commodifying their rebellion, turning it into a product that may sound like it is challenging the status quo when it is actually strengthening it, making it easier for their peers to buy into the culture of conformity through established and controlled modes of rebellion.

Popular music, whether it be Punk, Metal, Hip Hop or Chip Dub, has become the main source of expression for the discontent youth, yet, for the most part, the bands playing this music are not saying shit worth listening to.

There have also been many bands and musicians that give lip service to poetry, such as Jim Morrison or Pete Doherty, but they have rarely denounced the musical side and tried to get out there on the power of their spoken word alone.

The only place in the mainstream for pure spoken word seems to be comedy, and there it is only artists that don't challenge the mainstream views and merely reflect an audiences expectations back at them that get big, people such as Lee Evans or that bloke who talks about garlic bread, people who tell well structured jokes about relationships and airplane food. The comedians who challenge this status quo rarely become household names, and people who stand on stage and read poetry have not ever, in the last twenty to thirty years, become household names.

People like Luke Wright, Kate Tempest, Byron Vincent, Buddy Wakefield and even John Cooper Clarke are names that, in modern spoken word circles, are exalted as being at the top of the game, performing regularly to largish crowds, yet none of them are household names, names that the general public know anything about. Kate Tempest and Buddy wakefield get larger audiences when they marry their words with music, but that, to me, is placating an audience, giving them what they expect in order to get your words in their ears. Poets should not need music to gain an audience, but they do, and I blame Rock & Roll.

Rock & Roll didn't kill poetry, but it diverted attention away from a powerful, pure form of expression, a form of expression that allows for a personal and real bond between actor and audience, between writer and reader, between speaker and listener. With poetry you can't zone out the words and listen to the sounds, you can't ignore the lyrics and just tap to the beat, you can't just look at pretty dance moves and scream at a wall of sound. With poetry you have to actively involve your brain, to create a bridge between two active minds, and this takes effort.

I can only speculate, but without Rock & Roll, without the overpowering music and amplification we have now, without the vapid preoccupation with looks and style, without the slick videos and obscene budgets, without the theatre of cruelty parading fetishes youth and PR managed monstrosities across our daily media manipulated retinas, without Elvis and his wiggle, without Bob Dylan going Judas, without Punk becoming Blink 182 and weird legs in leotards becoming the next big thing. Without all this, poetry may have had a place in the mainstream. If Rock & Roll hadn't become so damn good at saying nothing and saying it with style, so good at creating and reflecting the needs and desires of youth, then maybe poetry might have become a force to be reckoned with- it was going that way, but somehow being heard won over saying something worth listening to.

Poetry isn't dead, it's just being ignored. I say fuck that, one man/woman with a pocketbook full of something worth saying is worth listening to a million times more than the Ga-Ga's and Bono's of this world. Rock & Roll didn't kill poetry, but I reckon poetry can destroy Rock & Roll.

Christian Watson is a poet based in Hastings. He publishes a poetry magazine called No.1 Fake which comes out bi-monthly. He also runs a poetry event called Slam Sandwhich. Here's a very good poetry video he made recently -

Wednesday 4 May 2011

Poet tells poets how to humble themselves in 5 easy steps.

Step 1. Do a poem at a open mic comedy night.

Step 2. Do NOT get angry when they don't care about your poem.

Step 3. Accept that good poets that are funny are not as good as good comedians that are funny.

Step 4. Remember - Poetry IS entertainment whatever way you look at it.

Step 5. Nothing will toughen you up more than a bombing at a gig.

Step 5.1 Poetry audiences usually clap.. even when your shit... they are great with tolerance but hard to trust ;-)