December 07, 2013

You have it, madam. Boudicca EDP cover story


On sale Saturday Dec 7, 2013, all over Icenia

The EDP doesn't put its features online, a policy I support as it keeps the print edition special. But I'm allowed to reprint the text of the article here. For the lovely images photographed above, there's always EDP weekend archives you'll have to dig through the recycled newspaper bin.

I’ve done a lot of Boudicca storytelling around Norfolk and beyond since I wrote my verse tragedy ‘Boudicca; Britain’s Dreaming’ in 1996. (The nod to punk dissidence continues in the 2013 version, called The Clash Between Boudicca and Rome.) There is a lot of interest in Norfolk’s ancient queen out there, and it’s growing, though basic knowledge, even on her home-ground, is patchy.
That’s not surprising. She is not a required part of the school history curriculum, not even in Norfolk. Eminent archaeologists will tell you ‘we know so little about her.’ Historians that ‘history is written by the victor and Boudicca neither wrote nor won.’
Historiographers - and critics of her magnificent but ahistorical statues in London and Cardiff - say she has become ‘a figure of myth’ and romance, her real story and personality ‘lost in the method of her portrayal, associated with folklore and legends.’
All true. But even legends have to start somewhere. And unlike that Celtic-Norman/pagan-Christian myth ‘King’ Arthur or even his downmarket rival as national hero – the relatively historicised thirteenth century-ish anti-Norman post-Saxon outlaw Robin Hood – there is a real time, place and date for Boudicca. Iron Age Icenia (modern Norfolk, Suffolk and parts of Cambridgeshire) AD 60-61.
And a narrative. The Roman incorporation of the wealthy client kingdom of Icenia into the Roman province of Britain in AD 60; the queen’s flogging; the rape of her daughters; the enslaving of her nobles; the theft of her cattle; the putting of matriarchal women in their place.
Boudicca’s subsequent rebellion united the tribes of Eastern Britain seething under this sort of thing and came close to driving the Romans out. It shook the Empire.
Yes, the narrative is based mostly in secondary sources – the Roman accounts of the sympathetic Tacitus and the lurid Dio, imbibed ever since as part of our 2000 year Roman heritage.
But this has been increasingly seasoned with the story written in the earth itself. The evidence of slaughtered Britons with ballista bolts in their backs; of punitive salt sowed into rich Iceni lands, the marks left by distinctly unsavoury Procurator Decianus Catus acting for Emperor Nero - and of Suetonius Paulinus, a Provincial General recalled and reprimanded ‘for excessive bloodlust’ (quite a feat on the front line of Empire.)
And for the Iceni the brutality continued. As Encyclopaedia Britannica puts it ‘the retarded development and modest character of Romano-British remains in Norfolk suggest the severity with the Iceni were crushed.’
Telling this story in drama and poetry against the grain of our still very Roman civilisation can be like banging your head against Hadrian’s Wall.
All through the Middle Ages, Latin cautionary tales warning against ‘hysterical’ women as heads of State persisted in monks’ Latin tales and patriarchal Christianity.
The fact that the name ‘Boadicea’ (and all the corruptions of this that followed – Voada, Voadicia, Bonduca, Bunduca, Bonduica, Boadicia) entered the monastery annals in the twelfth century and that this monk’s spelling mistake was still being taught in the 1960s suggests a lack for reverence for a figure who united the British in arms for the first time and who, but for the enduring propaganda of the victors, might have been called the mother of a nation.
What’s in a name? ‘Boadicea’ has a romantic sound perfect for the Thornyecroft statue in Whitehall, if not in proper history, and my audiences often cling to it. But it’s wrong.
Perhaps it’s easier to get it right in Wales. The ancient British word ‘Buddug’ preserved in modern Welsh, the name engraved on her statue in Cardiff town hall, means ‘Victory.’ It’s intriguing that our Norfolk ‘Victoria’s fame grew and her statue appeared in London during the reign of that other Queen Victoria, and became a symbol of ‘British courage in adversity’ and of the ‘mother of a nation.’ Until then Boudicca had been a footnote in Roman history or at best a walk-on part in her own drama.
But why does Boudicca the ancient queen of Norfolk have a statue in Whitehall, at the heart of government, in a London she razed to the ground and another in a Wales she probably never visited - but nothing in Norwich?
That’s a rhetorical question. But it gets answered. 1. History is written by the victor. Unlike Nelson and Churchill, she lost.
But what is history but the telling of stories that embody what we believe?
2. She is a Celt, venerated in a museum of Welsh heroes in Cardiff.
But so was King Arthur. And this Celt was as Norfolk as the centuries of Iceni buried in our soil.
3. She is a woman. And unlike the ancient Celts, we are unused to women commanders in war and more forgiving of righteous violence committed by male heroes.
But any mother will understand her outrage.
Norwich museum has a Roman exhibition coming soon and is rightly proud to be getting it. Rome remains one of the pillars of Western civilisation, the guardian of Greek classicism and (after a grim start persecuting it) of Christianity and certainly of law and order. Its feats of engineering and building were advanced beyond the native British imagination, arguably until the Industrial revolution. Its literature and art remain beacons. It has lasted beyond its own millennium.
But the squaddies and robber-bankers of its wild west frontier in AD 60 in Icenia were a disgrace, both to the later Rome and to humanity at any time. To spare the feelings of our listeners, the fact that Boudicca’s violated daughters were children is glossed over, though this of course then skews our understanding of the reprisals, and slants the story implacably in favour of the Romans.
These were Romans worthy of Nero. Beasts disguised by Roman culture, not representative of it. And a British queen challenged them.
She was ultimately outwitted by a futuristic military machine beyond her and her people, yes, but she achieved glorious successes against them on behalf of a very British spirit of defiance against the odds. Her war-painted amateur warriors – fighting for their lives and way of life, death-day naked except for woad and hair dyed with rowan berries – the men’s hair bleached with lime - defeated a fearsomely armed, professional Roman legion outside Lincoln, out-horsing the Roman cavalry with native horsemanship. And while the bladed wheels are a myth, the light holly-wood chariots are as exciting now as they were to my ten year old self.
Norfolk is certainly Nelson’s county and I love seeing that on the county signs as I come home. But let me try this on you: Icenia– Boudicca’s region. Let’s have that on the region’s signs. A reminder of that irrepressible moment when Norfolk, Suffolk and parts of Cambridgeshire ‘did different’ for all the right reasons.
And let’s have a statue to her in Norwich rooted in her real history and her own soil, a statue that ‘does different.’ With ‘Boudicca’ engraved on its plinth.
If my audiences are anything to go by – especially women and those of a ‘folk’ persuasion (and the Bank Holiday drinker at Flitcham last May demanding a march on County Hall for a Boudicca statue now) it’s time. Meanwhile I’ll keep staging my tale with the help of my woad-faced, spikily red-haired, corn/pony-tailed Boudicca created for me by a Norfolk art teacher nearly 20 years ago.

Gareth broadcasts a story time every Sunday at 7.15 pm on www.folkspot.co.uk Details on www.garethcalway.co.uk
Further reading? Check out 'Boudica: Her Life, Times and Legacy' by Dr John Davies and Bruce Robinson (Poppyland £9.95) and - more generally -'The Land of Boudica' Dr John Davies Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service.


December 05, 2013

Dereham Times Review of From Creation To Cromer




From Creation To Cromer by Gareth Calway.

Elsing Village Hall, Saturday 26th October.

Mention poetry to most people and the reaction usually garners a whole range of misconceptions and prejudices towards the form. Why does the general public have such a problem with the “P” word? It is, after all, only an imaginative arrangement of words making use of the amazing diversity of the English language, often with some sort of rhyming scheme and definitely embracing a strong sense of rhythmic flow; in fact all the elements found within a pop song, but without the music! So why is poetry seen as being difficult to comprehend or dull and irrelevant to today?
It was therefore possibly a daring idea to promote Gareth Calway’s new show at Elsing Village Hall, From Creation To Cromer, as a “stand up poetry performance” but this was certainly no dry monotone recitation of dusty old verse. The idea behind the show was to start at the beginning; the beginning of everything in fact and to take a journey through time from the first days of creation up to living in Norfolk today.
The show started with a sequence of poems and spoken word pieces centred on the first six days of creation. The poem “Comet” likened the birth of the universe to a sort of cosmic “fart” and saw Calway speaking whilst circumnavigating the hall on a trajectory representing the flight path of his subject. “Animal” was performed on all fours as Calway took on the personas of the creatures he mentioned, even at one stage howling wolf-like at the moon. By the end of the first half the audience were certainly in no doubt what “performance poetry” entailed and responded with appreciative and enthusiastic applause.
After the interval the advance through time continued encompassing a diverse range of themes, mostly with a Norfolk slant. Boudica’s uprising against the might of Rome was portrayed as a punk rock band on tour. The more personal pieces of poetry were introduced with wry and sometimes moving anecdotes and included such diverse subjects as studying at UEA in the 1970s, observations upon the game of football (Calway was club poet for Bristol City FC) and the profession of teaching. Drawing the evening to a close, Calway's love of Norfolk was evident through poems about Sedgeford, Kings Lynn, Walsingham and Great Yarmouth. The poetical journey finally arrived at Cromer upon a stormy night when Fairport Convention played at the end of the pier. Calway’s painstaking observation manages to capture the feel of the county in his poems, from its rural depths to the bright lights of the seafront, evoking that strong sense of place which connects the human spirit to the landscape. Poetry; dull, boring and irrelevant? Not when it’s impassioned, witty, nostalgic and poignant writing performed with a total belief in every word.

Dereham Times

November 29, 2013

Happy anniversary, dear



















REAL WIFE


We're not the teen-dream lovers of the songs
And films n’ soaps n’ mills n' boons n’ ads,
The 'hunters' living with their mums and dads,
The twenty-something dramas, dinging-dongs,
The sizzling catalogues of straps and thongs,
The Darcys, Juliets and golden lads
In modern strip from tales in which the cads
Are fifty-odd like us and cause all wrongs.

Our story didn't end like these above
In frozen celebrations, wedding-deaths;
We've raised a daughter into Now and Next,
We're grownups grown together, more or less,
Our romance is a realistic text:
A dangerous, married, grail-quest of true love.






34 years with the right bloody woman. (The context for this is my poor old Uncle Riley who, when congratulated on his ruby wedding said, 'Aye, 60 years with the wrong bloody woman!') Note the artistic placing of daughter's hand in the right of the frame.

November 28, 2013

Tom and Harry (the show)

 

READ THE SCRIPT HERE

Read my EDP Weekend feature on Anne Boleyn and Blickling Hall here 





ROOM AT THE GIN PRODUCTIONS presents

TOM AND HARRY
by Gareth Calway

with a second half of historical poems and monologues.

In May 1536, a Norfolk-bred Queen of England was beheaded for treason... She lost her heart to one man and her head to another.

starring Steve Knowles - East Enders, The Bill, Casualty, London’s Burning, Prime Suspect - as King Henry VIII

Gareth Calway - ‘a triumph of narration and vocal colour’ Radio reviews; ‘wholesome, strong and to my tastes," (Ted Hughes) - as Sir Thomas Wyatt.

Poster sponsored by Witley Press, Hunstanton.



Radio Norfolk interview about the play and tour here,
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p017dtns/Stephen_Bumfrey_Tom_and_Harry_A_play_about_Anne_Boleyn/

Three hours and 7 minutes in

Match reports:
MAY 3. Première at the Gin Trap Inn, Ringstead, 8 pm Ticket info 01485 571828 £7.50 includes glass of wine

The tour kicks off in 'the Room' at the Gin and what with Jane and Brian of Folkspot recording it, a decent sized audience and a fair amount of props, amps and cameras whirring, it was a bit cosy. An audient (I won't embarrass Dave Cooper by naming him) joined the show as I has half way into my second speech, establishing a tradition and causing a slight irregularity in the sonnet's iambic pentametre Steve terrified me with the 'evening with King Henry' Tudor gangster performance of the speeches - and I wrote them - so God knows how the front row felt.

May 24 The Village Hall, Elsing (near Dereham)£7.50 Bar.

This was the gig of the tour: a storming Tom and Harry with 51 people watching followed by a 7 Losers honed and wired to perfection, selection, sequencing and intros included. I took the shine off the new ball and knocked forty plus and then Steve swung the mighty willow through the dewy air and smacked an awesome century off a dozen overs.

REVIEW: LOTS OF HISTORY AS CAST SERVES UP A REAL TREAT AT VILLAGE HALL

http://www.derehamtimes.co.uk/news/review_lots_of_history_as_cast_serves_up_a_real_treat_in_the_village_hall_1_2228196

The village hall at Elsing was full for the performance of 'Tom and Harry' (a clever play on the expression 'every Tom, Dick and Harry') common enough names even today but this Tom and Harry were none other than Sir Thomas Wyatt and King Henry VIII. The play focused on the tempestuous time in Henry's reign when he was trying to trump up charges to rid himself of his second wife, Anne Boleyn, and accused Wyatt, amongst others, of being her lover. The evidence for this accusation is thin, based mostly on Wyatt's love poems (which weren't published in his lifetime) but the fact that Wyatt survived and Anne's other supposed lovers were executed suggests that he either wasn't as easy to frame as the others or could prove his innocence.

Playwright Gareth Calway was a very genial 'Tom', narrating Wyatt's version of events in period costume without creating the dramatic fiction that he actually was Wyatt. This friendly collusion with the audience created an intimacy which encouraged the audience to join in and Calway handled these interpolations with aplomb. He also read extracts of Wyatt's poems, which could be interpreted as having been written for or about Anne and read them extremely well – it's hard to read poetry out loud but Calway could have given a master-class in it.

Hear these poems and Anne's dialogue with them here

Henry himself (a charismatic Steve Knowles) came on stage half way through to give his own interpretation of the same events and was a powerful and mesmeric presence, despite wearing what looked like a lady's slip! He very convincingly portrayed a king at once menacing and vulnerable, credulous and fatalistic. Henry's decidedly dodgy self-justification never became whiny thanks to Knowles’ dominant stage presence and excellent almost challenging eye-contact with the audience – he maintained the fiction of actually being Henry and no-one in the audience dared join in this time!

It was a shame that Anne was only present as audio although this disembodied voice did help with the impression that she was a ghost and did give her the opportunity to add a third dimension to this tragic story.

The second half was presented by Calway as himself in modern dress (the ubiquitous jeans and teeshirt) and was a mixture of engaging romps through notable 'failures' of history and his own very evocative poetry, which, again, he performed extremely well. The contenders for biggest 'failure' in history ranged from poor King Ethelred the Unready to English football and the audience was invited to vote on which was the biggest 'failure'.

Altogether a diverse and most interesting evening's entertainment with excellent actors and light musical accompaniment – if you get a chance to see this production, I would highly recommend it.


Dereham Times 6/6/13

Review by Gretel Hallett following the performance on Friday 24th May 2013.

July 24: The Boneyard Field, SHARP, Sedgeford 8 pm Ticket (£12) and info 01485 571828 and SHARP 07804885010. Includes a Tudor banquet:

Savoury
Hunks of Bread (v)
Roasted Chicken and pork
Salat (Herb Salad) (v)
Ember Day Tart (v)
Mince Pies
Pease Pottage (v)
Spinach Tart (v)
Stuffed Eggs (v)
Selection of Cheeses

Sweet
Lechemeat (Date and Ginger Sweetmeat) (v)
Marigold Tart (v)
Knotted Biscuits (v)
Twelfth Night Ginger Bread (v)
Pety Pernautes (v)

Drinks
Red and White Wine
Ale
Mulled Cider
Apple Juice

Link to Lynn News story here: http://www.lynnnews.co.uk/what-s-on/lifestyle-and-leisure/tom-and-harry-give-a-taste-of-tudor-times-in-sedgeford-1-5344884

I did my opener's bit and Steve once again smacked his century off very different bowling in a very different stadium. My second innings in 7 Great Losers - again a little delayed - included a tribute to our British Wimbledon champion Andy Murray and was palpably enjoyed by all. One of the great summer evenings.

Review and pictures here: http://blog.sharp.org.uk/



The second half for these first three shows was:

ETHELRED THE UNREADY FOR ANYTHING

Seven Great Losers of British History written and performed by Gareth Calway





AND THE FOURTH SHOW OF THE YEAR...

Tom and Harry at Marriott's Warehouse, South Quay, King's Lynn, Nov 28 

with a new amplification of Anne's voice, on a slightly ghostly setting.

And a new Part 2 - It All Comes Out In The Wash, dramatic poems with a Norfolk connection written and performed by Gareth Calway

Job done in terms of establishing us in this new venue. The vote of thanks from Mariott's Warehouse Chair Dr Paul Richards approvingly quoted the line about modern England being born then even though a surviving male heir for Henry Tudor wasn't. I for one was sorry this show ended after four gigs but they were four great nights and it was a privilege to be in a two hander with Mr Knowles.




October 14, 2013

Stand Up Poet at Elsing Oct 26


Review by Tim Chipping published in The Dereham Times

From Creation To Cromer by Gareth Calway.

Elsing Village Hall, Saturday 26th October.

Mention poetry to most people and the reaction usually garners a whole range of misconceptions and prejudices towards the form. Why does the general public have such a problem with the “P” word? It is, after all, only an imaginative arrangement of words making use of the amazing diversity of the English language, often with some sort of rhyming scheme and definitely embracing a strong sense of rhythmic flow; in fact all the elements found within a pop song, but without the music! So why is poetry seen as being difficult to comprehend or dull and irrelevant to today?
It was therefore possibly a daring idea to promote Gareth Calway’s new show at Elsing Village Hall, From Creation To Cromer, as a “stand up poetry performance” but this was certainly no dry monotone recitation of dusty old verse. The idea behind the show was to start at the beginning; the beginning of everything in fact and to take a journey through time from the first days of creation up to living in Norfolk today.
The show started with a sequence of poems and spoken word pieces centred on the first six days of creation. The poem “Comet” likened the birth of the universe to a sort of cosmic “fart” and saw Calway speaking whilst circumnavigating the hall on a trajectory representing the flight path of his subject. “Animal” was performed on all fours as Calway took on the personas of the creatures he mentioned, even at one stage howling wolf-like at the moon. By the end of the first half the audience were certainly in no doubt what “performance poetry” entailed and responded with appreciative and enthusiastic applause.
After the interval the advance through time continued encompassing a diverse range of themes, mostly with a Norfolk slant. Boudica’s uprising against the might of Rome was portrayed as a punk rock band on tour. The more personal pieces of poetry were introduced with wry and sometimes moving anecdotes and included such diverse subjects as studying at UEA in the 1970s, observations upon the game of football (Calway was club poet for Bristol City FC) and the profession of teaching. Drawing the evening to a close, Calway's love of Norfolk was evident through poems about Sedgeford, Kings Lynn, Walsingham and Great Yarmouth. The poetical journey finally arrived at Cromer upon a stormy night when Fairport Convention played at the end of the pier. Calway’s painstaking observation manages to capture the feel of the county in his poems, from its rural depths to the bright lights of the seafront, evoking that strong sense of place which connects the human spirit to the landscape. Poetry; dull, boring and irrelevant? Not when it’s impassioned, witty, nostalgic and poignant writing performed with a total belief in every word.


Dereham Times



The pics shows the poet shortly after the Himalayan-recorded tantric horn making the OM at the start of 'Creation' - 'Creation' is a one-man theatre sequence exploring the first six days of Creation in which (among other things) I orbit like a comet, wriggle like a worm and howl like a wolf on my way to the playing fields of Eden for a sequence of football and teaching poems, all nearer hell and purgatory than heaven but with glimpses of it;
one of Tim's Biblical signs
and finally the poet in media res The Clash Between Boudicca and Rome, an exhortation that Norwich gets a statue of Norfolk's ancient queen not just another 2000 years celebrating the Roman version. Leading into an odyssey of stand up poems from Celtic Norfolk through West Norfolk to Yarmouth, the North Sea - that seaside meeting of sandcastle holiday impermanence and the eternal fathomless ocean - and finally Cromer. One man theatre/stand up poet/one man theatre/ stand up poet. It seems to work.

Particularly prized was the audience participation OM with which the show ended, and over which I pitched the final couplet of the evening. It put the Om into Home.


AS FEATURED ON FOUR COUNTIES RADIO SUE MARCHANT BIG NIGHT IN SUNDAY OCT 20 33minutes in... (Steve Hackett was my warm up man and the show is rooted in Genesis...what can it all mean?)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p001d7sb


October 26 is the day once believed to be the first of Creation (Oct 26 4004, to be precise, and they had calendars which worked it all out.) So, like Creation, I'm going to start from there and see where it goes.

I’ll be ranging through my seven published books of poetry – by heart and off the page – including the ballads and stories that have proved popular around the folk clubs. A chance to hear how the lyrical moments fit together into some kind of overall vision. And a no-repeat guarantee: Elsing has heard none of these – and nothing like these – before!

PRESS RELEASE

FROM CREATION TO CROMER

One man theatre/ poetry performance at Elsing Village Hall Saturday October 26


PRESS RELEASE
FROM CREATION TO CROMER

One man theatre/ poetry performance at Elsing Village Hall Saturday October 26

There are no lonely, wandering daffodils or dust-dry crossword puzzles here, only insightful, impassioned, witty and poignant writing which draws on our collective experiences of living in the modern age. Of Gareth Calway, Ted Hughes (Poet Laureate until his death in 1998) said, "wholesome, strong and to my tastes, simple in the best way, the real way"; The Guardian thought his ‘Tales Out Of School’ ‘very funny...a metaphor for a country in decline’; our very own EDP (reviewing his Norfolk and Norwich festival show House on the River) proclaimed Gareth “an eloquent poet,” The Scotsman described his performance of King Arthur’s legend at the Edinburgh Fringe as “slam poetry with a patriotic twist..... packed full of boyhood glee’ while Three Weeks (the Fringe festival review) called his punk-rock take on Norfolk’s warrior queen Boudicca ‘impassioned ruthless and funny’.
Of From Creation to Cromer Gareth says, ‘This is my first one man theatre/poetry show since I took Arthur and Boudicca to the Edinburgh fringe in 2011 and I’m really excited about premiering it at Elsing Village Hall, where Tom and Harry (Gareth’s play about Anne Boleyn and then men in her life) played to a full and appreciative house last May.
http://www.derehamtimes.co.uk/news/review_lots_of_history_as_cast_serves_up_a_real_treat_in_the_village_hall_1_2228196)
After a series of successful and enjoyable collaborations with actors and musicians across Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, and many well-received individual poems performed at Norfolk folk clubs like The Wolf, Gin Trap Folk, Meet In The Hedge and Folkspot Radio, I want to bring all the music and theatre of words back home to the single poet on stage, acting out his stories - and fitting the heightened moments each individual poem gives into an overall vision.’
‘October 26 4004 was once believed to be the first day of Creation. You could say ‘From Creation to Cromer’ sets the passing fairs of time represented by the sea front against the metaphorical eternity of the North Sea. But not always as seriously as that sounds!
Tickets are on sale now priced £6 advance from The Old Chapel, Elsing, Tel. 01362 637331 or from Sounds Music, Dereham. Entry will be £7.50 on the door. The Mermaid Inn will provide a bar which will be open from 7.45pm when the doors open. Performance commences at 8.30pm.

October 08, 2013

Bound For Jamaica On Folkpost Radio Oct 13 2013


I will be reading Bound For Jamaica – my children’s story about the Atlantic Slave Trade (published by Collins Education) – as a live broadcast on Folkspot Radio from Great Massingham Social Club this Sunday October 13 at 7.15 pm. (15 minutes). I hope this reading may be of interest.

This is the launch of a regular storytime/spoken word slot from me on Folkspot radio which will be broadcast weekly from 7.15 to 7.30 pm. The subject of this week’s story has been chosen to coincide with Norfolk Black History month.

www.google.co.uk/#q=norfolk+black+history+month+2013

(The next few weeks of broadcast thereafter will serialise a murder mystery set at UEA in the Hendrix late 60s called ‘Who Killed Lucy?’)

Details of book - http://www.collinseducation.com/titles/78912/bound-for-jamaica-gareth-calway-alan-gibbons-9780007489077

Folkspot radio link - http://www.folkspot.co.uk/folkspot%20radio.html (radio player is live Sunday evenings 6.45-10.00 pm)

September 25, 2013

Historic gem set for bright future (my EDP feature published 24 September 2013)

This feature draws attention to a Tudor warehouse on the South Quay in King's Lynn currently spearheading a drive to develop the Great Ouse waterfront. See also my earlier post 'Marriott's Warehouse' (first published in the Lynn News) and also on this blog. Don't miss the lecture series!

Marriott’s Warehouse– A History Of King’s Lynn In One Building


King’s Lynn has an unrivalled series of historic warehouses reflecting its status as a leading English port with a rich maritime heritage. Yet while historic York has no less than three heritage officers, guess how many Lynn, the Hanseatic capital of England has? Yes that’s right. None

The historical value of Lynn was not lost on the makers of the film Revolution, in which it represented New York circa 1776. But it often seems to have been lost on town planners.

Until now.

Lynn’s waterfront of Hanseatic buildings along the canalised Great Ouse, - waterfronts which in cities like Norwich or Bristol would have been celebrated as a vibrant cultural and heritage centres decades ago - is having a renaissance. And Marriott’s Warehouse on the old South Quay is leading it.

It is not the first renaissance to come to the port. It was during the Renaissance (in about 1450) that the land on which Marriott’s Warehouse stands was first reclaimed from the Great Ouse– it was just a landing stage then.

Though named after John and Thomas Marriott, Victorian business men with various properties on the South Quay, including a lease on part of the Hanse House, Marriott’s Warehouse was built during an upturn in the Tudor economy in the 1570s and ’80s, facing St Margaret’s Church.

It was this upturn that prompted Lynn developer Thomas Clayborne, a dealer in salt, corn and wine and the premier Lynn businessman of the time, that he needed a new warehouse for his merchandise.

The whole town was known then as ‘The Warehouse on the Wash.’ Wool, corn, salt, coal, wine, timber, fish filled the ships and Fenland lighters that sailed in and out of the great port of the Ouse, with access to the counties via the Great Ouse river system. Lynn’s merchants rebuilt their warehouses and mansions along the riverside streets and lanes in brick between 1580 and 1620 from the wealth generated by this trade.

But the foundations of this wealth were laid a Tudor generation earlier by the man who put the ‘King’ into King’s Lynn. Henry VIII

He wrested ‘Bishop’s Lynn’ from the control of the Bishop of Norwich in 1537; granted King’s Lynn permission to hold two weekly markets on Tuesdays and Saturdays, the two Tudor market places around which still define the look of this town; established the February Mart, which ran for nearly 500 years and founded King’s Lynn Grammar School, now KES, in 1510. His portrait still dominates its Great Hall.

And his royal hand is certainly visible in the frontage of Marriott’s Warehouse. The upper half is that famous Tudor brick; the lower is carboniferous limestone blocks, prime (and very expensive) building material in a Norfolk always short on natural building stone.

Only the Church could afford to buy and cart it in. Which they did to build the thriving mediaeval friaries of Whitefriars, Greyfriars and Lynn Priory, (where the Lynn visionary Margery Kempe dictated her famous Book). Until Henry knocked them down.

Henry’s Dissolution of the Monasteries brought demolished Church stone onto the market as part of the Tudor building boom. You can still see how some of the stones used in Marriott’s frontage in about 1570 have been shaped by their previous building use. They can also be found in other Lynn warehouses by the waterside like Clifton House.

The timbers in the ground floor/ceiling were felled in 1498/9 so were probably taken from dismantled friary buildings too. Other beams felled in 1569/70 and 1583/4 show that the building was almost certainly raised or built up in the 1580s when trade was booming.

Stand on the ground floor of Marriott’s today and you looking at an oak joist that was a sapling during the Black Death – the death rate in Norfolk was 50%, one of the worst hit areas. But don’t get your feet wet- you would be standing in the river itself back then! The shoreline was much nearer St Margaret’s Church than now.

The oak for that sapling was felled around the time Henry father, Henry VII, was arranging for Richard III to be buried under what is now a Leicester city car park.

Another ground floor joist - clearly re-used - may be a survivor from a building destroyed in the Great Fire of Lynn in 1414, in which Lynnites believed the prayers of Margery Kempe saved St Margaret’s from destruction

Before the quay was raised in modern times against the continuing risk of floods, the water actually lapped against the warehouse at high tide. In the floods of 1613, flood water stretched all the way from King’s Lynn to Terrington St Clement and 1000 people were drowned along with their livestock.

Even today, sandbags are piled inside the doorways of Lynn’s heritage shore as far as King St (called Stockfish St until renamed in 1809) and beyond. The impressive and unspoiled riverside buildings of this historic street follow the curve of what was once the strand of the mediaeval river - since removed by reclaimed and built-up land.


The Ouse remained Lynn’s lifeblood for centuries. Only the railways could rob Lynn of its position as a major English port, taking away much of its river and coastal traffic in the mid-19th century.

A hint of the good times returned after the burgeoning of trade between the UK and the EU in the 1970s as the balance tipped back from the Atlantic ports of Bristol and Liverpool. And the Russian voices that fill the night air of a modern Lynn evening are a reminder of the Hanseatic links that once defined the port.

In 1999/2000 Marriott’s Warehouse was restored as a visitor centre with a trust dedicated to environmental issues but the ending of Council grant made a rethink necessary - the emphasis is now on Lynn's exceptional historic built environment - particularly merchant houses and warehouses.

And now, as Trustees and Friends of Marriott’s Warehouse work together to bring these riches more into public view as part of a general development of the south quay, we enter a new and hopeful time for heritage in Lynn.



Warehouse Wisdom
A series of keynote autumn lectures will give an academic underpinning to the Trust’s popular history of Lynn.
Dr Simon Thurley tackles ‘Building in England’ on 3rd October and weekly Thursday night lectures by John Selby, Phil Haslam, Bryan Howling, Robin Stevenson, Professor Sandy Heslop and Susan Maddock will follow on Norfolk’s brick buildings; managing sustainable seas; the River Great Ouse in Lynn’s history; ‘rock and roll’ (about ballast); West Norfolk church-building and Streets and Records of Mediaeval Lynn.
A less formal companion series, Pleasant Sunday Afternoons (which began with Dr Richards’ fascinating talk on the German Hanse in Lynn 1271-1757 on Sunday 22) given by Bryan Howling, Dr Clive Bond, Robin Stevenson, Professor Fred Cooke, Fr Peter Rollings and Anne Whiting will explore salt production in Eastern England; the Origins of King’s Lynn; the building stones and geology of Marriott’s Warehouse; the Wash rivers from Roman times until present; Pilgrimage and the Port of Lynn; Mediaeval Castle Rising and Norman stone houses.
All talks will take place in the upper floor auditorium of the refurbished Marriott’s Warehouse. Trust Chairman Dr Paul Richards says “I am grateful to the distinguished speakers who have agreed to contribute to the re-launch of the educational activities of the Trust. The Trust’s charitable objectives are educational and it wants to increase understanding of its mission to the wider public. It is hoped the exciting new lecture programme will go some way to achieve this.”
For all Trust enquiries tel 07582 037301 .


© Gareth Calway 2013. Gareth’s stand up poetry show ‘From Creation to Cromer’ plays Elsing Village Hall on Oct 26; his ‘Beat Music It Was 50 Years Ago Today’ (Spoken word celebration of Beatlemania with guitar by John William) comes to Great Massingham Social Club and live Folkspot radio broadcast on Nov 10. His play Tom and Harry (about Norfolk-born Anne Boleyn) comes to Marriott’s Warehouse on Nov 28.

July 28, 2013

Sedgeford Historical Archeological Research Project 2013 (Lynn News)


Lynn News article link 




The sketch is a conjectural reconstruction by Dr John Jolley (pictured, digging in the Lynn News article) of the industrial-scale oven (unearthed remnant pictured) that served Saxon Sedgeford.




The Sedgeford Historical Archaeological Research Project (SHARP) has just packed up its tents and marquees at the end of its eighteenth season. It has come a long way from that chance meeting off the Amalfi coast in 1996 between founder-director Dr Neil Faulkner, then conducting a tour of Roman archaeological sites, and renowned anthropologist Sedgeford Estate owner Bernard Campbell, whose ploughs frequently unearthed bones. Dr Faulkner’s 18th Annual Open Day talk ‘Who were the Anglo-Saxons?’ dismissed the view, established by the Venerable Bede in the 8th century and still learned by many of us at school twelve centuries later - that waves of axe-bearing Angles, Saxons and Jutes ‘invaded’ post-Roman Britain and established a barbarian bridgehead from which eventually all southern Britain became Angle-land.
On the contrary, these early ‘Saxons’ were a relatively democratic band of comrades-in-arms often actually joined by local Britons looking for leadership and protection in the ‘dark’ times after Roman withdrawal. It was no picnic crossing the North Sea in a small boat to start again on a north-facing coastal hill above the River Heacham. These vigorous egalitarian immigrants gave hope and leadership to a society that had fallen apart and where much of the toil had been done by slaves.

The modern-day village of Sedgeford, built on a gentle south-facing hill, has 600 inhabitants and lies within an area of outstanding natural beauty. In Saxon times, Sedgeford by contrast lay south of the river. SHARP’s original focus was a riverside graveyard mysteriously abandoned in Norman times but preserved in old mother’s threats to naughty children ‘you’ll be sent to the boneyard with the dead folk.’ This ‘Boneyard’ yielded Saxon burial and cremation – and a Viking woman buried with a horse – and a Late Saxon murder scene: a large healthy male with fatal wounds still etched into the skeleton by a Viking marauder, now an exhibit, as well as a crouch-burial dating from the Bronze Age.
Current excavations are of the ‘living space’ atop the hill. Though north-facing, this Sedgeford was sheltered from the prevailing wind and in the days of wattle and daub walls and thatched roofs –pole marks of these in the wattle are still visible – shelter may have weighed with locals as much as Conservation Area status does today. The find of the season is an industrial-scale oven (pictured) - with a Mid-Saxon handprint preserved in the hardened clay - set outside the village because of the fire-danger sparks and flames posed to thatched roofs. The rich Saxon soil it rests in puts ours to shame.

Diggers-for-a-day are so enthused by Debra Riches’ inductions they stay for week and come back annually, sifting through the shells of oysters eaten by our six foot plus forebears boated upriver to market as far as the Saxon harbour at Fring. If only the bread Saxon Sedgeford ate hadn’t contained so much grit, which wore out their teeth and plagued them with abscesses and septicaemia, we might envy their health and lifestyle .
Diggers range from archaeology scholars and students to enthusiastic amateurs of all ages and are a lively mixture of Norfolk (one man cycles in from King’s Lynn) national and international. Two locals whose future has been found in the Sedgeford trenches are Max Ogden from Snettisham, enthused by the dig aged 12, later graduate in Archaeology at Nottingham University, and Milly Foster of Sherbourne, a 16 year old SHARP digger just graduated in Archaeology at Reading. Postgraduate Alice Wolff from California explained the huge distance travelled as due to the international prestige of the site and the fact that East Anglia has so much more history than America under its quiet fields.
The past digging of 49 test pits in the gardens of Sedgeford villages themselves produced unexpected finds and included the community. Loss of revenue due to crop disturbance on the Sedgeford Estate is made good in a proportional donation made by SHARP to the church.

Once inducted, all diggers – like their namesakes in the English Civil War - have an equal say in how the project is run and over its finds. Dr Faulkner’s forthcoming book ‘Digging, Sedgeford; a people’s archaeology’ will be author-credited to ‘The SHARP team.’ If the school history many of us studied was found in Bede and a Sutton Hoo barrow in 1938 (not a great time for embracing our German heritage) , the future of school history may well come out of a trench in Sedgeford.
Director of SHARP since 2007 Mr Gary Rossin summed up, “The project’s founding objective was to research and explore human settlement and land usage within the parish of Sedgeford. The main focus of its eighteen years has been the Mid-Late Saxon period. There are important pieces of the jigsaw yet unfound, not to mention the picture on the box! In 2014, we’ll be revisiting glimpses of a Roman farmstead, a mediaeval manor, moving backwards and forwards from our continuing Saxon focus. And, on the centenary of World War 1, we will also revisit our research at the nearby aerodrome

For further information see www.sharp.co.uk (which includes a regularly updated webblog)

July 15, 2013

Been There, Done That, Got My Name On The T Shirt: Cromwell's Talking Head at Ely Folk Festival




'Cromwell's Talking Head' is a lively rehearsed reading of 30 minutes. It was the first ever spoken word hosted by Ely Folk Festival in July 2013, where it went down like a real ale in a hot marquee. It has an ongoing residency at Oliver Cromwell's House in Ely, bookings at Marriott's Warehouse Upstairs in King's Lynn and the Cromwell Museum in Huntingdon and tours pubs, clubs and storytelling venues.

Cromwell's Talking Head is in the horrible history genre and aimed at the naughty kid in all of us. But it's all true - Cromwell the king-killer really was dug up from his 'royal' grave at the Restoration, hung, drawn, quartered and his head stuck on a traitor's pole for 25 years. After centuries of adventures in freaks shows and dodgy museums, bits nicked by trophy hunters, and carrying a legendary curse, the head was authenticated by cranial detectives and in 1960 secretly buried at his old college in Cambridge University. Secretly in case drunken royalist students dig him up again! In the monologue, the head tells the ghastly story and the story of the Civil War to a young grave robber who has dug up more than he bargained for. It's funny, informative and not that comfortable for royal ears. You’ll laugh your head off!

'A triumph of narration and verbal colouring' (Radio Drama Reviews.)

To hear the Siren FM radio production, go to iTunes - https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-reading-room/id399470470

SEE ALSO: http://garethcalway.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/press-release-jan-15-2014-cromwells.html Cromwell's Talking Head winter tour 2014



At Ely 2013, I enjoyed the support of a youngster in the crowd named Ethan reminding me to hit the triangle at the head of each chapter and got lots of lovely feedback. Cromwell rides again!

CROMWELL'S TALKING HEAD ELY FOLK FESTIVAL


PRESS RELEASE JULY 2013

14 July is a great date for Republicans in France. But the French don’t have the monopoly on setting up republics and chopping off the heads of tyrannical kings. Our very own Oliver Cromwell might appreciate his story being told on Bastille Day at this year’s Ely Folk Festival, twenty minutes walk from his old stomping ground and national memorial at Oliver Cromwell’s House, and in the shadow of Ely Cathedral.
The great patriot – “we are English, that’s one good fact” - might point out that he headed up the English Revolution a ‘big hundred’ century before Robespierre and Bonaparte led the French. The humble gentleman farmer Cromwell, first as soldier and then as statesman, combines the positive qualities of both these French leaders. The English Empire he established in the 1650s held a position in the world higher than any other between Agincourt and Trafalgar – 400 years. English (round)heads were held high.
Until the Stuart Restoration in 1660. At this point, Cromwell’s body, preserved and buried (against his wish) in royal state in the tomb of soldier-king Henry VII, was dug up by vengeful royalists, hanged at Tyburn, drawn, quartered, beheaded, and its tooth-smashed, ear-torn head spiked on the roof of Westminster Hall: the punishment meted out by Charles II for beheading his father Charles I in 1649. Cromwell’s head remained on its spike for 25 years, surveying the Great Fire of London and enduring a quarter of a century of English weather, until finally removed by a thunderbolt .
Fire and smoke damage ensued as it was hidden up a chimney by an old soldier (one of the redcoats he and Sir Thomas Fairfax had formed during the Civil War into the victorious New Model Army) and then spent centuries in freak shows and dodgy museums, bits being broken off as souvenirs. The Curse of Cromwell’s Head was said to follow anyone who held it in his possession and gory tales bear witness to this so-called curse.
But the real story is gothic enough. As is the curse. Cromwell is not a great favourite with the royalist view of history and whenever kings were popular, Cromwell’s head was best kept secret. But when the English grew restless again under unpopular and self-indulgent monarchs - such as James II and even for periods of Victoria’s reign – this relic of our only republic became a focus for demands that Cromwell’s progressive politics be honoured.
The relic was validated ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ as Cromwell’s actual head and buried in his old college at Sidney Sussex, Cambridge in 1960. A nearby plaque commemorates the fact but the actual whereabouts are kept secret for fear royalist students might dig it up again. And what a story the head could tell if it talked!
Well now it is. Gareth’s carefully researched dramatic monologue imagines the conversation when a grave robber exhumes the head at midnight. After two sell out performances at the House last year, it will be staged at this year’s festival in Marquee 3 between 2 pm and 2.50 pm on July 14.

July 05, 2013

5 July 1819


.


The Lynn News published this history feature here as a 'news' item on Susan Nobes' 194th anniversary. The Ballad of Susan Nobes, a ghost ballad where Susan haunts a boy on holiday in Sedgeford and tells her story, is soon to be published in SHARP's 2014 report.

June 30, 2013

The Ballad of Freeborn John



The Ballad of Freeborn John

The bloodiest war in our history
And one in four of us died
For a castled king on a stagnant throne
And a revolutionary tide.

‘I spilt my blood so I need a voice!’
Cries Freeborn John at Putney,
‘Who dies for England is England’s king,
We are no grandee’s army.

‘The poorest man in England has
The right to live as the greatest,
Our All in all is God the king
In every soul and breast.’

The bloodiest war in our history
And one in four of us died
For a castled king on a stagnant throne
And a revolutionary tide.

We’re the voice of the Freeborn Englishman
That was raised at Magna Carta,
The deathless flag of the Good Old Cause, the Bold
Dissenting Leveller.

I rose with Tyler, Straw and Ball
When peasants shook the kingdom,
I was sold down that river of blood by a king
Who hawked the soul of England.

We need no manor house and land
To fix our permanent interest,
We fight for England, our rights and ourselves:
No mercenary business.

The bloodiest war in our history
And one in four of us died
For a castled king on a stagnant throne
And a revolutionary tide.

I will strike with the Tolpuddle Martyrs,
I will die at Peterloo,
March to bloody hell at the Westgate Hotel
To win this England for you,

Die a million deaths in two world wars
Though the portion’s not so many
As died for Charles, that Man of Blood,
And in our redcoat Army.

A new model England truly advanced,
Through the royal ranks of sin
In a cavalry charge to a Future Now
Where God not man is king.*

The bloodiest war in our history
And one in four of us died
For a castled king on a stagnant throne
And a revolutionary tide.




*the epitaph on Cromwell’s tomb



During the English Civil Wars - in June 1647, at Putney, with the king under arrest - a proto-democratic assembly of elected New Model Army representatives debated a new constitution for England. The vision of ordinary men and what they had fought for received articulate expression and a level of consideration far beyond the intellectual level of the Stuart court or of the aristocratic 'Parliament.' 'Freeborn John' Lilburne was one of the key voices but there are many others like John Ball through history. The debates, often regarded as the cradle of modern democracy, were cut short by the 'Man of Blood' (Charles I) escaping and a second war beginning. Incredible that this Civil War, fought on principle rather than for tribal loyalties or pay, cost one in four English lives proportionally higher than World War I and II combined. The poem was first composed on St George's Day 2013, and the intention is to include it as a new folk song in my Cromwell's Talking Head show as a musical collaboration.

The chorus emphasises the two world views of the antagonists. Charles I was set up to fight the civil war in sieges from castles but it was decided by cavalry charges in pitched battles - the verb of dynamic progress against the noun of mediaeval reaction.

June 13, 2013

Marriott's Warehouse, King's Lynn

The text of my Lynn News article, published in the Lynn News on 07/06/2013 12:00

(pic and online link: http://www.lynnnews.co.uk/news/business-news/new-era-at-green-quay-s-marriott-s-warehouse-1-5170771)

Local historian, author and True’s Yard trustee Dr Paul Richards has launched an exciting new era for Lynn’s Marriott’s Warehouse.

Speaking to an audience of 36 potential “friends” in the spacious third-floor meeting room overlooking the river that once placed Lynn in the charmed circle of the 14th century Hanseatic League, Dr Richards, chairman of the Marriott’s Warehouse Trust, enthused about the rich heritage of Lynn in general and its warehouses in particular.

This is a phoenix moment for the beautiful old building, which along with conference room, now houses a newly appointed exhibition space on its first floor and a thriving ground floor restaurant.

Despite having arguably the best location in the town in terms of its Tudor heritage and a waterside that other ports – like Bristol or Norwich– have turned into vibrant cultural centres, the previous Green Quay cafe, and exhibition centre had to close on September 30 last year due to the economic downturn and a poor summer.

At that time, six people unfortunately lost their jobs. The re-launch has brought in a business partner to run the restaurant –it was buzzing with business and atmosphere two floors below as Mr Richards spoke. It has secured agreement for the name of the building to revert to its original and to integrate Marriott’s Warehouse into a general development of the South Quay as a tourist attraction.

The development includes six pontoons for pleasure boaters and an indoor market and bar with cafe at nearby Hanse House.

Dr Richards said: “Marriott’s Warehouse Trust’s mission will be to use this historic building to interpret and exemplify the history of the working port of Lynn over the centuries through the main themes of River, Trade, Buildings and People.

“This will be achieved through the establishment of a permanent exhibition on the first floor called The Warehouse on the Wash using many artistic media to demonstrate to the public how Lynn grew in trade, what the wealth of the port was based on as well as the natural setting of The Wash and the
characters involved along the way.

“The other floors of the building will also contain exhibition space, with the top floor being used as a conference and meeting room by the Trust, and the ground floor licensed as a restaurant.”

Dr Richards added: “Recruiting new friends to the old building is seen by the Trustees as a vital way to keep the community involvement with Marriott’s Warehouse as well as help with fundraising and creating a core audience for the series of lectures and events planned for later in 2013.”

A six-week series of evening lectures from the end of September will include Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage.

“Pleasant Sunday Afternoon” talks from September 22 will explore the broader themes in the long history of King’s Lynn, reviving an activity first popular in the town in 1890.

For further information about the new venture, contact: friends@marriottswarehousetrust.co.uk

May 17, 2013

David Beckham

from The Beautiful Game


4. Something for The Weekend


Football is sex. When Beckham rammed that YEEEEEES
Down the crowd’s throat (with Campbell about to mount
Him behind) having opened his account
With England, and swivelled his hips like a lech
Because he’d scored with a country, no less,
The earth was moving for us all (our doubts
Stripped off, the World’s Cups in our grasp like founts
Of milk and honey) and joined our nakedness.

Sex at its very best, for what is sex
But love, or God, without the permanence,
A crude attempt at ending loneliness?
And what is football but a lonely crowd
Trying to score, a fallen Man, united,
Icarus over the moon and standing proud.



Thanks, David.

May 08, 2013

Who's Afraid of the Wolf?





The latest article to appear under my pioneer hep cat big howling folk correspondent byline in the Lynn News (that's me pictured surprised in situ by Alan Timms along with several of my Sony Mavica studies exclusive to this website) now available with further pics here

April 18, 2013

In Memoriam

In Memoriam.

This is from 'I Got On At Hallelujah Lamppost' written in the early '80s and published in Anglo Welsh Review in 1985 (my first professional publication.) Lately I've been performing it in the very different but always deeply appreciative settings of Norfolk folk: The Wolf - the Wolferton Folk Club, Norfolk - Tuesday 18 April and Folkspot Internet Radio the following Sunday. It's the sort of thing our daughter studied at University for her Thatcher's Britain course. Hang on, that wasn't history, that was our life! I did undercover work as a bus conductor (the Muse knew that - I thought I was paying the rent) to research this sequence of vignettes of the Eastern valley of Gwent: a kind of compressed verse novel encapsulating a modern industrial world. Until they got rid of the bus conductors... and then the steelworkers...and then the miners: they haven't got rid of poets - yet - so here it is. It's became much more prophetic in time with the old elegaic heavy metal community replaced by the cash-jingling 'MORE of lots of MORE to lose, mortuary bound' shiny new culture, as long as you had a job to pay for it. Wherever you stand in that debate - and families have been riven anew about it on Facebook all week - this is what happened in 'Thatcher's Britain' and this is what died to create it.

3. Fire & Brimstone

This valley had iron
In its guts,
Steeled itself to change
Moving with the trains,
Dug into its coal
For a port for the ores of Spain.

It had shod the Great Bear
Of the Steppes with skates
Made In Blaenafon
Had united the States
Across the wild west
With Monmouthshire iron.

And when King Coal called
For a Copper Grail
For his stainless steel Table,
Tongues of fire could purge
The iron in the soul
At Pontypool inferno.

4.
Conductor

The conductor stubs out
Nostalgia and fag
For the rush down valley,
While through his worn bag
Go all the colours of the river,
The green and the silver and the discoloured copper,
Changing
Forever.

5.
Afon Garde

Afon raging with the rain.
The cut steelworks sinks in the sodden clay.
Steel-faced pickets slam a portcullis
And draw up the bridge of their riverbank scrapyard:

The workers
United
Will never be defeated.

Red-soiled, livid, steaming, green,
Fed with liquid fire and gases,
Afon, desperate, blindly burrows
Like a dragon for the sea.

And all the Sunday School kids
Are Monday-morning singing....
The Word
Is on the dole
He'd rather give us the past tense of coalfield.
Emmanuel
Is on the dole
He's gone down the drain with all the rotten leaves.

Panteg steelworks at twelve o'clock,
Busmen chasing overtime, pickets - jobs,
Eyes calm as anthracite,
Clouds lined with lead

The workers
United
Will never be defeated.

6.
New Towns For Old

In Tal-y-waun
The girls are like leather, the beauty ingrained,
In 15, at 50, it remains, on the wane
Like the ghost of Coal always in the unworked vein
And what is already has, and what has will again
In Tal-y-waun.

In the the New Town
In the the New Town
In the the New Town
In the the New Town
The old canal is polished up, the gardens laid down,
And pushchair trolley women bus aroundaroundaround
And brakes and valves and services - autopias - abound.
Parked in his mother's arms high above the ground,
The brand new Son of Cymru gives a multistorey frown ,
MORE of lots of MORE to lose, mortuary-bound,
And after six, just trodden chips-
Not a soul to be found.

April 15, 2013

Happy Birthday To Folkspot


http://www.lynnnews.co.uk/lifestyle/lifestyle-and-leisure-news/great-massingham-it-s-happy-birthday-to-folkspot-radio-1-4992392




The pictures are of Oliver's Army making our debut online, on air and onstage (never do things by halves) at Folkspot a week after the anniversary (on or about my 57th birthday) of Folkspot radio reported under my very own new byeline in the Lynn News. This is the article that made me a folk correspondent for my local community newspaper. And Oliver's Army are the band that heralded the beginning of my career as lyricist, lead poet, occasional vocalist - singing Green Shirt by Elvis Costello - backing vocalist and drummer in a folk-punk-prog band.

A big week! (We shouldn't have eaten that Pepper before we went out, though, judging by the first photo.)

That gig did for Margaret Thatcher anyway. She died the next day...

March 16, 2013

Gin Trap Folk

Go to Gin Trap Folk link - under Bard on the Wire pane opposite - for a write up of a typical Gin Trap Acoustic Evening in the digital edition the Lynn News 'Weekend Live'


Photos here by landlord Steve Knowles who also sings a capella in Italian and English at the evenings (including that heart-rending one from the The Godfather, Speak softly, love) Is there nothing the man can't do?


March 06, 2013

Coming Home in Droitwich/ ‘Poetry Masterclass’ at Droitwich Spa High School








I called this ‘Last Tango In Droitwich’ in my diary because, after a teaching career that I finally gave up to be a full time writer and performer, I’m always telling myself it’s the last one. Just like the last five or six school visits I’ve done. I've had more comebacks than Frank Sinatra.
But this was, quite simply, the most enjoyable I’ve ever done. So maybe I really should stop now, at the top!
The day was four one hour sessions – with a twenty minute break after two hours - in the (excellent) library. The two middle hours were with Year 12. The outer two hours were with two top set English GCSE groups. The brief was to explain to Sixth Formers the link between poetic form and meaning – why write an ode or a villanelle or a sonnet for instance (or free verse for that matter, that’s a form too) ? ie form is a labour (of love) what does it give you? - and to encourage (extremely bright) Year 11s to sign up for English Literature in the Sixth Form.
My first decision was not to ‘teach’ – they get excellent teaching all day from people who know them and the courses much better than I - but to talk as a practitioner. Fortunately, my first book of poems Coming Home – published in 1991 when I had a shock of hair (and that biog pic is more and more of a shock these days) - is a compendium of poetic forms employed for a definite and evolving purpose. Coming Homee aims, ambitiously, to tells the story of evolution, historical development and then spiritual aspiration through a range of increasingly ‘conscious’ forms, including ‘free’ and modernist and minimalist ones. The final section is the Persian ghazal, a combination of intense freedom - lyrical, soaring emotion - with the tightest metre and rhyme imaginable. It is said to be the source of the Italian sonnet, which westernises some of its exotic Eastern/timeless features. On the way to this section, I explore a ‘formless’ form for gas, a villanelle for stone, terza rima for metal, free verse for vegetation, a rap for worm, a Petrarchan sonnet for human, a ballad for mediaeval, a dramatic monologue for Victorian etc. Re-encountering the book as I planned the ‘masterclass’ I found myself both grateful for the coherent compendium of verse forms and rather impressed by my young self’s ardour, and (as Ted Hughes wrote of them) the poems’ ‘tenacity, wholesomeness and strength.’ All of this came from the inspiration: a vision of ‘why we are here’ that accepted evolution but saw no reason to doubt a greater spiritual purpose in it.
My students for the day were awake to all this. By chance, there was a fly chart from a previous lesson announcing that three quarters of Americans don’t believe in Evolution. We wondered if ‘Creationism’ could be quite that widespread even in the Bible Belt of the USA but nevertheless the sophistication with which Year 11 students approached the philosophy in my introductory ‘Invocation’ where evolution is set within a framework of human potential for the divine was staggering. We hear a lot about how ‘kids today’ don’t read enough, are lost in special effects cinema and text speak etc etc. Well, these weren’t. The way they debated whether there was anything inherently masculine in the all flash and no substance persona I used to ‘become’ Halley’s Comet was confident, articulate and masterly. I have never been so sorry to see a class go. I think by the end of the day we might have split the atom and also sketched out the poetic music for a mould-breaking spoken word Sergeant Pepper.
The Sixth Form applied themselves to the link between form and meaning with increasing insight and it was clear to both the teacher Mr Izod (or Fat Bloke as he permitted me to call him when I said was it all right to call him ‘David’) and myself that all they needed to do was trust their instincts for how form created meaning and then merely have the confidence to articulate this in the critical language their teachers have taught them. I was sorry not to get on to the Chorus of Greek Philosophers I had planned in which the whole group could have taken part but I did enjoy the way a boy and a girl performed the ‘male’ and ‘female’ voices of my Song of the Wedding Rings. They said there was no danger of a personal romance and marriage emerging from their dialogue but poetry is a kind of spell so you never know. That said, I originally wrote that poem for a wedding service – which another married couple also used – and both marriages ended in divorce so maybe not. More immediately, the students started to see what all the precision engineering that goes into crafting words into terza rima gives a poet that merely – and much more easily - writing lines of dialogue doesn’t. The fact that the sections allocated to ‘He’ and ‘She’ rhymed internally but (unlike Romeo and Juliet) never with each other was noticed and understood. The fact that a poet has to cut out all the dross verbiage and really concentrate the meaning into that tight –jewel-like– form. The fact that there is forward progression (unlike a villanelle) but that progress is slow, as in the grinding away of ego towards real marriage etc etc. All very like working with gold.

As was the whole day, in fact. Thank you Droitwich. My Last Tango. Until the next one?

See also: http://garethcalway.blogspot.co.uk/p/poem-of-month.html Stone

February 26, 2013

The Next Movie



Filmed this in January. Unless the director has fled to Tehran, it should come out this spring.