Drafted in at the last minute due to Claire Askew having to pull out because of food poisoning, John and Melanie kindly offered me a slot at ‘We’re All Mad Here’ – Trashed Organ’s Festival of Belonging Fringe inauguration at The Central in Gateshead. Here are my thoughts.
The venue, while in many ways similar to Trashed Organ’s usual haunt, The Bridge Hotel, is altogether refreshing: contemporary blends well with old, assisted by the strategic placing of bubble blowers and miniature lamps. There was a typist – yes, an old-fashioned-doing-it-straight-onto-the-page-style one on hand, documenting guests’ most profound thoughts on the Organ Grinders and their sleek Trashing machine. A temporary post office, in which guests left their contact details in exchange for their own messages, later to be sent on to other participants at random, was an intriguing affair and brought to mind what The Guardian might do with their Soulmates section should their editors ever drink too much port. Ah, the port: the Trashed Laureate is a hallmark of any of these events now, and Amina Marix Evans won it, graciously donating the wares to Fiona and her Jazz Express, the house band and primary (trashed?) organ amidst the whole ensemble.
Poetry wise, this was very much a Red Squirrel dominated affair. I am, of course, biased, but I think the three writers from RS did the press and the start of this festival a good service. The fourth poet, Lizzie Whyman, was a delightful surprise, mixing call-centre humour, playground brutality and reworkings of myths and legends. Andrew McMillan was brilliant: a consummate performer, his blend of Yorkshire wit and sharp lyricism is all held together by subtle, well-honed, humour. Firas Kirala lent an altogether different tone to the evening with a kind of Arabic folk music. I don’t wish to say too much about it for fear of sounding ignorant (I have no idea what that musical instrument was, but it captivated my ears!), but I will say that he is obviously a very skilled performer and the soothing, reflective nature of his musicianship worked perfectly as a calm interlude to the whole affair.
Ultimately, there had to be a headliner and I personally thought Stevie Ronnie stole the show. Reciting his poems without prompt or introduction, I was absolutely in his world. While the delivery was spare, even oblique, Ronnie’s poems are utterly convincing and rooted in love and a zest for language: whether it’s the burns and fields of his North East, or the passion for his family and what that means, I believed every word and can’t wait to read with him in Newcastle next month.
Tomorrow: Castles, Collieries and Coastlines