The Lowry, Salford
29th Oct 2013
An evening with former drug kingpin and present day raconteur and Mr Nice Howard Marks informs, educates and entertains Louder Than War’s Emma Burgess.
As I sit in the dimly lit Lowry Theatre waiting for Howard Marks to appear on the stage I listen to groups of friends laughing at stories of their drug filled youth. The ages of the audience are wildly mixed, but everyone seems to be telling similar stories of “that time” when they took things to excess.
After watching video clips of interviews and a slideshow of snaps showing Howard with the people he has met, and the exciting places he has been, he finally walks onto the stage where a beer, a glass of rum and a glass of wine are waiting for him (apparently to quench thirst and improve the voice) Howard thanks us all for coming to “listen to my shite”.
The show is entitled “Scholar, Smuggler, Prisoner, Scribe” and is told to us in parts which follow those themes. He begins with some history about his earliest smuggling exploits, with stories of Irish nationalist, Jim McCann. Howard claims that as a “peace loving hippy” he thought it might be better if the IRA smuggled hash, rather than guns.
Throughout the talk Howard uses sound clips to recreate conversations with the people he has met. The crowd seem to hang on his every word, and I must admit that I found myself laughing in all of the right places, and on the edge of my seat when hearing of smuggling gone wrong. Howard tells stories of his time in Terre Haute Prison, Indiana where he claims that the only way to avoid conflict was by “being nice”. He certainly does exude charm, and it is easy to see why he is nicknamed “Mr Nice”. He tells us of the English class he taught in prison, and of the people he met there, including the Notorious B.I.G.
Before wrapping up the first part of the show, Howard thanks Kermit (of Black Grape, Ruthless Rap Assassins and Blind Arcade) who provided some of the voice clips for the show. He reads a poem written by Kermit entitled Tap into Reality as the audience listened intently.
After a 20 minute smoke break a bottle of red wine appears, which is closely followed by Howard. He asks that we pretend we are in a lecture, with him as our lecturer. After a brief discussion about the science behind cannabis, and Howard’s experience of growing it, he discusses his thoughts on how to go about marketing various drugs in a world where they are legalised, It is an interesting concept. One which Howard Marks seems to have put much thought into!
In the final section of the show we are given the chance to ask questions. Some of the less carefully thought out questions, such as “have you ever thrown a whitey?” are answered with the same in depth explanation and charm that he has used all evening. Howard’s final profound thought is one which puts a smile on my face. Upon being asked “Do you have any regrets?” he replies “It is impossible to feel regret if you are happy now”.
All word by Emma Burgess and all photos plus the video © Elspeth Mary Moore.