The first installment of the belated live review of the Literary and Poetry stage.
Armed with an Access All Areas pass, a notebook and a pen, Lizzie Alderdice set out to review Rebellion Festival‘s Literary stage, this is what she made of it…
This year’s stage was definitely a stronger presence than last year’s, it had even been given its own name in the programme: ‘At The Edge in the Spanish Hall’. From the off there were posters all around the Winter Gardens advertising the existence and location of the stage and this advertising could be seen to have had a good effect as the numbers of people making their way upstairs was visibly higher than 2012.
The running of the stage was also a lot improved, the open mic was scrapped and because of this proceedings started later in the afternoon (1400-1430), giving time for people to wake up a bit and meaning that the audiences were more than just people finding somewhere quiet to nurse their hangovers.
On Thursday the stage only hosted poets with Dwane Reads, Meriel Malone and Henry Raby on the bill. Dwane’s performance is a combination of extreme enthusiasm and absolute determination and, whatever you might think of his poetry, you can’t help but take your hat off to the way he will give a no-holds-barred performance no matter the audience size or however wavering their attention may be.
Meriel Malone didn’t actually appear on Thursday to do her set, so Henry Raby went on early to do his. As is common with Thursdays at Rebellion, there wasn’t an amazing audience turn-out but Henry got their attention and followed Dwane’s example of ignoring the actual audience response and giving as strong a performance as if the house was full. His timing wasn’t perfect and there were moments you could tell he was slightly rattled, but he ploughed on through and delivered a more than acceptable set. ‘I write a lot of love poems, I think they start out as angry poems and turn into love poems’ he told us with a grin, finishing the set by advertising the Snapping Turtle Press zine he co-edits.
The stage on Friday had a much fuller bill, with both interviews and poets appearing to entertain us. First up were a trio who it soon turned out were familiar to more than just fans of the Northern Irish punk scene; a Swedish fan spotted them as they waited to go on stage and started enthusing about their music, saying how he’d waited for years to be able to see them in real life. It was a perfect example of the brilliant atmosphere Rebellion fosters: the interaction between performers and their fans is equal and appreciative. Their conversation came to a close as John Robb soon appeared at their table and herded them onto the stage.
Now a slight problem arose as the interview started; there were so many quotable quotes quickly flooding the speakers that I lost track of who was saying what, in my hurry to write it all down. Hence I’m afraid I have some fantastic quotes, but I can’t tell you which of the guys actually said what, I’m not even 100% what their names were as there were four names down in the programme: Greg, Petsey (Outcasts) Buck (Defects) and Sean O’Neil, but there were only three guys on stage, so I apologise for lack of accuracy, but in my opinion, the content of the interview as a whole is far more important than being able to tell you who said what exactly.
Hearing about the early days of the Belfast punk scene was morbidly entertaining ‘terrorists, punks and soldiers’ were the sole occupants of Belfast, we were informed with a grin, and how important was Good Vibrations (the record shop which enabled the Belfast scene to exist) asks John Robb. Very important! It was the only place you could actually get punk records as all the other shops ‘were all blown up!’
Stiff Little Fingers (SLF) were mentioned and the response was a grinning reply of ‘I hated SLF all my life because they were successful’. And the reason for this success? They left Ireland! ‘SLF were the biggest band out of Belfast but they left, they got successful and became a touring band, the rest of us stayed here.’
For me personally one of the comments that best summed up the attitude of these guys was this; ‘some of our early songs were brilliant, but we couldn’t play them!’ Sod the lack of actual skill, the punk scene needed enthusiasm and dedication, and that’s obviously what it got!
The talk turned to the film Good Vibrations, (about the shop of the same name), and its owner, Terri Hooley; ‘We are incredibly lucky to have a film like that… the film has got the look of the Belfast punk scene perfectly’. Although the conversation about the film didn’t last very long, it did sound definitely worth checking out as our three Irish musketeers made the Belfast scene sound fascinating and fantastically determined and DIY.
Turning the conversation back to the guys themselves and their careers, John asked whether they noticed when they did finally perform in England whether there was a difference in the bands and the crowds coming to see them. The answer was a gem- ‘we kill each other at home, I didn’t realise you did the same over here over football!’ – which was greeted by rowdy cheers from the audience.
The interview ended with a recommendation to see Good Vibrations ‘go see it, it’s a cracker!’ and a touching comment about performing in another country and finding that people there know and love your songs ‘you turn up in Berlin and there’s a room full of people who know your records, it’s fucking humbling’.
Next on the stage was Ross from GBH, talking about his book. He appeared really nervous when John introduced him, something that our interviewer picked up on after the first few attempts to get a conversation going were knocked back by painfully short answers. Ross eventually told us with a sheepish look that he was ‘shitting [him]self’ doing the interview.
‘I would have thought you were used to being on stage’ replied our host.
‘Yeh but not on my own!’
After a few more sentences it became clear Ross needed back up, so Steve Pottinger, the co-owner of Ignite Publishing and author of Ross’s book, leapt up on stage to join him. ‘I know that he’s nervous up here on stage without a band or a bass in front of him… in the van he was just comedy gold’ he reassured us, going on to detail the wicked stories that had been revealed during their interviews in Steve’s campervan while working on the book. Steve was a lot more confident at being interviewed and this obviously put Ross at ease as, while he didn’t say nearly as much as Steve, when he did say something from then on he sounded a lot more confident and his wit started to shine through as he talked about growing up in Birmingham. The informal nature of interviews on the Literature Stage always gives a nice relaxed air to proceedings as people can just jump up on stage to help out in an interview, as Steve did, and the audience often shouts questions or banters with the interviewer.
Next up was the lovely Hazel O’Connor talking about her new book; ‘I thought I had a story to tell, and not just about the music.’
The interview gave us a potted history of her early life, which she talks about in more detail in the book, and definitely got the audience interested. Hazel has a brilliant witty delivery and never stays still for a second, (making her incredibly difficult to photograph!). Moving on to talk about the beginnings of her musical career and Breaking Glass, she told us about being inspired by Thatcher and the negative consequences of her policies ‘It’s a shame that it’s the negative stuff that is inspiring, but that’s how it is.’
Hazel is one of those people who it is a joy to see interviewed, she had so many anecdotes it was impossible to write them all down and from the grins on the audience members’ faces, it was clear their interest hadn’t wavered a jot throughout the interview.
The stage proceedings at this point were overrunning slightly but within minutes Peter and Steve from Paranoid Visions and Crass were on the interview sofa. With a quick introduction they were off, talking about how the punk scene DIY ethic was so important to fans who needed to communicate with the bands in a way the Sex Pistols and The Clash refused to do. ‘The Crass gigs we did became less important than the talking before and after,’ said Steve, going on to talk about how the ethic of building a community around the music was paramount. The example of gig entrance prices being a prime example as he talked about how important it was to keep prices down, so people had money for a pint afterwards ‘or for dog food or whatever.’
‘Every day is a learning curve and, for me, you don’t spend it in the dressing room, you go and hang out in the bar and you fucking learn about what you should be writing about!’
Ending to a round of applause from those listening, interviewer and guests exited the stage and the Literature Stage became the Poetry Stage.
A slight error in the programme details had shown that Meriel Malone’s poetry set started at 1645, but also said that the previous interview was scheduled to end at 1700. There was then a long wait to see if Meriel would show up that day, which she did, but not until I’d waited until 1730 and then gone in search of dinner. I returned at around 1800 to find her just finishing her set, running about 30 minutes behind time.
Steve Pottinger reappeared in poet form and quickly settled himself up on the stage, opening with a poem about Edward Snowdon hiding in his spare room. Steve’s style was a lot stronger this year than last, with him talking to the audience more between poems and creating an amused and relaxed atmosphere in the room.
His second poem which reversed the Saatchi/Lawson relationship was quiet yet bitingly sarcastic and showed his ability to use understated delivery to great effect. Every poem had its own story as an introduction and these were often as interesting as the poems themselves, making the set appear like a full performance, rather than a disjointed poetry reading full of pauses. Ending his happily political set with a call to do at least the ‘minimum possible’ to change the world for the better, he left us with grins on our faces and politics ringing in our ears.
Joolz Denby began her set by slagging off Blackpool and recommending we all visit the tattooist stationed in the vintage/craft fair room behind the cinema. She then set the tone for her set with one sentence: ‘I’m going to read you stories, they’re not funny.’
One cannot in anyway describe Joolz’ literary creations as cheerful, her delivery is sombre but every word is delivered precisely and her imagery is fantastic (‘road unfurling like a tarmac banner’ being a particularly striking line for me). When she describes the reactions of characters in her pieces, she hits the nail right on the head and even with that almost deadpan delivery, you can’t help but grin at the sheer ridiculousness of human nature as she shows you it in a new light. She also told us the real-life story of how she accidentally won a new crime writer’s award and embarrassed two gossiping ladies who were talking disapprovingly about her tattoos. There’s something about Joolz that reminds one of a librarian, it’s probably the glasses and the way she has of looking over them in a questioning manner, but that dark sense of humour is always there and her sets are always entertaining. Although she did reuse a number of pieces from last year’s set, it was still well received and enjoyed by the audience, whose attention she held, apparently without trying.
Her set came to a close with a round of enthusiastic applause and the stage performances were over for the day.
All words by Lizzie Alderdice. More from Lizzie on Louder Than War can be found here.