EIBF2014: Babble on brilliance (Part 2)

More on Saturday’s day of poetry, kicking off with an hour of Luke Wright. Having read a fair amount about his Fringe shows over the past few years, I was keen to see what was so special about his set.

Though the screen said the event would be hosted by Roland Gulliver, there was no sign, and he was introduced by Becky Fincham. Perhaps a last-minute change from discussion to stand-up set? Whatever, it was a fun hour.

He began by describing how he’s come up with the idea of the Fat Dandy, an alter ego along the lines of David Bowie’s. The problem was, he added, that this was in January when he was 3½ stone heavier than he is now, so it’s hard to imagine his “Fat White Duke”, but his recitation gave an instant taste of his style: slightly ranty, vaguely mockney, rude, crass, clever and very funny.

He described himself as “a 32-year old who looks like a 12-year-old who’s just got a bit out of hand” and ran through a bit of material about getting asked his age in Co-op and life in his native Bungay, leading into The Much Harpingon One-Way System that skewers the Daily Mail heartland’s priorities.

“I used to struggle with that dead hour in the day, you know, between 9 and 3,” he said, describing the joys of visits to port tasting at the off-licence, leading into describing the offy’s most regular customer, who inspired his next poem, The Bastard of Bungay. The caricatures are broad and recognisable but come with a twist of pathos because, as he joked: “Any poem that leaves you elated and happy then that poem is probably turgid, commercial shit; if at the end you hate yourself and everyone around you, that poem is art.”

After mocking the recent open letter from English celebs to Scotland (“Who’s John Barrowman? Oh, he’s the one who looks like a psychotic Tom Cruise.”) it was straight into a new poem about the independence referendum that National Collective ought to adopt, Better Together (or is it Bitter Together?) being a good deal funnier and more coherent than Alan Bissett’s effort a few months back. It was delivered in a patronising tone that rang only too true to those of a Scots background growing up in England, particularly the Russ Abbott reference.  And the final line had a particularly cruel sting, which he followed up with a the cry: “Vote yes, we don’t deserve you! I’m going to live here.”

He has range, though, and it was not all fun. After a salute from the Red Arrows, we had Mr Hooper’s Half Term, a poignant tribute to teachers.

Then it was back into a scabrous attack on the honours system, Have a Gong! followed by an impassioned pop at comedians doing advertising, particularly Lenny Henry and Ray Winstone, that led, in a very roundabout way to a tribute to his own dad and a description of how hard it’s been to get him to appreciate his career.

Then he moved on to his last poem, The Toll. If you were reading yesterday’s post, you might have noticed I managed to somehow attribute this to Hollie McNish several hours earlier. I was initially hugely embarrassed by this, but having thought about it for a day or so, I think that’s actually a tribute to both of them:  I was so absorbed by their work, by the rhythm, imagery and the stories, the actual poets themselves had wiped their presence from my attention. Proof, then, that the power of words transcend the individuals who write them. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. Either that or I’m a dolt. Answers on a postcard, please.

A scheduling clash meant that I couldn’t attend the next event which, given my slip, should have been right up my street, Voices in the Dark, a performance with the lights out. It seems to have gone down well.

There was more confusion later in the day when it turned out that the notoriously publicity-shy poet Paul Hamilton refused to turn up for a photocall and would not share a stage with his biographer Kevin Eldon. So, sadly, we have no pictures of him, which is a shame, as he was a raffish sort of chap. His collection, ‘Shadows of Reflections’ has finally been published in the back of Eldon’s book My Prefect Cousin. Ryan van Winkle did an excellent job of coaxing out the background to the feud between the pair and plenty about Hamilton’s life.

This wasn’t strictly a Babble On event, although the poetry was of the highest standard, particularly that written by Hamilton’s great muse, whose name I didn’t catch because I and the rest of the select audience (small, but with a good pedigree) were laughing too much. Eldon inhabited Hamilton’s character so convincingly that by the end even he was getting their names mixed up, and simulated a fight during his offstage costume change.

A blow-by-blow account of the event wouldn’t do it justice and, to be honest, I stopped taking notes about twenty minutes in as I was enjoying it so much. So unless you go along next time they make an appearance, you may never understand the full genius of this very, very silly event.

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