Photo by Bohdan Piasecki
Q1) What is your connection with Poetry&Words?
I first performed on the Poetry&Words stage in 2005, which was less than a year after my first open mic performance in Manchester. It was my first ever festival and, despite it being a very muddy year and coming across a death scene in my first hour on site (!!), I was hooked. I was a guest performer again in 2007 and joined the selection committee and production team in 2009 and 2010. In 2011, I was delighted to be asked to be the Poet in Residence for the festival website that year. That was a great honour and a big responsibility which I tried to make the most of – weedling my way onto the TV and radio with it and into the Q magazine Glasto special edition. When Billy Bragg phoned me after the festival, my life was complete!
Q2) If you had to describe the Poetry&Words stage in just three words, what would they be?
Very, very special.
Q3) How would you describe Glastonbury Festival to someone who’s never been there?
Quite simply, it’s one of the most incredible things that happens on this planet! The fence around the site, with the car parking outside, is something like eight miles around. Did I read somewhere that there are 35,000 performers and crew on site before they let the paying public in? There are dozens of programmed stages, as well as round-the-clock performances in the countless little tents and bars which spring up to feed and water the 135,000 or so paying punters. In addition, there are hundreds of fantastic spaces that people work incredibly hard to create, where all sorts of random wonderfulness happens around the clock. You’ll find sixty foot high fire-breathing robots, fairy lit grottos, illuminated mini-lakes, post-apocalyptic cityscapes – unbelievable variety and scale. It’s actually so big that it’s, in effect, several festivals all happening at once and you need never visit the ones that don’t appeal. From the chilled out Healing Fields to the dance tents is a walk of between 45 minutes and a million miles. Visiting the hill which looks down over the whole site, especially at night with all the fires and lights, is like visiting the celebration party after one of the battles in Lord of the Rings. (Warning: may contain bongos.)
Having now been to lots of the summer festivals several times each in recent years, I can honestly say that there’s something distinctly different in the air at Glastonbury. Whilst some would say it’s become more commercial in recent years, for me, it retains a distinctly ethical, and some would say spiritual vibe. I tried to capture all of the above, and especially the latter point in my poem ‘Why Glastonbury’, as part of my website residency in 2011. You can see it here, accompanied by a slideshow of photos by Rohan van Twest. (Wow, it’s up to 11,000 hits on YouTube since I last checked!):
Few poets have ever moved me to tears and that exclusive club includes Polarbear, Kate Tempest, John Hegley, Canada’s Shane Koyczan, and Pamela Brown of Northern Ireland’s Poetry Chicks. Other excellent poets are also available.
Ed. Oh Tony. We knew you wouldn’t be able to resist naming more than two! We love you for it though 😉
Q5) What kinds of things inspire you to write?
All sorts of things, but often it’s led by words and phrases. I’ll notice a pleasing rhyme like “jaffa cakes/gaffa tape” or “cardamom seeds/cardigan sleeves” and work up a piece from that. Or a line will come to me, maybe a title, or a start/end line, sometimes a repeated hook line. In collating poems for my collection I’m becoming clearer about my obsessions: my comedy stuff is mainly quite rude, whilst my serious stuff clusters around love affairs – both gloomy and glorious, loneliness and isolation, parent/child relationships, personal politics, current affairs, popular culture, science, the environment, mortality… all sorts. There are no rules; why constrain yourself?
Q6) Where is the most unusual place you’ve performed your work?
The most unusual sounding place is certainly inside Stalin’s Penis! (That’s the local nickname for the phallic, towering Palace of Science and Culture in Warsaw, Poland where I performed as a guest of the British Council in 2008.) Other memorable locations include: a building site, The British Library, in Second Life, on BBC TV and radio, in a working cotton mill, in prisons, from a pulpit, on the banks of the Liffey, at two funerals, under a giant wicker frog, on a moving barge and on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral for Occupy LSX. Oh, and then there was the naked photo shoot in a country park…
Q7) What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working full-time with my writing, performing and teaching these days, so it’s a veritable whirlwind of workshops, commissions, gigs and sitting around in my pyjamas. I’ll be bringing my first poetry collection with an accompanying CD out next year and touring that, hopefully including a short stint in Edinburgh. I was in Ireland this summer and plan to return in 2013. I’m also collaborating variously with a visual artist, an animator, some film students, and I’m determined to do something soon with the dozen or more songs that I’ve written. My first short piece of theatre will be performed in Manchester before Christmas and that’s also something that I’d like to do more of.
Q8) What’s the closest rhyme for ‘orange’ you can find?
I tell my students to make it easy for themselves. If, after going through the alphabet they fail to find a passable rhyme, I suggest that they try and say the same thing in a different way or using a different end word. Tangerine is much easier to rhyme and Satsuma could inspire you to, oh, I don’t know…turn into a crap crooner of rap tunes, or chat sooner about that chat-roomer, the fat goon with the prat humour who shat sooner than a rat bhuna zoomed through a twat’s bloomers after numerous humorous cat groomer rumours loomed gloomier than a vast tumour on a chap’s kahunas. Or something.
Q9) Can we have a poem please?
My tribute poem to Glastonbury legend John Peel, performed live on 6Music, is still on the BBC website at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00ht7c0 On the day that Jo Whiley played this on Radio 2 on John Peel Day, it entered the BBC Glastonbury iPlayer chart where it reached number 3 amongst U2, Elbow, Coldplay and Beyonce. I’d like to think that Peelie would have had a little chuckle at that.
Q10) Where can we find out more about your work?
You can find all links and further info at my website www.longfella.co.uk Caution: Longfella(dot)com is a VERY different website! I also spend far too much time on Twitter at @LongfellaPoet