Back to perform with us is headliner John Hegley, 18:10-18:55 Friday . If he’s new to you/ you’d like a reminder, read on:
In his own words:
“Songs and poems about fig rolls, potatoes (new and old), much singing joining in and a little bit of communal choreography.
“Mr Hegley was born in Newington Green, North London, and was educated in Luton, Bristol and Bradford University. His first public performance monies came from busking his songs, initially outside a shoeshop in Hull, in the late Seventies. He performed on the streets of London in the early Eighties, fronting the Popticians, with whom he also recorded two sessions for John Peel, and has since been a frequent performer of his words, sung and spoken, on both local and national radio.
“He has produced ten books of verse and prose pieces, two CDs and one mug, but his largest source of income is from stages on his native island. An Edinburgh Festival regular, he is noted for his exploration of such diverse topics as dog hair, potatoes, handkerchiefs and the misery of human existence. He is an occasional DJ, dancer and workshop leader, using drawing, poetry and gesture. He has been awarded an honorary Doctorate of Arts from what is now the University of Bedfordshire, and once performed in a women’s prison in Columbia.”
It’s hard to know where to start with Mr. Hegley. He’s one of the first poets I ever came across after nursery rhymes and Roald Dahl. He was almost certainly the first poet I witnessed mixing it with music as well. And he was near-revered in my family household of mostly purblind geeks as being someone who wrote excellent verse about being a glasses wearer. Like, I suspect, many of us, he was the person (those of us who didn’t witness John Cooper Clarke until much later) looked up to as the image of Famous Living Poet Who Is Relevant To Me, alongside Michael Rosen and Roger McGough*.
It’s going to be difficult to do him proper service but let’s assume you’ve never heard of John Hegley, that he was never read out to you in school or turned up in nearly every anthology you read as a child. Imagine an expression veering between worried and diffident around a set of heavy spectacles. Imagine a ukelele grasped familiarly and made to do things you didn’t know they could do – made to sound serious, made to sing with deceptive simplicity. Imagine a drawl over the top of the cunning plink-plunk that, again, uses words that seem simple, bordering on foolish, until you listen harder, look a bit deeper. Then you hear the virtuosity in the playing, the experimenting in the combinations, the subversion in the words. Then you notice that the diffidence is anger or sorrow or amusement at the inevitable unfairness of the world, or joy in the things that make us happy, and that he’s inviting you to join in. Often literally.
(And then imagine you’ve been invited to perform on the same stage, in the poet’s hometown, and you’re bricking it in front of a packed-out audience, and afterwards he just wanders up to talk to you, offering sincere and interested compliments on your performance, buys a CD with you and one of the other poets on it, and strolls off, and how that doesn’t quite leave you, and certainly never leaves your CV. Imagine that you see him a few years later, backstage while one of your mates’ bands play, and he starts harmonising effortlessly and beautifully, leant up against the tent, strumming and humming quietly, and you realise that this is someone who just likes good stuff, loves music, celebrates words, and just, well, does that. An articulate and generous human. Imagine that…)
The tent is going to be rammed while he’s on, I expect, but I’ll be right there, singing along.
(*Brief, political sidebar: I love these poets, but I also love how Successful Poet no longer means Middle-Aged, White Man these days.)