Sunday Part 2

I miss compere Dominic Berry’s final first entrance of the day (look, it makes sense to me, shh) while I’m picking out the slices of bread that don’t have (visible) mould for my sandwich (nearly typed sadwich; interesting parapraxis).

Gecko takes to the stage immediately making his guitar singing like a harp. It’s his tenth performance at Glastonbury Festival 2019. “Round of applause for me still having some kind of voice!” It’s an excellent voice – all down to Vocalzones, apparently, though I suspect good rehearsal and technique, but what do I know? He’s ludicrously talented, and I don’t have the guitar vocabulary to convey it. Like all the amazing guitarists I know, his fingers tease out sounds almost unconsciously, even while he’s talking to us (I’m trying to avoid cliché here about his instrument being an extension of him; how did I do?). He’s able to switch up between performance and very spontaneous audience banter, the wit and compassion in the songs bleeding straight out into other interactions (example: the wind blows a heavy barrier over at the side and he immediately breaks off to ask: “Is everyone okay?” – seems small, but it’s classy as hell, to my mind; then goes on to make a joke about how it’s his low-tech equivalent of Stormzy’s fireworks). His songs veer between silly, passionate, meaningful, sweet, and witty, and reflect all sorts of genres (which is pretty miraculous considering he’s just one dude with a guitar. One well-engineered encore later, he leaps off the stage to perfect timing.

Dominic sits cross-legged on the stage to give us a small poem while the technicians set up for Joe around him. It’s different from his usual stuff, in metre and subject – Glastonbury and new friends. It’s just lush, and I want a copy.

Bringing us the Sunday showcase – Monster – is Joe Sellman-Leava. He enters to a slowed version of the Friends theme, and a blatter of the slogans of toxic masculinity. It’s a story about a boy and a girl, and the boy (Joe) learning something from the girl (who he won’t name), and a play (Troilus and Cressida), and confusion and violence… He immediately switches up voices quickly, which helps later with the placement of the first conversation. It’s rapid-fire and a clearly not chaotic, but definitely disorientating. Joe is talking to his girlfriend as he tries to learn lines for the play, researching male (specifically inter-gender) violence, and he switches between the conversations, the play, reminiscence of their first meeting, the research (Patrick Stewart talking about his father’s violence against his mother, Mike Tyson talking about his relationship with various women), the rehearsals, showing us how violence can underpin even the smallest of interactions (mother and father, son and mother, boyfriend and girlfriend, male director and (virtually) silent actress), and – arguably – the limitations of Method.

And then it takes a left turn into the director and Sally talking about something that appears to be this play itself, and we slalom even quicker between reminiscence, quotes/ impersonations, conversations (arguments?), Shakespearean soliloquising, rehearsal, domestic interactions, but his voicing and placement with the spare set of two fold-out chairs assist us to see it, hear it, follow it, live it. And slowly, my own fear builds until I’m catapulted out of the tent just as the insidious voice of the director pushes for Joe to do unspeakable – yet spoken, here – things to the actress? The character?

“There is a fascist, a rapist, and a monster inside all of us, because no-one is innately good.”

“I’ve lost myself, and what remains is bestial.”

The inevitable course of this series of dilemmas and conflicts spirals into a break-up.

Patrick Stewart’s story is my story. And Joe’s story is my story. And fulminating, seemingly irresistible rage doesn’t just happen to men. But they’re both right – while anger isn’t, violence is a choice. Making that choice is important, and has to be made every day if the toxic legacy is to be left behind. This is a spoken word show. It’s all true. It may not be factual but, like all good art, it’s true.

Dominic gives us another of his Glastonbury poems from his time as Poet in Residence 2017: We Are Mud. It’s glorious and fun and loving, and a perfect come-down after the intensity that’s just gone before, after he walks us through some Toby Campion-inspired deep breaths in chorus.

Poet in Residence Vanessa Kisuule takes to the stage in… well, basically, yet another fabulous, glamorous outfit. How? How?! She always looks extraordinary, and it’s, as ever, a lesson in attitude and joy in yourself making a person look magnetic. ANYWAY, she starts with one of her recent favourites: Not Worth Shaving Your Arsehole For, complete with intricate introduction. Increasingly hoarsely, she gives us a touching ode to motherhood, then one to octopodes (I love them even more now). Her grandmother puts in an appearance now, divided by speech, Vanessa not having the language of her family, but loving her through the tales and fables told. And finally, laryngitis just about failing to throttle her, a list love poem to female camaraderie – proper friends and club friends (“babes, love, and pumpkin… don’t text back, babes!”). She tells such spare, vivid stories with her gorgeously textured lyricism – this is the perfect efficiency of poetry spun by an absolute master.

2017 Glastonbury Poetry&Words Slam Winner, multiple slam-winner, and Bard of Exeter Jackie Juno floats to the stage in layers of frilly white, resembling a very happy, earthly cloud, explaining that she’s from Totness, where you’re never more than a few feet from a homeopath. She starts with a terrible tale of fluffy white lighters. This woman who advertises tarot readings in the poetry campsite and professes a great love for trees (lovely poem), calling out to Lord and Lady during it, inducing the audience into evoking the spirits of thirteen British trees, she has the older pagan’s mild disdain for modern hippy culture, especially the consumerist element. I want to ask her how she feels about Glastonbury and its many, many stalls. Maybe I will later… She gets us one-two’ing to complete her poem, complete with many terrible puns. Her enjoyment is infectious, and the audience are chuckling along, especially to her anecdote about being booked for a “mini Glyndebourne”. The rhymes that follow are a fabulous send-up of the mangled diction of the intensely upper classes.

 

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Saturday Part 2

Gecko is ushered onto the stage by Rosy Carrick, technicians, and Portishead. He kicks off with I Can’t Know All The Songs (we chorus – in harmony! – until the end), a perfectly formed intro song, followed by the piece that I probably know best of his: Rapunzel. It’s incredibly catchy, and unashamedly feminist, basically doing what fanfic writers call a fix-it of the original tale. More mythology follows as he turns out a rap/ recitative adapting The Tooth Fairy into modern job parlance. I miss the next song (with singing accompaniment by Maya(?)) as I have lost the will to be in the swelter any longer, so stand in the shade outside the tent, catching as much breeze as will make a difference. We’re all glad that there’s no rain, and mud is minimal, but it’s as stuffy and sticky as the third circle of Hell in the tent. He ends with a sweet tribute to the magic of childhood. We’ve seen so many styles in this short span of time, and this is elegiac, joyful paean which fast-forwards to a bleak-looking old age, leavened by mythical memories. The technician gives him the perfect level of reverb – enough to lift it into legend, without drowning us in soft-focus glurge – and he punctuates the different moods with whole-body movement, gleefully bestriding and then slumping at the microphone. And he takes us with him. Bravo! The crowd agrees!

Desree takes to the stage again in a swelter, her first poem lauded by the audience who look to be unconscious with heat, but absolutely there with her. I am distracted with a bunch of admin (people, hydration, and data charges – yeah, no WiFi, mate), sadly, but I love the fragments of these new poems I hear, tackling body image, race, abuse, and toxic relationships (with others and ourselves). She ends with that anthemic piece about privilege with aplomb. It’s from her teeny chapbook, and she takes cards as well as cash – GET ONE. I’m definitely doing so.

Luke Wright takes to the stage to The Fratellis. It’s a perfect young punk, chanty, ranty, loud and clever intro to a striding length of man with deliberately messy hair and a DIY-style “PUTA MADRE” teeshirt (Google it – I’m not telling you). After a typical rhyming rant about Good Morning Britain and all it means (“Piers Morgan says: ’You can’t say anything these days! You can’t say anything these days! You can’t say anything these days! You can’t say anything these days!’ And yet you seem to, Piers!”) which slides into something deliberately quieter and slower, he confirms the fact slipped into Rosy’s introduction that they kissed earlier. He tells us that there’s a sliver of shade behind the Cabaret tent that’s sheltered him through the toxic, omnipresent heat, gives us quiet ode to his children. A pier-end-style marching band outside underlines the outro, a bigger contrast unimaginable, flourishes of music fanfaring Luke’s disquiet (confusing since he’s been performing here for actual decades – he’s been doing this since his teens). His children feature strongly – the love is glowing, palpable, quiet and beautiful (even when he’s voicing his seven-year-old as an East End villain). The other love (apart from Rosy – Tank Girled and cast as a PVC goddess) that gets immortalised is of Bungay, where he lives, in anecdote form, describing how uncool it is in the way that you complain about your favourite ancient anything (cardigan, uncle, cat, car, movie). As well as being the first person to drop the c-word (to my knowledge) on the Poetry stage this year (Mavericks after dark is another story), he dissects British culture – social anxiety, snobbishness, inferiority complexes and all. Embrace The Wank is in defence of pretentiousness, telling the audience that, were he in charge they’d be locked in, unable to wander – “it’s not about entertainment, it’s about bettering yourselves!” and he shouts himself hoarse with a series of epithets, the one that creases me into a spasm of mirth being something like “Let me bathe in a pool of expert jism!” The final track is a slow, sad ode to knowing Britain by its motorways – the life of a touring poet revisited, appropriately. The massed audience are rapturous.

Erin Fornoff takes to the stage to a track I know but have no idea of the name. She frugs and twirls with extraordinary verve, scarlet fabric flitting to the renewed breeze, tells us that we’re entering the Feelings Zone. Home proves her words. Her esprit d’escalier poem about her horrific mentor (see yesterday’s revelation). Her style is more mobile this time. I’m finding it fascinating who moves more or less today, who’s louder, who’s quieter, who has the same set, and who different. I’m losing focus – I’m not designed for the heat (likewise not from the desert, I am all about dim, wet, windy, cool places – thanks, genetics), but, like Eve before her, I’m enjoying different elements from this near-identical set as I continue to brush spiders from my keyboard and bless the breeze that’s finally caressing us. Erin (who got me an ice cream earlier, carried safely across the length of a baking Bella’s Field and beyond, like the bottomlessly kind soul that she is) spots Lemn Sissay standing at the back, who’s turned up early to hang out (and be mobbed in short order by organisers, technicians, artists, and other fans)

Toby Campion takes to the stage, still summery as hell in dungarees and white teeshirt (what is it with me noticing clothes today?!), giving us, as promised, the same set as last night (and, as promised, The Antipoet are doing their best to drown him out from the other stage across the field), and again – despite having seen it yesterday (and a similar set a couple of other times), I enjoy not only the craft and the words, but the warmth he bestows on the audience, friendly and engaged despite the audience being a fraction of yesterdays, holding them seemingly effortlessly. (And I got another nosebleed during this, which somewhat impeded my typing ability.) His finishing, crescendoing rant about a homophobic attack at Glastonbury 2016 is given a beautiful underlay of building bass to add ominousness to the message he’s giving us.

Headliner Lemn Sissay takes to the stage to glorious music and rapturous applause, comments on the music, throws himself off, and asks if he can come on again as he’s put himself off. It’s oddly comforting to see someone so very experienced, so very lauded, wanting to perfect their entrance, their presence. His first piece, Let Go, is advice to be yourself, despite what people tell you. It is preacherly, a story, a parable, a song of mythological proportions. And, in perfect, unchanging rhythm, a wheelchair user with a vocal tic barks a counterpoint to his words (sometimes echoing a word he uses, but mostly “hey!” or single-syllable epithets) that a) oddly enhances his performance, b) does not seem to throw him in any way whatsoever. He then points out that this is an unusual kick-off poem – it’s long, and thinky, and difficult (and uneasy), lambasting slam poetry – you shouldn’t be doing this to get people to like you, say what you really want to say, not what you think the audience want to hear. He then deconstructs his own performance, and his own thought process, with a breakdown of the voices in his head, with in-jokes about arts funding and what the arts means, and how the industry separates artists from community, with a series of terrible insults and jokes, with the person with the tic echoes back. (“Nobcheese!” is my favourite.)

Invisible Kisses is next, which apparently gets used in weddings a lot (“If you used this for your wedding and you didn’t pay me, I just want you to know that you’ve robbed a black man!” – the almost entirely white audience laughs knowingly). At this point he acknowledges the involuntary heckler with a comic stare. The vocal tic doesn’t work with the rhythm of this particular poem, I have to say…

(I don’t have to say, obviously, but I’m trying to place you here. This might also be the point to tell you that I raced outside after his set to track her down, and it turns out that it was none other than Jess Thom, otherwise known as Tourettes Hero, and you can see her at Astrolane, apparently!)

The passion of his delivery, against all the background noises makes it more powerful than any version I’ve so far seen online.

The next poem is old, addressing a social worker who bullied him when he was a child. He is one of the most parenthetical poets I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a lot of Jonny Fluffypunk), the chaotic, nesting statements of his between-poem anecdotes and explanations are a glorious contrast to the crafted structure of the poems. He tells us he’ll cut out the swearing, at which point Jess Thom shouts a beautifully timed f-word, and Mr. Sissay decides to address her explicitly (“I suppose I’d better talk to you…”). The poem itself turns out to be shorter than the explanation by whole minutes. He slaloms between anecdotes, explanation, lies, and poems, and the distinction between them starts to break down. The crowd loves everything he offers them, and I’m enthralled and all – this is different from the poetry films readily available online, more like a TED Talk or a lecture from the most rock ’n’ roll poetry lecturer EVER. Disfunctional stops a few bars in because he can’t find it in his book. It’s impossible to tell whether this is deliberate craft or a beautiful insight into a very human performer. Poe’s Law in action?

It’s nothing like what I was expecting, including the gaffes, the fourth-wall breaking, the deconstruction, losing his place, forgetting his way. After an exchange about cats with the person with the inadvertent heckler, he forgets what he’s doing next, and someone suggests one he approves of, even though he wasn’t going to do it. So Flock of Sound roars, sings, and stamps unplanned into the space, and the tic is in perfect syncopation with it, and we holler for it, and he follows it up with something similarly rhythmic and anthemic, a powerful ode to Martin Luther King. He bounces with renewed energy in its wake: “Thank you! Sometimes I forget myself!” And now he’s flying, chanting, gathering us with him to rise in his glorious slipstream in his namechecking goddesses and heroines as he calls out praise to womanhood.

His last is Architecture, for his friend Vikas, who’s in the audience. He thanks us for attending, despite the huge number of other things we could be doing in this massive festival. The imagery is deliberately huge, stamping its way into our consciousness. And, of course, we roar for an encore, and he gives us an intro about trust and forgiveness (you can stay angry, but forgiveness helps us to let go – and it’s not about the people you’re forgiving, but for you to put the burden down, and helps you be stronger, change things, and being an activist). Open Up talks about the heritage of migration in industrial Britain, about what “belonging” means, a rallying cry to open all boundaries.

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Interview with Will Sanderson-Thwaite/ Gecko

We sent interview forms out to our artists, and we’ll be sharing their stories here on the blog. Next up:

Gecko by Scott Tyrrell

Gecko by Scott Tyrrell

Your Name

Will Sanderson-Thwaite

Name of Act

Gecko

Website

http://geckoofficial.com

Twitter handle

@geckoofficial

Instagram handle

@geckoofficial

Video

http://youtube.com/geckoofficial

Audio

Spotify

Facebook Page

http://facebook.com/geckoband

How did you get into poetry/ spoken word?

The Apples & Snakes open mic Jawdance at the rich mix in Hackney was my entry point into this wonderful world. I come from a music background where open mic has very different connotations and I was absolutely blown away by the warmth and energy of the place.

Who are your influences/ idols?

Randy Newman

What’s the one thing you’d like people to know about your work?

There might be some audience participation!

Who are you looking forward to seeing/ what are you looking forward to doing at the Festival?

I’m ridiculously excited to see Stormzy headline.

Have you been to Glastonbury Festival before?

Yes

What’s your stand-out memory of the Festival?

Playing after Billy Bragg in the Green Fields. Not only that playing after Billy Bragg closing with a Bob Dylan song. No pressure!

What’s the one thing you simply must bring with you to the Festival?

Vocalzones

What advice would you give someone visiting the Festival for the first time?

Explore off the beaten track, try not to have too much planned so you can be free!

Have you performed at Glastonbury Poetry&Words before?

No

What words would you use to describe your work/ your act?

poetry, spoken word, music, multidisciplinary entertainment

What do you like best about doing whatever you call whatever it is that you do on stages?

Building up trust with an audience so that you can become more playful with them as the show goes on.

Anything else you’d like to tell us?

I will have some CDs of my album Volcano with me if anyone would like to support that dying medium.


You can see Gecko at 15:35-16:00 Saturday; 14:45-15:10 Sunday at the Glastonbury Poetry&Words stage. Read our previous article about him here.

Introducing: Gecko

Gecko Theatre & circus promo 2
Performing for the first time with us is Gecko, 15:35-16:00 Saturday; 14:45-15:10 Sunday. If he’s new to you/ you’d like a reminder, read on:

In his own words:

“Gecko is a singer-storyteller, his playful lyrics cover the big things in life; think iPhones, Libraries & Guanabana fruit juice to name but a few. Gecko has performed across the world from Stockholm to Wellington, Paris to Crawley. His debut record ‘Volcano’ was made ‘Album of the year’ in the Morning Star. He has shared stages with the likes of Ed Sheeran, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Robin Ince, Josie Long, John Hegley & Billy Bragg.”

Fay’s words:

Here’s the weird thing: I know Gecko, but I’ve never seen him perform… He’s been part of Spoken Word @ PBH’s Free Fringe for a couple of years, and in 2018 was the show before mine. We’d talk briefly, wish each other well, and get on with the business of The Next Thing (this is how Fringe is, frankly!). So now I get the treat of not only previewing his work here but watching him live in a few weeks’ time. Let’s get stuck in…

For a start, unlike many of the other artists (shyer? fewer opportunities?), Gecko has a profusion of videos to choose from. And while his YouTube channel has a plethora of official videos (high production values, innovative presentation styles, and the odd familiar name from the world of south-east-England-spoken-word rap/ rap-inflected artists), it’s the live performances I find myself gravitating to. Here, not only does the beautiful musicianship and the slightly breathy, but incredibly flexible, vocal delivery shine through, but his stage craft and audience rapport dominates. Gecko focuses on a range of topics, mostly bedded in pop culture (iPhones, Instagram, the studied nonchalance of selfies), but some as old as humanity (the search for relevance, connection, autonomy – no matter how scary that is), and he manages to steer you into the profound via humour and whimsy, tight rhymes and plangent notes guiding audiences to revelation after revelation. His deep love for humanity rings through every line, and he is an absolute master of his craft. I’m really looking forward to seeing him win over yet another audience next month (and to finally get to experience this live for once!).

Sneak preview: