Sunday Part 1


One last time for pre-show act The Antipoet, kicking us off with typical bombast, then, three tracks in, they announce a Serious Poem – It’s Not Guns That Kill People. They ask if they should try doing more serious stuff, and the crowd absolutely concur. The moody bass rumble and the backing track add to the atmosphere of the rant against the NRA their ilk. Next comes their tribute to their sadly departed mate Tony, who they met at Glastonbury (Martial Artist Physiotherapist). By the time that’s done, the swelling crowd lap it up, chuckling and cheering. While Ian has finally donned his spiky, patent high-heels boots and basque on in this tent, Paul strips off for They’ve Got To Learn, an enthusiastic defence of the power of profanity. The lads’ partners join them to help the audience out with a set of cue cards with the extraordinary words written on them. The audience manage very well to chime in at the right time. Then crowd favourite I Like Girls kicks off (and I’m invited to grant the audience a alternative (queer, non-binary) perspective, as has become traditional over the years). They finish with a round of thanks to everyone, the flourish of new album title track Punk Uncle, and a roar of glorious cheers.

Compere Rosy Carrick takes to the stage in dungarees and revelations about her morning ablutions. She then gives a rousing, touching introduction to… oh, wait, it’s me…

Blogger Fay Roberts takes to the stage. To say I’m nervous would be understating this tremendously… And then I do my usual opening piece, Blissful Chance, and it turns out I do know what I’m doing, and the smallness and passivity of the audience and the loud drag yoga on the Sensation Seekers stage doesn’t phase me (though that’s quite the leotard!), and I’m grateful, in retrospect that my first appearance on the stage was with The Antipoet, because it’s only another festival stage and I know how to do this, and the key thing is not to let people know you’re bricking it.

The beautiful soul that’s Dominic Berry took some lovely photos and videos, and here they are (well, one of them – we’re experiencing a small problem with videos… they’ll come later)

We have a surprise guest (for complicated reasons – I won’t bore you), Australian artist Omar Mousa. His bars glitters across the beat of the outside, tackling Australian culture and toxic masculinity. I am in an adrenalin come-down, and busy signing the one book I’ve sold, so I don’t take in much, but I am going to look him up later, not least for stepping in at the last minute for reasons that… well…

Shama Rahman takes to the stage amidst a tangle of technicians and wires and instruments and cases and musicians and busy-ness (an audience member tells us he’d “rather be warm than Wu-Tang” in response to Rosy’s request for expansion on why he didn’t like their “mostly karaoke” set last night. I was busy having a loneliness and exhaustion melt-down, but I heard their chants and oddly congruent backing tracks while trying to settle down). Rosy performs her Arnold Schwarzenegger poem from Friday, then, the musicians being unready, another one I’ve not heard before, about the awkwardness of holding hands (called, oddly enough, Holding Hands).

The band launch as swiftly as possible into their truncated set with Ships In The Night, which passes through at least three different musical genres that I can count in dizzying profusion. Shama tells us that all her songs start as poems, and the next one is another person’s poem, which translates as Matchstick – “It’s a revolution song… don’t underestimate the power of a single matchstick – it could burn your whole house down…” I assume it’s in an Indian dialect (I’ll check later). She then gives us the title track from her latest album: Truth Be Told, the one with the glorious dance (the one I had in my head as (I Sing To Myself) Song To The Sea, as that’s a repeated refrain). And the synaesthesia shivers kick off for me with the beautifully dissonant ripples of instrumentation, and her voice dances between ribbons of mystical shimmers with an almost forceful, rock-inflected delivery. (I find myself forgiving her for sitting on my beloved cajon, which I unwisely left on the stage after its brief appearance with The Antipoet). The final track (All In Your Mind?) is yet another genre, the sitar and bass snarling under her chanted, almost rapped lyrics. The sound technician outdoes himself, giving her almost more reverb than is decent (almost!), and the growl of poem-song draws more intrigued audience members. Let’s hope they stay through the inevitable disentangling (and me retrieving my drum) to watch the next act!

Murray Lachlan Young takes to the stage, introduced as “the suavest man in existence”, which he grins at (and somehow manages that with faded, black jeans, a nondescript top, and flip-flops – it’s probably partly the voice, and partly really suiting silvering hair), asking us to bring the energy up with applause for ancient nomadic structure, recently emptied compost toilets, the benevolent part of Universal Consciousness, then a series of things that no-one likes or wants to applause. Then bongos. “Tippy-tappy-tip-tap-tap” he demands from the audience, which they’re, well, a little too listless to engage with. It melds into a series of rhythmic portraits of festival clichés, followed by a query: should we have a national referendum about the thong (men, wearing thongs, specifically). Young men flee towards to the end, and he weaves that into his outro. According to his recent reading, the tipping point has come: Britain has more famous people than normal people. He gives us a poems mostly using the words known and unknown, which growls and keen through the full range of his amazing voice. Honestly, his voice has only got more theatrical and astonishing over the years since my brother and I first stared at him on late night 90s TV. He goes on to rhythmically pillory one of P Diddy’s more outrageous antics in something uncomfortably close to an impersonation of a stereotyped, young person of colour. Avoiding going to the loo has apparently reached new, dark levels (eating charcoal tablets to avoid defecation until the person takes a laxative). The toilet talk continues. Horrific mentions of despair and death concerning Glastonbury history… with regard to defecation. Again, I’m struck with the phenomenon of headliners talking more between pieces than doing pieces. The Voice of a Portaloo follows, almost inevitably.

Someone tried to crash out in his tent, which is near the naked male sauna, where he did a naked gig, including the next piece: Tae A Scrotum (yes, in the style – and accent – of Rabbie Burn). I snigger helplessly. I won’t lie. We finish with the “erotic folk song poem” Dogging – what folk songs aren’t singing about, apparently, but should. “You’ll be pleased to know there’s a singalong chorus: And a-dogging I will go/ Oh, a-dogging I will go”). It’s a tour of the UK as seen through the medium of carparks.

(Yes, I got a selfie. What?!)

Courtney Conrad takes to the stage in a floaty, open black dress combo with big, pale flowers interweaving on it (yes, I’m still noticing clothes – don’t @ me, as they say). Her delivery is even stronger than her first performance on Friday. It’s a very similar set to that one, but with some I didn’t hear last time, and the usual enjoyment of summoning up other moments I’d not captured then. Maybe I’m in a different place myself today, but I hear more strongly the intensity of both her love and despair for her family and cultures, the difficulties of language and translation of Otherness within Otherness. It’s brave and quiet and a gritted teeth sharing of brutal, beautiful truths.

(I missed taking a photo of her. Sorry!)

Jonny Fluffypunk is greeted with an “Edinburgh Fringe size of audience” so, to the sound technician’s mild disquiet, he drags the mic and stand into the auditorium, but luckily he knows what he’s doing when it comes to sound equipment and feedback, so no horrific feedback ensues. “If you were here yesterday, you’ll learn a valuable lesson about the craft of seemingly spontaneous banter.” And then goes on to start with a very similar rant, minus the rock ’n’ roll bit, then a different kick-off poem – his ode to coffee, which breaks the fourth wall at nearly every other line, asking for audience participation to better complete the fourth line in the spelling section gifted to him by Oxford: “F – Fuck Tea!” (we end up with “Filtered, frothy, fumigates my brain…”). It’s reached that point of the festival where nearly everyone references the toilets… To be fair, they get emptied halfway through JFP’s set, adding a distinctive fragrance to proceedings. And, like the drifting whiff of human marsh gas, I wander out of the tent to make myself a sandwich. I’m sure the set ended well, though.

Saturday Part 1

WInston Plowes with his magical contraption is set to capture words

And we’re off! pre-show act The Antipoet kick us off with their classic Glastonbury track We Are The Warm-Up – to an audience of about 40 (which is, for a poetry gig, frankly bloody amazing, let alone on a Saturday morning at a festival). By track three they’re up to 50 (Paul informs me that there are 53 and I should also count the 40 who walked away earlier – duly noted). Clearly ranty poetry in eyeliner and bondage kilts is the way of the future. The set is different, leaning into the swearier stuff they avoided yesterday, summoning a harder laughter from the audience.

Compere Dominic Berry bounds onto the stage to give a poem on the Myth of Protein. Vegans in the audience particularly love it, cackling along.

Ana Paz takes to the stage to Move On Up. She stands, silent, for a deliberately, dramatically uncomfortable while, gazes at the audience, collects herself and the witnesses, gives an impassioned piece about the martyrdom of a queer activist of colour (“When I see you, I see me.”), how activism expands into community and history, and how much we still have to fight against, in the memory of Mariana Franco (an assassinated councilwoman from Rio de Janeiro). The rest of her set echoes this, as yesterday – an articulate rage against hypocrisy, the long history of explicit and – more dangerously – implicit messages from society about structural inequity (“I paid attention when my mother told me how to season/ But when a man told me that’s where I belonged, I didn’t listen”). The audience (yes, bigger than yesterday) lap it up, and she encourages hmms and fingerclicks for the next poem where she jumps off the stage to ramp up the intimacy on the topic of truth. She explicitly engineers her set on the fly to match the energy. They are loving the darker, more contemplative stuff, so she leans into that, holding the growing numbers of in the palm of her hand.

Dominic gives us another barnstormer about veganism, with so bloody many puns about food and masculinity that we’re broadsided when it gets serious and hands us uncomfortable facts about strength and animals.

Eve Piper takes to the stage in a gloriously bright dress. Yeah, I’ve no idea how to talk about clothes, but it’s such a dramatic contrast to yesterday even I notice these things. Right, words then. She starts as before, with a query: who here is single? And who’s keeping their options open? Who’s got their eye on a potential Glastonbury mate? Someone shouts “You, Eve! It’s you!” The set is the same as before, but sounds as fresh and well-crafted as yesterday, and the audience are as hooked, while I tug new favourite moments from the welter of words.

Liv Torc is now hosting the Open mic, kicking us off with verve, and a well-honed delivery of the guidelines (one poem only, don’t go over time or the kazoo and shakers will interrupt you), enthuses and draws people in like the best of hosts. I knew she’d be good! ☺

Dominic had to write out the bio of someone who declared themself too high to do it…

(Apologies for the paucity of photo quality from here on out – my phone was suffering from the heat something awful…)

Josie Alford (@josiealfordpoet) gives us the poem she used to propose to her boyfriend (he said yes). She is performing so she can tell her mum she’s performed at Glastonbury.

Mark McGivern gives us a poem for one of his oldest friend with a meditation on how to be a fixed point of stability in someone else’s life in all the small gestures. He runs his own spoken word and music events in Cambridge (and I’m so proud to see him on this stage).

Torrey Shineman (@TorreyShine) (surname rhymes with Cinnamon, if you were wondering) gives us a poem giving us the history of vulva epilation (terrifying – look it up, also merkins) in response to current fashion (especially in her native US).

John Row (a refugee from the 70s spoken word scene and famous back in Cambridge as a storyteller in every festival within a 50 mile radius) has escaped the Kids’ Field to rant about the shame of the racist basis of migration policies. The crowd erupts!

Chip Colquhoun (@creatorchip) is another professional storyteller from Cambridge, who was put down for this by John Row, and he brings us the one poem he’s got on his phone – a children’s version of Beowulf. He’s the first person to go over time, but curves it into a deft twist of finish (“If you want to know how it finishes, I think there’s a book about it somewhere…”)

Loudspeka (@loudspeka) is a political, pacifist activist (“break the code, write an ode”) who rants a colourful exposé of big business, a confrontation that has the crowd whooping. Due to struggling with the technology (which hates the heat even more than I do), I missed getting a photo of her. Gah. Sorry! Check her out online anyway!

Bertram: That Geezerbird (“70% Skittles. Too excitable properly. Definitely at least the prettiest one here”) gives us a rousing rap about confusion that gets the crowd clapping in time as they bounce, skipping about the stage, then roaring as they leap from it.

Robin Lawley, who came third in the last Glastonbury Poetry&Words slam, absolutely changes the atmosphere (the proper joy of open mic, folks!) with an ode to a departed cat, gentle and personal and absolutely in the spirit of Jeremy Hardy who he’s just been a part of memorialising.

Jason Butler (@oldmanvegas) gives us a rapidly rhyming anecdote about an escaped crab. The crowd love this tale of late night seaside vengeance. Sadly, didn’t capture him either!

Ross Wallis gives us An Epistle, conceived a few weeks ago, and written while waiting in the huge queue to get into the Festival, an articulate, heartfelt apology to the next generation, fitting for an Extinction Rebel.

Ade Ogonboor DJ’d at Glastonbury a few years ago, got home, got cancer, beat cancer, and is back here, now, in the Poetry&Words tent talking with great, quiet articulacy about austerity and Brexit. He then continues to barrack various of the performers, including commenting on Rosy’s legs (she bats him down with superb poise).

Elise Wouters (@eliserebelfox) is a Belgian poet living in London who writes erotic Brexit poetry (“There’s the niche we didn’t know we needed!” cries Liv), and it’s as filthy as you’d imagine and witty with rage to boot, beautifully delivered.

Sunny Jim (@_SunnyJim) gives us Plastic (W)Rap – an environmental activist with a hip-hop inflected angry gesture to the sea of plastic and its source, literally heat-stroked and (figuratively) erupting with ire.

Rosie Solomon (@rosiees7) is a surprise finish to the open mic (again: we’re under-running, somehow!) with a rant about working in a bar – Don’t Tell Me How To Pour A Fucking Pint. It’s exactly what you’d imagine, and really, really good – a rallying cry to service workers and female-presenting people everywhere.

Festival veteran Jonny Fluffypunk roars onto the stage (yet another pair of dungarees*, this time looking like they were part of the previous wave of dungaree-wearing; authenticity in every thread) and shortly thereafter plunges into the audience to shriek at them about their place in proceedings (giving the poets the attention and validity they crave, obviously). He gulders about the foolishness of “poetry being the new rock ’n’ roll,” and entirely blows his own theory by being the punkest thing on stage (with the possible exception of Paul Eccentric) so far. As ever, it’s somewhere between the most cynical of stand-up, almost more time spent on the between-poem ranting and banter, and break-outs from the pieces to address the audience in a fourth-wall-smashing series of pithy jabs and bon mots about his good words. The audience are quiet but intent, absolutely with him in every line, cackling and whooping, sniggering and raising hands, lobbing ripostes every so often. I’ve seen him do this very set several times, and it’s still delicious, and I’m glad I’m here to witness it in its natural environment.

*My memory is made faulty by unwitting dehydration – photographic evidence has him in practical combat shorts. Can you even believe anything I write here? Probably…

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Demi Anter sashays onto the stage through the batwings, bogling with Dominic to the fantastic music she’s gifted by the technician and resplendent in a yellow dress that’s perfect for the shimmy. She reveals later that she’s a daughter of desert – despite her Celtic colouring, this heat just bounces off her. And so this leads us into a poem about her mother, and today’s set continues to be more about family and travel that yesterday’s. Still hypnotic, personal, anecdotal, deeply emotional where anecdotal poetry sometimes puts a barrier, a safer distance between the performer and their truth. But her courage is “seemingly unending”, and this theatre turns into a polemic about how to be truthful in the world of spirit and heart. She finishes with the same end dating site-like piece as last yesterday, but – in a tribute to Ana Paz’s “amazing use of space” – she unhitches the microphone and strolls around and bends into the space and suddenly it’s even more theatrical and, somehow, funnier (and more terrifying).

Illustrator Scott Tyrrell takes to the stage after Dominic gets the crowd screaming “as though Boris Johnson had left politics” to a classic rock track. He opens with the title track to his book (“(If We’re Being) Honest”), something that is, essentially, a list poem, but a superior example of the species, uncomfortable and hilarious, and waaay too intimate (I know a lot more about his masturbatory habits and his relationship with his cat now). It’s followed by one of my favourites of his: Bad Dad, swiftly seguing into Gabriel, which starts with a kind of “kids say the funniest things” intro and turns to a paean to platonic male love. Scott excels in awkward emotions and the kind of social observations that any high-flying postmodern author would be proud to display with this level of skill, plus any number of killer last lines. Wonderfully, with his intro to the famous (awkwardly, gleefully, hilariously erotic) Coitus Interruptus, he even manages to embarrass himself, charming, blushing even further than the heat (“Hello! I’M DYING! I’m not from the desert – I’m from the North-East!”). He moves onto the tender Blue Badge of Honour about his beloved, disabled wife which is the one that made me drop my pen and wipe my eye when I first heard it. It’s still powerful, still delivered with loving rage (“I am the feather to her fortress…”).

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Introducing: Jonny Fluffypunk

Jonny Fluffypunk
Back to perform with us is Jonny Fluffypunk, 14:05-14:30 Saturday; 14:15-14:40 Sunday . If he’s new to you/ you’d like a reminder, read on:

In his own words:

“Stand-up poet and lo-fi theatremaker Jonny Fluffypunk has been dragging his art around the spoken word, comedy and alternative cabaret circuits for over 20 years. His fusion of bittersweet autobiography and surreal whimsy has made him a firm headline favourite at gigs, festivals and housing benefit offices throughout the UK.”

Fay’s words:

I love telling the story of how I first met JFP – not at a slam or an open mic or a random festival, or even at a Rrrants gig, this was at a networking event for spoken word performers and organisers (more the latter than the former, from memory). I’d just started walking towards the venue, looking around, unsure, in this pre-satnav time, if I’d landed in the right place. Across the carpark stroll two figures – both tall, one completely bald, broad as a builder, and the other rake-thin, sporting a handlebar moustache and a beret. “I’m definitely in the right place for poets!” I call out (or something similar). As they get nearer I hold my hand out. “No!” exclaims Handlebar Moustache, “Poets hug!” and proceeded to envelope me in an embrace while the other looked on in gentle amusement. And that was the first time I met (now former) Young People’s Laureate Wales, Martin Daws, and host of the Hip Yak Poetry Shack, Jonny Fluffypunk. He’s toured Hammer & Tongue a couple of times, so I’ve hosted him in Cambridge and seen him range rapidly around festival stages to boot. This is a man whose style can best be described as a kind of genial rage. His energy can’t be contained by a stage, so off he goes, burning through ergs and the soles of his boots, charging into the audience and involving them in his rants. He breaks the fourth wall repeatedly throughout his forays into every subject under the sun, pointing out good lines and clever rhymes, asking us what we think about this bit, should I keep it? Somewhere between stand-up comedy, poetry, punk-inflected anarchy, and something truly unique, he strides through observations of the world that put professional comics to shame and manage to startle, delight, and confound in nearly equal measure. Clever, passionate, memorable, and wise, it’s an experience to savour, and I’m looking forward to seeing him again, both off- and on-stage!

Sneak preview: