Friday Part 2

Compere Dominic Berry kicks us off with one of my favourite poems of his (I Will Not Treat My Friend Like An iPod), roaring us into excited appreciation of poetry (Bowie on the Pyramid Stage makes another appearance as an inducement to whoops)

Paula Varjack makes the best entrance through the saloon doors, glorious in gold lame and attitude, and she launches into the dark, burlesque rant of Commodity, following it up with My Country, and then her piece about strip clubs, covering race, international culture, shame, sexuality, self-definition, identity, the masks of intimacy and expression acroas her pieces. Paula blends confession and storytelling, summoning the audience closer for something new and even more visceral about her first experience of London queer culture, written for seminal London club Heaven. It’s wonderfully, horribly reminiscent of my own first 90s gay club experience (except that I had a straight mate who insisted on dragging me out for my birthday, and I didn’t get off with anyone, and this was the only gay club in Cardiff and… you know what? never mind…), with a fantastic soundtrack I want to dance to as though I’m in my 20s again (don’t worry – I still dance like that; it doesn’t take much; I probably will later). She checks that the parent of the one child in the audience is fine with hedonistic sex and drugs references to finish us off. This is Glastonbury. They’re fine. We’re all fine. And I’m never going to look at coffee the same way again…

Dominic gives us The Beleaguered Vegan, a barnstormer of a poem which talks of uncomfortable facts about meat and dairy production.

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Brian McMahon Gallagher takes to the stage (again through the batwings to induced roars from the audience) to launch into a piece about how Shakespeare is shite, and how true love isn’t proved by “topping yourself after your first shag.” It meanders via toxic masculinity and gender roles, and concludes that maybe true love isn’t depicted that often is because true love might be boring. Then he suggests he gets his panic attack poem out of the way (apparently all poets have a panic attack poem; wish I’d known – that might have made my own a little easier to bear – maybe Irish poets are more forthcoming), followed by getting his Irish poem out of the way (his term!), written for the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Republic – Was It For This? Toxic masculinity and homophobia (internalised and externalised) thread through the next few poems as well.

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Dominic Berry brings us his poems about video games and social anxiety next, then encourages us to scream for Erin, as though Bowie, Prince, and Keith Flint had formed a supergroup.

Erin Fornoff takes to the stage, shimmying through the batwings to the twirl of harp music, and launches into that poem of hers that I love immoderately – Home – followed up by a classic #MeToo/ #TimesUp poem about the kind of subtextual casting couch abuse that successful men love to sow as ways to get into less powerful people’s heads and pants (don’t go to lunch with Peter Sheridan, is the advice – and yes, I have permission to blog that!). She excels in word portraits in a few spare words, vignette after vignette scrolling by like you’re meeting people in her life, limned with her love. She talks about loss in such a fluid, beautiful way that it eases it, somehow. I’d love to bring her poetry with me, and apparently, I’ll have a chance to buy her book (Hymn To The Reckless, named after a gorgeous poem that’s love and fire and the glory of the memorably ephemeral). Guess I know where my cash is going (unless she’s up for a book swap). How about you?

(My phone is being peculiar about media uploads, but there should be a video of Erin at this point – hopefully I can get it in tomorrow!)

Dominic tells us that he finds lots of hope at Glastonbury Festival, tries to bottle it and bring it with him in the rest of his life. This informs the next two poems.

Eve Piper takes to the stage after Dominic asks us to give the same amount of applause as if Donald Trump stepped down from politics. She asks who of us are single (or keeping our options open), segues into her property-marking poem about love bites. It’s fascinating to hear a poem that’s very reminiscent of the Bristol poetry sound in a Mancunian accent. The next piece is one of those letters to someone who’s done something that’s “punishable by poem”. It’s that poem that hooked me when I was researching her for the preview article – Taxi Driver. Articulate rage used in the best way and for reasons that no-one should have to celebrate escape. She reveals that the mental health is so poor for Bristol University that it’s measured, at its worst, in a suicide rate (which she landmarks as a trigger warning) that sounds to me closer to that of the armed forces. The anger here is quieter, close to despair, again the voice of someone who’s escaped, painting a visceral picture that drowns out the Latin beats outside thumping under her words. Class war, gender disparity, and the violence of silence rings through her work. And a love for rave. Lush!

(Again with the video upload fail – apologies!)

Tony Walsh takes to the stage after a heartfelt and passionate intro from Dominic, and gets us happy and cheering with a cheerful celebration of festival life (adapted from a Kendal Calling poem) and moves onto a rousing ode to John Peel, Keeping It Peel (I think it might have a longer title…). (And then I have to run out, because the glamour of this job is picking between watching one of your favourite poets or having a wee. I did get to tell John Hegley backstage that his shorts suited him (he was debating with his friend about changing for the stage); I don’t think he heard me.) When I’m back, he’s giving a typically wordplay-rich, rhymetastic ode to the joy of movies… no, it’s about the British arts scene. It’s an anthem to the joy and work and connection that art brings – entertainment, wealth, occupation, culture, representation from the stadium-fillers to the tiniest local open mic or art exhibition. We want to roar along with him: “Witness the richness, we’re poorer without this!” and stand together, as he urges, all artforms together against austerity, not talking about how funding is dividing up between art, health, and education, but we should be taking our rage back to “whoever stole the cake in the first place”. Now it’s a ranting, frantic, magic tribute to glam rock, and how any music can represent and lift up everyone from everywhere, of any background or demographic. And for his mate Dennis from the Strummerville Stage (and for Joe Strummer of course) it’s a Shakespearean sonnet using Clash lyrics! I’ve don’t think I’ve ever heard a more dynamic sonnet; I’d honestly forgotten it was that form until the final couplet. His final poem is quieter, and yet as anthemic as anything that’s gone before, reminding us that we’re all love, all connected, all divine. We can make it better, we can make it better, we can make it better… And after that set (hell, after even one of those poems), we can believe it!

(Another video missing here – ah, Glastonbury!)

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Headliner John Hegley takes to the stage with typical diffidence, a ukelele with a smiling face built in, and what looks like a knitted potato with an orange bobble hat. On second glance it might be a hamster. We are instructed to sing “Dancing!” at the right point. We are then further instructed to sing it correctly (rising note on the second syllable). “Enough of the fun – now for some poetry.” Riddles (some with rhyming clues, others without) are shared with us. It’s hard to say whether he looks more disappointed when we get it right or wrong (the final one – depression – is guessed at by one wit as “Boris Johnson”, to a wry dismissal). Every single one of these pieces demands audience participation of some kind, and it’s picked up with increasing enthusiasm and deftness, just in time for Martin to join him with a guitar and a tale of how we should all be helpful, like Martin.

When he says snail instead of slug and we pitch in with the salute to the snail he namechecks a delighted Tony Walsh and tells us that “we must fail with aplomb”. There’s plenty more chances to fail in the many (including new) gestures to accompany Guillemot, and in picking a translator to turn his short story into English. Nicky steps up to the plate gloriously, and we see Mr. Hegley smile for the first time, frankly flirtatiously. In the course of finding an interpreter, I spot Baden (namechecked by Mr. Hegley) from my first days of poetry in Northampton. The world of poetry is ridiculously small. After a couple of lovely, deceptive wee poems where we’re invited to fill in the rhyme (except sometimes it’s not a rhyme, or it is, against expectation – I’ve never enjoyed being persistently wrongfooted so much!

Finally, for crowd favourite Luton Bungalow, we join in happily in our sections – it’s such a lovely, warm time, and… wait, it’s only the final piece if we don’t ask them back for a spontaneously prepared encore! Martin and John leave, returning to a rapturous standing ovation (from those of us easily able to rise!) to give an actually spontaneous rendition of Spectacles as requested by an audience member, and then one which name I missed in all the fun of a five section chorus about different types of birds. The words of the verses form a sober, loving meditation on death and the meaning of life, family, legacy, and connection, and a wonderful end to a gorgeous set that fled by too fast.

(For some reason, my phone won’t let me upload photos and videos of Mr. Hegley. I’ll try again tomorrow!)


Interview with Tony Walsh

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

Tony Walsh by Scott Tyrrell

Tony Walsh by Scott Tyrrell

Your Name

Tony Walsh


Twitter handle


Instagram handle




Facebook Page

How did you get into poetry/ spoken word?

I’ve written poetry since the age of 6 and still have my poems from primary school. I wrote until my mid teens and nothing then for many years until I was in my late 30s with two small children. I read my first poem in public at the age of 39 (2004) and made it to my first Glastonbury Festival within a year.

Who are your influences/ idols?

Idols is the wrong word but big respect and thanks to all the pioneers of spoken word, too many to list, and to everyone who first inspired me and welcomed me onto the Manchester then national scenes. I list a couple of hundred poets for people to checkout in the back of my first book, SEX & LOVE & ROCK&ROLL (Burning Eye 2013)

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

I write for adults and children on a wide range of subjects and in lots of different styles/forms. It can be frustrating when people think that the one or two poems they may have heard is all that you’re about.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in spoken word/ performance poetry?

Read lots, get to as many events as you can, has a great gig guide, watch everything that you can on YouTube. I offer my own story and my thoughts on the seen in the Manifesto from the front of my book, a link to which I’ve included above.

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

Showing my wife around for her first ever Glaso and sharing the whole crazy experience with her. Seeing and hearing poetry friends old and new. I try not to march around with a timetable but I’d be chuffed if I could catch a few from a list including: Janelle Monae, Lizzo, Fontaines DC, Chemical Brothers, Mavis Staples, Sheryl Crow, Johnny Marr, Slaves, Queen Zee, Pip Blom, Michael Kiwanuka, Neneh Cherry, Sharon Von Etten, She Drew The Gun, Kurt Vile, Dream Wife… blimey, getting excited now!

Have you been to Glastonbury Festival before?


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

Being the official website Poet in Residence for the 2011 festival was pretty special. Thank you P&W!

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

An open mind.

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

Try and see all of the site at least once (day and night) but accept that it won’t all be to your taste. Find the “festivals within the festival” that work best for you. There are quieter places to be found if it all gets a bit overwhelming. Pace yourself, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t try and see everything, the best things might well be a random happening on the way to the loo at 3am.

Have you performed at Glastonbury Poetry&Words before?

Yes, several times since 2005. I was Poet in Residence in 2011, hosted the slam one year and helped crew the stage for a few years too.

What’s your standout memory of performing at the Glastonbury Poetry&Words stage?

The naked man, covered in mud and apparently on acid, who slithered in with a film crew as I performed in 2005.

What advice would you give someone performing here for the first time?

The stage is very well run but, hey, it’s a festival and all sorts of random stuff could happen during your set. Be prepared, have a Plan B and go with the flow. Enjoy it and be sure to spend a lot of time in the poetry tent and backstage. How often can you meet/see so many other people who really get this cool, niche thing that we do? Help out if you can, help bark up a crowd etc.

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


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

It’s all about connection, innit. To move a space full of people, to make them laugh, cry, cheer, dance, think join in etc, is a privilege as well as being a real buzz that can sustain you over the many other hurdles of choosing the poet’s path in life.

Anything else you’d like to tell us?

Lots of exciting news to come soon across a range of genres and platforms – new book, tv work, music collaborations, opera, tour of UK and Ireland, kids stuff. Watch this space! Tx

You can see Tony Walsh at 17:35-18:05 Friday at the Glastonbury Poetry&Words stage. Read our previous article about him here.

Introducing: Tony Walsh

Back to perform with us is Tony Walsh, 17:35-18:05 Friday . If he’s new to you/ you’d like a reminder, read on:

In other people’s words (official bio):

“Now a national hero” (The Guardian) having “stunned millions of people” (Huffington Post) with his iconic performance after the Manchester bomb in May 2017, delighted audiences are now discovering what has been an open secret for well over a decade: a Tony Walsh show is a rip-roaring rock and roller-coaster ride from a profoundly inspiring artist at the very top of his game. Forget what you imagined a poetry set could be and expect belly-laughs, tears and everything in between from this stunning, big-hearted performer who often leaves audiences on their feet, dazzled and breathless. “Astounding” @BAFTA “Seriously amazing!” “… stirring… stunning…” TIME magazine

Fay’s words:

I’ve seen Tony (“Longfella”) perform live a few times, but not for ages, back when he was still doing ten minute sets in line-ups one or two steps up from open mics. And even then, his generosity, good heart, and good sense shone through, cutting short sets if a show was running late, for example, acknowledging the host and folk who’d gone on before him, performing heartfelt, soul-enriching stuff in a warm, direct way that made everyone in the room feel seen. Now Tony’s a bit rock’n’roll these days, and it could not have happened to a nicer poet! I suspect I don’t know anyone who’s not seen his anthemic performance of “This Is The Place, his ode to Manchester in the wake of the arena bombing, and I hope you’ve all seen that clip of him performing it on the rammed Metrolink while those around him hush each other and chime in and cheer. Yeah, my eyes got suspiciously moist there too – you’re not alone.

He excels in reaching into memories and identities, summoning up something richer and more constructive than mere nostalgia. His work is deceptively simple and heartstring-tugging, but falling into that assumption would only prove that you’re not listening to the intricacy of the wordplay, the craft behind the construction (because tight, elegant rhyme that doesn’t mangle the meaning is ridiculously hard to do, and Tony makes it sound easy), and you’re not looking to see the genuine passion behind his eyes. In short, his work can make you want to be a better poet, and a better person, and believe that possible. That’s a hell of a record! I’m looking forward to seeing him charm and enliven the massive crowd he deserves at Glastonbury next month.

Sneak preview: