This past Sunday (the 8th May), was the penultimate day of the English summer. The weight of people walking around London, was lightened by their lack of clothes and perspiration. We are now descending into autumn, whilst Scotland still basks in the mid-20s. But I spent much of Sunday indoors, preparing and fretting over that evening’s events in Kentish Town.
The first was a conversation with David Turner and Lizzy of Lunar Poetry Podcasts. David, in little over a year has carried out 75 interviews with people here in the UK poetry world. It is a great endeavour, and one I hope gains a lot of interest. We spoke of course about Proletarian Poetry, but also issues relating to class more generally, poetry genres and readers, and valuing poets (i.e. with £). Have a listen, and try to check out some of the other interviews.
Then, I was very proud to be part of the long tradition by hosting the Sunday poetry reading at the Torriano Meeting House. The Torriano has been going for many years; in fact, my mother-in-law who came along on the night, used to go there more than twenty years ago. I was so pleased to have Anna Robinson and Tim Wells as the guest readers, along with some great open mics from Grim Chip and Nadia Drews, and a short set from myself. So although it was one of the hottest days of the year, which I didn’t see much of, it was well worth the effort. Onwards (with a brolly!).
In 1980 I organised a short-lived reggae night on a Monday in a pub back home. We had the usual agreement with the gaffer; it was free to get in, free to have the space, and he would make money at the bar on what is typically a dead night. It was a success in terms of the number of punters (an assortment of rastas and retired punks). But everyone was skint, and those that weren’t just bought Lucozade. We lasted three Mondays. That was my single attempt to marry my new musical love, reggae, with the punk which by now had dissipated. It was a year before the riots and the scar of Thatcher’s claw.
Punk was linked to reggae at an early stage, for the two movements had much in common. After I had seen the line of punk bands that played in our town; Clash, Pistols, Buzzcocks, Banshees, etc., reggae artists started to appear. But it was still very divided. There were few white people at the gigs for the likes of Gregory Isaacs, Burning Spear, Culture, or Prince Far I’; this was what I call the high tide of reggae, which I got into via the likes of Don Letts, Adrian Sherwood and a Mike Dread. And of course there were a number of good UK reggae bands such as Misty in Roots, Matumbi and Steel Pulse.
Someone who has much deeper roots in this history and whose site, Stand Up and Spit, chronicles many great moments of these times of punk and reggae, is Tim Wells. In his poem ‘Version’, he describes the time he first heard the great ‘dub poet’ Michael Smith, “That hard yard voice rumbled from the deck;/so unlike ours, but it spoke to us all the same.” The conditions of unemployment, poverty, and discrimination were described in a common situation experienced in the cities of the UK & US during the late 70s and 80s. “We were shook awake: no jobs, no money, no future./Hackney, Detroit, Johannesburg or Kingston JA.” (more…)