Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Phonic FM

Just when I wondered if I could be any busier (never wonder that!) I get persuaded into co-hosting a radio show on Phonic FM! Called 'Widsith & Deor Present', it will feature culture, arts, storytelling, poetry, history with local links, local food mentions, Medieval music / Early music, and maybe some philosophy as well. Plus any 'curios' we think might be interesting especially if connected to Devon and Exeter, and interviews with folks doing, researching or performing interesting things. Currently it also features episodes of the 'Porlock the Warlock' novel (by yours truly), but I think that's a bit crazy, just because of how long it would take to read it all in a fortnightly show! However.
This morning was our first show, and Dan the DJ before us very kindly ran through the controls with us (we had been shown once for about ten minutes by a kindly DJ from last week's morning show called Luke, previously, and that was it! You do get thrown in at the deep end), and then the clock struck 9 and it was time to begin! We had been guests on BBC Radio Devon before now, performing work from the C10th Exeter Book, (and once my own work), also Exeter FM, and been featured on previous Phonic shows 'Waves with Words' and 'Loudmouth', but never presented our own show before. It was quite scary, and we were glad to have run through/sorted out the topics to cover and pieces to feature/perform, as well as the songs, beforehand.
For music we played tracks from the amazing Daughters of Elvin, THE Medieval dance music and circus specialists, spoke about the Epic of Gilgamesh, Icelandic Sagas and Exeter Book, told a story from the Epic of Gilgamesh, and performed ancient poetry from the Exeter Book, Gilgamesh, Egilsaga and Elder Edda. As 'Porlock' is about how the Exeter Book received its three famous marks of damage in antiquity, and weaves its destiny with that of the Epic and features Vikings, we ended with Episode One of 'Porlock'. Pieces included the Song of the Sybil, The Ruin from the Exeter Book, and some of the Flood story, as well as a couple of the famous Exeter Book Riddles.
Other topics included the other hidden treasures in Exeter Cathedral Library, and seasonal food tips! Mercifully, it sounded alright through the headphones, and the music seemed to come on when it was meant to, and we managed not to say 'er' or 'like' or 'y'know' i.e. those stopgap phrases that are the mark of thinking what you're going to say next on radio in my experience! And it seems that the equipment set up to record it as podcasts also was working, so hopefully we will have a podcast archive or listen again feature for the show as well.
It's early days, and while 7.30 is my usual time to get up, and yet 6.45 seems to put me in a foul temper! and the weather and days aren't getting any lighter or warmer, still it felt worth doing - not least because, on getting back to the computer, an e-mail had arrived already from a listener who had tuned in by chance and was full of kind praise for both stories and music! And that was as unexpected as it was welcome.
So...the first show has been a success...whatever next? Well the next show on Wed. 13th Oct. I guess...

Dates of the shows;

'Widsith & Deor Present' show website with podcasts / listen again feature at;
(and yes I haven't had time to proof it as it was set up without me...but I will...)

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Spoken/Written Bulletin S.W. - A Crossroads

I've said this before, but it was really hard to put together Edition 50 (although on the plus side, I always hoped Spoken/Written would make it to 50 editions). A testament to how hard it was, was how late it was. Mid way through the month, not just before it began. Still, it's done and been sent off. There really was no time before, and this week is the first time I've had longer than half an hour at the computer, i.e. was back at base.
It's a tough one. One of the inferences of recent conversations I've had is that no funding body wanted to duplicate services. And Cyprus Well was either going to be interested in taking Spoken/Written under its wing or not...turns out it wasn't. They have a blog and a calendar and these it seems may be intended to 'replace' Spoken/Written, as they have replaced the Literature S.W. website. They want to build a 'community' of S.W. writers/words folk, and so you can upload your news and events...rather than send them to something like Spoken/Written. Cyprus Well's brief then, seems to be that of a 'one stop shop'. But (thinks Spoken/Written) wasn't that meant to be what Literature S.W. was? and they still had Spoken/Written as their official bulletin. And there was always stuff they didn't cover on ArtsMatrix (never mind the myriad of other sources from global to national to local). Also - does that mean Literature Training is redundant for S.West words people? I doubt it! It's one of the country's key resources. And as for specialist stuff - well, it's early days for the Cyprus Well blog, but there's news that KEAP (Kernow Education Arts Partnership) has featured that it hasn't. There are it seems, too many artists, too much going on in an area the size of Denmark, and the scene is too fragmented for one single body to ever encompass, manage and cater for all of it. And what about the specialists like Critical Network or formerly The Place? None of this stuff has yet featured in a Cyprus Well newsflash.
What Spoken/Written offers is a convenient - I hope - digest, of global, national and local opportunities that are out there from the vast web and numerous newsletters, which could be of use to poets, writers and others in the S.West.
Moreover, what big organizations like Apples and Snakes, Cyprus Well, etc. feature are things that other - usually organizations - send them, or that they hear about in meetings. What Spoken/Written offers is original research. I.e., the reason you got turned down by the new S.West zine starting up was because it was featured on all the usual websites...the reason you got published in that cool Canadian zine was because Spoken/Written told you about it and you were one of only a handful of UK writers submitting, and they wanted a dash of get the picture? In a tough market with hundreds of writers fighting to gain any single space from any one of the dazzling array but still finite number of quality zines, anything that gives you information that everyone else doesn't have, is important. It's like the fact that it's only logical (if you actually want to win one, and weren't 'born lucky') that to win a competition, your chances are much better if you enter a lesser known one. And if you're a struggling writer, a free one at that. Spoken/Written looks at things from the artist's point of view. Whether you're a poet, performance poet, writer, novelist, storyteller, text artist, spoken word performer, short story writer, editor, zine editor, proof reader, writing tutor, writing scholar - because Spoken/Written's Editor has been or is still all of these things, so Spoken/Written has been there, got the badges, the t-shirts, the tattoos and the scars, and works for you with - the intention has always been - all the critical wariness and thoroughness that you would put in for yourself, if you had the time.

Hence I believe Spoken/Written still to be unique and to provide a service that no other regional service quite does. Believe indeed that it does or did deserve to be funded. And it certainly earns every penny of the subscriptions and donations that it has received. Please do donate at the link to the right, or e-mail thoughts you may have about the future of Spoken/Written or its value to; .

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Porlock the Warlock Show! at Porlock Arts Festival

Back on Monday, unloading the stuff from the Bunkfest shows, and a huge amount of things people had given us, inexplicably, from a new performance cloak to a pack of card for the printer, and a heap of other stuff, to then frantically design a programme (which normally would have been done in good time, but there just hasn't been any!), and marshalling a whole other set of props and a big book stall for an indoor performance, plus getting together stuff for a workshop that we hadn't done for months, catching up on a bit of admin, a desperate attempt to stop the prop store and craft studio devolving into absolute chaos (I'm usually or rather was - very organized, and like knowing where things are...but have been so busy this summer that it's descended into - where is that again? and hunting for lost things...) answering e-mails for fresh bookings for both performances and workshops, and then it was off again on Friday. To Porlock, for the Porlock Arts Festival, where we were doing none other than the Porlock the Warlock Show! Plus a Name the Colour Workshop at St. Dubricius School in the afternoon before the two shows.
We arrived having packed the van (for what seemed like the nth time) and hunted about, but soon found the school. We bolted down some lunch, and went in and delivered the workshop. Strange to do so without Yolande - the Primary Science Co-ordinator for N.Devon schools, and a really good egg, introducing us and making us feel at home, but the school was lovely - small and homely with a really fun garden full of interest and flowers like a large hurdle cone and various levels.
Then we went to have a look round Porlock - and one always finds something new of interest - last time it was the delightful garden behind the information centre, full of public art like an upturned boat sculpture fountain, ship shaped weather vane (no pun intended), fan cut stairs, fancy dovecote, swirly pebble paving, armillary sundial and riot of split level flower beds, followed behind by a lush grassy space peppered with shady trees, including apple and pear - in which the Poetry Picnic was held, by the avant garde poet and tireless poetry champion Tilla Brading. This time it was the Dovery Manor Museum where we were performing, and its glorious herb garden with willow bee hives, staircases and a bridge that led back into the upper floor of the small and very atmospheric and idiosyncratic C15th building that was the Museum. One could hardly have asked for a more charming venue - wood panelling, gothic cut windows, a steep stone spiral stair, lovely old furniture including a delicious old oval table for the book stall/signings, and a fireplace with a pink flame as part of our backdrop! The curator made us tea, coffee and gave us biscuits, and some people had kindly cleared out the Solar as our performance space earlier in the day. David of the Festival Committee met us and kindly helped us set up, and showed us what choices were to be had in lighting. All in all, they were both a tremendous help and support, and at 6, the first show was ready to begin. It had been a beautiful sunny day, with mist that gave a fine rain that was only really mist and for which one didn't need a coat, just creating a rainbow, and then clearing up for a fine golden evening. The venue was almost full, and the first show went very well, and afterwards I dashed down the stairs to take up position and sell and sign books.
The historic space looked even lovelier in the fading light, and our props seemed to blend in completely - the dagger with the axe on the wall, the trefoil wooden chest with the trefoil window frames, cloak and staff, drum and crystal ball, drinking horns and sheepskins in keeping with the old oak and stone, vaulted ceiling and iron clad doors. Hearing people tell Deor how much they'd enjoyed the show and selling Porlock books is always good, and fortified by these, after everyone had gone I ate as much as I could and drank copious amounts of water, needing energy for the next show at 8pm - just forty minutes later!
The second show was slightly less full, but still with an attentive audience who applauded warmly at the end, and we got much kind praise for our efforts, and had pulled out a stop - serving Anglo-Saxon sweetmeats and Persian stuffed dates, and showered the audience with confetti as well as everything else! David was pleased, and we all packed up, the curator made me some more tea (although she must have been longing to get home!) and after many more thanks and goodbyes, finally everything was gone from the Solar and the Museum kitchen and entrance hall, and we made our way back to base...returning, exhausted and worn out at midnight. Workshops in schools are usually enough to take the stuffing out of me! But followed by not one, but two shows...!

However, the Dovery Manor Museum and Porlock Festival were worth it - and there was a nice feel to the place at it put on its festival colours and frills - posters on railings everywhere (including for ourselves!), and their cheerful purple signs. Porlock itself is worth visiting at any time, with its attractions and shops - including selling almond croissants in the corner shop! HUGE thanks to David and the Festival Committee for having us, to the Curator for all her kindness and patience with us invading her lovely museum for an evening, and to Chris Blazey of St. Dubricius School. And as ever, to all those who bought books, we hope you enjoy them!

Monday, 6 September 2010


Next came a whirlwind of museums - the British Museum just before the Poetry Cafe, then the Ashmolean Musuem, and History of Science Museum in Oxford, and some van hassles (mysterious leaks, driving round like a headless chicken trying to find a friendly garage, etc.! the usual shoestring stress), and then our performance at the Bunkfest in Oxfordshire. The Bunkfest is a really charming three day festival with an unusual mixture of big rock festival quality stalls and food and hordes of folks, (and of course lots of music), contrasted with a town festival - with events happening in parks, pubs, the main square road-blocked and given over to entertainment surrounded by stalls and peopled with happy pedestrians - and the social mix was almost greater than at some much bigger festivals, because representatives of every community in the town turned up seemingly as well as a heap of visitors, so there was a real community feel to it too. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, and the weather was lovely. As soon as we walked along the Saxon walls - very wonderful they are too, and hidden by trees and hedges around the perimeter of the park - we saw marquees and some of the usual suspects at festivals with banners flying in the breeze below, and went down into the fray. The stalls were of extremely high quality (so much so that I had to break a resolution not to buy anything!), and the atmosphere buzzy - we checked in, and were given our wristbands and welcome packs and free programmes, and then into the town centre and square where dark Morris dancers were being dramatic, followed by a splendid African dance and singing and drumming group called Zulu - there was a wonderful continuity between the two acts, and it seemed to me that different countries in far flung continents had come up with remarkably similar ways of expressing celebration and ritual. The stalls were some of the best food/farmer's markets I'd seen all summer, and the almond croissants were not to be missed! to say nothing of the goat's cheese, olives, and other treats. There were antique and vintage junk stalls too, and all in all it was surprisingly hard to tear oneself away to gather the props and set up in the venue.
The courtyard of the George Hotel was a delightful space to perform in, and we shared the three hour performance time with Tim O' The Oak, surrounded by black wicker sofas and chairs with deep white cushions (reminiscent of French cafes) and smoked glass tables. Each set went really well, and our audiences were attentive and rewarding, joining in or cheering at the right places, and Tim bought us drinks very kindly. We were sorry to leave, but had to be off back to Devon to prepare for the Porlock Festival. It's hard to pin down why the Bunkfest was so special - perhaps its mixture of everyone coming out to have fun, serendipity for those not expecting it, large number of free events and generally taking over the town yet being a 'proper festival' was hard to beat, and I was surprised how much fun one could pack into a single day.
BIG thanks to Dave for booking us, the whole Bunkfest team for putting on such a great show, Tim O' The Oak for being so good to share a venue with, and telling such verve filled tales, and the staff at the George Hotel for being so accommodating, and our lovely audiences!

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Poetry Cafe

Without stopping to catch breath it seemed, it was off immediately after the 'Activity Report Form' to the Arts Council was finished and sent, to London catch up with various folks and do slots at the Poetry Society's Poetry Cafe night in Covent Garden, 'Poetry Unplugged' hosted by Niall O'Sullivan. Neither I nor the Stand Up Philosopher had been before, nor our friend who lectures in Politics at Royal Holloway and lives in Soho either. The place was packed and it was a warm August night, so rather steamy as well in the basement below the Cafe where the event takes place. We were glad to have signed up not long after 6, as at 7.20 we were lucky to get seats, as latecomers were standing in front of doors. 35 poets had signed up to deliver work, so the usual five minutes had to be cut. The quality of work was pretty high, and the styles diverse - from the literary to the comic, free verse to rhyming, moving and quirky, some slightly intellectual. The poet who ended the first half (a host of another London night) a physical poet too, although I was behind so many people I could hardly see the 'stage' most of the time!
The Stand Up Philosopher went down really well - people coming up to him afterwards to say things like 'the star turn of the night', 'you should have an agent', and 'incredible intensity' - which was excellent. I didn't bother with new work, but (knowing the difficulty of tight schedules), simply did an old piece I knew very well and delivered with speed (as it suits the poem/rhythm), which came in at under two minutes.
A quality night with lots of folks who had never performed there before - big thanks to all the other poets and audience - a pity there wasn't a board with everyone's names! and to Niall O'Sullivan for hosting it with finesse, especially having to shoehorn in so many in both time and space, and to our friend Nathan who was such a rock!