Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Football Limericks

An Alternative
If you found yourself unimpressed
By Rooney, Lampard and the rest,
Then take consolation
In Spain's elimination
And instead, think of taking up chess.

A Second Alternative
When you're cursed with a leaky defence
And life doesn't seem to make sense,
Try your best not to worry -
There's still Glastonbury
For a weekend that's really in tents!

Our neighbours had painted their shed
All white with two bright stripes of red
But their team lost the game,
So down it all came.
Now they're getting a greenhouse instead.

Monday, 23 June 2014

MONDAY NIGHT NEWS - Fen Speak and the Beverley Folk Festival

Hello hello hello! Sorry for being a day late with this posting, but I spent my Sunday in Yorkshire, soaking up the summer sun at the Beverley Folk Festival. More of that later...

Closer to home, we hosted the ninth Fen Speak poetry open mic in Ely last Wednesday, with around thirty enthusiastic poets and writers descending upon the Babylon Gallery for more Spoken Word fun!

As part of the Ely Arts Festival, we were delighted to welcome three of our Young Fenland Poet Laureate award winners to the stage for a special performance of their winning poems, as part of our usual Fen Speak frivolities.

Florence Browse - our 2014 Young Fenland Poet Laureate - gave a fantastic performance of her winning poem, Licorice Lines, and we also heard from second prize winner Kristina Tunnard and highly commended finalist Hannah Lemmon. All three girls were excellent and their poetry proved very popular with the audience on the night. We're really looking forward to hearing a lot more from them in the future, and hope we can work with them all again soon!

Deb Curtis
We had some great contributions from our regular performers too, with wonderful poetry and prose from Deb Curtis, Bob Sheed, William Alderson, Jonathan Totman, Dominic O'Sullivan, Liam Brown, Chris Morgan, Rosemary Westwell, George Ashdown, Mary Livingstone, J S Watts, Alan Bardouleau, Miriam Brown, and Tony McCormack.

There were also performances from two poets celebrating their first time at Fen Speak. Jacqueline Mulhallen blew us away with her powerful and deeply affecting poem on the issue of immigration, while Simon Gilligan recited a very moving piece inspired by a recent funeral. Though Simon has been a long-time supporter of Fen Speak, this was his first time on stage, and we're very grateful to him and to Jacqueline for joining us. Here's hoping they come back again next time!

Our next event is at the Wisbech and Fenland Museum on Wednesday 16th July, and we’ll be back in Ely on Wednesday 20th August. Check out our facebook page for more information.

Then, on Sunday, I motored up the A15 to Yorkshire, to take part in the Beverley Folk Festival.

Folk music at the Beverley Folk Festival

I was invited along by local poet Johanna Boal, who had organised an excellent poetry showcase as part of the festival. We drew a good crowd of around twenty people - a huge success given that our performance time clashed with Thea Gilmore on the main stage!

Johanna started us off with a great selection of poems from her first collection Cardboard City and Clint Wastling followed with a lovely selection of work on themes as diverse as fossils, pollution and David Cameron. Clint is as scientist by trade, and many of his poems were inspired by scientific issues, which I found completely fascinating.

Scottish poet Shay Crinkle was up next, and her fun and funny poetry was a big hit with the audience. Then, Hull-based performance poet Catherine Scott took to the stage, and we were treated an excellent set filled with witty rhymes and well rendered observations.

After a couple of poems from me, our final act, Lucy Ayrton, performed some work from her show Lullabies to make your children cry. Her poems were engaging and confessional, often funny, and full of emotional punch. I was delighted to get hold of a copy of her poetry pamphlet at the end of the show.

In fact, I managed to get my hands on some serious poetry swag:

This month's reading material!

For my part, it was a really good gig. I performed some old favourites, sold all my poetry pamphlets, and got another chance to practise my memorised poems for the Hammer and Tongue Slam final in September. I also got to meet and connect with a host of talented writers from the North East, and I really hope I can get back up to Yorkshire to see them all again soon!

A huge thanks to Johanna Boal for all her hard work in organising the poetry event, and thanks to the Beverley Folk Festival for letting us perform!

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Having my face photographed

Earlier this month, I had my photograph taken by supremely talented photographer, artist, and all round Good-Egg Lizzy Doe.

I needed a couple of head shots for publicity material and my gurning selfies just weren't going to cut the mustard any more. So it was time to call in a professional! 

Lizzy has an excellent reputation for portraiture with some really gorgeous work on her website and a strong eye for detail, so I knew she would be able to help me out!

It was my first photo shoot but Lizzy immediately put me at my ease with her relaxed and friendly manner, and it was actually really interesting to watch her work. We shot all of the photos in locations around the town centre, and we got a few strange looks from passers-by! I even overheard one woman asking her friend if I was famous, which was quite funny!

Mistaken identity aside, I had a lot of fun working with Lizzy, and I'd definitely recommend her to anyone looking for a photographer for portraiture. You can check out more of her work on her website lizzydoe.co.uk and you can also contact her via twitter.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - Good News Bad News

Ok. So let's start with the bad news: the national final of the Hammer and Tongue Poetry Slam has been postponed.


The show was originally due to take place at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 21st June, but the organisers have been experiencing some major technical difficulties, so the competition has been rescheduled for later in the year.

And while it is a little unfortunate, there are several big positives:

1. The competitors get three more months practise time
2. The organisers get the chance to fix the technical issues
3. It gives us all something to look forward to in the autumn

A definite case of Silver-Lining Overload!

Now I have a bit more time before the competition, I think I'm going to write something new to perform. I've got the seeds for several ideas, but I just need to see if any of them grow. Three months is a pretty good incubation period, so we'll see what happens.

Anyway, the new date for the Hammer and Tongue Slam Final is Saturday 27th September. If you've already bought tickets, they will be honoured for the new date, or you can contact the Royal Albert Hall box office for a full refund. Their telephone number is: 020 7589 8212.

On Friday, I spent a sunny summer's evening at the Welney Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) for the third annual Pimms and Poetry event, hosted by the very lovely Elaine Ewart.

The event was staged in the visitors' centre café, which is a beautiful first floor space with huge windows and panoramic views across the Fens.

And it was a fantastic show, with poetry provided by local poet Emma Danes, Fenland Poet Laureate Poppy Kleiser, and Elaine Ewart, as well as a demonstration of moths during the interval (courtesy of Emma from WWT Welney) and free glasses of pimms for every member of the audience.

Me, Poppy, Elaine and Emma

I even got the chance to read a couple of my own poems, and it was nice to be able to read a few pieces that don't normally make it to my usual set list. I can't wait for next year's event!

Next Wednesday, we'll be back at the Babylon Gallery in Ely for another round of Fen Speak, the only dedicated poetry and spoken word open mic in the Fens!

This month, Fen Speak is proud to be part of the Ely Arts Festival and to celebrate, we've invited three of our young Fenland Poet Finalists to perform their poems as part of our regular open mic.

It's going to be a great show, so please do join us if you can. Doors to the Babylon Gallery open at 7pm and the show starts at 7:30pm. See you there!

Thursday, 12 June 2014

POEM - Nan

She smells of bourbon biscuits
Even though she's diabetic
And always spells your name wrong –
Even though your name's phonetic.

She wears her falsies everywhere –
The gold teeth are cosmetic.
She had veneers before Brit Spears:
In some ways, she's prophetic.

She's lived in Guam and Timbuktu;
Her anecdotes are epic.
She once played squash with Kennedy
At least, that's how she tells it.

Her hip is made of plastic
But it's easy to forget it.
I've seen her do a headstand;
She's really quite athletic!

Her vintage togs are something else,
All outfits are authentic.
With purple hair and tartan bags
She’s got a cool aesthetic.

She'll shock you with her filthy jokes.
Her laughter is electric
And you can tell her anything
Because you know she gets it.

She's ninety three, but still drinks tea
With gin and amaretto
And, just like you, she hates Tom Cruise
And fancies Jared Leto.

She doesn't like authority –
And calls your Mum despotic.
She's been around and had her fun
And dabbled in narcotics.

You may think she's really old,
But she still thinks she's twenty,
And I know women half her age
Who look at her with envy.

She handles any problems
As if they had been planned.
She's a fucking awesome woman
And you're glad that she's your Nan.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - Fen Speak at Strawberry Fair

This week, we had the pleasure of taking seven of our Fen Speak open mic performers on the road, heading out of the safety of the Fens to visit Midsummer Common in Cambridge, and take part in this year's Strawberry Fair.

We were delighted to be given an hour-long performance slot on the Wild Strawberries stage, and our Open Mic-ers really rose to the occasion!

Dominic O'Sullivan
Dominic O'Sullivan kicked things off with some of his fantastic satirical poetry, taking a wry swipe at local government in his home city of Ely. He was even brave enough to have a little dig at Cambridge University in one of his poems, but the audience took it in good spirits!

St Ives' Poet Laureate Chris Morgan joined us next with a fantastic ecological poem, and a great, energetic performance! He was followed by William Alderson, whose delicate, lyrical poetry is always a joy to hear.

Lowen Warrington gave us some wonderful Vogon Poetry and really enthused the crowd by asking them to boo and hiss after each poem, rather than applaud.

There was also a short set from our current Fenland Poet Laureate, Poppy Kleiser, who created such vivid imagery in her poem 'digging' that the audience did a little gasp at the end, before bursting into applause.

Ashley Fox
The call and response poem that Ashley Fox performed, in which she spoke candidly about an experience of sexual assault, was incredibly moving, and her performance was as confident and sure-footed as ever I have seen.

Finally we heard from Meg Burrows, a poet, singer and songwriter who joined us at the very last minute, dashing up the A12 from her home town of Ipswich. And I was very glad that she was able to make it, because her poetry was fantastic!

My lovely co-host Elaine Ewart also performed a few of her poems as part of the Fen Speak take over, and I always enjoy hearing her poetry read aloud. She looked amazing too, in a very fancy dress and bustier, with a brilliant blonde wig! I felt a little under-done in my frock and fairy wings!

Elaine Ewart - looking a little different

Thank you to all of our wonderful performers and to everyone who came along to support Fen Speak on the day. Thanks also to Fay Roberts from Allographic and Wes Freeman-Smith from Shindig for allowing us to crash the Wild Strawberries Stage!

Our Fen Speak Performers

But it wasn't all about Fen Speak! There was music and poetry on the Wild Strawberries stage all day! I managed to catch excellent spoken word sets from Nikki Marrone, Jody Lee, Hannah Chutzpah, Elaine Ewart, Justina Kehinde, Rychard Carrington, Tim Knight, and Paul Eccentric, as well as great music from Mouth, Moth Conspiracy, Hamza Beg and Daniel Moore.

I also performed a few of my own poems and I got a very warm response from the crowd. I even managed to do a couple of poems from memory, including one that I've been learning for my next Poetry Slam competition at the end of this month, so I was really chuffed with that.

Photographs courtesy of J.S. Watts

Friday, 6 June 2014

REVIEW - Oh What a Lovely War

'Oh What a Lovely War' is the story of WWI told through comedy, drama and song. It's a difficult play to produce as it walks the fine line between humour and tragedy, and deals with a vast and complicated subject.

Luckily, director David Brammer and his cast did a fantastic job, respectfully commemorating those who lost their lives while also using the play's satirical elements to comment on the absurdity of war.

The unfolding historical drama is set against a series of contemporary songs, which give the show a real 'end of the pier' feel, despite the darker themes. The realisation that so many men died during the campaign was a particularly sobering one and – as you might expect – the humour in this show is pitch black.

At the beginning, this dark comedy caught the audience off-guard and some of the early jokes fell a little flat. However, the skilled ensemble cast deftly manoeuvred between comic skits and moments of high pathos, and any unevenness in tone was quickly dispelled within the first fifteen minutes of the show.

It was nice to see some of the younger Players taking on solos. Ellie Fradley sang 'Hitchy-Koo' with great style, while Bertie Ellison and Ben Robinson did well as young soldiers, each singing their own number about the struggle between fear and patriotism. It was also lovely to see Georgia Smith take on a more substantial role, and her rendition of the tongue twisting song 'Sister Suzie's Sewing Shirts' was great fun!

Established members of the company also got a chance to shine. Debbie Hiles gave a strong performance of the classic 'Belgium Put the Kibosh on the Kaiser' and Megan Abbott dazzled as a flirty nightclub singer trying to raise conscription rates. It was wonderful to hear Irene Whitehouse and Mike Cooke in their duet 'Roses of Picardy', while Gemma Laing's subtle, understated performance of 'Keep the Home Fires Burning' was a poignant highlight.

As always, the acting from the Players was top-notch. Richard Abel gave a great performance as bumbling General Haig, with Adrian Baxter as his long-suffering lieutenant. Steve Brooks made a formidable drill sergeant, while Mike Cooke, Leslie Judd and Allan Lord were excellent as war-mongering generals and heartless capitalists.

Hugh Pearce provided an engaging and entertaining presence as the narrator, and his conversational style was incredibly appealing. Meanwhile, Watlington Players veteran Matthew Kerslake provided comic relief, with some great moments of physical comedy, as he played a loveable, incompetent soldier.

Supporting roles were played by Jenny Baxter, Katy Beeton, Lucy Beeton, Fiona Bennett, Penny Cooke, Tracy Cumming, Jane Pearce, and Amy Sims, with excellent choreography by Penny Cooke and strong musical direction from Kate Mould. The costumes were beautifully made by Judy Parsons, and the lighting and technical design – by Barry Ayres – was imaginative and immersive.

Much of the historical information in the show was provided by the Downham Market British Legion Club, and the statistics really gave the audience cause for contemplation long after the music had died away.

All in all, 'Oh What a Lovely War' was a thoroughly enjoyable piece of entertainment, and a fitting commemoration of WWI.