Friday, 30 May 2008

Encore about the singers

Oh my, oh my, oh my...Michael Marra was guest at the folk club here last night (it's usually every other Tuesday but it was a special one-off Thursday to join up with Montrose's new Music Festival). I've seen Dundee's super-finest before (about 2 years ago also at the folk club here) and I enjoyed the show then. This time it was....just as good but maybe even better because now I know some of the songs and could sing along (when required).

Marra is just brilliant - funny, great stories, great rapport with the adoring audience. He's nicely neurotic too (so twitchy off stage, so comfortable on...a man after my own heart...though luckily the latter is already fixed elsewhere so I don't have to turn into a stalker fan). His lyrics are fantastic and he has a clever way with words all round - no word is wasted, no idea overlooked. Also his piano playing is lovely (and a nice change in a folk club where guitars so often rule the roost), his one or two trips to the guitar subtle and charming and then of course there is his amazing voice that goes so low you wonder if it'll find its way back up.

I love a lot of singers...but this one is truly tremendous - especially live. Catch him when you can!

Sunday, 25 May 2008

More about the singers

I have been a music fan as long as I can remember. I like books and films and TV and art and all that but that was my first love, no question, songs and singers in particular. It all started with the seductive voice of one Phil Harris (he sang O'Malley in 'The Aristocats' and Baloo in 'The Jungle Book'). I loved the sound of 'Bare Necessities' so much I bounced out of my pram onto the floor (so the family tale goes). After that it was Top of the Pops and no stopping me really...still going in fact...I still love the sound of a good singing voice above...almost anything. That may explain the title of this blog and the book-to-be (proofs approved - not long now!) and the way I write and so much more. I've come to different styles of music via all kinds of routes - big sisters' old Beatles 7 inch singles left lying around when they moved out, big brother's record collections (and they were both big rockers mainly), friends, radio - but I wasn't one of those people who got a musical education from their parents. My Dad (apparently) liked Flanders and Swann and not much else and my Mum likes to go out to classical music and opera but very rarely listens to it at home. All I remember her playing when I was a kid were all the Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musicals on LP. I still know all the words to most of them...not exactly the cool musical background you hear from musicians, is it?

Over the years I've been into lots of different kinds of music and I've worked as a DJ (clubs, pubs, pirate radio) and have reviewed music for various magazines but I've mainly been a fan. Quite a lot of my poems are about music or make references to music, some of them (as you may already know) have been turned into songs in the past year, some I even sing myself which is pretty amazing as I am not a singer and have no ambitions in that area (it's a lot of fun though - good to challenge myself and try something I know I'm not that good at, strangely liberating and enjoyable). For a while I've had half an idea to write a poem about all the great voices that I have listened to over the years but it has yet to come together - partly because there are just so many of them. I thought I'd list a few of the ones I've loved and listened to the most (and no doubt I'll forget some and have to add them tomorrow). At risk of sounding like a local radio DJ I'd be interested to hear about some of your favourites too. Here goes...(loosely) in the order in which I came across them or started to like them. I've been honest (as ever) so it's a real mixed bag:

Phil Harris, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Donny Osmond (calm down...I was about 5), Julie Covington ('Rock Follies' and first LP of 'Evita'), Julie Andrews, Doris Day ('Calamity Jane' - oh my goodness!), Judy Garland, Rod Stewart, Karen Carpenter, Marc Bolan, Freddie Mercury, Phil Bailey (Earth, Wind and Fire - they did have other vocalists..bit complicated), all of Sister Sledge, Donna Summer, Barbra Streisand, Robert Plant, Carole King, Carly Simon, Joni Mitchell, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Simon and Garfunkel, Paul Weller, Morrissey, Diana Ross, Ella Fitzgerald, Marvin Gaye, Tom Waits, Gil Scott Heron, Dana Bryant, Beverley Knight, Bjork, Tracy Chapman, Kate Bush, Stevie Wonder, Lauren Hill, Carleen Anderson, Thom Yorke, Kate Rusby, Judy Dinning, Michael Marra, Bonnie Raitt, Lou Rhodes, Corinne Bailey Rae, Amy Winehouse, Karine Polwart, Natalie Maines (Dixie Chicks), Aimee Mann, Heidi Talbot, Boo Hewerdine, Johnny Dickinson, Ana Laan, Kris Drever, Nick Drake, June Tabor, Aoife O'Donovan (of US band Crooked Still), Eivor Palsdottir, Steve Tilston, Julie Fowlis, Jenn Butterworth, Feist, Bella Hardy....could go on and on...

I'm sure I've missed loads out - especially from my house music/nightclub years (maybe I'll work on that section another time). Probably the ones I come back to most often (just now) are Kate Rusby, Karine Polwart, Robert Plant, Nina Simone, Aoife O'Donovan (truly one to listen out for - she is fantastic). Some in the list are great singers but, for me, could do with better material (Beverley Knight is a good example of that). There are other bands and singers I listen to where I like the songs but the voice is not one of my real favourites (e.g. Neil Young). Also there are some of my beloved's favourites - Badly Drawn Boy and Bob Dylan, say - who I can listen to enthusiastically but who don't quite shoot a hole in my heart with their voice the way some of my own favourites do. Then there are voices that have sung songs I have loved but the voice is just not one of those I adore (e.g.I've liked a lot of songs by The Police and Sting's voice is very distinctive but I've never loved the voice in its own right, if you know what I mean).

So how did I end up writing this today? It's always on my mind in some ways...and then last night watching the cheesey, Saturday night entertainment that is 'I'd do anything' with the family (except the beloved - he watched cricket!) they sang a song from 'Evita'...and I knew every word! Ay, por Eva Peron may have said now and again. (By the way, if this means anything to you, we are a Jessie household...who cares if she can't act particularly well...the girl has a voice that would make it into my list and the sparkliest eyes...go Jessie, go!).

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Good morning poets

I put a poem on my MySpace blog about once a week (link to the right somewhere) and this week I put one I wrote last year called 'Sea of poets'. It probably came to mind because of Jim Murdoch's blog this week on poems about poems...though mine is more about poets than poems but it's a fairly fine line. It's been getting some interesting comments so you might fancy taking a look. My regular 'friends' on MySpace are a good bunch...musicians, writers, photographers, wandering minstrel types, all sorts, people who've been around lots of blocks... and not all of them spell and punctuate as correctly as you lot but I hope you won't be looking down on them for that. In fact one of them (a poet called Jackie Hagan) wrote a very good poem about just that the other week (spelling was...not standard English...ideas and choice of words were fantastic). So...if you've time...see you over there...

Tuesday, 20 May 2008


Well, new pup can't go out yet so I am in the house more than ever. So... I'm breaking off from proofreading (best typo for that is always I love that one..) to put a little pup of a poem up on here.

I'm not one for communal poetry writing exercises like that poem a day business but I do quite like daft exercises of my own. Someone gave me one of those fridge magnet poetry calendars for Xmas and I have been quite enjoying coming up with a little something every month. I do cheat...if there's a word I really want I spell it out with small girl's alphabet magnets which are still hanging around (at what age do those get put away..?). I do like reading fridges of my most widely approved-of poems is 'Let me be your fridge magnet' (on website, under 'love'). Hell, even poetry editors and them there poetic poets like that one! It is shallow and favourite combination.

So here's the pup. I cheated with 'baby' and 'feed'. I did have a rhyming last line but then I dropped that...still, not sure whether to put it back or not...

It's a baby

A baby is a beautiful machine
When it works
All fluff and light and sleep
Feed it moon's milk
And sing it the seasons
From blossom to snow

RF 2008

Monday, 19 May 2008

Crazy days

I have one child (or I should say...we have one child...the beloved does not like being overlooked!). Our girl is lovely but for lots of reasons - one child she stays. So... now we have a puppy too - for lots of reasons but mainly for small girl to love it and for it to love her. It did not sleep particularly well so I am feeling like a new parent this morning (i.e. a little demented...I do really badly on poor wonder all those years of nightclubbing and no sleep drove me quite so bananas). And, worse news... my usually poor punctuation is in real trouble. So...basically...expect some crazy posts and comments from me for a couple of weeks. And sorry. Sort of. Just remember...things could be much's only blogging!

On the plus side Verona and I went to the open mic at Stonehaven folk club on Friday (the club runs every Friday at the Heugh Hotel in Stonehaven...they have guests, session nights, all sorts). We did poems, songs, funny bits, serious bits...and it all went down well. People were friendly and there was a great mix of singers and musicians and even some other poetry in the air! It was nice to meet some new folk and have a fun night out with the lasses (4 women in a car - much laughing, many bad taste jokes...).

Now, where is the pile of old newspapers?

Friday, 16 May 2008

Aberdeen bound

Just a quick one. Aberdeen's Dead Good Poets have been kind enough to offer me a reading/book launch date with them on Thursday 26th June. They meet every last Thursday at Books & Beans, Belmont Street, Aberdeen and it will be great to visit them for a night of poems and songs. Verona will come with me to do a song or two and there is another singer called Grace Banks performing as well as a 14 year old fiddler called Wee Frank. There will be poetry open mic too. It starts at 6.30pm and entry is free. I will have my books by then (all recycled paper and card!) and they will be on sale. The book details are "More about the song" by Rachel Fox (Crowd-pleasers Press £7) and I should have them ready in a couple of weeks. Maybe next time I'll tell you how the whole crowd-pleasers thing started...

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Booker prize, stars in everybody's eyes

So come on, admit many of you watched Salman Rushdie on 'Shrinkwrapped'? I know Pamela Connolly can make the viewer cringe. I know it is lit lite and psyche lite and quite probably an insult to all of us but...I still watched it. I know, I know. Only a 'literature is just the work, not the personality' saint could resist and there has never been anything remotely saintly about me.

If Rushdie did the interview to improve his general image/profile/readership then I'm sure it did the trick. He came over as quite a sensible human being and all the stuff about how long it took him to get success as a writer (from 1968 to 1981) will all help him in the public eye (how we love a trier!). It may well reduce the air of 'smug, know-it-all' that seems to have attached itself to him over the years (not that smug, know-it-alls are necessarily all bad, but you know what I mean). He talked of being dumped by his last wife and of learning to live alone (how we love a loser in love) and of his stern, alcoholic father (how we love a victim) but despite the fact that I know how much he was probably using the interview to his own ends I still found him more interesting as a result (and anyway why shouldn't he use it - it was using him). It was quite interesting too on how little control writers have over their image and that's a subject we've touched on before here. I used to write book reviews and interview writers (as well as lots of other people) and I was often amazed how badly interviewees felt they had been treated in print and how other journalists, they said, had written barefaced lies about their houses and their looks and what they had said during the interview (why was I amazed? Well, I was a lot younger for a start). And I know I wasn't immune - on at least one occasion I disliked the person I interviewed so much that I couldn't keep the hatred out of my finished piece (the latter was so...negative the magazine wouldn't print it and that was a wise decision in retrospect!). I don't think I said anything inaccurate or dishonest...or I didn't think that at the time. At least on a TV interview like Connolly's show it is quite straightforward and grown-up and no one can dismiss you in a snidey aside about your living room wallpaper or your bookshelves or how you speak to your husband/wife/partner/cat. And no matter how cringemaking she can be, Connolly does at least seem to be fair to her interviewees (some might say too fair). I will be honest I am now probably much more likely to give Rushdie's books another go some time (to date I've never made it through any of them...not sure why...I never even tried 'The Satanic Verses'). If I do I will get them from the library though (or my Mum's bookcase - she is most definitely one of those readers who 'reads something once it has won the Booker'...or at least she used to be until some of the recent ruder ones - that Pierre bloke, for example, put her off well and truly).

For this week I am working my way through another Booker prize winner - Ben Okri's 'The Famished Road'. I'm about 100 pages in and not finding my feet in it yet...someone tell me it's worth the effort. I picked it up in the public library the other week...I do love to wander through a library and look at bookshelves (not just p.c.s!) and pick up books at random and think....'I've never read anything by him' and wander off with it into the sunset. I never much liked university libraries but no matter how many smelly people are sitting looking at the papers, no matter how loud some people are talking, no matter how limited the stock I still think that the public library is as close as I may get to my lifetime.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

In pieces

Not long ago I mentioned somewhere that Joan Eardley's self portrait was one of my favourite paintings. I first saw it in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and then I saw it again last year as part of the major Eardley exhibition in Edinburgh. It looks like this:

This is the poem what I wrote about it.

She’s not there
(Joan Eardley – ‘Joan Eardley, 1921 -1963, Artist’ 1943)

There are bad days
Not even half days
And when they come
The broken pieces of her face
Seem so perfectly formed

Reassuring, they say
‘The sky is still there
The colours still worth seeing
Being broken simply isn’t
The worst thing you can be’

Comforted, I brush my crumbs together
And look carefully, cautiously
At the slightly scrappy, sorry collection
Still sad but less lonely
In their fragments than before

The portrait feels like family
Or so I can imagine
We are the not quite whole people
The bits and pieces people
The hundreds and the thousands

RF 2007

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

You are now in a queue

It's the folk club here tonight and I've been having a look through my books and files to see which poems to read. I pretty much always read two in the open mic slot and sometimes I sing with Verona too but tonight I think I'll let her sing on her own...she's becoming a very good solo singer/songwriter as time goes by. She is starting to believe in the sound of her own voice more and more.

I'm probably going to read a poem I wrote years and years ago called 'Andy's ears'. I wrote it about one of my friends when he was working in a call centre and I know it's old (maybe 9 or 10 years old) because it's number 25 in my book of pretty-much-finished poems (and I'm up to 238 this week). The poem is a bit... clunky and shows no respect whatsoever for any poetic..well, anything really. Still, it was early days and I was really fairly crazy back then so the fact that I managed to write it at all pleased me at the time. And now? Well, I just like it as it is. It's not in my book-to-be. Maybe another time.

This poem shows all my bad poetry habits were formed fairly early on. It wears the capital letters at the beginning of every line that I have tried to grow out of but just won't/can't. Every time I put lower case letters at the beginnings of lines it just makes me uncomfortable...and not in a good way. I'm not saying anyone else should do like I do...not at all...but this is my way and I like it. Also I've kept more and more to line breaks as...well, breaks and I do read my poems out quite a lot so I test them all the time. I have read about other ways of writing and tried other variations but again...this is just what works for me. And, even more annoying for some, I only use punctuation in lines, never at the end of them. I know that upsets some readers but to me...when I look at my poems with a lot of punctuation they just look cluttered...and unhappy...and wrong, what can I say? I can't even use the excuse that I'm text message generation because I am a bit old for that. I just find I want to have different rules for poetry - I don't really like it having anything to do with prose or any of prose's conventions. And it's not that I'm just a performance poet because I'm really not particularly either/or. It's just what seems right. Love me or hate me or don't give a damn about me...this is how I write. So, here it is:

Andy's ears

He's on
The telephone all day
His ears full
Of all the complaints
Human beings can muster

After dark
His ears crave
The thrill that is
The human voice
When it's hanging
By a thread
Vocal chords fighting
Duels with each other

His ears make
The most of their diversions
They dance
By night
Free from the tensions
Of their daytime employment
They slurp down
Intoxicating alcoholic sounds
They live it up
Right up in there
They make believe passion
Is all there is
To hear
They tire themselves
To sleep and dream
Of aural joy
That's all days
And forever

RF about 1998?

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Animal imagery overload

I have funny memories about how literature was taught in school. All that talk of themes and imagery and some of the kids not really giving a toss about it but taking the notes and thinking about something else all the time they were doing it (sex, food, sport, sex, food, sport). One of my older brothers was a prime example - he was not exactly a literary type (he would have been a jock in a US school) and one of my favourite mean-little-sister pastimes was to read through some of the texts he'd done at school and laugh at the notes he'd put in (usually in pen with lots of underlining). They were always really repetitive and pretty meaningless. 'Animal imagery' over and over, I remember him scrawling all over some poor book. How I scoffed....horrible little creature, I was...

Not too many years ago (but when I still lived in England) I did some GCSE tutoring and found myself working with boys a bit like my brother. It was a scheme in Dewsbury (now so famous for lots of terrible reasons) where Asian 15 year olds who were doing so-so in English classes got extra tutition to make up for the fact that most of them didn't speak English in the home. It was a good scheme and I met some lovely boys (and some very sulky ones) but of course most of them spoke and wrote very good English (much better than a lot of their white contemporaries). Still, being 15 year old boys most of them weren't at all interested in the books and poems they had to read (or if they were they didn't want to admit it)...they just knew they had to read them for the exam and yeh, OK, they kind of wanted to pass the exam, maybe, sort of, if it would help them get rich at some point. The work was a lot of fun (in the short-term) - trying to excite them about Carol-Ann Duffy and Ted Hughes and Simon Armitage - but I know I couldn't do it full-time and as a permanent job. Well, for a start I'm not a teacher (you didn't have to be for the scheme - just needed a degree I think)...then there's the fact that the exam questions all make me laugh (still). 'Describe the animal imagery in...' No, no, please make it stop!

Sometimes when I'm writing or reading through what I've written I like to imagine how my poems might be discussed by a class full of disinterested teenage boys. What themes do I come back to? What imagery do I use (not a lot..they'd be onto a loser there...although it does seem to be creeping in slowly through the backdoor, as it were)? I know I write a lot about music, about being female (much sniggering, be quiet at the back there), about life cycles, about being crazy, about being honest. Also I know when I do readings or shows that I come back often to the idea of facing up to weaknesses and you life, in your personality. I find it hugely liberating to tell groups of people how much I've messed up but hey, look at the poem I got out of it! I do think a lot of our current ills (all those millions on pick-me-up pills) are connected to our foolish attempts at living perfect lives (Alain de Botton is very good on similar subjects...and that annoying psychologist bloke...Oliver James).

One of the books I'm reading just now is 'The Enthusiast Field Guide to Poetry'. It's very interesting (although slightly strange in that its author is a mystery in a Banksy stylee) and one quote in its opening section is 'A poem is an arrangement of words containing possibilities'. I've seen that quote used elsewhere in pieces on what is poetry (and all that) and it's as good an answer as we may get. It's not a book to read in one go (not for me anyway) but I was glad to find on page 82 'The freedom of the poet, more precisely, is the possibility of erring. In erring begins possibility.' Well, exactly.

Essays to me by Monday please.