Sunday, 30 September 2012

Making Poetry From Music

I had the pleasure of compering the Sshhh! Acoustic stage of Shatterfest 4 down at Stereo (York).  In line with my Guthrie Challenge I thought I’d write a poem inspired by the musicians after seeing their 20-30 minute set.  I like this method, instead of being isolated in my room or out for a walk, it's a trick that means I'm writing something with not only the musician, but everyone else in the room.
Here they are, please check out these acts, many talented York acts as well as Emma from Manchestaaa and Bad Ideas from t’Leeds.  Links in their names/titles.


I’ll sit on a cold afternoon

Arm myself with a spoon

and stir my hot chocolate.

I’ll sit by the radiator

Three pairs of socks

and a second skin of a warm jumper.

I’ll sit and think of you

Slip into a dozy dream

and wish you could be here.

To keep me warm, you call me at home

And travel by telephone


I may be in the gutter

But I’m next to a road

And all roads lead to Rome.

Pack up my troubles, say goodbye to the rats

Farewell to the sewers, the depths of black

Life’s been a drag, now I’m dragging myself up

Trust myself, don’t blame fate or luck.

I may be in the gutter

But I’m next to a road

And all roads lead to Rome.

I’ll find home


We’ll take our time

Breeze though this city

Breath slowly like prowlers

We’ll be on time

Whip up a hurricane

Stay up till all hours

We’ll batten down our hatches

Prepare for our own storm

You don’t need the weatherman to expect showers

Come the morning, we’ll be sodden

Drenched to the bone

No bad weather makes us cower


I could sleep for a million years

Wrap me up in chords of gold

And a blanket woven from harmonies

Will you keep on singing me to sleep

Let your lullabies be a lesson in love.

I’ve been having nightmares lately

And need some sweeter dreams.

So give me dreams disguised as lullabies

And please watch me sleep and breath


Built myself a secret den

So I could spy on all my friends

Watched them play their games

All from my hidden base

Saw them grow older, make new mates

Get into girls, go off into the world

Get richer, poorer, sadder, gladder

Have kids, have problems, have solutions

Dream of fame, a safe wage or revolution

But I’m still nestled in my secret den

Spying on the world and my little friends


The man stared at the mirror

Sees his reflection, not a hero or a winner

Sighs to himself, knows this:

If I wept at work, nobody would notice

Breathes onto the glass, on the condensation

Writes this consideration:

“We could be Gods” (he writes)

“If we wanted to try”.

He doesn’t cry at work, in that grey office

Because he doesn’t go back there ever again

Friday, 28 September 2012

I ♥ Youth Theatre - a poem

I work for the National Association of Youth Theatres. Their work across the country has affected so many young people and practitioners, and they constantly try to raise the standard of youth theatre. They're not alone, Youth Theatre leaders/directors/practitioners across the country are doing amazing work with young people. And, of course, the young people are incredible. To become a Subscriber, Member or Enhanced Member of NAYT please visit, find them on Facebook and Twitter, or to donate go to
It begins with...anticipation

No, actually, that’s not true, it begins with registration

Rehearsals:  First Day.  The time it takes to sush this lot and tick them off the list, you could have scripted a whole new play.  Behold…the full cast!  There can’t be a room big enough to contain this lot.  Not just in size, but in spirit, this is the biggest project they’ve ever done and this is pushing the youth theatre’s limits.

We’ve endangered the rainforest with the numbers of scripts printed off and handed out.  They need to learn to project, not shout.  Lines still need to be committed to memory urgently, scenes blocked and characters defined.  They clamour for their costumes before they’ve had measurements.  Admittedly, some aren’t entirely sure what the play means, some scenes are so hectic they’re bursting at the seams.  Still, what could possibly go wrong?  Well, a few need reminding what dates the performances are on. 

No, that’s not the beginning, let’s go to the start

So, I don’t get into University, and, have I what?  Have I considered a Gap Year?  Take a year out of education, gain some experience, see the world, read up and plan ahead before making that step.

I never worked with kids before, but they’re looking for volunteers so, well, I’m stopping here for a year so sign me up.  They’re 11-13s so nothing can prepare you for the unholy combination of under-10s dynamic energy and teenage ferocity.  A mutant hybrid of excitable sugar-fuelled mania … and we-know-the-rules-and-we-know-how-to-test-them army of James Dean rebellious jesters.  For 90 minutes.

Try the hand in the air wait for silence tactic, and like a Muggle trying magic, it doesn’t work…

But they love to break free in sessions.  And they come up with stuff which makes The Goon Show seem like the Politics Show.  If they hired this gang for the BBC writing team, Downtown Abby would be like your weirdest dream.  Pop culture, playground logic and half-learned facts all pooled together and let loose in a free space of furious thinking, devising and role-playing games.

There’s no correct answer, no test, not even a Well Done, You tried Your Best patronised pat on the head.  Just, what do you think, just get up and do it, there’s no rules or barriers, or if they are, how can you devise a scene around them.

Everything I script for them is based on their improvisations.  Every direction comes from their instincts.  I learn what I am capable of in terms of leadership and assisting.  Whether they listen to instructions or try resisting, each week is a crash course in the power of young people and how they make the theatre they both want and deserve.

But if you can handle the most manic of groups then they could throw you in a shark tank and you could come out with only mild bruising.

No, sorry, that’s not the beginning…

We’re known at schools as kids into drama and theatre and there’s a youth club youthy drama youth thing.  So, with the, we rock up (well, pour parents ring up)

As if we’re in a school, people still call the Leader ‘Miss’, no, drop the formalities just pay attention to this…

From then onwards it becomes a weekly treat beyond the classroom where marks and targets rule.  Workshops on clowning through to ensemble devising, scripting scenes and whole plays.  Play In A Week and Play In A Day.  Warm-up games, feel comfortable with repeating the same SPLAT or ZIP like a catch-phrase.  Learning lines, discovering texts, site-specific fun, camping at a festival in woods.  At the same time, we don’t need a uniform to know where to belong, year-follows-year and we leap from group to group.  Our teeth aren’t bright white, we’re not photoshopped.  We’re dragging theatre through the mud.  We started off as wide-eyed little ‘uns with a taste for dressing up, then we became older teens who thought we knew everything about rebellion, life and love.

Some of us had real drama in our lives outside the sessions.  Come here only with what you want to share.  Bring you fears, bring your problems, or drop the baggage.  We don’t ask exacting questions.  The answers we seek come from the standing up and the doing.

It’s the Idea and The Experience.  We feel we belong and know what it means, we write a manifesto in the words we say and the movements we make on stage.  Our identity is carved in the programmes, beaten into the playing of drums.  Those that came before us trod the same rehearsal rooms and played the same games, but we don’t repeat their route like school’s exams and essays. 

And most of all, we are loyal.  We are loyal to the idea born from the experience because all the current and old members of my youth theatre can hear this.  They went onto work in theatre or work elsewhere but they could still remember how to play a million warm-up games using only a handful of chairs.  Whenever they hear the word BLOCKING some little part of their memory flashes, whenever they hear SPLAT their reflexes send them diving.

I’ve seen youth theatre members pitching tents in the name of democracy, standing up to save the NHS and thinking politically.  I saw them make Harry Potter-themed placards to protest the rise in tuition fees.  I’ve also seen them dress like giant sea cucumbers.  It’s all part of life’s rich tapestry.

Do you know what the reward is for being in Youth Theatre?  We are something larger than a rehearsal room and shoe-strong budget, more than kids gearing up to become ‘proper’ actors.  We are more than a handful of teens with scripts.  The audiences we deserve are more than parents and other ‘kids’.  The reward for being in Youth Theatre is you are part of an artform exclusive to your age, redefining and shaping how we create.   Our 8-10s shows rival the National.  We’ve got Laurence Oliver’s not waiting in the wings, but already strutting across stages.  The next Harold Pinter wrote his first play for a cast if 25, most of them girls.  If the whole world’s a stage, then we’re on a mission to conquer the world.

We…sorry.  They.  They are not the inheritors.  They run the globe.  We think we run youth theatre sessions.  We’ve simply servants to the rule of 11-13 year-olds.

The Future Had Arrived

Here's a poem about tuition fees/EMA/Gove shake-ups.  It's a bit down and depressing.  When school pupils and college students start occupying and the NUT start striking, I'll write an inspirational one.

Click HERE to listen and download
The Future Had Arrived
While we carved our names into school desks when we were boys and girls, politicians carved their names into history books as they carved up the world.  As the bombs dropped abroad, we dropped out or tapped in.  The future had arrived, we left the Millennium Bug in the dust and caught the iBug, got connected to the world then downloaded our fair share, let the world come into our homes, became secure in 21st century software.

Our names were written on application forms, added to Student Union databases and exam timetables.  Or printed on name badges at the local High Street store, proudly taking our paychecks home and feeling independent while the High Street names put their money into independent islands.

Some of our names ended up on gravestones to mark the end of a life lost in the foreign wars we fought in.  Some battles were local, and when we were defeated, we were forgotten.

I remember being the future, but then I became the present.  Sold on the pretext Things Can Only Get Better, a line from the past played on repeat until the words lost meaning.  England was still dreaming, slept through the world crashing down, let the bankers tip-toe around.  Then, fuelled by this belief we were still the future, we voted, believed a lie disguised as a promise.  A generation crippling the next, believing a politician could be honest.

In these low times, these names are unlikely to make the history books.  Alongside war-mongers, Yes We Canners and future Kings and Queens, who will remember the little men and women implementing shake-ups to education schemes?

The children and teens of today will learn these names.  And remember them.  Children never forget playground chants, as they grow-up these choruses remain.  Teenagers never forget insults or nicknames.  Even when the world spins round, and the future becomes the present, the youth become the adults, those names of early 21st century leaders will be detested.

Names followed by a spit.  Who took welfare and education and carved it up.  A generation tagged underachievers, left to rot.  Whose names mean nothing, statistics and digits.  Bled of choice until there is nothing left.  Just names of boys and girls carved into school desks.

Monday, 24 September 2012

My Love Affair With #2: THE WHO

My Love Affair With #2:  THE WHO

See here for my Love Affair with THE RAMONES

So after my initial burst of love for 70s punk bands, I was eager to find more music.  But naturally I couldn’t like modern music, oh no, modern bands were trendy or hip or too cool for me.  No Franz Ferdinand or Arctic Monkeys fan I.

The Who have been covered by Sex Pistols (Substitute) and as soon as you read about Joey Ramone, you discovered his love for 60s rock bands (The Ramones also covered Substitute).  York 70s punk band Cyanide covered I’m A Boy.  When Steve Jones and Paul Cool met Pete Townsend on the night out which would inspire The Who’s 1978 song Who Are You?.  Not only that, I was a huge fan of The Jam, so wanted to retrace the roots of mod.  So what was it about The Who which the punks of the late 70s liked so much?

For me, The Who were a rebellious band that weren’t necessarily a punk band.  Proof you didn’t need to wear leather jackets, be dirty, spike your hair and never shower to still be angry.  I’ll probably repeat these arguments for The Jam when I come to them, but at the time I was still quite into being smart, or at least I wasn’t up for spikes and grubbiness.


Fusing my love for The Who and The Jam, I set out to become my own style of mod.  When I made my myspace page, it was covered in the mod target symbol and ska song quotes (you might still be able to find it with a google search, but I’m not going to link you to it!).  All the York punks knew me as Mod Henry.  I loved visiting Carnaby Street.  But I never bothered with a scooter or dressing mod every day.  For me it was about the music, and my parka proudly adorned band patches and badges rather than Vespa and scooter images.  They also helped cement my faith in British bands (it would be a while before I gave American acts a chance).

I never quite got into the psychedelic side to The Who, their albums like The Who Sell Out are a little twee and odd, not a staunch offering of music.  Tommy I found dull and long when I watched it.  Their 70s rock singles are classics, but their albums don’t do much for me.  It’s their cool roots in 1960s mod culture which really appeals.  They are the Kings of Mod, the Kings of Cool.  They are Mod.  The Mod Band.  When The Mighty Boosh’s Noel Fielding claimed to be The King of The Mods in series 2, he was far off the mark.  He could never be the King of The Mods.  The Who were.  End of debate.

Musically, The Who appeal in their high energy smash-it-up rawness (5.15), early bluesy rock (I Can’t Explain), their story-telling (Happy Jack) a taste for the slightly off kilter (Magic Bus).  But, as Kings of Mod, they said it best in their first album.  MY GENERATION.  What a shake-up-call-to-arms of pure fire.  The Kids Are Alright, a cool groove.  We’re cool.  We’re OK.  And I felt cool, because I’d discovered music, philosophy, politics and friendship.  I felt comfortable with a cool band.  I could find cool beyond the skinny jeans and NME-fetish of the kids at college and BOTB nights out.  I guess that was the appeal of kids in the 60s.  We’re not scum.  We’re hip.  We’re mods.  We’re here, and we’re not going away.

Essential album:  The Who s/t debut

Essential track:   My Generation and We Won’t Get Fooled Again bookmark The Who.  About youth, rebellion and standing up tall.  But if I had to choose…WHY DON’T YOU ALL JUST FADE AWAY?!

Essential rock moment:  I saw The Who at O2 Festival along with The Eels and The Zutons.  I got really really close to the front, then a hot potato played havoc with me and I was sick in the crowd.  Daltry said before their encore:  “here’s the bullshit moment, we go offstage, you wait, we come back with a cup of tea.”  And he did!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

My Love Affair With: THE RAMONES

I’m going to begin a series of blog about bands I’ve loved since I first got into music, when I went to York college about 16-17.  I gave up religion, no-swearing and decided I was political, and I like punk.  It was a really important time in my life, backed by house parties, friends, Youth Theatre and exciting college subjects.  Over the following days/weeks/months I just want to look at some of the bands which cemented my love for music starting with…

My Love Affair With:  THE RAMONES

It all began when I decided at College “I like Punk” and my Mum was happy enough to oblige.  We were in Scarborough, and went to a CD shop called Discworld.  There, Mum picked out some Stranglers CDs, Siouxsie & The Banshees live album Nocturne and Rocket To Russia by The Ramones, declaring these were ‘punk’ bands.  I added them to my collection of Sex Pistols, The Jam and The Clash I’d pilfered from her CD collection (recused from sitting next to Elton John and Wham!) and eagerly checked out this ‘punk’ thing.

At first glance, The Ramones were everything punk was meant to be.  Fast, loud, simple, about as to-the-point as you could get.  Leather jackets.  Ripped jeans.  On every single Punk Best Of CD.  Featured in Q and Kerrang when it came to ‘Ultimate 100 Punk Bands EVER’.  Influencing many bands to come.  T-shirts.  But really, their music is almost devoid of basic political statements that defined Stiff Little Fingers and The Clash (in fact, Johnny was a casual racist conservative Republican).  They never liked the term ‘punk’ and never bought into the “destroy” and “anarchy” ideology.  They were just hapless romantics.  They struck a chord (just the one of three, mind) as just making sense.

You can meet a lot of music-lovers who just don’t get The Ramones, some of them punk music-lovers themselves.  It’s just too simple, musically and lyrically.  It’s not political enough.  It’s just the same song over and over again.  Etc.

Joey Ramones, the gentle giant, longed for a simpler time in music, Rolling Stones, The Who and Beatles.  His lyrics are bubblegum pop, about girls and dancing.  He’s a romantic.  It’s only when he fuses this tweeness and surf rock with a sense of loneliness, weirdness and freakishness of suburban Nixon America it becomes the strange bastard child ‘pop-punk’.  It’s upbeat and odd.  It’s dark and danceable.  From beaches to basements, crushes to chainsaws.  HEY-HO, LET’S GO.  Call to arms.  They entered into the philosophy more is better.  Fit 16 songs into 30 mins?  Go for it.  (rock at the time being a word synonymous with pomp and artifice).  Freakish super-heroes, gangly imaginary friends, cartoons-made-real.  They are the Peter Parkers of rock music.

I think what appealed to me about The Ramones was the paraphilia that accompanied them.  The 1-2-3 before every song.  The uniform of leather jackets.  The exact same haircut.  ‘The Pinhead’ who would dance on stage to Gabba-Gabba-Hey.  The clone album covers.  The repetition of “I wanna” or “I don’t wanna” shtick in the lyrics.  Cartoon artwork.  The logo designed by Arturo Vega.  It’s the same reason I loved Warhammer, Spider-Man and James Bond.  You can dip your toe, or you can dive in and become an obsessive geek.  The Ramones were geeky at heart, and appealed to the magpie collector in me.  Their digestible format meant you could quite easily fall in love one element, or buy into the whole think.  The songs about hopeless love, being cretins, freaks, misfits appeal to the outsiders.  As Joey sings “We accept you/one of us”. 


The Ramones vibe was infectious.  It seemed you ‘got it’ (like you got Batman or Star Trek) or you didn’t.  I certainly ‘got it’.  I easily learnt the words to the first three Ramones albums, and currently have 234 tracks on my iPod made up of Best Ofs, Demos, Live albums, compilations and their first seven releases.  I never listen to them as much as I should any more, partly because I can flip a switch in my head and their best songs are there, so simple and infectious are they.

The whole short-lived “Are they brothers?” question proved irrelevant.  Such a varied bunch of personalities and characters were more like a scripted cast of characters than a rock band (rock at the time being a word synonymous with pomp and artifice).  They had to be brothers.  They sure as hell weren’t friends!  You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family.

Like the name suggests, The Ramones made you feel like a family.  “We’re a happy family” they sang on Rocket To Russia.  I felt home.

Essential album:  self-titled debut The Ramones

Essential track:  Teenage Lobotomy, Blitzkrieg Bop & Sheena Is A Punk Rocker are classic punk rock staples of any young blood discovering their style.  But Cretin Hop, opener from Rocket To Russia, has that beautiful fusion of freaks, misfits and madmen having a boogie, with the surf-pop sensibilities of “going for a whirl with my pretty gal”.

Essential rock moment:  Joey Ramone delivering the classic line “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School!?” in the Ramones move (of the same name) as if the script were written on logs.


Woody Guthrie was an interesting figure of American culture and music, a folk/country singer who tried to live the troubadour lifestyle, and it doing so became the troubadour lifestyle.  Aside from his songs, he left us with a little 2-page spread of his new year resolutions, one of which was to write a song a day (  I’ve stolen this #guthriechallenge from Richie Blitz (, a very talented acoustic folk-punk musician whose songs always get me fired up for activism and politics.  I’ve adapted it to poetry. 
Basically Edinburgh Fringe taught me that this year, I need to rethink how I write.  Not because I’m unhappy with what I currently write/perform, but I need to take my stuff to another level beyond simple gag poems, politics or relying on nostalgic poetry about comics and cartoons.  I had long chats with my ace girlfriend about new writing techniques, so I’m going to try and write a new poem very single day.

I don’t expect that these poems will great, and definitely not a completed standard, but it will get me into the habit of writing and forcing ideas.  Things might ‘ping’ that might never have ‘pinged’ before in my head.  Anyway, I might try and post some up here on the blog; some I might not depends of the quality.  But for now, I was reading Grant Morrison’s essay/biography SuperGods and at the time he was talking about his Arkham Asylum comic, so here’s a little thing called The Asylum

The Asylum

Good evening.  I am the doorman to the Asylum.  Welcome to the story.

This is a retirement home for students whose dreams faded.

Cell door #1 is your basic style of madman.  The gibberers, the one’s who talk to themselves, the ones you wouldn’t trust with the truth or the lie.  The moaners, the cynics, the mistrusters, ranters.  Who stole themselves away, decided to murmer without purpose.  They dictate to themselves, they are secretly their momo and conversation rolled into one sublime self-heckle.

The next floor is the violent ones, the aggressive in tongue and mind.  Blind to who they damage, savage and unrelenting in their output, overfilling to the point of besieging the sense.  A menace to normality.

The next floor is the quiet ones.  The silent thinkers, drinking up the no-sound of the lack of noise.  The most dangerous ones.

Welcome to The Asylum, the New House of Gold.  Scarred tissue and homely minds directly schooled and dipped in a terrifying wine.

When they don’t require a prison or the electric chair, they send them here.

The inky hotel of the lost, damned and forgotten, all of those who need protecting from society, front pages and wages.  Hear their sound echo down the corridors.

All roads lead to Rome, all corridors lead home, pick a cell, any cell.