craic

whizz bang

There’s always a risk for poets in writing about current affairs. All too quickly, today’s burning issue becomes tomorrow’s chip paper, and all that hard work you put into knocking rhythm and rhyme together counts for nothing. And who wants that?
But there’s always been a role for broadside balladeering, and sometimes – when there’s an issue which has a direct impact on people but seems terminally dull when you try to explain it – a poem can make a point, and get read, where a column in a broadsheet can’t. It’s not an either/or. Both have their place. Yes, we need sober and detailed analysis, but why not engage people emotionally and make them laugh, too? Corporate tax avoidance gets my goat, but it was only when I managed to write a poem about it – no-one likes an angry poet imagined me visiting a tax-dodging coffee shop chain – that I found a way to articulate my anger, and that of others.
Currently, the BBC seem to be choosing to ignore a massive political story: Tory general election fraud in marginal constituencies. You can read the facts about that story here. You won’t hear much about it on the BBC, however, so I wrote this poem – shell-like – to try and bring the issue home.
If it ends up wrapping tomorrow’s cyber-chips, so be it. It was a lot of fun to do. And you should never discount the importance of fun.



unclothing the emperor

There are always people out there who make a life and a career out of winding up liberals, portraying themselves as daring renegades who dare to stand up against the tyranny of political correctness. They say something callous about the story of the moment – calling drowning migrants cockroaches, for example – and then sit back and revel in their notoriety as the storm of condemnation grows.  
It’s a simple formula, and no less effective for that. Ignore them, and they go unchallenged; respond, and you’ve given them the attention that they crave, you’ve swallowed the clickbait. The game has been carefully rigged, and – whichever response you choose – it seems they win, you lose.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock – and it’s a valid lifestyle choice, if that’s what tickles your fancy, and may be all any of us can afford before too long –  you’ll know that the most striking example of this is playing itself out in North America, where Donald J Trump is making the running in the race to be Republican candidate for president of the USA.
Is the idea that a billionaire businessman can claim to be an outsider utterly laughable? Yes. Is he playing the tired old card of blaming all life’s problems on immigrants and minorities? Yes. Does it seem to be working? Quite probably. I don’t know about you, but in the face of all that I need a bit of a shot in the arm, a little morale-booster, a flight of fancy which imagines a better world, and cuts bullies and renegades back down to size.*
So I did what I do, and wrote a poem. Then I made a video of it. You can watch that video here. Watch it once. Watch it as often as you like. Share it with strangers, share it with friends. In the politics of the playground (which is what we seem to have right now) a little mockery can go a long, long way.
*No, I don’t for a moment believe a little poem written by a gobby bloke in the West Mids will derail the Trump bandwagon. But I do believe in the subversiveness of laughter. And right now, that’ll do.



crazy

We live in a crazy world. Doubt it? Here’s an example.
This weekend the news has been full of stories from the ‘snowmageddon’ on the east coast of the USA (because just calling it ‘very heavy snowfall’ isn’t anything like as exciting, right?). Two feet of snow falling in just a few hours, closing airports and freeways and causing state governors to declare a state of emergency while making one Washington panda very very happy. You can see how much I’ve picked up, and I wasn’t particularly paying attention…
A couple of hours in, and the rolling news was – naturally – looking for a fresh angle on the story, some new titbit for the viewers at home to savour from the comfort of their living rooms. So they found a woman in Baltimore who works with homeless people, and asked her how her charity was coping with this extreme weather – I don’t think any of us were surprised to learn it added to their workload, but this wasn’t meant to be cutting-edge investigative journalism, it was just five minutes of filler on TV. And at some point the charity worker was asked how many people her charity helped. 2,600 she replied. There were families, there were old people, there were kids. 2,600 of them. And the conversation moved on.
But let’s just rewind a minute, forget about the snow, and look at what wasn’t considered worthy of headlines. What didn’t even raise a flicker of concern. Which is that every day, in just one city in one of the wealthiest countries on the planet, there are 2,600 homeless people reliant on charity just to get by. Come rain, come shine, come two feet of snow. Families, old people, kids. With nowhere to live, and in need of soup kitchens and shelters to make it from one day to the next, in a society awash with money, which positively worships wealth.
There’s something profoundly wrong with this picture. But then it’s a crazy world.
Imagine a world which wasn’t.
Imagine a world where a person of wealth and substance, a modern-day Croesus, a – for the sake of argument, let’s say a Donald Trump – halted his campaign for power and glory, and his gospel of hatred and fear, and declared he’d thought about those homeless people, and how just a fraction of his $4.5billion fortune could help them.* Imagine a world where it occurred to him that this might be a noble and worthwhile use of his money, one which would – arguably – provide him with a greater legacy than building yet another exclusive golf course no-one will ever see. Imagine a world where he got up behind the podium at one of his rallies and announced to his supporters he was going to use his wealth to help the poorest in his country…. Go on, give it a go.
Not easy, is it? Now tell me it isn’t a crazy world.
* If Trump did this, even I might be tempted to vote for him. Although, in honesty, it’s not that likely.

And he’d still have to do something about the hair.

 



the importance of art

It’s become increasingly fashionable to sneer at art. Philistines on the right dismiss it as not being a proper job, while their counterparts on the left say how it fails to liberate the masses, and virtually all of us roll our eyes when we’re faced with art which wraps itself in impenetrable terminology – blah blah juxtaposition blah deconstructing blah prevailing orthodoxy blah blah blah – and still leaves you wanting to poke your own eyes out with a fork. But the truth is that art does matter to people. Or rather, art which speaks to us, helps us make sense of our lives, and allows us to feel part of something bigger than our individual selves, matters to us. If you ever doubt that, you simply need to take the most cursory of glances at the outpouring of grief this month to the deaths of two very different musicians.
The reaction to their deaths shows the importance of art in our lives.
Even if Motörhead meant nothing to you, you’ll know someone for whom their music was the soundtrack to their life, and for whom Lemmy was a hero. Even if you haven’t a single Bowie track in your music collection, you’ll like as not have friends for whom his dress sense, his songwriting, and his sexual ambiguity showed them there was a world which existed outside the narrow confines of the norm. In their own ways, each of them blazed a trail, and you’d need to have a heart of stone not to be moved when you read how much they meant to so many people. The music they created changed people’s lives, and whether you wanted a place for your energy and anger, your sense of difference, your joy of dressing-up, or just some bloody good tunes to get drunk and dance to, you got it. This was art being important, and art being unpretentious. It was art being part of everyday life. It was art mattering.
This isn’t some fuzzy it’s-all-coming-up-roses world view, either. It’s entirely possible to believe in the necessity of art and still be cynical about the attempts of politicians to garner credibility by making sure they clamber on board the bandwagon of grief. And to recognise that for the part of the world’s population which worries about getting enough to eat, or making it through the day without being killed, a discussion about the role of art in our lives is hardly a priority. But art, and human creativity, gives us the tools to help map a route through our existence, and without it our world would be a colder, darker place.
Make time in your life – today, tomorrow, whenever you can – to find the songs which put a smile on your face or a lump in your throat, the books which transport you away from everyday drudgery, the paintings and photos which open up new vistas, and the sculptures which fill you with wonder. And treasure them.
Treasure them always.



taste of honey

The ghost of the Xmas turkey* is already dead and gone, and the horror of the New Year hangover is still just a twinkle in an ill-judged cocktail’s eye, so what better time to let my fingers do the walking and type out one last blog for the year?
It’s been an eventful twelve months. In Spring, my book more bees bigger bonnets was published. It got some great reviews then – Joelle Taylor called it a tower block of a book, Boff Whalley said it was shot through with unforgettable stories – and it ended the year being chosen by economist Richard Murphy as one of his two books of the year. Here’s the link.
My thanks and best wishes go out to all those poets I’ve shared a stage with this year, and to the organisers of poetry and spoken word nights – and promoters of festivals – who’ve given me a chance to put my work in front of a new audience, or bring it back to an audience who’ve heard my work before. Thanks, above all, to everyone who’s come along to my gigs, bought my books, and supported my work. The power of poetry is its potential to build connections, to put into words the things we sometimes struggle to find the words to say, to use the rhythm and musicality of language so our hopes and dreams can sing. If what I’ve written has in any way helped toward that, I’m a happy man.
My hopes for 2016? Global justice, wealth re-distribution, and Moseley taking the rugby world by storm. Or any two of the three. Failing that, a collective shot at getting our heads round the fact that judging people on the basis of their religion, nationality, or skin colour is never a good idea and doesn’t end well. And if that’s too much to ask for, then some decent music, a couple of good beers, and cheering Katie Hopkins, Donald Trump, and Anjem Choudary on their way as the rocket leaves for Mars.
Whatever happens, I intend to be out there gigging. Richard Murphy said my work builds hope and that’ll do for me. If you want me to come to where you live, drop me a line. If I’m coming to your town already, pop by and say Hi. I wish you all the best for 2016. May it be filled with love and laughter and dreaming.
*no turkeys, geese, or nut roasts were harmed in the making of this blog



swarms

Many years ago, back when life was stretching out before me like an endless adventure, I hitched back down from Leeds to Walsall for a party. My best friend in the world was turning eighteen, and her mom and stepdad had hired the function room in a pub, and on top of that they’d ordered a buffet. There were crisps, sandwiches, and chunks of pineapple and cheese on cocktail sticks. There was even hot food. And – seeing as they were pushing the boat out for the evening – there was a cover band, too.
I was pretty certain the younger ones amongst us would have been happier in the bar in t-shirts and ripped jeans, drinking pints and to hell with good behaviour, but this was an evening as much for my friend’s mom and stepdad and her aunts and uncles as it was for us. The cover band stood on the low stage in the corner of the room wearing frilly purple shirts and black slacks, and played barely adequate versions of old rock’n’roll numbers while we sniggered and ignored them.
Then the music stopped, and the singer – all comb-over and Black Country accent – started telling jokes. Irish ‘jokes’. Irish ‘jokes’ where thick Paddy did this, or stupid Paddy did the other. Maybe he thought this added to the sophistication of the evening, I don’t know. But my mom was Irish, and what I heard were the same sad, tired, offensive ‘jokes’ I’d heard all my life, told in the same breath as jokes about ‘pakis‘ and ‘niggers’ and ‘wogs’. The language of bigotry and ignorance which had always made my blood boil, and which always will.
Sitting in that function room, my blood boiled once again. But I knew I couldn’t spoil my friend’s big night by causing a scene, so I sat on my hands and bit my tongue, and told myself to let it lie. Then I heard a lad at the next table mutter and curse under his breath. Something wrong? I asked him. Oh yes, he said, was there ever something wrong. While the singer droned on in the background the two of us chatted about our shared experience of growing up Irish, about identity and discrimination, and how – tonight, especially tonight – we’d really had it up to here with the stupid Irish jokes. By the time the singer announced he was taking a break for ten minutes and the band would be back with more music soon, we knew exactly what we were going to do.
We cornered him on his way to the toilet, and asked if we could have a word. I think he expected praise, a slap on the back and the offer of a pint, and his face froze in shock when we told him his jokes weren’t funny, and his patter sucked. Then came the bluster. It was all just a laugh, wasn’t it? We were taking it way too seriously, weren’t we? We needed to lighten up a bit, and have a pint and a giggle. They were only jokes. Calmly and patiently, we pointed to our history, explained about the discrimination our parents had faced, reminded him how recent it was the signs read No Irish, No Blacks, And No Dogs, but in truth we might as well have been talking to the wall.
He simply couldn’t understand what was happening. Two lads from the Black Country were taking him to task, and he just couldn’t get his head round it at all. We looked and sounded for all the world like we were part of his target audience, one which he assumed would join in laughing and pointing the finger at the immigrant, the foreigner, or the stupid Paddy, and here we were having a go at him. In his world, it just didn’t make sense. But when he went back on stage that night he didn’t tell any more jokes.
Since then, the years have slipped away, one after another, but some things haven’t changed. My friend is still as beautiful and wonderful as ever, and still my best friend. Life is still an adventure. And people still use the language of hate and expect me to fall in line and sing along. But I won’t hate migrants or Muslims or refugees, and politicians who talk of swarms and hordes and threats to our way of life should remember that they have as little credibility as a pot-bellied bloke wearing slacks and singing someone else’s songs in the back room of a pub thirty years ago.
And only Jimi Hendrix ever looked good in a frilly purple shirt.



resistance

Summer. In the UK. Now the cynics amongst you might argue this just gives us more hours of daylight to watch the rain fall, but this year even the most hard-bitten of you would have to admit it’s also offering us more hours of daylight to watch our government set about dismantling the welfare state, appeal to the basest elements of human motivation, and drive us further still to being a pale wet imitation of the USA.
Not the best of times for those of us who think that’s wrong, muddle-headed, and driven more by ideology and greed than anything else.
Which is why it becomes more important than ever to celebrate and champion the good things people do, the alternative narratives, the resistance to this headlong plunge to a new feudalism. Because there’s more going on than you might think.
If you’re thinking to yourself ‘This is all well and good, Steve, but it’s got precious little to do with poetry…’ then you’ve got a point. I hold my hands up on that one. But equally, if you’ve read any of my poetry – and I’m guessing you have, since you’re reading this blog – you’ll know that politics is part of the warp and weft of what I write, so me getting on my soapbox about what’s going on is hardly a surprise. And sometimes I need a break from pushing and promoting my poetry just as much as you do.
So this newsletter is to celebrate the good stuff. The people who put in long hours and hard work to bring art and music to their communities. Volunteers running foodbanks. The work of the Sophie Lancaster Foundation. This speech by Mhairi Black. There’s more, of course. Much more. But this is just off the top of my head at nine in the morning when I’m trying to get this finished and posted before I leave the house. (you can always add your own in the ‘comments’ to this blog – I’d love to hear them)
I remain optimistic. I look at people and their capacity for compassion and solidarity and I continue to see hope. This August you’ll find me clambering onto a stage at Green Gathering, Beautiful Days, and Shambala to share that. To take the piss out of the status quo. To remind us we know how we can do better. Come and say ‘Hi’. Let’s share our stories of the good things that are going on, the resistance that is happening, and our plans for where we go from here.
And bring your wellies. It’s summer in the UK, after all.



stars

The poetry world runs on the goodwill, the endeavour, the graft and the enthusiasm of people who organise, publicise, and put on gigs knowing full well that – in pure economic terms – anyone looking at the work they put in for whatever money they may make, would have to conclude it was the activity of madmen. Or fools.
And yet, without them, a host of poetry gigs would never happen, and the grassroots of the poetry and spoken word scene – without which future stars would have nowhere to cut their performance teeth – would wither and die, leaving all of us that much poorer. Up and down the country there are people putting on poetry nights in bars, clubs, and art centres, playing their part in creating a scene where a million poetry voices can bloom. Doing so purely for the love of it and receiving but a fraction of the credit they deserve.
Which brings me to last Monday, and the Guildford gig.
There are some days when I really don’t feel like doing a poetry gig, and Monday was one. That morning I was a broken man. The weekend had been three long days – eighteen hours on my feet each one of them – with the day job. By Monday, I was bone-tired. Stupid with the kind of exhaustion that meant I stared blankly at people while I tried to work out what they’d just said, without ever feeling sure I’d got it right. I stumbled through London to a friend’s flat, fell into bed, and slept.
Even after a deep day’s dreamless sleep, I wasn’t much better. I made my way to Guildford, watching the world slip dream-like by, and found the venue. All I needed to do, I reminded myself, was dig down into the last of my reserves, do my set, and collapse into a chair like a string-cut puppet.
And then the magic happened.
You see, for me, poetry is all about connection, about a space where you can listen to other people sharing their take on the world – candid, comic, personal, political, profound – and where you can offer up yours in turn. It’s about human beings listening to, and being moved by, and learning from each other as equals, without having to fight their way past some ridiculous hierarchy to do so. (In that respect it’s about as far from much of modern life – and certainly the ya-boo-sucks shouting-down of modern politics – as it’s possible to get. But that’s a subject for another blog.)
The Guildford night had all of this in spades. The other poets arrived, wonderfully free of ego or self-importance. An audience strolled in. The venue was perfect, the sound and lighting just right. And as each performer took the stage, they span the magic of their words and passion. I don’t know that I can remember a night where I’ve sat and watched six different poets, and laughed and applauded and been left with a lump in my throat by the work of each and every one of them. Not every night manages to create that magic blend.
So my thanks to Janice Windle and Donàll Dempsey for all their hard work and dedication in making the Guildford gig happen. Organisers of poetry nights generally don’t get the recognition they deserve, but without people like Janice and Donàll grafting away in towns across the UK, there’d be nowhere for the magic they made possible to find a home. Somewhere over the course of that evening, my exhaustion fell away, and as I made my back to London on the train, sitting and chatting with the other poets, I was buzzing and bright with ideas and inspiration. I still am. Poetry night organisers, you see. They change the world.
Thank you all.



coffee and tax

Courtesy of the author John Siddique – who posted it on facebook a week or so ago, asking (as I did) what loyalty meant – one year after I wrote it the Caffè Nero letter is up and running again. I had no idea this had happened till someone I knew drew my attention to it, but by then it had already been shared nearly 1000 times. Last time I looked the number of shares was over 10 000, with almost another 2000 on a further post I’d put up, saying how surprised and pleased I was to see it was still making waves.
The posts have attracted lots of positive comments, and support from people who were previously unaware what Caffè Nero were up to – hardly a surprise seeing as they don’t go shouting it from the rooftops – many of whom have said they won’t be drinking there any more. It would be nice to think that independent, tax-paying coffee shops, made successful by the passion and hard work of the people who run them, will see the benefit of this – the option’s there, after all.
In amongst the support, of course, there are comments by some people suggesting I’m wasting my time, or that I don’t know what I’m on about. Tempting though it is to respond to this on each thread where it appears, life’s too short and I’m too lazy. So I thought I’d gather all the objections together here, in one blog, and give my answers.
Ready? Here we go.
Hate the game, not the player. You see, my letter is naive, and doesn’t even pick the right target. Apparently, grumbling into your coffee about the system which allows corporate tax avoidance is ok. Deciding not to use companies which have chosen to avoid tax is not. Unsurprisingly, organisations involved in pushing for tax justice have no problem at all with my letter, because it’s not an either/or. They understand that – to follow the analogy – you can want the game changing and pick which players you support. At the same time. Much as I’d love to think that the people who tell me ‘hate the game’ are fighting for tax justice every waking minute, I suspect they’d actually prefer the issue was ignored.
As for ‘hate’, that’s a little strong. I simply think companies – all companies – should pay into the society they’re part of. What’s the problem?
The letter writer knows nothing about economics. Yeah, right. But the people who choose to ignore the vast sum (estimated to be £4-12billion) which corporate tax avoidance costs us, yet expect roads, bridges, transport infrastructure, a police service, a fire service, ambulance crews, teachers, schools, hospitals, nurses, doctors, pensions, sick pay, tax credits, unemployment benefit, child allowance, driving licences, passports, and the civil servants who adminster them, and expect all of it to appear out of nowhere at the exact moment they need it and who throw a hissy fit if their dustbins aren’t emptied on time, they’ve got economics nailed. Yep. Sounds reasonable.
Tax is bad for business. If you argue that allowing businesses to benefit from all the services listed in the previous response is fine, but asking them to contribute some of their profit as tax revenue to help underpin the society they work in is completely out of the question, you really haven’t got a leg to stand on.
If they paid their tax, they’d probably go bust, and then people would lose their jobs. Ah yes, the ‘probably’ here means ‘I pulled this idea out of the air and haven’t a clue whether it’s true.’ Seeing as other coffee shops who *do* pay their tax make a profit – the clue being that they’re still in business – I’d say it isn’t.
The letter is anti-business. Always good to see this old chestnut being given an airing. What I’m actually in favour of is a level playing field. Why should your local, independent coffee shop pay their tax while bigger companies – with slippery accountants and sharp legal teams – get away with less?
Other companies do the same. Correct. Corporate tax avoidance is a massive problem. In fairness to Caffè Nero it’s worth pointing out that Apple, Google, Starbucks, Amazon, and others do it too. It’s somewhere next to impossible to steer clear of them all, but that doesn’t mean you have to do nothing. There are alternatives to tax-avoiding coffee chains. You can buy books online at hive.co.uk instead of Amazon. There are other search engines than Google. And so on. If you want to throw the charge of hypocrisy at me because I typed this on a Mac, and post videos on YouTube, knock yourself out.
The letter is self-righteous twaddle. Ah, the old favourite. A classic deflection. The person making this comment doesn’t have to address what the letter says because whoever wrote it is an idiot. Well, if you can’t manage to run rings round an idiot – and so far you haven’t – what does that say about you?
As for the personal attacks from keyboard warriors and trolls, I hope you’ll understand that I won’t grant them the dignity of a response. They say way way more about the people making them than they ever could about me.
One more thing, and I’ll sign off. If you believe I’m wrong about all of this, and corporate tax avoidance is perfectly ok, then – in the interests of honesty and transparency – maybe Caffè Nero should put a big sign on their shop doors explaining why they don’t need to pay tax, Amazon add a huge banner to the home page of their website saying the same, and so on. That way customers could decide for themselves whether they wanted to support them. If it’s such a reasonable idea, why hide it away?
I’ll leave you to think about that. Enjoy your day.



this machine

This morning I wake in an old farmhouse in Cumbria with blue skies overhead and jackdaws cawing outside. Today is a day off, a day for striding up into the fells and looking out at the world below, hoping to hear curlew and lapwing, and revelling in the vast, majestic emptiness of the landscape.
After ten dates in fourteen days, it’s just what is needed. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved every minute of this tour – it’s reminded me just how much I enjoy being out on the road, taking my poetry to new audiences, meeting new people and hearing their stories – but it’s good to have a chance to recharge my batteries. And to do it in such a beautiful place on such a glorious day.
The tour has been an experiment, an adventure, a leap into the unknown. I’ve always believed that poetry is a conversation, an opportunity to engage with an audience and for them to engage with you. For you to share your take on things, to point their attention towards something – whatever it may be – and say Look at this! and take them with you. That was my conceit. The question was, would it work?
The answer has been yes.
Friends have directed me to bars and cafes which they’ve thought will be suitable venues, sympathetic to the idea of letting a poet they’ve never heard of come in, read his poems, and promise he’ll bring an audience too. They’ve invited their friends. They’ve put me up in spare rooms and on sofa beds. And I’ve had a ball. Venues have turned out to be beautiful, cosy, intimate spaces it’s been a joy to perform in, and I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve told me at the end of the night that they didn’t think they liked poetry, that they came along with no real expectations, but they’ve really enjoyed it, and thank you, and come back again sometime and read again.
I was going to say it doesn’t get better than that. But it does. I’ve done this tour on the motorbike, travelling from gig to gig with my books, a couple of changes of clothes and a toothbrush in the panniers, and that really has been the two-wheeled cherry on the cake. To ride north yesterday, buffeted by the wind over Shap, swooping through the landscape, with the scent of new-mown hay around me was a privilege and a joy. I grinned from the instant I fired the bike up to the moment I arrived. This machine moves poets.
I’m an incredibly lucky man. I’ve one more gig tomorrow, and a late-night journey home, where I’ll rest up and catch up on sleep, and then doubtless start plotting more gigs, further opportunities to point the bike somewhere I’ve never been, and see what I find when I get there. If you want me to come to where you live, drop me a line, we’ll sort something out, and I’ll turn up, a poet on his beloved motorbike. Today, though, I’m leaving it standing in the yard, and striding up into those fells. It’s a beautiful, beautiful day.
P.S. To my surprise, while I’ve been on tour, the Caffè Nero letter has gone viral once again, a whole year after I wrote it. I’ll be writing about that in another blog soon. But now it’s time for the fells.



counterpunch

Someone asked me recently why I write poetry, and I realised I didn’t really have an answer.
I was able to tell them that my work has been described as raging, irreverent, and radical, or that I’ve been called one of the most powerful and sincere voices in political poetry, but as to why I write… I didn’t have a clue. It’s not something I’ve ever spent a great deal of time thinking about, it’s just something I do. Which I enjoy. In a world of soundbites and spreadsheets, where we’re increasingly encouraged to have an opinion on everything and know the value of nothing, and where our TV screens are eternally chock-full of politicians and interviewers shouting each other down, I know that my response is simple: I step away from the hubbub and the din, write my poetry, and feel better for doing so.
But writing it is only the start. I also want to find an audience. After all, if a haiku falls in the forest and nobody hears it, who’s to count the syllables? Yes, I do know that’s a mixed metaphor like as not, and no, I don’t often write haiku, but the point stands – unlike the fallen haiku (which you might just have heard, if you’ve been paying attention).
A cynic might say that this desire for an audience is all about ego. I guess it could be. Fairly obviously, given my perspective on this, I’m not best placed to say. But – in honesty – I doubt it. It’s got far more to do with communication, and laughter, and the sharing of ideas. It’s about opening up a space where we can step back and see the world around us brighter and more clearly than before. It’s about the nod of recognition, the relief of problems shared. I suspect – now that I’ve mulled it over and thought about it – that a lot of my poetry is about putting into play a small counterpunch to the dominant narrative, a narrative which tells us drowning migrants aren’t our business, which pressurises women with unattainable ideals of beauty, which demonises the poor and worships at the feet of money.
This month I’m taking this small counterpunch on tour. Thirteen dates in May, some more in June, and a scattering of festivals through the summer. All the details are here. If you know people who live in any of the places I’m visiting, please, let them know. And if I’m gigging near you, come along, have a listen, say Hi. Let’s see if we can put a smile on your face and some joy in your heart.*
*election results notwithstanding

 



lies, damned lies

Sometimes the cut and thrust of politics goes way way beyond what it’s possible to lampoon, and – with an election coming up – it’s more true now than ever.
On Sunday, David Cameron claimed in a TV interview that the increase in numbers using foodbanks is down to the fact that – wait for it – his government have been better at publicising their existence than the previous government. That other lot, you see, were embarrassed about the fact that people were struggling to afford to eat in a country with so many millionaires. But not the tories. That increase in numbers? (41,000 to 913,000 if you wondered, in the sixth richest country in the world) That’s because they care, care more than the other lot, care enough to make sure people know there are foodbanks out there. Now, I’d always been led to believe that one of Shiny Dave’s strengths was that he’d worked in PR, and knew how to spin a story, but I’m beginning to have my doubts. You can take political chutzpah and partisan bare-faced cheek so far, and then they start to look a little, well, a tiny wee bit stark raving bonkers. But maybe this is the opening salvo in the new establishment line, their one-size-fits-all solution to any tricky political realities. The offensive logic behind Shiny Dave’s claim means we can wind up the JFT96 campaign, because the problem isn’t that the South Yorkshire Police let an awful lot of Liverpool fans die at Hillsborough, it’s that other police forces didn’t kill enough of them on their turf, the slackers. (in case anyone gets the wrong end of the stick: yes, that is outrageous – which is completely my point)
In the same calendar week, Iain Duncan Smith (who’s as batshit crazy as Katie Hopkins, but without the soundbites) was also on TV, claiming he was furious with people for criticising what he’d done with welfare reforms. His performance was so wooden it gave Roger Moore hope of a comeback, his fury so unconvincing it made Geoffrey ‘dead sheep’ Howe look like Hannibal Lecter. I know the facts show that under IDS’ leadership of the Department for Work and Pensions seriously ill people have died within days of being found ‘fit for work’, and that 60 people have killed themselves after having their benefits cut, but don’t let those facts mislead you into thinking Smithy doesn’t care. He does. And he’s outraged that anyone could dare to say otherwise. That other lot, you see, they didn’t care enough. They left people dependent on handouts. Iain cares enough to want them dead.
There are few things more unsightly than bullies playing the victim in the hope of distracting attention from their own conduct. And Mr Smith has plenty to distract us from.
This is a man who lied about his qualifications from an Italian university (he never got any), lied about qualifications from a british college (he never got any), who lied about claiming for £39 breakfasts when challenged on BBC Question Time, and who is now lying about his fury. He runs a government department which has been charged (by the National Institute for Social and Economic Research, no less) with ‘making things up’ when it comes to their claims of what they’ve achieved – although that is, of course, the other lot’s fault for not making things up enough when they had the chance.
His department introduced the bedroom tax, but he lives in a house on his father-in-law’s estate (that’s estate as in acres and acres of grounds, not as in ‘broken britain’). Two years ago he claimed he could live on £53 a week – which is what some claimants have to survive on – but hasn’t yet quite found time to do so, even though a petition from half a million people encouraged him to give it a go. If you’re reading this, Smithy, consider it a reminder.
Only thing I can say in Iain’s favour is that all his work at the DWP has kept him from writing another novel. On the other hand, his writing may have been truly awful – even the Telegraph called it terrible terrible terrible – but at least while he held a pen and tried to put words together in a semi-coherent fashion it stopped him from ripping the safety net from under some of the most vulnerable in our society.
All of which is to say that if you’re not furious about what’s happening, you’re not paying attention. Get furious. We’ve an election coming up. Make sure you vote. It might – might – just make a difference. Let’s put Iain out of a job.



home is where the heart is

The town where I grew up is never going to win any beauty contests. It’s not chocolate-box cute, and the landscape is nothing to write home about. It’s the sort of place where – if you were driving through on your way from one beautiful place to another – you wouldn’t see any particular need to linger. You’d see a sprawl of warehouses and factories on the featureless plateau just past Birmingham, a web of industrial estates and motorways, and roads which are a patchwork of repairs, and you’d probably put your foot down and keep going.
Growing up there taught me to find beauty in unexpected places, to revel in plants growing out of the walls of ageing factories, frost sparkling on rusting cars in a scrapyard. It showed me the glory of a sunset seen through the lattice of pylons, and the wonder of the bustle of a town on market day when its people have money in their pockets. Because when I was a kid, my town was thriving. I went to sleep to the sound of freight trains running through the night, and I woke to the smell of metal being heated and stamped and pressed, to the dull thump of drop forges and the whine of lathes.
Then Thatcher happened – I went away to university, came back nine months later, and it seemed as though the whole town had fallen silent. When I hitched a lift out, back up north to Leeds, the businessman from Essex in a bright red Merc who’d picked me up told me that the unemployed were simply bone-idle. Tebbit was right. They should just get on their bikes and go and find work. Unemployment in my hometown had just shot up to 21%. How would he like it if they all turned up on his doorstep, I asked. He didn’t have an answer. His sort never do.
Historically, my hometown had moved to the heartbeat of heavy industry, sung a song rich with the music of creation, invention, and graft. Overnight that was taken away, and the words which replaced it were part of a language of loss: decline, high unemployment, economic deprivation. But those words tell only a part of the story of my town – there’s always been beauty and hope there too.
I still go back there, even now. Every few weeks I catch the train – then a bus, then another – to see my dad, and to catch up with my oldest friends. The town is the same as ever, and yet every time I’m there it’s changed. There are more street drinkers. There are apostolic churches and charity shops, houses where they knocked the factories down. There’s less money than there used to be. The air is cleaner than it was when I was a kid, and when I walk the dog we go along what was once a railway line and through a nature reserve which was spoil heaps from the mines when my dad was a boy. I sit with him and ask him the names of factories and pubs I barely knew, all of which are ghosts now, and I write it down so I’ll always remember.
It’s Spring. The hawthorn blossom is out, and the bushes are alive with birdsong. The local council – like a lot of local councils – is running out of money, and cutting services and jobs. I think we’ll see a lot more of that, and I don’t doubt that the jobs and the services that go will be the ones used by the poor, and that today’s businessman in the red Merc will say they brought it on themselves, and drive on somewhere else, to another part of the world less obviously industrial, where the poor won’t spoil his view.
But in a place whose history was built upon men and women forging the nuts and bolts which held together our industrial past, and the keys which gave it a future, people are doing what they’ve always done. Getting on with it. Making the best of things. Having a laugh and a joke, and working with what money comes to hand. Their resourcefulness, their pride, and their humour is part of a new language, their resilience is older than the hills. Maybe that’s what life among the ruins will be like. I don’t know. But I know that going back there feeds my soul.
Home is where the heart is, after all.



bees

I’ve written a lot of poems over the past eighteen months. Some of them have gone up on my website, others have been shared on facebook and Twitter, several became part of my set when I’m doing a gig, and a few haven’t yet found a home at all. In a quiet moment just before Xmas I decided the best of them belonged together, in a new book. So during January – dry January, when I wasn’t drinking, work was thin on the ground, and I had time on my hands – I got on with putting the book together.
As anyone who’s read my work will know, a fair number of my poems deal with current affairs, with politics, with providing some small counterbalance to the way we’re asked to view the world around us. A lot of them tackle serious issues with humour. Almost all of them address human resilience, people’s passion and enthusiasm for life despite the difficulties and disappointments of the day-to-day. I wanted the title of the book to reflect this, and came up with one idea after the other. None of them quite worked. Then I stumbled up on a six-line poem I’d jotted down in a notebook, and there it was, the perfect title: more bees bigger bonnets.
Compiling the book was easier than I thought. Then came the tricky part – putting it out to people for review. Contacting people I know and asking them to say something about my work took me a long way out of my comfort zone. It’s infinitely infinitely infinitely (note: three infinites is a LOT) more nerve-wracking than getting up in front of an audience, and just thinking about doing it made my toes curl in a way which defied the laws of physics and anatomy. Fortunately for me there are some very generous and talented people out there who took time out of their busy lives to read and review the book – and I’m incredibly grateful to them for doing that, as well as slightly overwhelmed by what they’ve had to say.
I’d originally set a publication date of 1st May – I liked the symbolism of unleashing the book into the world on a day of both celebration and defiance – but the book was ready to go to the printers a lot earlier than I expected. So I decided I’d put it on sale from 1st April, April Fools Day. I liked the symbolism of that, too. And now the printers are saying the books will be with me way earlier than the start of April, and – seeing as I have next to no understanding of the concept of delayed gratification, and am brim-full of the polar opposite of the patience of a saint – I’ve decided I’ll start selling it as soon as I can. Which means that I’m chuffed to bits to announce that more bees bigger bonnets will be available on the ignitebooks website from Monday 9th March. This means that anyone with the same level of impatience as me can get their mitts on it pretty damn quick.
Enough of the blather. One final point, and I’ll finish. I want my poems to get out there and be read by as many people as possible as soon as possible, so there’s a special low price on copies bought between now and the end of March. Patience may be a virtue, but – on this occasion at least – impatience shall get its reward.



idiocy and fear

As a kid, I was brought up catholic. I wasn’t a particularly good catholic, but I knew the ropes, knew when to kneel and stand and say the creed in Mass, and every six months or so my mom would drag me and my brothers and sisters to confession and we’d mumble a list of not-too-serious-not-too-embarrassing misdemeanours to the priest, say our penance, and go home.
Being catholic wasn’t something I ever gave a great deal of thought. But when I moved into the sixth form at school our General Studies teacher had different ideas. According to him, I was part of a great catholic plot, because my loyalty was owed – first, foremost, and forever – to the Pope. (He also believed that Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia and the Queen Mother were one and the same, based on the fact they looked alike in photographs and had never been seen in the same place at the same time, but that’s another story).
As far as I was concerned, this was garbage. At 17, I was more interested in memorising Black Sabbath lyrics, devouring anything Kerouac had written, and spending half an hour before school snogging my girlfriend in the local park then racing up the hill in time for registration (by the end of the school year I’d mastered both the circular breathing technique – incredibly useful – and the art of looking nonchalant while sprinting through Walsall with an erection, which was slightly trickier).
The teacher was insistent that I was part of an international plot.
I said I wasn’t.
Ah, he said, but you’re a catholic.
Well, yes.
And what does it say in the catholic creed?
Er….
It says you pledge allegiance to one holy catholic and apostolic church, doesn’t it?
Well, yes, it did. But that didn’t mean anything.
Ah, he said triumphantly, but it SAYS it. You can’t deny it.
I said I did deny it. I wasn’t part of any plot. At which point the teacher told me that I clearly wasn’t a real catholic. Brilliant. Not only did he know what catholics were really up to, he was also able to tell who the real catholics were. With that kind of skill at his fingertips, telling the difference between Tito and the Queen Mom should surely have been a doddle.
I knew a lot of catholics. Other kids at school, families at Mass each sunday, the priest in the confessional. Not once had I heard any of them suggest that life would be much better if the Pope just came over and took control, not once had any of them expressed any longing for a new life where the Vatican ruled. Maybe there were a few catholics who felt that way, but I didn’t know them. And in the unlikely event the Holy Father ever took me into his confidence and shared a scheme for world domination, I’d have pointed out to him that my interest in Black Sabbath, Jack Kerouac, and Olympic-grade snogging came way before the views of some old bloke in a funny hat.
I mention this because whenever I hear people start banging on about how all muslims mean to take over our country or establish a caliphate or kill infidels I think back to my General Studies teacher and his insistence I was part of a Vatican plot, his belief that all 1.2 billion catholics were of one mind, a hostile force, a fifth column who were not to be trusted. It wasn’t true then, and it isn’t true now. It ignores the blindingly obvious fact that most people are far more interested in putting food on the table, hanging out with their friends, and having a laugh than they are in taking over the world for their god. The idea that I had the same take on life as every other catholic – whether they were young or old, believed in the right to life or the right to choose, loved Black Sabbath or thought Ozzy was the devil incarnate (I rather hoped he was, as it happens) – was too ridiculous for words.
It shouldn’t even need saying in the 21st century, but the idea that all 2 billion muslims are the same is just as daft as anything my teacher came up with. However, a quick trawl through the marvel of social media makes it clear it does need saying. So I am. And – for the record – I don’t believe Marshal Tito and the Queen Mom were the same person either.

Sue me.



america

This year started with some great news. It’s taken me till now to write a blog about it because… well… because life’s been busy, because there aren’t enough hours in the day, and because the evidence shows I’m probably not quite as organised as I’d like to believe and am easily sidetracked by a good book or a day out on the mountain bike in winter sunshine.
The news – slightly old by now, I grant you – is this. At the start of the year I signed a contract with a publisher in the USA for them to print and distribute City Baby in North America. For those of you reading this blog and wondering what on earth City Baby is, it’s the autobiography of Ross Lomas, bassist with UK punk legends GBH, which I helped co-write, and which has been selling like hot cakes ever since. 
I got involved with writing Ross’s autobiography because it was a story which needed to be told, and which deserved to be told – not by some academic who would analyse the phenomenon of punk from a sociological perspective – but simply as a good rollocking tale related by Ross himself. The man who lived it.  A story complete with the ups and downs and the highs and lows which happen to anyone.
Working with Ross was an absolute pleasure, but the road to writing City Baby started long before I sat down with him in the back of my camper van and began recording what he had to say. I could say it started when I was lucky enough to have Steve Ignorant ask me if I wanted to work with him on the story of his life, The Rest Is Propaganda, but – while it’s certainly true that helped set me on the way – it started way before that, when I discovered I had a special interest in telling stories which would otherwise go unheard, simply because those are the stories I want to hear. Because without them – without the stories which re-balance the airbrushed histories of ‘great men’ – our view of the world around us gets skewed. We learn that people like us don’t matter, that nothing in our lives is worth recording, that no-one else shares our experiences, our hopes, or our fears. 
I thought those stories were worth writing down. The good news is that a lot of other people think so too. City Baby is on its third print run already, and with the US contract in place there’s every reason to believe a lot more people are going to get the chance to read Ross’s story for themselves, which makes me very happy. On top of that, I’m glad to say my old mate Steve Ignorant is finally making some money from his book – the previous publishers had a somewhat unorthodox approach to accounting – after taking over publication and distribution of it himself. If you want a copy of The Rest Is Propaganda (which is definitely worth a read whether you like punk or not) you can buy it direct from him here.
There. I finally wrote the blog. And there’s still time to get out on the bike. 
Result.



stupid

There was good news this week, and there was bad news. 
The good news is that scientists have discovered another Goldilocks planet, a planet at just the right distance from its star – not too hot, and not too cold – to offer the prospect of supporting human life, or something like it. And given that we seem hell-bent on making a pig’s ear of our current home, having somewhere else as a back-up could be kind of handy.
The bad news is that the planet – Kepler 438b, if you wondered, which isn’t quite as snappy a moniker as ‘Earth’, but then I guess you can’t have everything – is 475 light years away. Even longer by bus. So getting there isn’t going to be like nipping round your mom’s when the boiler in your bedsit goes belly-up in a cold snap. It’s going to be tricky. Oh, and the sky might well be red, so you’d be living in something akin to perpetual sunrise, or – for those of you who don’t do mornings – sunset. And, for better or worse, it’s unlikely they have the bedroom tax, Simon Cowell, or Channel 5. 
If that scientific bombshell isn’t enough to make you aware of our collective unimportance in the grand scheme of things, then I don’t know what is. If you can ponder the mind-boggling distances involved in getting to Kepler 438b and decide you’re still going to hate Ali from down the road because his skin’s a different colour, then – no offence intended – but you’re a stone-dead idiot. And I know it’s a little late, and we’re not off to the best of starts, but how about we make our new year resolution for 2015 to give up on stupidity?
Let’s decide that this year – as a species – we stop looking for simple answers to complex problems just because they’re answers which suit us, answers which pin the blame on other members of our species who speak a different language or worship a different god. We’ve tried it before, after all, and it never ends well. How about a little bit of perspective instead? We’re each of us here for the blink of an eye, with millions of years of evolution behind us, clinging onto a small blue-green planet spinning through the backwaters of space where a gossamer-thin atmosphere is the only thing saving us from extinction and our best hope of a second home is so far away that whatever lives there hasn’t heard about the Great Fire of London yet.
In that context, whether someone’s drawing cartoons which you find offensive is neither here nor there. Nor is how they speak or dress. Or who they sleep with. Hate speech just looks more stupid than ever, up there with holding grudges over slights no-one else cares about, or choosing to carry on fighting wars that ended when Noah was a boy.
I know it’s not going to be that simple. I know it’ll take more than a new-found sense of perspective to stop our resident chumps of the political extremes from hanging onto their bigotry, despite overwhelming evidence of its irrelevance. No doubt Nigel Farage will heap praise on Kepler 438b’s strict immigration policies – no Bulgarians, natch – and by next week that pantomime villain Anjem Choudary will have claimed it as part of the Caliphate. Idiots will always be idiots. Personally, I hope whatever creatures live there have learned to rub along together rather better than we have, and that they aren’t treating their planet like a dustbin and are proud of their NHS. And if any of them who are reading this put on poetry gigs, and think that last sentence sounds like I’m pitching for a gig, damn right. It’ll look great on my CV and it beats the hell out of Glastonbury. How about it Kepler 438b? You up for it? 
Drop me a line.



the day job

I know the popular image of rock’n’roll road crew is that they’re a hard-drinking bunch of ne’er-do-wells, chock full of drugs and nonsense, which is why it may come as a surprise to hear that last night’s conversation on the tour bus was about relativity, and how that affects time. Why does a clock sent into space for a month show a different time when it returns from one which stayed on earth?
From this conversation I’ve learned the following: that riggers don’t age as fast because they work high up in the arena roof, further from the centre of the earth.* That a crew who work from stage left to stage right (where left is in the east) will end up slightly younger than a crew who work from right to left. That if a tour is planned so that the dates run sequentially westwards round the world, it’s entirely possible to live forever.
Now I may have got some of that wrong – I was hopelessly out of my depth during the discussion, and did keep trying to steer the chat back to knob gags – but you get the gist. Tonight’s topic is the legacy of the Hundred Years War, followed by a debate about the future of public transport infrastructure in the UK. 
I’m not entirely sure this is what I signed up for when I got into the business. What ever happened to the drugs and nonsense??? *sigh*
*this advantage is more than outweighed by the lifestyle of the traditional rigger.



louder than words

Some weekends live long in the memory. Last weekend will surely be one. I spent it at the Louder Than Words festival in Manchester, in the sumptuous Palace Hotel, and – as with all the best festivals – I really didn’t want it to end.
The festival’s format is simple, yet unique. It’s an entire weekend devoted to giving people connected one way or another with making a living from music the opportunity to talk about their experiences, or share their expertise, or draw our attention to a sliver of music history which might otherwise go unnoticed. And it works incredibly well.
Now the cynics amongst you might think that – given the reputation of the music biz – this festival would be nothing more than one self-indulgent orgy of Me! Me! Me! Look at ME! Nothing could be further from the truth. It was informative, it was entertaining, and above all it was inspiring. I learned about the trials and tribulations of making a living from running an online music magazine; I listened to hilarious tales of encounters with the legends of rock, and searing critiques of digital corporate giants; I sat in on a discussion about goth subculture, featuring my old mate Si Denbigh and the wonderful Rosie Garland; I was entertained by anecdotes about the history of independent record shops, their demise, and their current resurgence; I met up with Steve Ignorant for the first time in ages (it’s been too long); I was enthralled by Viv Albertine’s candid talk about life as one of The Slits.
There was all this and more. All of it took place with a remarkable lack of ego, and with an equally remarkable and generous helping of passion. I can’t think when I was last at an event which did so much to encourage and promote the intrinsic human desire to be – in whatever way – creative. And away from the talks and the discussions, there was plenty of opportunity for some good banter over a coffee, or a pint, or a pint of coffee. Or another pint.
When I wasn’t revelling in the words of others, I was busy being the festival poet, reading a selection of my poems (including this one about the legend that is Wilko Johnson) linked and woven together by the theme of music. I did five sets in two days, which was utterly exhilarating. Huge thanks to everyone who came along and listened, or who bought my books, and even huger thanks to the festival organisers for inviting me, and for all their hard work and their vision in putting the festival together in the first place.
Put it in your diaries for next year. folks. You won’t regret it.



spam

When I put together this website, my hope and intention was to showcase my work and share it with a wider audience. I also wanted to hear back from people, to make room on the website for them to let me know how they felt about a poem or a blog, so – wide-eyed and cyber-innocent – I left posts open for comment (subject to moderation, of course – I’m not that wide-eyed).
And some of you did. But I also learned about spam. Industrial quantities of spam generated by countless spambots. I’d log onto my site and there’d be something like 2000 comments awaiting moderation, none of them in any way connected with poetry, some suggesting they could help me increase the traffic to my site (yeah, I’ll bet) but the vast majority claiming to be from vendors of Ugg boots, Chanel, Gucci, and NFL shirts. This was bad news – partly because I had no reason to believe they’d even read my poems or blogs, which was disappointing – but also because I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing any of those products, either individually or in combination.  
So, reluctantly, I closed my blogs and poems to comments. But the spam still got through. I logged on yesterday and there were 2,399 comments awaiting moderation. Those Ugg boot vendors are nothing if not persistent. Generally, that’s something I respect, but after two years of being given the hard-sell, something snapped. I contacted my friendly web-guru, he pointed me in the direction of a plug-in (whatever that is) for the website and hey presto! No more spam.
Bliss.
All of which is my way of letting you know that all the posts – each and every poem, and each and every blog – on my website are now open for comments again. That may mean nothing to you, but it means a very great deal to me. It means the site is once again what I always wanted it to be – an avenue for communication and connection – as well as a place for me to post my work. If you’ve five minutes spare, have a mooch around. Comment if you want to. No worries if you don’t.
There’s even a new poem. I hope you enjoy it. 
Anyone fancy a pair of Ugg boots?

unlikely places

The first time I went to Scunthorpe, I was looking after a cheesy rock band who played the old Scunthorpe Baths to a disinterested audience of three apathetic men who hadn’t even bothered to boost their numbers by bringing a dog. To put the icing on the cake, we had a long drive home and the bassist threw up in the van somewhere near Derby. It was an evening as far removed from the tawdry glamour of rock’n’roll as it’s possible to get.
Last week I went up to Scunthorpe again – this time to read my poetry – and was blown away by what I found.
The gig had come about in the way these things so often do. A friend said You should play Scunthorpe and pointed me at an arts venue. I contacted them. They were closed for re-furbishment, and couldn’t help, but suggested I try A new venue in town. They put on acoustic stuff. They’re pretty cool. One email and a couple of phone calls later and the gig was on. This new, cool venue had never put on a spoken-word event before, but they liked the idea of doing it, and I liked the idea of going somewhere new, and we agreed a date and I put it in the diary. When the day came, I got on the motorbike and headed north into the unknown, wondering what I’d let myself in for.
What I’d let myself in for was an education.
If ever you want to see what a small group of determined and imaginative people can achieve when they put their minds to it, do yourselves a favour. Go to Scunthorpe, and pop into Café Indiependent. In a previous life, the café was a Co-op shop, but now – with funding secured from the lottery gods, and a lot of hard work – it’s been transformed into an impossibly cool and funky venue halfway up the High Street. It’s way bigger than you might expect. It serves great coffee and good food. It’s hip in a way Hoxton can only dream of. It’s all this and more.
And it’s the ‘more’ which blew my mind. 
See, it shouldn’t be that difficult to create a world where all towns have their own Café Indiependent. Cafés which run ‘suspended coffee’ schemes for homeless people, employ youth workers, put on training courses, offer somewhere for acoustic musicians to play, and nurture the art and the dreams and the creativity of anyone and everyone who comes in. Because Scunthorpe has shown it can be done. It’s shown that you don’t have to leave a small town for the big city just because you want something more than what’s traditionally been on offer. Instead, you bring it to your town. And – with determination, and imagination, and a lot of hard work – you create something utterly amazing. 
The gig? It couldn’t have gone better. At the end of the night, I curled up on a sofa in the venue under my bike jacket and slept like a king. Next morning I lay there thinking how – almost without exception – the most memorable and enjoyable gigs are the ones I go to on a wing and a prayer, and come back from feeling humbled and inspired and incredibly lucky to have done. This was one of them. 
One day every town will be like you, Scunthorpe. Thank you. And all the very best.

blackpool

I can only guess it’s got something to do with my northern heritage, but I absolutely revel in  the long days of summer. As the hours of daylight increase, so does my activity, and it’s definitely the season of the year when I’m going be hell-bent on writing, and performing, and pitching for gigs.
So, before I edge towards an equally inevitable hibernation, here’s a blog.

Last week, I was up in Blackpool, taking part in Rebellion Festival once more. It was every bit as wonderful as ever. Old friends and new faces. Music and beer. Sea air and sunsets. And, for the first time, a space and a stage for poetry in its own right, where I met up with some poets I already knew and others whose work was something new to savour. A weekend of words in among the punk rock. 

One of the joys of an event like this is the chance to watch other poets at work, to see how they present themselves on stage, to hear what they have to say. All of us are busy learning the craft of trusting our audience to come with us, learning to have the confidence that they’ll be willing to appreciate and enjoy poetry which is dark or complex or angry just as readily as they’ll enjoy a comic rant aimed at the obvious targets. 
And of course there are the wonderful moments when someone who’d come along out of curiosity chooses to stay and listen, or confides afterwards that they didn’t think they liked poetry, but you know what? It’s ok. Yours is ok. It’s just talking to people, isn’t it? If only poetry had been like this in school they might have enjoyed it….
Few things beat that. Because, as someone else wrote recently, performance is all about connection. About me connecting with you, you with me. About reminding ourselves that it’s the moments when we speak to each other and listen to each other and hear each other that count. It’s that urge for connection which drove me to record this video, in the hope that it becomes another small piece in a jigsaw which keeps that conversation of connection alive. 
Poets. We throw out words and hope their echo does something to change the world, to make it better. Maybe I’ll see you at Rebellion next year, and we’ll see how we’ve done.

gaza

There are times when writing poetry seems a vain irrelevance. What on earth is the point in poetry when the news has become some kind of macabre scorecard of death? Really, in the face of such a brutal assault on people with nowhere to go, what place does poetry have? It’s a question I’ve asked myself a lot recently. Watching the crisis in Gaza unfold I’ve had the same response to what I see and hear as so many other people I know: disbelief turns to fury, and fury becomes a hopeless rage at my impotence to do anything much to help change the situation. Next comes growing frustration, and – as the violence goes on and on and on and suave government spokesmen sit in TV studios and echo the party line that none of anything that’s happened is their fault – there is, eventually, an almost overwhelming sense of despair.
And what good is poetry? Poems don’t comfort traumatised children, or staunch wounds, or provide bandages and medical care. They don’t save lives. All I can hope is that – maybe – they occasionally do a little something to help to re-draw the way we understand what’s going on. That once in a while they make some kind of stand in opposition to the brutal logic of war, a logic which sees ever-increasing violence against a civilian population as being the only possible course of action and sets about it with vigour and high-explosives. 
The poet Michael Rosen has written extensively and eloquently about the conflict in Gaza. He’s not alone. In her poem Running Orders Lena Khalaf Tuffaha takes us into a world which can be destroyed at any moment by a ‘roof knock’, and renders irrelevant any discussion about war being targeted, or surgical, or civilised. Right now, there’s an anthology of poetry for Gaza being put together, whose proceeds will go to humanitarian relief there. And yes, it’s not enough. How could it be? But it’s something. It’s a start, a contribution to setting out our determination to create a better world. And if we take that contribution and add it to countless other contributions, large and small, then maybe we do change things. I think we have to hope so. 
And if all that sounds a little woolly, a little bit pie-in-the-sky, and you’ve read this and think poetry counts for sod-all squared and then some, and you’re hankering for getting involved in some more direct kind of help, then you can always donate to Medical Aid for Palestinians. God knows they need the cash.

propaganda

One of the lasting legacies of punk is the idea that if you want something done you may well be best off rolling up your sleeves, knuckling down, and doing it yourself. If you want to put your record out, print your own t-shirts, or book your own gigs, get on with it. Will it be hard work? Yes. Will it be maddening and frustrating? Yes. Will it pay dividends? Absolutely. 
The origins of this DIY culture are simple. Punks didn’t like what they saw in the music industry. They’d seen other people be ripped off and lied to, and they didn’t want it to happen to them. They didn’t want to see their work shoehorned into a form they didn’t want, in a cover they didn’t like, by record companies who stopped listening to them before the ink was even dry on the contract. So they decided that rather than lose control over what happened to their music, they’d put it out themselves. Doing this might mean they’d make mistakes, or that they’d lose out on a company’s dubious expertise and contacts, but at least they’d be in charge of their own destiny, and at least they’d know where the money went. At least they knew they’d always get a straight answer from themselves. Put like that, DIY was the obvious way to go.
For all those reasons and more I’m very happy to learn that my old mate Steve Ignorant has finally decided to print his own version of his autobiography, The Rest Is Propaganda, and make it available through his own online shop. It’s been a while coming, but at last it’s here, and on sale, and in the end that’s all that matters.
We know that a lot of you have already bought it – it’s four years since we worked on putting Steve’s life story together and getting it into print, after all – but if you know anyone who hasn’t bought it yet, or you need another copy, then Mr Ignorant’s Outstanding Online Emporium is the place to go. Here you’ll be able to buy a copy which has the edits and changes Steve has long wanted to see (making it a better book) and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing the money will be going into Steve’s pocket, rather than disappearing who knows where. And that can only be a good thing.
Oh, and spread the word, please. Steve deserves it.