Agitate, educate

My review of the ranting poetry gig Stand Up and Spit: The Big One at the Camden Centre on 18 June 2015 is now up on Huffington Post. Here is a sample:

Although the Stand Up and Spit project is firmly focused on poetry and performance of the early 1980s, it is no mere exercise in nostalgia. The continued relevance of the often hard-hitting and politically acute literatures that the scene produced or adopted was demonstrated again and again at the Camden Centre. It was there in Janine Booth’s timeless crowd-pleaser ‘Mostly Hating Tories’, and in ‘Real Rape’, her compelling analysis of sexual violence and its many apologists. (I did say this material was hard-hitting.) We were privileged, too, to hear Linton Kwesi Johnson perform a rousing acapella version of ‘All Wi Doin is Defendin’. Although it was written over forty years ago, and the years have introduced a more fragile edge to LKJ’s voice, the poem felt no less vital or contemporary today. Johnson also brought a deeper sense of historical perspective and personal political engagement to the event, speaking movingly about being on the organising committee of the International Book Fair of Radical, Black and Third World Books, which had been held annually in this same hall from 1982-1995. This was where he had first seen the late Michael Smith perform–‘on this very stage’–and Johnson ended his set by reading Smith’s best known poem, ‘Mi Cyaan Believe It’, in tribute. [READ MORE…]

I’ve been following Tim Wells’s Stand Up and Spit project for a while, and for several reasons. Firstly because I saw some of this stuff first time around, and this work was part of the backdrop to a period that has proved to have been formative personally as well as socially, and which I have written about more than once (e.g. in my 2012 novella Dicky Star and the Garden Rule, or the short story ‘A Porky Prime Cut’, which I performed most recently at the October Gallery, with live accompaniment from UK acid house pioneer Richard Norris). But also because the spoken word scene of the late 1980s and the live literature scene that still existed when my fiction started getting published in the 1990s each still had something in common with the ranting scene—as indeed did some of my fiction—and because a few years later I was lucky enough to collaborate with the late Steven Wells (1960-2009) a.k.a. Swells—and no relation of Tim—who had invented the idea of ‘ranting verse’ in the first place.

I also went to an earlier event in the Stand Up and Spit season, a panel discussion at the British Library called ‘Talking Liberties’, where Tim Wells had been joined on stage by journalists Gary Bushell and Suzanne Moore, and the poet Salena Godden. That event had also highlighted for me a particular radical and pre-Thatcherite ethos that might also be associated with the ranting scene, and its inheritors. Something that I also explore in the Huffington Post piece.


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Read ‘DIY, not “me, me, me”’, my review of Stand Up and Spit, on the Huffington Post blog

Crossing Over: The Legacy of Ranting Poetry, A Tribute to Poet Michael Smith – a celebration with live poetry, film and audio, Black Cultural Archives, 25 June 2015, 19:00 to 22:30

Janine Booth, Mostly Hating Tories: Poems by Janine Booth, Hastings Press, £3.00

Joolz, Joolz (Recorded) 1983-1985 (MP3 album), Abstract Sounds, £7.99

Linton Kwesi Johnson, LKJ A Capella Live, (CD album), LKJ Records, £9.15 (plus £1.15 shipping) direct from LKJ Records

Find out more about Stand Up and Spit on Tim Wells’s Stand Up and Spit blog