chronicles 2004

No.1 – February/March 2004

February’s trombone poetry gig, an event billed as “The March of the Beats”, with Michael Horovitz, the jazz poet and others, was, shall we say, an unusual evening. Due to the closure of The White Swan in Deptford, the event was put on in The Bird’s Nest nearby. This was handy, except that it would have been their quiz night, and the key question for some seemed to be, “What are these strange people doing in our pub?”, rather than, say, “Will the sestina make a comeback?”. Horovitz’s saxophonist presumably doesn’t do quiz nights, so he didn’t turn up, and I was privileged to accompany the poet myself, to a background of heckles and cackles from over-refreshed regulars.

No.2 – April 2004

In the first in a relentless series of ventures beyond London, trombone poetry tackled a Sunday night in Croydon. The venue was a cavernous nouveau boozer called The Black Sheep Baa. I managed to get in without bringing a guitar, and the trombone poetry themes for the evening were old jazz and new blues, drink, and wisdom, aided by a sprinkling of perverbs. There was top-notch audience participation in the form of clapping on the off-beat, as opposed to carping on the side-lines.

The Klinker, as predicted, scored highly for both bizarrerie and music. The opening act, by Crowman, was an eye-opener and gob-stretcher, as bingo-calling balls were blown down a tube to bounce off a microphone before being sucked back up and into the distended cake-hole of the artist, as he grunted snatches of song into tape-loop systems while lit from below in macabre red light and sporting a giant black conical rubber-glove hat.

Hugh Metcalfe was wearing the kosher Klinker kompere’s titfer: a fetching hybrid of cabbage and tea-cosy. I tried out a couple of Rabelaisian subtraction poems and a new tango. Loz Speyer’s trio with Sebastian Rochford and Julie Walkington played two buoyant sets of free jazz, and the other turn was an ex-quartet reduced without much notice to a one-man band of guitar, guitar case and wayward hi-hat. The lonely songster complained that he was unaccountably billed by Hugh as Snog Pig, whereas the actual name was Fnog Pig.

At The Centurion in Deptford trombone poetry shared the bill with a fine improvising quartet, H2C7, featuring Stanley Adler on electric cello with Tom Scott, Rob Mills and Nick Doyne-Ditmas on dozens of other instruments. This turned out to be one of the last performances to be held at this scruffy but well-loved boozer, as it will soon be closed down, presumably to be converted into flats.

On the 9th of April I played in a large improvising ensemble at a farewell gig for The Centurion. This was recorded for broadcast on “From Here To Now” on Resonance 104.4FM:

No.3 – May/June 2004

The most picturesque gig to report was the trombone poetry debut at boat-ting, the music and poetry club onboard the Yacht Club at Temple Pier. First on was a poet billed as mjb, who specialised in anagrammatic and permutational pieces (so it might have been mbj) and sound-poetry. He was followed by a more conventional turn: a guitar pop band called Pocket.

The trombone poetry set included a new poem about the author’s acute sopranophobia, and, on this summer evening on the Thames, the first public reading of a selection of marinades, a new verse form like a nautical haiku.

Next was Skip: accompanied by Veryan Weston on keyboards, resident guitarist Hugh Metcalfe improvised along to some of his own films of East End churchyards and his bearded head turning from side to side, without actually watching them himself. Hugh also emitted wordless singing and the odd belch, and recited from what seemed like his mammoth list-poem of oddly-assorted but non-repeated nouns. Engrossing lunacy, as always.

All of this took far longer than planned, so by about 11.30 the final turn had still to perform. This was some kind of “metal” band of humdrum loudness called A Suitable Case for Treatment, which was a suitable moment to abandon ship.

That same week, trombone poetry played the Salisbury Festival, at the Playhouse Studio, and under the Poetry Cafe banner. Sam Moran introduced the poet-packed event, and good stuff was heard all evening, including the open mic session at the end. Obviously a thriving scene out there.

On a damp Sunday in June, a solo trombone emerged from the undergrowth in a huge allotment near Herne Hill, to play the odd bout of New Orleans funeral music while Martin Brockman, an artist, laboured at a kiln surrounded by under-age chefs baking bread. In between times, Sally Horner sang folk songs among the cabbages. This upLIFTing event was called Feast, courtesy of the London International Festival of Theatre, and we hope to return in the autumn, when it will no doubt be baking hot.

No.4 – July 2004

On a steamy Sunday evening, trombone poetry got into The Creative Swing in a bar called Dust, in Clerkenwell Road, that was bursting at the seams with performances of all kinds, from miserabilist singer sigh-writers to would-be incarnations of the goddess of sex, or something. The event was, in an elasticated, barflying kind of way, part of the Clerkenwell Literary Festival. There are moves afoot to make a compilation CD of some of the featured acts, including trombone poetry.

The following weekend, the marvellous free film festival Elefest, at the Elephant & Castle, culminated in a grand cultural knees-up at Corsica Arts Club. This was a brilliantly designed event, crammed with artists and performers, including Mat Fraser and Anne Pigalle, and pics and clips will be found one fine day on their website: Corsica.

As a result of that gig, there are now plans to record a trombone poetry set for a community radio/web project organized by Southwark.TV.

No.5 – August 2004

This month trombone poetry reached Hackney, an old stomping ground and much-loved borough, courtesy of the Sweet & Sour night at the 291 Club in Hackney Road. Amiably compered by Tonny, the evening included film, live music, poetry and strawberries, a fine combination.

A newly-penned Darwinian meditation on death may not have been quite what the Hackney’s-on-holiday audience would have put at the top of their wish-list, but there had been a spot of performance piety earlier on, and the venue is a converted church, so the temptation was hard to resist.

Next came a re-visit to a favourite venue, The Bonnington Centre in Vauxhall, home also to a lovely cafe. Solo flautist Neil Metcalfe was a star turn, preceded by Lee Gamble’s laptop electronica and followed by effects-pedal melanges by Alex Tucker.

For this event I was joined by a founder member of The Blowpipes, Mr John Harborne, brandishing a Brazilian banjo and a fake lizard, who accompanied me on Quality Street, a poem dedicated to town planners everywhere, and the world premiere of Bad Start Blues. John and his little friend will be scuttling back to Brazil soon, and we look forward to a reunion gig or two next year.

Finally this month, another foray into Doubtford, land of abolished venues. The tireless John Clarke hosts an event called Hip Heaven at Bubblegum in Deptford Broadway on the last Thursday of the month. With a roster of engaging poets, singers and players in a congenial cellar reeking of blues and offbeat poetry, this proved to be a great setting for a jazz-driven trombone poetry set that included Blues for Lacy, a humble tribute to a great musician, and the figmentalist murder poem, Sensible Heat. Viva Hip Heaven.

No.6 – September 2004

A glad revisit to the Black Sheep Bar in Croydon was the first gig of the month, where guitars outnumbered trombones by about 30 to 1. The event was an Expose Yourself night, so I revealed a bit of disgruntlement about “extra-terrestrial” warnings to gullible Earthlings, in a grumpy poem called Now Then. We can now look forward to a drop in UFO sightings in the Croydon area.

The trombone poetry debut at the Monday session at The Poet in Folgate St, E1, shared floor space with a handful of open mic performers like Eddie Willson and Brett, whose work soon helped us tune out the blare of big-screen football from the main bar. A door would be nice, though. The gig’s free, anyway, and early birds get the sofas. Glimpses of the musician’s life were offered in the poems, You Hum It, Tuxedo Function and Blues for Bert.

Finally, Speakeasy at Hackney’s 291 Gallery, hosted by Baden Prince Jnr. This was a great blend of poetry, jazz and more, with Victoria Mosley, accompanied by Jazz Arc Collective, a kind of spoken opera piece by Sarah Tyrer (no sopranos involved), and the stupendous “Trouba”: poet, singer, cora-player Zena Edwards with Moss Velez and Henrik Jensen. Given the tone of the evening, the trombone poetry was mostly jazz-oriented, including the tale of a Hoxton funeral, Bring Me Sunshine. Can it always be this good here?

No.7 – October 2004

The first NEON Nights arts showcase at Corsica Studios, Elephant & Castle, featured photographs by Simon Wheatley, films from this year’s Elefest, trombone poetry, rap and spoken word by FirstLoveMuzik and Tuggstar, music from Elephant Sandwich and DJ Interlude, and random remarks from MC Taylor.

At the Poole Word & Book Festival, trombone poetry shared the bill at The Lighthouse with poet, comedian and storyteller Les Merton, who seems to be a one-man Cornish Pasty Marketing Board. Or Bard. I look forward to the re-match.

Network Arts Lewisham does great work fostering creative projects for people with mental health needs. One hectic Friday I joined an impromptu ensemble backing a friend’s poetry for NAL in Catford’s Broadway Theatre. He and an inaudible guitar were at one end of the room, while at the other end I busked alongside a covered-up grand piano that was inaudible to them. We should have called it “Long-Distance Suite for Chamber Ensembles No.1”. Listen out for it on Radio 3. Bad Start Blues seemed an apt choice for my own set.

After the odd celebratory grape juice, I headed north-west for a Camberwell Circle event at The Castle, with music by Yak, Mark Aitken telling stories to a cello, plus a trombone poetry set that kicked off with This Trombone and included a new poem, Enduring Image, which I should have read at the Poole Festival to put Merton off his pasties.

The following week, a walrus became a slaughtered lamb, as the electroacoustic club relocated to a pub in Clerkenwell. Guitars outnumbered trombones by about 20 to 1 here, but there was a nicely warped set by singer/pianist Paul Rubinstein and a more elevated one by Tim Eveleigh. I tried out a new poem called Birds I View. Good move: the promoter invited me back again, as he turned out to be an ornithologist. Does anyone know if the director of the Cheltenham Festival of Literature likes birds? Or insects, or brass bands?

A few days later Brixton Art Gallery hosted a secretive gig for the Dutch Connection, a touring group of mostly Amsterdam-based poets shepherded by Barry Fitton. Among the trombone poetry offerings were One For Bukowski and Foreign Territory. Here, people with hacking coughs outnumbered trombones by about 20 to 1, but the whole event was a treat.

Finally, trombone poetry enjoyed a debut gig at Scaledown, which kicked off, after a customary folk song from Mark Braby and Richard Sanderson (plus a nice Teenage Dreams tribute to John Peel), with a rich improvised set by Anna Homler, Steve Beresford, and Richard. Singer Pete Aves did a lovely 15 minutes, followed by a crammed trombone poetry set focussing on jazz and wisdom. Pop-ish duo Elevenses were next, and the evening climaxed with The Bohman Brothers, minus a Bohman Brother, besetting two tablefuls of twangable, scrap(e)able, bongable oddments.

No.8 – November 2004

Last month’s zoological theme continued with a gig at Whitechapel’s Urban Bar, home of The Human Zoo. Among the organisms on view were The Numbskulls (Afro-Japanese folk-punk), who treated us to a howling rendition of Monkey Magic, and the host/vocalist, Brad Growlit. I only had the odd bird poem to hand: must expand the menagerie.

Not included in the mailout was a late booking at Peckham’s Area 10 for Camberwell Circle. A jazz gig later that night meant performing early here, then scarpering before Mark Aitken began talking to cellos again. First on the bill was a recording of someone called Tom lowering a large rock onto himself till he stopped jabbering and, presumably, breathing. This was the sort of thing that, having heard it, you wished you could have watched. Voicemail performance. Great.

The gig at The Poet in Shoreditch was another winner: from theatrical poet Amy’s Estonian fairy-tale stuff to a case of over-amplified Tourette’s Syndrome, plus John Clarke’s debut of Dancing in Deptford. The trombone poetry sets included an old Blowpipes favourite, Red Wine Ramble, and a new poem about the meeting of minds, East Meets West.

Snatches of trombone poetry music from the new Creative Swing CD were used here and there on the soundtrack of a documentary, Why Do Something For Nothing?, made by Arts For Islington’s Working Wonders project and launched at the Union Chapel.

Another launch: Lynda Waterhouse’s new book, Soul Love (Piccadilly Press), at the Africa Centre, Covent Garden. Performers included singer Sheron Donaldson and Suntrap, and the trombone poetry set featured Body and Soul. After the show, by special request, I hooted jazz into a mobile phone, and thence the Savoy’s voicemail system (savoycemail?), for a fellow trombonist’s party. Voicemail performance. Great!

John Clarke’s action-packed Hip Heaven in Deptford rounded off the month. On the bill were Frank Bangay, Tunde Busari, and The Missing Puddings, and by request of the guvnor, a reading of 100 Lines for the Centurion plus sundry improvisations.

No.9 – December 2004

Now that The Klinker has an outpost in Nunhead, it was of course imperative for trombone poetry to venture into this little-known region, last visited when The Blowpipes played an ill-fated gig in the nearby cemetery.

This was a brighter event, kicking off with Hadaly, an improvising trio from Oxford: Malcolm Atkins, David Stent and Dominic Lash on strings and keyboards-within-keyboards. Then came trombone poetry, with the first ever reading of The Stopper, written on the bus on the way to the pub. Luckily it was copied onto paper.

The evening climaxed with the mighty Bert Shaft Orchestra filling the glittering stage of The Ivy House back room. The song about the worse-for-wear pirate was my favourite, but it was hard to choose.

The other gig was a return to the wondrous Bonnington Centre in Vauxhall, where the only other performers were percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani duetting with Phil Durrant’s laptop electronica. We played two very divergent sets each, and the inventive Nakatani is the only person I’ve ever seen blowing a cymbal. If you missed this, you’ll now have to go to New York to catch him.

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