Alongside writing, my other great creative passion has always been music – specifically the guitar, both electric and acoustic (though I have been known to play a bit of keyboards too). I’ve been in a few bands in my time, but recent attempts to get some kind of combo together have not come to anything. There are few things more frustrating than putting a lot of effort into a cooperative endeavour only for it to fall apart without ever coming to fruition. I got rather disillusioned with the whole process.
Yet the urge to do something with music was still there. I could still play at home for my own pleasure, of course, and I could make recordings. But like any form of creative activity, music is in part a form of communication. It needs an audience as well as a performer. These days there is no shortage of opportunity to perform music to an audience, with the growing popularity of open mic nights. But there was a problem. I don’t sing. It’s not that I can’t hold a tune, but I really don’t like the sound of my singing voice. I don’t, in all honesty, think I could do justice to any kind of decent song.
So what could I do. Well, I can play solo fingerstyle acoustic guitar pieces. These seem to work well as musical interludes at literary events – and even the occasional wedding, in the past. So I have done a bit of solo acoustic guitar at open mics from time to time. And I suppose it’s gone down well enough – particularly if I go on fairly early in the evening when the audience is still reasonably sober! But I can’t help feeling that this kind of music doesn’t really have the right sort of vibe for open mics, where people are expecting something a bit more direct and in your face.
The other thing I can do, of course, is read poetry, and I’ve done that a few times at open mics too. But again, my stuff isn’t really the sort of barnstorming, polemic, performance poetry that works best in this kind of environment. With these disheartening thoughts in mind, I drifted away from the open mic scene for a while.
Nevertheless, I did have an idea at the back of my mind. Maybe I could combine the poetry with the music? I took inspiration from my friend Martin Christie, who (as Poet and the Loops) has done some great stuff with spoken (and occasionally sung) word, backed by electronic music. (That’s him in the hat on the pic at the top of this post, introducing me at an open mic last Friday.) Only instead of electronica, I would use guitars and a looper.
It turned out to be harder than I expected. Great, I thought, I have some music which should sound good as a backing to poetry, and some poems which would work well with music. Except that when I tried putting them together, they didn’t fit at all. Back to the drawing board, and the idea went on the shelf for a while. But eventually I decided I needed to get my act together. Going through a lot of my poems, I finally found one that fitted quite well with a piece of music I wanted to use. And I wrote another specifically to go with a second piece. I tried them out at an open mic at the Grape Room in Honley, (MC’d by Martin) last week and they seemed to go down well. It’s early days, but perhaps this is the way forward for me in terms of performance – a way of combining two things I love.
Next outing is at a Holmfirth Writers Group literary event tomorrow afternoon (1-3.30) at Dark Woods in Slaithwaite (Holme Mills, West Slaithwaite Road, HD7 6LS). It will be interesting to see whether the combination of poems and electric guitar loops works as well in this slightly more genteel environment. I will also be reading from my historical novel, Zeus of Ithome, and there will be lots of other great poetry and fiction, as well as refreshments including Dark Woods’ excellent coffee, roasted on site. I’m looking forward to it! If you’re in the area, why not drop in?