I’m no storyteller but I do enjoy a good yarn, so ahead of the Storybox Live event tomorrow (which I’ve been part of organising) I thought I’d share a couple of stories I’ve collected from people over the London Literature Festival.
It’s a while back, but on the 5th of July I saw John Agard, Val Bloom, Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze and Grace Nichols in the Purcell Room at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Now last year, the most vibrant and fitting event to end the LLF came in the form of John Agard headlining a line up of young poets and musicians. That night I was so elated by the king of Caribbean poetry’s performance (of ‘Palm Tree King’ amongst others) that I merrily skipped through puddles and torrential rain on my way home. It’s a very cliche activity that you must try if you’re ever in that kind of mood. So of course, I was looking forward to seeing John Agard performing with his contemporaries, the people who share his rhythmic, musical, storytelling style of poetry. But before the performance began, I found myself sitting next to a lovely lady called Anne Keely, who happened to be a guest of John Agard’s and an old friend of his who was part of the literary scene in the 70s when John and Grace Nichols’ careers were just starting. She began to tell me about a vast, old humber keel barge that she used to own in Greenwich, near the Cutty Sark, which was a floating children’s bookshop- in fact the only specialist children’s bookshop in London at the time. The barge never sailed around but poets and authors, including John Agard, came to it to do workshops and readings. Anne also mentioned that she had ‘The Book Bus’, a red double decker that would tour London Schools, and this was going from the late 70s until about 1994 or 1995.
Aren’t these two bookshops the the most fantastic images? In my head I see a long, creaky old barge with shelves and shelves of wonderful books where you could sit and read whilst the Thames gently lapped against the flaking paint of the boat. I like to think of The Book Bus zooming around London with my favourite childhood characters all sitting aboard, waiting to be discovered- maybe Moonface from The Faraway Tree, Aslan and Prince Caspian, the sisters from Ballet Shoes, the Hungry Caterpillar, the March sisters, Matilda…I must stop before I get too nostalgic and abandon the end of the LLF for the dusty cardboard boxes of books in my mother’s attic.
So thank you Anne for sharing your memories with me, I hope I got the details correct and that you don’t mind me projecting my nostalgic ideals onto your bookshops!
The night before I had seen the wonderful Population- Lemn Sissay, Gary Crosby, Peter Edwards and Tomorrow’s Warriors Jazz Orchestra. I cannot even describe how atmospheric and hypnotic the combination of these people was, but Nkechi did here.
Afterwards I managed to grab a quick chat with Lemn and whilst we were talking his friend Nod Knowles joined us and the two began to have a conversation reminiscing on how Lemn and Gary Crosby had come to meet:
Nod: Long time ago, before the war, I first saw Lemn on stage in Exeter and Devon Arts Centre in the late 80s, with Jack Dee on a double bill! The moment I saw him I really clicked with his poetry, partly because my son is from Manchester and I recognised that voices. I was programing all of the jazz music for Bath International Music Festival and have done until very recently, for many years, so I brought Lemn along to do a little interlude with Andy Shepherd (jazz musician and composer), just to see how it would be to have a poet and some music together, and that worked well. Somehow we got you together with some other musicians….
Lemn-The David Murray Big Band Tour
Nod- Yes but Gary (Crosby) wasn’t on that tour. Then we had a small group with Kenrick Rowe and Alec Dankworth and then the British Council wanted to do some work overseas with him so Gary got the gig with you and Jonathan G was the piano player…and do you know what Gary just said to me? ‘I’ve been waiting years to get together with Lemn again’.
Lemn- Yeah he said that to me!
Nod- Lemn, that was absolutely superb, Peter Edwards…the writing…extrodinary…everything about that was right and I don’t say that often, every single thing about that was right.
So a lovely little snippet of memories there, peppered with some very impressive names from the world of jazz. One more thing I’d like to share with you is something very interesting that Lemn said about his dilemma on whether or not to accept the MBE, and his acceptance of it. He said, ‘the queen’s head is on every note I use, so am I not going to use that money? This land is owned by the Duke of Westminister, the Queen’s the patron of the Southbank Centre…So if I’m going to turn it down on principle, there’s a whole lot of other things I’d have to do to match up to that.’ I don’t think this man ever says anything that isn’t eloquent enough to quote.
If you’d like to see some of the photographs, quotes and poetry that the Storybox team have collected and created in response to events over the festival, please come to our free event tomorrow in the Front Room of the Queen Elizabeth Hall between 1pm and 5pm. There will be performances at 1pm and 3pm, the twitter typewritter, a polaroid stall, some interactive art by Charlotte Emily and other exciting things including a soundscape of interviews and recordings, crafted by Will Munro. By the end of the afternoon we hope to have filled our ‘storybox’ with drawings, writings and photographs from us and our audience, and it’ll be opened out to reveal a collage of responses to the Literature Festival.
Filed under: London Literature Festival 2010 | Tagged: Alex Rowse, Grace Nichols, Jazz, Jean Breeze, John Agard, Lemn Sissay, Poetry, Population, Val Bloom | Leave a Comment »