(We have a Facebook page now – do come and “like” us and say hi) All photos copyright and courtesy of the fabulous Wayland Thor Badger
So last Saturday, for reasons that have to do with wonderful friend from the early days of Year Zero, I found myself at the Prince of Wales Pub in Moseley, Birmingham, taking part in Pow-Wow Lit Fest (full details of all performers, publishers, agenty types who took part here)
It was a fabulous day, and a great idea, combining an afternoon of serious publishing industry panels featuring authors, agents and publishers (including us at eight cuts) with an evening of spoken word, music and literary talent show, all of it the result of the tirelessness of Birmingham-based author Andy Killeen, ably assisted by fellow Birmingham author Charlie Hill. And I learned more in one afternoon than in a whole lifetime about how to position stalls and chairs in a marquee during a hailstorm so as to minimise the damage to life and property, and how to tailor one’s performance to compete with a rowdy bar next door, two of the essential life lessons for any performer.
My role their in the afternoon was to talk about publishing. Wonderful session alongside Luke Brown from the fabulous Tindal St and Jerry and Sarah from high-end self-publishers Matador. There was a surprising amount of agreement (either that or we’d all prepared one quarter of the answers and nodded sagely in agreement at the rest), particularly on the fact that indie authors’ success with Kindle sales in late 2010/ealy 2011 was a bubble.
I was really here for the evening, though, to compere a whole host of acts ranging from beautiful capoeira through stand-up philosophy to the marvellously angry, politically-charged poetry of Joel Lane. But primarily to host So You Think You Can Dance, a literary talent show based loosely on the principles of a certain Saturday night TV show and an international literary phenomenon rather protective of its name but based on the uber-fab cartoon Celebrity Death Match. This involved two heats of spoken word performances commented on by pundits and adjudicated by clapometer (which apparently is nothing to do with STIs). I was particularly chufflicated that this meant I got to meet two long-time internet friends Lilian Kendrick and Katharine D’Souza for the first time, both of whom were, as I had imagined, both lovely and talented. The talent on show from the seven authors was exceptional, and when it came to the final, an improv piece the competitors had 90 minutes to write that had to include the words pow, ermine, carbon, pluck and another one I’ve forgotten, the virtuosity put those of us who’d had months to prepare our performances to shame. Overall winner, Aaron Twitchen, combined roll-in-the-aisle humour with an emotional subtlety and depth that was everything you could ask for from a 5 minute reading and more. And a special mention to Catherine MacAleese whose unctuous rhyming prose he edged out in the first round.
But the absolute highlight of our evening was the half hour slot we’d generously been allocated to perform our New Libertine madness, built around the first ever performance from Stuart Estell’s Verruca Music. Coming straight after the second heat of So You Think You Can Write and the inevitable exodus to the bar, and with Stuart and his backing band Haiku Salut setting up on stage, I opted for the “jump on a bench and read Freakshow with maximum shouting in the right places” approach to regaining the audience’s attention.
Which seemed to work. As I drew to the end of Awake, I heard strange electronic noises behind me. As the PA had been recalcitrant all day I couldn’t be one hundred percent sure, but knowing his style, I figured this would be something to do with Stuart.
And it was.
Now I’m biased, but I’ve seen some extraordinary performances in my time. But nothing like this. It’s the closest anything literary has come to The Dead Weather at The Roundhouse. Stuart stood silent behind the mic for a minute or so as keyboard and synthesized soundscapes swirled around the tent, surveying the audience, waiting for the moment, letting it pass just enough to catch everyone off guard, then screaming at the top of his voice and at Patrick Moore pace…the last line of Verruca Music.
Which segued into the most remarkable ten minutes of music and reading, the unmistakable repetitions and rhythms of his prose and its refreains of “swish, swish” and “the heart did sink” before he sat quietly at the guitar and, like a clockwork toy coming to the end of its spring, slowly drifted away. Stuart will be reading the whole of Verruca Music in Oxford early next year, hopefully with Haiku Salut in attendance. It promises to be the literary highlight of 2012. Don’t miss it.
All that remained was for me to pump out three chapters of SKIN BOOK, fling freebies into the crowd, do some signing, and start looking forward to next year’s Pow-Wow.