Tuesday 29 January 2013

LOUISE JORDAN: the interview

I was recently looking through the music listings for my area and I came across Louise Jordan young singer who is playing Bridgwater Arts Centre on the 9.2.13. I was intrigued by her selection of music, the interesting way in which she has blended music and literature, and her own finely wrought songs. I checked out emusic, where I have had a subscription since Turing was a lad and downloaded a couple of her albums.

I was impressed. She had covered one of my favourite traditional songs William Taylor, a tale of a jilted bride left at the altar, sea battles and retribution. They don’t write them like that anymore. But I digress.

I here’s Louise:

How did your experience of working in education inform your perspective of writing and playing music?
Working with a classroom full of children is great for developing communication skills and learning audience awareness –thirty plus children aged 11-16yrs can be a fairly unforgiving audience when you don’t quite pitch it right! Understanding what makes people tick is crucial to making my song writing relevant and as a teacher /mentor /youth worker I have taken a great interest in how we question and challenge what’s in front of us: children are mostly too honest to hide their true feelings.

What influences you?
Everything. Every life experience –not just mine but other people’s.

How do you choose the traditional songs you sing. Do you have a criteria?
I really enjoy story songs and songs which pose questions. William Taylor, which is on my first album ‘Tempvs’ is a fantastic example of both. And then there are songs which endure because they describe a common human experience, like the Salley Gardens which I have been performing for years. A strength of the oral tradition on which folk music relies –songs being passed from person to person – is that songs become crafted and improved over time so that they reflect human nature.

In your own compositions, which comes first the words or the music?
Most often I start with a musical idea which I cannot express in words –a mood, a feeling or an atmosphere which I want to capture. The words help to make this idea clearer.

You have your own record label, how important is artistic control for you?
Very! Both the recording and the arranging processes are crucial to the development of each composition and I have deliberately set about writing and arranging my own work. It also really helps set the pace of recording as I am self-reliant -so if I want to work through the night I can.

Looking back what would you have done differently?
I try not to have regrets. Having said that on, a professional basis, more honesty would have helped me access song writing ideas earlier on in life. But then there’s a reason it took me some time to get to where I am now.

The title of your latest CD is Florilegium, which I am led to believe means a collection of short literary pieces, poems and ballads, how did you arrive at that as a title?
The word originally means a gathering of flowers. On the album, each piece has its own beauty and they come together as a bouquet or tapestry. The songs on the album are very individual and yet they fit together as they describe a variety of experiences in life.

Who is your favourite poet?
I don’t have a favourite poet, just favourite pieces. I have enjoyed setting literature –in particular poetry –to music and have done this from a young age. I used to go to a wonderful theatre group for 13-21 yr olds in my home town of Salisbury and this really encouraged creativity. We frequently worked with literature and used music in a less conventional way. I can trace my musical arrangements of Christina Rossetti’s ‘Promises Like Pie-crust’ (on my second album Florilegium) and Thomas Hardy’s ‘Without Ceremony’ to these early experiences.

If you were a colour what colour would you be and why?
White is a culmination of all the colours and I am an accumulation of my many life experiences.

Thanks Louise. She is definitely worth catching live if you get the chance.

Friday 25 January 2013


Clifton Suspension Bridge Saturday. Before you say anything I was driving not taking the photograph (- honest officer), that's why you have so much of the left side of the approach. I thought the bridge, which looks wonderful at anytime, looked rather special in the snow. 

But today I am focusing on poems. Old ones I have not yet posted. 

This first one is about the death of my brother in law. It concerns the trip to Wales we made to scatter his ashes and to bury a memory capsule. He was a very active man and had climbed Mont Blanc, I had not realised you get a medal for getting to the top. He is still much missed by me. 


The view pleased,
A road, the lake, other peaks.
(You would have named each one.)

We move the earth,
Consign and cover.

We all found stones to mark this place.

And as we walked uphill
To scatter your ashes,
I thought of the canister found,
As in those science fiction stories
You used to read.
Your life recreated from the photographs,
Your life deduced from the objects.
But I knew in fifty years
The seals will perish;
The embrittled polypropylene tube crack
Then Welsh water wash
Your image from the photographic paper,
The paper pulp and disintegrate,
All the iron oxidise.

Your Mont Blanc medal would remain to be discovered
Before the mountain itself turned to dust.

The aluminium plaque will continue to bear witness,
In a dead language ripe for translation
And all is lost between the words
Will be less than the pain I now feel.


This one is older and as I remember based on a conversation I had with a friend about a car boot sale they had been to where the items for sale were all broken or incomplete. I do not think we shared a bottle of cider though.

Drizzle, a street lamp halo.
Wet, fuzzy hum in head and air.
He spoke: Life is a car boot sale,
we are born into the dreck of other’s lives,
grow in the detritus of the dead.
The fortunate get the best pitches,
you and me get the worst;
metaphorically, a worn left shoe,
a rusting nut and nylon clothes
are the best we can scrape together.
No one ever wants to buy.
I passed him the cider bottle,
if only to shut him up.
Damp cars splashed through the night.
We sat waiting for dawn with no plans,
finishing the cider too soon.


In the middle to the late 1990's I participated in a multidisciplinary group supervision process, I was wearing my social worker hat in those days. One of the people talked about a difficult situation they had been in and the discussion inspired the poem. I liked it at the time because the ending was optimistic - very little was then.


She carries herself with anger,
A quiet violence moves within.
Obliquely, she told me her story
As I administered to her body
                     (and left her head alone).

Within the treatment space
She starts to communicate
Selects words to describe, exactly
How it feels to be her.

It is a function
That description
Will give her relief.

A suspension
But no resolution
To offset her grief.

She leaves potential damage,
It could smear this room,
Ripple out,
Touch other lives.

A baton of rage,
Passed down the years,
Generations of dysfunction.

Such contagion we can stop.
We have the power to dismiss
The ghosts, chart the damage
And to heal.

mid-late 99

The fact that we can facilitate change and healing is important to me. In the economic maelstrom of the present government it is more difficult to hang on to this.

I am going to end on an upbeat, with a photograph of one of our cats asleep the other evening. 

May your weekend be as restful as his. I'll be back on Tuesday with an interview with Louise Jordan.

Wednesday 23 January 2013

LIZ LAWRENCE: the Sofa Tour

The charming and talented singer/songwriter Liz Lawrence played a barnstorming gig at my house last night. She came in from the snow and played a wonderful set of original tunes.

I first heard Liz on youtube and was impressed with the OoSong, the catchy tune, her amazing voice and the clever video. I liked the video because, although it was obviously shot on a tight budget, there was a good correlation between image and lyric. The use of the paper boat as a symbol for our hopes and dreams I thought worked well and the shot of the little boat in her coffee cup was an image that stayed with me.

Anyway to cut a long story short Liz agreed to play a gig at my house as part of her Sofa Tour to promote her new album. The set was bookended by songs from Bed Room Hero as well a sprinkling of new work. Of the newer songs Rooftops stood out for me, as lyrically it seemed different, more poetic, with arresting images. Liz told me that Rooftops was an indication of the direction her writing was moving towards. 

She started the set with the Oo Song and I was impressed with the way the song worked equally well in an intimate setting as on the video with a full band backing. She played for about an hour and captivated the audience. Liz has an relaxed manner and delivered her set with passion.

You may be lucky enough to catch Liz as she travels the country this month on the Sofa Tour. If you get the opportunity take it. She will be back in the west country in Apriland judging from the reaction of the audience last night, we will all be going to see her.

At the moment you can not only hear her new album at Bandcamp but you can also download it and until the end of this month and decide what you want to pay for it. This is a great deal and will finish at the end of the month. After that you’ll have to download it from itunes or buy the tactile cd version. When this is out I’ll be reviewing it and telling you where you can get it. 

Friday 18 January 2013


And after the rain, the snow…

Yes, today it’s snowing, and as you can see from my photo, the bamboo in my garden has wilted under the weight.

Today’s title comes from an old Irish song. My favourite version is by Anne Briggs and you can listen to it here. There are many versions of the song, which I think is traditional. Anne has such a beautiful voice, here is a video clip that I may have posted before. As she gave up singing in the 1970’s there’s little footage of her.

Today though I do not want to solely sing the praises of a great singer. Before the snow came I was thinking of having a title about reworking/revision, because that is what this post is about.

I probably sound like a record with a stuck needle, for all of you old enough to get the vinyl analogy, but revising your work is essential. I’ll give you an example recently I posted a couple of poems that I thought at the time were complete. You can read that version here.


I suppose it is fitting that we
arrived only a hundred years ago
just in time in fact to see it properly
before the heat we generated to take us there
and all the hot air we spoke about the place
started to shrink it down
rendered frozen water into tears

here where the snow ran red
as admundson slaughtered half his dogs
just to ensure he reached the pole first
as if it mattered

now we weigh up our chances of grabbing
the slowly revealed resources

once the ice sheets were beautiful
they will be again when we are gone

I have to thank Chrissy & Liz, the two people in my rather informal poetry group for their help in polishing these poems. What do you think of the changes?

The second revised poem was first posted here. This is the latest incarnation of it.


A flatpack of language awaited each of us;
Good to go; make sense of it as you will.
The pathways it creates
as it scoops thoughts from our brains,
shapes information, says it out loud.

It’s no wonder wars start and lovers turn to haters.
But words are all we have,
cobble them together as clearly as you can,
then hope for the best.

As you can see there are differences in the two poems from how I had originally presented them. I think they work better now, do you?

The secrets are revision and sharing with sympathetic people. Constructive feedback is as valuable as platinum. Join a group and learn to give as well as to receive.

I’ll leave you with a couple more photographs.

Have a good week. I have Liz Lawrence playing in my sitting room as part of her sofa tour of England, more about that next week.

Friday 11 January 2013


I thought this week I would post some more haikus as it’s about six months since the last time.

Leaf floats on water
Ocean resting on the earth
The world spins in space

Leaf falls from the tree
Composting over winter
Feeds the tree once more

The wettest summer
The rain continues to fall
There are floods up north

The absconding sun
Has stolen this year’s summer
Left us with the rain

So many things call
The day is ahead of you
Now what will you choose?

This week I was again in Plymouth and as I drove down listening to Billie Holiday, I saw a magpie rise and dip in the sky above me. It seemed as if the bird was dancing with the sheer joy of being alive on a beautiful day. Later as I walked to the library there was another magpie on the path and she did not move until I looked away. I was fiddling with my phone trying to take her photograph, needless to say I did not. Not sure about the poem…

magpie high

imagaine yourself a singer good enough to float over the tune cool enough to be ahead and behind the beat as you chose now see a straight line horizontal in your sky watch how the magpie rises and dips everyside of that datum unable or unwilling more like to fly straight and take delight in her flight it is easy today she flows with the cross wind and you sing

then i arrive and she stares at me until embarrassed i look away then she takes wing only to be waiting as i exit the library

I’d be interested in your thoughts.

I want to leave you today with a link to the nice people at Corvus Press UK. Should you wish to, you can follow this link to their website and download a story to your kindle/ebook reader.

Have a good week. 

Friday 4 January 2013


Even as we eat earth in the grave, there is slow change. Nothing is static. An arresting image. There are those who will tell you that if you want to hook the listener or the reader, then you must do so at the outset, make them want to continue. I am not so sure myself.

I think the poet and the writer, needs more than one trick. For me the topic influences form. A poet cannot tackle every idea in the same manner. As the idea spills on to the page it may suggest structure. I was talking about this with a couple of other poets recently and one pointed out that the first line that tumbles on to the page may in fact be the last line, or find its true place in the middle of the poem.

The knack, if it can be called that, is to keep working on the poem until it has its own shape. Then put it away for as long as you can. When you look at it again, you may see flaws that escaped you earlier, when you were too close. Sometimes you get it right and they are whole.

The skill is knowing when to stop. I once refined one of my poems to the point where, when I showed it to another poet, they described it as a skeleton, the bare bones of a poem. I have to say, I never did anything else with it. I suppose I threw the baby out with the bath water.  Another arresting image to end on.

I am going to end with a love poem. During the Freeze Frame broadcast I confessed that I rarely write love poetry. I find it very difficult to capture the mood, the emotion, the essence of what I want to say. I fear I will sound like a bad pop song, hackneyed and vacuous.

The poem refers to a painting I saw in an exhibition years ago in Barcelona at the Diocese Museum. It is by Georges-Hanna Sabbagh, an artist from the 1920s. I cannot find the painting on line, so you will have to take my word for it.

A naked woman sits in a chair, her back is to the bay window, outside it has snowed, we look down on a cityscape, people (and a dog,) walk the snow streets. Inside the woman looks down at her feet, which are on a bright rug. She seems comfortable in her body, lost in her own thoughts, oblivious, or indifferent of the artist.

Desnudo Sobre un Piel-Misremembered Impressions of an Oil painting

Huddled people hurry through the snow.
Inside the room,
She sits with her back to the window,
Naked, her robe casually open,
She rests, Defiant of winter.

She looks out of the painting
Directly, into the eye of her beholder.
She is smiling.
Contrast this with us,
We lie in bed,

Flick through this art book.
My hand traces the line of your thigh,
The descending curve of your stomach.
I kiss your breast.

Until next week.