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So it seems the secret of navigating a cold Pennine February is simple: publish your first poetry pamphlet and launch a solo exhibition of new paintings inspired by the poetry. No problem…

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Flowers by the Road

Flowers by the Road became a reality after the collection won Templar Poetry’s Portfolio Prize in October 2016. The publisher planned an official launch party at Keats House in London on the 28 February 2017 so all I had to do was write, edit and re-write in time for a fairly generous deadline. That was the initial plan. It all changed, however, when Huddersfield Literature Festival offered me the opportunity to launch the pamphlet in my home village of Marsden as part of their support of local libraries. The only slight problem being is that these events coincide with National Libraries day at the beginning of February. Oops. Fortunately Templar agreed to bring the release date forward and before I knew it I was stood in a library full of people waiting for British Sea Power’s No Man is an Archipelago to finish on the pre-launch playlist so that introductions to begin.

You can see pictures of the launch event here.

Back in November 2016 the volunteer group, Friends of Marsden Library who had agreed to host the event at Marsden had secured the services of Simon Armitage for a night of poetry and library fund raising. It was during this event that I met some of the people who would be supporting my own event and afterwards, following a few celebratory drinks, where I agreed with local gallery owners, Sharon and Kevin, that it might also be a good idea to commit to a solo exhibition to coincide with the launch. Unsurprisingly I woke the next day with a slight hang-over.

The idea behind the exhibition was very simple: the paintings would have some connection with the poems in the collection. From this I began to plan a series of images inspired by single lines from various poems; the result being that the line of text serves as an introduction to the narrative of the painting rather than the painting simply being an illustration of the poem. Eight paintings were finished in this style and finally exhibited alongside a number of other works.

FOX (1 of 1)

A Fox Walks Across Our Path, Still Looking

The exhibition continues throughout March with pictures available to takeaway on the day.

Gallery

Enjoy Art, Marsden

We eventually made it to London, enjoying the sights and making the most of our trip with visits to the Theatre and the Hockney retrospective at the Tate. Whilst the launch did clash with the premier of Kong at Leicester Square it didn’t seem to impact on audience numbers, so much so that after I finished my reading a late comer had pinched my seat! The wonderful Ellen Cranitch followed my reading with a spell-binding performance of poems from her latest Templar collection, The Immortalist.

So that was February. Now with feet firmly back on the ground and the sun making a re-appearance it’s been a time to get back out in the garden and do some digging.

The Blue House

The Blue House

Marsden Launch – pre-launch playlist:

Walls – Kings of Leon

The Ghosts on the Shore – Lord Hunron

Eyes to the Wind – The War On Drugs

Don’t Panic – Coldplay

Picture of You – Richard Ashcroft

Icebox – Rougue Valley

29 #Strafford Apts – Bon Iver

Atlantic City – Bruce Springsteem

Magnificent – Elbow

No Man is an Archipelago – British Sea Power

Say the names Cuckoo, Moonraker, Leadboiler and Lily anywhere outside of the Colne Valley and people might just nod their heads slightly, smile politely and step aside. But any mention of these names along the banks of the river Colne and locals will be more than happy to recount stories of wilful birds, contraband, boiling water and persecuted Huguenots. These are, of course, the stuff of legends and each of the legends proudly belong to one of the four villages along the valley. So for those not in the know: Marsden is Cuckoo, the Lilies belong to Golcar, Linthwaite lead boils and Slaithwaite proudly rakes the moon. If you want to find out more about each of these stories and see some wonderful paintings that illustrate the tales follow this link:

http://www.kirklees.gov.uk/leisure/museumsGalleries/huddersfieldArtGallery/artGalleryLocalFavourites.aspx

The legends are celebrated in various ways: Marsden goes Cuckoo for a day in April (which is slowly becoming Cuckoo weekend), Golcar enjoys Golcar Lily Day in May (which is still just a day) and every two years in February Slaithwaite steals the show with the Moonraking Festival (which now lasts for a whole seven days).

It’s now thirty years since the people of Slaithwaite first paraded the streets of their village with hand-made lanterns towards the canal where a paper moon was raked out to the delight of the waiting crowd.  Each of the proceeding festivals have had a theme and to celebrate this landmark year the theme for 2015 is, coincidentally, ‘Landmarks’. In recent years competition to build the biggest and best lantern has become fierce and the themes have led to inspiring paper lights in the shape of Dr Who’s Tardis (time), a mouse and clock (nursery rhymes) and our very own star (which managed to hold its own against any number of themes until it finally disintegrated in a snow storm in 2013).

This year the festival runs from the 15 – 21 February and includes lantern making, music, story-telling arts and crafts and culminates in the unique finale on the Saturday evening when thousands of people will line the streets of Slaithwaite with their lanterns to watch the moon raking. Don’t miss out – Slaithwaite Moonraking has quietly turned into one of the best local arts festivals and is great fun for all the family.

Find out more: http://slaithwaitemoonraking.org/

To celebrate this year’s Landmark festival the painting, Where We Start which features Marsden and Slaithwaite’s very own famous landmark, Shooter’s Nab, is now available to purchase. The painting was completed in response to the poem, Tuesday Afternoon which was written specially for the now legendary Write Out Loud Poetry Jam at last year’s Marsden Jazz Festival. It was really heart warming to get so many requests for copies of the poem following my reading so in lieu of publication I’ve decided to make the poem available below. As a special treat – a handwritten version will accompany the painting when it is sold.

 

Where We Start - oil on board - 41 x 58cm

Where We Start – oil on board – 16 x 23 inch

 

 

In other arts and poetry news, a small selection of my work will feature in the Hand Made Trail as part of the Moonraking festival – this will be in the form of a pop up gallery created by the excellent Enjoy Art gallery from Marsden where a more permanent collection of my work is still available to view. The Art Finder shop is slowly coming to life – you can follow my exploits by pressing the big button on the left hand side of this post.

In poetry news, I’m very excited to be reading alongside Tom Clearly and Steve Anderson at the Square Chapel, Halifax on Thursday 12 February. Wordplay has become a popular monthly event that also includes five open mic spots. The nights are hosted by the fabulous Keith Hutson so please come along if you are in the area.

http://www.squarechapel.co.uk/en/event/1234

I’m also really please to see that the Little Book of Poems has finally made it to publication. This was an idea dreamed up by local resident Jennifer Smith-Wignall to help raise funds for our local hospice, Kirkwood. The anthology features my poem Clocks which some may already be familiar with and a brand new poem, Bradley Woods inspired by the artist, Peter Brook. You can find out more about the project here:

http://www.kirkwoodhospice.co.uk/fundraising/events/supporter-events/poems/

From the halls this week we celebrate local duo O’Hooley and Tidow who launched their amazing album, The Hum last year in Marsden and have just been nominated for Best Duo in this year’s Radio 2 Folk Awards. The duo will also play a sold out show at The Watershed, Slaithwaite on Thursday 19 February as part of the Moonraking festival.

 

 

Tuesday Afternoon

 

They are twelve, just. It is May

and the sky seems restless; the sun

impatiently searching,

rooting out the last of winter beyond

the dry stone walls and farm gates.

It gets their necks, warms their backs,

delivers a thirst that’s like nothing

else. The puddles they walk through

sparkle in the sun, a dizzying collection

of stars and clouds and sky.

 

They are heading to the mountain,

or Shooters Nab as one day they might know it,

climbing the fence that holds back the moor

letting their shadows stray beyond reach

over bog cotton and peat. Here they turn right,

follow a path and let the village drift from sight.

Red flags hang motionless in the distance;

they signal the firing-range; something they’ve

only heard about. There is no sound, no distant

echo of gunshot; just laboured breaths,

 

footsteps and the birds, still unknown, that cry out.

From a distant window the quarry beckoned;

a last frontier; a no-man’s land beyond

the snow line. Up close it looks like teeth.

They are out of bounds, beyond their limits,

amongst cathedrals of stone abandoned

to the moor. A ghost of a road

leads them to shadows where names and dates

exist between man-made scars.

There is nothing here: secretly one had dreamed that

 

beyond this place he would see the ocean;

a new land from which to escape. The other considers talk

of radio signals and strange night-sky activity but says nothing.

They both listen to the sound of their own breathing

and search the wind for the hum of the village.

There is nothing. The cold sets in as they search

the furthest corners where, in the darkness, they find snow;

just a tiled piece of earth no bigger than a child’s

blanket discarded by winter; alien ice

that they now dare each other to touch

 

to fill their pockets, scratching at the stuff as though it

might burn before they give in and run

from the place, downhill, criss-crossing

the path were invisible sheep bleat and

where ice mixed with dirt is launched to the sky

so that they blind themselves just to see where it falls

before shaking the cold from their fingertips and scraping

mud from their nails. The red flags begin to snap in the wind.

Beyond the wind sounds rush in: friends playing in the street,

neighbours shouting, cars, buses, the mill turning out

 

 

or the Earth turning, skipping a beat.

They are twelve, just. Out of time

as they run, letting the weight

of their own bodies carry them, letting the wind

rush over them as they jump the fence, jump

into light above a valley that twitches to realign

itself with a future place,

a place where you retrace each step,

listening for the sound of birds: curlew, grouse

or something else, something beyond the wind.

Flight Dreams

Flight Dream

Look closely and you can just about make out the three para-gliders. Flight Dream is just one of a number of photographs that are now available to purchase online at Photo4me.com – please look at the Gallery page for more details and also new information about the launch of my Artfinder shop where a selection of paintings and limited edition giclée prints will be made available. The photograph was taken just off the Pennine Way at Marsden, West Yorkshire and features the famous Pule Hill.

At a similar time last year some friends introduced me to the wonderful music of Bill Callahan who was playing live in Manchester. Unfortunately work commitments forced me to miss the show and the name slipped to the back of my mind until a year later when, in these post-Yule tide days, I started to scour the furthest recesses of my music collection looking for something to inspire. Fortunately I only needed to get to B for Bill; music collections are like that.

I’m please to say that I’ve now re-discovered Dream River and think that the rest of the world should also do the same. Headphones ready…

 

Good Fences

Good Fences

 

Good Fences – oil on board – 20 x 20cm (ex frame). The final image from the ‘Storm’ series which is now available to purchase from Enjoy Art, a wonderful independent gallery based in the village of Marsden near Huddersfield.

The landscape is the Yorkshire Dales looking towards Ingleborough. The title was inspired by the Robert Frost poem, Mending Wall.

*

For a musical interlude here’s the sublime, and appropriately titled,  After The Storm by Mumford and Sons filmed live at the 2010 Eden sessions (just in case you were missing the sunshine).

 

 

 

Sometimes even an old staple from the Halls can still surprise.

Eddie Vedder released the soundtrack to the film Into The Wild in 2007 and it instantly became a classic winning an accolade of nominations and awards including a Golden Globe in 2008 for best song, Guaranteed. It’s difficult to pick a stand out track but one that constantly made it onto playlists (mainly due to the CD pause on Gauranteed) was track eight – Society.

So in this digital age where CD wallets get filed on shelves and soundtracks are compiled by drag and drop I suppose I can be excused for taking it for granted that this was an Eddie Vedder original. Only after mooching around cyberspace following the instantly legendary three hours and forty minutes Pearl Jam – Live at Leeds show on Tuesday did I happen to stumble across a man named Jerry. Here’s the confession – I know very little about Jerry Hannan but finding out that he’s responsible for penning one of my all time favourite songs, and that he goes out into the wild at six am to perform it solo to a coyote, does mean that I will now have to undertake some further research.

This is wonderful…

Pass the headphones, Michael. This month’s choice is inspired by the announcement that one of my favourite small venues, the very brilliant Picturedrome at Holmfirth, will be hosting Kristin Hersh and her band Throwing Muses later in the year.

Your Ghost comes from Kristin Hersh’s 1994 debut solo album, Hips and Makers and features Michael Stipe of R.E.M. on backing vocals. The album was in stark contrast to Throwing Muses, featuring primarily acoustic songs with Hersh playing mainly unaccompanied. It is stunning so sit back and enjoy.

The Cat Stone

Not only was the (nearly) full Glastonbury line-up announced this week but, more importantly, I was finally allowed to release details of the first ever Cuckoo Poetry Jam taking place in Marsden later this month. Advertised as a fringe event to the world famous Cuckoo Festival, the Cuckoo Poetry Jam organised in association with Write out Loud and Kirklees Libraries, takes place on Saturday 26 April between 11.00am and 1.00pm at the Railway Inn, Marsden. Full details can be found at our very friendly Facebook event page by following the link here, Poetry Jam

If you’re unsure what a Jam might look like then don’t worry. The Write Out Loud YouTube channel has a fantastic seven minute video edit from last year’s October Jazz festival Jam showing the great variety and superb atmosphere created by our compere and host, Julian Jordon. Julian will be back again for the Cuckoo Jam as will guest readers Steve Ely, Kim Moore, Michael Stewart and Michael Brown with more names being added to the list as I type. Many open mic spots available so if you are in the area please pop in, say hello, and enjoy some wonderful poetry for a couple of hours.

And to celebrate:

I have two very fine 2013 Templar Poetry Anthologies to give away. Peloton contains a selection of the best poems from submissions to the annual Templar Pamphlet and Collection Awards and I’m very proud that two of my own poems, The Cat Stone Cast and Late September, feature in the anthology. To get your hands on one of these fine books simply send me your name and address via my contact page and two individuals will be selected at random. Simple. All emails will then be deleted and not used for any other purpose. I’ll post details on the Cuckoo Jam Facebook page as to who can expect a book in the post.

Peloton

The Cat Stone Cast is a Marsden poem, set around the Sparth reservoir on a hot summer evening. It’s a poem about discovery and in some ways, loss of innocence and comes from a sequence I’m currently working on provisionally titled, Down On Grange. The whole sequence works with the idea of you were there but what if you had never been here and looks at our relationships with people and places. It’s heavy but in a 1970s Vision On Polaroid kind of way. I had a wonderful surprise recently when Dagda Publishing selected another poem from the sequence as their poem of the day. You can still read Dark Side of the Street on their fantastic poetry blog.

Don’t forget, as well as exploring the landscape of the Cat Stone, you can also take in other poetry delights on Mark Kelly’s brilliant Marsden Poetry Trail which I would heartily recommend if you’re visiting the area through Spring and Summer.

This weekend, after many years of trying, I will finally be attending an Embrace secret gig which, unfortunately, is all I’m allowed to say. Have a look on YouTube if you want to find out more; Sunday is going to be wild! It’s a great buzz to be going. We’ve seen the band live a few times and I’ve been a fan since they were signed – local lads done good kind of thing – so no doubt I will have some tales to tell next time round.

For now, it has to be the come back record of all time; gifted to the band from Chris Martin as a way of saying thank you for allowing Coldplay to support them on tour before Michael Eavis discovered them and yes – I was in the bar.

 

I don’t think it will come as a great surprise to find that many readers may not be too familiar with the work of the German musician, Nils Frahm. I wasn’t until an old friend recently posted that, after much deliberation, the Berlin based composer’s latest release, Spaces, had finally been chosen as his record of the year for 2013.

This was enough to spark my interest. My research found eleven live tracks distilled from a total of thirty five recorded over a two year period. Further work uncovered the stunning track, Says. I initially watched the video because it was ‘official’ which is always good news if you’re not familiar with an artist’s work. It avoids the usual homemade films of sunsets mixed with beach scenes and countryside that cross fade to strange wild animals and portraits of old people in black and white.

The video that does accompany the track is astonishing. Like the music, it is a live improvisation with ink on glass and video feedback and is completely mesmerizing. Enjoy in a darkened room with headphones and listen for the odd sound from the audience – perfect ambience.

If you’re wondering what’s happened to the ‘Halls’ then don’t worry, they’ve not disappeared to digital oblivion – they’re simply having an early spring break prior to the next stage of renovation.

Enjoy.

Keep the headphones on. This week’s simmering choice comes from alternative energy flag wavers, British Sea Power from their stunningly, almost achingly, beautiful soundtrack to Robert Flaherty’s 1934 fictional documentary, Man of Aran. The album was released in May 2009 and performed live throughout that summer including open air shows at Regent’s Park, London.  It followed the Mercury nominated success of, Do You Like Rock Music?

The soundtrack to the silent film has been described as an impression of an impression; a 21st century attempt to complement a 20th century film about a 19th century way of life. Personally, I think it’s just a near perfect example of the symbiosis of music and film so sit back and enjoy.

Just why I had left it so late to buy the usual array of books, CDs, DVDs and the much hinted perfume to go with the big present (similar to the big light or the big shop) for the better half back in 2007 is beyond me now but there I was, waiting in the queue on Christmas Eve of our now dear departed HMV, with arms full and a budget stretched to almost breaking point. That’s when I saw the DVD for the first time.  A film that, over the course of the next six years would lead me on a quest overseas to Dublin, New York and back to Manchester and London. Well, almost. Certainly Dublin, Manchester and most recently London but New York, well, that was for another Marsden lad.

Regular readers will know, any film that claims to be ‘the best music film of our generation’ is going to grab my attention and in the twenty seconds (see there are themes for regulars) whilst in that queue I couldn’t think of one reason not to buy the film, Once. The characters looked good, he was carrying a guitar, it was set in Dublin and I was vaguely familiar with the song, Falling Slowing by The Frames which in fact was found later languishing in a dark corner of the Halls.

Starring Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, the film was written and directed by one time Frames bassist, John Carney and filmed on a budget of around £100,000. Every film, music and performing arts student needs to see this film. It became an instant January Saturday birthday night hit and possible one of the best music films I’d seen in a very long time. Falling Slowly went on to win an Oscar in February for best original song. The music sits somewhere between folk rock singer song writer piano pop grunge which is general why no one has ever actually heard it.

Glen and Markéta went on to form The Swell Season. This, a couple of years later, is when our quest took us to Manchester where, in the intimate surroundings of the Lowry, the stage became a curious space where reality slipped back and forth into the realms of Once fantasy which was fascinating. Glen currently tours solo. During the intervening years, our quest as also taken us to Dublin where open top buses have assisted with grand tours of the city and locations used in the film. I know, I’m stretching the point but yes, we are fans.

A history lesson:

In the mid eighties my parents took on the task of running the Marsden Bandroom, locally known as the Band ‘ole; a large club with members’ bars and rehearsal rooms. It is home to the Marsden Silver Prize Band who are one of Yorkshire’s finest bands and have recently celebrated their 125th anniversary.  You can find out more at http://www.marsdenband.com/

There are many fond memories from those days: the reward of half of Tetley mild for bottling up every Sunday morning and the free game of pool on a Tuesday night but none more so than the people involved both with the band and the club. Christmas mornings would be filled with bandsmen filing through our small terrace for ‘a little sommat to keep cold out’ before shuffling off ‘round streets while we went and opened up for the regulated two hours. With community and the club came children and lots of them and as such there was never any shortage of friends. The children’s Christmas party was legendary for two points: that it was held in mid-February when all band commitments where over and that there seemed to be hundred of us.

John was the son of a bandsman. He was a couple of years younger than me, which is a big deal when you’re thirteen and fourteen, but as he had a sister my age we all seemed to be friends. He seemed to be a musical lad.  That’s the last I heard.

Until:

That John was staging Once the musical in London. The fact that John Tiffany had left Huddersfield and gone off to become a world famous theatre director had somehow passed me by. The fact that he had won a Tony award for the Broadway version of Once seemed a nice way to find out. The fact that the show was now coming to London seemed an opportunity (as part of our quest) too good to miss. I happened to mention it to Mrs C. So it was with bated breath on Christmas morning that I opened the envelope to reveal two tickets to the show and a night in London, together with a flutter of coupons from the Yorkshire Post to ensure our ten pound return rail travel.

There is nothing better than a mid-winter trip to hearten the soul and remind you that life goes on outside our valley. The fact that we travelled through one of the worst winter storms the country has ever seen seemed to cause little fuss. It was a whirlwind tour, quite literally. Starting off with David Bailey’s (almost) retrospective, Stardust at the National Portrait Gallery before a craft beer with a tester on Shaftsbury Avenue (was it me or is London much happier and more welcoming nowadays?). Next day was the Constable collection at the V and A before lunch at the Troubadour – a special treat because I keep reading about all these great events and can never get down – and then on to the show. I’m not going to spoil a thing; you can do that by You Tubing. All I’ll say is arrive early to enjoy one of the most innovative creative devices I’ve ever seen employed by a musical performance. I can see where he gets his Tony from.

A standout moment from the soundtrack, enjoy.

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