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The Hawthorn Halls (the days edition)

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As metaphorical toes curl over the edge of winter’s precipice and the solstice gets its coat, I’m wondering again where the days have gone, how another year has simply dissolved to memory.

A few weeks ago the poet, John Siddique tweeted that Charles Bukowski’s 1969 book, the days run away like wild horses over the hills, was a hash tag favourite book. He’s right and the title is probably one of the best titles for a poetry collection, ever.

The twitter feed reminded me of the early nineties. U2’s album, Zooropa introduced me to Bukowski. The title of the book signals the end of the track, Dirty Day as the band chorus above the Eno and Lanois darkly intimidating Berlin inspired production. It sounded wonderful but at the same time unsettling. It was the boy chasing the setting sun, discovering only more land beyond the horizon instead of the sea. It was the setting sun, something lost.

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In the pre- internet age of twenty years ago, searching out Bukowski’s book wasn’t as straight forward as it might have been, particularly as I had just returned from the big city. Back home in the village of Marsden, locals were still trying gauge how they should react to the local lad, Simon Armitage, who had just had a couple of poetry books published.  If writing poetry was strange then buying poetry books outside of an A-level course was utter madness. Sadly, bookshops seemed to go along with this train of thought making the browsing and buying experience almost impossible.

Then I blinked and found myself hidden amongst forty years or more having a twitter conversation with a poet. Someone had let the horses out. John explained that he was on a mission to strip down his writing even further and Bukowski was acting as mentor (albeit from afar). This should be something to look forward to and if the days run as fast as they have done, the book will be with us in no time at all.

This edition’s play list is to celebrate my successful grasp of two tickets to see Pearl Jam next year at the fantastic Leeds Arena. The band have been hovering around the Halls for twenty years or more but this will be the first time I’ve had a chance to see them live so I’m going to indulge. I’m holding on to this horse with both hands.

The Hawthorn Halls (the saltwater edition)

If I was to step out of my front door and leap in to the air and whilst doing so grow wings then I would almost certainly join the crows to see if they do, in fact, fly in straight lines. It would be quite easy to tell by simply watching the passing towns below; first there would be Hebden Bridge to my left and then over moorland towards Colne before dissecting the M6 at Kirby Lonsdale and coming into land at Windermere or possible Ambleside to avoid the tourists. I might, if feeling adventurous, carry on towards Scafell Pike but perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m guessing it would take little less than an hour travelling at a constant speed and I would most definitely be home for tea. Regardless of all this, however, I still do not live in the North West.

Although, due to the Yorkshire watershed, I will never be a North Westerner, it was still a pleasure to hop over to Hebden Bridge (albeit by car) last week for the launch of the new poetry anthology, Sculpted. Described as the poetry of the North West, Sculpted is a collection of poems by sixty two of the NW best contemporary poets and to prove it, six of those poets crammed in to the sell out (yes, sell out) launch on a wet and windy Thursday evening.

Hosted by Hebden’s very own independent book shop, The Book Case, the line up included readings from J.T. Welsch, Andrew Oldham, Melissa Lee-Houghton and John Siddique. Also adding to the impressive line-up were the book’s editors, Angela Topping and Lindsey Holland.

J.T. (I don’t know and didn’t dare ask) opened the show and for me was the surprise hit of the event. There’s not a hint of red squirrels in his poem, Formby which he opened with and immediately mesmerised the audience into silence. Buy the book for this one poem alone and read it out loud in your best American accent to fully appreciate the playful use of language and imagery. And if you’re familiar with Formby, you or the kids won’t be disappointed by the lack of squirrels.

Angela Topping’s The Visited brought back some wonderful memories of being dragged around to people’s houses by my mother and very simply just popping in for a cuppa. This was something that just happened, and whilst mums would be knocking on the neighbours it was just as likely that the neighbours would be offering the courtesy of three knocks on our own door before tramping in and plonking themselves down at the kitchen table. Imagine Facebook in real life and you’re somewhere near.

John Siddique was the last to read and it was a joy to finally hear him in the right environment. The last time I saw John was in a busy Waterstones in Bradford where he battled against the piped pop hits of the day and where the manager had very kindly provided only three seats for the audience. You may not be surprised that there was only one shelf of poetry, tucked away at the back of the shop with a fantastic collection of Larkin, Duffy and Shakespeare (sales, however, were down).

John began by reading his contribution to the anthology, I Think of You in which he tenderly uses the sense of a place, this being ‘Spring Wood’ at Hardcastle Crags to recall a lost love. After several poems from earlier books, John ended the evening with poems from Full Blood. His moving introduction that recounted the horrors witnessed in Woolwich earlier made the poem, Thirst particularly thought provoking and, in many ways, healing.

Many a fine wine was drunk throughout the evening and it was a joy to meet so many wonderful poets and supporters of poetry in one swoop. The continued absence of wings meant that I could only watch the wine being soaked so eventually bid farewell and joined the one road out.

Lying next to John, in an editorial sense, in the anthology is a new poem from the very hard working, Kim Moore. Being Married retains the same voice that created many of the poems in her wonderful, prize winning pamphlet, If We Could Speak Like Wolves. I’ve been a fan of Kim’s poetry since reading some of her work through The Poetry Business but refrained from buying a pamphlet as I’ve been trying to catch her live at one of her many readings – it seems that Kim could also possibly do with a set of wings after following her adventures on the blog. Sadly work commitments have led me astray so it was a nice coincidence that together with last week’s Sunday Poem, Kim announced the arrival of a PayPal button on her site. Without further ado, the button was pressed and two days later the pamphlet arrived, signed and with a thank you note. Find out more at

Also on the reading list this week is Gillian Allnutt’s How the Bicycle Shone, Garry Ely’s Angel Visits and, courtesy of the PBS, Michael Symmons Roberts’ Drysalter. You may not see me for a while.

Musically, the Heavy Rotation award this week goes to The National with their new release, Trouble Will Find Me. What, with the lack of wings and everything, it’s been on constant play in the car which is a good thing as with any The National release, several plays bring gifts from music heaven. As a taster, here’s the opener which will very soon be taken its leave from the Halls and probably flying into a digitally sundrenched North Western sky.

An Ending, a Beginning (part 1)

With the solstice passing thoughts turn to new growth and light. I’m speaking about daylight, of course, the type of daylight that will soon begin to stretch into the weak hours of the day and, if you can shelter from the cutting North Easterlies that will slowly begin to warm the skin and the soul.

There is always an amount of optimism for the new at this time of year, albeit that the view from the window does detract me from my plans a little. With the house hanging to the edge of Wessenden Moor, we spent yesterday watching horizontal rain whilst entertaining friends. Today it’s a case of surveying the damage after last night’s terrifying 100 mph winds before venturing for a hill walk with George (George is the eldest who happens to be an Explorer Scout and in charge of today’s walk – I’ve just declined Black Hill).

Thank goodness for the bottles of Black Sheep and red wine otherwise last night’s sleep may have been little more difficult. Although the roof sounded to be taking flight at several points throughout the night I’m quite amazed to find that it’s only the smaller chicken hut (empty) in the garden that seems to have suffered any lasting damage. This hut is used as field hospital should any of the birds start feeling sorry for themselves but I’m pleased to say that together with Carsten the Cockerel, they all seem well in their larger home, albeit a bit moody in the wet.

I say amazed by the lack of damage because I’m constantly surprised by my own building skills when it comes to the roof. I’m sure that if I’d taken the usual steps of paying builders large amounts of money to re-build and re-slate the roof then I wouldn’t give it a second thought but because a) I don’t have any money and b) I like a challenge, then the roof is like a fourth child; something that I nurtured into life and, like a child, constantly worry about. No doubt in thirty years when it’s time to re-do the roof then I’ll have become a little more relaxed about the whole thing.

So let’s return to the start. Whilst this is a time for new plans and setting personal challenges for the year ahead, it’s also a good point in the proceedings to take time out and reflect over the year that is beginning to fade away. I don’t like lists or top tens or what was best as generally they are meaningless – just look at the music charts – but I do like to look back and consider what’s been good and perhaps, not so good.

Outside of the normal humdrum there are aspects of life and culture that, let’s face it, make life and culture worthwhile. The focus of this site does give some clues but in the main it’s art, literature and music. So, in no particularly order, here are some of the highs of the year.

In early December I began to notice a curious thing: the emergence of a favourite publisher. Stuck between the Fabers and Penguins on the shelves usually reserved for ‘keepers’ were spines adorned with the letter S. It’s possibly no surprise that Salt has begun to take up more and more room on my bookshelves with the release of John Siddique’s excellent Full Blood in 2011 followed this year by John McCullough’s moving poetry collection, The Frost Fairs, Helen Ivory and George Szirtes fascinating collection, In Their Own Words and, last but not least the novel that demands to be read in one sitting and then read again, Alison Moore’s The Lighthouse. I need a bigger shelf!

Other highlights on paper included Simon Armitage’s Walking Home and the poignant and sometime heartbreaking poetic sequence, Black Roses.

Late summer saw The Rialto publication of Jen Campbell’s bridge pamphlet, The Hungry Ghost Festival which quickly became one of my favourite collections as did Sam Riviere’s startling 81 Austerities. Other highlights in the poetic world included Glyn Maxwell’s original master class, On Poetry, Tom Chivers’ hugely entertaining, Adventures in Form and Jo Haslam’s new collection, On the Kiso Road published by Templar Poetry.

Away from the mysterious world of black form on white page I stumbled across the one that nearly got way. Found hiding in a long lost packing box marked, ‘Books from Bedroom’, I was delighted to re-discover Markus Zusak’s breathtaking novel, The Book Thief. I would urge anyone to read this novel.

Finally in the book world, Mike Scotts’s engaging ramble through a life in music in Adventures of a Waterboy brought back some fabulous memories, including hiring This Is the Sea for 25 pence from Marsden Library in 1985. Strangely, through reading the book it dawned on me that Mike Scott had pretty much sound tracked my life. From the illicit press to play recording of The Pan Within (don’t worry, I’ve since bought it on three separate formats) that wafted through the studios at Highfields Art College to a wedding blessed with the raggle taggle of, A Man is in Love and then to the now with the foolhardy heart of poet writing to the songs of Mr Yeats, The Waterboys have been a constant, albeit unassuming, companion.

An Evening with Mr Yeats by The Waterboys was one of the live music highlights of the year. To be fair, there wasn’t that many. It seems the thirst for cider and festivals is becoming unquenchable to a point that unless you like standing alongside one hundred thousand other people in a muddy field then between June and September, sorry, no show. We did, however, succumb to Mumford and Sons, Gentlemen of the Road stopover in Huddersfield and were surprised by how much better they played in a muddy field as opposed to the Academy where we last saw them.

We like to see acts before they get too big for their boots and in February we fluked it again. It’s what we call our Damien Rice moment. The moment is named from a Valentine gift I gave to Amanda some years ago to see a little known singer/song writer in Manchester. It was February the 14 and the show was, you guessed, Damien Rice. Anyone who’s had the pleasure of seeing Damien since will know what happened. Our socks where lost, our heads a shed. This year Ben Howard took the mantle at the Leeds Met. The album was good – the show was great. It was the highlight of the year until we got a strange call from our friends, Rosie and Steve.

Abigail Washburn would be doing a small show in the barn at their Marsden farm and would we like to come. Now to put things in perspective, Abigail plays cities and festivals not Pennine villages. But Rosie had hit on the great idea of offering her favourite musicians board and lodgings amongst all the totally locally permaculture goodness whilst on tour to stave off the hotel demons in return for a little fund raiser. The show was magical and afterwards Abigail and Kai where joined by members of Bellowhead and Lady Maisery on the hay bales where, beneath a full August moon, folk music fiddled out into the air to mix with the wood smoke from the pizza ovens until each of our children finally gave in and we walked home through the late summer morning. Magical.

Lady Maisery headlined in a similar fashion later in November and suddenly we felt like we were beginning to witness part of folk history. Cue, Dylan.

Other musical highlights released this year (and in no particular order) include:

The Maccabees – Given to the Wild
Andy Burrows – Company
Tim Burgess – Oh no I Love You
Kate Rusby – 20
Beach House – Bloom
Richard Hawley – Standing at the Sky’s Edge
We Are Augustines – Rise Ye Sunken Ships
First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar
Band of Horses – Mirage Rock
Calexico – Spiritoso
Dry the River – Shallow Bed
Mumford and Sons – Babel
The Lumineers – The Lumineers

And looking forward with an uneasy eye on the credit card to Fossil Collective, Kodaline and back again for 2013, Embrace!
The keener eyed observers will notice that there has been no mention of films or theatre in this cultural round up of good things. Well, so be it. But just for some balance I’m staring at an unopened DVD of Searching for Sugar Man. It’s an uplifting and astonishing piece of poetics retelling an amazing musical. I can’t wait!

Finally, special mention for the Reflected Lines project at Hebden Bridge. Here, John Siddique has written a series of thought provoking Haiku that are displayed in thirteen locations around the town. Hebden Bridge suffered devastating floods in late summer and with most shops being small and independent the effects were far reaching. The trail aims to encourage visitors back to the town to see for themselves how the shops are bouncing back. The trail runs up to the 6 January, take a visit if you can.
Still in the Pennines, another special mention for Andy Hemingway at Andy’s landscape images of the Pennines and the Dark Peak provide a magical window that so few people experience. Please take a look at the galleries on his web site.

So, with light and magic we proceed.

All the best,