Sunday, October 01, 2006

Captain Beefheart in Paris, Alexis Korner in Crondall folk club, Fela Kuti at Glastonbury, Ian McKellen in Windsor, Michael Longley in London, Sharon Olds at the Old Ship in Brighton, Jim Perrin at Ty Newydd in north Wales. These are performances I will remember for the whole of my life.

But I was talking to Jane about if you should ever tell someone what impact they'd had on you and what would they do with that? I don't entirely know why the people on this list made such an impact. Beefheart was strange of course. The venue was a massive warehouse. I was there alone. It might have been during my year in France between 1975 and 76. Alexis Korner was with my friend Helen and her boyfriend Reg. We drove there, probably, in his three wheel Reliant Robin. I remember his astonishing voice. He was doing a solo performance, it was a small club. It must have been sometime between 1968 and 1972. Fela's Glastonbury performance was the first and only time I went. He came on as the sun was setting, of course, it was that key slot. The sky was shot with red. Those Nigerian guitars just kept on going with their driving lines, the enormous band working together, the bottle neck guitar, the talking drums.

Ian McKellen was a young Hamlet. My mum took me as a birthday present. He was amazing. I'll always associate him with Hamlet. He was perfect. I even remember what I was wearing. A light brown Biba dress, empire line, with long tight sleeves that went into a V on the hands and hooked over my middle finger.

I went to London to see Michael Longley with Eva and Don. We were friends in Brighton. I met them through Matthew. Gorse Fires had just come out and it knocked me out. But it knocks me out even more now. I was most impressed, I think, apart from his reading - quiet, clear, uncluttered, confident, just like his work - by the fact that he'd not written for 10 years. This was an emergence from that silence.

Sharon Olds at the Old Ship was in the days when Brighton Festival knew the meaning of poetry. She read with CK Williams. But she stole the show. Don, Eva, I and Matthew were at the bar at half time. We couldn't find the words for what we were witnessing. She was astonishing. It was the first time she'd read in the UK, I think. She was first published here by John Harvey of Slow Dancer Press. Then she was taken up by Cape. The festival literature office was a guy called Adrian. He put on some stunning poets. Another year there was Derek Walcot, Miroslav Holub before he died....some fantastic events. All gone now.

Then Jim Perrin in Wales. It's maybe too early to work out the long term impact of his reading. Just that it was a fluke we heard him. About 16 of us in the library at Ty Newydd, the National Writing Centre for Wales. Our planned guest reader was ill. Jim stepped in and read work that was so engaging, precise, concerned and emotionally raw, I knew it was one of those astonishing moments when you can't quite believe how lucky you are. He's a poet, writing in prose. A genius. And it was a full moon. The gods are doing a good job when they send you moments like this.

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