Not for Prophets


“World Premiere usually means Last Performance” (Frank Zappa). My “NOT FOR PROPHETS” show on 2 February 2014, to a full house at Kiosk 2, The Waiting Room, Colchester, was put together as a one-off experiment. I had no expectations of it being anything beyond the final gig of the month-long Microgigs Arts Festival, promoted and curated by the admirable James Sarek. ¬†Anticipating that quite a few in the audience would have seen and heard me before, possibly several times, I decided to give them something different.

NOT FOR PROPHETS was a title I dreamed up in November 2013, and a quick google showed that it hadn’t been in popular use before. For motivation, I submitted my NFP one-man all-new-material show idea to Mr Sarek, and he decided he would run with it, him having sat through some of my sets in the past, and swayed by our joint interest in obsolete confectionery brands of the 60s to 90s. So the 2 February 2014 slot was booked, and I started writing. And by mid December I had completed three words, and these were “Not”, “For” and “Prophets”. I had several worthy ideas about capitalism, corporations, religion and society, and maybe I’ll revisit those themes later. Instead, I elected to go with a subject that’s been with me for four decades, my love of Delta Blues music.

Conscious that no one would want to listen to forty-five minutes of undiluted spoken word, on a less than popular subject, I wrestled with how to make an entertaining show of my nerdy ideas. And for me the trick was to have it appeal to a general audience, not just to earnest (and slightly lost) white middle-aged men. (That’s a coincidence; I fit that demographic.)

Focussing on the Life, Music, Death and Legacy of Robert Johnson, I punctuated original 1936 recordings with five new spoken word pieces I had written, and one additional poem based entirely on the lyrics of my favourite Johnson song “Hellhound on my Trail”.

“Yes, but who the hell would be interested in that?”, you might well say. Which is why I told my own personal stories of how Robert Johnson has touched me, through my pieces in prose, sonnet form, biblical verse, shipping forecast and downright map-geekism. And people seemed to like it, with much positive feedback, and the possibility of a podcast and CD release. So “The Premiere” will not be “The Last Performance”. Some of the debut show script has been rewritten, and more material is under preparation.

“Welcome to Three Forks Jook House. It’s 13 August 1938, and someone’s passing me an open bottle” was my opening line, as I talked about the death of Robert Johnson by poisoning from a jealous landlord. In the Kiosk 2 audience was a homeless man, Chris, who had had several drinks, and was getting into the spirit of the occasion. He interrupted the show a few times, possibly confusing my set-up for an actual party. The fabulous Jonathan Marriott was in the audience, and he persuaded him to join him outside, in a very kind way. Ah, the fun and risk of running a premiere free public-event, without tickets!

I’m waving my mojo hand at you, and expect to see you at the next incarnation of the NOT FOR PROPHETS show. Anyone not attending can expect stones in their passway, and a sprinkling of hot-foot powder. You have been warned.

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Cambridge Capers

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Usually, the slam is opened with a set from the previous heat’s winner, but they can’t make it this evening, so we’ll need someone from the audience to set the bar for the evening’s scoring.” After a bit of too-ing and fro-ing, a woman from the front row coolly gets up on stage, takes a breath, and starts slowly talking. And as the piece progresses, the pace accelerates, in a tour de force performance that left me thinking I should sneak out the back, and pretend I’d never turned up. If this is a random person from the audience, and she is this good, what will be the standard of my rival slammers?

But I’d paid my admission and booked a slammers’ slot, so I’m sticking with it. First, before the slam, there’s a set from Charlotte Higgins, here as a featured artist at Hammer and Tongue Slam because she had won the Young Slammers comp at Cambridge Strawberry Fair a few weeks ago. And that’s not all she’s won, with several years of success from her poetry starting point in Ireland.

On with the slam, which was excellently compered by Fay Roberts; funny but firm. And giving me some confidence I’d get a fair hearing, as I was feeling very much the lone visitor amongst a crowd of familiar friends. There were eight of us slammers, having a go, some clearly very experienced at performing, others less confident in delivering to an audience.

I performed “Rise and Shine”, a piece celebrating the commodification of sex, through a product made better known by the cast of “The Only Way is Essex”. (A programme I’ve never seen, as I know it’s all true and will make me cross.) The warm and friendly audience liked my piece, and the judges gave it good scores. The difference between my score and a top three placing was small, and the worthy winner on the night was Antosh Wojcik.

After the slam, we were treated to a set from the evening’s headliner, Raymond Antrobus. He gave us a wide spread of material, punctuated by some very amiable chat in between, making the audience feel uplifted by his spirited take on life. Highly recommended.

Here’s me at the top, learning my lines for Hammer and Tongue at Cambridge on 12 June 2013. Despite my chief coach’s best efforts, I was unable to learn my piece that had just six four-line verses and a regular rhyming scheme. But I gave a fair account of who Fred is, and what he can do.

So, who was the mystery random person in the audience that opened the slam? Turns out she is the fabulous Alysia Harris. Having now seen her You-Tube vids with 5 and 6 figure hits, it made me feel better about my relative beginner’s attempt at performance poetry slamming. I hope to have another crack at Cambridge H&T next season, and hopefully the gulf between the talents of Alysia and myself, will, by then, be slightly narrower.

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“I refuse to fear getting a lift with someone,

unless it’s a clown with a fall-apart car” ….


…… and so our journey begins. Welcome to my website, and thanks for dropping in. Check out the tabs to find out more. And if you’re expecting “the complete works” on here, please remember it’s “spoken word”, not “written”, so just enjoy a few snippets.

“I refuse to laugh at jokes about the north.

Compass-pointism is as vile as racism and sexism,

and there are 360 degrees of insults”.

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