For some time Dave has been writing reviews for various publications including the Write Out Loud web site.

The reviews are reproduced here for you to read and enjoy.

Dec 8

Deadpan fun: John Hegley's oodles of absurdity

The magnificently shabby surroundings of Gullivers in Oldham Street, Manchester, provided the backdrop for what turnedJohnHegley out to be a hugely entertaining  bill on Wednesday night (26/9/2012). The last time I scaled two flights of dimly lit uncarpeted stairs, only wide enough for one medium-sized person to ascend at a time, was in Soho in 1976. I half-expected a gorilla in a monkey suit (why not in a gorilla suit?) to be waiting at the top to turn me upside down and flush out my loose change, but instead we were met with Ben Mellor in the box office/hat check girl role.


Matt Panesh’s lively introduction to an interestingly diverse audience seemed to fall on deaf ears, so determined to set a positive tone he refused to leave the stage until everyone got focused on the job in hand, and then on a crest of sustained applause, he handed the baton (Olympic legacy metaphor) to warm-up act Jackie Hagan. I’ve seen and heard Jackie Hagan any number of times but she made her 15-minute slot worthy of any professional comedy stage and charmed, yes charmed, the audience with a polished routine involving her much quoted mum, Skelmersdale, and her experiences of being sectioned. Like “charmed”, mellow is a word I scarcely use without thinking. “Charmed” and “mellow” are not words that often spring to mind over a JH performance, but this was angst-free delivery where even her “the working class inherit anger, the middle class inherit a house” line was delivered with a twinkle. The audience hung on every word and were left wanting more.

The first break revealed an interesting posse of musicians, poets and other performers filling the back of the room.

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Dec 8

The Long Good Friday 2008

Dave's review of Friday 1st February 2008DAve2008The Author performs on a Friday 2008

All night long the wind’s been whipping the tiles, and I’ve set my new super duper DAB alarm for six thirty but I can’t get to sleep and it’s already turned two. Somewhere in the ether is a heavenly choir which forces me to twice check to see if I mistuned the sleep function, aagh the horrors of technology. Then I get it, about three thirty by now, quite clearly and unmistakeably “We’re walking in the air….” etcetera. That four year child next door is playing the bloody CD I bought him as a token but well-meant Christmas  present. Musing on the cruelty of fate I wonder what his mother is doing until I hear the creak, creak, creak of what I take to be a rowing machine or step machine or cycling machine. Either she’s taking the opportunity to catch up on a bit of body-toning or she’s got him tied to it making clandestine inputs to the house’s electrical circuit.

Notwithstanding these distractions when thejazz (my new wake up station of choice) goes off, I put the snooze on twice before leaping out in a state of panic to face a freezing morning and a drive to Wigan at walking pace. Because today Tony Walsh and I or me are going to be “Poets in Residence” at the Eighth Wigan Partnership Convention!  

The JJB Stadium, like the Reebok, is obviously a conference Mecca, and the roads leading to it, exotic Anjou Way, and prosaic Stadium Way, are thronged with conference goers. I am greeted by a woman in a dressing gown, obviously a bit of a themed registration from which I am excused, and whizzed off to meet Dave Guest who’s going to try to hold the day together. Tony arrives and we try to piece together an agenda from the three different ones we are holding. We realise we’re going to have to busk it but somehow deep down I know it’ll be alright. The three hundred delegates are from the Council, the Health Service, other public bodies and the voluntary sector, and it is to the latter that I will be pandering. Unfortunately it’s difficult to tell who’s who on a dress-down Friday where the leader of Wigan Council, Lord Peter Smith, appears in denims. I’m one of the few in a suit because I like to challenge pre-conceptions, but this is quite mind-boggling.

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Dec 8

Dropping the Mask

Rosie Garland at the Dead Good Poets Society Wed 15 April 2008rosiegarlandRosie Garland

The performances of Rosie Lugosi and Chloe Poems have generally left me feeling in much the same way as young children often feel about circus clowns. Well not quite hysterical jibbering terror, but a sense of wondering if there’s a victim involved in this edgy cabaret and could it be me. Cruel intelligence and a mask coupled with material which often pushes the boundaries beyond comfortable smart ass superficial liberal cynicism, tweaks some vein of vulnerability deep inside. So going to the Dead Good Poet’s Society guest night to see Rosie Garland unwigged was going to be an interesting experience.

Clare Kirwan compered to a small but enthusiastic audience. Is Liverpool in danger of suffering from cultural overkill this year? Clare is very comfortable at the DGPS and it soon rubs off on the audience. She began both sets with a series of her own poems, such as “Blood Donor”, sometimes tenuously linked to the evening’s chief guest. Having said that “Catholic Girls” could have been performed expressly for Paul, salivating like Pavlov’s dog at the first mention of white ankle socks.

The first guest was a revelation. I’ve heard Aaron Murdoch many times. Aaron is a one-off , being in frequent contact with visitors from outer space, and acting as their Leasowe-based terrestrial PR manager and mouthpiece. His partner “Space Fish” was reduced to the minor role of holding his script which is a shame since he has introduced a new realm of surrealism into the Murdoch pantheon. Aaron’s twenty minute set was well crafted, combining “poems to make your teeth fall out” with “telepathic distress signals”. However “Thousands- like the sound of the sea washing up on the shore”, demonstrated that he is far more than an eccentric novelty act but someone who can pack a powerful political poetic punch. Aaron would have finished to a well-earned ovation but had to exit with haste. However on his return he was feted, quite rightly.

 Before introducing Rosie Garland, Clare did a macabre tale about cannibalism (I think, maybe it’s just me), before paying homage to R. McGough in “My Neighbours prepare for Armageddon”. Clare’s attention to detail and meticulous choice of words, makes her work both clear and accessible. And she can be damned funny, whether ad libbing or performing.

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Dec 7

Latitude 2008

Hovis in Wonderland at the 2008 Latitude Festival

The rolling landscape of Henham Park gives Latitude the ambience of a country fair, fully complemented by Hooray HiWHenrys in cords, tweed jackets, flat caps, pipes and wellies. And that’s just the women boom boom! (OK pedant, Hooray Henriettas!). The most middle-class, middle-aged, politically anodine sell-out according to ageing punkster John Robb two years ago, has built on this unique selling point to create a niche event which actually sells out. Bring Grandad, I did. Cardigan and slippers? No problem. This is a real arts fest not just a music feast. Literature, film, theatre, cabaret, comedy, dance, poetry take up far more column inches in the comprehensive Festival handbook than music. 

The Poetry tent (or “Arena” as I was dutifully informed by Caroline of Festival Republic, the promoters) organised by Luke Wright, featured over seventy readers over four days. Luke seems to have dropped his campaign to be next poet laureate (as he been got at by the poetry police or was he just being respectful to top billing readers Simon Armitage and Carol Ann Duffy?) However he should get a gong or even a gold-plated bong for living and breathing poetry and for sharing opportunity with others. He put on the heavyweights and he put on the novices. He compered until he was hoarse, and he did a number of sets that demonstrated his growing maturity as a writer and performer. I won’t say every form of poetic style was catered for. It was a performance driven event with a lot of younger skilled performers who fell back on the Mike Skinner teenage confessions/ street wars style, but many of them were from the South East so why not? There was that coterie of seasoned performers who are moving up the establishment ladder through collectives such as Aisle 16 and the Urbanian Quarter. There were performers who were an unchallenging pleasure to listen to, being mature and confident enough to stick to what they do best, masters of the poetic cabaret, John Hegley, Attila the Stockbroker, Rachel Pantechnicon, and Elvis McGonagall. And then there were some well presented, sensitively reflective and minutely observed slices of life from skilled writers such as Adrian Mitchell, Aiofe Mannix and Daljit Nagra.  Perhaps the only thing missing was more New World voices. It’s a hard call when you heard Saul Williams and Patti Smith perform 40 minute sets to 100 privileged people in 2006.Read more