Archive for September, 2014

Roger McGough in Ossett – Wakefield Literary Festival

Saturday, September 20th, 2014


The word on the streets is that spoken word is the new heroin and that poetry gives the biggest high (wait until they try the Bettakultcha smack) and so when I heard that Roger McGough was going to make a personal appearance in Ossett as part of the Wakefield Literature Festival, I bought a ticket.

I was slightly anxious about the venue—Trinity Church—as cavernous churches do not lend themselves to good acoustics. I needn’t have worried though, a decent PA and a packed room full of textile-covered people meant every syllable could be discerned.

What I like about Roger McGough is his accessibility, he’s the recreational ‘gateway’ drug to harder stuff; what Banksy is to art so Roger is to poetry. It’s almost a misnomer to call it poetry, ‘rhyming jokes’ might be a better description. Don’t be fooled though, they’re jokes with razor blade edges, cutting deep into the psyche.

Roger looked fit and relaxed as he used his decades of performing experience to beguile and charm the audience. A well-balanced blend of light and shade characterised the early part of his set – the poem about the well-known Liverpool gangster (a true story) made the greatest impression upon me.

What’s weird about poetry readings is the space after the poem has ended. The audience’s reaction is to fill it with applause but Roger’s poems are short, so that would mean clapping every other minute. His experience showed through though and Roger almost conducted the audience’s response by effortlessly guiding them from one poem to another, every so often allowing a respectful pause for applause.

The latter part of his set played more on the comedic aspects of life and the jokes themselves were exquisite, I particularly liked the poem about Mr Blyton (husband of Enid) and him “reaching for her body, only to feel the velvet touch of Noddy” (I paraphrase from memory).  Such clever word play can be appreciated in a live setting, as Roger is meticulous in enunciating his crafted products.

On the down side (yes, the drug analogy again) his set lasted about an hour, he did a ten minute ‘encore’ then retired from the lectern without taking any questions. Nor did he emerge afterwards to mingle with the crowd (at least, not whilst I was still there). Has he not heard of ‘selfies’ and hobnobbing with the crowds? All the comedians seem to do it these days.

I also thought it was a waste to have such a large audience there (possibly two hundred) and not have any supporting acts. I have seen the Wakefield based, A Firm of Poets, and can attest to their quality – why were they not given a short slot? I also learned of the existence of the Black Horse poets that evening, one or two poems from them might have added to the variety of the event. Surely a Literature Festival is about promoting as much talent as possible? As much as I enjoyed Roger McGough I felt somewhat short-changed for my money. I’d given up my Saturday night to see him at an event; Roger turned up but the all-singing, all-dancing, jaw-dropping spectacle of an evening failed to materialise.

Addendum: I have been reliably informed that Roger did mingle with the audience after I had gone and was there until the last audience member left – good man. It was also pointed out to me that A Firm of Poets performed earlier in the day on a bus travelling to and from Ossett as part of the festival. I only attended the evening event so my impressions are of that part of the festival that I experienced and it seemed to be set up as a typical ‘night at the theatre’ type show so that’s how I reviewed it.