SO, THE sun is shining — mostly — we’re drinking beers outdoors and the poets are desperately cramming their one good poem into a dire one-hour show.
Yes, festival season is upon us. I’m not really one for the Glastonburys and Bestivals. I’m a proletarian rather than a bohemian. Besides, London is at its best when the streets are cleared of all the plums who’ve swanned off to Worthy Farm. We, who remain in the city, drink in lovely, uncrowded pubs, say hello to each other and have a lovely weekend without twattery. Come friendly rain, fall on Glastonbury.
I am quite partial to the smaller, community-based festivals. The kewler festivals are like a chain-store bagel, one that is there to be sold rather than enjoyed. The smaller, and actually cooler ones, are more a beigel — there to be eaten. Liverpool’s Writing on The Wall (WoW) ticks all my boxes. This year, themed Revolution, it launched with a May Day parade celebrating the 1920s writer, seafarer and activist George Garratt.
WoW was born out of the 1989 Liverpool dockers’ dispute, when local activists and writers came together with Jimmy McGovern to create the Channel 4 film Dockers.
This group, including founder member and WoW co-director Mike Morris, saw a rich creativity within Liverpool’s communities but also a lack of opportunity for the celebration and promotion of working-class writing.
But, since 2005, the marvellous Madeline Heneghan has been director and, over 18 annual festivals, WoW have brought some of the best writers, artists and commentators to the city, Noam Chomsky, Salena Godden and Pauline Black among them.
The poverty and austerity that Garrett campaigned against are still with us today and, like Garrett, WoWall and the other creative organisations of Liverpool believe that the arts have a role to play in highlighting injustice and striving for a better world.
It’s tough for working-class writers because we have to work and write. I well remember Scoobius Pip at Latitude robustly insulting the audience and then being pelted with plastic beer glasses that carried a deposit. He picked them all up, made £60, and doubled his fee.
At Stoke Newington Literary Festival earlier this very June I met the Cat in the Hat, Thaarg — how’s that for keeping it relevant, comrades? — and drank with many, many good folk.
Top event for me was James Brown, he of Attack on Bzag zine from the days of Thaarg, in conversation with Danny Kelly about football. That’s the kind of niche that a decent festival fills. Also, it was the most hyper person I know on stage with the most relaxed.
Even my local joined in, with Tom Pickard and Hannah Lowe reading and — most entertainingly — there was a swearfest from Ria Lina and Emily Harrison, top-drawer performers both.
What really caught the spirit of the festival for me was sharing beers with a lad from my local, young Will, who’d not been to a literature festival before and who enjoyed meeting writers, actors, comedians and going to events. Stoke Newington Lit Fest always brings good names, local people and a political edge, while the LSE cleaners’ strike in London was won by United Voices of the World. Poetry on the Picket Line did a few gigs in support, great news.
And Manchester poet Tony Walsh caught the mood of the best bits of the nation with his poem read after the Manchester bombing. Tony comes without the baggage of the politicians and celebrities.
He’s an ordinary bloke saying something that can reach the sentiments that those pumped by star power don’t. In doing so, he reminds us all that ordinary people are extraordinary.
Tim Wells is performing with radical Turkish singer-songwriter Canan Sagar and singer-songwriter Maddy Carty at a fundraiser for the Morning Star on July 8 at the Constitution pub, 42 St Pancras Way, London NW1 OQT. Tickets (£10/£5 concessions) are available in advance from Mary on (07719) 383-322 or from mstar.link/constitution2