Monday, September 30, 2013

Van Dyke Parks and the lost art of talking between songs

I wouldn't be surprised if Van Dyke Parks has forgotten this record. He made it in 1996. I've only just bought it. These days I'm crazy about Van Dyke Parks. "Moonlighting" is him and a full band with singers and a string section playing - and playing wonderfully - songs from throughout his career, songs like Orange Crate Art, FDR in Trinidad and Sailin' Shoes.

VDP is a man who understands, as 99.9% of performing musicians don't, that since its's deuced hard to get people's attention it's a bloody crime to waste it. (I wasn't there when he came in to do the Word podcast but according to those who were he came in like a whirlwind, talked a blue streak, did everything but kissed the hands of the women and, most tellingly, left this business card.)

On this album, recorded at the Ash Grove in Hollywood, he's similarly busy. He starts talking as the applause fades at the end of the first number, and then introduces the next and the next and the next by way of anecdote, quotation, historical analogy, political rant, geography lesson, Robert Frost poem or reminiscence about the circumstances in which he wrote or heard it. He doesn't say "this next song's called" or "I want to tell you a story". He understands, like Bruce Springsteen understands, that a stage act is a story. There's not a second of deviation, repetition or hesitation in the whole set. It makes the performance seem so full. It says "keep up, keep up".

Obviously most musicians don't have the conversational gifts of a VDP. Nonetheless listening to "Moonlighting" reminds me that if there's one thing I'm consistently disappointed by when watching live rock bands it's their failure to give the impression that they've even thought about what they might say between songs. It's their apparent willingness to build excitement and then just let it fall away as they tune up, swap instruments or wait for another member of the band to say something. It's as if they're just there to play the songs and the person whose job it is to entertain the audience, introduce the songs and just generally play host has unaccountably failed to turn up.

You don't have to talk a lot. I don't think the Ramones ever did. But the people who've bought a ticket are paying for every moment of the experience and if a lot of those moments are filled with nothing but agonising pauses and the shuffling of feet they're entitled to ask why.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The view from the end of Mark Lewisohn's massive Beatles book

It was always in the same order: John, Paul, George and then the drummer, first Pete and then Ringo. That order didn't only sound right. It also reflected the way the power structure worked. It was John's group. He brought in Paul, who brought in George, who later on argued for Ringo. And they never forgot it. They all sought John's approval, partly because he could be a bully if he didn't approve. Then again, so could all of them.

Not long after their first record came out Brian Epstein took John and Paul aside and made them register as a songwriting partnership, despite the fact that they hadn't written many songs. The first royalty payment for "Love Me Do", which was obviously more of a hit than I remember, had the people who played on the record earning £27 each while the people who got the composing credit made £157 each. Very quickly this must have begun to rankle with George, particularly because he would know that in most cases only one of those names had actually written the song.

Lewisohn's very good on the puzzled reaction of the British music business to that first record. The Beatles were almost unique in already having a fan following when they put out their first record so they couldn't be completely ignored. "Love Me Do" sold well in the North West, even with literally no radio play and minimal publicity.  Brian Epstein ordered a lot of copies because his shop could sell them, not in order to hype the chart. Everyone else they met thought the name was risible and wanted to know who was the leader. Publicists would have to explain that this was a different animal, a group that played its own instruments and did its own singing. Even George Martin, who recognised that they had a special chemistry as people, wanted to know who was the leader. When they did auditions they would do three songs, each featuring a different lead singer.

The most perceptive single line about the Beatles comes in Michael Braun's early book about them "Love Me Do! The Beatles' Progress", in which he said that when they arrived in America they were representatives of "a new kind of people". In Lewisohn's book some of the adults that they come into contact with like them but only the teenagers got them and responded to the way they dressed and carried themselves. Pete Waterman was a young DJ when they played Coventry and remembers John Lennon wearing the first pair of Levi's he'd ever seen. Norman Jopling, the 18 year old writer on Record Mirror, wrote at the time about their "long flat hair" and remembers that in those days "music hadn't caught up with fashion and film. When I saw The Beatles I knew things were changing."

I can remember that feeling. I'm bound to love The Beatles - All These Years: Volume One: Tune In because it's not just the story of their lives. It's a little bit the story of anyone who lived through it. I write all this about it and still people get in touch and say "should I read it?" as if it's a major life decision. Look. If you haven't read all the other books about the Beatles then bully for you because here's the definitive one. If you have read all the other ones then it would be silly not to read this one as well. And don't forget, I'm talking to Mark Lewisohn about the book as well as Bob Stanley, the author of Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop on October 9th at the Old Queen's Head. Full details here.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The view from page 780 of The Beatles book

This is the kind of utterly inconsequential story that I love. October 23rd and 24th were the only days the Beatles had off in 1962. They were earning good money from live shows. Nevertheless, when McCartney decided to use the two days taking his girlfriend Celia down to London, they hitch-hiked. A series of lorries picked them up, they ate at the Blue Boar at Watford Gap and they arrived in the West End after midnight. "It was a wild, arty thing to do," recalls Celia.

They went straight to Peter Cook's club The Establishment, where Liverpool friend Ivan Vaughan, the boy who introduced John to Paul, was working as a doorman. Paul bought Celia a bitter lemon, he had a Scotch and Coke, and they danced late into the night. They slept on the floor of Ivan's tiny flat in Great Portland Street. The following morning they went for a walk in Fitzroy Square and Celia helped him with the lines to a song he was writing at the time called I Saw Her Standing There, in which, you may recall, they danced through the night and they held each other tight.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The view from page 680 of the Beatles book

In the process of truth tidying itself up into myth a lot of condensing goes on. Memory does something similar. The story of the Beatles being signed to EMI is a classic case. They're rejected by cloth-eared Decca and go down the road into the open arms and ears of George Martin and Parlophone. Anything you don't like? I don't like your tie. Let's change the world.

Over many pages Tune In makes clear it wasn't like that at all. Since Brian Epstein ran one of the biggest record retailers in the north of England EMI had to listen to him when he said he had a group. They weren't impressed and were trying to let him down gently. He went to see the manager of HMV in Oxford Street, who he'd met on a junket. The manager suggested that he should use the facility they had in the shop to make an acetate from his tape. While hanging around the building (in the old address that HMV are about to move back to) he got to play it to the blokes at Ardmore & Beechwood, the EMI-owned music publisher that shared the same building. One of the guys there quite liked the Lennon-McCartney song Like Dreamers Do and suggested to his boss that it would be a worthwhile copyright to acquire. His boss put pressure on the label boys to make a record with them. Nobody at the company wanted to. They were busy. They had other priorities. George Martin and the staff at Abbey Road went along with it very reluctantly, which must have been apparent to the group. There was no eureka moment. It took months.

(In the light of the above the fact that EMI didn't end up with the publishing rights to the most lucrative catalogue in popular music is pretty amazing.)

At the same time they were manoeuvring to get rid of Pete Best, who clearly wasn't remotely good enough. It's the one musical point that everyone who had anything to do with them musically agrees on. This was made worse by the fact that he didn't speak, which in this gregarious company must have been a withering reproach in itself. Brian was irritated by the fact that he would have to get rid of somebody he'd just signed to a management deal and so he went as far as corresponding with his solicitor about the best way to do it. He also looked into making Best the drummer with the Merseybeats and then signing them to management, thus ensuring he didn't break his contract. All this without letting Best get wind of it or triggering the departure of Best's close friend, Neil Aspinall, who was the Beatles' tour manager. Oh, and also the father of the baby that Best's mother Mona (fifteen years his senior) was about to have in July 1962.

As that Rodney Crowell song puts it, life is messy.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The view from page 540 of volume one of Mark Lewisohn's massive Beatles book

I'm 540 pages into Tune In, first volume of Mark Lewisohn's three-part biography of The Beatles. In case you think that's a lot, bear in mind it's just over halfway through volume one. There's another three hundred pages to go and that will only bring me up to 1962.

There have been hundreds of books about the Beatles but nothing as comprehensive as this. I've read quite a few of those books. I'm not a Beatles completist or even much of an anorak. I've met enough anoraks to know nothing satisfies them. It could be that some of the details in this book have already been published before in somebody's memoirs. I wouldn't know that. Nor would you, in all likelihood.

I know more about this subject than most people and yet I can open this book on almost any page and find something I didn't know, have never had confirmed or have never realised the full significance of before. Because you know some of what's going to happen later on in the as yet unwritten Volumes Two and Three, then every tiny detail, every little decision, every road not taken, is pregnant with significance.

A few examples: on page 493 I learn that Richie Starkey, already quite a successful working musician with Rory Storm and The Hurricanes, wrote to the Chamber of Commerce in Houston, Texas, enquiring about the opportunity of factory work. (Throughout this book people write actual letters to each other.) He picked Houston because of its association with Lightnin' Hopkins, whose music he had heard on an LP brought back from Hamburg by Gerry Marsden.

On page 314 I learn that the Silver Beetles were offered the chance to tour Scotland with Johnny Gentle provided they could be in Alloa in two days. They got the offer on Wednesday, persuaded a 28-year-old drummer they had never used before to go sick from his job and join them, rehearsed on the Thursday and were on-stage at Alloa Town Hall on Friday night. It goes without saying that this was without mobile phones, probably without fixed line phones.

On page 396 I read about how Astrid Kirchherr and Stuart Sutcliffe took the seventeen year-old George Harrison to the railway station in Hamburg when he was deported. They gave him some sweets. He hugged the pair of them. "This was the sort of demonstrative thing they never did."

On page 505 I learn that John and Paul were given their distinctive haircuts by their German friend Jurgen Vollmer in the Hotel De Beaune in Paris. They were trying to emulate the appearance of Parisian youth, put some distance between The Beatles and all the Brylcreem bands back in Liverpool and establish a group look which the rest of the band would have to adopt. George did.  Continuing his policy of sullen non-cooperation, Pete Best didn't.

Because the story unfolds at such a leisurely pace, pretty much a week at a time - unlike previous books, which are in a hurry to get to Beatlemania and the hits  - it reminds you of some of the things that were exceptional about the way The Beatles developed and some of the things that make them even more exceptional today. Here are a few:

The most musically accomplished member of the band ended up playing the bass. He didn't want to. He considered it "the fat man's instrument" and preferred guitar or piano. When Stuart Sutcliffe left it was clear that Lennon wasn't going to take it up and so McCartney did, for the good of the group, at a stroke making them twice as musical as any band in Britain.

After they'd played their second Hamburg residency they were the most performance-hardened band in Europe. Tony Sheridan says "they were the best rhythm and blues band I've ever heard". Lewisohn estimates their total stage time in Hamburg at 918 hours. Most bands today spend the majority of their time waiting to play. The Beatles spent more time on-stage than off. They didn't practise. They performed.

One of the reasons they were so good was that they were forever learning new material. When a hot new song came out they would cover both sides, which meant that they spent years deconstructing how big hits were written before doing their own. They didn't quickly graduate to writing their own songs. In fact, at the point that Brian Epstein signed them they had stopped.

Bob Dylan says that he doesn't remember the 60s but he does remember the 50s. This book's a bit like that. It's difficult to imagine how the subsequent volumes can be as good because they will be dealing with the world after Beatlemania, which we all like to feel we either lived through or recognise. Tune-In is different. It's set in the pre-deodorant, pre-central heating, pre-Radio One, pre-credit card, pre-car ownership world of cigarette smoke, smog, hire purchase, greasy overalls, bare wires held in the socket with matchsticks, National Service, rubber johnnies, suspender belts, Scotch and Coke and standing for the national anthem. Nothing was convenient.

Furthermore there was no road map for where this group could go. Before the Beatles there weren't even that many groups in Liverpool and Liverpool had more than most. They couldn't look at an established act and think they'd like to be a bit like them. They couldn't aim at a niche. There were no niches. Before them there was nobody like them. After them it was difficult to imagine things being any other way.

They had a unique combination of single-minded ambition and sod-this impulsiveness. Time and again they were on the point of breaking up when something came up: a tour of Scotland, some gigs in Hamburg, the money to buy an amp, Brian Epstein.  Probably the only thing that ensured they would keep going was John Lennon's lack of an alternative.

What you get from this book is that sense of possibility, the world as they experienced it, through a succession of instants, rather than as the recapitulation of a time-honoured legend.

I shall keep reading. In a way I don't really know how it's going to turn out.

I'll be talking to Mark Lewisohn as part of our Word In Your Ear evening at the Old Queen's Head on October 9th, We'll also have Bob Stanley talking about his book Yeah Yeah Yeah and music from Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer. Tickets on sale here. Hope to see you there, by which time I will have finished the book.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The elephant in the art gallery

To Tate Modern to see Grayson Perry give the first of his Reith Lectures about how to appreciate contemporary art. It goes out on Radio 4 on October 15th.

He wore a zany print tee-shirt dress, sea green tights, pale orange platform heels and Yootha Joyce make-up. 

What he said was interesting. The kind of art we get to see is chosen by a shadowy jury of collectors, critics, curators and sundry tastemakers, many of whom were in the room. When he made a joke they laughed just slightly louder than they would have laughed if he'd been wearing men's clothes.

That was the multi-hued elephant in the room. Surely the thing that makes art valuable today is the celebrity of the artist. I'm visually illiterate but even I've noticed that ever since artists became celebrities their art has moved from the arts section to centre stage and the prices have followed.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Talking about music is the new writing about music

Somebody came up to me at Monday night's Word In Your Ear show at the Betsey Trotwood, which was billed as A Night Playing Records And Talking With Richard Williams and Kate Mossman, and asked if there was any chance of The Word coming back. I think I surprised him with the certainty with which I said "over my dead body".

I might miss the working environment but I don't miss the work involved in putting together a monthly magazine. Richard Williams said that one of the pleasures of doing his blog The Blue Moment was that he wrote what he felt like and nobody told him it was 200 words too long or spoiled it with an inappropriate headline.

I value lots of the things the magazine provided but a lot of the time I think it may work better through conversation. This is what I like about the Word In Your Ear format. This stuff's best dealt with by talking about rather than reading about.

I don't mean dry discussions about what ought to be in the shortlist for the Mercury Music Prize or whatever happened to the protest song. Life's too short for all of that. There were a few things touched on in Monday night which nobody's ever going to write 3,000 words about that I find a lot more interesting than the things people do write 3,000 words about.

Things such as: why you get so few pop songs about Saturday night nowadays; how come the best disco singers have a hint of sadness in their voices; how Spitting Image used to make current affairs intelligible to a five year-old; why 1965 was the annus mirabilis of the pop single; what the inside of your head sounded like when you were fifteen; how pop singers might still function with Alzheimer's and why the greatest dance records by-pass your defences and speak to your true self.

I love all this stuff. It's the kind of stuff I used to love talking about on the Word podcast. It's something I hope we can keep alive through Word In Your Ear.

The next one, which is on October 9th at the Old Queens Head in Essex Road, features Mark Lewisohn, the world's foremost expert on The Beatles, talking about Tune In, the first volume of his mammoth trilogy about the band. We've also got Bob Stanley who's publishing Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story Of Modern Pop. That's in addition to the genuinely inimitable chap hop sounds of Mr B The Gentlemen Rhymer. Tickets are on sale here.  If you liked the Word Podcast or True Stories Told Live you might like this too. In fact if you go to this page and put the word "banjolele" where it says "enter promotional code" you can get tickets for just £10.

And don't forget our motto: it starts early; it finishes soon afterwards.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Without record companies acts like My Bloody Valentine just disappear

My Bloody Valentine complain that they weren't on the Mercury Music Prize shortlist because their self-released album isn't available on the iTunes store or Amazon. People who don't win prizes often think they're being conspired against but MBV's problem with the Mercury Music Prize is only one symptom of the problems faced by the bands who go it alone.

It's never been easier to make and release your own record without the need for a record company or a publisher. You'll keep a far greater share of what you make than you would ever have done in the past. The problem is you'll have great difficulty extending your reach beyond the people already on your mailing list. You don't need a record company to make records any more but you do need it to make you feel important, to bang the drum at radio and generally "stoke the star maker machinery behind the popular song", as Joni Mitchell put it forty years ago.

Without all the soft skills of a record company you can just disappear from public consciousness leaving barely a trace. As my old friend Brent Hansen likes to say, "it's never been easier to play; it's never been harder to win".

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Why Tina Brown may be better off without a magazine or a website

The tweet said "the future of media is jazz hands".

It linked to a story about Tina Brown leaving the Daily Beast, the Barry Diller-funded cash hoover that has gone through God-knows-how-much money over the last few years, and starting Tina Brown Live Media, which is described as a home for "theatrical journalism".

There will be a lot of glee in the New York media over Brown's latest reverse, just as there was when her magazine Talk closed, having burned through Hearst money and Weinstein money. I wouldn't mind betting that now that he no longer has to worry about saving her face, Diller will quietly sell The Daily Beast to somebody else and it will slide from view just as Newsweek did a few months ago.

Because she writes her own press releases Tina Brown will present this reverse as an advance.

The funny thing is it may turn out to be just that. There are two reasons:

1. If you look at the growth of live music and the decline in the recorded variety, the increasing popularity of literary festivals and the decline in the sales of books and the growing amount we spend nowadays on fleeting occasions, you can see that people are more interested in experiences than things and "theatrical journalism" may just fit right in.

2. While in the past Tina Brown's greatest value was her ability to get famous people to write about other famous people and then sell the resulting, highly-wrought package to thousands of people who aren't famous, in the future her greatest value may be in using some of the same skills - and a few, such as jazz hands, that most magazine editors don't have - to put on and then coordinate live events featuring some of the same people.

"The future of media is jazz hands" isn't far off. Except it probably isn't media at all.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

If they'd had a Mercury Music Prize in 1971

The shortlist could have been:

Every Picture Tells A Story
Hunky Dory
Led Zep IV
The Yes Album
Message From The Country
Electric Warrior
Sticky Fingers
Fog On The Tyne
Teaser & The Firecat
Madman Across The Water
Who's Next.

Winner? I'm giving it to Who's Next with Hunky Dory as hon. mention.

Longer post here. Spotify playlist of 1971 classics here.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Why would anyone volunteer to direct a film?

I've seen a million "the making of" films but I've never seen one as candid as the one that comes with Jane Campion's Portrait of a Lady [DVD]. Mrs Touchett is a key character in the book. In the film she's not as prominent. That must be because she was played by Shelley Winters, who was seventy-six at the time and, as "the making of" makes clear, a nightmare to work with. She can't or won't remember lines, snaps at everyone around her, messes up take after take and has to be quietly bollocked by Campion in front of everyone. "Shelley, listen to your director." The other actors, hanging around for hours in agonisingly uncomfortable Victorian costumes in the heat of an Italian summer, just walk away. You can see that they want to scream. You come away from it wondering why anyone would ever want to direct a film.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

When Wimpy bars ruled the land

They've closed down the Wimpy Bar at Southgate Circus. Sounds like a line from a Springsteen song.

We've lived round here for forty years and while we didn't go in the Wimpy any more we would point it out to the kids and say "that's where we went on one of our first dates". If I remember right we'd been to see 10 Rillington Place at the Odeon. That's not there any more either.

In the days before McDonalds Wimpy bars were all across the land. They were named after a character in Popeye who used to say "if you buy me a hamburger I will gladly repay you Tuesday". Wimpy was a place you ended up in the days when you wanted something quick, when it wasn't really an option to go for a pizza and there were no gastropubs.

Wimpy is twinned in my mind with memories of gigs. We went to see the J. Geils Band play the Lyceum at a "midnight court" show in 1972. Afterwards we ended up in a Wimpy Bar in Coventry Street. Then we walked to Kings Cross and waited for the morning and the first overground train back to Palmers Green. The following day I bought Randy Newman's "Sail Away" at a shop called Harum. When we came home from seeing Van Morrison at the Rainbow we stopped at the Wimpy Bar in Green Lanes partly because it actually had an alcohol licence.

If you ordered a tea and a Wimpy - never a burger, always a Wimpy - they would bring you the tea first. This was always lukewarm so you drank it quickly. By the time your Wimpy arrived you wanted another tea. Cunning.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

The Clash and the things retired rock stars really miss

There's a box set of remastered Clash material coming out soon. Yesterday I went to the BBC in Maida Vale for a recording of an interview show with Mick Jones, Topper Headon and Paul Simonon, talking to Cerys Matthews. It's being broadcast in early October.

They were very good. When musicians get to this age they've usually had a near-death experience which has knocked some of the pomposity out of them. Jones was particularly ready to laugh at himself. Couldn't stop, in fact.

Two hundred fans from all over the country, most of them I would guess fifteen years younger than the band, had come up in the ballot and taken the day off work to come. They were told not to take pictures. They complied. Nobody called out. When they had questions they waited until the microphone reached them. It was the least punk rock experience you can imagine.

Topper said something I've never heard a musician say before.  He said they'd been staying in a hotel all week, doing media. He'd loved it. After what he called his "descent" he thought he'd never do that again. Just being with the band. Calling room service. Joshing around. Showing off. Re-entering the extended adolescence of a business class musician in work mode. He was boyishly excited. He's fifty-eight.

After it was over I went out into the street and there, parked down the middle of Adelaide Road, their drivers waiting, were three highly-polished black Mercs and one highly-polished black people carrier.

It must be very easy to get used to that kind of thing. It must be awfully hard to leave it behind.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

The gob-smacking "sales" figures of Rolling Stone

Nobody else has remarked on this so I've got to. Rolling Stone's decision to put the Boston bombing suspect on their cover was judged a success because they sold twice as many copies on the news stand as they usually do.

Twice as many. That's quite something. Magazines *never* double their sale issue-on-issue. How many copies was that?


That's the number of copies they sold in the whole of the United States on the back of immense publicity. 13,232. I've worked on magazines in the UK that have lost that many copies down the back of the sofa.

The really interesting thing was this was twice as many as usual, which means that the average issue of Rolling Stone, no matter what superstar, nymphet or American icon is on its cover, no matter how fabulous the cover concept, no matter how expensive the photographer, actually manages to motivate just six and a half thousand Americans to go to the news stand. That is considerably less than the average home gate of Yeovil Town.

Presumably Rolling Stone sold more than that ten years ago but it still can't have been all that many. It must mean that UK magazines, which traditionally have a terrible chip on their shoulders when it comes to their American cousins, regularly outsell them, even in a market that's only a fraction the size.

All circulation figures involve a certain amount of smoke and mirrors but American figures are more opaque than ours. The overwhelming majority of copies are on subscription and most of those are sold at a risibly low price in order to secure the number of readers the publishers need to deliver to the advertisers. There's an interesting piece here on an American site that explains why they've recently stopped bothering.

Rolling Stone's current rate base is 1,450,000.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Mark Ellen and I take a trip to the isles

Six months ago the people at Wordplay, a literary festival in the Shetland Islands, invited me to come and speak at their event in late August. I suggested Mark Ellen was, if anything, even keener on Scottish islands than I was and so he was invited too. A couple of months ago they asked what we were going to talk about. We came up with a title - 50 Years Of Rock And Roll In 60 minutes - which they seemed pleased with.

A week ago we sorted out enough pictures and captions to make a presentation. On Wednesday we flew, with our wives, to Shetland. Big plane to Glasgow. Little prop plane to Sumburgh on Shetland. At Glasgow airport we met Quentin Cooper, who was on his way to speak in Benbecula where the plane lands on the beach. Next to that landing at Sumburgh, where they have to stop the traffic so the planes can land, was a breeze.

Shetland is fascinating. It combines the characteristics of Scottish islands - peace, natural beauty, wildlife - with the characteristics of, well, almost nowhere else in Europe. Thanks to the oil and gas business off-shore Shetland's unemployment is only 1%. There are no ostentatious shows of wealth but there are some nice cars and a powerful amount of Farrow and Ball paint. Total are fitting the gas plant at Sullom Voe, a job so big they've had to build their own hotel, which doesn't have a vacancy for ten years. Some of the men are accommodated in a "floatel" (below), a giant waterborne barracks which was towed from Gdansk and was formerly used as a prison.

We rented a car and got around the islands, all the way up to the northernmost tip of Unst to Muckle Flugga, which is as far north as the UK goes, and roughly on the same latitude as Bergen. We saw thousands of gannets plunging into the waters off Norwick. When we flew back via Aberdeen we also saw plenty of Super Puma helicopters, grounded in the wake of the tragedy of the week before. If they can't resolve that problem soon then presumably the consequences for the economy will be serious.

We did our show on Saturday night in the big hall at Mareel (right). There was a gratifying turn-out. Lots of locals, some Word readers, a few Whistle Test diehards, and a contingent of poets and musicians who were also taking part in the festival. Everybody seemed to enjoy it. Somebody said "you must have done this lots of times before". In one sense we had and in another we hadn't. Somebody else said "you obviously know each other well." You could say that.

Afterwards in the bar a lady came up and asked to take our picture. She must have been in her 70s.