Reviewed by Lizzie Alderdice
Occupying the Spanish Hall upstairs the Literature stage joined forces with the Art Show and the Craft Market and in a room at the back the Punk Cinema was its next door neighbour, a whole floor celebrating DIY punk ethic and a place to find a bit of calm as compared to the hectic mayhem of downstairs.
Beginning on Thursday afternoon with the rest of the festival, the Lit stage advertised an open mic hosted by the Crows to kick things off. Either I had managed to miss them completely during the mix-up with the guest-list on entry or the open mic never took place. At around 1440 more people began drifting upstairs, presumably in expectation of John Robb interviewing guests as promised by the programme. However at 1445 they were only just setting up and when the interviews did start, John Robb was nowhere to be seen.
Max Splodge was the first interviewee and he set proceedings off to a great start. Looking like Dennis the Mennace in his stripey jumper he told us how to swipe lamb shanks from tescos by disguising them as cheese.
Second up was Mickey Fitz, ‘There’s steps over there Mickey, you’re getting too old!’ was the comment over the mic as Fitz clambered onto the stage ignoring both the steps and the comment about his age. He demanded cheekily that there be ‘no boring questions!’ and he was the sort of person who makes such brilliant dry comments you can’t help but grin. He also had a dig at those of us who ‘stand in a gig with your video phones and then try and upload it…WHY?!… Facebook, Myspace, fuck that!’
The spoken word section began and there were only about ten people in the hall for those now on stage to perform to, which must have been daunting.
The proceedings started off a bit more hopefully with the open mic actually taking place and a nice little audience seated at the tables in the hall, drinking and chatting. The second act on the open mic after I arrived couldn’t hold the chords on his guitar properly and his muttered words were lost beneath the buzzing of fast and badly held strings. He also didn’t introduce himself (If he did, no one heard him). Open mics are by definition something that attracts all abilities and the fact that he got up to perform should be applauded, but surely amongst the Rebellion crowds there were more performers who could (and probably would) have got on stage with more skilled performances than that.
The next act after the Lord Of The Buzzing Strings was a brilliantly confident 12 year old who introduced himself as Louie OneSongRawr and launched into a song he’d written called ‘Bits’ which had us tapping our feet and grinning and made some of those browsing the art look round and nod in approval. He played his set and then exited but appeared a moment later at the request of those listening. ‘Erm…I’m back’ he said with a grin and went on to play a song ‘I’d written when I was ten, I’m now twelve..yeh..ONE TWO THREE FOUR!’ He may not have had a Mohawk and was wearing trainers instead of boots, but you got the feeling that with such enthusiasm and determination there is indeed a future for punk both in music and spirit.
The following acts on the open mic (which included Billy Liar) were all good quality and it was a nice way to get the brain in gear for the rest of the day.
Tom Hingley was selling his book Carpet Burns and he was one of those interviewed that day and was a pleasure to listen to, telling us about the time he defecated in a teapot. ‘Does it take a lot of skill to shit in teapots?’ asked John Robb (who had appeared like a smart, punk-genie to conduct the interviews) to which Hingley nodded and said ‘I think it does, yes.’
The interviews were very popular and something that should definitely continue at Rebellion; they were funny and interesting and John Robb’s ability to get the best from the people he interviews is a wonderful thing to witness.
Dave Barbarossa was interviewed by Robb, a little while after my return from the land of gigs downstairs, and spoke about his novel, describing it as ‘the journey of a fictitious band up and down and out.’ After which he did a short book reading which got him more than a few sales as the section he chose to read really grabbed our interest.
I managed to grab him for a quick chat when he was standing behind his book stall and asked him about why he’d chosen fiction over biography. ‘Well punk was never about looking back, it was about smashing things now…It was a case of ‘I want to be a novelist when I grow up’, your first novel is always about what you know and I know about being in a band and getting big and getting poor… so that’s what I wrote about.’
The headlining act that afternoon was Attila the Stockbroker who arrived to perform to an audience that had abandoned the tables and dragged their chairs into a rough semi-circle by the stage.
‘You’re about to be yelled at about left-wing stuff!’ He beamed.
There’s something fantastically impressive about a leftwing poet in doc martens shouting poetry down at you from a stage. It was as though the character of Rick from The Young Ones had been hit by a stroke of genius lightening, abandoned his jacket and shaved of his hair. Attila’s poetry had an evilly gleeful edge to it that meant that no matter how angry the poem was, it always made you grin. Changing key in the latter half of his set, Attila’s poems about his mum and stepdad had us with tears in our eyes and there was a large queue afterwards to buy his booklet in aid of the Alzheimers Society, as well as the other collections of his poetry.
There were, as usual, around ten of us seated in the hall with others milling at the back but at around 2pm there was again an influx of people drifting into the hall. (Making me wonder if people were deliberately avoiding the open mic or if 2pm was the magical time when hang-overs and drug-induced comas wear off.)
There were a bizarre yet lovely host of other acts that also performed that day. What was intriguing was that the acts were not playing straight punk music nor even obviously recognisable folk-punk, but an interesting mixture. The one that really stood out for me was the amazing crooning voice of one chap singing about Charlie Sheen!
Saturday’s interviews began with Teddie Dhalin talking about her book ‘A Vicious Love Story’
‘The reactions that I thought I’d get, like ‘oh there was this groupie in Norway who got with Sid’ it wasn’t like that, there was genuine interest.’ Those listening were also interested as there was a good queue snaking back from her bookstall not long after the interview.
Mick and Wayne took the stage with John Robb, the audience decided that after abandoning the tables it would also partly abandon chairs as well, people now sitting on the floor and listening happily.
Viv Albertine’s interview began almost a whole hour later than listed but it was worth the wait. Thanks to PIL headlining that night and Teddie Dhalin’s book already fresh in our heads, the interview turned to the Sex Pistols and their influence. ‘Johnny Rotten, he was something out of this world. He was kind of androgynous, pale, weedy… I thought if he can get up and make people think he’s right, then I can!’ She spoke about her friendship with Sid V and then had a charming feminist groan at the role-models girls have today, comparing the women competing in the Olympics to the ‘stick girls’ in magazines.
The Only Ones interview confused us with their indoor sunglasses wearing and then informed us that ‘Drugs don’t help creativity at all, they just make you happy to stare at the wall.’
‘I don’t choose to write songs, it’s something that I’m forced to do.’
A good interview but by the time it finished the stage proceedings had over-run by an hour and a half. It seemed that the combination of punks and innate British disorganisation had got the better of the place, not that it bothered the unflappable audience.
Steve Pottinger was the first of the Spoken Word performers that afternoon and although his poetry and delivery was far from dire, it didn’t have quite the same impact that Attila’s did the day before. This may have been Pottinger’s intention as he said by way of introduction; ‘I’m not one of these shouty blokes.’ Non-shouty poetry can easily have just as much impact as the shouty kind, but Pottinger’s performance was somehow lacking vibrancy. At one point someone heckled ‘do us a favour and kill yourself’ which was a drunken reference to the tendency of Pottinger to focus on more sombre subject matter. Perhaps by including a more diverse range of styles in the performance, Pottinger would have been able to create a set that held audience attention better.
Joolz Denby created a good banter with the audience straight off the mark and this really felt like performance poetry! She had a good stage presence and though a lot less frenzied than Attila, it was still a performance in the way that his was; this was poetry written to be performed rather than just read and it certainly showed. Her set was not as varied as it could have been and when this happens there is always a worry that the audience will lose interest as each piece sounds too similar, making it easy to tune out to it, but her stage presence held us with her to the end of the set.
‘Crooner man’ was back on stage and grinned cheerfully at us, ‘It’s good going on first, ‘cos it means you can’t be worse than the guy before you… now here’s a jolly little song about suicide.’
Despite there being only the usual scattering of early-birds in the room, he got a hearty round of applause and we finally discovered his name after shouting at him to introduce himself. He was called John E M.
Louise Distras appeared on stage to warm up before her official set downstairs later in the day. She blew us away from the first note, (despite having a bit of a sore throat ) but, as with the majority of the open mic performers over the weekend, didn’t actually introduce herself. She didn’t pay much attention to us as an audience, simply using the stage as a warm up, which was a tad irritating as we were there to listen. As she was beginning her next song (again without introducing either the song or herself) one of her guitar strings broke and she disappeared off stage without a word to us, presumably to re-string it.
John E M came back on an entertained us until Louise’s eventual reappearance some time later. Having performed another song she finally introduced herself and launched into ‘the Hand You Hold’ which had us nodding happily.
After a quick trip down to watch Random Hand (whose set had us dripping so much sweat from skanking that a cloud hung over the stage) I arrived in time for the start of the interview with Henry Cluney.
‘You just got a guitar and said ‘ONE TWO THREE FOUR RAR RAR RAR!’ and that was how you wrote a punk song.’ He said, to which John Robb nodded with a grin and said ‘sounds good to me!’
Cluney was a joy to listen to, his banter was good and he had us chuckling, talking about the music of SLF before and after he was asked to leave. He wasn’t sulky towards his former band-members, just critical of the music, talking about how it had changed and how the band had originally begun.
TV Smith came on stage and settled himself into John Robb’s vacated armchair, announcing that his reading would probably be ‘like a cross between Jackanory and Ronnie Corbet.’ He was reading from his book which is a collection of diary entries from his experiences while on tour. They were, in short, hilarious. He admitted to having never done a public reading before and his performance did need a little more work as there were times when he spoke a bit fast and his words got lost over the speakers, but the stories were little gems.
John Robb took the stage again to conduct an impromptu interview with the director of East End Babylon and the author of the book it was based on. This got a loud round of applause as the film had just finished in the cinema at the back of the hall, having been attended by a relatively large audience who came swarming out part way through TV Smith’s reading.
The end of the Lit stage proceedings tailed off a bit messily but it didn’t detract a mite from the sets and interviews we’d seen over the weekend.
Overall the Literature stage (and the Spanish Hall in general) was a nice place to relax away from the noise and bustle of heaving bars and gig venues downstairs. There may have been flaws but the Spanish Hall is an extra floor of Rebellion that should definitely happen again.