So Spotlight comes to The Storey after 14 years it has a new home, and for this reason or maybe others there’s a big turn out for the first night. A fair few faces unfamiliar to me (though that proves nothing) which is good, and yet it makes me wonder where they all were those other nights at The Yorkshire House.
The Storey is still a work-in-progress, far from perfect yet. Ron struggled with the sound at times; the noise of the door as people came and went very distracting to me at the far end; and the bar wasn’t then in situ. (It is now I believe.) On the other hand, almost everyone had a seat, with a variety of options, which made viewing and listening more comfortable.
First to speak at Spotlight in The Storey was compere John Freeman, a man more sparing of his words than some hosts. John’s economy left Ron Scowcroft to make the first real impact. The first open mic reader of a new era, ‘Hope Cove’ set a high standard. A nicely balanced metaphor, well-maintained, became first elegiacal and then regenerative. An apt launch for the new venue.
Re-invention lies at the heart too of Kate Davies intriguing story of a boy who gradually be4comes less visible before re-emerging as a cowboy line-dancer in his twenties.
The open mic generally allows performers up to five minutes, but Pascal Desmond exceeded his allottance by a vast margin. Worse, after a long, rambling, fitfully funny but more frequently repetitive story about a childhood hospital stay he then launched into a cringe worthy attempt at sing-a-long. Pascal is not new to the scene; surely he knows his time limit? His meanderings have a kernel of truth, moments of humour and profundity but desperately need an editor, some structure and savage pruning to remove that first draft feel.
Following on, Bernard Alves’ poems were both better timed and better formed. His verses on a Spanish carnival demonstrated a certain craft at least. And last up on the open mic, Nate Connolly’s solo acoustic songs led up to the break. Echoes of Radiohead meets Elliott Smith in a pleasant voice show potential.
Nate’s father Arlon played the open mic last month, now he’s on the main bill. Half a dozen instrumental tunes of varying flamboyant and delicate classical guitar versatility included a couple of his own semi-improvised tunes. It has, however, been observed by others that some Spotlight attendees will sit in rapt silence through any old poetry doggerel but talk loudly over any musical act. These people demonstrated their rudeness again tonight. Arlon played well, if a little long-winded, and didn’t deserve to compete with inane chatter.
Rosie Robinson’s poetry is introspective, reaching into a dark place, albeit predictably in its punch line. An ode taking Fireplace Love as a conceit is well-constructed and even toned, before she inverts the mood with the more successful, wry, teasing ‘Handcuffs Anybody?’ Such a shame that only on the latter verse does she animate and perform rather than read awkwardly.
Mark Charlesworth has no such difficulties as an experienced performer at such events. Yet it remains Rosie’s work that I remember. I made notes on Mark saying ‘bleak, sordid imagery’ and ‘expands from the personal to the global’ but that is largely it. He is working on a book of poetry, reclaiming images of ‘The North’ which is a curious concept to me. What is The North? What is to reclaim?
Chris Newton (aka ‘Mr Wyrd’) seems to have no such identity issues. His goth trappings and cute slightly camp delivery serve him well in attracting interest. However all the gothic imagery hides an absence of Gothic sensibility. There isn’t, for instance, any element of transgression in these poems unless in Chris subverting expectations by including a poem about ‘Tea’ and offering the audience a cup. The irrepressible Pascal was first up.
Henry Korz….. also took inspiration in the Gothic, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, This first person narrative in the creature’s voice talking about his rejection by Victor and his desire for a companion was clever. There’s a nice note of teen angst and petulance, unsubtle jokes about his ‘father’ being a ‘goth’ and more. Deliberately fusing ideas of the creature from both Mary Shelley and James Whale is frequently anachronistic and occasionally very affecting. As with almost all tonight’s performers good editing was needed to cut out repetition and digression.
This length of pieces meant it was already late, and with no interval in the main bill (as was the case in the past) people were getting restless. Blanket Apology played to half the audience Chris Newton had, many leaving en masse as they played. Their brand of sub-Dire Straits pub rock didn’t really inspire though the singer has a fine voice and some presence. The three middle-aged sleeperblokes behind her held the combined charisma of a corpse. Focussing so severely on their musicianship they appear to have forgotten enjoyment. Apparently formed to play songs by the late Dave Hockley, his clever lyrics and the singer’s voice demanded a better musical tribute.
Litfest’s space survived its first Spotlight without major concerns as a venue. The bill over-ran due to sprawling material, with the result that opener Ron Scowcroft’s taut poem ‘Hope Cove’ was by far the best individual piece of the night.