Monday, May 1, 2017

Last Orders for Poetry in Liverpool

The Old Man is flanked by The Scaffold - Roger McGough, Mike McGear (Paul McCartney's brother) and John Gorman - with Andy Roberts, current Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and Adrian Henri to the front in Kirklands Wine Bar, 1977.

Kirklands Wine Bar on Hardman Street.

At some future juncture in life, I'm going to have to sit down and compose something personal and subjective about my rather unusual childhood in 1970s Liverpool. 

 

Crap housing on Poplar Street (1973)

Why am I now back in the coils and turns of the past? Am I worried about ageing or mortality, suffering from disillusionment or feelings of lost innocence? Nah, don't get soft. Life wasn't more simple in Liverpool during the Seventies. Same unemployment. Same crap housing. Was the music better? Nah, don't be daft. Punk and New Wave was a lorra lorra cak. That said, this installment harks back to August 1977, the Summer of Punk, and the "Granada Roadshow" at Kirklands Wine Bar on Hardman Street. 

 

Kirklands when it was "Scotts Bakery" and Atlantic House on Hardman Street (1973)

Kirklands, a former bakery turned wine bar, was hosting a day long event of comedy, poetry and music for Granada TV -- one featuring the superhero poets of "the Liverpool Scene," John Cooper Clarke, Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and the Scaffold, to name a mere few. But some background is needed here. The Liverpool Poets, Adrian Henri, Brian Patten, Pete Brown and Roger McGough, first appeared on the British literary scene ten years earlier in 1967. Discovered by the poet and art critic Edward Lucie-Smith, this lot were highly influenced by the American beatnik Allen Ginsberg, and believed in bringing plain, blunt speaking poetry to the masses through public performances that often mixed comedy with live music. 

 

Adrian Henri the Pot Bellied Poet of Birkenhead

This multimedia fusion led to pot bellied Henri fronting The Liverpool Scene, a poetry sprouting rock group, and McGough forming The Scaffold with Mike McGear and John Gorman, a humorous musical trio who scored top ten big in the UK pop charts with hits like Lily the Pink, Thank U Very Much and Liverpool Lou between 1968 and 1974 (Lily the Pink was a UK number 1 at Christmas and sold over a million copies in 1968). Noticeably absent from the line-up at Kirklands that day was Brian Patten, the literary darling of the Mersey scene, up there in the posh critics' eyes with Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin and Seamus Heaney. Patten stayed away from all of that cabaret poetry razzamattazz. Moreover, in 1976, he had pretty much eclipsed his musically minded peers with a brilliant volume of poems called Vanishing Trick.  

   

My Dad, Stanley Reynolds, holding court at "Fort Zinderneuf" on Menlove Avenue (1978)

Reporting for duty, however, was the Old Man. The funny fella from America, the one who wrote quirky features for the Guardian that often confused the demented minds of my provincial teachers at Mosspits Lane School. He got roped into proceedings to recite some beat prose from his 1976 play about Jack Kerouac, "Desolation Angel". Though not a trained actor by any means, Dad was the star of the (one-man) show until deadlines for the Guardian, Times and Punch got in the way of the day job (his excuse was that he had "three sons and several bartenders to support"). The Old Man was soon replaced by actor Pete Postlethwaite in 1977 (a story that is humorously recounted here). But, on this great day, the last call for poetry in Liverpool, Dad was on parade and dressed up for the part in a beatnik ensemble of blue denim and honey brown leather campus boots.

 

Kirklands: The first wine bar in Liverpool.

  This being Liverpool, a working class sort-of city of philosophers and would-be comedians, there were loads of fruitcakes milling about the film crew and lighting rig in Kirklands. Skint students from the university, stumbling off a Saturday night hangover; off-duty actors on LSD from the Everyman Theatre with nothing better to do; curious merchant seaman from Hardman House and the Atlantic singing shanties in pungent Scouse; and, lest I forget, laughing policemen from the local nick, peering through the large rectangular windows of the converted bakery for punks, and other unemployed-unemployables, to pinch and/or detain overnight. It was, in short, a dreamy urban Sunday in the pool of life, with lots of clowns and entertainers turning up to commit eccentric crimes in plain sight. 

 

 

A Superhero Poet of Childhood: Adrian Henri

Back in Kirklands, Adrian Henri stepped up to the mic to burnish his poetic credentials. The art teacher turned romantic poet was speccy four eyed in a white t-shirt and sweating like a whore in church under the blinding glare of the TV lights. After a couple of false starts, Henri, known for his captivating public performances, composed himself to read out loud. "Liverpool 8... A district of beautiful, fading, decaying Georgian terrace houses... Doric columns supporting peeling entablatures, dirty windows out of Vitruvius concealing families of happy Jamaicans, sullen out-of-work Irishmen, poets, queers, thieves, painters, university students, lovers..." I knew that the Bard of Birkenhead was talking about my fair city... but did he mean us lot gawping in the crowd? He surely did. 

 

Where's Stan?

 

What's this crap, saving the best for last?

After the rain of applause, Henri retired to the wings for an animated conversation with his lady friend Carol Ann Duffy, the Scottish writer and future Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom. The Glasgow lass, who was living in Liverpool with Henri at the time, and just starting out, was dressed up punk chic in a "Hope Street" t-shirt. Little did anyone think back then that she would be the first woman, and first openly gay person, to hold that lofty position.

 

Kirklands Wine Bar

Outside of eavesdropping on sarcastic poets slagging each another off, and running to buy Benson and Hedges cigarettes from the vending machine for Dad, there was a lot of action to take in for a 7 year-old feral child from Toxteth. Tempers inside the sweaty wine bar were getting frayed; the bulbs in the studio lights kept exploding, shattering glass over the hot and fussy audience of punters; and there was that constant stream of idlers, dossers and rubberneckers, coming in-and-out of Kirklands and interrupting the shoot.

 

Left to right: Chez & Sigger (from Picasso Sisters / Acme Novelty Band), Andy Roberts, Carol Ann Duffy, Adrian Henri, Roger McGough, Stanley Reynolds, John Gorman.

Sat in a corner, under a shuttered window and the huge shade of a potted palm, I glanced up from a Marvel comic book to take in the cold and complex faces of the lighthearted adults. Even as a child, they all seemed oddly transparent and cardboard cut-out. Roger McGough and John Gorman were bitching about the "shoddy lack of professionalism" by the TV crew from Granada. Roger kept shaking his head and saying out loud, "Why is everything taking do long? This lot don't have a clue do they? If I'd have known it was going to be like this, I wouldn't have come along in the first place. I've got better things to do with my time on a Sunday afternoon," and so on and so forth.  

 

 

Roger McGough: the Poet Prince of Merseyside

He could talk. The Scaffold, or "Scaffold" as they were known then, were a spent force. After four albums and multiple record labels, they were on the verge of disbanding for good. There was also a palpable sense of unease. Roger seemed estranged from his band mates, McGear (brother of Paul McCartney) and Gorman. And aloof. When he wasn't moaning about the TV crew, Roger wandered about the heaving throng of Kirklands with his hands in his pockets like a supercilious schoolmaster (which he was in a previous incarnation). Looking back to 1977, the summer of Punk and the Silver Jubilee, I think it was Patten's success with Vanishing Trick in 1976, and the changing tone of the decade, that really put the wind up Roger. 

   

Who ate all the pies? Roger and Adrian in 1967

It wasn't just the not so jolly Roger. Most of the coffee house poets seemed angry. Angry about not being rich. Angry about not being taken seriously by the English literary establishment. And kind of tired of having to do public performed poetry like this. They had been on the job since 1967 and now it was 1977. Things were changing in Liverpool -and England at large- and it was all down to Punk. John Cooper Clark was the new kid on the block and he wasn't a talent free zone -- unlike the rest of those art school twats and comprehensive school failures in rock bands. This skinny young kid in the shades and ill-fitting black suit had some vim and vigor in his prose. The future of Liverpool, and its underground poetry, was napalm dangerous.

 

Miserable Scouse Gits: Adrian Henri, Mike McGear, Roger McGough.

But newcomers are bigheads and no-marks. Always was, always will be. If only Roger knew how much of an institution he really was. All the kids at school thought that he was a dude. Roger was cool. He got kids. His poems are dope and always will be. And I even remember my English teacher at Holland Park School in London suggesting Roger for Poet Laureate after the death of John Betjeman in 1984. Aged 14, I chuckled heartily to myself. Teacher didn't know Roger: I did and his rep in the Pool weren't good. Nacca, his stepson, was always complaining about Rog being tight with the wad (I.E. no hand outs from self-made poets for dole-scroungers with no O levels). He wasn't the only one. The Old Man once told me that Roger was famous around Liverpool in the 1960s and 1970s for not buying anyone a drink in the pub (a big deal thing in England). "In fact," Dad once told me, "I was once thinking about this story at the bar of the Philharmonic when Roger walked in and asked me what I'd like to drink." Poetic license or bitchy Liverpool myth? Take your pick.

 

Dad holds court on his wicker throne at 65 Menlove Avenue

With a deadpan face, Roger stepped up to the mic for one of his trademark recitals. Reading verse to the accompaniment of music, he was funny, droll and sonorous. Then it was the Old Man's go. Like Henri earlier on, the side-burned hero of the snowy West kept fluffing his takes, sweating and fumbling a clutch of A4 Croxley paper in his hands. 

 

Holy Moly Dad looks like Abel !

But the maestro settled down, found that jazzy Kerouac voice from Massachusetts, and did his spiel. I studied the moody faces of the audience for signs of boredom. Now that the bar was open they were necking back jugs of sangria. Who could blame them? Dad was last man on and it had been a long day of hanging around and waiting for shit to happen. Roger, smiling with an air of benign superiority, whispered into the ear of a blonde muse, "This isn't Stan's thing is it? What's he doing down here in the first place? It's not like he's one of us, is it?" It's funny. The only thing that I can remember from Dad's beatnik vaudeville act, apart from Roger's indiscreet backstabbing, was a line about "turning off a 1949 TV set." They had TV in 1949? Well, I never...

 

Ambrose's band. He is second from left in shades.

Not long after Dad's poetry performance, my elder brother, Fuzzy (Ambrose), and some of the divvies from his punk band, showed up at Kirklands for a spot of business and pleasure. But, on the way in, Fuzzy had picked up some empty Kodak 35mm film canisters, left by a press photographer on the pavement outside, and got jumped by a Plod (policeman). The Plod, young, mustached, sweating in a blue shirt, loose black necktie and Mersey Blues flat cap, thought that 17 year-old Fuzzy had some wacky baccy on him. The Plod was about to shake Fuzzy down when a crockery breaking American voice roared out from the packed wine bar, "That's my kid! What in Sam Hill is going on out here?"

 

Joy Division third in line up. This rock and roll lark is a game of snakes and ladders.

The Plod was startled by the presence of the Old Man (an American in Liverpool, no less). Nonetheless, the Plod quickly regained his officious manner and said that Fuzzy's pull was for suspected possession of a controlled substance. Dad cut him off mid-sentence, "Drugs? My boy doesn't do drugs. He's a spin bowler, for cryin' out loud!" The Plod bought the bullshit of the American Dad in Liverpool and marched off to feel the collar of the next punk on his beat. When he was out of sight and earshot, Dad turned and snapped at Fuzzy. "Why you dumb ass! Picking up shit off the street... what the Hell is wrong with you? It's a good thing that I was here to save your ass from the cops, you lazy, idle, shiftless, motherfucking, punk assed, son of a bitch," ad nauseam et infinitum. Dad was very sweary in his day.     

 

Left to Right: Trevor Hyett, Adrian Henri, Mike McCartney, Carol Ann Duffy, Brian Jacques, Mike Hart, John Gorman, John Cooper Clarke (at back), (don’t know name)

A few Sundays later, we stayed up late to watch the Granada Roadshow event hosted by Trevor Hyett. The "televised Liverpool Scene" was supposed to go on after ITV's "News at Ten" on Granada but was pulled at the very last minute and never aired. Dad was momentarily perplexed."What in Hell happened there? Ha-ha-ha, maybe it was so goddamn awful they couldn't show it!" Dad, it must be said, was never much a fan of the locally brewed prose. "The fact that the Liverpool people," he once wrote at the time in the Guardian, "believe that their bad poetry is is different from other bad poetry does not make it so. Seven hundred and forty five thousand, two hundred and thirty Scousers after all can be wrong." Ouch. No wonder Roger was bitching on Dad in Kirklands.

 

 

We later learned that the Granada Roadshow got spiked over "a profanity" uttered by punk poet John Cooper Clarke during his set. I don't know, and can't remember, what Clarke said during his turn that got the show canned. Aged 7 and a half, I wasn't aware of anything offensive -- but broadcasting standards were a lot tighter back then in the 1970s, and it may well have been something that wouldn't crook an eyebrow these days.

 

From left: Chez & Bernie Carroll (from Picasso Sisters / Acme Novelty Band), Trevor Hyett, Adrian Henri, Andy Roberts, Mike McCartney, (I think that's dad behind) Carol Ann Duffy, Brian Jacques.

  And that was last orders for poetry in Liverpool. It was the end of an era, the beginning of another. That much was plain to see -- even for a 7 year-old feral child from the posh end of Toxteth. After punk, and the summer of 1977, things would never be the same in Liverpool or England again. But that is another dreamy story from childhood, one for another time.

 

 

Until then...

 

 

The Male Trailing Spouse