Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Ancient Ireland in Headingley

Sheila Moriarty writes:

On Saturday 21 March, the Bowery Café, Headingley, was the setting for a vivid and lively performance by the Irish Writers' Group, Lucht Focail (People of the Word) who were joined for the evening by David Agnew, Jo Flannery, Berni Byrne and the Joyce O’Donnell School of Irish Dancing. The event, which began at 8pm, was preceded by Irish music ably provided by Des and Kevin Hurley in the café as people arrived from 7.30 onwards.

The main event took place in the upstairs workshop room and the venue was packed to capacity by an appreciative audience who were treated to an hour of magic and mythology. The theme was Irish myth and legend: an exploration through poetry, music, dance and song of such iconic Irish mythological figures as The Children of Lir, Finn MacCool, and mad King Sweeney. Much of the poetry was original work by members of Lucht Focail, interspersed with poems by other contemporary poets and including some poetry in Irish.

A successful and highly enjoyable event, made even more enjoyable by the warm welcome extended to all by Sandra Tabener of the Bowery Café. Some of Sandra's photos are below:

Monday, 30 March 2009

Thanks Paul

Hearty thanks are due to Headingley Librarian Paul Askew, who produced a series of useful posters for individual events during the LitFest. Here he is in front of his display:

Regnar Lodbrog i Götaland

Richard Wilcocks writes:
Rory McTurk     Photo by Richard Wilcocks
In spite of the rawly violent storyline (the Vikings were, like us, very fond of rawly violent storylines), Rory McTurk's lecture last Friday was highly academic, based on a lifetime of research, as befits an Emeritus Professor of Icelandic Studies in the School of English of the University of Leeds. He began by looking at a couple of cartoons which were , he explained, clipped from a corn flakes packet in Denmark twenty years ago and which were translated very efficiently for the audience's enlightenment by the speaker, and progressed to speculation about the identity of one Healfdene, or Halbden, or Haldene, who may or may not have had his name incorporated into the name Headingley. The -ley part may or may not have derived from lowe, or hill: it might have derived from lea, meaning a clearing in the forest, the forest of Knaresborough which once covered this area before exploitative charcoal burners and property developers arrived. We were given a list of references which might prove handy, including Annals of St Bertin, Abbo of Fleury's Passio Sancti Eadmundi, Cogadh Gaedhel re Gallaibh, Geffrei Gaimar's L'estoire des Engleis and the Icelandic Knútsdrápa. That last one includes a little poem about the infliction of the blood eagle upon the captured King Ella by Ivor the Boneless:

Auk Ellv bak/ at lét hinn's sat,/ Ívarr, ara,/Jórvík, skorit

'And Ívarr, the one who dwelt in York, had Ella's back cut with an eagle.'

It was breathtakingly impressive. We were left pondering many questions at various levels of sublimity. Has Headingley really got a hill? Did they call him Boneless to his face? Do the Danes really eat corn flakes? Could a hairy fertility goddess really be confused with a man who wore hairy breeches?

The cartoon from the corn flakes packet

Friday, 27 March 2009

Lawnswood Slam

Three hundred vocal and appreciative 14 to 16 year-olds with their friends, parents and visitors packed into the main hall of Lawnswood School yesterday evening for a the grand Poetry Slam. It was the school’s contribution to the Headingley LitFest, and was coordinated by teacher Amanda Stevenson.

Very much in charge was performance poet Michelle Scally Clarke. This is the second year running that Lawnswood has been involved in a Slam. The theme this year was Pride.

With her help the students wrote and performed their own pieces - individually, in duos, trios and larger groups.

A panel of three judges chose three main award-winners: Ellen Hemingway’s Life is a Lottery was the most outstanding poem, Priya Lota’s Think, feel, say, see was the most emotive performance and Kizzy Jones, younger than most at 13, gave the most courageous performance.

Poetry Slams can feature a broad range of voices, styles, cultural traditions and approaches to writing and performance. The emphasis is on delivery, which might involve choreographed movements, hip-hop music and theatrical devices.

Below, Michelle with some of the poet-performers


Richard Lindley, the affable owner of Café Lento, compered a delicious short story evening on Wednesday, with original stories (and wines) of all types. He wants the place to become even better-known as a microcosm of the Headingley arty universe, so let it be. Star turn was undoubtedly John Jones, who had revealed to Richard Wilcocks over the weekend that Yoko Ono had performed a happening along with her then partner Tony Cox at the Leeds College of Art in 1966 (when John was a young lecturer in the Fine Art department at the University of Leeds) and that she had stayed at his house in Rochester Terrace, bringing with her Kyoko, her daughter.

Brief mention of this was included in a LitFest email circular which reached the local press....and the result was an interview with John and a substantial article by Chris Bond on Wednesday in the Yorkshire Post. The focus was John's 1987 essay in an anthology entitled The Lennon Companion, in which he writes about his interviews with a constellation of artists who were around in the sixties in New York, including De Kooning, Man Ray and Lichtenstein. He just missed Andy Warhol. The essay was read out, and John answered questions.

The Yorkshire Post article can be found here.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Running smoothly

On Wednesday it was Salvage - dramatised readings of three superb pieces by Peter Spafford in the cleared-out arts and craft room upstairs at the Bowery, and on Thursday members of Trio Literati seemed well pleased at the very full audience which had arrived to sample their special brew of poetry and song, immaculately rehearsed and beautifully presented. Lesley and Richard Quayle are pictured below performing Dylan's Don't think twice, it's all right just before the interval.

Amongst those spotted in the audience were David Robertson from Theatre of the Dales (see below) and Paul Priest, author of Sonnets, the new play which the company will perform at the Yorkshire College this coming Saturday and Sunday at 7.30pm. You can watch a slide show of their recent Twelfth Night by clicking here.

Robert Barnard fielded a fair number of questions after his talk on Friday Making Crime Pay from aficionados who were obviously very well-acquainted with the genre. At one point, there was even speculation about the relative merits of Norwegian and Swedish crime writers! Apparently the Norwegians are now on the up and up, so eat your heart out Henning Mankell.

Theatre Group Blah Blah Blah performed When the Wind Changed no less than three times on Saturday morning due to popular demand from the five and six year-olds in Headingley Library, some of whom had turned up a little late. They were charmed. They liked the way the actors sitting on the carpet made faces and put wigs and hats on and became funny people. They liked the orange juice and the biscuits too.

Ian Clayton's writers' workshop on Saturday afternoon in the Stadium café was attended by seventeen people - which according to Ian is a lot more than the usual.

Rugby met literature met music in the Executive Suite at Headingley Stadium on Saturday evening when Phil Caplan spoke about his work as a ghost writer for sports celebrities including, of course, Jamie Peacock. He explained how the books (like No White Flag, the Jamie Peacock story) had grown out of match reporting, and how Rugby League, which has world-class sportsmen and long traditions, is still, regretfully, treated as a poor relation in Britain outside the north of England. Jamie stepped forward to confirm that everything in the book was true, and answered questions from the audience. Doug Sandle introduced Phil and Jamie and outlined the work of the Rugby Arts Steering Group, which has already made a number of achievements, including, for example, a specially composed piece from composer Carl Davis.

Richard Wilcocks said a few words about the Headingley LitFest and the fruitful partnership with the Rugby Foundation before introducing Ian Clayton, mentioning that Headingley had produced both sporting and literary greats, and that it was right and proper for them to be celebrated together. The Ancient Greeks had given awards to athletes and poets at the Olympic Games, and why not? Similarly, it should not be enough to just watch a rugby match or listen to a poetry reading: the watchers and the listeners should be encouraged to do it themselves. So - the LitFest and the Rugby Foundation had provided opportunities for young and old in the form of a sports story competition for high school students and a writer's workshop.

Ian Clayton spoke as only Ian Clayton can speak, and the audience was very soon falling about because of his opening anecdotes. His talk was wide-ranging, and included a reading from Bringing it all back home - for example the sections about his encounter with Johnny Hope, who could recite Featherstone Rovers' teams right back to Edwardian times like prayers, and his search for the place where Bessie Smith died in what was once the Afro-American Hospital but which is now the Riverside Hotel in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Soon after the applause, plenty of copies of the hardback and the softback editions were sold.

Below, Lesley and Richard Quayle, David Robertson with Sauvignon Blanc and Ian Clayton with a pen:

Monday, 16 March 2009


Richard Raftery (that's him in the picture) was feeling expansive at the LitFest Launch Party yesterday. It was held in the long room at the back of the New Headingley Club. Daffodils adorned every table.

Richard Wilcocks spoke about the superb response to the 'Create a Sports Story' competition, organised for high school students by the LitFest in Partnership with Leeds Rugby Foundation, and then read out the winning entry, Richard Raftery, Trio Literati and poet Murray Edscer performed, and Trevor Bavage was the affable man with the gavel in an auction which raised two hundred pounds for LitFest funds. Winners of the literary - and very non-trivial - quiz were treated to drinks at the bar and Head For Heights provided excellent music. Now for the first event on Wednesday - Salvage by Peter Spafford.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

See them at the stadium

An Evening with Ian Clayton and Phil Caplan with special guest Jamie Peacock

Ian Clayton, television broadcaster and author of Bringing it all back home, and Phil Caplan, ghost writer to Leeds Rhinos player and England Rugby League captain, Jamie Peacock (No White Flag), on the same bill this coming Saturday.

Reviews of Ian Clayton's book - "One of the best books about popular music ever written", [Record Collector], / "Not a single false note. Clayton has written a compelling memoir of place and culture" [The Times] / "The best read I've had all year, at times very funny, genuinely touching and always deeply personal. The perfect book for anyone who has defined their life through music and the memories of youth” [Joanne Harris].

Premier Suite, Headingley Carnegie Stadium, Saturday 21 March, 7.15pm £12.00 (£8.00 concession-including students). Includes pie and peas supper - pay bar.

Tickets to be purchased/reserved in advance at Leeds Rugby's Ticket Office at Headingley Carnegie Stadium - 0871 423 1325 - or contact Doug@balladoolish.fsnet.co.uk, phone/text 077 5252 1257 ASAP. Proceeds to Headingley Rugby Foundation's Learning Centre and Headingley LitFest).

In the photo - Phil Caplan, Jamie Peacock and Ian Clayton.