Saturday, 19 June 2010

The Sounds of Silence Once Again

What kind of silence do writers need? Absolute, according to some. Grahame Davies told me that even a creak on the stairs could foul up one of his couplets. Creativity only works when the world sleeps and there’s a seep of silence through everything. Not so for me, however. Unless I’ve got Miles or Jackson Browne on the player then nothing happens. Things that roar seem to occupy the part of my head that normally deals with distractions leaving the rest free to get on with the business of putting words in order.

Readers seem to find the same thing. Silence notices in libraries are a thing of the past. Bookshops fill their backgrounds with pop. It’s an age of multitasking. Many young people appear able to listen to their iPods, text on their phones and cycle on the pavements all at the same time. Do any also consume paperbacks? Allegedly they do.

Thirty years ago music and poetry rarely occupied the same slice of space time. Mike Jenkins might pull out a harmonica and do a Captain Beefheart impersonation between verses but he was an exception. Mostly music stayed on the radio. Today it’s another world. The new Welsh book has to have music at its launch. Readings without some sort of musical diversion are starting to become rare.

If it’s not Patrick Jones winding his words into his brother Nicky Wire’s sonic slipstream then it’s John Williams reading slices of his forthcoming biography of Shirley Bassey to jazzy riffs from Richard James. Llwyd Owen’s first English title Faith, Hope & Love swam into sight backed by The Gentle Good. Matthew David Scott’s Balloon events in Cardiff always mix music with text. The last time the literary scene was as musically rich as this was when John Tripp recited to the accompaniment of live music at the old Oriel Bookshop. Beer, jazz and literature made a heady mix.

Music journalist Will Hodgkinson’s The Ballad of Britain, an entertainingly written travelogue that follows the author’s treck around the UK in search of folksong, has a fair bit about Wales. Hodgkinson drives west to reach the rain-filled Dyfed triangle in the company of Cate le Bon. The eminent chanteuse is reported as having some disarmingly honest things to say about the Eisteddfod and the Welsh musical tradition. Hodgkinson also records a singing Gruff Rhys wearing noisy wellingtons in the car park of Brecon’s Green Man festival. Our heritage is enriched considerably as a result.

When the title was launched (at Laugharne, where else) the author interspersed his readings with singers. When done the audience were unsure if they should now buy the book or hunt out the accompanying CD. Do both. The book comes from Portico. The CD from Heron. It’s a new world.

Aversion of this blog posting appeared as The Insider in the Western Mail of Saturday 19th June, 2010. #152

1 comment:

Sheenagh Pugh said...

I've always been used to writing with people around me watching tv, listening to music, talking, whatever. I just blank them. When alone, I don't put music on, or I might end up listening to it. Also I don't know how the cd player works...