Tag Archives: poet

Guest Post: Harry Gallagher on his home town.

Harry Gallagher first attended one of my writing groups in January 2013 and since then, I’ve seen his success grow exponentially. That, however, has little to do with me: the range of Harry’s poetry is astounding and he can write on pretty much any subject. Whether you’re looking for political rants or romantic poems, Harry’s your man. That said, the poems I have enjoyed the most have been inspired by Harry’s home town and the people he knew there.

Harry’s spending time with us on the blog today to chat about his home town.

Vic x

Harry performs his work

My Home Town
By Harry Gallagher

There’s no easy way of putting this. I’m from Middlesbrough. There, I said it. Home of steel making since Victorian times, when Prime Minister Gladstone labelled the town “the infant Hercules”. When this writer left school in 1979 (the year of the first election of St Margaret Of Hades) there were, from memory, some 45,000 people directly employed by British Steel on Teesside. This is not to mention all the supporting industries, chemical giants ICI (remember them?) and the shipyards. Like it or not, this stuff is in our bones and in our lungs – check my asthma, baby!

Fast forward to 2016 and we now no longer make steel, the blast furnace having been sacrificed just last year in a disgraceful sop to the Chinese government, in return for their help building a nuclear power plant elsewhere. And all under the baleful gaze of the Minister for the laughable Northern Poorhouse project, unbelievably a local MP. The Middlesbrough FC chairman, Steve Gibson – a local council estate lad made good and a left leaning champion of the town to boot – furiously labelled him “an absolute clown” and who am I to argue? But first let me take you back, back, back…

Our heavy industrial roots – which is now referred to, apparently without irony, as ‘heritage’ – and unique cultural mix are what made our people who they are. Everyone’s ancestors in Middlesbrough came from somewhere else, having followed work to a smoke blackened, nigh on lawless Wild West. Both sides of my family came from Ireland.

I grew up in the 1970s and consider myself fortunate to have spent the 80s working alongside pretty much the last generation of men in this country who, in their own words, spent their lives “fighting iron”. These people lifted and bent heavy steel to their will, or had once dug ironstone from the earth, or processed massive amounts of deadly chemicals, or built and then sent ships to all corners of the world. Their lives were hard and so they had to be hard too, in order to survive. The men I knew smoked pin-thin woodbines, held between thumb and forefinger, lit end pointing into their palms. Their humour was often coarse – by God, they were funny – and cruel, but they were bound by a common purpose and by communities as close as the back to backs they often lived in. They were as tough as… well, ironstone, but they were also often surprisingly warm and kind.

These people inhabited a world now almost gone – and in many ways maybe we should be glad it is. Their wives seemed to mostly stay at home, raising the family; sometimes working part-time to supplement the income of the 7 days a week man. Their children could expect to follow a similar path. The sons of the Tyne and Wear rivers had shipyards, coal mines and heavy engineering. On the Tees, coal mining was exchanged for iron and steel or chemical works. They knew the river would provide, as it had done for the previous hundred years or more. They would marry a local girl and expect to bring up a family in a similar vein, perhaps hoping to provide their own family with a little better than they themselves had known.

So where did they all go, the children and grandchildren of these people? Well, the lucky or more adaptable ones followed the example of their forefathers and became migrants themselves. I challenge you to step onto an oil or gas platform anywhere in the North Sea or Middle East and just listen. Within minutes your ears will be assaulted by that gruff twang – a “Now then chor!” or perhaps “Yer jokin’ arn yer!” It’s how we roll – all around the globe. I have encountered my townsfolk in most countries in Europe, in Kazakhstan, in Qatar, in fact everywhere I have worked.

But what of the others, those without a recognised trade? Or those unable to work? Or the helpless or hopeless? You know – the people who helped build the country. To spell it out, the unemployed. Well, they found themselves at the top of our lovely government’s priority list, just above asylum seekers and rabid dogs; and thus became the chief target of Ian Duncan Smith’s austerity drive.

These people are the Have Nots. Many of their children are either on low paid, zero hour contracts or if they are lucky, work in call centres. Others are themselves on Benefit Street. They will never be able to afford what many of their parents’ generation aspired to – getting a step on the property ladder – instead paying rent to the Haves.

And then along came Nigel, with his tabloid-owning friends and his hatred and his simple answer to a complicated question. To cut a long and depressing story short, we took the bait. Not everyone did – I have friends and family in Teesside as horrified as I am – but enough people blamed the other people doing exactly what our own ancestors had done. And so here we are, on our way out of the EU. The one and only institution propping up an area which our own government has abandoned and we have just marched proudly away from it, right arms in the air. But, hey we got our country back.

At the time of writing, our future looks as bleak as the clouds that once hung over our town. But we must have hope. Teesside people are unique. Though rooted in history, we have always been a largely forward-looking bunch and we are nothing if not pragmatic. We have adapted to enormous change and are still evolving. Thatcher’s filthy brood continue to throw sharp objects at us, but resilience came hard-earned and we are a tough bunch. Here’s to the future, wherever it may lead…

Review of 2015: Harry Gallagher

 

Today, super-poet and member of Elementary Writers, Harry Gallagher – co-organiser of the monthly event The Stanza – is on the blog to review his 2015. 

Thanks for being involved, Harry!

 

Vic xHarry Gallagher2015 was a great year for you. Do you have a favourite memory professionally?
It has to be the first Stanza back in January.  I’d been telling Mandy if we got 20 people in, we’d be lucky.  On the night I was stuck in a horrendous traffic jam on the A1 and got there just before doors opening, so arrived stressed to hell.  Bless them, Mandy & Claudia had arranged everything already.  Then we opened the doors and in they came…and came…and came!  The place was absolutely rammed, our first headliners were brilliant and the audience brought the house down.  And it’s continued in much the same vein ever since.  Our audience are just fantastic and we’re very grateful.

And how about a favourite moment from 2015 generally?
On a personal level, too many to list.  I’m very, very lucky.  I have two daughters of whom I’m extremely proud and am in a great relationship too.  Done very little to deserve such luck.

Favourite book in 2015?
Windharp, Poems Of Ireland Since 1916“, Edited by Niall MacMonagle (Penguin, Ireland).  From the moment I picked it up in the excellent bookshop at St Boswell’s, Northumberland, the poetry within just leapt at me.  I keep going back to it.  I think there’s just something about the Irish voice that resonates with me and this one contains poems right up to date including several from 2015 and they stand up against the more traditional earlier stuff within.

Favourite film of 2015?
Has to be The Theory Of Everything.  Astounding central performance from Eddie Redmayne, not just in the physicalisation of Hawking, but also in bringing such warmth to the role.  Felicity Jones did the same as his wife. And I think that’s what I really love about the film – the warmth.  Everyone comes out of that film – and I mean everyone – really well.  There isn’t a bad guy in sight, just (extra)ordinary folk doing their best under horrible circumstances.  It’s seeing things like this that remind me there are more wonderful people around than the media would have us believe.

Favourite song of the year?
Am I allowed to say “Yer jokin’ aren’t yer?!”  I am very old and lost touch with the charts long ago.  No?  Ok then, I’m going to cheat and have a whole album.  There’s a great local band called Shipcote & Friends.  They are so up when you see them live and such fun to be around.  I bought their 2nd album (imaginatively titled ‘Shipcote & Friends 2′!) this summer and love every track.

Any downsides for you in 2015?
Iain Duncan-Smith not being locked up for crimes against the poor and defenceless.

Are you making resolutions for 2016?
I’m with Churchill – KBO.  Keep buggering on.

What are you hoping for from 2016?
To still be here, still writing, still gigging.  My third pamphlet “Chasing The Sunset” is due out early in 2016 and I’m already working towards a book, but that depends on friendly publishers liking my stuff enough.  In the meantime, my luck holding out will more than do me, thank you very much!

Getting to Know You: Harry Gallagher & Mandy Maxwell, organisers of The Stanza

 

Today on the blog, I have the brains behind The Stanza – Harry Gallagher and Mandy Maxwell. I visited The Stanza last month, click here to read the review. May’s Stanza will be held on Thursday, 21st May. 

Many thanks to Mandy and Harry for taking the time to chat to me about their exciting venture.

Vic x

The brains behind The StanzaTell us about yourselves…

H: I’m a poet and singer/songwriter, based in North Tyneside, but originally from Middlesbrough.  I mention this because it informs my writing quite heavily – there’s quite a different culture there to the one I now live among only 40 miles North!

M: I’m an SEBD Teacher in a specialist school in Northumberland. I’ve been teaching there for 6 years and I absolutely love it. I teach English and Literature with a large side portion of poetry.  I’m also a poet and I perform around the North East scene. I’ve been living in the North East for 8 years since moving down from Edinburgh and I adore everything about the place, the people and the amazing poetry scene.

The Stanza

Tell us a little bit about The Stanza – where and when does it happen and what can we expect from it? 

H & M: It’s a poetry night on the third Thursday every month in the Chillingham Arms at Heaton.  We have 3 main acts, plus lots of open mic opportunities.  The people who get up on the open mic range from seasoned, published poets to first timers, and everyone gets the same warm Stanza welcome.  We also have free poetry books to take away, provided by our friends at Borderline Books.  On top of that we have a house band – Renata & Trev – who kick off the evening and finish it with a song at either end.

Renata and Trev

How did the idea for The Stanza come about? 

M: The idea for The Stanza came about when the previous poetry night at The Chilli came to an end and we realized there was going to be a gap where a poetry event should be. Also we both love poetry and spoken word events and really wanted to create one of our own that would encourage and support local talent and voices. Also we’re both poets and it seemed like a cool thing to do.

H: There had previously been a monthly poetry night – Hot Words At The Chilli – run by Aidan Clarke and Annie Moir and they had decided to end it.  We had the conversation detailed above, checked with Aidan and Annie that they were ok with us rebranding and re-launching (they were their usual lovely and supportive selves) and we went for it!

How did you get involved in running The Stanza?

M: I met Harry Gallagher, me partner in rhyme, at a poetry event in Middlesbrough celebrating Burns Night in 2012. We bumped in to each other lots of times on the poetry scene from Tyneside to Teesside. We were driving back from a Black Light Engine Room poetry workshop in the Boro when we came up with the idea of running a new spoken word night. We thought of a few names before we hit on The Stanza; thanks to Claudia aka Miss Wired.

H: Mandy and I were talking about how we thought Newcastle was missing a poetry night.  There was already a well established and successful night at Jibba Jabba, run by our good friend Jenni Pascoe, but that was about it in Newcastle.  Mandy said, “You should start one!”  I replied something akin to, “Not on your Nelly!”, took a second and then followed it up with “…But I’d run one with you!”  From that it just seemed to grow arms and legs and we got more and more excited by the idea.  Then Mandy’s partner Claudia came along and she glues it all together on the night with great practicality, while we’re floating around like poets are wont to do!

Can anyone come along? 

M: Yes, absolutely anyone can come along. We try to make the whole night as inclusive as we can and our audience are a huge part of the atmosphere and success of the night.

H: A resounding YES!  My own personal viewpoint is similar to Paxman’s much debated opinion from last year – too often you find yourself reading to other poets.  My own big driver is turning new people onto poetry, so the more new faces we see, the happier I am!

What’s the craic with the open mic section?

H: A moot point! We are currently in danger of becoming victims of our own success!  The open mic is wonderfully busy – we have 3 sections built around the main acts and we have just started limiting it to 20 poets, which I suppose is an indicator of how popular poetry has become, that that many people want to get up every month to read.  But the thing I really love is the warm reception EVERYONE gets.

M: We have 3 separate sections for open mic because we want to really encourage new voices from the North East and give a platform for local talent. Also, the open mic sections are so entertaining because you really never know what you’re going to get and it’s really amazing how much talent the North East has. Also we want to create a supportive and friendly place for people to share their work and to develop their performance skills.

How did you get the idea to put paper and pens on the table? What are they for?

M: The idea for the flip chart paper and marker pens on the tables came from Claudia (if you don’t know, Claudia is the lovely lady who sits at the door, takes your cash, convinces you to put your name down for the open mic section and knits). What we want people to do is write, doodle, comment and play around. We’ve had so many brilliant comments, drawings and poems on the papers so far thanks to the awesome audience. We call them Stanza Shorts.

What’s the best bit about running The Stanza?

M: The best thing about running The Stanza is that we get to invite our very favourite poets on to our stage every month to hear their fantastic work. We’re really treating ourselves but, shhhhhh, don’t tell everyone that! Also we have the brilliant Renata and Trev every month bringing their unique sounds to The Stanza which is always a treat and, of course, our eclectic and always entertaining open mic sections where we are always looking out for our next main act to step up.

H: There are two things for me – we get to see all of our favourite poets for starters!  But also for me, I really love the way Mandy gets lit up every month – both the lead up to it and the night itself.  Every month we have a big hug at the end of the night, as if to say, “Fucking hell we did it again!!!”

What’s your dream line-up for The Stanza?

M: My dream line up for The Stanza: Buddy Wakefield, Sophia Walker, Chris Young, Catherine Ayres, Steve Urwin, Kirsten Luckins, Dominic Berry, Jo Bell, Michael Rosen… oh, stop me!!!!

H: I don’t have one.  Every month has been just great.  For me what makes it is the wonderful generosity of spirit the audience bring along.  Add to that the massive amount of talent that seems to assemble itself in the room every month and who needs dreams.  Though if we are really talking dreams, I wouldn’t mind old Wilf Owen and Stevie Smith dropping by one month.  Martin Newell, a more contemporary genius everyone should be acquainted with, could hold their coats…

Harry and Mandy are a great team.

Harry and Mandy are a great team.