+44 (0)7930 144 846
Pub poetry doesn’t often feature phrases such as “a host of golden daffodils” or “cannon to the right of them” and though it might rant and rave and soothe and inspire, it is always entertaining. Pub poets can be subversive, comedic, tragic and political – often at the same time in a single set of verses.
A familiar face on the North East of England pub entertainment scene has committed his wittily entertaining way with words to the printed page. Poet, singer, songwriter and radio regular Simma – aka Anthony Simpson – has launched his first collection, Last Night I Married The Audience, which has been published by Newcastle-based Zebra Publishing.
Simma, described by Rod Clements of Seventies folk-rock band Lindisfarne as “a big-hearted performer and true poet of the people” was invited to write the book after Zebra managing director Jeff Price saw him performing around Tyneside.
“Simma came along to one of our poetry nights at the Cumberland Arms in Byker, Newcastle,” says Jeff. “He’s a singer and songwriter but had never done anything with the spoken word. His songs are very poetic in structure and I suggested he came without his guitar next time and just bring his words.
“He then started writing his own poems about performing in pubs. They’re a mix of serious, subtle, laid-back and in-your-face.”
Simma’s poetry is definitely not from the “moon” and “croon” canon; they’re amazingly well-observed slices of life harmonising the highs and lows of performing in front of an audience with one-on-one relationships and personal feelings. Some are tender, others are downright hilarious, peppered with perceptive lines such as in Daytime In Darlo: “A girl with a litre of oblivion sits grinning on the teacup roundabout”. In Backbone he writes deliciously: “Your mineral water sparkled, sadly not your conversation”.
Simma is originally from Cruddas Park in Newcastle and honed his communication skills as a mobile phone salesman and sales trainer. He has co-hosted the Saturday breakfast show on Radio Newcastle with regular presenter Simon Hoban.
“People in the West End of Newcastle are very communicative,” says Simma. “They look after themselves by talking to each other. I learned to use words to help get into people’s affections.
“I’ve done the bigger concert halls and venues like The Tyne Theatre, but there’s nothing like a packed bar; you’re not separated from the audience, you’re in the room with people. There’s something about little bars, it’s where it all starts. I like to perform in places I’d like to go to; nice places, nice beer, nice people. You feel you’re communicating with the audience when in you’re in a pub, it’s not ‘I’m the performer worship me’ – people genuinely want to be your pal, they buy you a pint.
“This is my first book and I’m really, really excited about it. It’s a coming-together of all things I’ve ever done. If you’ve got words in you, you can write poetry – you can write poetry about drinking a pint of Mordue Workie Ticket. Pubs, poetry, having a few drinks, it’s as old as it gets, it’s prehistoric. Every place is different, The Maltings in South Shields is going to be different to The Ship in the Ouseburn or The Bridge Hotel in Newcastle.
“I learned from Lindisfarne records – especially Alan Hull songs – and the Beatles, the Stones and the Kinks, people like that; it’s very economical writing. One guy said to me, ‘that can’t be poetry, I rather liked it’. It’s like your first time with malt whisky – try it, you’ll like it.”
Jeff Price is a veteran of the Newcastle pub-poetry scene, performing with the Poetry Vandals alongside Annie Moir, Karl Thompson, Aidan Halpin, Scott Tyrrell and Kate Fox, who appears regularly on BBC Radio Four. Aidan comes up with lines such as: “I woke up this morning and didn’t have the blues”, whereas Annie contributes pieces about “men of a particular age who think putting Ikea furniture together can be fun”. Jeff, who has written from first-hand knowledge verse about being 50-odd and having five daughters, believes pubs create the ultimate atmosphere for poetry.
He says: “We once did two Poetry Vandals performances at The Peacock in Montagu Estate in Newcastle and people were amazed. They came up at the end and asked if we could sign the poems because we were giving them something they could relate to.
“It’s always a great audience, standing room only. But you’ve got to get the audience’s attention, it’s not your traditional Literary & Philosophical Society poetry evening. Some people in the poetry establishment think we’re subversive and don’t take things seriously but I like that reaction.”
Andy Hickson, manager of the Bacchus in Newcastle, has watched Simma perform as a singer and as a poet in several pubs and he understands the value that live acts can bring.
“It’s another reason to go out to the pub,” he says. “When Simma used to organise the Acoustic Circus nights at The Bridge Hotel in Newcastle you’d be able to see six acts for about £3, so on a quiet Wednesday night with little else happening you’d get 70 people buying a few drinks each.
“In fact, I’ve seen it being so full we were turning people away. You can cater for a younger crowd and it’s also a platform for exposure at a grass-roots level, with people like Becky Owen performing week after week but ending up getting record deals.”
When you’re putting words on paper, does it matter whether they’re for singing and strumming along to or is there another approach to writing poetry? Surely they’re one and the same disciplines.
“Being a singer-songwriter is completely different from being a poet,” says Simma. “The difference is the not singing. People expect other things from a poet, they expect participation.
“Look at some of the great song lyrics – All Right Now, or A-Wop-Bop-A-Loo-Lop-A-Lop-Bam-Boo. When you’re writing poetry, every word has to have meaning; you can’t just go sha-na-na if you can’t think of something. And the quality of words in poetry is much higher, you’re not as constrained by metre and rhyme and you can express yourself better as there are more forms of poetry.”
Being described by one of your heroes as a true poet of the people must be enormously satisfying, so does that influence how you develop?
“Not at all,” says Simma. “I know when to play working-class and when to go, ‘I’m on the wireless, you know’.”
Simma: from Last Night I Married The Audience
AUTOMATIC FOR THE PEOPLE
Welcome to Simpson inc. automated entertainment service
For songs, press one
For poems, press two
For a witty retort to a heckler, press three
You have chosen songs
To hear a selection of our quality original material, press one
To hear a hand-picked assortment of cover-versions, press two
You have chosen cover versions
For poignant, press one
For sing-along, press two
For romantic, press three
For local, press four
For that one by that bloke, man, that one that they sing on that programme,
you know, the one with the couple in it on the thing, press five
You have chosen sing-along
For a song from the fifties, press one
For a song from the sixties, press two
For a song from the seventies, press three
For a song from the nineties, press four
For a song from the eighties, please hang up and do not call again
You have chosen nineties
You want Wonderwall don’t you?
You have been placed in a queue
Meanwhile, here is some music.
From Last Night I Married The Audience
You shouldn’t be timid
but don’t be aggressive
slowly saunter up to it
look like you’re excited
not like you’re desperate
look bright and fresh faced
the thousandth time over
relaxed, but not passive
brand new but familiar
sound like you don’t care
but like you do care
not like you do care
but not like you don’t care
different, not outlandish
exactly as loud as
it needs to be, no more
cool, composed, but not bored
intoxicated, not drunk
breathe in the right place
smiling, not grinning
accessible this way
unreachable that way
satisfied, not smug
special, but ordinary
flawless, not threatening
Then sing your second note.
THE PUB POET
Your pint takes a moment to settle, you make yourself comfortable and you savour its malt and hop elegance. You nod acknowledgement towards the pub’s friendly faces whilst congratulating yourself on a fine choice of ale. So, what happens next?
You can read a newspaper, watch Premier League prima donnas, debate politics, talk sport, argue religion, eavesdrop on conversation, or idly scratch a hole in a damp beermat. You can slouch and stare and ruminate, or rustle annoyingly through a packet of cheese and onion. You can listen to poetry.
Poetry. It has been part of the pub experience for far longer than Sky HD or pickled eggs. Like the live band or the weekly quiz, it’s an added attraction and on a definite upward curve of popularity.
IT'S ABOUT EVERY AGE GROUP
More than ever we need pub owners with the vision and determination to do something that will persuade people to venture out on a wet Tuesday when Holby City might seem the better option. We have plenty of them around the North East and the better ones are doing very well, thank you very much.
Entrepreneurial publican Dave Carr is one such chap.
Alastair Gilmour writes about beer and breweries and pubs and people from a variety of perspectives. Media outlets include The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne; Brewers’ Guardian, and Cheers North East.
Meet and Drink writer Alastair Gilmour regularly conducts beer events throughout the UK and internationally – tours and tastings that have included a platform suspended 30 metres above the River Tyne and a real ale festival in a Moscow nightclub – and was for several years on the judging panel of the Pilsner Urquell International Master Bartender programme. [READ MORE]
+44 (0)7930 144 846