REVIEW: Paul Smith & Lavinia Greenlaw @ Morden Tower
By Robert Nichols on August 23, 2012 in Music
Last week I felt privileged to witness a very special evening. It was an artistic collaboration held in the most intimate of settings. I sat amongst an audience of 25 people enraptured by poet Lavinia Greenlaw and music master Paul Smith inside the tiny medieval Morden Tower in Newcastle Town Walls.
Both artists are major performers in their own fields but in Poetic Licence as well as presenting a couple of their own works Paul Smith set Lavinia’s poem Essex Kiss to music. With the original author sitting beside him and audience inches away it made for an incredibly memorable moment. It is also something that has been saved for posterity because this is part of a commission that has been recorded for the new BBC and Arts Council England online channel, Space. So look out for that.
As well as having all that medieval history Morden Tower has a more recent and equally striking cultural history. The tower has become an iconic space for poetry and music since Connie Pickard took the lease of the building back in 1964. Major names such as Allen Ginsberg have performed here. To this day the big old wooden door is opened by the key holder and stepping within the old stone walls feels like treading where legends have gone before.
Before the performances the audience were treated to an interesting and invigorating chat between the artists steered by Marie Nixon, formerly of Kenickie but with her Arts Council hat on. Lavinia revealed that the first time she had ever read at this venue her visit had been book ended between being unwittingly caught up in the madness of mayhem of the Bigg Market and a cast party for Byker Grove. Not the kind of big Saturday night out in Newcastle you forget in a hurry.
Paul Smith had broken off from a Maximo Park tour for what he recognised as a very special night indeed. And he admitted that the setting, the incredibly close proximity of audience as well as the poet made him far more nervous that any arena venue he had ever played at. That and the fact he chose to accompany the words to Essex Kiss on a banjo that he reckoned he had barely learned to play.
This all made for a kind of nervous tension that can go either one way or the other but in the hands of two such troupers it was never going to be anything but special. Lavinia first warmed us up with two poems, The Catch and the bizarre concept of The Silent Disco. Lavinia grew up on disco before plunging headlong into punk. She also grew up in Essex after the family moved out from London when she was young. Her teenage memories of Essex were clouded by the disappointment of what might have beens. Instead of seeing Bowie or Bolan at the Roundhouse she instead spent night after night sitting in a godforsaken bus shelter. That is some of the background to her wonderful poem Essex Kiss. As a teenager she couldn’t wait to break away from Essex but it is a county that has come back to mean so much to her and her work.
Paul Smith treated us to a raw and paired down version of “While You’re In The Bath” from his solo album. Lyrics from deep within the domestic space and favoured by Lavinia and no wonder. There was also time for a sterling version of The Tingles. At this point, Paul confided with us about a Maximo Park joke album title “Dangerous Emotions.” Maybe not.
But the central point of this Space Invasion collaboration was Paul Smith’s studied version of Essex Kiss. Every line not only dripped with the land of south eastern broken promise but also of all that atmosphere of the wondrous historic drum that is Morden Tower.
It was magical.
Images very kindly provided by Tracy Hyman