live yesterday: tear fet in manchester

Last year when Edward Snowden's revelations around NSA and GCHQ began to emerge, Manchester poet Steven Waling started a series of Facebook updates that all opened, 'Hello GCHQ'. Each short poem featured the words 'terrorist', 'bomb' and 'revolution'. Now those statuses have become the book Hello GCHQ from Department Press.

Hence the reason a group of us gathered at the Town Hall Tavern yesterday afternoon (Saturday 8 November 2014). It was the official launch of the book, though thanks to the brave new world of privatised  postal services, the book itself is absent. Unless (for the absurdly conspiracy-minded among you) you think it might have been impounded along with copies of The Anarchist's Cookbook.

No matter. I'm here for two reasons. First, I always intended to support the launch, and listen to the talented line-up of Rachel Sills, Tom Jenks, Tim Allen, and of course Steven Waling. Secondly, with Tom Jenks unable to make it, I'm a last-minute substitute. I'm billed as Matt Dalby, but really, as a sound performance, this is Tear Fet.

In fact, in a small room with no PA, this is Tear Fet unplugged.

Before proceedings get underway in earnest, Tim Allen and Richard Barrett read a short set of selections from a project called Prophecies, which translates Nostradamus as he always should have been translated. Seriously, he gets a translating he'll never forget. Funny, contemporary, and relaxed. Whenever this ends up finished, and wherever it gets published, you should keep an eye out for this one.

Rachel Sills reads her often humorous, often personal, often conceptual or otherwise constrained poetry. When I say constrained I mean in the conceptual or Oulipan sense. It's a confident if understated performance. Like the rest of the afternoon's performances, and unusually for me, I'm able to concentrate all the way through, and follow the poems.

Then it's me, there'll be more on this in a bit. I don't know what it was like, but assuming they're talking about the performance, on my recording someone can be heard immediately after saying, 'That was weird'. I don't know what that means - for me weird means light-entertainment Friday/weekend prime-time tv - and that's not what I do.

There's a brief break, then Tim Allen - my favourite performer among those reading (all of whom I've seen more than once) - reads a selection of his frequently funny, always interesting work. With Tom Jenks, Leanne Bridgewater and a few others whose names I can't remember at present, he's someone I'd point new performers towards as an example of one way to do it right. His poems are deceptively simple and possess a great sense of how language actually sounds.

Finally Steven Waling reads from Hello GCHQ and some other poems. Like Rachel, he's a more unassuming presence than either Tim or myself. But that shouldn't blind you to the quality of what he does. You don't have to be brash and in-your-face to be good or effective. His poems are, on the whole, the most obviously socially engaged, though with a light touch. They also reflect the contemporary world, contemporary language, and contemporary poetic practices. He holds our attention for the full 20 minutes, not always easy after around an hour of prior supporting performances.

I expect you'll soon be able to hear more of all these performances, since I made audio recordings of the lot, which I've forwarded to the organisers. For the time-being though, here's my full performance. I'm very happy with it. I feel like it briefly loses focus a couple of times, but I'm happy with my voice and my performance. In particular a couple of extended moments where I consciously make three different vocal sounds simultaneously.

What did people make of it? Well apart from (possibly) being weird, I was told it reminded those watching of Antonin Artaud/Theatre of Cruelty, and (in my physical contortions) of 1970s live art, and the paintings of Francis Bacon - I think especially his 'screaming pope' paintings.

What was actually on my mind was Dylan Nyoukis, THF Drenching and Greta Buitkute, Bruce Lacey, Crank Sturgeon, and Charlemagne Palestine. So I guess not so wildly different after all.

By the way, there's no church organ in my recording - it's all my live, unamplified voice. I don't know if there are any photos of the performance floating around, but I'd like to see them if there are.

Edit: somehow forgot that also on my mind - very definitely - were Valeska Gert and Yoko Ono.


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