Eliza Carthy’s big, big machine


British folk music, and English folk music in particular, is in fantastically rude health in the 21st century. It’s a rambling old house with many floors and many tenants, no landlords, and the garden is lovely. The outhouse shakes to the sound of a busted flush, and then it’s turned into some handy rhythmic instrument to stamp the passing of time.

Here’s a link to a great new album for 2017, however shit 2016 has been, and however challenging the year to come, Eliza Carthy and her 12-strong Wayward Band will kick out the jams, Mancunian broadside balladry stylee…

Down below you will find a link to today’s review of Big Machine (Topic) on The Arts Desk.


Enjoy, and for no special reason, here’s a picture of a dog,
a dog at an invislble hearth,
which all great songs require
if you want to feel the fire in the belly



Gnaoua: Guinia, The Night Doctor



The great Gnaoua Maalem, singer and ghimbri player Mahmoud Guinia made his last appearance at the festival in Essaouria in 2015,  on 17 May of that year. The picture above, sketched in seconds amidst the huge crowds in Place Moulay Hassan.

This year is the 20th birthday of the Gnaoua Festival and for those who are lucky to be there, come the end of June, his spirit will be experienced, and his presence missed.

I started this poem, Marine Point, in May 2015, returned to it again after returning to Essaouira in 2016, and when Guinia’s sons Houssam and travelled from Essaouira to perform in London, at St Luke’s on 30 September last year as part of the Barbican’s Transcender series.

I walked back down to the port, where the great Chez Sam restaurant at the very end has been demolished, alas. Orson Welles ate here while making his Othello, and I ate here, with many friends over the years and the food and the wine and the staff were immaculate.

So here is Marine Point, for Mahmoud Guinia,  and its followed by a short film uploade to YouTube featuring one of his great performances, from the first year I attended Festival du Gnaoua

Marine Point

IM Mahmoud Guinia, 1951-2015

Boys dive into the channel of water between port
and medina until the sun turns red, the music starts
and you know something is happening tonight
when Maalem Mahmoud Guinia, voice as deep
and wide as a river, turns and hands his gimbri
to his son and it is becoming clear that time
has come for the Night Doctor, playing the songs
of the saints faster than he normally does
as if it is speed that will bring them in focus
and closer, and then it is over, and he is
bowing to us down to the level of the ocean,
a common settling, perpetual rhythm and motion
surging from the whale stream where handled spirits
converge upon the skin of a camel’s neck stretched
across a wooden frame – isn’t a man’s neck stretched
the same? – squatters of scents and penetrating
colours, desert routes and ocean currents rising
through the strings and songs that hang between
the mouth and ear, marine points where spirits
of ceremony stretch themselves around the body
and all the people shake and dance.


Remember Remember

london-diorama001There’s been a lot going since June’s brexit vote.
Since Donald Trump won the US election,
since Guy Fawkes night and nary a Guy to be seen,
since Rememberance Day 100 years since the Somme
since the manifestation of Supermoon on a Monday.

This poem, Remember Remember, was originally published as Moon Weight by Stride a few days after it was written. Follow the link to Stride

But since then, as poems often do, changes have occurred, the name has changed, the light is in a different corner, and who casts shadows anymore? We’re vampires, us, blank in the mirror and blond under moonlight, as slim as cyberspace and as long lasting.

Remember Remember

The spent fireworks look like stubbed-out cigars.
Aliens are here in code form,
the moon staring down from its shortest distance to earth
in a generation, and what does it see?
Of course the moon cannot actually “see” anything
and poets do not use words like “moon” anymore.
“Moon” and “fronds” are on the banned list.
I know the man who banned them and the suffering he endured.
Of course there was a penis involved.
We’re going to build a wall.
The light of the moon will shine
across its surface in my life time,
which has phantoms in every room.
What do you make of the pointing?
I’m ecstatic about lunar surfaces.
What have we become and what does the moon make of it all tonight,
on the night of the supermoon,
does it shine upon the good things in life
and what signs can you make out from here?
What disturbance, what disclosure?
Here’s a man whose eyes are full of property.
The sense of loss at his arrival is like a flood of moonlight
on a patch of serious poetry.
I learnt words late, found them hard to speak,
they had too much weight.
Take the words of a powerful man,
stirring the bottom to get to the top.
It takes a while to work out what comes up with him,
where the face is meant to be.