MIKE GARRY; a poet who  knows Mens´ Mournings

MIKE GARRY; a poet who  knows Mens´ Mournings

Norman Warwick tries to catch up !

The title of the Mike Garry anthology Marlene Bewick brought over to me was Men´s Mournings (left), often spelled on-line As Men´s Mornings. Nevertheless podcast hosts, Dan Maudhub and Phil Jones, had cast aside any confusion and had  the delight recently of speaking to Mike Garry, poet, (described as a genius by Peter Saville), whose gritty performance poetry has seen him gain international recognition. He is passionate about bringing live poetry to people who wouldn’t normally experience it, and into libraries wherever possible.. I Listened in to hear Mike tell part of his wonderful story, oh and share with us a touching poem too. 

The Wonderful People Podcast I listened to is available on Apple Podcasts / iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, TuneIn… in fact, you can even ask your smart speaker to play it (try saying “Alexa, play The Wonderful People Podcast”). 

With new episodes released regularly, The Wonderful People Podcast is definitely worth subscribing to, as you can hear some phenomenal stories from creatives, technologists and digital pioneers.

Mike Garry was a librarian for 15 years before becoming a poet. His ground-breaking work with Manchester Libraries began with the development of Study Support Units or “Homework Centers” throughout Manchester’s local library network.  The units were simply a safe space for young people to get help and support with homework with a strong emphasis on reading.  But they were much more than that and quickly became hubs for creativity, support, literacy and learning.

His work with young people in inner city Manchester won him awards from the Princes’ Trust and the National Literacy Trust and along with Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole and David Beckham (left) , Mike became a “Champion Reader” recognized for his work in promoting reading to young people. 

His poetry career began when he started to read his poems to the hundreds of young people he worked with during study sessions. They loved what hey heard and encouraged him to perform at live poetry events and Slams, which he did, instantly winning prizes throughout the UK. Mike started performing his poems in Prisons, Young Offenders units, Mental Health Hospitals, Children’s Homes and local pubs.  He was passionate about bringing live poetry to places it wouldn’t normally reach, giving people a voice and using poetry to be that voice. Mike’s work focuses on the city and its people, championing the underdog and finding beauty amongst the ugliness and triumph amongst tragedy. 

Shaun Ryder (right) of Happy Mondays recently described Mike’s poetry as “The best street poetry I’ve ever heard” and iconic designer Peter Saville described Mikes as a “genius” He was Poet in Residence at Strangeways Prison, and has works closely with Manchester United, the BBC, The Barclays Premier league, Manchester Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester Art Gallery and works at literature festivals throughout the world. His poetry is regularly heard on BBC Radio 5 Live, Radio 4, BBC Breakfast, Match of the Day, Sky TV and his work with Manchester United has truly elevated Mike’s poetry to an international audience.

Mike has toured with John Cooper Clarke for 6 years performing in over 500 venues throughout the UK, US and Europe. Mike recent musical collaborations include working with New Order and performing with Iggy Pop, Patti Smith and the National in New Yorks Carnegie Hall for the Tibet House Charity.  This is where the classical composer Philip Glass first heard Mike and fell in love with his words and invited him to work collaboratively to create some new musical pieces.  The combination of Mike’s poems and Philips music have been a great success with live performances in Europe and The United States. Mike’s collaboration with composer Joe Duddell has had amazing reviews and has been the highlight of festivals throughout the summer of 2015/16.  His Ode to Tony Wilson, “St. Anthony” was Number one in 3 Official UK Charts in August 2015 and the video was viewed by over a million people in it’s first month of release. Mikes four books – Men’s Morning, Mancunian Meander, God is a Manc and Men’s Mourning have become schemes of work in hundreds of British schools, received wide critical acclaim and are regularly read on TV and Radio. An ex student of the Manchester Metropolitan University receiving a BA (Hons) in Library and Information Studies,

Mike still does regular talks to students on this course, the creative writing course and with trainee teachers as well as working with 10,000 young people in schools throughout the UK. Dr. Mike Garry is Associate Fellow and Artist in Residence at the University of Westminster in London and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Manchester Metropolitan University for his is work in 2015.   “I love the poetry of Mike Garry.  ´It is passionate, powerful and precise but most of all personal´,  asserts Philip Glass ´Mike Garry walks like a man, talks like a man and writes like a great northern poet.  That’s northern as in centre of the universe and poet as in words that go beyond words. 

´Read him and leap for joy” says radio presenter, Paul Morley

“Mike Garry’s poetry is Brilliant “ suggests Bernard Sumner of Joy Division and New Order.

He is affectionately called “Mi compadre” by John Cooper Clarke, who has spoken of how  ´Having come across Mike Garry, a Manchester poet whose work focuses upon the beautiful ugliness of the city and its people, just before the launch of ‘God is a Manc’, I managed to do a little research on him and his poetry before reading this collection. And I’m very glad I did as it is not just a great piece of writing in its own right, but I think it’s also the outcome of a studied process. Mike cites his heroes as the underdogs, the outsiders, the people the glossies airbrush out. His first book, Men’s Morning tells the tale of an inner city sauna and his second book, Mancunian Meander is a poetic journey around the south side of Manchester, its suburbs and people. Having worked on residencies in Strangeways prison, the Big Issue and Trafford Mental Health and most recently six children’s homes in Manchester, the BBC and Arts Council England commissioned him to go to the north of the city and write a collection of poems about his experiences there. ‘God is a Manc’ is that collection.

The cover of ‘God is a Manc’ has a very Stone Roses, trippy and Hacienda / Madchester feel about it – actually based on a porcelain mosaic produced by Manchester based fine artist Amanda McCrann, which was very inventively used in the PR work by Alison Bell running up to the launch of the 250 hand bound, limited edition version of the collection. Great time and effort, personality and passion have gone into this delightful production clearly expressing Mike’s desire to see the written word in general, and presumably his poetry in particular, cherished. But then Mike did train professionally to be a librarian.

In the days before the launch, Mike certainly put himself about on local radio, talking about how he captured some the everyday lives and experiences of people in north Manchester, expressing them in poems to be read and thought about, and recited live. Indeed, I went to one of those live events which was a delightful blend of spoken word and music at the Oakwood in Glossop, on a Sunday night. It seems like an age since these types of events were put on more broadly – hopefully now there’s a real demand for public performance, rather than a last gasp from a desperately declining pub life since the smoking ban, either way though very welcome.

The collection opens up with a short poem entitled Pay As You Go, about the consequences that a cavalier approach to the boundaries between personal and public life can have for those who pay the price in its wake: An on-going court case, the so called Wagatha Christie affair,is brought to mind.

She sings and she swings in the box bedroom

With half naked WAGS and hunks watching on

Slow beating heart, broken by a boyfriend

Who promised never to play kiss and tell

The gift of a picture on his birthday

Beamed to his phone as the church bell struck twelve

And that this was the sign that would prove it

Never imagining her pose, click, send

Would end up on Facebook for all his friends

And their friends, their friends and their friends of theirs

Printed and pinned on the school notice board

Flash bulbs pop as she loosens her tie

And Britney sings, “Hit me babe one more time” 

reproduced from Pay as you Go by Mike Garry

The subject of this opening poem does move you on from the particular physicality of the Manchester Meander collection into a more shared experience of everyday life around Manchester – north and south, and to lives beyond. This more general and perhaps universal experience of everyday life that Mike begins to articulate through ‘God is a Manc’, is dovetailed with a more active situating of the reader as an actor in the depicted scenes of grim shared experiences.

Inviting the reader to make a difference, and kindle their yearning for change, Mike sees everyday people as both expressing the cause and the effect of problems we experience. There are some very grim and sobering poems in here,  expressed in Soldier Boy and Juxtaposition for example: 

Boots scrape on Crumpsall cobbled streets

Inside the boots are fifteen year old feet

Khaki pants tight at the ankle

Grip and hold like a white slave manacled 

A caravan in the shopping centre

A man handing out leaflets showing boys on adventure

Smiling faces and glowing cheeks

But the leaflets are lies and the caravan man’s a cheat

And he’ll send them off to some sun-drenched front

To fight a war that no one wants

A roadside bomb ends it all

Then home in a box to Lower Crumpsall

excerpts from Soldier Boy by Mike Garry

A slow stroll with the soul-lonely

To a pub on Oldham Road

Where men salute and shake their fists at Union Jacks

Because they have nothing else to believe in

Compare this to the stroll of the soul-lonely Pakistani kid from Crumpsall

Who walks towards the football match with a rucksack on his back and the promise of seventy two virgins in paradise 

reproduced from Juxtaposition by Mike Garry

The sense of alienation from society and lack of collective bond despite a shared and common experience runs through Mike’s poems, written and recited. A familiar theme by many a commentator – from not knowing your neighbours to people not holding the door open for you as they may once have. Indeed, the launch party at Odder on Oxford Road was a case in point. A venue probably more used to ‘live’ DJs than live performance was full with people standing to see Mike and his Guests including Marvin Cheeseman, complimented by great DJ set from Dave Hulston. This was not an easy ensemble to pull together.

And yet, there were people in the upstairs of the pub, albeit open for food and drink throughout the day and not exclusively for the gig, who had total disregard for any and all around them and carried on talking LOUDLY throughout until audience interruptions finally forced some to retreat downstairs. Playing your part for the collective good used to be taken for granted in most social activities, yet now the personal consumer plea of the demanding I want it Andy character from Little Britain invariably followed by the I don’t like it rejection is a little more vocal than might have been in more collective times.

Mike’s rather eclectic mix of fellow performers for the evening hopefully represents something of a comeback for the performing artist which can only be a good thing, culturally and socially, though the form these performances take will inevitably be a reworking and interweaving of previously separate disciplines. A case in point is the MaD Theatre Company‘s production of Angels with Manky Faces at the Dancehouse Theatre on 15 July, which combines a reworked traditional story – scuttle gangs of Manchester in 1890’s, with contemporary dance and music. Here’s Mike Garry on the same issue in Angels with Manky Faces:

Close your eyes

Go back in time

Picture this in your mind

A summer sky without sunshine

Pigs, dogs and rats are running wild

The smell of shite, the buzz of flies

Pub and mill on every corner

Streets alive with disorder

Open sewer, smell of sulphur

Poverty of the lowest order

Open your eyes

Return to modern times

Walk the streets and you will find

A summer sky without sunshine

Dogs as weapons running wild

The smell of weed, the buzz of flies

The pubs and mills on every corner

Have been converted to apartments

Cars, buses, trucks speeding by

The smell of carbon monoxide

Bouncing rain on tarmac streets

Different songs different beats

Ancoats 2010

excerpted from Angels with Manky Faces by Mike Garry

Lastly, onto the signature poem of this collection, God is a Manc which delightfully plays with with historical signposts switching cause and effect to ultimately invert the reading of history with aplomb. To end up with mildly convincing assertion (I am from Yorkshire remember) of God being both the creator of Manchester and yet the outcome of that creation is quite a feat, but one many a self important Mancunian must genuinely feel about themselves. Oh how I laughed, and then thanked the authors of “Yorkshire being God’s own Country” for expressing the proper historical order of events and not helping themselves to too much altar wine as the Mancs who believe they’re God must have!

I guess there are few better ways to articulate our experiences as shared, and having elements that are universal than by using the totalising foil of the singular God. I highly recommend you to get a copy of God is a Manc and see Mike Garry in person, so here’s some extended excerpts from the title poem:

At the dawn of time before this all began

Before stars and comets

Before the B of the Bang

Before moisture, ether, bone and tooth

Before Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the truth

Before creation, civilisation

Before the dawn of man

God was putting the final touches to his master plan

But scratching his head and drawing all he could muster

He contemplated the enormous task of building Manchester

When it came to culture, God left Manchester to itself

Through natural progression the city would develop its own artistic and literary wealth

And that music, dance, film, theatre and art

Would flow as naturally as blood through every man and woman’s heart

And that working hard was most important

But so’s a game of footy on a Saturday and Sunday morning

So by ten o’clock the quandary was solved

He’d allow Manchester culture to slowly evolve

So he ensured that beneath our feet lay thick black seam after seam of coal

In our back yard and falling from the sky was the most natural of energy solutions

Inspiring the most influential Industrial Revolution

Factories, mills and mines made Manc the chimney of the world

Providing employment for miles around for every man, woman, boy and girl

Human wrongs and human rights other cities could only follow

Because what happens today in Manchester

Happens in the rest of the world tomorrow

Catholic rearing

Sunday Mass

The hours I spent in my RE class

The questioning, the quandaries, the constant confusion

Has helped me arrive at this unique conclusion

The Bible is a wonderful read

But not a book everyone chooses to believe

So when I read between the lines

My theological conclusion

Is that God, the creator of Man

Heaven, earth and the stars

Had to be a Mancunian

excerpted from God is a Manc by Mike Garry

I have seen Mike Garry (right) working with students in both primary and secondary schools and have watched him work to the very point of inciting a riot and them creating a thoughtful silence, a period of reflection from the class. It was honestly like watching a master-performer. I know he, and all of us retained by Artists In Schools all those years ago gave the organisation our all, and we all passionately beleived in how effective our art forms, work processes and what academics refer to as the  xxx of creativity could be if allied to engaged pupils and inspiring teachers. What has to be also said, though, is that the staff at Artists In Schools, fearlessly led by Rosie Marcus, provided a platform from which we artists could feel more comfortable in taking our art in to the big, wide world. And it seems he might travel further still to do so !

Coming soon for thoise whoi love folk music as well as poetry we recommend next week´s Lendanear To Folk in-print Festival, beginning on Monday 30th May.

Lendanear logo From Monday to Friday of that week we shall post a series of daily blogs examining what has been called the álchemy of creativity. This examination will be conducted through the memories of Lendanear, a song-writing duo of the nineteen seventies who, even today, are constantly shape-shifting their songs nearly fifty years later. We will look at what opportunities writers have today to flip formats, as we lend an ear to old songs in new settings. We will examine the counter claim that there is no such thing as the alchemy of creativity, which some believe is just a way of saying accidents happen. We will carry an academic essay by the scholar who coined the phrase and then close our festival with a serendipitous tale about folk-legend Alan Bell, folk singer-writer, activist and founder of Fylde Folk Festival. With Lendanear playing devil´s advocates on either side of the argument, it should all make for some provocative reading.  

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This article was collated by Norman Warwick, a weekly columnist with Lanzarote Information and owner and editor of this daily blog at Sidetracks And Detours.

Norman has also been a long serving broadcaster, co-presenting the weekly all across the arts programme on Crescent Community Radio for many years with Steve Bewick, and his own show on Sherwood Community Radio. He has been a regular guest on BBC Radio Manchester, BBC Radio Lancashire, BBC Radio Merseyside and BBC Radio Four.

As a published author and poet Norman was a founder member of Lendanear Music, with Colin Lever and Just Poets with Pam McKee, Touchstones Creative Writing Group (for which he was creative writing facilitator for a number of years) with Val Chadwick and all across the arts with Robin Parker.

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