Behind the Arras Reviews

Poetry@The Cafe


A particularly diverse evening of spoken word from a wide range of Poets. The Cafe is due to open full time on the 4th October, with the roster of special events in addition to poetry evenings including acoustic music , theatre and comedy scheduled to grow further. Hosted by Gary Longden, first up was Martin Gibberd whose unique, “Rock n Roll troubadour” persona  never ceases to mesmerise and entertain with “Berlin” being the undoubted highlight.

Lorna Meehan hosts the “Rhymes” Poetry evenings at the Old Fire Station in Moseley, but her own MC duties sometimes distract from the fact that she is a very good poet in her own right. “Doctor Doctor” and her yearning for a “sonic screwing” is becoming a welcome and trademark closer for her now. However her opener, a wonderful homily to The Doors lead singer Jim Morrison, inspired by a discovery of his music and a visit to his Paris grave, stood out for me.

Renowned author David Calcutt once again graced the evening with several fine readings. He is appearing again shortly at the Ikon Gallery in Brindley Place with co-author Jo Bell to launch “Bugged”.  In addition to his current novel “Map of Marvels” he is also serialising a new work “The Hunt for the Great Bear” on the Internet:

Closing the evening, fellow author Richard Bruce Clay delivered a typically understated performance of his epic ,“The Green Wodenese”. In between, Jasher made a noteworthy debut performance. Stuart Favill always entertains with his Black Country humour and can also be found at “Bilston Voices”. Michelle Barzey as “Afrobhen”, and Sam Hunt previewed strong  material in advance of forthcoming Artsfest appearances ,Penny Hewlett gave a customarily strong showing and Stuart Zola read Afrobehns “Pied Piper of Hamlin”. Poetry@ the Cafe next happens ,7th October,8pm.Facebook page: Margarett Rose Abri. 02-09-10


Bilston Voices

 Cafe Metro, Church St, Bilston 

“Bilston Voices” is an established Black Country Spoken Word evening so I thought that it was about time that “Behind the Arras” checked it out. And it was a very worthwhile journey.

Organised by Emma Purshouse and Simon Fletcher, an organised and diverse Bill played to a packed house of around 40 people. The licensed cafe met all tastes from cold beer to exotic coffees and cakes, and pretty much everything in between. No amplification is available, but a combination of good acoustics, a modestly proportioned room, and a hushed, attentive audience meant that every word was audible. 

Carol Ward opened the evening with a light, regular rhyming style, taking in subjects as diverse as Men in Frocks, old age and how youth is wasted on the young ,and the eternal dilemma of the older woman – when to wear purple! Roger Jones hails from Llanelli and his trademark powerful Welsh lilt combined with a fine prosaic style to enthral all. Broadcast work including sketches and reflections on gas masks and rugby alternated with some straight forwards poetry, the pick of which was “The Old Photo” a poignant reflection on an old group picture, and what fate had doled out to those pictured. Closing the first half, the quixotic Bob Hale entertained with a very distinctive collection majoring on quirky museum collections, his enormously varied travels – and Teddy Bears (you had to have been there). 


The second half was kick started by Dave Finchett with  light knockabout humorous  material about office jargon in “The Jargonwocky” ,and a witty piece about telephone options when large corporations are phoned which I suspect had the headliner rapidly re-arranging her set. ”Gorse” visited traditional poetry territory whilst the finishing “Michael Winner”, delivered in an uncannily Winneresque vocal imitation, left the audience both laughing, and wanting more. 

 Top of the bill was Lorna Meehan who had temporarily abandoned her place as MC and co-ordinator of “Rhymes” in Birmingham, to spread some poetic wonderfulness to the Black Country. “Stephen Fry for President” was contemporary and witty, “Serenity” sharply observed. Her deconstruction of Lady Ga Ga’s “Madonna Lite” persona was as funny as ever, as was her set closing “Doctor Doctor”,  her favourite tipple is surely Tennants . . . 

And so a pleasingly diverse, and always entertaining, evening came to an end. “Bilston Voices” is held on the third Thursday of the month, 7.30-9.15pm, admission £2. For further information, or if you want to perform, organiser Simon Fletcher is contactable at:


Gary Longden


Time for a confession

Opium: Confessions of An English Opium Eater

 Debuts at the Hare & Hounds, Kings Heath 

This innovative one man show is presented as an audio visual experience with West Midlands actor Jonathan Goodwin  in the titular role.  

Set in the year 1843, we find de Quincey ailing due to a lifelong addiction to opium and the despair caused by the death of his eldest son Horace, who was killed the previous year fighting in the Opium War against imperial China.

The play itself takes its basic structure from de Quincey’s own Confessions of an English Opium Eater, regaling the audience with our hero’s first tentative steps into opium eating. De Quincey is at times humorous, almost self-deprecating when describing his experiences of the drug and life in general – refusing to be drawn into self-pity.

As the play progresses de Quincey’s mood and behaviour becomes ever more erratic. He is heavily under the influence of opium and his intake of the drug is at an all-time high. In many scenes de Quincey suffers hallucinations, usually these are images from his past and they either haunt him or delight him, depending on their nature. There is a particularly touching scene where de Quincey sees his beloved sister, whose death in childhood greatly marked his early life.

Sometimes the subject of the hallucination is shown to the audience, as when de Quincey talks to his recently deceased son, but usually the stage is empty save for de Quincey. 

A DJ plays throughout, the idea being that the music will not intrude on the performance but both complement and enhance it, thus providing the audience with a complete visual and auditory experience. Opens , Hare & Hounds, Kings Heath, Fri 20th August at 8pm. 

The production is then being taken on a Nationwide tour, details: 9772

Gary Longden 


For the record
Mind Out

Birmingham Hippodrome Patrick Centre

Rosie Kay is fast gaining a reputation as one of the finest choreographers in this country and beyond. Her Company “The Rosie Kay Dance Company” won national and international acclaim with her “5 Soldiers” show which explored the mind set and role of our troops in Afghanistan through Dance on a UK wide tour. 

This show was groundbreaking in two respects. Firstly, it explored attitudes to Mental Health, and secondly it mainly comprised a cast, drawn from the Community who had never danced before. It was a triumph, played to two full and appreciative houses. Rosie’s personal dance performance was exemplary, exuding grace, style, control and beauty as she commanded  the stage in a full dress, styled from Ancient Greece which perfectly complemented her flowing movements. 

Her novice amateur company excelled under her tutelage and instruction. Indeed watching the show it was like watching the conductor of an orchestra command a performance with a movement of the hand, a tilt of the head, or the lifting of an eyebrow. That she trusted her charges to perform was a testament to her confidence, skill – and six months rehearsal! 23-07-10

Poetry @ The Cafe

Margarett Rose Abri Cafe, Digbeth

With the demise of “Rhymes”, Poetry @ the Cafe represents the longest running monthly Spoken Word only event in Birmingham, and is thriving on it. It combines a friendly open mic policy with an ability to draw poets from as far as Coventry, Barnsley, California (USA!) and beyond. 

This month, having previously attracted Smooth FM DJ and Poet Charlie Jordan, this month author and poet David Calcutt was in attendance. Novelist and playwright too, David also spread the word about “Bugged” a National project to inspire poetry, fiction , drama and prose which has attracted contributions from Celebrities, professional writers and amateurs, in equal order. 

Effortlessly compered by the masterly Stuart Zola, regulars were delighted to see the return of Martin Gibberd, an American Style Road Poet whose distinctive tales and cool Rock n Roll demeanour always delight. Next poetry @ the cafe, 8pm, Thurs 2/9. Details on  the Cafe Facebook page 05-08-10

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