Bilston Voices

Metro Cafe, Bilston

Held on (the somewhat hastily declared) National Cake Eating Day, it was fortuitous that Bilston Voices is held in a rather fine cafe, ensuring that the appropriate celebrations could be maximised. And it wasn’t just the cake which was good.

Organiser Emma Purshouse once again drummed up a fine collection of poets to perform to the customary full house. Either the people of Bilston work their holidays around Bilston Voices, or they just don’t have holidays. . . . . .

As a Bilston Voices regular, I have often reflected that the fine job that Emma does linking the evening denies her the opportunity to do what she does best, and that is perform her work in front of an audience.

This time the very late indisposition of a billed poet left her scrabbling around for a replacement. Who might be available who was credible, good looking, rehearsed, and able to perform at very short notice ? She wisely decided that no-one fitted that description more closely – than herself!

The result was a real treat as she waltzed through a selection of her favourite work to a delighted, and appreciative, crowd. Alice Cooper was name checked, a surreal imagined Shakespearean tirade of abuse was directed at Will himself, when his stash of Love Sonnets was discovered by Ann Hathaway in the style of the Jeremy Kyle show. A Great Classic Painters convention was lampooned, as was a country fair, the dangers of monkeys as gifts, and the perils of trying to fit Welsh place names in insurance company claims forms was also explored to uproarious effect.


Liza Minnelli had a signature song called “Liza with a Z not Lisa with an S”. Ann (with an E) Hastings cheekily stole that idea to introduce herself as she opened the evening with an assured and measured performance. On the cusp of retiring, she was well rehearsed, elegiac, valedictory and reflective as she read poems from various key stages in her life.

A University education as a mature student, flower shows, acting as a carer, and the suppression of dreams under the burden of the daily grind were all covered. The only flaw in her presentation is easily remedied, and that was that the breaks between poem and linking material were sometimes unclear, denying her the opportunity of more frequent well deserved applause.

One of the pleasures in seeing so many poetry events is watching as performers find their feet, and their voice. This is particularly true of Sarah Tamar, the self styled “ melting poet”. Her performance was as warm as the temperature, but her real trick is an easy endearing manner and tales about the world around her.

She can be touching when writing about her grandchildren, funny when talking about failed diets, and profound when talking about justice. My favourite of hers? “Eyeballing” about her confrontation with a robin!

Roy Macfarlane is coming to the end of his year now as Birmingham Poet Laureate, and has excelled in doing his office justice. A local lad from Parkfield Road, he made sure his “home credentials” had been accepted by the audience before taking us on a wonderful journey to Amsterdam and beyond.


Roy’s work comes alive when he performs, and I suspect that he is never quite sure when “lift off” will happen. This time it was in a powerful piece about the biological father that he has never known, laced with anger, smoldering rage, anguish and tragedy. It was an uncomfortable, but compelling section which drew a silence of respect, and admiration.

“Dreams of Rivers” beautifully contrasted the bleak monotony of working in a foundry with daydreams of something better, the sentimental “I Wanna Walk with You” is simply one of the best contemporary love poems I have heard.

Inviting Heather Wastie to close an evening in the Black Country is as safe a bet as Wolves inviting Steve Bull as a guest at Molineux, you can’t go wrong. And so it proved. Heather is as prolific a writer as ever, and whilst drawing upon her latest book “The Page Turners Dilemma” she also performed much fresh material.

She was afraid of the fish delivery man with, “I’m Afraid of the Fish Delivery Man” and the butcher’s with “At Knifepoint in the Butchers”, if this continues, husband Geoff will have very few food options left!

Sparsely filled shop units and dodgy PA systems at festivals all bore testament to the travails of the wandering minstrel poet, but it was her established “Ping pong Neo-natal ICU”which stood out once again as her best work. Wry, but serious, with clever use of sound, it delights with its clever word play whilst conveying the life and death nature of the surroundings.

Bilston Voices plays again on Thursday 25th August, 7. 30pm, with Martin Jones, Stuart Haycox, Marion Cockin, Roger Noons and Greg Stokes. 29-07-11.

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