Not only was this my first visit to Spire Writes, but also my first visit to Chesterfield. I was sufficiently inspired by Jo Bell’s glowing endorsement of host Helen Mort’s poetic credentials to make the effort to check out Spire Writes, and see what North Derbyshire had to offer. I was not to be disappointed. Havana Whites is a trendy bar in the shadow of Chesterfield’s crooked church spire in the middle of the town, with car parking and the railway station close by. The “locals made good” list of any place always makes for fascinating reading. Chesterfield boasts the likes of Barbera Castle, Olave Baden Powell, wife of Robert, and former butler to Princess Diana, Paul Burrell, as well as page three model Jo Guest, former Motorhead drummer Phil “Filthy Animal “ Taylor, and two of 80’s synth rock stars the Thompson twins. It’s an eclectic mix. Chesterfield throws up some interesting and diverse folk.
The format of the evening was of a headliner performing two sets, and a supporting bill of open mic poets. Helen hosts the night with a light hand on the tiller and quite clearly has poetic pull. A distinguished open mic crowd had assembled. Past guests have included Tony Walsh, next month’s are Helen Ivory and Martin Figura , but this month’s headliner was local hero Matt McAteer whom I was seeing for the first time.
Performing wholly rehearsed , his style is reminiscent of John Cooper Clarke, his acerbic social and political content travelling with Mark E Smith, both of whom he name checked. His presentation and content is strident performance, the composition subtle and nuanced, working a style similar to that of Polar Bear. An interesting quirk was that in several of the pieces, rhymes were not emphasised ,so that aurally the listener was frequently playing catch up as the narrative raced ahead.
His first set was a sequence based around modern attitudes to art.”If you say you’re an artist it’s art, if you don’t , it isn’t”. He opened with Charles Bukowski’s damning indictment of the mob, The Genius of the Crowd, a cover version if you like, a brave, confident and successful move, fortunately the proceeding original material was up to the job with Getting Kettled and Autodidact particularly strong. The second set, although not sequenced, displayed an assured local identity ,be it in remembering the defiance of the Clay Cross council in the 1970’s against the government, or most memorably, in a poem which drew together the only person from Chesterfield who fought and died in the Spanish Civil War and an imagined meeting with Alex from A Clockwork Orange. You had to be there!
The open mic roster were no makeweights. Stan Skinny runs the Shipping Forecast poetry night in Sheffield. School Disco was a mini overture, an object lesson in how to get the most out of one poem, funny, engaging, and with all present cringing at the accuracy of the observation. Current Derbyshire Poet Laureate Matt Black took inspiration from a taxi rank in an everyman piece that could have been anywhere, yet whose sense of place was a delight. Past Derbyshire Poet Laureate, River Wolton, read of her unexpected meeting with Gok Wan when she was “looking daggy” and “her shame at being ashamed”,which was both poignant, and entertained. However it was Psalm of Those who go Forth on the Day of Redundancy which packed the visceral punch. Both were consummately crafted.
The rest? Dwane Reads railed against cod nationalism, Danny Tooher navigated the bypass, Dave Atrill warned us against the fag man in Sheffield, Alex Webster tackled employment at Remploy, Bob Roberts took us on a road trip through the Czech Republic ,and Adam Morris questioned The Nature of Inspiration. Sadly there was no time for Helen Mort to perform herself.
A little gem of a venue and evening, Spire Writes next meets on Tuesday 9th October at 8pm, free in, with East Anglian luminaries Helen Ivory and Martin Figura topping the bill.