Welcome to the Show, everyone. (rapturous applause).
I am thrilled to have the talented, enigmatic Barney Ashton-Bullock as our poetry guest this week.
(audience get to their feet and applaud).
Okay, now calm down everyone, let Barney take the weight of his feet. Welcome to the show, Barney. May I say I love those orange Loon pants!
“Yes, Crimplene for Men, the only way to go!”
Gosh Barney, you are the Most!
(Barney glances at his digital watch)
Oh yes, right, I know you want to catch the Brentford Nylons sale before they close, so I’ll press on.
Now, Barney, you come from an impressive musical background. Tell us first about your very successful production of Torsten with the amazing Andy Bell
The Torsten project started in 2012 with my songwriting partner Christopher Frost and the idea was to create a song-cycle of poetic lyrics that the told the story of a polysexual, semi-immortal fictional character who was doomed by their longevity to loving many and losing all!
Having completed the song cycle and having met Andy Bell at the Mojo Magazine awards in 2012, Andy, Chris and I loosely formed a collective to straddle the worlds of pop poetry and theatrical performance. Our first album and theatre show ‘Torsten The Bareback Saint’ opened in 2014 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Two years later, the second instalment, ‘Torsten The Beautiful Libertine’, opened at the Above The Stag Theatre which was followed by our third episode ‘Torsten In Queereteria’ in the Spring of 2019.
Well, Barney, I remember that magical night in 2016 going to Above The Stag and being blown away by Torsten The Libertine. And you’ve worked recently with Marc Almond?
Yes, I’ve worked with Marc Almond, in my day job as managing director of a small boutique record label, SFE Records, distributed through Cherry Red Records through which I publish the work of queer icons, cabaret music and new albums by established artists.
I signed Marc to my label in 2010 for his ‘Live At Wilton’s Music Hall’ album and he was with me for about eight years, but I still produce expanded reissue albums of Marc’s work. I think Marc Almond is an exceptional and singular song stylist and a cult figure who, against the odds, has become somewhat of a national treasure! It has been a great joy for me to have been able to bridge the gap between his major record deals.
So glad I’m seated because I’m swooning here. I also love Wilton’s Music Hall, as well as the talented Marc.
Now, at what point did you feel an affinity with poetry?
My affinity with poetry started at school when in English lessons, maybe once or twice a month, we’d dip into a textbook called ‘Touchstones’ which were sequential volumes of general poetry anthologies to introduce school kids to the form. These were my favourite lessons!
I also was drawn to the poetic language and the spoken word and this manifested in an obsession at an early age, with the very dense, poetic concision’s of speech that I encountered in theatre scripts by Pinter, Jim Cartwright and especially Stephen Berkoff.
The first poetry book I ever shoplifted was W H Auden’s ‘Collected Shorter Poems’ and from there I bounced in more unrefined and radical directions in my tastes, although I was somewhat inspired by the romanticism of Rupert Brooke and very much taken by the poetry of Harold Pinter and its sub-textual nuance.
Which poet influenced you the most?
So, the aforementioned poets and playwrights were those I encountered in my mid teens and by the time I took an A-level in English, my world had been opened fully in terms of an abiding love of poetry by having to study the magical ‘Selected Shorter Poems of Thomas Hardy’ as an A-level text. I identified with the thwarted romanticism and subdued resignation that imbued his sentience.
Hardy’s downbeat stoicism seemed in complete synchronicity with the landscape that, coming from Dorset, I was also inspired by. It would be remiss for me not to mention, in closing, the huge shift in sensibility that occurred on encountering both the work of Derek Jarman and the debut solo album by Morten Harket ‘Wild Seed’.
Oh what great influences, especially the wonderful Derek Jarman. Which contemporary poet do you admire?
I read contemporary poetry vociferously, my current favourites are Sarah Fletcher, Katherine Marys, Aaron Kent, Miggy Angel, Jamie Thrasivoulou, Matthew Walsh, Hannah Lowe, Bobby Parker, Arielle Twist, Richard Scott, Ella Frears and my dear friend, poet-polymath Jeremy Reed. I’m muchly looking forward to Jameson Fitzpatrick’s new book ‘Pricks In The Tapestry’.
Tell us how Soho Poetry Nights came about. You introduced us to a very high calibre of poets there.
Soho Poetry Nights came about when some friends and I graduated, so to speak, from the Faber Academy poetry courses some 3 years back. My good friend, Tania Wade, who works at the legendary artist hangout – the Maison Bertaux Gallery Patisserie in Soho, let me use the basement of her shop for an event at which, on graduating, the Faber Academy poetry classes came together to read their work aloud in front of each other. So, the genesis of Soho Poetry Nights was the Faber Academy graduates coming together with those people whom I had befriended at ‘The Society Club’ in Soho, which had a wonderful Friday night poetry salon run by Chip Martin. Sadly, that venue closed down some six months previously, but it was a coming together of those two groups of associates that formed Soho Poetry Nights.
There was indeed an extremely high calibre of poets. Many published poets performed with us, but it was those that we were able to nurture from within that I am particularly proud to be associated with, people like Sam Quill, Erik Brudvik, Polly McCormack, Jago Kasper Roberts, Lucy Lyrical, Heather Moulson (blush!), Lady Poe, Warren Czapa, Sophie Milner and Michael Dench among many others! We ran the nights from the perspective, not so much of the right for poets to be heard (which is important), but of the right of the audience not to be bored and so maintain an enchantment in and for the possibilities of poetry.
well, it certainly enchanted me, in fact, it changed my life. So, do you think Soho Poets will reform?
Deffo. We will re-form in a different way that may work a little better for what my interests currently are at this stage of my writing career. The plan is to gather around a convivial group of friendly, mutually supportive poets who love and respect their craft and the craft of others. It’s going to become more of an invite led collective as the core of Soho Poetry Nights always was. It’s just going to broaden out a little so that we can work on an ad hoc basis, get together socially and read our work, comment on our work and talk about what new poems and poets we are discovering and reading. Building up such trust is important. To have poet friends around you that you see on a semi-regular basis is inspiring in and of itself because when you’re working at the coalface of poetry. You’re mostly alone and that can be to the detriment of one’s sensibilities and mental health
Tell us about the Slip-Off Festival in September last year. It was very successful, but how much of a gamble was it?
The Slip-Off Festival came about through a very kind invitation from an art gallerist in Cork Street for me to create a spoken word festival as an experiment to see if the Devonshire Road Nature Reserve in Forest Hill, South London, could play host to such an event alongside its better established mini music festivals.
It was a very convivial event; I think we were let down slightly by lack of advertising on behalf of the venue, the threat of a downpour, and perhaps by Londoners in-built resistance to travel to what they assume as ‘the depths of South London’, but the event certainly delivered in spades of what was asked of it and well within budget. A memorable time was had by all; it was certainly a ‘had to be there’ event treasured by all of us who attended and participated.
Well, I certainly treasured it! A great and wonderful feast of talent that I’ll never forget! Now, your lovely new and very personal collection ‘Café Kaput!’ has been well-received. So this is the result of 10 years work?
‘Café Kaput!’ is my recent pamphlet and some of the poems go back to their first drafts over the last 10 years. However, when it came to compiling the work for the pamphlet, it was a very fast process of deciding what poems I wanted to include. Most of them were written alongside the ‘Andy Bell is Torsten’ shows and albums that I collaborated on and, so, the sensibility of those works imbues the collection. I think ‘Café Kaput!’ is very much an amalgam of personal experiences somewhat refracted through fears and phobias about queer loneliness.
How much would you say was relevant to your upbringing and hometown?
I’ve often said that although I graduated from Goldsmiths College back in the mid 90’s and have lived in London ever since, that I’ve never felt as though it was my home, such was the pull of my upbringing, particularly just before I left for London.
Then, I was living in Dorset, in the middle of the countryside and blissfully working in a very small seaside town’s record shop and studying for A-levels in a small local college. I do miss those days, an almost yearning for that stage of my life when it seemed that anything could be possible. It is one of the constant themes of my poetry; the sense of loss is indivisible in my mind from the Dorset landscape, so, in that sense, I often peddle a very personal psycho-geography in my poetry.
A record shop? Bliss!
My personal favourite is ‘Guest House’. What is yours?
My favourite poem in the book signifies one of those moments in which your writing career changes tack somewhat and you feel as though you have progressed in your craft. That poem is ‘Radipole – Out Of It (Deluxe)’ which I started writing in my mind immediately after my parents took me for a day trip to the childhood home of Thomas Hardy in my home county of Dorset. The poem is written about the kind of lads I left behind when I moved to art college in London in the early ’90’s.
It is no secret that some of the greatest poverty in this country exists in pockets of declined seaside resorts. Even in fairly affluent seaside resorts there is, demonstrably, an underclass of unemployed young people who often end up in a downward spiral of addiction and alcoholism. ‘Radipole’ is written with those in mind, disillusioned young men who, perhaps, lacked the life-chances to search for or attain a ‘better life’ and there’s the rub, because those of us who did leave in search of that ‘better life’ are often rendered homesick for having left an oftentimes more accepting, communitarian hometown to create a career in a city that can be, and very often is, as heartless, impersonal and competitive as London.
Well, Barney, you have blown us all away (rapturous applause and standing ovations)
And now, I have to call time. Thank you so much for coming in.
(Barney legs it out the studio very fast )
Well, that’s it for tonight and what a night! Goodnight, we’ll be back for another interview soon! Don’t touch that dial!!
Published by the high-profile Broken Sleep Books and is available on http://www.brokensleepbooks.com, and plain old Amazon. Plus follow Barney on Facebook or Instagram.