Major news this week, myself and an old school friend, the poet Paul Robert Mullen (curse this blue raincoat (2017); testimony (2018); 35(2018)) got together to thrash out some ideas for a new poetry and photography journal we were considering starting up.
Needless to say, things moved very quickly indeed. You can find out more on The Broken Spine’s Twitter feed, @BrokenSpineArts and on their Facebook page, Facebook.com/BrokenSpineArts and keep an eye on their website, thebrokenspine.co.uk.
Submissions open October 1st and run until October 31st for issue #1
Follow the editors on Twitter: @AlanParry83 & @mushyprm35
Following on from his debut single, Micayl returns with Versailles – I took the time to learn more about this new mysterious artist.
The uber smooth Micayl is back with the follow up to his debut Monochrome. On the back of the success of that first single, I was more than excited to hear Versailles and it does not disappoint.
This new track is an evocative blend of laid back lo -fi, jazz and soulful hip-hop and this cocktail serves to solidify him as an artist with a distinct sound.
I described his debut as being both retro and contemporary and am struggling to find a better phrase for this more recent effort. What Versailles confirms is that Micayl understands how to draw from and mix up sounds from his medley of influences to bring us something unique. From John Coltrane to FKJ and everything in-between, it’s all there.
Some influences are perhaps more discernible than others, but the joy is to be found in listening out for them n the myriad layers of Micayl’s work.
Versailles is for this writer at least, more than a song, or a series of unrelated nods to it’s forebearers, it is an atmosphere.
I was fortunate enough to get the chance to catch up with Micayl to speak about his passion for the industry, what attracted him to Liverpool and what’s in the pipeline.
Planet Slop: Obviously, you have a European identity, but what was it that drew you to Liverpool, and/or keeps you in the city?
Micayl: Well, my initial plan was to drop out of High School and move to London to play the pub-circuit down there for a while. It was my dad that suggested to go and see what London’s like before I move there straight away, which, in retrospect, turned out to be a much better plan. On that trip I bought my first guitar on Denmark Street in London and the guy who sold me the guitar turned out to be one of the first graduates of LIPA – which I had never heard of up until that point. So, after he had introduced me to Liverpool and the University, I kind of just decided to go for it and moved up here instead. Liverpool feels a little bit like a compressed version of London, I had never been to a place so full and rich of musical identity before. It’s an incredibly welcoming city with a supportive environment and community.
PS: What is it you enjoy most about being a musician? And is there anything about it you would change?
M: Music has always been a major part of my life. Often in different shapes and ways but I always felt like, whenever I encountered a rough or difficult point in my life, music was always the first and safest thing to turn to. So, I’d say music just makes me feel secure and confident and offers me to speak openly about struggles that are sometimes difficult to verbalise. I consider it as a great luxury and gift to be able to do it every single day, so; no, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m very grateful to be in a position in which I can surround myself with music every day.
PS: Can you describe your creative process?
M: Yes and no. I often feel like [it…] kind of overcomes me in a way that I can’t understand or comprehend. But at the same time, I think being surrounded by creative people and any form of art in general helps to keep some sort of “creative spark” alive. I used to find it hard to start with a project, often being overwhelmed by other talent or the amount of possibilities. But I realised that it helps a lot to write something every day, even if it’s just one line or a chord progression, since I found that this keeps the creative output flowing and makes it easier to overcome the barrier of having to start something new.
PS: What is the biggest problem you’ve had to overcome so far?
M: Musically, I have struggled hard to put my finger on what is “me” and a sound I can truly identify with. I realised that myself and my identity were changing quite rapidly over the past few years, which often made it difficult to relate to something I had made a year prior. But in the end, it’s just down to your ability of accepting your current skill level and possibilities and making the best out of it.
PS: Have you ever dealt with performance anxiety?
M: In some ways yes. I was lucky to be introduced to the stage quite early on in my life which offered me a few extra years of practice. But in being quite hard on myself in general I sometimes doubt myself a lot, which can make it hard to show what I can do. But in the end, it’s the same like everything, it becomes much easier the more you do it.
PS: Do you have any advice for those looking to break into the industry?
M: Don’t be afraid to do it and to be yourself. I’d much rather watch someone who isn’t technically world-class but has strong authenticity to him or her than someone who is incredible skilled but can’t deliver his or her uniqueness. It’s the most fun and does amazing things to you if you’re willing to dive into it.
PS: Can you tell me about your favourite venues to watch and perform music?
M: I really enjoy performing at the Jacaranda Phase One and 81 Renshaw. They are both quite intimate venues and always have great artists on. I can only recommend the O2 Academy and 24 Kitchen Street, I’ve been to a bunch of great shows there as well this year.
PS: I’m excited to hear what else you have, so what’s next on the agenda?
M: Thanks a lot. I’ve been working on a project with my brother called Hypnagogic Project which is coming out this month. Then I’m releasing a double-side single in September and I’m also working on a collaborative concept mixtape featuring six different artists from six different countries which will be complemented by a short movie as well and is set to be released early 2020.
Following an incredibly productive year – I got the chance to catch up with Paul once again. He was as open and inciteful as ever.
Paul, you have something of the troubadour about you if you don’t mind my saying so. Where are you at right now?
Well I’ll take that as a
compliment! I guess the idea of the troubadour has always appealed, especially
since many of my heroes and influences could be considered as such. People like
Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Charles Bukowski, Lee Harwood, Joni Mitchell. Of
course the meaning has changed over time. Troubadour nowadays has that
free-spirited, hippyish, dedication-to-your-art connotation attached, which I
Right now I’m at a
crossroads in my life. I’ve been living between Spain and the U.K for most of
this year, and pursuing a career change that will take me away from lecturing.
I feel like I’ve achieved everything I can achieve in education now; the job
has changed to the extent that a lot of the pleasure has been taken out of it.
I still love working with people closely, and helping to inspire and encourage,
so my next move will still involve that close contact with people, but not in a
As far as the writing is
concerned, I’ve had a very promising year. I decided it was time to really
target literary magazines with my work at the beginning of 2019, and so far
I’ve had over fifty different publications take my work in seven months. I
think it is really important to spend the time submitting so you can broaden
your readership. It is also very rewarding and encouraging to see your work
alongside other emerging voices in a wide range of diverse and edgy
we last spoke, your third collection 35 has been published, do you want
to discuss the concept and how it differs from your first two collections?
My third collection, 35, is conceptual in the sense that it
features 35 poems, 35 images (mainly photographs taken around the world), and I
was 35 years old when I released it. It just felt like a bit of a benchmark.
It’s hard to explain. I liked the idea of doing something a little different.
My first two collections were traditional in the sense that they were poems
without a particular central theme. I think a poet has free reign to do
whatever they want, which is the beauty of the form.
have heard you say that your initial collection curse this blue raincoat was
a response to the work of Leonard Cohen and that Testimony was something
akin to saying what needed to be said, however honest and gnarled. What is the
major spur for you now?
I don’t have any
particular motivations in my poetry other than the need to write. It is a
thrill for me to stare down at a blank sheet of paper, or a blank word
document, and then realise hours later that I’ve crafted and created something
out of nothing. I guess I’m really digging into the depths of my own psyche
these days; I’ve had three published collections and hundreds of poems
published in literary magazines, so I’m much more comfortable in my own skin as
a poet now. The subject matter is rawer, darker, at times brutally honest. My
work is not as safe anymore as it once was. I’ve had people write to me and
tell me that my work has made them weep, or shocked them, or really unnerved
them. They are the best reactions I think because it shows that your work is
you say that you have ever suffered for your art?
This is really a
double-edged question because art, in the most part, is born out of suffering
of some sort. I’ve got a pretty good grip of myself at this stage in my life;
I’m not overawed by much, and any depressive tendencies I may have had in my
twenties are under control. Writing is an excellent form of therapy for me
because it helps me get to grip with everything going on around me in a
positive way. Everyone needs therapy of some sort in my opinion, whether you
suffer from mental illness or not. Some ride a bike, others paint, other walk
the dog or do yoga. I write poems. Have I suffered for that? Definitely. Would
I change it? Definitely not.
important is the editing process and is that a solo effort?
This is the one thing
that I have really improved over the years. A good poet has to also be a good
editor, because learning to slice away the excess to get down to the flesh is
so important in terms of quality. I can write a poem now, then come back to it
the next day and shave 50% of it off. Then I can come back the next day and do
the same again until I’m left with the essential lines. It takes courage to be
a good editor. I also have occasion where others are involved too. My great
friend Kate Evans sometimes takes a critical look at my poems in progress. I’m
also in the process of working with Matthew C Smith, the editor of Black Bough
Poems, to shape my next collection. More than one set of eyes can be a
brilliant reminder that your work can be better with sound advice.
interested to know has there been a shift of focus for you – from full-length
manuscript submission to journals far and wide? Is this an effort to reach a
wide readership and keep your finger on the pulse?
I released three
collections in the space of two years. That was the monster inside desperate to
get out. Once that trilogy was out it became more important for me to think
about a readership, and also explore the literary magazine / journal world. I
also find it very exciting to submit my work all over the world. You find out
so much about your work, but also your own temperament as a writer. Rejections
are never easy to stomach, especially if you have had to wait six months for a
reply without any sort of feedback, but acceptances are extremely uplifting.
That email landing that says “congratulations, we would love to take your
poem(s)…” is a feeling that I really enjoy. I’ve been accepted in some dream
magazines so far this year: Ghost City Press, Barren Magazine, The Bees Are
Dead, Burning House Press and Heron Clan to name but a few. If your name is
cropping up in these types of journals then you are probably being noticed to
some degree, which is not the be-all-and-end-all, but nice. Justification of
your commitment to your art, I guess.
excites you about the poetry scene right now?
The poetry scene is
thriving right now. In the same way that vinyl records have made a comeback, it
seems that poetry has been revived. If something has class, and authority, and
the power to move it will never go away. There are some great poets emerging
with distinct voices. I also like the indie scene that I keep up with on
Twitter too. I think many are opting to avoid the traditional publication
routes these days and do it for themselves. I have mixed feelings about this
because it inevitably means some folk have free license to publish any old crap,
but on the other side of the coin it has given some brilliant voices a chance
to emerge who wouldn’t have had the time or inclination to pursue a publisher.
Traditional publishing can be such a long, drawn out, weary process, with lots
of wounding realisations and disappointments. The inner circle is still very
much who you know I’m afraid.
There are some really
exciting new magazines out there today. I really like Black Bough Poetry, which
is causing a stir and heading towards its third issue. I also like American
magazine, Cleaning Up Glitter. Selcouth Station is another magazine that I
really rate, and Streetcake magazine too. I’m happy to have featured in all of
them. A few magazines that have alluded me so far that I love are Okay Donkey,
Butcher’s Dog and Nightingale & Sparrow. It would be a dream to feature in
Ambit, or The New Yorker, or Under The Radar – all long established classic
do you measure success now?
Success to me is
happiness in what I’m doing. I’m extremely happy at the minute creating,
submitting, editing, and slowly working towards my next collection. If I get
positive responses to my work, which I regularly do (especially on Twitter,
which has been a great tool for interacting with similar minds) then that is
success in my eyes. Of course it would be great to find a reputable UK
publisher to show interest in my work, but I’m not quite ready to pursue that
with everything else going on.
do you feel about describing yourself as a poet?
I don’t generally. It has
obvious stigmas. I don’t advertise the fact that I write unless I’m in the
company of people who may be interested or appreciate it. I’m certainly not
ashamed of it – quite the opposite. I write poems and therefore I am a poet,
but I don’t feel the need to broadcast it. More and more people tend to ask me
about it these days, which is positive.
you open up on your route into publication?
I was lucky. That’s the
truth of it. I was working at a University in a relatively unheard city in
China, called Nanning, when Kate Evans, a distinguished American writer, turned
up to lecture poetry. We became friends, spent afternoons together discussing
our passions for writing and poetry, and she was enthralled with my stuff. She
put me in touch with her editor who also liked my work and offered me the
opportunity to submit a collection. That’s how curse this blue raincoat was born, and Kate Evans helped me to both
edit and order it, and she also wrote the forward. I was in the right place at
the right time.
do you reflect on your decision to leave teaching?
It was time to leave. As
I mentioned before, teaching has become a business where there is too much
focus on unrealistic attainment instead of the individual. Teachers have become
powerless scapegoats today, and quite frankly I got fed up with working eighty
hour weeks, doing everything I possibly could to be the best teacher I could,
and getting told that too much was never enough. It is no coincidence that ALL
my former teaching colleagues are either in different careers or working abroad
now. The government have a lot to do to battle this problem because the
profession has lost some incredible people to teach, influence and encourage
have spoken about your desire to release a novel – do you have an update for
your ever-growing fan base who are eager for more work?
I’ve definitely got a
novel in me, but it just hasn’t happened yet. At the moment I’m almost entirely
focused on poetry, but I’d like to think I could write one before I’m 40. I’ve
completed two, but they were both shit. I think I want to try and get a few
more poetry collections out there first before I focus on sitting down to pen the novel. I’ve had some short stories
and flash fiction pieces published lately in various magazines (most notably
The Fiction Pool and Iceberg Tales), but the longer form is much more
you tell us about your favourite novels – what is it about them that draws you back
to them? What are you reading at the moment?
Wow, how long have you
got! I’d have to try and narrow them down. I loved Journey To The End Of The Night by Louis Ferdinand Céline. It is
such a dark but funny novel. I thought Women
and Ham On Rye were two great
novels by Charles Bukowski. He had a remarkable way of tapping into raw
emotion. I think Gabriel García Márquez’s One
Hundred Years Of Solitude is just about as poetic as prose can be. He was a
There are a few more
contemporary novels that I’ve enjoyed very much: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, Never
Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, and The
God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. I love Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, and found myself engrossed in its
1500 pages for months. In Cold Blood by
Truman Capote is mesmerising. Things Fall
Apart by Chinua Achebe is essential reading. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is disturbingly gripping. I like the
early novels of H.G Wells and Stephen King – both writers who bring back fond
memories of my teen reading. Dickens is consistently brilliant, and the
greatest creator of memorable characters. I’ll end there because I could go on
forever. At the moment I am tackling Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and thoroughly enjoying it.
who follows you will know that you’re an accomplished musician and lover of all
sorts of different musical genres. But what was the last album you listened to
and what was the last gig you got to?
I have been having a real
Joni Mitchell phase of late. I think it is my appreciation of her poetic lyrics
that draws me back to her again and again. Court
& Spark is the album I really love, although her debut album, Song To A Seagull, is incredible too. It
really says something that the likes of David Crosby, Graham Nash, and Stephen
Stills regard her the greatest songwriter of all time, even ahead of Bob Dylan
and Leonard Cohen. Joni is very inspiring.
I watched the Beach Boys
a few weeks back in Marbella, Spain, and loved every second of it. I’ve spent
the last twenty years watching live music, and I can honestly saw it was one of
my favourite gigs ever. What a body of work. Mike Love is the only original
member left, but the musicianship was spectacular. It was in an amazing venue in
the mountains too.
you concerned about the passage of time?
Of course. Especially
when you see people that you know die, and the reality of mortality dawns on
you. I guess I’m about half way through now if I’m lucky enough to live a
normal lifespan, which feels crazy. I still feel like I’m eighteen. The passage
of time is a major theme or point of consideration for most artists I think. We
are all battling against the years and what we can achieve or fit in before we
die. I love the fact that many of the old musicians like McCartney, Dylan, CSNY
and The Stones are all still out there touring and making music, essentially
defying age. They are all heading towards eighty, so times have changed;
artists are continuing to be artists for longer, and evidently until death.
experience/authenticity important to you? Are you comfortable with the idea of
travel writing when written from the perspective of the privileged white man –
and if not, how do you combat this?
I think you have to take
your privilege and use it for good. I know how fortunate I am to be where I’m
from. I’ve been all over Asia, and into some of the poorest and most deprived
places on earth. I had four years living in China, which is desperately poor in
places. I’ve been to North Korea, Myanmar, Laos, Philippines, Sri Lanka,
Cambodia, Vietnam and India. I’ve seen heart stopping poverty. I don’t think
you can hide away from your privilege. You just have to be humble about it, and
grateful. Whenever I write about these places, whether it be in my poetry or
otherwise, I try to tell it how it is, but also attempt to be positive in some
way. I’ve seen some really disturbing stuff, but it only opens your mind
further to what is possible artistically. And, by the way, some of the greatest
people I’ve ever met have been from these places where they have nothing. We
can learn so much.
you overly concerned by the nuts and bolts of language/stylistics? Or do you
have broader concerns about bigger themes?
I am definitely a fan of
minimalism. I like the shorter poem, and even the micro-poem. I think they can
both be as powerful as the longer form. Anyone that knows my work will also
know that I favour the narrative form. I don’t hold back with language. If the
poem needs expletives then it gets them. It totally depends on that specific
poem and the feelings you are trying to convey.
As far as themes are
concerned, I rarely tackle the major themes these days. I think if you want to
write about Trump, or Brexit, or climate change, or human rights abuses, or
#metoo, you’ve got to get it inch perfect or you can look preachy or insincere.
Half of these things I mention I’m not qualified to comment on, so I generally
don’t. It doesn’t mean I don’t care about such issues. With my writing,
especially my poetry, I tend to write about my own experiences and emotions, as
well as the things I observe in my daily existence. If you watch the news for
too long with the intention of writing about it you’ll go crazy pretty quickly.
what would you say makes a quality poem? Is it tied to the idea of
The answer to that
question is different for every reader. I personally don’t relate to anything
too lofty or contrived. I like to read about things I understand, or can relate
to. I like it when a writer is prepared to spill their guts. I like bravery.
I’ve read some really raw poetry of late that has made me stop in my tracks. I
think the perfect poem uses every single word as a sucker punch. A great poem has
impact, and doesn’t waste words or lines that aren’t needed. To answer your
question, for me, great poetry is accessible, yes; but not for everyone.
I will keep writing whilst I’m on a roll, continue submitting whilst I’m having success, and continue enjoying homing my craft. At some point towards the end of this year I may be getting involved in editing a start-up journal, which will be exciting. I have my fourth collection in the mix at the moment, with enough solid work for a fifth soon after. The future looks promising as long as I stay disciplined.
The Last Night of Our Lives (poem – originally published in Anti-Heroin Chic)
The Old Man (poem – originally published in Dodging the Rain)
Hemmingway (poem – orginally published in Crepe & Penn)
As Steve Coogan returns to our screens as the insufferable Alan Partridge, Alan Parry looks back fondly at one of his less remembered characters, Tommy Saxondale.
Steve Coogan is returning to the BBC this month in a brand-new, highly-anticipated Alan Partridge series, and we are more than excited by the news. However, we wanted to have a closer look at another of his projects.
Coogan, of course, has portrayed a whole host of other personas in his time, each of which is brilliantly funny in its own right. But, owing to the success of Partridge and the subsequent demand for more of the same, some of his other work has passed under the radar. One example, which I’m going to take as my focus here, is Saxondale.
Penned by Coogan and sometime collaborator Neil Maclennan, this was a sitcom centred around ex-roadie Tommy Saxondale, who struggles with both an anger management problem, and leaving his previous adrenaline-fuelled, rebellious lifestyle behind. For many years people have spoken about the decline of rock music, and Coogan encapsulates the much-maligned, die-hard dinosaurs of rock with a startling accuracy here. Struggling with no longer being cool or relevant, its no wonder that Tommy has such pent-up aggression, which is most apparent in his officious attitude towards pest control.
But, just because we all know an outmoded rocker or two, does not mean that Tommy is merely a one-dimensional caricature. Simply put, he’s not. While this aspect of his personality is front and centre, there is more going on. For example, Tommy shows off his nurturing skills when he takes a young assistant under his wing, offering him both work and board.
The assistant, Raymond is portrayed by Rasmus Hardiker (Lead Balloon), and he’s offered Tommy’s own brand of life-guidance. This unlikely, quasi-father figure and his counterpoised girlfriend Magz, played by the brilliant Ruth Jones (Gavin and Stacey, A Child’s Christmases in Wales) help the youngster find his feet. And in turn he shows Tommy that there is a way to find genuine pleasure in more low-octane pursuits.
We know that Tommy has been hurt by an unpleasant divorce, and he is obviously unsure of how to process his emotions, so together Raymond and Magz offer him a tenderness which he has clearly been lacking. In this sense it’s a love story, although, it can get a bit kinky at times.
Coogan’s character is a free thinker, and regularly says what’s on his mind, even if it’s not the best time to do so. In this way, the writing team are seemingly holding up a mirror to the wider world. They appear to be saying that strongly held beliefs should be given thorough consideration before being aired publicly, otherwise you can make a right tit of yourself. And perhaps Tommy’s relationship with Morwenna Banks’ Vicky, serves only to prove how difficult it is to get on in life if you are constantly prickly. It maybe that I’m getting a little deep here, because for all this conjecture, the laughs come thick and fast, and they’re not particularly sophisticated.
In conclusion, because they are each portrayed by Coogan, its extremely difficult to separate this from Alan Partridge. But is it fair to judge his other personas against his magnum opus? Probably not. Partridge will be remembered alongside David Brent, Basil Fawlty, Victor Meldrew, Hyacinth Bucket and Captain Mainwaring, as an absolute classic British sitcom character.
But, Saxondale is certainly deserving of attention in its own right. One should remember that at that time the BBC and others were putting out some real tripe, and the resonance of The Office hadn’t truly hit home. It’s not an exercise in subtle humour per se. And nor is it in-your-face in the way that The Thick of It is.
But, is it worth revisiting? Definitely! And my reasons are pretty simple, its well-balanced, and hasn’t aged prematurely. Further, it has a superb cast. But, more than anything, the sort of ill-tempered fossil that Tommy represents, is plenty deserving of the burlesque to which he is treated.