I remember attending an Academi conference in the early 80's, when I was supposedly an up-and-coming young poet and had a mane to match a lion into Heavy Metal. 'Who are your main influences? somebody asked , as I sat at the top table. Ever the rebel I knew what was expected (the likes of Idris Davies) and so replied - 'Well, probably Elvis Costello, Linton Kwesi Johnson and John Cooper Clarke.'
   Despite my need to annoy, there was much more than a grain of truth : as much as literature, music ( particularly singer-songwriters) have always been a profound inspiration.One of the first, alongside Leonard Cohen and Loudon Wainwright, was undoubtedly the lesser-known Kevin Coyne from Derby.
   My friend at the time, a fellow petrol-pump attendant in Barry, got me into his work. 'Turpentine' was the first song which struck me (I should say, lit me). Years before punk burst on the scene, Coyne delivered this incendiary song from the persona of a pyromaniac who loathed society. And at a time when my Gran was struggling with Alzheimer's and others in my close family suffered from mental illnesses, it was a revelation to discover his songs about those subjects, written as a result of his time as a psychiatric nurse. 'House on the Hill' for instance, is the most melancholy and sensitive description of a mental hospital and 'Talking To No-one' one of the many songs where he takes the voice of the character and completely empathizes with them.
   Only later did I find out that Coyne's politics were very similar to my own. A while back, my daughter Bethan bought me his book 'That Old Suburban Angst' and his final album (compiled after his death) called 'Underground'. Tracks such as 'Mr President' (like a sound poem in song) and 'He Knows Everything' , a perfect and now so apt depiction of an arrogant businessman or banker, showed he'd lost none of his fervour.
   I saw him play live on a number of occasions ( all in the 70's), most memorably  with a band including Andy Summers, before he joined The Police. I only wish I'd been there at his last concert when, according to his friend Robert Chambers, he had to perform with an oxygen tube up each nostril: he approached the concert with remarkable enthusiasm given that he had four weeks left to live.  'Underground' is not a morbid album and ends with a touching song addressed to his little grandson Billy.
   The Blues were always Coyne's bedrock, though he did use many other styles. He had one of the best Blues voices to come from these Islands, but was never afraid to use his Derby accent when necessary, as in 'Marjory Razorblade'.
   It's difficult to assess the impact of singer-songwriters like Coyne : it must be a slow seepage over the years. I'm always grateful to other people for leading me towards new ones, usually the Ace Tapeman, Andrew Bartz. Thanks to him, the latest is Tom Russell, a Californian who's been around since the 70's,but is little known over here. He's a favourite of Beat poet Lawrence Ferlingetti, who even recorded his 'Stealing Electricity'. Russell is a modern troubadour version of John Steinbeck, singing about Californian places, people, events, love affairs, migrant workers and Indians. Like Coyne, Russell can also be scathing on matters political: just get a listen to 'Who's Gonna Build Your Wall' (from 'Anthology'.....a double cd and really a best of). His new album 'Blood and Candle Smoke' again has that balance between personal and wider issues, which merge on songs like 'American Rivers' where pollution threatens the history and memories represented by rivers.
   Richard Hawley is a Sheffield singer-songwriter who I ought to pursue. I loved his contribution on Elbow's 'Seldom Seen Kid' but have never been impressed by his appearances on Jools Holland. However, his comment in an interview did lead me to write the following poem. He said about his home town - 'Everybody wears a tracksuit. It looks like everyone's going to the gym. They're really going to Pizza Hut and getting 24 cans of lager on the way back.' I hope he's written a song about that.

                                 GOH MY TRACKSEWT

I goh my tracksewt on,
I'm goin f'r the Fat League,
coz we gotta stay up-a top,
we mus stay Number One.

I goh my trainers on
(even though theyer mankin),
coz I'm goin up KFC
f'r a Megawhopperchicken.

I goh my Man U shirt
with Rooney on-a back,
coz I'm off down the Offie
f'r a real six pack.

I goh my white socks on
(even though they int in fashion),
coz I'm goin up-a chippie
f'r a cheesy chips an curry.

I goh my bes shorts on
but they int f runnin free,
coz I'm goin f'r a pastie
to eat while I shop down town.

I goh my wrist-ban's on
t wipe off-a sweatin,
coz I've ad a few jars
an a kebab f'r arfters.

I goh my shell-sewt on
(rest 're in-a washin-machine),
with a fag an a bag o donuts
we'll be top o the League.
 


Dave Evans
09/28/2009 15:48

Mike didn' know you had a blog! came across it tonight by accident while sitting in front of the pc drinking wine. Laughed out loud when I saw you were writing about (the mighty) Kevin Coyne,seems like only yesterday
best wishes
Dave

Reply
10/01/2009 04:15

Great to hear from you Dave. I will do another Barry-based blog in future and might well get in our singing through the streets. Have you been back to the City at all? Ive been a season-ticket holder for a long time now, and my son Ciaran also.

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