Lit Fest – it’s not just a book thing

Dub poetry, political ranting and reggae-punk sounds formed the Vale Earth Fair and Guernsey Literary Festival’s Punky Reggae Party at the Fermain Tav last Saturday. Tom Girard was there

Poet, ranter, raconteur, musician and compere on the night, Attila the Stockbroker. (Picture by Carl Symes)
Poet, ranter, raconteur, musician and compere on the night, Attila the Stockbroker. (Picture by Carl Symes)

Dub poetry, political ranting and reggae-punk sounds formed the Vale Earth Fair and Guernsey Literary Festival’s Punky Reggae Party at the Fermain Tav last Saturday. Tom Girard was there

The name Guernsey Literary Festival, to me at least, conjures up images of slightly stuffy poetry readings and talks from authors. Yet for both festivals so far the organisers have excelled themselves by staging some great nights of performance poetry mixed with music, which have really served to show just what real ‘literature’ can be.

Last year we were treated to John Cooper Clarke, performing at a night co-promoted by the Sark Folk Festival. That event featured a band who became firm favourites of mine following the show – Cornwall ‘fish-punks’ Crowns. This year, the festival joined forces with the Vale Earth Fair Collective to put on a show featuring Attila the Stockbroker, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Ruts DC, alongside local reggae DJ Limey Banton.

Billed as a ‘punky reggae party’, it was Banton who set the scene with some classic reggae sounds filling the already busy Tav at the start of the night. This got some people dancing, even before the first live act took to the stage.

First up, and compering for the rest of the night, was the legendary Attila The Stockbroker.

Having played here less than a year ago – to a woefully small crowd – it was great to see the punk poet hit the stage to a properly busy room. Attila’s mix of poems and songs ranged from the political to the personal and raised laughs, cheers and shouts of support as well as attentive silence.

He started with some straight-up poetry, delivered in a short-sharp-shock manner that combined the work of a hip-hop MC with the performance poetry of John Cooper Clarke.

He then picked up his trusty slogan-strewn mandola for some songs, which again mixed personal with political, highlights being Traditional Libyan Thrash Metal and his ode to the late, great Joe Strummer, Comandante Joe.

Having the set the bar extremely high, I was slightly concerned that anyone else would fall short.

However, two poems into Linton Kwesi Johnson’s set I realised I needn’t have worried as this world-renowned and experienced performer matched, if not surpassed, Attila.

Taking us through the ‘blood and fire’ of the history of black Britain from the 50s to the present day, LKJ delivered what was both a history lesson and a moving and rivetting set of poems taken from his book Selected Works.

His style clearly comes from the same cultural heritage as reggae. The rhythms to his rhymes at times got my head nodding and foot tapping, despite the absence of music. His use of patois and street slang reminded me of Shakespeare’s work as the essence of the meaning could easily be construed, even if some words were unfamiliar.

He took a couple of poems to get into his groove but once he did it was a flowing and fascinating display of pure lyrical talent that had me transfixed for the duration.

If anything could be called a low point in his set, it came from those in the crowd who were ‘shhh’-ing others.

This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this and on every occasion the reason the atmosphere has been spoilt has not been because of those chatting at the back, but because of the over-loud shushing noises being made at them – surely if you want to listen intently in a pub, do what I did and get down the front and leave those who are waiting for the next act at the back to get on with it.

Following Atilla and LKJ was going to be a mammoth task for any act to take on and on the night it fell to Ruts DC.

I have to admit that despite not knowing a great deal of their music, I was looking forward to seeing them play. However, by a couple of songs into their set I have to admit I was getting a little bored.

Undeniably, Ruts DC were tight and on the ball musically speaking, with their combination of reggae and punk being the perfect sound to wind up a night such as this. But their delivery was almost too slick and lost any of the sense of excitement and passion that I have felt seeing other ‘old’ punk bands here in the past. The UK Subs in particular spring to mind.

The one major highlight of their set came when Attila joined them on vocals for Staring At The Rude Boys, as his delivery really gave the song an intense and ‘punky’ core that the rest of the set was lacking.

While I may not have got it, many in the crowd seemed to be skanking along quite happily, but for me rather than ‘Babylon burning with anxiety’, on the night it seemed to be burning with nothing more than a mild case of indigestion.

That said, it was still a great night and the amazing talent of both Linton Kwesi Johnson and Attila the Stockbroker could not be diminished by anything else.

How about the Guernsey Literary Festival keep this style of night going and we see

Itch (formerly of The King Blues) doing this at the third fest?