Not so much an autobiography as an aid to memory.
The first publication I was featured in was a school magazine and I wasn’t too happy it was in. Dene House School, Peterlee in the early seventies 72 or 73. In about 1976 I had about eight poems in a cyclostat anthology produced by Peterlee Writers Circle. I have it! This group was tutored by two writers one called Richard (can’t remember his second name) and another writer who due to my poor memory will have to be anonymous. By 1980 I had joined East Durham Writers Workshop under the guidance of the poet Keith Armstrong who was the Community Arts Development Worker in those days. The Workshop published an anthology in 1981 called imaginatively ’81 and another in 1984 called ‘Anthology 84’ also a one off magazine called ‘Fall Out’ which was allegedly edited by an editorial committee. There was also a Easington Greenwich twinning book called E.G. (clever huh?) and a photocopied thing that Keith made with poets in including me and my brother John called ‘North Sea Poems’ , A pamphlet called ‘Kicking Around’ with poems from children in Dene House School and poems by me, Keith and others. East Durham Community Arts published;
Eager for Fire (Pamphlet)
Riot/East Durham Community Arts
My first pamphlet ! whenever I read it I think of the Bob Dylan lyric I think it is from ‘My Back Pages’ ‘I was so much older then I’m younger than that now’ I was an intense young man. I was mostly untouched by the Poetry world at this point.
When I think about all this now it just seems odd that I did it at all. My first poems were picked up by Mr. Cooper I don’t know his first name obviously we called him ‘Alice’. The English Teacher at Dene House Secondary Modern later Comprehensive in Peterlee. He left I heard and became a taxi driver , probably untrue but we liked to make up stories that made life a bit more interesting, maybe he got a job at another school. He was important in my life as a writer. I suppose that I wasn’t as important in his life and that was why when I saw him in the queue at Gregg’s Bakery in Peterlee I didn’t say anything to him. I would have liked to have said ‘Thanks’ or ‘you Bastard it’s all your fault!’ Depends which way you look at it really.I went back to my old school years later to present prizes but that’s another story.
Mostly in the early eighties I was perfecting the art of getting drunk at every opportunity, Keith Armstrong was my mentor in this at first but I soon graduated to other drinking buddies including Trevor ‘Legs’ Bentley and Bill Levitas. Trevor was an anarchist poet and Bill was a Ginsbergian character, looking like him and trying to be like him. Bill was Jackie Litherland’s step son from her marriage to Maurice Levitas who was an important communist leader in the region. We used to drink in the Gamecock in Peterlee (gone at present) and were once thrown out for talking in funny voices, the Goons as I remember. They were both writers and me and Trevor did a pamphlet together called ‘Spider in the Bath’ published by Toerag which was a poetry comic fanzine (only way to describe it) I ran in the early eighties. At some point Chris Storey (who now works for the BBC) who was a year or two younger than me joined the group. I had been to junior school with him at Blackhall Colliery. We met some interesting writers at this time I met Tom Hadaway, Roy Clarke (last of the Summer Wine) I think his Uncle Ron Oliver was in the group and that’s how we got him. I met J.B.Priestley when I was very young via Bill and Ethel Monck who used to run Peterlee Arts and Information Centre when it was in The Chare. I did an exhibition with Anton Hopkinson(photographs) and Chris Storey. I met Catherine Cookson, Frances Horowitz, Roger Garfitt, Benjamin Zephaniah, Adrian Mitchell, Atilla the Stockbroker, Linton Kwesi Johnson and others I forget. Pete Morgan judged a poetry poster competition and Keith and myself visited him in York . He had picked one of my poems ‘Pig’s Head’ which was illustrated by John Wagstaffe as I recall. I gave Pete Morgan a book of Abassid poetry called ‘Birds through a ceiling of Alabaster’ which he liked. Unfortunately Pete’s partner/wife? Took a dislike to Keith (surprise, surprise) and we left to wait in a pub for the train.
The early eighties saw our first trips to Edinburgh initially with Keith Armstrong but as my own ties developed, on my own and with a cast of thousands in later years. Those I took to Edinburgh or help arrange gigs for included Dave Brown, Steve Moore, Elle Ludkin, James Oates, Dave Calder, Paul Summers, Brendan Cleary, Ian Dowson, Kate Fox, Adam Fish, Angela Readman, Louise Dal, Richard Dawson, The Poetry Vandals, Graham C.Brown, Suzi Atherton, Neville Clay, Beccy Owen, Chris Oates, Jeff Lawson and many more.
I met a lot of interesting poets and people in Edinburgh including Kevin Williamson, Irvine Welsh,Hamish Henderson, Harry Young, Henry Normal, Barry Graham, Jim Ferguson, Bobby Christie and the late great Sandie Craigie. My best friend there was and still is Mike Dillon and other good friends included John McCauchie, Bob Shields, Billy Cornwall, Jan Coleman, Ziggy Sinclair(?), Maggie Jamieson, Ken Kelly, Ken Nelson, Jim Saunders (The People's Poet) and later Melissa Ross, Nancy Somerville and Tom Fairnie. There were lots of people a real buzzing scene and tremendous fun to be had of which I most certainly had my share.
Lots of tails from Auld Reekie so I will save them for the next instalment.