LeftLion 44: When the music’s over, turn out the lights…

LeftLion 44 is dedicated to music. This is because we have a thriving music scene at the moment and one of our many bands is on the cusp of finally making it big, not because one of our editors is a music junky. This has meant that literature is conspicuous in its absence, although we still have a thematic presence. Tony Hill was commissioned to do a piece on the Grey Topper, a nightclub in a pit village that was once the best music venue in Notts. The Jackdale hosted the likes of The Bay City Rollers, The Specials and Simple Minds in its time, reminding us that there used to be more options than Rock City. Rather than do a Q&A, Tony was asked to use ticket stubs, posters, and flyers from the period to sketch a historical picture of this much-missed venue and promote his book The Palace and the Punks.

Our WriteLion page features a poem from John Micallef, offering an updated version of Gil Scott-Heron’s The Revolution Will Be Televised. Aly and I heard John read at the Oxjam spoken word event in Beeston in a Barton’s bus depot (the glamorous world of poetry I here you say) and knew it was the perfect poem for this issue. We often find content for the page through chance encounters such as this, so get reading in public. The poem was originally going to be illustrated but then Nigel Pickard suddenly died at the age of forty-five and so we rightly decided to illustrate one of his poems. The poem we chose was Fog which is incredibly sad but beautiful. Our third poem was Lions by Viv Apple which we’ve had on hold for half-a-year but was perfect as it lightened the mood. Viv said ‘the poem was partly inspired by my personal history.  After Dennis had proposed to me 53 years ago at a Nottm Uni ‘hop’ in the Portland Building, I said I’d let him know next day, so we met as usual by the left lion, and I said ‘yes’.’ Unfortunately there wasn’t room for Lord Biro’s Jim Has kicked it – because it was too small and looked out of place on the page. He’ll be back though…

The editorial to the books page of WriteLion reads ‘At last, we hear you say. A page in the magazine that’s not about friggin’ music.’ One thing I love about writing for LeftLion is nobody takes themselves too seriously and so this internal kind of bickering enables the kind of tongue-in-cheek humour we hope readers appreciate. And of course, I meant it – but more of this later.

The page saw Rebecca S Buck’s first magazine review for us and not before time. She’s done an outstanding job promoting lesbian fiction online and giving our literature pages some much needed balance. Another debut reviewer was Megan Taylor – and her younger daughter Lola – who reviewed a Children’s History of Nottinghamshire. I thought this dual review was a really novel approach to critique and worked really well. We also celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Nottingham Poetry Society and ORE, the latest anthology from the MA Creative Writing students at NTU. My review was a self-published book about Pat Tobin’s chaotic life. Overall we covered a good range of genres and subjects.

The final two features on the WriteLion page were Katie Half-Price giving a twitteresque run down of this year’s Booker shortlist (the one criticised for its ‘readability’) and a feature on the Caribou Caravan. The latter is currently residing in Hopkinson’s Gallery and is the best thing to happen to Notts since Cloughy. I’ll be interviewing the owner Annelise Atkinson at the Nottingham Writers’ Studio in January and hopefully at Lowdham Book Festival, so watch this space.

I finally managed to get a review of John Marriott’s The Little Typists in to the music reviews section. John is a snarling, dead pan, sarcastic, hilarious performer who’s helped us out at Shindig! events. He’s one of the best performers in Notts and has you waiting on his every word. I described him as ‘MC Pitman with a synthesiser.’ Need I say more?

This issue threw up a lot of contentious issues. Firstly, if you’re having a music issue then you’re going to piss off anyone who isn’t interviewed and possibly open yourselves up to accusations of favouritism. There’s no easy solution to this but one thing we wanted to avoid was bland Q&As. Personally, I’d have liked a wider interpretation of ‘music’, such as the noise currently being made by the Occupy movement in Market Square. It was also a missed chance to help promote local businesses who could have done with a Christmas push. I’d have liked, for example, to have seen a ‘literature guide to shopping in Notts’ and similar for other departments. But this is far too long a debate to recount here. It does, however, raise the question of the purpose of LeftLion. I’d like to see a more fearsome roar. Nottingham is very angry at the moment and it’s our job to record this. The battle will continue into the next issue.

Writing Obituaries

Until last week I’d never written an obituary before. Now I’ve written two in the space of a week for Peter Preston and Nigel Pickard. It’s possibly the most difficult thing I’ve ever written because you’re so conscious of making a glaring error and possibly offending someone. Another difficulty is getting quotes from people to build up a more personal picture as you are inevitably going to miss out the people who felt they knew that person best. I have limited knowledge of both Nigel and Peter, although Nigel is someone I regularly chatted to at the Nottingham Writers’ Studio. Therefore, people I approached were people I’d seen him with and his respective publishers. It’s difficult to burden people when they’re grieving but fortunately both men were very well respected and so people were keen to see them remembered in the form they loved most: words.

Nigel Pickard died on 8 November which is also the anniversary of when my mother died. Within the next few days I began to learn lots about him; such as he co-edited Fin with Rosie Garner, that he’d had a collection of poems published with Shoestring Press, and that he was close friends with Martin Stannard who was working through a recent collection of Nigel’s poems on his travels through China. Megan Taylor had been workshopping fiction with him and that he’d recently more-or-less finished a third novel. After discovering so much I feel as if I should work my way through every member of the Nottingham Writers’ Studio to discover a little bit more about all of these people who I think I know, but clearly do not. It is a sad irony that death should reveal so many interesting facts and provoke endless questions that can only be answered by the person no longer there.

I can remember exactly where I was when Douglas Adams died. It was my JFK moment. Then the exciting news came though that he’d been working on a new book The Salmon of Doubt. I bought it the minute it came out and read it in one go. Only Adams could write about travelling ‘through the nasal membranes of a rhinoceros, to a distant future dominated by estate agents and heavily armed kangaroos’, but this also meant it was incomplete when it was published – because nobody could predict how Adams was going to link up such a complicated narrative. I can remember the finality of that last page, knowing the book would always be incomplete and that he’d taken his last piece of magic with him to the grave. Hopefully Megan Taylor, Rosie Garner and others will be able to piece together the various emails and versions of Nigel’s book to give us one more insight into his mind. Given Nigel’s clear love of family I suspect there will be no ‘nasals’ that need picking in the narrative, though I have been informed his handwritten notes are impossible to read. Nobody said it would be easy but the fact that people are trying tells you exactly how much he meant.

If you knew these men, please feel free to add comments at the end of their obituaries by logging on to the LeftLion website or email me directly. Our WriteLion page in the December issue of LeftLion will feature an illustration of Nigel’s beautiful poem Fog.

Peter Preston’s obituary

Nigel Pickard’s obituary Please join Weathervane Press at the Broadway Book Club at 7pm on Thursday 24 November where there will be readings from Nigel’s book Attention Deficit and other authors from Weathervane.