Wightman Theatre, Shrewsbury – 11th Feb 2017
Words are amazing things. They fit together like jigsaw pieces and push apart like opposing magnetics. But people insist on applying seemingly arbitrary rules to them and then tell us we have to follow those rules because if we don’t we’re doing words wrong.
When I was at school we were taught only the sort of ‘proper’ poetry that involved (in my opinion, at least) far too much lonely cloud-like wandering and comparing of poor sappy women to summers’ days. Because according to my teachers, those poets – the long dead and dusty ones – are the ones who know how to use words correctly.
Words don’t care if you’re using them in the ‘correct’ way, they just want to get out, to escape and to clamber and to squirrel their way into our brains. The best writers and poets aren’t always the ones who stick to grammar rules and know how to keep a meter going and how to write the perfect haiku. The best writers and poets are those who know how to spin words and weave stories that connect with their audience on a base level. Tying together words that make your stomach lurch as a fleeting line reminds you of something that once happened and you forgot about but oh god someone else actually thinks the same as you, how the hell did they get into your head like that and why do you suddenly feel like you might cry?
Mike Garry is one of the word-weavers. There’s a musicality to his work that sings the thoughts directly into your head without you even being aware of it, so it’s no surprise that he often collaborates with musicians.
His performance at the Wightman is, in his description, ‘a mix of spoken word and classical music’, which from anyone else would risk sounding bloody pretentious, but sounds markedly more appealing when accompanied by a dry humour and strong Manc accent. The music is provided by the Cassia Quartet, an incredibly good (and incredibly young, unless I’m just getting very old) string quartet who are all graduates of the Royal Northern College of Music.
Pieces such as ‘Signify’, which describes the impact of Garry’s primary school teacher and ‘What Me Mam Taught Me’, a eulogy to his mother that she requested in advance but which he wrote only on the morning of her funeral, are instantly familiar in their description of strong women instilling equally strong values into anyone who passed through their orbit.
He titled the second half of this show ‘Psalms for the Dead’ – announcing, “Death is the new life – it’s underrated” – and yet it contained some of the most joyful of his pieces.
I already knew ‘Saint Anthony’, but for some reason had never registered that it was Garry’s work. Watch it and marvel at the variety of cameos! It’s a storming tribute to one of the biggest names on the northern music scene.
Even ‘Live Forever’, written in memory of Luna Bliss, the daughter of the Inspiral Carpets’ Clint Boon, who died at only 34 days old, is joyous rather than tragic. It was intentionally written to be humorous says Garry and it succeeds, with lines such as “…her bodyguard is Bruce Lee, And all her clothes are by McQueen” bringing affectionate humanity to a desperate situation.
Apart from anything else, Mike Garry is also one of the few people who uses the word ‘ace’ as much as I do – which probably dates us both terribly but in my book makes him a bona fide Ace Person. If you ever get a chance to see him, don’t miss it.