‘It’s about taking something you love then making it happen.’
By Stephen Watt
Published by Last Night From Glasgow
The solitary joyride which all poets manoeuvre often undertakes a journey originating from pain or loss which leads them to expel demons through print or microphone. After this, one can finally loosen up and begin to savour the things which matter to them: Love, magic, science, stilt-walking…..
When I first began performing, I put immense pressure on myself to try and memorise my writing. It wasn’t something I was especially remarkable at doing. Slams made me anxious. Other poets would laugh off their mishaps, but I would crumple. All the confidence I had fabricated would slip away into a frustrated, floundering muddle on stage. My friend David – who would be there at my first ever performance in Café Rio in 2010 and later become my Best Man in 2017 – remarked “You’re poets, not rock stars. Holding a book in front of you looks great on camera – it shows exactly what you are”. Exactly what you are. It was at this point when I relaxed, accepting my status as a bard. But still something nipped at the back of my mind. Rock star I ain’t – but that connection to music has been there all my life, and so has the DIY punk-ethic.
A book of poems written about all those incredible gigs I’ve attended, heroes I’ve worshipped, record stores I’ve dwindled in, and venues I’ve pogoed in would bring an energy of its own. Scotland loves its live music and has a rich history to tap into. I already had my poem “Wet Midweek Barras Gigs” as a starting point in 2014, but what publisher would take on such a notion? And what would make my poems so special compared to any other young(ish) writer with their own stories to tell?
Stephen Watt – Wet Midweek Barras Gigs
In 2016, a crowdfunded record label called ‘Last Night From Glasgow’ (LNFG) was formed. They were entirely not-for-profit, with all money raised going back into the bands and artists on their label. It was an entirely selfless, avant-garde, positive breath of fresh air. One friend, Murray Easton, was a founding member and it was as a reviewer for the punk site Louder Than War when I first attended a LNFG gig in Mono Music Café. Here was a foundation of true music lovers who wanted to support emerging talent, with a small but honourable 200 membership base.
Through Murray, primary discussions with LNFG were positive. Co-founder Ian Smith’s approving outlook on the idea was assured when the prospect of collaborating with musicians associated with Scottish music was proposed. I’m the antithesis of a rock star, but music is my lifeblood. I would take it upon myself to hunt down contacts, e-mails, social media pages, and seek people who were interested. There would be many who were unable to get involved, of course, due to other commitments or others who were simply out of reach. But what became fascinating was the number of musicians I was dragging out of their comfort zones. “I can’t write poetry” or “I’ve not written poetry since school” was often the response. My opinion was that I was not looking to find the country’s almightiest wordsmiths in music but rather find creative types willing to take an experience of their own, be brave, and lend fresh voices beyond my opinions – after all, Scotland’s music community spirit is a glorious gift and one which has appeared recently in the support for Vic Galloway’s “Rip It Up” pop exhibition and films such as “Big Gold Dream” and “Teenage Superstars”. We show a lack of ego. A show of supporting our friends and peers. And several of those bands’ members stepped forward – Altered Images, The Bluebells, BMX Bandits, The Soup Dragons.
And then it became obvious that I shouldn’t only seek musicians but also actors, authors. If time permitted, the book could have added a further hundred names and poems but it was cleverly conjured up by LNFG to produce 33 (RPM) poems by me, add in another 12 contributors making it 45 (RPM) poems – and then bring in musicians and members on the label to produce a truly contemporary, innovative body of work. This wasn’t a literary market we were gunning for – it was a music market. We included a hidden track/poem in the book. We produced a double-cover, minus blurbs you would usually find on a book sleeve – recording vocals on to tape and then setting them on fire, hammering them, exploding them. The ‘Screamadelica’-influenced cover was no accident. LNFGb1 would shortly become known as ‘MIXTAPE’ until I felt the Scottish slant wasn’t obvious enough, and we turned it into ‘MCSTAPE’. The launch would be in a well-known Glasgow music basement, the 13th Note bar and café. I would read my poetry before bands at events organised by the record label. We chased music outlets, radio stations, magazines. “It shows exactly what you are”, echoed at the back of my mind.
At the time of the book being complete, I had another idea. As my greatest hero John Cooper-Clarke was a renowned punk poet and much of my favourite music originated from that genre, I contacted the Joe Strummer Foundation with the concept of producing a short poetry collection celebrating the Clash frontman’s anniversary, welcoming punk-lit from poets, musicians and authors – similar to the MCSTAPE concept. Soon, I had followed the same blueprint for contacting suitable contributors; people like John Robb, Jah Wobble, Pauline Black, and Cooper-Clarke himself. The collection “Ashes To Activists” is earmarked for publication on Joe’s 16th anniversary, 22 December 2018, in a PDF format – free to all who download from the website.
It was never about money. It’s always about passion.
It’s about taking something you love then making it happen.
Hopefully, it shows exactly what I am.
MCSTAPE by Stephen Watt is published by Last Night From Glasgow, priced £7.50
Another Christmas recommendation: Neu Reekie! Untitled One, published by Polygon, priced £12.99