Monday, 27 June 2016

The Seasons of Cullen Church, by Bernard O'Donoghue

I've long been a fan of Bernard O'Donoghue's poetry - his The Nuthatch is one of my favourite bird poems ever - so I'm looking forward to getting stuck into this, his latest collection from Faber and Faber.

It's concerned with family histories and mythologies, as well as touching on some of O'Donoghue's other familiar concerns and subjects - emigration and emigrants, and (pleasingly for me), Anglo-Saxon literature. More to follow once I've digested it further...

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Vision Helmet, by David Briggs

I've enjoyed David Briggs' poetry a great deal in the past (his two Salt collections, The Method Men and Rain Rider, are well worth seeking out) so it was great to receive a copy of his new Maquette pamphlet, Vision Helmet, this week. I've only flicked through so far, but the title poem is terrific, and I'll post a full review in the next few weeks.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

A Sky Full Of Birds at Lowdham Book Festival

I'll be reading from my book, A Sky Full Of Birds, at the Lowdham Book Festival this Saturday (June 25th), at 11am. It takes place at the Methodist Chapel on Main Street, and as well as the reading there'll be time for questions and book signings afterwards.

The full festival programme is here – there's plenty of great events on throughout the week.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

The Migrant Waders

This rather lovely book arrived at the Bird watching office this week - it's a collection of poetry, prose and reportage from Dunlin Press, following the migration routes of waders and shorebirds from the tropics to the High Arctic, taking in the landscapes they encounter, and the people who encounter them, along the way.

Contributors include Caroline Gill, Martin Harper, Samantha Franks, Gary Budden, Colin Williams and Rebecca Moore, and there are illustrations by Ella Johnston.

It costs £12.99, and is available from the Dunlin Press website above. Watch this space, and a future issue of Bird Watching, for a full review.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Coquet Island's Roseate Terns

When I was at university in Newcastle, we frequently had history field trips, or history society drinking trips, to various castles and other sites along the Northumberland coast. Warkworth Castle, near Amble, was a favourite.

I was in Amble this week, ahead of a trip out to Coquet Island, home to the UK's biggest breeding colony of Roseate Terns. The weather wasn't great, the sea was pretty choppy, but it was a memorable experience, nonetheless. The Roseates were present in numbers, along with Common and Sandwich Terns, Eiders, Puffins and Kittiwakes.

And history came into it, too. St Cuthbert, who lived as a hermit on the Farne Islands a little further north, came to Coquet to meet with Aelfleda, the daughter of the Northumbrian king Oswiu. Aelfleda was the Abbess of Whitby by then, I think. Cuthbert, I suppose, would have kept a close eye on the birdlife – he was particularly fond of Eiders, which are still sometimes known locally as 'Cuddy ducks', and ensured they had some sort of legal protection.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Signed copies of A Sky Full Of Birds

I've got a number of copies of A Sky Full Of Birds at home, for anyone who'd like to buy one direct from me – they're £13 including P&P, and I can sign them or add dedications as required.

With the first three orders, I'll also include a unique, previously unpublished bird poem inspired by the research for the book. 

If you'd like a copy, email me at the link on the right.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Tomas Transtromer on Wallander

It's always good to read or hear Tomas Transtromer's poetry, and last Sunday's concluding episode of Wallander featured a recitation of his The Half-finished Heaven.

It sent me back to his Collected Poems, which I'm picking through this week. If you haven't read anything by the Nobel Prize winner yet, then start now - there are plenty of good translations available.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Bruce Springsteen - Ricoh Arena, Coventry, 3.6.16

It's been 28 years since I last saw Springsteen live. I'm a fan, although I've not been that keen on some of his more recent albums, and far too often I've seen that he's touring and thought "there'll be plenty of time to catch up with him". This year, I decided time might be running out.

Coventry's appalling traffic meant that, although the start of the show had been delayed 20 minutes, we missed the first song, For You, performed solo. Eccentric choice, really, an album track from his debut way back in 1973, but then that's what you get with Bruce - shows tend to wander whichever way the fancy takes him, with the help of a few requests from the audience. He doesn't avoid crowd-pleasers for the sake of it, it's just that, for a superstar, he's had few actual hits, so there’s less commercial indication of what those crowd-pleasers might be. When I saw him in Sheffield all those years ago, I don’t remember being too disappointed that he left out Thunder Road and Rosalita, and slowed Born To Run down to an acoustic ramble, because there was always something else you didn’t expect just around the corner.

This jaunt had been billed, in the States, as The River Tour, with the entirety of that 1980 double album being performed. I can't say it's a favourite of mine, but here things were scaled back. It, along with Darkness On The Edge Of Town and Born In The USA, were well represented, but he left enough room to pull plenty of surprises.

One of the things I love is that he's so good at investing new meaning and spirit into songs that, on record, you're really not that bothered about. So, Sherry Darling became the perfect party singalong on a balmy night, and Crush On You, the slightest song on the original album, was a thoroughly raucous, garage-band stomp. No Surrender, all shiny 80s production on record, rose above its sometimes corny lyrics (the last verse is great, though) to become genuinely moving, and Drive All Night sounded better than it ever has before. Hungry Heart and Two Hearts were in there too, of course, with Steve Van Zandt joining Bruce on vocals for the latter, as ever – hard not to picture him with Silvio Dante’s alarming bouffant hair, if you’re a Sopranos fan like me, but he remains a great sideman, as does Nils Lofrgen.

It wasn’t all good-time rock n’ roll, either – Murder Incorporated, Death To My Hometown and Youngstown (from the underrated Ghost of Tom Joad album), crackled with as much anger as energy, and The River itself, perhaps his best song of broken and misplaced dreams, was delivered with a heartbreaking intensity.

That carried over into the second half of the evening. The Promised Land, Badlands and Born In The USA (not played that often these days) were positively spat out, and there was a searing version of Because The Night, with Lofgren’s guitar work outstanding. The lengthy between-song chats seem to be a thing of the past, although there was as much bonhomie and good-natured showmanship as ever, and there were fewer cover versions, too, just the Isley Brothers’ Shout, mid-50s rockabilly number Seven Nights To Rock, and Creedence’s Travelin’ Band (a fixture on the original River tour, I seem to remember from my old Teardrops On The City bootleg).

He saved his anthem, Born To Run, and his best pop song, Dancing In The Dark, for the encores, plus Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, as a tribute to the late Clarence Clemons. Jake Clemons, given the near-impossible task of replacing the Big Man on saxophone, managed to do just that throughout the evening.

That, all three hours and more of it, would have been enough on its own, for all that some personal favourites were missing – I can’t think of anyone else who I’d put up with the vagaries of stadium acoustics and visuals for. But then he was back, centre stage, on his own, with guitar and harmonica and the song that, for me, remains his finest moment. Thunder Road was delivered with the same fragility and uncertainty that marks the version on the live box set, and I don't mind admitting choking back a few tears. Next time he's over here, I'll be there.