The Ballad of Edward Dando, the Celebrated Gormandizer

The Ballad of Edward Dando, the Celebrated Gormandiser!

Hurrah! It’s me, it’s ballad time.
Hang some bloody bunting!
Now shut your eyes, sit back, we’re off
to eighteen twenty-something.

The belching Georgian after-party,
age of gout and laudanum
where opulence and dropsy spread
to all that could afford them.

The spit-roast swine, Germanic wines
Beau Brummel’s ice-cold quips
the clash of Nash’s symmetry
with George’s wobbly bits.

Frayed pantaloons and powdered cheeks
and boo-sucks to you prigs
The Tories had the power but
it was all about the wigs.

And dandies dashed in Hackney cabs
from bar to drinking shop
a gin-soaked trail of a tabs until
their foppish waistcoats popped.

And just as in our stage-school age
the slack-jawed Shaznay’s dream
of being auto-tuned and airbrushed
into pop’s hareem

so young men walked the gas-lit streets
of London’s rotten heart
with grand ideas to take their lives
and spin them into art.

And so, our hero, Edward Dando
apprentice to a hatter
(we don’t know what his hats were like,
but they, dear friends, don’t matter.)

For days spent stitching hats for chaps
sent Dando mad with boredom
the line of dandruff decades stretched out
miserably before him.

A member of the lunar race
that history near forgot
he might, had he been born later,
lined-up with Marx’s lot

but short on ideology
or union or committee
Dando only had a hunch
that life was sort of shitty.

While some were blessed with tails and titles
others buffed their boots
and pickled, stewed and boiled the scraps
of labour’s rotten fruits.

O who will be pave my grave with jewels?
O who will sing of me?
The hatters, blacksmiths, cooks and fools
all piled up like scree.

And that, thought Dando, shouldn’t, couldn’t
be the way for him
so he resolved to live his life
with shellfish, beer and vim.

So off then to the oyster house
with sawdust on the floor
a pile of shells around his boots
our hero ordered more:

shuck-gulp-drop, shuck-gulp-drop,
and all washed down with porter
the swagger of a don juan
with his mitts on someone’s daughter.

And when he’d swallowed thirty dozen
Dando belched and sighed
performed a dance of pocket pats
“What rotten luck!” he lied

“I’m sorry Mr Oysterman,
I’ll have to see you clear
another day, alright old boy?
Next time I’m passing here.”

And had he been a gentleman
the trader would have bowed
and sent him on his merry way
contented with this vow.

But swagger isn’t breeding and
no sooner out the door
this whistling, cocksure hatter felt
the long arm of the law.

They banished our voluptuary
to Brixton for a month
where Dando’s raging hunger gave
the other lags the hump.

They flung him into solitary
for stealing beef and bread
where there the old screws pummelled him
and boxed his grisly head.

But when his month of gruel was up
he found the nearest stall
devoured ten dozen natives,
and then coughed up bugger all.

Alas! His choice of Oysterman!
This one was like a bull
and left our hero in the gutter,
sore but very full.

So Dando spent his life like this
from Oyster house to beating
from shellfish stall to court then gaol
and all for sake of eating

exactly what he wanted to
exactly when he wanted.
For every bristling oysterman
or judge that he affronted

he gained a hundred new admirers:
DANDO STRIKES AGAIN!
Can nothing can sate his appetite
for oysters, ale and pain?

Some eight long fishy years passed by
he dined on London’s best
till everybody recognised
his black eyes, gaol dress

and strange distinctive limp
for Dando’s foot was lame
(a wage of his depravity
a spoil of his game)

and he was forced to ply his trade
in estuary towns in Kent
though gutter scraps and rozzers followed
everywhere he went.

‘Till 1832 came round
the aged Sailor King
now on the throne: austerity
in place of George’s bling.

And Dando like his Royal exemplar
saw his fortunes fade.
One August night in Coldbath Fields
on prisoner parade

our man collapsed with cholera,
they carted him inside
where legend, that forgiving mistress,
claims, before he died

they brought a dozen oysters
to his licey prison bed
he rubbed his stomach, scoffed the lot
and then he fell back – dead.

They buried him in Clerkenwell
beneath St James’ bells
the balladeers sung songs of him
and paved his grave with shells.

Many thanks to Sarah Murden and Joanne Major for their research.

A gig with Molly Naylor

I’m doing a gig in lovely Cornwall with my best mate Molly. The venue is great, the town is great, the poets are great. Come one, come all.

Glam Dad's Lost His Rag

Glam Dad’s Lost His Rag

Those kids will never know the pain they bring
to Britain’s former foremost lie-in King.
Oh Sunday bloody Sunday, pig-shit head
his veins an ache and squirm, his tongue half-dead
and still they roar their push-me-pull-me blows
falsetto tuneless shrieks to Let It Go!
She kicks him in the shin, when will he learn?
A hard-faced three word gesture: It’s your turn!

Oh curse this house, this cul-de-sac, this life!
Oh curse my devilled off-spring! Curse my wife!
Oh curse the mirror! Curse the paunch and sag!
Oh curse my thirties!
Glam Dad’s lost his rag.

A streak of pitch-black temper! Havoc wreaks!
Mascara smear across his grizzly cheeks,
he stumbles down the landing, knotted back
a slurring threat of discipline and smacks.
A raging monster rank with last night’s gin
his unshod sole impaled on tank engine.
All dressing gown on inside out, he tolls
Just grow up, will you! to his three year old.

Last night! Last night! Won’t someone take me there!
Thighs bulging in his drainpipes, back-combed hair,
Shakira-hipped, the snarling ghost of Strummer
his band of teachers, architects and plumbers
fucking nailed it! Big-riffed indie dream.
At times he felt like he was seventeen.
And how the lyrics from that cover’s set
come back to him right now: What do I get?

O what went wrong, this was never the plan!
We came third in Battle of the Bands
in Manningtree in 1999.
“They rocked” said The Braintree & Witham Times.
We supported Cast in Colchester
I’ve met the bloody ginger one from Blur.
Island records gave us demo money
I could have made it… what now? What’s so funny?

Beneath him on the floor his kids are grins.
A nervous sideways glance then it begins:
the stuttered giggles then the gasping laughs,
he catches his reflection in the glass:
a sallow, red-faced, stubbled, panda-eyed,
sack-stomached tragi-clown with gaping fly
They thump the carpet. Daddy! You’re so silly!
Your face looks funny, I can see your …

And now he’s laughing too, his ego shelved
time halts and for that moment he’s himself.
He gathers up his brood, it feels sublime:
Come on then you two, it’s breakfast time.

Latitude

You may already know that I co-curate and host the Poetry Arena at The Latitude Festival. 2015 is the 10th year of the festival so I wrote a little thing for them.

Darryl

Darryl

Everybody’s got a friend who fucked-up.

Mine was Darryl. Nasal, pessimistic.
His hope all backed up in his sinuses.
His thick cropped hair, a shade of cartoon ginger.
Above his monobrow a squishy mole
like a baked bean, which he called My Baked Bean.

We met aged six, he showed me round my new school.
The pegs, the cobbled floors, the smell of cabbage;
the caps and shorts they wore right through the Winter.
Darryl was a good boy. Fond of rules.
A prim refrain of Umm, I’m gonna tell.

Sometimes we’d share a fractious lift to school.
A bickered pinch of time through rural Essex,
strapped in the back of his Nan’s filthy Vauxhall.
His mum, he said, had died when he was small.
He trilled his truth, a goody-two-shoes boast.

That early awkward bond is crystallised:
our shoulders rubbing in our first school photo.
I slump and squint, he’s straight-backed, toothy, tame.
Why couldn’t you have sat-up straight like Darryl?
I took his good behaviour as a taunt.

And then one day they moved him. That was that.
Next time I saw him, we were in Year 8.
He moved into my street, but he had changed.
That boy is trouble. Nasty piece of work.
A diatribe of entertaining bullshit:

I glassed a swan. I felt my nan’s right tit.
All eyeballs in his Big Mac, we dared him.
Darryl keyed those cars in Tesco carpark
Darryl stole the vodka from his Grandad.
Darryl drank the lot and got run over.

That’s the phrase he used. He wasn’t hurt.
It’s just my luck to get run over.  - Darryl
you weren’t run over, mate. That car was parked.

The group all laughed – You twat – we slapped his back.
Oh yeah. That sheepish grin and backwards pride.

We weren’t the best of friends. He just lived close.
Darryl’s mostly hung out with Joe Gray.
whose voice broke over seven long, shrill years,
whose older brother shagged a girl I liked.
My brother pooned that Katy. Hah hah. Gutted.

Yes, Joe Gray was a cock. But Darryl wasn’t.
You see, aged 12 his mother just pitched up.
They told me you were dead. But they had lied.
She played mum for month then changed her mind.
That straight-backed boy was crushed down like beer can.

You need to understand we never knew this.
Our mothers let us know years down the line.
The tragedy now rendered into gossip:
an 18-rated cut of our own lives
that slowly sunk in as our twenties passed.

Of course, we all know now that no one really
wants to wash their hair in lighter fluid
then spend the party being chased by Clippers.
Did we then? Perhaps we didn’t think.
Mistook the cries of Wolf for harmless pranks.

We did our scant revision, scraped exams.
He went from mate to barely-seen acquaintance
to anecdote, a witty party piece.
This kid I went to school with … fucking hell.
I heard he was in prison. GBH.

Everybody’s got a friend who fucked-up.
So what to do with mine? Carve Darryl up
and offer him to you, a moral tale?
I can’t go back and tell that boy I’m sorry.
I just feel sad. And, yes, relieved as well.

Have a Gong!

It’s that time of year again ….


Have a Gong!

Hurrah! New Year! Let’s play Who’s Who
the list please George, let’s keep it blue…
Yes, yes, of course, about time too!
Have a gong, have a gong, have a gong!

Oui Oui a KBE for Arthur
and my sister’s husband’s father
better not forget my barber.
Have a gong, have a gong, have a gong!

This fellow here, he sank a bank
and this one gave us cut-price tanks…
Is that for us? You should have, thanks.
Have a gong, have a gong, have a gong!

Famous people, bring your mug,
and with it stardom’s manic fug
come here, give us a tacit plug
Have a gong, have a gong, have a gong!

Angry artist? Full of bile?
we’ll dowse your fire in regal style
well done, you’re in, now hold and smile
Have a gong, have a gong, have a gong!

Elitist? No! why here’s a nurse,
long on hours, short on purse
so progressive, so diverse.
Have a gong, have a gong, have a gong!!

But just a little one …

Not a O.B.E, just a Meh.B.E.
Well done you, I see, I see.
Now move along now, yes yes, right, good
I need to give my pal a knighthood!
Good one Geoffrey, well I trust?
Golf next Tuesday? Let’s discuss
your next donation to our party
Thank-you ma’am, yes, let’s depart, eh?

Have a gong, have a gong, have a gong, gong, gong!
Scratch my back and sing along
we’ll croon our patriotic song
and dream of when we ruled Hong Kong
it’s tradition – can’t be wrong!
As sure as old Big Ben goes bong
it’s bound to cause a contretemps!
Have a gong, have a gong, have a gong gong gong!

Hip-hip hurrah, yes Britain’s best!
Dulce et decorum est
Etc, I forget the rest
Have a gong, have a gong, have a gong!

Stay-at-Home Dandy (The Album)

SAHD-cover-web

I’m releasing my fourth spoken word album this month. Stay-at-Home Dandy was all written in the last year and features a mix of comic and quieter more personal pieces. It’s also got my best ballads to date on it – The Toll, Mr Hooper’s Half Term and The Night Before Christmas. It was recorded just up the road in Beccles, Suffolk. It’s a true locally sourced product being beamed across the world via the internet. I’m really pleased with it.

Hard copies coming in Feb 2015, in the meantime you can downloads from iTunesAmazonPlay.

Great Review in The East Anglian Daily Times

I have been favourably reviewed in the East Anglian Daily Times.

“Wright always excels when puncturing the gilded whoopee cushion of the Establishment … There is a physicality to Wright’s performance that seems to build in intensity with the lyrical density of his poems … A hard act to follow.”

The Panel (edit)

I posted this poem is October. It was a visceral writing experience and something I felt I really had to put out into the world. I’ve been performing it on the John Cooper Clarke tour and it’s been getting a good response. I think a lot of us feel the same: we see the most vulnerable in society losing right after right; we see the working classes underemployed and disenfranchised, then demonised by the press; we see a floundering Labour party falling behind in the polls, when they should be trouncing a rightly unpopular Tory party; and then we see UKIP gaining ground with working class votes. The world feels upside down and deeply, deeply depressing.

But in a rush to get this poem out I neglected to give it enough of an edit. Here it is again, tweaked and slicker. There’s lots of different voices in this: mine, the UKIP voice, various voters, middle class media observers etc. I’ve done my best to differentiate by using tabs and italics. The recording helps it make better sense.

I would love for you to read it, or listen – Soundcloud player below.

THE PANEL

Broken Britain, all the rage
send documentary crews
to catalogue our grievances
and put them on the news:

In Jaywick post-war prefabs
sprout the weeds of disengagement
they struggle with the jargon of
the Westminster arrangement.

A Labour man who’s never worked
my god he’s just like me
But every time that weird bloke speaks
it’s just bad poetry …

And someone shut the Surestart down
and cut the country bus
I’m not sure who they stand for
but it sure as hell ain’t us.

The nurses strike for better pay
the teacher’s strike for pensions
but when you’ve never had a job
how do you get attention?

In ninety-seven they turned out
and Labour turned them down.
Relaxed about the filthy rich
in stone cold London town.

And now the swines are on the take
they tax then cook the books
they condescend with dumbed-down ads
and disapproving looks …

Don’t smoke in pubs! Eat five-a-day!
Remember booze is bad!
Now stare into your little phones
at things you’ve never had ….

That panel show is on again
it’s sexed-up for the ratings game
and in among the geeky blokes
a normal fella making jokes
talking English, firm but breezy:
Out of Europe easy-peasy
No to rules and yes to jobs

at least he’s not ignoring us
at least he’s not ignoring us
at least he’s not ignoring us …

In flat roof pubs St George is cross:
They’re coming over here!
They take our pay! They shag our birds!
They drink our fucking beer!

And yes his face looks ugly
when he wraps it in his flag
I know my social history and
it makes me want to gag.

I’ve learned to doubt the powers that be,
employment law that flinches
my foe is right there every day
in blogs and column inches.

But he sees burqas on the high street,
Poles in factories
That’s what’s changing Britain, mate
it has to fucking be …

The panel show is raging now
a mess of ums and sweaty brows
as pallid lefties try and fail
to out-demagogue the Daily Mail
It’s complex, really…
No it’s NOT
You’re the problem! Stop the rot!
All ‘board the Clacton omnibus!

at least he’s not ignoring us
at least he’s not ignoring us
at least he’s not ignoring us …

Or sneering like the Twitterati:
Racist, racist, racist
who pay their Slovak cleaners
cash in hand in leafy places.

Who buy their books from Amazon
in Starbuck’s wifi mist
who tut-tut-tut at apathy
then shake a cyber fist

when people go and cross the box,
they balk at it or LOL-it
but cast their own votes every day
for evil with their wallets.

Still, none of us is perfect
we’re a mess of other’s views.
I’m looking for some answers
in the aftermath of news

The panel full of jargon SPADs
who look like paunchy undergrads
all trotting out their tired tracts
but look that natty Nigel’s back
The big gin grin Tim Nice-but-Dim look
ranting from his yellowed hymn book.
Come along and join his song
grab your rose-tints stick them on
for BNP in Barbour jacket!
Raise a haunchy thigh then slap it!
Vaudeville meets British Legion,
keen as mustard (Not the Dijon!)
God he’s good, all ease and wit
if only he weren’t full of shit:
We must protect our sovereignty!
We must protect our sovereignty!
We must protect our sovereignty!

The sovereignty of you and me?
What sovereignty is that I wonder
trade unions torn asunder?
What’s the answer? Crank our rent?
Tax cuts for the one percent?
Then let the plebs all smoke in pubs
stop the proles from rising up.

The Scottish damn-near turned to go
the press declared: Resounding NO!
And so the word on British streets:
Get angry mate, attack elites
makes sense, and no it isn’t wrong
defend the weak, attack the strong
but look around the towns and shires
at all these glowing steel glass spires
and retail parks and malls so dear
and have a guess who’s thriving here!
Apocalyptic Friday Sales
and zero-hour contract fails.
Austerity and bedroom tax
while banks and business tip their hats
to politicians flush with chips
and healthcare firm directorships:
the safe seats and consultancies
that strangle our democracy.
You think that Nige’ll sort the mess
and save our treasured NHS?
Public school man, former banker
How refreshing, stop your rancour!
Working fellows needn’t fret
with right-wing Tories in his set!

So cross his box and let him loose
commit this act of self-abuse
Britain, smitten on a lie
still strung up by the old school tie.

Now The Last Poppy Has Fallen

Five poems about life in Essex in World War One, one for each year of the war. Commissioned by The Last Poppy Project.

August Bank Holiday, Essex, 1914

To Essex then, one hundred years ago
to sun-scorched, dusty fields and parched stream beds.
Where windfall codlings pock the russet earth,
September’s fruits come early, and to waste.

At Boreham Reverend Yonge mops cobs of sweat
and begs his guv’nor for a dose of rain
as horticultural ladies trim their blooms,
they nip and bud and dream of red rosettes.

Down Thaxted way, the labourers are striking
it’s coming up for forty wage-less days.
They roam the country lanes in search of scabs,
as Pankhurst comes, the red flag on her car.

The trains are packed from third right through to first,
the coastal steamers coat the blue sky white
as Essex leaves her heartlands for her shore.
From Romford, Dagenham and Tilbury

near forty-thousand, swap the clock for sand.
The boarding houses with their lists of rules
and fearsome landladies are full, although
it’s quieter than last year. They know why.

A storm is building in the stifling air:
in Chelmsford they can talk of nothing else,
the newsagents are desperate for vendors,
the tittle-tattle’s milled right through the night.

Until on Tuesday, everybody knows.
In Southend hundreds gather at the Standard
to read the words they posted in the window.
The tiny wives, umbrellaed by their men.

We’re twenty-one today, we’ll make the Kaiser pay
The regulars demob down Mersea Road
while Reverend Yonge in Boreham writes in black:
Bella horrida bella… smite, hell, ruin.

VAD Hospital, Saffron Walden, 1915

The ancient oak on Freshwell Street
is jaundiced in the Autumn sun
as Clementina clips her way to work.
A window pane plays mirror to
the mid-blue of her uniform
and though she’s late, she stops stock-still and stares.

The red-cross on the armband,
the starched white of the hat,
black boots that pinch, the bag balm on her palms.
Pulled-in, pinned back, with pale-blue eyes
it takes the girl a breathless beat
to realise it’s her who’s staring back.

It’s Clem. Our Clem. The messy-haired
adventurer and story queen,
pied piper to her brothers, lost in June.
But no one’s called her Clem for months,
those summers seems an age ago.
They linger like a half-remembered tune.

The chance to go and do her bit
had won against her life at home
she’d kissed her mum and hugged the boys to bits.
But as she pitted guilt against
adventure with the VAD
she never stopped to think what it might do.

And now she knows: this woman here
will never lead a squawking gang
of children through the Essex water fields.
And as the thought occurs to her
it darts across the pale blue eyes,
she blinks the thing away and turns for work.

Zeppelin Attack, Braintree, 1916

Doris and her sister Maggie
shook awake by mum one night
as starlight shows a large dark shape
in deathly, whirring flight.

The oilcloth of the bedroom floor
is icy underneath their feet,
they struggle with the steamed-up sash
and peer out on the street.

As overhead a Kapitan
unsure above this foreign land
turns the zeppelin’s engines off
to better understand

exactly where his airship is
and as he does St Michael’s bell
tolls and tells this Kapitan
what Doris knows too well.

He’s cleared the patchwork Essex fields,
dirt farmyards and the gladed copse,
he’s reached the jostled terraces
and little shuttered shops,

the churches and the railway line
where sloes and dark, fat blackberries grow,
where thatched roof pubs and gothic schools
are all the young girls know.

He’s likely near enough to Crittall’s
where in peace time men annealed
those futuristic window frames
in toughened Essex steel;

where now their women heat and cool
the liquid fire for darker ends,
the grim, efficient work of war.
He gives the order, sends

a thousand screaming kilos down
upon the brisk Spring Essex night
a silent rip through country air
and then the sky turns white.

Memory’s a funny thing
and later, when she wrote it down
Doris was unable to
recall the burning town.

The oilcloth and the sash stayed with her
and the news the morning after
a tiny girl was crushed and killed
by chimney brick and rafter.

But mostly Doris thought about
her kind old dad away at war
the picture of him coming home
was what she chose to store.

So handsome in his postman’s blue
much better than the army green
he never smacked or chided them
or told them what he’d seen.

Mrs Godley’s War, 1917

Meet Mrs Godley, well to-do
Victorian in sober blue
and not content to chat and sit
No, Mrs Godley does her bit.
Or tries to, but it’s rather hard
her Peter joined the Old Boy’s Guard
her Jack went off to man a tank
but no one wants her in the ranks.
It seems a woman’s work in war
is more of what it was before:
ironing, cooking, washing, scrubbing
while men all give the Bosch a drubbing.
A zestful woman in a time
where bus drivers were old and blind
before they ever wore a dress.
No voice in church, committee-less
and wasted, really, like her friends.
So at her threadbare tether’s end
our Mrs Godley takes a stand
and grasps the war with eager hands.
Full-bodied like a vintage port
she scours the streets of Dovercourt
with firm resolve and hawk-like eyes
in search of snooping German spies.
And who’s this here? Suspicious pair
all nordic hue and flaxen hair,
peculiar manner, funny hats
no Englishman would dress like that!
You there boy, now are you willing?
Help your country! Earn a shilling!
Good lad. Operation Rhine:
go ask that brace of chaps the time.

She sends him with a zealous push
then darts behind a nearby bush
to listen as they answer him
and when they do the news is grim!
A stuttered mess of Zees and Vees
so Mrs Godley’s out the trees
flag wagging her white parasol
to fetch a military patrol.
Here they come now, almost quickly
(asthmatic, flat-feet, over fifty)
whistles blowing, touch of flap
inexpertly they seize chaps.
But later down the local nick
our heroine is feeling sick:
Belgians, Madam, no need for fuss,
best leave the espionage to us.
Your efforts might be better spent
on errands of a gentler bent.

So Mrs Godley set off home
embarrassed, patronised, alone
to measure out her life in jams
and wait for tragic telegrams.

The Kings Head, Harwich, 1918

On Market Street near Harwich dock
the shore-leave sailors stop the clock
and fill their throats with yards of beer
as if the final days were here.

Debouched and broached, The King’s Head groans
with battered thick-slurred baritones
as fear is scrubbed with boozy prayer
in gas-lit, blue-tinged, smokey air.

And can you blame these sozzled kids
for wanting some escape from it?
Tomorrow they haul anchor then
they sail away from homes and friends.

From Danbury; from Peasenhall;
from Edmonton; from Coggeshall;
from terraces up pot-holed lanes
from hamlets never touched by trains

from farmhouse, workhouse, market hill
from trading streets that chirp and till
from nooks that never make a noise
apprentices and grocer’s boys

step up and say that they are keen
despite the fact that they’ve all seen
the letters home, the telegrams,
and fresh-faced widows pushing prams.

They’ve watched their brothers not return
they’ve heard of how their young lungs burned
with gas in reeking sodden ruts
and now they feel it in their guts.

The churn of dark uncertain days
they gulp it down, the newly brave
play brutes and beasts until they’re sore
and summon what it takes to leave for war.

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