I did loads of writing at the end of last year. Sadly most of it was this poem, which I’ll never perform again. It was written for The Aisle16 is 10 gig in December. It’s not exactly got a wide appeal beyond that gig, but I post it because I’m proud of the poetry, if only in a technical sense.
The Mighty Aisle
All hail, etcetera! Shut your mouths and cower
I bring a verse the like of which again
you’ll never hear. A verse that shows the power
that poetry holds over fine young men.
Sit back, for this could take up to an hour.
The doors are locked, the bar is closed, but friends
don’t worry. Panic not. Remain serene
and I’ll present the tale of Aisle16.
It all began, for me at least, one cold
December night in 1998
I was a gauche yet loud sixteen year old
I scribbled dark and worthy tomes of hate
a life of piety, and wanking, holed
up in my room. I hadn’t many mates
and worse, alas, I hadn’t any fans
such was I when I saw Ross Sutherland
perform all Byron-esque in velvet jacket
with themes that owed a debt to trash TV
each verse so urgent that he seemed to rap it
I swear he only read that night for me.
His silly Scottish voice, a gorgeous racket
to my neglected ears, what poetry!
My life changed forever that winter’s day
and yes I am aware this sounds quite gay.
That Christmas I wrote close to thirty poems
(it seems back then I found the process fun)
I lacked the basic aptitude to grow them
but business-wise I rivaled Mandleson
and so next term I brought them in to show them
to English teachers and my efforts won
a gig supporting Ross that week at college
the rest is history, so onto Norwich.
In doing so I halt the violins
nostalgia’s sweet and florid concertina
My halcyon sixth form days through rosy bins.
The drugs! Oh God! The weed was never greener!
At times I think it must have been like Skins
though really it was more The Inbetweeners
I’ll spare you all that needless Proustian bounty
and say I followed Ross to Nelson’s county.
And there at UEA I felt near saved
the finest minds of my fine generation
(apart from those who’d gotten better grades
and now took trains to leafy Oxbridge stations)
Yes, here were poets – literate and brave
with rhyming, quick-fix ways to mend the nation.
and when I think of them I hear one voice
the gobbing, growling tones of Paul MacJoyce.
Of course back then, the ‘Mac’ was yet to come
Paul Joyce, he was to us back at the start
a ranting east end punk, his words a gun
vocabulary so big it matched his heart.
A pearly king stuck out of time he spun
a mix of Marxist vitriol and farts.
He called himself a social nationalist
he often spoke like this when he was pissed.
To celebrate this group that had appeared
I thought it would great if we could host a
club that featured poetry and beer
romantic thoughts of verses scrawled on coasters
Ross thought my venture: “not a good idea,”
but he agreed if he could do the poster.
And so was born our tiny little scene
and as you know we called it Aisle16.
At first our little club was quite sporadic
we put it on between our essay writing
poor planning skills ensured we were nomadic
three venues in one year and none with lighting,
pa or marketing. We were a tad shit
at organizing but it was exciting
and by July another handsome hack
had joined our ranks – one Yanny Mac.
Two years before we’d met him in a club
talked shit at one another as you do
his bird had gotten Ross shifts at her pub
and I had kept in touch with Yanny too.
We drank together as we talked of love
and through this time I thought our friendship grew.
Thought he confessed to me last autumn that
those first few years he thought I was a twat.
Oh Yanny Mac, the Marlbroughs and the grin.
The patchwork clothes, the gravel voice, and past
as Nestle rep. Monotonous and grim
trips through the Dartford tunnel didn’t last
as slowly Yanny’s bones imprisoned him
then strangely set him free to be re-cast
as ranting raconteur and bar room sage
we listened, he was nearly twice our age.
And still the Mighty Aisle grew and grew
Joel Stickley was the latest student type
we picked him up in February 02
for when he played our club he stole the night
the cunt was only making his debut
there’s no denying that young Joel was bright.
Perhaps too bright, too quick to take the pee
The target of his satire? Why, twas me!
By then we’d caught this pretty city’s ear
The Mighty Aisle won most refreshing act
at Norwich’s Fringe Festival that year
and next our scabby suitcases were packed
with home made t-shirts, silly hats and gear
(procured of course by Yan), no man looked back
in search of fame and fortune, drugs and minge
we took our show to Edinburgh’s Fringe.
For thirty days or so we shared a flat
and ran our club for word fans in Auld Reekie
we had the odd ungentlemanly spat
we often spent the mornings feeling peaky
but come the night the general rat-a-tat
of poems being ranted pleased us deeply.
We ran an open house, we packed our rooms
and Paul’s industrious bum filled us with gloom.
But overall the trip up north was brilliant
reviewers came along and wrote reviews
while one described our rhyming as resilient
another praised the hipness of our do’s
and though our column inches were a millionth
of all the hype penned that year it felt true
Quite something to be in that gang of five
we climbed up Arthur’s Seat and felt alive!
But come the Autumn life resumed its greyness
exams and work and rent and bills and stuff
My final year at uni brought a vagueness
I worried that real life would call my bluff
and daily dealt with something far more heinous
I shared a flat with Paul Joyce and his guffs
one day he even set the place alight
but that’s a story for another night.
For me, returning to the fringe was easy
I dreamed of dodgy pavements and I pined
the others said the prospect left them queasy
they didn’t have a death wish quite like mine
and so in efforts simply to appease me
they agreed to come for one week at a time
which meant we had to grow to fill our slot
two new recruits to help us join the dots.
Tom Sutton, I should say, is not a bard
he writes pedantic letters of complaint
to companies to catch them off their guard
involving them, despite their best restraints,
in finicky and often avant garde
correspondences. Points of View it aint.
he reads these letters out, they’re very funny
especially when his victims give him money.
And then Chris Hicks, the first to join our ranks
from out of town. He thought in battle plans
and knew a lot about warheads and tanks
if Aisle16 was just a single man
he’d be the fists, he shared our love of pranks
and nasty jokes and making Britain scan.
No grants back then, our students loans were spent
and once again to Edinburgh we went.
And fun was had and beer was drank but still
we came back down again and nothing changed
‘cept now the thought of working made me ill
My father said the thing could be arranged
he knew of vacancies that could be filled
my brain and heart were never more estranged
at Christmas I saw Ross and it was said
that maybe Aisle16 was better dead.
That January I left my London flat
and came and did a gig back at The York
we packed this pub and really that was that
why abandon things for which we’d fought?
We all agreed we needed to change track
because in recent years we’d come up short
but it was far too good to throw away
so Aisle16 would fight another day.
But Joel and Yan said they could do no more
and so they shook our hands and took their leave
poor Yan was ill and Joel, well, I’m not sure
I think he had novel up his sleeve
and so we boldly strode into 04
we took a trip to Cornwall to conceive
a gruesome show called Powerpoint which sated
desires to quit the day jobs that we hated.
In Powerpoint we strove to make poetic
the type of corporate banter that we loathed
we mocked their macho bullshit as pathetic
we called each other “winners”, wore their clothes.
though now it seems that bluster was prophetic
for when the Mighty Aisle as in the throws
of talking like “achievers” we conceded
that maybe self-belief was what we needed.
At Edinburgh that year we raised the bar
and yet it didn’t leave me feeling clever
for on the way I had accrued some scars
the Spring had seen a friendship badly severed
an argument with Paul had gone too far
I think I said: “well Fuck you, Paul, forever.”
The sweet smell of nostalgia can be fetid,
those words are ones I have always regretted.
But as a gang of four we filled our boots
and flyered Auld Reekie’s patrons unperturbed
while dressed as coked-up goons in pinstriped suits
occasionally we left a Gran disturbed
but generally the process was a hoot
at last we got the crowds that we deserved.
With Powerpoint the Mighty Aisle soared
a run in London and a national tour.
But first we had to say goodbye to Sutton
no nastiness or strife, just life, I guess
he chose that time to push the exit button
he thought a course at Warwick for the best.
But thankfully old Stickley was a glutton
for punishment so he returned and yes
admitted to the pining of a viscus
in layman’s terms I think old Joel has missed us.
Our Powerpoint success in London caused
the Arts Council to shower us with cash
And now with Stickley fully back on board
we started work on something far more brash
the funding meant we could at last afford
to add a new projector to our stash
so fortified with this new toy and
a rosy self-belief we formed a Boyband.
Complete with shitty grins and Westlife whistles
a Poetry Boyband to be precise
we moved as if our crotches fired missiles
if only we’d had funds to have dry ice
we ranted verses – fuming, mad epistles
then interspersed them with some spoof advice
on poetry. We notched up critics’ stars
and toasted our success in Scotland’s bars.
In fact in any bar for eighteen months
we drank our way round Britain in that band
and sure enough we had our peaks and slumps
our crowd in Luton numbered seven and
near half of them thought we were feckless chumps
though mostly I recall it being grand.
A glorious and special way to live
I shan’t ever forget the things we did.
But boybands have their shelf lives as you know
and we began to pull in different ways
I started working on a solo show
I don’t know if the others felt betrayed
but thought as if I needed room to grow.
And Aisle16 was never put to graze
instead we burned the white suits and went straight
beginning on our strangest show to date
to find the poetry in service stations
the beauty in a greasy chicken bucket
a travelogue of Britain’s fast food nation
and whilst we could quite easily have stuck it
to Welcome Break and other corporations
temptations to ignore them and say “fuck it”
were strong. A celebration of the soulless
would give our show an eerie sense of boldness.
The show was based upon an actual tour
completed in the summer of 06
when armed with just a red escort the four
of us embarked upon the thing for kicks.
It ended six days later with us bored
and spent, fed-up with each other’s tricks.
we bickered til each one of us felt sick
despite the splendor of Trebetherick
That Cornish beach was where our tour had ended
a hundred miles away from motorways
retreating to where life was slow and splendid
did nothing to improve the dark malaise
for we were tired and easily offended
and something died between us on that day
while reconciling lay beyond our reach
O how poetic! Dying on the beach!
And then surprise, surprise we changed our minds
again a gig in Norwich struck the blow
our service station show was quite sublime
a work of shonky genius don’t you know
why we could walk the earth and never find
another set of mates whose mental flow
so neatly matched our own, this was unique
instead we chose to celebrate this clique.
We toured once more but soon our sights were set
on starting up a club where we could test
new shows and where forgiving crowds would let
us make mistakes. We knew it would work best
if we got in some new blood so we set
out to recruit the cream, but I confess
we looked no further than our three best mates
yes nepotistic, sure, but they are great.
Arise Tim Clare, his verses somewhat vagety
with bawdy rhymes so sweetly sung on uke.
Arise Joe Dunthorne, we’d all be quite mad you see
to pass a chance of working with this duke.
Arise John Osborne, with his simple tragedies
the sweetest man I know, but it’s no fluke
we got together for creative thrills
‘cause Aisle16 assimilates or kills.
And with these extra minds our talents grew
but still we sought to find the poetry
in places where it’s often not pursued
then intersperse these bits with repartee
Tom Cruise and gaming, even Ross’s shoes
have been subjected to the third degree.
and thanks to British Council funded schemes
No Grecian child is safe from Aisle16.
And that’s the way it’s been now for three years
a normal group of mates who play with words
my father wouldn’t call it a career
he thinks drinking energon’s absurd
but Christ it’s still exciting, ain’t it dears?
and ‘least we didn’t let in any birds.
I like to think that we will never end it
for Aisle16 is nothing if not friendship.