A bout of insomnia finds me here at 5.30am writing a blog in the light of my laptop screen. This room is too hot, my nose is too blocked and it’s becoming increasing apparent that these decongestion tablets have caffeine in them.
I’m in Aberystwyth. It’s my first time here. I’ve always wanted to go. I nearly went to university in Bangor, which has a similar end of the line romanticism to it. Somewhere out there in a parallel universe there is a Luke Wright that went Bangor. Maybe it’s a bit like Lost and all the people in my current life are also in bangor life but in different roles, and maybe my kid’s really good at playing Chopin? Whatever, anywhere that takes three hours to get to on a rickety train that goes past stations that are just platforms surrounded by mountains is worth visiting in my book.
I say three hours, that’s three hours from Birmingham, I’d been on the go since half six when when my train left Birmingham International at 12.09. Not that I really mind. If this was my final tour date it would feel more of a slog but it’s the first one and I’m keen for adventure. Don’t scoff, Aberystwyth might not seem like adventure compared to trekking in Nepal or wanking off a lady boy in an orphanage you helped build (or whatever you kids do on your gap years), but it is to me. I guess I should have cultivated a nonchalance for it all by now but when I pulled into Aberystwyth station I couldn’t help but feel amazed that here I was in another country (well, principality) looking at the sea on the West coast of Britain when it seemed that only minutes before I’d been a short drive from from the East coast. It helps if you can get lost in a good book, anyone who’s read Stone Junction by Jim Dodge will know what I mean.
I had tea at the hotel and marveled at the sea view from the large bay windows in my room. I was more taken by its roar then than I am now, at 5.48am having had it permeate my half sleep all night, but a night by the sea is good for the soul (and I can sleep on the train).
I had been warned of the hill up to the university, but “hill” means a different thing to a boy from home counties than it does to a Welshman. Sweating through my waistcoat and increasingly irritated at the music on my iPod I reached the arts centre (which is on the university campus) at about five-ish. “An arts centre on a university campus,” I thought to myself, “what a splendid idea, a captive audience then.” Ha, not so as it seems. The tech informed me that I had 15 pre-sales for the show.
“Do you get much of a walk-up?” I asked.
He and the front of house manager looked at me like I’d just walked into a pool hall asking for game of chequers.* “No.”
My cold had caught up with me. The long sweaty walk combined with the prospect of an awkward evening in front of a tiny crowd whacked me round the head. I went through a few bits of script and found them impossibly tiring to perform. I glumly went outside to the foyer to drink tea and throw myself into Stone Junction for a couple of hours.
If I can give you one bit of advice about being a performance poet, it’s warm up properly. I was taught the importance of this by my first director James Grieve when I did my first solo show in 2006. I haven’t always followed it since, but I’ve been really good about getting myself in shape for Petty Concerns. I spent 40 minutes stretching and doing pronunciation exercises and warm up poems before the gig. Not only does it limber you up but it gets you in your performance zone whilst burning off the nervous energy, which otherwise I find quite irritating until I’m just about to walk on stage. My warm up last night saved the gig. By the time I got on stage I was fluid enough to carry each audience member with me. I made a few cracks about the size of the crowd (which had at least broken the 20 barrier) and after about three minutes I knew they were with me.
I think its a testament to the show that I enjoy performing it so much. I don’t remember enjoying my previous shows as consistently as this one. I had a lovely time on stage. After a few weeks off from it, concentrating on finishing Cynical Ballads, it was grand to crank up my bleeding heart and bang on about ego.
After the gig I sold a few books and was asked by a big group of audience members if I’d join them for a drink. The drink turned out to be two and we had a delightful time talking about comedy, kids and the end of the line. They asked me which I preferred – touring or a static run. What’s clear is that it’s stuff like being asked to join a group of strangers for a drink that makes touring so special. I had a wonderful time last night and came back to my hotel buoyed and excited by the prospect of the next gig and the next little corner of Britain it will help me uncover. Poetry Wivenhoe today, I’m excited.
* ha, this line is lifted from one of Tom Sutton’s excellent “nuisance letters,” couldn’t resist it.