Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Why Poetry Matters

I was fourteen when The Jam released Sound Affects, an album Weller maintained was their finest. They were already a really important band for me, notwithstanding the callowness of my youth. They had released a peerless run of singles since my first purchase of ‘When You’re Young’ the previous year and I had delved into the back catalogue with relish and found a band to cherish. I’d adored Setting Sons – it introduced me to ideas of class struggle, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas and the notion of the concept album – although the latter was sadly not fully realised in the album itself.  Sound Affects was different though. First of all, the breadth and variety of material was impressive. Perhaps this reached its apotheosis with The Gift but here were echoes of the many eclectic influences that Weller was drawing upon across the eleven tracks.  For me, however, the reverse of the sleeve was even more illuminating.

 We had of course dabbled with poetry at school by this point. In fact the poem Timothy Winters made a lasting impression on me in terms of its rhythm and imagery; I was delighted years later to see Christopher Ecclestone use it memorably in Bleasdale’s GBH. Its fair to say that poetry had not yet really grabbed me though. The excerpt on the sleeve did however and stirred something in me, awoke me from my slumber you might say. Certainly lyrics can be seen as poetic, and lyrics to great songs such as ‘Down in the Tube Station at Midnight’ started off as a poem. Weller’s love of, and commitment to, poetry went further though, creating his own publishing company, Riot Stories, and publishing poetry and other works including ‘December Child’ and ‘Notes from Hostile Street’. In many ways this excerpt was my gateway drug to other things – when Weller mentioned beat poetry, or Geoffrey Ashe’s ‘Camelot and the Vision of Albion’, I would go and check it out, much in the way that the Manic Street Preachers would later inspire fans to read Plath and Pinter, or discover Kevin Carter and Zapruder. The excerpt from Mask of Anarchy acted as a catalyst for me, journeying to the library to read the full poem and later delving further into Shelley, including picking up Paul Foot’s ‘Red Shelley’ which I loved. So to see Mask of Anarchy picked up by Corbyn and others during what was an inspirational election campaign was personally very poignant – something that had been a catalyst for me was becoming a touchstone for others, and hinted at a collective awakening.
It hints also at the power of words. This is something I have talked about a lot with my friend Mike Garry, a peach of a poet and who we are privileged to have as a member of our Centre for Law, Society and Popular Culture at Westminster Law School. I’ve blogged about the links between law and poetry, and the history of poetry at our institution before, but am now delighted to announce that we have a new initiative starting in November, entitled Poetry Matters, as part of a British Academy/Being Human funded project entitled ‘Found Theatre and Poetry: Disrupting the Everyday’. More details to follow on this in due course, but it draws on the sometimes occluded history of poetry and theatre, and celebrates their power and potential, but in particular pays homage to the power of the word. And that’s why poetry matters. 

Thursday, 11 May 2017

And Ziggy played the Poly

Fifty years ago today (12th May) Procul Harem’s A Whiter Shade of Pale was released  - a seminal record and one which was subject to a well publicised copyright dispute around joint authorship. In fact the victor there, Matthew Fisher, can be doubly pleased as changes to duration provisions in copyright law now mean that copyright in the sound recording now persists to 2037, rather than finishing in 2017. 

Whilst not as seminal, on this date 45 years ago David Bowie played our Law School Building. To mark Bowie’s passing we produced a spotify playlist replicating the set list he was alleged to have played that day and this is available here.  Our Little Titchfield Street site has a fabulous musical pedigree and history, with many bands playing here in the 1960s and 1970s, a selection of posters  from this time, sourced from our University Archives, are on display in the Law School and available on line here. To mark this 45th anniversary we are delighted to present a guest blog from our very own Chris Ellins, Course Leader of the LLM Entertainment Law at the University of Westminster  

 
The photo for the album sleeve was in fact taken in Heddon Street,
a stone's throw from the University.

 And Ziggy played guitar – at the University of Westminster
by Chris Ellins


45 years ago on 12 May 1972, as part of what became his iconic Ziggy Stardust tour, David Bowie and his band, The Spiders from Mars played at the Little Titchfield Street venue of the Polytechnic of Central London (which had recently changed name but was still widely known as Regent Street Polytechnic), both predecessors of the University of Westminster. It was the tour that would start his ascent into becoming a global icon. Little Titchfield Street was the home to the student union and a hub of student musical activity at the university and a popular venue on the student circuit. It played host to many bands and singers of the 1960s and 1970s, including Cream and early incarnations of Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac and also was the first place that Jimi Hendrix performed in the United Kingdom.

Bowie released Hunky Dory in December 1971 and in 1972 followed this up with a tour to promote that album and the emerging Ziggy Stardust. The first part of the tour included many colleges on the student tour circuit and the gig at the University of Westminster was part of this. David Bowie was not as well-known or popular at the time as he became, he had only just secured a new 3 album record contract in the summer of 1971 and many gigs were reported not to be full. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars album was released in June 1972, was followed by a tour of larger venues and then the USA later in the year and David Bowie the legend was born. On the Hunky Dory album Bowie referred to himself as an actor and it’s clear the gig at the University of Westminster took place at the moment just before Bowie was on the cusp of worldwide fame during which he was consolidating the development of his Ziggy Stardust persona and showed his acute interest in performance and the art of drama and stagecraft, with his stage shows featuring lights, extravagant (for the time) stage costumes  and costume changes, all mixed with his projection of skilled musicianship and ambiguous sexuality – a whole enveloping dramatic and musical experience. One footnote to the show was that the tour featured guest keyboard players. At the time of the Polytechnic of Central London gig this was Matthew Fisher who had played with Procol Harum, in particular on their famous song Whiter Shade of Pale, which had been released fifty years ago and exactly five years to the day before Bowie and the Spiders from Mars played at The Polytechnic of Central London. This song many years later became the subject matter of litigation brought by Fisher concerning copyright authorship and ownership, reaching the highest court in the land, the House of Lords (now the Supreme Court).

A review of the show showed all of these elements featured. Described as at “Regent Street Poly”, Rosalind Russell reported that Bowie “camped up his show outrageously”, featured a costume change from the first to second part of the set and that he “posed, postured and pouted for the audience.” “Coloured lights flashed in conjunction with the music, and gave good effect to the short set the Spiders did without David” (presumably during the costume change). It also featured an intimate element when “David and his lead guitarist Mick Ronson sat at the front of the stage, and David sang "Space Oddity".  The set was mix of the old Bowie numbers, covers and the coming Ziggy Stardust new. It was rapturously received and Russell reported that “even after an encore, it was a while before the audience would leave the hall, such was the success of the show

She concluded that “somehow it would be a shame if Bowie was to become a superstar, but I don't think fame would turn his head!”. It was clear the super star Bowie soon after became had emerged and had played at what is now the home of Westminster Law School, its Centre for Law Society and Popular Culture and associated LLM in Entertainment Law at the University of Westminster.

Source: Rosalind Russell May 1972, no title given http://www.5years.com/rrussell72.htm  but probably from Disc and Music Echo May 1972 seehttps://www.rocksbackpages.com/Library/Writer/rosalind-russell




Tuesday, 14 February 2017

What Difference Does It Make?

'All men have secrets and here is mine, so let it be known'.

So opened The Smiths' third single, 'What Difference Does it Make?'. To these ears an astonishing clarion call and a fine addition to the canon, although compared against the first two singles undeniably not as strong. Still,  it was an unbridled and unfettered joy to journey to the record shop to purchase, as were all The Smiths releases, at least  until 'That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore'. Morrissey apparently later disassociated himself with it somewhat as he was not keen on the lyrics. The lyrics in fact, allude to a secret. Perhaps even less well known are the secrets of the University of Westminster, notwithstanding the sterling efforts of our Archival Services to rectify this occlusion. To further help remedy this the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, of which Westminster Law School is a part, has announced a festival that seeks to unlock some of these secrets. 













The University of Westminster has somehow always been different. Our predecessors created a place where the public could explore new ideas, view new inventions and learn new skills, and our University Values today reflect this very public aspect of our mission. The first moving images, the first photography studio, Pepper's Ghost; the Regent Street Polytechnic was famous for making such marvels accessible to all. Similarly, our work rehabilitating servicemen injured during World War One is but one historical example of  commitment to  making a difference and having a real world impact.  The Difference Festival hopefully will showcase some of the ways in which we are different, and make a difference. There are lots of events, all free and open to all, that can be booked, including a rare chance to visit the cinema and hear our Compton Organ being played, so please visit the website and sign up. Morrissey's perhaps rhetorical question is certainly relevant to all academics today as we consider why we do what we do and how we do it.   The University of Westminster more than most has a history and ethos that allows us to respond with some positivity to his question.