If you can’t self indulge at your own Festival then when can you. One of my contributions to our 4 Corners Festival 2014 was Saturday night’s Where There Are People There Are Stories, at the brand new Duncairn Cultural Arts Centre, when I got that self indulgent opportunity to chat to two great songwriters and a wonderful poet. I have to say that it was after their first song and poem that I smiled inside and out. I got this combination just perfect. Dave Thompson, El Gruer and Anthony Toner are all doing the same things; taking stories and places and making art that was much more than entertaining, though entertaining it was. The audience caught on quickly that we actually had three poets in the house. Thompson and Toner sing but they are wordsmiths with agility of image and couplet. Poet El Gruer added another hue and her very effective use of what could almost be seen as the repeated chorus made here sufficiently different but close enough to seamlessly sit alongside the singers.
. her has the songwriting habit of
That El told us she doesn’t read much poetry gives the clue as to why her work is so original, somewhere between the poetry slammer in the pub and the literary wisdom that could be read off the page in a University cafe. I’m Sorry Japan was stop you dead in your tracks confession of her blasé response to the Japanese tsunami ending with a cry to God and call to prayer. Hoods? Well Hoods should be a hit single. It twists and turns your self-righteous judgements on others and ends with you looking deep into yourself in hope of finding personhood in everyone. Her travelling and work with a number of different social justice causes gave her a deep reservoir of people to find her stories.
Thompson brought the 4 Corners landscape to the final event. My City as an opening number set us in Belfast with the mountains and rivers as well as the building and pavement. A new song How Do We Honour took us into the legislation of the Haass Report and the realisation that it is only respecting each other that will help us find a way through our current parades and flags impasse. Falling is a poignant dignity giving to a young man who was buried in full view yet like one of the disappeared. The Falling line is near impossible to get out of you head days later; and I’m not the only one who has said it!
If Thompson is brand new to the songwriting scene Toner is a young veteran. He was in good company tonight but his experience and stage fitness shone and with a deep humility that put up with the self indulgent questioning of yours truly. His artistic and performing maturity also came through in his ability to unpack the songs and the mechanics behind the craft. As he introduced and then sang Sailortown you could see The Clarendon Dock and the teenage protagonists. The unrelated aunty of The Great Escape as well as Sunday afternoon television in the early seventies came vividly alive. After a mention of Jim Reeves the next line “welcome to my world” comes with the timing of a comedian; brilliant! With a voice like a warm cup of the very best coffee I sat inches from him as he sang wondering why he is not a world famous songwriter, much sought after in the scenes of his encore song Nashville Snowflake.
If you had an interest in poetry or song then tonight would have been a joy. If you wanted to delve a little deeper into the art then I hope we uncovered some secrets in the chatter. If you came not expecting anything more than a good night out then Toner’s challenge to be alert and open to all the epic stories going on in the places and people around you would have sent you away with a real hint at how to milk the most out of life.
Three superb artists closed the 4 Corners Festival for this year by opening up the potential of our city implicitly and explicitly in songs and poems that were definitely good and good for something!