Bette Gandrup 2022

This was what I performed yesterday at Bette Gandrup Garden Festival:

What Do We Do with a Drunken Sailor?
Down Under
Streets of London
The Bard That Sang Stromness
Whiskey in the Morning
The Fields of Athenry
Sunshine on Leith
Feel Like Going Home
The Town I Loved So Well

Part of my fourth number can be witnessed here:                                     

Five more sonnets in print


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I have just had five more sonnets printed in Beth Houston’s second sonnet anthology, Extreme Sonnets II. As I explained last time, the point with the epithet is that the sonnets are extremely formal. They all employ iambic pentameter, full rhymes and traditional rhyming schemes.

My five sonnets are, in the order that I wrote them:

2008 The MUV Affair & I Sing the Sonnet
2009 On Our Silver Anniversary
2011 Mum’s the Word
2021 A Karen Blixen

The first four can be found in my collection of sonnets, which is normally online, but Snakeskin’s archives are temporarily unavailable. The last one is here.

Beth is now going to do an anthology of extreme love sonnets. Submission details will soon appear on the Rhizome Press website. All sonnets included in Extreme SonnetsExtreme Sonnets II, and Extreme Formal Poems will automatically be considered. 

Bette Gandrup & Now Comes Another Year

I’ll be playing at a small one-day festival, Bette Gandrup, at the start of August. It’ll be my second time there. The first was in 2018. Here’s my set list as it stands:

The Town I Loved So Well
The Bard That Sang Stromness
Soon to Be Sixty
Whiskey in the Morning
What Do We Do with a Drunken Sailor?
The Turquoise of Your Eyes
A Karen Blixen
Now Comes Another Year
The Fields of Athenry
Sunshine on Leith     
Streets of London

Half covers, and half my own stuff. The only one of my own that I haven’t recently uploaded, both with a sung version and the lyrics, is here and here:

Now Comes Another Year

The day I met you, Ann, would be
the day that I began to see
I had to take a chance
and ask you for a dance.

You showed me such compassion that
I’d no choice but to cash in at
the bank of destiny,
forever you and me.

I wasn’t any longer wasting time
looking for a reason or a rhyme.
The bits fell into place.
It’s hard to understand you’ve really gone.
I can’t imagine how I’ll carry on.
I miss your cheeky face.

You meant the world to me, you know.
I couldn’t bear to see you go.
Now comes another year
of you not being here.

I wasn’t any longer wasting time
looking for a reason or a rhyme.
The bits fell into place.
It’s hard to understand you’ve really gone.
I can’t imagine how I’ll carry on.
I miss your cheeky face.

Whiskey in the Morning

This is a song I wrote eleven years ago. My first draft of the lyrics can be seen at the end of my guest post on Thomas Graves’ blog, Scarriet. Note that the only link that isn’t defunct in my piece is the one to The Barefoot Muse.

I put the song on the back burner for six years, and then wrote a new chorus. I’d heard “Whiskey in the Jar” a few times and wanted to do my own whiskey song. I also revised the verses and found a new melody. It was published as a poem at the start of 2018 in Snakeskin. Their archives aren’t available at present, and I’ve also tweaked the lyrics since then, so I’m adding them below. Listen here.

There’s a thin slice of lemon
waltzing through heaven,
the waxing right half of the moon.
And I can’t help but envy
his excellent memory
and wonderful nose for a tune.

There’s a faraway island
aglow like a diamond,
sweet Venus, the queen of the sky.
And perhaps I’m the writer
whose pen can decipher
the whispers that dance in her eye.

If only there was whiskey in the morning,
we wouldn’t have to stay up half the night.
A pick-me-up just as the day was dawning.
I’d rise and shine as soon as it was light.

There’s this lad down the harbour
who’s shy of the barber
but expert at rhythm ‘n’ blues.
He’s a hit with the tourists
as well as the purists
but still can’t afford any shoes.

We met by the bunkers
one night I was drunk as
a tinker, the truth on my tongue.
I was happily humming
to what he was strumming.
He asked me if I’d ever sung.

Well, at first I was wary.
The prospect was scary.
I hadn’t dared dream I’d sing lead.
But a spot of tuition
from this young musician
was all the permission I’d need.

If only there was whiskey in the morning,
we wouldn’t have to stay awake all night.
A pick-me-up just as the day was dawning.
I’d rise and shine as soon as it was light.

A Karen Blixen

Photo: Bent Medvind Sörensen, 21st July 2011

I wrote this sonnet over a year ago, and it was published in Snakeskin along with the photo in June 2021. The archive at Snakeskin is unavailable at present, so I’m pasting both in here. The sonnet will also soon be appearing in Extreme Sonnets II.

This photograph of you, from golden years
on Daisy Close one sunny summer day,
still makes me smile, then splinter into tears.
You asked me to remember you the way
you were before you blossomed. Ever since
I met you in Assisi long ago,
you’ve been my rose, and I, the Little Prince,
would see a simple garden flower grow
into a Karen Blixen. Here’s the bed
where your sweet-scented, pure-white petals shone.
And even when an evil canker spread,
you bloomed again, undaunted. Now you’ve gone,
I sing for you, just like I’ve always done,
and catch you smiling as you catch the sun.

Listen to the sung version.

Saying Goodbye

She watched the car move out of sight,
then lingered as she sifted her
best memories of her days in light.
Such moments must have lifted her
as she prepared to face the worst,
her own impending signing out
that she would never be the first
to advertise or whine about.
She met her end with such restraint,
such candour, such tranquillity,
it broke my heart. She was a saint.
God, grant me the ability
to emulate her excellence,
her courage, and her elegance.

Listen here.

The Places We Belong

Another song for my late wife:

The Places We Belong

The news flashed in.
I shed hot, hot tears.
Cancer had come like a thief.
They gave you a month –
you lasted a year.
You had so much to give.

You had so much to give.
You had so much to live for.
You had so much to give.

It feels so wrong
you’ve left me here,
though you comfort me in my dreams.
And every day just means
we’re one more step less near
the places we belong,

the places we belong
immortalised in song,
the places we belong.

Listen here.

Ronnie O’Sullivan: The Mikhail Tal of snooker

I’ve long been a huge fan of Ronnie O’Sullivan. A living legend. GOAT, as they say.

He’s so cool when he’s sitting there in between points, yet so emotional in his reactions – which are facial mostly – and when he’s being interviewed. A complex character indeed.

His way of being is an inspiration. 

It’s not that I play any snooker myself, but whether I’m teaching, playing chess, writing poetry, or singing my songs, this man is an example of how to perform. He’s very strong when he’s got his tail up, but he’s also the fiercest of contenders when he’s on the back foot. Despite his volatile emotions, he manages to concentrate on the job at hand. He radiates the message, “I’m a man of ice.” This gives him a huge psychological advantage over his opponents. No one can quite match his indomitable spirit.

He can be a bit loose at times. but he has this x-factor. Even his most workmanlike opponent is at a loss when things get out of hand. He excels in the rough and tumble. He doesn’t always win, of course. But he’s the comeback kid if ever there was one, never someone to crumble under pressure.

I’ve just watched him being beaten in the Championships League by my fellow countryman, John Higgins, who’s been in fine form of late. Playing at his very best, Higgins punished the maestro at almost every opportunity. There were a couple of browns that Higgins missed in the third frame, leading to the suspicion that we might see him start to wobble. But it was O’Sullivan that slipped up subsequently on both occasions, and Higgins won 3-0.

Nevertheless, surely anyone can see it’s O’Sullivan who has raised the level of the game.

Soon to Be Sixty


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My poem, “Soon to Be Sixty”, has been published in this month’s Snakeskin.

Here is the song version, followed by a recording:

Soon to Be Sixty

I discover a favourite writer
with every new decade that turns.
At ten I would gladly recite a
“Some hae meat…” by the bard, Rabbie Burns.
“Some hae meat…” by Rabbie Burns.

At twenty Bob Dylan disarmed me
with “Tangled Up in Blue”.
“Simple Twist of Fate” really charmed me.
“You’re a Big Girl Now” turned the screw.
“Tangled Up in Blue”.

At thirty I chanced on a master,
an Orcadian, George Mackay Brown.
He mingled success with disaster.
He knew that the king was a clown.
George Mackay Brown.

At forty I heard Kenneth Steven
bring a Christmas Day in at Dunkeld
with a story he seemed to believe in
of a baby that he almost held.
Kenneth Steven at Dunkeld.

At fifty I witnessed Ben Okri
in Edinburgh at the Book Fair.
Perhaps he’ll be on at Pitlochry
one of these days while I’m there.
Ben Okri at the Fair.

I’m due to hit sixty next summer.
Whose talent will thicken the plot?
A poet, a singer, a strummer?
I love all of these guys such a lot.
I love all of these guys a lot.
I love all of these guys a lot.