Spoken Word Reviews

Advice to Humanity - Mark Twain Talks

Bern Budd as Mark Twain

"... You know, I am still really amazed that someone that famous, is doing the Fringe in Buxton!" (Over-heard in a bar at the Old Hall Hotel)

"I came in with Halley's comet in 1835. It's coming again next year (1910), and I expect to go out with it." (Mark Twain)

Despite the changes in our culture over the last 100 years, the writings and monologues of Mark Twain, satirist, humorist and story teller, remain so appropriate today and still give enormous pleasure to those who love the English language and praise the honesty of exploring human feelings and failings.

It was with delight that we listened to Bern Budd as the Mississippi genius himself. This was not a show about Mark Twain it was an audience with him!

Taken from Twain's own work, this lecture (the first of two - see 'Notes on the Damned Human Race') is a collection of advice and morals, directed mainly to the youth, concerning, amongst others, the dire consequences of the maxims and aphorisms of Benjamin Franklin, advise on truth and lies, on obedience and respect, on profanity, on stealing and on the importance of preparing your 'last words' before it is too late (Each person is born to one possession which outvalues all his others - his last breath.)

On the telling of lies: "The young ought to be temperate in the use of this great art until practice and experience shall give them that confidence, elegance, and precision which alone can make the accomplishment graceful and profitable."

On stealing: "You ought never to take anything that don't belong to you -- if you cannot carry it off."

The performance is thoroughly entertaining; Bern Budd's timing and delivery preserves the satire of the writings and gives them a life that you would not so easily find in the mere reading of it; serving up 'diamond necklaces' of phrases reminding us of the magnificent beauty of the English Language.

Right from the outset, the audience was laughing out loud at the hilarious stories and anecdotes. His boyhood tales reminded me of my own forgotten mischievousness. His freedom to take 'clichéic parental advice' and turn it on its head, gave me permission to absolve myself from a few things in my childhood.

Invigorating! An absolute must see!

Martin Wood

Fringe Readings - Festival Fringe Promotion

The Fringe Readings are among the constant and quiet pleasures of the Fringe. They happen twice a day on the Friday, Saturday & Sunday of two Festival weekends. They are sponsored by the Fringe itself, and entry is free.

The readers are different for each session, and each reader chooses his or her own material - true to the uncensored nature of the Fringe. They usually have some connection with the Fringe, whether as performers, past or present, committee members, friends, or acquaintances. Their tastes in reading are as varied as their slender connections might suggest, so there is no predicting what you might hear, only that it will be something of reasonably suitable length that the readers themselves have enjoyed, and think worth passing on.

The venue is a comfortable room in the Old Hall Hotel. Here you may if you wish bring your tea, coffee, or something stronger, and relax while being introduced to something new, or reminded of something already known. I happened upon a chapter concerning French hypochondria and the local pharmacy, from Peter Mayle's Toujours Provence, read by Gerard Crawshaw, himself a pharmacist , not to mention also former Fringe open-air Shakespeare Jukebox. I like those layers of connection, and I enjoyed the easy listening and civilised occasion. The next reading will certainly be completely different - so they're all worth trying, and can make a pleasant interval in the midst of a day's busy programme.

Ursula Birkett

In the light of this - Mark Gwynne Jones and the Psychicbread

Mark Gwynne Jones and the Psychicbread  (photo by Kevin Reynolds)

It's not easy to describe this show in a way that does justice to it. "New Age Musical Theatre" perhaps? On stage, we have Mark Gwynne-Jones - poet and musician - and three other musicians, surrounded by an incredible array of drums and other percussive devices, string instruments, keyboards and microphones. The Psychicbread perform, at times in a very relaxed, hypnotic way, at other times with the energy and punch of a samba band. Mark performs his poetry to this musical accompaniment, occasionally adding a flute melody.

Following that description, I think I need to add the oft-quoted maxim that there is a fine line between pure genius and utter rubbish. This sort of act, when done badly, can be overwhelmingly pretentious and esoteric - the sort of thing which, in its capacity to reduce mature adults to fits of giggles, is rivalled only by church services.

So to some extent, I find myself scratching my head and wondering which features of Mark Gwynne-Jones and the Psychicbread allowed them to not just 'pull it off' but do it with such verve and conviction. Largely, I would pin it on them not taking it too seriously: Mark's poetry is extremely amusing at times, and as he himself commented it isn't generally too long before sheer silliness intrudes onto whatever he was saying. I think some poets make the mistake of believing that frivolity undermines their serious work. I firmly believe it enhances it, and during the more thoughtful pieces the audience was utterly captivated. The other side of it is that the band performs extremely well: they build a mood, set a tone, and complement the words and their delivery perfectly. In all honesty, I found myself rarely listening to the lyrics too closely, the overall effect and atmosphere being sufficient most of the time, with a phrase ambushing me every now and then, forcing me to consider it more thoroughly.

The Dutch's bar was not an ideal venue in my opinion, dividing the audience and hampering (I expect) the band's opportunity to interact with them fully. The sound had a few problems, and people moving around the room found it difficult, not least the band themselves when they went off before returning for their encore. I approved heartily of Mark's lampooning this "silly game" but felt he was perhaps a little ungracious in not observing the other ritual at the end of gigs - that of publicly thanking the sound engineers, who had done a good job in what appeared to be a very difficult space.

I'll be the first to concede that this won't be everyone's cup of tea. It wasn't mine, to start with. But by the end of the evening I was absorbed completely and could quite happily have listened for several more hours. So I guess it is my sort of thing, and I can't imagine I'm going to see it done any better.

Nick Butterley

Messages from the Marvellous - Wyn Hobson

Wyn Hobson

The Buxton Carnival isn't always to everyone's taste, and so the Pauper's Pit can be a great place to escape to from the madness that descends on the town centre once a year. On offer on Saturday was a quiet drink, a comfy chair in which to sit, and a plethora of poetry from Mr Wyn Hobson.

Wyn recited a number of poems, which included Upon Westminster Bridge, Fern Hill, Pied Beauty, and Miracle on St. David's Day. The recital truly spanned the centuries, evoking images and sentiments of times past.

The only disappointment was the background noise created by the laundry room above the venue, and the malfunction of one of the lights above the audience. However, although this was quite distracting Wyn managed to draw us back in with his finale of a never ending tale.

Jasmine Harmer

Notes on the Damned Human Race - Mark Twain Talks

Bern Budd as Mark Twain

Despite the changes in our culture over the last 100 years, the writings and monologues of Mark Twain, satirist, humorist and story teller, remain so appropriate today and still give enormous pleasure to those who love the English language and praise the honesty of exploring human feelings and failings.

It was a delight to listen to Bern Budd, standing on the stage, as the Mississippi genius himself. This is not a show about Mark Twain; it is an audience with him!

This lecture (the second of two - see 'Advice to the Humanity') is a philosophical monologue compiled from Mark Twain's writings in his later years. Presented with Twain's language and humour it explores the nature or 'temperament' of what it is to be human.

He begins:

"I have been reading the newspaper. I do it every day knowing full well that I shall find in it the usual depravities and basenesses and hypocrisies and cruelties that make up civilization, and cause me to put in the rest of the day pleading for the damnation of the human race. I cannot seem to get my prayers answered, yet I do not despair."

So, right at the outset, we are told that the Human Race is dammed!

We are then walked through the process of evolution to the eventual, long awaited, but clearly expected, arrival of mankind. Then, driven by the 'charm of the forbidden' and 'envy', we are led from the inevitable fall of Adam and Eve, (... the trail of the serpent is over us all) to the criminal 'silent assertion lies', explained through examples from the politics of Mark Twain's own time. (We needed no prompting to see the examples in 'our' time).

With humour and biting satire he describes our willful nature but is able to explain and excuse it! But then, with love, he forgives it and shows us how we can do the same and finally left challenged and with a desire to rise above it.

Bern Budd's compilation works so well. He successfully presents a major part of Mark Twain's philosophy using Twain's own style and approach. He discusses the global alongside the personal, suggesting that the global is contained within the individual ("I am the human race compacted"). And by 'turning things on their head', he enables us to see the mechanics of our civilisation, its society, politics and religion in a new and freshly honest way.

It was a privilege to be present at this inspiring lecture. Bern Budd is to be commended on his presentation. I shall definitely be going to Waterstones on Saturday!

Martin Wood

Philip's Poetry and Piano - F Philip Holland, Performance Poet


Philip Holland brought his poetry to the Fringe for the first time some years ago after he had given up farming. At that time it was not always easy to detect what his poetic voice was. But now his verse has developed a distinctive style which he can call his own and he has become an experienced performance poet with a charming and relaxed delivery.

Inspired very much by his farming background many of the poems evoke the constant struggle to tame the land and wrest a living from it. Particularly evocative are poems about thistles, which can wreck a pasture and the subtle charlock whose seeds lurk for years waiting for the right opportunity to germinate unexpectedly. Some of these poems include dialect words from the White Peak. Philip explains these before reading the poem - a sensible move and much appreciated by those of us who have been baffled by Tennyson's Lincolnshire dialect verse or the more obscure effusions from Scottish poets.

His work is not confined to the countryside however. His interests extend in many directions including the holocaust, a brace of sonnets, the appearance and rapid disappearance of new restaurants and a particularly nostalgic account of Buxton Market in 1913. This is not all. Amongst his talents Philip is also an accomplished pianist and he uses the piano most effectively to set different scenes for the verses. His choice of music to suit the mood of the poem which follows is essentially a personal one but nevertheless always seems to heighten interest in the poetry.

Altogether a delightful hour on the Fringe.


There are further performances at noon on 18 and 26 July and at 7.00pm on 24 July in the Shrewsbury Room , Old Hall Hotel.

The Way We Live - The Poetry Trio

The Poetry Trio

Well they were always going to be a hit with this reviewer starting with one of his favourite poems, "Leisure", by one of his favourite poets, WH Davies. And following with Brian Patten and WH Auden struck two more gongs.

Incidentally - bad form to digress so soon I know - if you haven't, read Davies Autobiography "Autobiography of a Super Tramp". My father bought it for me as a teenager. Inspired, I was.

This series of 30 intelligently selected poems meditates on the modern lifestyle of "the Hurrying Man". There is much to observe and criticise and make fun of. Old favourites catch your eye. Stevie Smith is there, inevitably, with "Not Waving but Drowning". But you will find much that is new to you and challenging and funny. I loved UA Fanthorpe's conflation of the Archers and the Windsors excellently delivered (singing and all) by Wyn Hobson.

The middle classes come in for a fair bit of hammer, of course. And no bad thing I here you cry. Carole Satyamurti does for "Christmas Circulars" - Grade 5 Oboe, Prozac, drinking.... anyone?

Christine Evans slaughters the middle class invasion of the countryside - Samantha and Dominic playing in the farmyard - genius, genius.

Of course we are also led through darker alleys by Betjeman and - a new one to me and very welcome too - Fred Voss among others. But then Pam Ayres rides to the rescue before more darkness from Tony Curtis and Sheenagh Pugh (another welcome introduction)

In the final poems we slip down towards an end that celebrates ordinariness. Look forward to "Together" by John D Rogers and "Stylist: Senior Perms" by Sheenagh Pugh again.

At the end comes redemption as Helen Dunmore reminds us what was not golden about the ages past and what we have to be grateful for in the modern world.

These three accomplished reciters can be heard again on Sunday the 13th in the Pauper's pit at one o'clock and you'll be out in time to join us in the park for Fringe Sunday. Wyn appears solo in "Messages from the Marvellous" on the 12th and 14th, same place - same time.


John Wilson

Three Minute Poetry 'Slam' - Word Wizards

Local Poet Rob Stevens kicks off at Word Wizards Poetry Slam

You may, like me, have had bad experiences of 'performance poets'. In fact, I'm fairly sure that it is a common feeling at such events to respond to an act by reaching for one's (stiff) drink, pause, and instead pick up the harpoon gun. Nevertheless, I came with an open mind and was only slightly surprised to find myself having a great deal of fun.

A poetry 'Slam', for the uninitiated, is like an open mic but slightly competitive. At the beginning of the event, a number of judges were selected from the audience. Each poet was given two chances to read a poem lasting not more than 3 minutes (hence the soubriquet "Three Minute Poetry Slam") and they were awarded points for the performance. Another round followed, and the last two went head-to-head with slightly longer works. The winner walked away with a very nice mug.

The format works very well indeed: for the performers, there is time to do their thing but no real sense of pressure or competitiveness, the rules for the judges seemed flexible and fair, and the scores aren't read out which certainly seems to encourage anyone to come along and have a go without feeling like they were being put on the spot. The audience are firmly involved whether they like it or not, either as judges or simply drawing names out of the hat to see who goes next. Rob Steven's compèring was energetic and entertaining, and the intimacy of the set-up as well as the frequent breaks encouraged a very warm and relaxed atmosphere - I found myself talking to other audience members and the performers more easily than I would have at a music open mic, for example.

So, a few words about the poetry itself seem in order (although I must first point out that I would expect a completely different set of poems if I managed to come again - an essential part of the charm of events such as this). There was a very good blend of styles and subject material. Some humorous, particular highlights for me being Rob's 'Three Witches', and any of Jack Regan's poems (Jack was the winner, despite being hampered by having to leave out any smutty references due to the presence of two under-18s). Some more serious, but none of it was too dark or heavy. Many of the poets took the local area as a theme and the cross-breed duck/goose that has been spotted at the Pavilion Gardens was certainly worthy of a poem in its honour. I had my favourites, but it was clear that the audience responded to the whole range of material and there was something for everyone.

Word Wizards run events throughout the year, and if this was anything to go by then I would certainly encourage you all to go along and perform or listen.

Nick Butterley

Under the Blue Lamp - Philip Carnall

Philip Carnall served in the Derbyshire constabulary in the 1970s and 1980s. Born in Duckmanton (in the NE of the county, near Chesterfield) he served close to the community in which he was born. He worked in and around mining villages at a time of economic and social upheaval. He also saw the end of policing as a generation knew it. Philip is very well placed to provide a commentary on a part of English life that is virtually gone. He chooses to offer that commentary in verse.

North-east Derbyshire in the 1970s and 1980s was very much a place in transition; there were many first hand memories of wartime, the local heavy industry (coal mining lest we forget) was under threat, technological changes were beginning to make an impact. The 'summary justice' - the clip around the ear - which many would have us return to was still a part of on-the-beat police practice.

There is little point trying to assess the quality of verse on one hearing - without having the chance to read it too. It is evident though that Philip's poetry reads well and he is a good reader of his own poetry. He makes use of accent, dialect and vocabulary to emphasise place and social relationships but he is never sentimental or patronising.

His closeness to the community and his sensitivity to what it is to be a police officer - from the point of view of the public as well as that of the force - ensures that the narratives he relates sound honest and true.

He is especially good at describing the boundaries of trust and uncertainty between the police and the people in the towns and on the streets. The officers may be envied because of their status (and salary and pension maybe) but that comes at a price. The police came out of their community and are now socially and emotionally isolated because of that. Similarly the uniform and tools of the trade help describe and define police officers - but those tools also take something away in terms of personality and individuality.

The episodic, fragmentary nature of police work lends itself well to verse - rather than, say, short stories. Philip's verse displays a sensitivity and a quiet, gentle humour that quickly confounds any stereotypes about the nature of police officers. There is much to see in the Museum anyway: be there next Tuesday afternoon and listen to Philip Carnall too.

Keith Savage