Well a week or so ago was the first anniversary that a trio of talented young Manchester writers coalesced, jellyfish-like, into the collective Bad Language and started hosting one of the city’s literary highlights with their monthly open-mic nights featuring a plethora of local talent.
The first birthday took the approach of ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ with a collection of readings plus a joint headline of Calum Kerr, who will be having a selection of his flash fiction read on Radio 4 on Christmas eve, and David Gaffney. Gaffney was very ably assisted by the irrepressible Sarah-Clare Conlon as she read his writings to the bare bones background of Gaffney’s keyboard.
The weird thing is, it kind of works. No, scratch that, it really works. Maybe it’s a consequence of spending too long listening intently to song lyrics but there’s something about spoken words to music that seems to add a certain weight to what’s being said. A sample of the evening’s performance capturing a small fragment of the atmosphere can be found here.
Other local writers have also been experimenting with the word/music combined performance, indeed the maestro of the multi-award winning Screen 150 Dave Hartley and the (also, coincidentally award-winning) Benjamin Judge recently scribed radically different stories to the same piece of music.
But this isn’t an entirely new phenomenon. Take for example this piece from Gorillaz second album “Demon Days“. The key pieces are there, as they are in countless older examples my record collection is too small to cover.
So what is this then? A trend or a developing form of performance writing? I’m inclined towards the latter. Not least because, whilst the argument can certainly be made of this being a gimmick for writing not strong enough to engage of its own accord, it addresses the fundamental issue that listening to words being read aloud is less immersive than reading them. I’ve listened to enough audio-books to know that just having words pouring over you is no guarantee of their going in and there’s nothing more frustrating than finding yourself rewinding track 4 for the fifth time because you convinced there must be some reason Melville’s going into this much details about different kinds of whale.