Poetry Readings at Kelburn Garden Party

Category: Writing

Through my involvement in Forest Publishing and the Golden Hour, I get asked to do a lot of readings, some quite random. I've performed in a tent in the Meadows, a squatted pub in London, a whisky distillery in Dufftown, and, on one painful morning, in Drumnadrochit High School to a bunch of eleven-year-olds with a crippling post-Golden Hour hangover. The latest request was to organise some of For Pub's finest to read between musical acts on the Ten Tracks stage at Kelburn Garden Party, a festival in the grounds of a castle near Largs.

Kelburn is ridiculously idyllic. The castle started to fall apart a few years ago, so they covered the outside in concrete rendering and painted it technicolour, with owls for chimneys and canary-yellow turret men grinning beatifically over the valley. There's a gorge running through the centre of the grounds with a waterfall pool tucked into the rocks where you can splash away your hangover while listening to Meursault playing the main stage, and a secret garden maze with gingerbread houses and Chinatown clocktowers. The organiser described the setting thus: begin with the premise that everyone will be on LSD, and decorate accordingly. Cue vines of cable-tied cassette tapes hanging from the trees, a field of sprouting umbrellas, lazers everywhere, a small paddock of alpacas. It was thoroughly random and utterly delicious. Plus, there's the Kelburn brewery, so there was real ale on tap all festival long in the field by the maze. Yep. Basically designed to be my heaven.

However, things didn't exactly run as planned. For various reasons involving the complex world of sound systems and missing multicores, things ran a little late. Ok, five hours late. And instead of relaxed fifteen-minute afternoon sessions between bands, we had five minutes while the sound engineers set up behind us, to an agitated evening crowd who'd been promised a nuclear threepiece playing ram-raider rhythms at battle volume. Oh dear. I'd like to say that our talent and verve was such that we turned it all around, had them screaming “one more poem!”, kept reading to rapt faces long into the night but, well, no. Despite everyone's valiant attempts, and some gorgeous poetry by Ericka Duffy and Kirsty Logan, by the time we got on stage the audience were more receptive to synthesizers than stanzas. We raised our voices over the soundcheck, concentrated on the couple of people still appreciative and applauding, and reminded each other that tough gigs make us better readers. Remember that time Ryan accidentally booked us in the racist slam poetry event in Oxford? This went better than that. Forget about it. Let's go dance.

Fortunately, the next day was salve for my ego as I'd been asked to read at Words Per Minute in Glasgow, which is about as polar opposite an event as there could be. Everything ran slickly to ten minute slots and the audience was captivated; this was an audience who had actually come to hear words, who genuinely enjoyed listening to them. All the performers were brilliant, particularly Alan Bissett and Swimmer One, and afterwards we all stood around and talked about writing, as if writing was a respectable thing to want to do. A woman even quoted a line from my story to me and, buoyed up with motivation, I hurried home to sit at my laptop and tinker away at some stories. Ok, actually, that's a lie. I got the train back to Kelburn, tracked down some Buckfast in my rucksack, and stayed up all night dancing with a curly-haired man named Olaf and his never-ending supply of malt whisky. Well-organised literary events are always delightful, but I have a soft spot for the shambolic too.


Photo: Supergolden, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:KelburnGraffiti.jpg

Jane Flett

Jane Flett received a New Writers Award in 2009.