We’ve had a busy but thoroughly entertaining few weeks sampling a variety of this year’s Chester Literature Festival events.
There was a heck of a lot going on over the 16 days of the festival – organised by Chester Performs – and we selected a range of events, taking in poetry, a history of British night life and celebrity anecdotes from an Emmy award-winning comedy writer.
Our Chester Lit Fest odyssey began with a talk from award-winning poet and Welsh wordsmith Jonathan Edwards. Jonathan, who by day is a high school English teacher, breathed life into poems about My Family and Other Superheroes, with his lilting, sing songy South Walian accent momentarily transporting us from historic Chester Town Hall to the valleys of South Wales. Jonathan combined a poet’s acute powers of observation with a good dose of humour and at times incredibly moving stories from his past.
Jonathan was very modest and not at all what you might expect when meeting someone who has won a Costa award for their work.
I asked him what his students thought of the fact that their teacher was an award-winning poet. He laughed and said they would be more impressed if he was Olly Murs.
We then went to a talk from Yorkshire poet and broadcaster Simon Armitage. He talked about his walk across the south west coastal path, which formed the basis of his new book Walking Away. The book follows on from his tales of Walking Home along the Pennine Way.
Simon is one of those gifted people who can not only produce amazing work but they also captivate you when they read their work. In fact, I could listen to Simon’s softly spoken musings all night. Sadly, the talk came to an end and I’m afraid this Simon Armitage fan probably sounded a bit gushing when given the opportunity to ask him a question.
Remind me to think of something better to ask a poet of his calibre in future than how long it takes for him to write a poem. His swiftly delivered deadpan response was “three and a half weeks” and “until you fall off the horse”.
Next stop on the Chester Lit Fest journey was an interview with DJ and cultural historian Dave Haslam. The former Hacienda DJ was interviewed by music broadcaster Mark Ellen. He has written a book charting the history of Life After Dark in the UK, from the days of music halls to modern day clubs.
Along the way we heard tales of an alligator being hypnotised on stage for the amusement of music hall regulars, a tragic tale of a night club being bombed and a singer and several musicians being killed during the second world war and of letters penned by Dave, in a pre email and text era, to the legendary Tony Wilson regarding the price of beer at The Hacienda.
Our Chester Lit Fest odyssey finally drew to a close with the hugely entertaining and Emmy award-winning comedy writer David Quantick. Yes, he who wrote for the likes of Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) in The Thick of It, Veep, The Day Today and Brass Eye.
David Quantick was performing a work in progress of the second series of his BBC Radio 4 show 52 First Impressions. The premise is that he compares his first impressions of those he has met and interviewed over his years as a music writer with NME and as a comedy writer, with his later impressions of those same individuals.
We don’t want to give too much away for those who will tune in when the show airs next spring, suffice to say that he is a very funny and a very modest and genuine kind of guy.
Game of Thrones with coffee
And his response to a question from the audience asking what he thought of Chester proved that he is still on top of his game when it comes to being exceptionally quick witted. Talking about Chester’s rich Medieval history and about his observation that we have so many coffee shops that we must have “coffee shops within coffee shops”, he observed dryly that Chester was like “Game of Thrones with coffee”.
In addition to the regular chuckles and guffaws at David’s star studded anecdotes, there were also incredibly moving moments, including a story of David’s first impression of a man who was to become a great friend and play an important part in his life – Steven Wells, allso known as Swells.
Swells was a music journalist, comedian and punk poet who also went on to excel at comedy writing, working alongside David Quantick on shows like On The Hour and The Day Today. Sadly, Swells died from cancer in 2009 and you could clearly see the grief etched on David Quantick’s face when he spoke movingly about his friend.
A huge thank you
So a huge thank you must go to all those involved in putting the Chester Literature Festival together. It’s a massive undertaking with so many and varied events involved.
And there is something really rather special about setting foot inside the majestic town hall building, ready to then be taken on a journey to many other worlds of the authors’ and poets’ making.
Thank you Chester Performs for a fantastic few weeks in the company of the hard working and attentive Chester Lit Fest staff and the incredibly entertaining authors and poets who took part.
The show may be over for now, but the memories of our Chester Lit Fest odyssey will endure long after the staging and posters have been put into storage for another year.