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Sometimes you talk to people you admire and the whole experience can be a tad disappointing. They have no real time for you or they only seem to know the work they have rehearsed and don’t come across as intelligent or interesting as your perceive them to be for their performances.

I have just spent half an hour on the phone with John Hegley ahead of his performance at the Catholic Club on Queen Street, tonight. Here is a man who has time for you, who comes across more intelligent and much more interesting than his perceived performances which, for the record, make him look extremely intelligent and interesting.

John had just got home from running workshops in Reading for people with mental illnesses when we spoke:

“Normally when I do these workshops, people just want to concentrate on the humorous stuff. Today we worked with the theme of families. They really opened up. It was great to see.”

My intention was to ask a series of probing question to give you an idea of how he got into poetry, what drives him to write and how he developed his act. What I ended up doing was talking about the wonders of poetry and prose with a man who truly loves the art form.  He spoke about his fascination with playground rhymes and how Mr Hopkins, a lecturer in Bristol, had such an infectious enthusiasm for poetry. “I just found the language incredible,” John said.

In 1977 he had a couple of poems published in a magazine.  He continued, “I found the fact that someone showed an interest encouraging.”

He went to express his joy of reading poetry, “I love reading poetry. I’m a slow reader and poetry, however difficult, always give you something on every page, almost every line. They are like getting an instant hit.”

This moved the conversation onto his style, his voice, “I started off playing music. Then I would try out the odd poem, playing with the delivery. It seemed to go down well so I kept doing it.”

We started talking about style and form. How rhythm is important, even in prose, which is usually about flow rather than rhythm.

“I had this prose today, two sides of A4. I really noticed how wonderful the rhythm was, how important to the feel it was. It’s not like a tap, tap, de, de. Just the way the words work. There was this one word that didn’t fit. It was correct for the context but somehow, it interrupted the rhythm of the piece. Maybe it’s because I have recently made it through Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life by George Elliot. Such a wondrous piece of work, every word so carefully considered. Being a slow reader it takes a lot to get through something so vast, but I’m so glad I did because it was fantastic. Maybe that’s why I’m noticing these things more? It’s like when I wanted my daughter to learn to play some of the great classical works; you’re connecting with the genius.”

Talking to him, I knew exactly how he felt. We moved on to how he ended up playing a gig at the Catholic Club in Blackpool.

“It was Kerry at the Grundy. She wanted me to do something on a previous exhibition but I couldn’t fit it in. I said let me know if you have anything else. She contacted me about the Matt Stokes: Dance Swine Dance. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to do something so they got me the venue. I’m bringing my friend, the Northern Soul DJ David Belcher. He’s going to spin some discs for a couple of hours after I do my thing. Should be a fun night.”

I suddenly remembered I was supposed to be asking questions designed to extract some insight. I asked him if, being such a lover of words, what word he would put running through a stick of rock.

“Well, being as I’m currently working on a piece about Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) which will be airing on Radio 4 on the 1st of July, the only word I can think of is Baroque.”

Finally, I had to get in at least one question regarding his work, so I asked: Why potatoes?

“Potatoes are the ordinary, yet they are extraordinary. They are like the dog; the ordinary animal. But potatoes are incredible. They seem so indigenous but we know they are not, they’re from Peru. There are over a thousand different types. I remember biting into them when I was young, the flavour and the skin, such a wonderful colour. People think they are brown but they’re not, like people think human skin is white. And they have a most beautiful flower. A lot of people don’t even know they have a flower, and it’s wonderful. They are related to the Nightshade, which, when you see the flower, you can understand. I think we’re about done with the potato now.”

Smiling, I thanked him for his time before letting him enjoy a night’s rest with the long journey to Blackpool ahead of him tomorrow.

John will be running a family workshop from 2pm till 3pm, which is free, but you must book. From 8pm he will be entertaining the masses with his well-respected and much loved show of music and poetry. Tickets are £8 (concession £5) and can be purchased from Visitblackpool.

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