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Am I an art puritan?

Yesterday, Hull Truck Theatre held a poetry event partly celebrating contemporary Hull poetry but more especially honouring the life and work of my soon to be 100 year-old father-in-law, Maurice Rutherford, who some call the 'other' Hull poet, even though Larkin wasn't from Hull. Among the performers was the folk-singer and songwriter, Eliza Carthy who had been asked to set parts of one of Maurice's poems to music. For me, it just didn't work. Not because Eliza did anything wrong, she's great and I'm sure many people thought it was wonderful, but I've just never been a fan of setting poetry to music. Even in the late 60s and early 70s, when I was getting into poetry readings and what used to be called AgitProp theatre, I never liked the combination of poetry and music. I remember at our uni folk club, which allowed such things, people reading poems accompanied by someone making squeaking noises on a saxophone. I've even accompanied poetry readings on guitar myself. But even then, and I may be being particularly luddite, I feel a poem is a poem and a song is a song and although it may be possible to set a poem to music and make a song out of it, twanging or honking alongside a piece of spoken word is just a distraction. I either want to hear the musician or the poet, not both at the same time.


I'm the same with musicals and especially musical versions of plays. Musicals I generally dislike on principle. I just about got through The Sound of Music, but only because there were nasty Nazis in it and enough of a frisson of war, to keep an 11 year-old Airfix Spitfire model maker and avid reader of Captain Hurricane in The Victor comic, happy. And at least the Trapps just stood still and sang rather than prancing about while singing about lonely goatherds.


The paradox too is that, as I have grown older and begun to appreciate musical composition, I understand the musical intelligence of Bernstein and Gershwin and have grudgingly enjoyed West Side Story for its underlying drama, it's the all-singing, all-dancing bit I find irritating. And the idea of putting Shakespeare to music? Well, hand me that pistol after you've kissed me Kate. I can also just about do a Brecht/Weill play, but only because Kurt Weill's music is so subversive and decadent and reeks of history, not because I like a nice tune.


Many years ago, when I dreamed of becoming a theatre director, I directed both the Threepenny Opera and the Marat/Sade and took all the songs out of both. Partly because, with the exception of Weill's songs in the Threepenny Opera, I just wanted the dramatic action and narrative to come to the fore without the distraction of music.


But thanks, Eliza, it was a brave effort and Gee, as we call him (G for Granddad) was hugely flattered, it just didn't float my boat. On the other hand, your unaccompanied version of 'Three Score and Ten' about the Grimsby fishing boat disaster of 1889 had me shedding a tear.


And thanks too, to Barrie Rutter OBE who organised the whole shebang and the cast of The City Speaks.

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