That’s all folks: Swindon Festival Finale

20 May

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I wasn’t sure what to expect from Swindon Festival of Literature’s Finale, yesterday.

I’ve developed a suspicion of cabaret-style events, because often it’s a convenient word for a hotchpotch of mismatching acts that vary in quality from bad to mediocre.

But the capacity up-for-it crowd at Swindon Town Hall told me otherwise. No cost-cutting exercises in local amateur acts, but a mixture of the best of local and national poets and performers.

Four-piece band Jamocracy performed both spirited and beautiful renditions of Hobo’s Lullaby, plus one of my favourites, Massive Attack’s Teardrop, and festival director Matt Holland’s favourite, Dance Me to the End of Love by Leonard Cohen.

International storyteller Rachel Rose Reid treated us to her homage to Charles Dickens and retold the story of the first kiss she performed on the first day of the festival. It was good to hear it again.

Chris Redmond braved a lurgy to perform and become one of my new favourite poets. He extolled us to be slow – forget Twitter, deliver your messages on his slow, lazy mule. To quickly gather support for the idea, I tweeted it. I think I might have missed the point. He damned Kenny G with faint praise: not acid jazz, flaccid jazz! Survival of the shitest! Jazz with erectile disfunction. In the next poem we were all shouting along with Let the Pig Out. Apply that as you will…

Locally based Swerve Dance Theatre Company convinced the festival that dance and words really could work together after previous attempts from others fell flat. With their piece, Small Talk, they asked: Tits Fart or It’s Art?

Poetry London 2011 competition winner Cristina Newton – Swindon resident and Spanish-born – sang a Spanish Hondo alongside another Swindon resident, artist and guitarist Stevie Gilmore. See a short clip on the new Festival Chronicle YouTube channel (wish we’d thought of film clips earlier…)

Royal Shakespeare Company poet in residence Malika Booker showed her poetic roots with poems about her childhood and beyond. This kind of sharing is apparently not the done thing in her family’s Guyanese culture. Our gain though. I’ve uploaded another clip of her performance (steady on!) to YouTube, about a family cat that was abandoned the week before Malika was born. I listened to the performance many times whilst working out how to use iMovies and just got more from it every time. It’s interesting how good poetry really stands up to – and improves with – repeated listening.

We were told the first festival finale had zero audience and director Matt had to drag people in off the street. Who turned out to be pidgen-English speaking Finnish students! It’s a testament to the festival’s self belief and that ‘poetry has always been at the heart’ that the Finale is the consistent ticket sell-out it is today.

The final event rounded off with director Matt hanging loose on stage. Conversations in Spanish with Cristina and thanking the perfumes instead of the performers were signs of a well-deserved beer or two after clocking up the nineteeth festival. It’s also a sign of the festival’s friendliness, a 5,000 strong family. I really enjoyed getting to know the lovely volunteers and helpers who were often poets, writers, philosophers, photographers, broadcasters…

Finally, the watering can was blown on stage (I’m really not kidding) with the beginning and end sound of the festival. And that’s what it was like, quirky, its own event, a fan of everything it puts on (and, er, woe betide any performer who doesn’t give it their all) and obsessed with ideas, writing and originality.

So ended the Swindon Festival of Literature 2012. And although, like the months of this year we’ve already seen slip by, it’s been relegated to the past tense, the moments it has created live on.

Here’s to number twenty.

All pictures are at

2 Responses to “That’s all folks: Swindon Festival Finale”

  1. Angela James 20th May 2012 at 4:14 pm #

    Thanks for giving such a great report on the Festival events. I hope you will do the same again for the 20th Swindon Festival of Literature 2013. Best wishes, Angela James.

    • Festival Chronicler 21st May 2012 at 11:06 am #

      Hope so! Glad you liked our coverage.

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