MANC! An interview with the poet and musician Alan Keogh
The first time I saw Alan Keogh perform was at B-Lounge near Picadilly Station almost two years ago. It was the open mic and the pub was filled with a mixed bag of people ranging from musicians through to executive types and few random drunks. Alan performed this poem called MANC and I kid you not, the whole place fell into a stunned and fascinated silence. Then, when he’d finished there was rapturous applause – and all of this from an audience who I’m guessing would have very little interest in poetry. I’ve seen Alan’s performances a good many times since then and always enjoyed his words and music, so I thought I’d send some questions his way and here’s the result.
Music, football, beer, sex, rain ..
When did you first start writing poetry?
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. As a kid I wrote stories and drew pictures that were incomplete or abstract. I always made up rhymes and I used to create little sketches with my brothers and sisters, there were six of us. and we used to create little review type performances, our Harry and I did drag when we were around 7 or 8 ; ) … Les Dawson stylee … Stanley Baxter, the Scottish comedian was also an early influence as my parents, uncles, aunties and cousins are all Glaswegians. I don’t really separate ‘poetry’ from visual art, music or theatre, it’s all art, music, theatre and poetry to me. I’ve reached an age where I’ve had a chance to explore these mediums and it all boils down to one essence for me. . . CREATIVITY . . . that’s what enthuses me.
You also play guitar and write your own songs. When did you first start playing music?
I’ve always sung songs as part of my Scottish identity. My mum, Lily, is a great singer of country and folk songs and she’s put on some amazing performances at family parties. She sang Patsy Cline country laments and standards like ‘Your Cheatin Heart’ and ‘I belong to Glasgow’ alongside comically performing ‘I’m a knock kneed chicken and a bow legged hen’ ; ) classic stuff. The whole family got together on Saturday nights and had a sing song, everybody took a turn and developed their own little ouvre, for example my dad used to sing ’16 tons’ by Tennessee Ernie Ford and I’ve played that in a couple of bars in town . . . went down a storm . .
When I was . . . . 16 . . . … I played around being a front man in a punk band with a couple of mates, Ian Dalglish on guitar, Dog on drums and Adge (who was in World Of Twist) . . . we played a couple of youth clubs, and had a great punk energy going but I think only Ian really had the drive to get it anywhere at that time, we called ourselves ‘Asylum’ and tried to get on the ‘last night of the circus’ album recorded at the last night of The Electric Circus in Collyhurst, but Paul Morley said we sounded like a heavy metal band. . . . then we changed our name to The Teardrops. Soon after that we disbanded.
Then I had heard Miles Davis blowin’ a very cool muted horn and played trumpet for a couple of years, I joined The Jazz Defektors for a short time and jammed with people like Martin Hennin, Nathan McGough and Martin Moscrop, A Certain Ratio are a great band. But I knew then I had to learn an instrument that would allow me to write and say/sing words. . . I love words and you can’t speak and play a trumpet simultaneously . . . So I bought a second hand Eko Jumbo acoustic, learned a few chords . . . then left it again for many, many years and in the last 3 years I’ve been practicing and learning as ‘seriously’ as I can.
MANC is a wonderful poem, when did you write it and why?
Manc was written many years after getting stabbed one night and ending up in hospital (thank you MRI). It’s one of my pieces that was born out of a period of attempting to create performance from real incidents in my life. Gil Scott Heron is a big influence on me and when I heard ‘The bottle’ it was like someone bringing me the thing I’d been waiting for all my life but didn’t really know I had been waiting for it until I got it. I get Gil and I get John Cooper Clarke and Dylan Thomas and Tracey Emin. They all write from working class reality/sensibility and Manc was an attempt to summarise a certain influence on me, the Manc influence .. the first lines begin the outline . . . ‘music, football, beer, sex, rain’ . . . . . the violence comes later . . . I’m interested in art that explores pain e.g. Francis Bacon, Munch, ‘Closer’ by Joy Division, ‘Berlin’ by Lou Reed … work that creates an artistic beauty out of pain is very interesting to me.
How would you summarise your poetry and music?
My poetry and music are part of my art. . . I’m compelled to make it . . I don’t have a choice. I lose interest when I don’t . . .
A silly question, but one I have to ask, in a fight between words and music, who would win?
For me, a fight between words and music could only end in the death of both, they’re symbiotic to me. … but if I had to choose one or the other I’d choose either . .. the words are in the music and the music is in the words . .
If you were to ask yourself a question what would it be?
Thank you so much Alan Keogh!
Alan will be performing on the Words V Music stage as part of the Epic Festival upstairs at The Thirsty Scholar on Sunday 26 May.
One last picture – an unrehearsed moment with Tuesday Tony and Alan Keogh at the end of the Words V Music 4: