With an eclectic mix of events in celebration of the written word, Getintothis’ Jamie Carragher finds plenty to feast on in an event based loosely around the theme of American Dreams.
Themed on American Dreams, the Writing on the Wall Festival is more jam packed than a jam packing factory that’s imploded due to the overproduction of sweet, sweet jams.
Taking place throughout May and spilling over into June, WoW Fest is all about celebrating the written word, in whatever guise it happens to take.
“We’re not prescriptive or protective about the type of written word that we’re celebrating” Madeline Heneghan, festival director, tells Getintothis. And it’s this all encompassing ethos, coupled with the Americana theme, that means music features so heavily in the festival’s programme. When it comes to the relationship between music and words, WoW co-founder Mike Morris says, “For me, there’s no separation.”
Strictly Harlem is the festival’s stand-out event when it comes to the interaction between music and writing. Taking place Saturday May 9 at the Black-E, it’s got all the makings of an incredible day. First, there’s a Lindy Hop crash course delivered by the indomitable Mersey Swing.
After the boogie comes an exploration into the work of Chester Himes, a crime writer from Harlem whose writing career began in the 1940s and who knew what it was like to be both sides of the bars. A quick breather for drinks and some soul food (though, after the dancing you’ll probably need some sole food) (lemon sole, that works, yeah?) and then onto the main event in the evening, Harlem Nights.
Headlined by Lemn Sissay, the line up includes award winning performer, Tayo Aluko, poet and broadcaster, Salena Godden, and Gil Scott-Heron protégé, Malik al Nasir. Also on the bill is Hip Hop violinist Shayshahn ‘PhearNone’ MacPherson. The multi-talented Bronx native embodies the WoW ideal of music and writing combined.
Other musically styled events come thick and fast. On May 14, there’s An Evening with Tracey Thorn as the Everything But The Girl singer introduces her new autobiography, Naked At The Albert Hall, in which she documents her life as a musician and muses about how the industry has mutated since the 1980s.
Sticking with female icons, music journalist Zoe Howe takes us on a multimedia journey through the life of Fleetwood Mac‘s Stevie Nicks, one half of the famous Buckingham-Nicks song writing duo and a successful solo artist in her own right. Come May 21, we’ll all be doing our best Stevie moves after an evening of Visions, Dreams and Rumours at FACT; just don’t try and do the voice, any impersonation may well lead to a ruptured spleen.
A word for the youth and whippersnappers: the Writing on the Wall Young Writers will be hosting Word Up! on Light Night a spoken word poetry evening on top of the Liverpool Central Library. Be there on May 15 and look out for Merseyrail Soundstation winner, Blue Saint, as well as Manchester’s superb spoken word troupe, Young Identity.
Even the seemingly more conventional literary events promise to be anything but. On Tuesday May 19, American writer Ryan Gattis looks to launch his as-of-yet unreleased novel, All Involved, a multi-perspective exploration of the 1992 LA riots. Instead of a straight reading from the text, extracts from the novel will be interspersed with songs that have inspired Gattis whilst writing. WoW designer Rosa Murdoch promises that Ryan will be playing quite the mix: “From Metallica to Ice Cube to West Side Story.”
The link between music and some of the other festival billings is perhaps a little more tenuous. “I’m quite successful at getting the titles of The Jam songs into events,” Mike Morris points out. Indeed, Thick as Thieves: Governing by Deceit? is the banner under which journalist Owen Jones, Labour politician Tom Watson, and North West TUC regional secretary, Lynn Collins will be meeting for a panel discussion on the corruption of the establishment. Catch that one on Wednesday May 20 and bring some views along with you.
Although he’s here with his new bestseller on public shaming, Jon Ronson‘s talk at the Central Library may well stray into his work on Frank, the biopic of Frank Sidebottom that came out last year, starring Michael Fassbender and Maggie Gyllenhall. Long before he became the transatlantic, journalistic powerhouse he is today, Ronson had a stint playing keys for the so-called ‘strangest pop act in history‘. Ronson‘s a man of many tales. If you manage to get tickets for the 24th, be sure to ask him about the time he got the concord to Prince‘s house with Keith Richards. It’s a doozie.
“We’ve been accused of being too eclectic.” Mike Morris concedes to Getintothis, but rather than an insult, really, it’s the WoW team badge of honour. The abundance and variety of top events on offer is pretty darn striking and we’ve only skimmed the surface.
Our advice? Click on the festival line up, check the labels before consumption, and generously spread some cultural treats throughout the month of May.
For more information and the festival’s website click here.