Grevel Lindop

Poet, biographer, critic, essayist and writer on just about everything

Poetry Hits Carlisle for Love Parks Week

Poet Angela Locke takes Rose and Poppy across the valley

Just back from a wonderful couple of days in Cumbria. The excuse was that Jeannie Pasley from Carlilse City Council had asked Cumbrian novelist and poet Angela Locke and me to go up and read poems for something called ‘Love Parks Week’.

I’d never heard of Love Parks Week, but apparently it happens in lots of places around the country and puts on events in parks and other green spaces to entice people to come out and enjoy them more in the summer.

Our venue was the lawn right under the vast east window of Carlisle Cathedral, but it wasn’t daunting: everyone was very friendly, there was a great PA system that actually worked with a mic you could actually adjust, and Jeannie was there to greet us and get everything set up. Amazingly, the weather was perfect – cool but dry, turning (at times) warm and sunny. And we got a wonderful audience – people drifted in and out but the maximum was up to around 40, and many people stayed for the whole hour-and-a-half.

Angela Reads - under that towering east window!

It was lovely to read with Angela, a well-known local poet who has also just published a beautifully-written and deeply engaging travel book, On Juniper Mountain, about her travels in Nepal and how she came to found the charity Juniper Trust.

Afterwards I was able to spend some time with Angela and her husband Colin at their fine old house under the slopes of Bowscale Fell at Mosedale, near Penrith. We did some walking in the Mosedale Valley with the dogs and I was able to enjoy the gorgeous garden they’ve made in front of this beautiful traditional cottage – which was once painted by Sheila Fell, with L.S. Lowry in attendance. I have to say Lowry isn’t my favourite artist and even Fell gets pretty depressing, so the reality, with the warm evening light falling across the drifts of honeysuckle, was idyllic in a way that I definitely prefer, though neither artist would have countenanced it in their work!

Garden at Bowscale Cottage: drifts of honeysuckle, and Carrock Fell beyond

Anyway, a big Thank You to Carlisle City Council, and please invite me back! And thank you also to Angela and Colin, the perfect friends.

Oh, and for more about Love Parks Week and what might be on near you, go to http://www.loveparksweek.org.uk/

Mojito Heats Up Albert Square in Manchester Jazz Festival

It was a superb salsa workout last night as local Latin bands Diaspora and Mojito put on dazzling performances as part of the Manchester Jazz Festival.

Diaspora keep the dancers happy

Diaspora (whom I hadn’t heard before) took us through a whole range of music including son and samba as well as salsa. They’re a big orchestra – 14-piece as far as I could count from where I was – with emphasis on brass, piano and vocals. The style is Latin jazz, not unlike the Alex Wilson sound if you’re familiar with that: some of it just forced you to get up and move, and all of it was highly listenable. I hope to hear a lot more of Diaspora.

Mojito hypnotises dancers with authentic Cuban goodtime music

As for Mojito, well, I’m fanatical about their music. If you’re not familiar with them, you might think at first that they’re less polished than the very slick Diaspora, but the fact is they have an inimitable Cuban texture and spontaneity: the music is chunkily percussive, the rhythms magical and muscular, and there’s a huge charm and humour in Damian’s singing. This is real intense Cuban good-time music and it has the hypnotic power of the Orishas, the flavour of Afro-Cuban spirituality inside it. There isn’t another band like Mojito around, and hence the huge following they’ve built up.

Sure enough, they progressively whipped up the audience into sweaty salsa heaven and their final number was a crazy tour-de-force of exuberant vocal gymnastics from Damian, utterly wonderful because he shares so much joy and has such a rapport with his audience.

One plea to the organisers – could we have a real dancefloor next time so the ladies don’t break their heels on the cobbles?

I just hope the Manchester Jazz Festival has won a host of new admirers for these two great Manchester bands – and maybe for salsa too.

No Peace for Simon Bolivar!

Simon Bolivar: hero of Latin American independence

Bizarre news from Venezuela at the weekend. President Hugo Chavez has given orders for the body of Simon Bolivar (1783-1830), hero of Latin American independence, to be exhumed, and ‘tests’ performed on the remains. This isn’t a matter of historical research; it’s just another sign that Chavez is marching down the familiar road that takes political bosses to paranoia and lunacy.

Bolivar was a great man in his way, and is a hero in several South American countries. With no military training, he became a brilliant strategist and led five countries – Peru, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia – to independence. His great dream was a ‘united states of the Americas’ where all American countries would form a free federation.

Bolivar died of TB. But anyone who knows anything about Chavez can see where all this is leading. The ‘tests’ carried out on Bolivar’s body will reveal – guess what? That he was poisoned, either by the USA or more likely by the Colombians. Chavez has been having a border dispute with Colombia (which claims Colombian terrorists are being allowed to take refuge in Venezuela), and he will use the ‘results’ for propaganda, claiming that the Colombians poisoned Latin America’s greatest hero.

Of course no one will believe it. But it will give Chavez a chance to make trouble. Having failed a couple of years ago in his bid to pass a referendum that would let him be President for life, he’s been looking for other causes to take up, and a quarrel with Colombia over Bolivar will be one of them.

When I was in Caracas, there was a big exhibition in the City Hall there called ‘Caracas, Cradle of Liberty’. The building bore huge banners featuring the faces of Bolivar, Miranda (another nineteenth-century hero of the independence struggle) and – guess who? Hugo Chavez.

Chavez has been hijacking Bolivar’s name for a long time, calling his demagogic rule ‘Bolivarian Socialism’. By now, he probably believes that he is Bolivar. Rather than a socialist, he’s simply the latest in a long line of self-aggrandizing political bosses – what the Latin Americans call a caudillo.

It’s a disgrace that he’s dishonouring Bolivar in this way. And Bolivar’s family, who haven’t been consulted, are furious. But it’s just part of the sad process by which political egoists descend into lunacy on the way to finally imploding.

Having written this, I probably won’t be allowed into Venezuela again. But having spent time in Caracas, which has become the most dangerous city in Latin America outside the border areas of Mexico, as well as the most polluted and traffic-ridden, I don’t think that’s too much of a problem. What Venezuela needs is Bolivar’s wide vision and generosity of spirit, not fake excuses for more tension.