Tag Archives: Royal Albert Hall

To whom it may concern: Poetry Incarnation at the Royal Albert Hall

The new issue of Uncut magazine contains my feature about the International Poetry Incarnation, which took place 45 years ago this month on June 11, 1965. It begins like this:

Allen Ginsberg is drunk. Big, bald and bearded, like a Jewish bear stuffed in a suit, the beat poet stands tall in the Royal Albert Hall, London’s sacred haven of the high arts, and proclaims to 7,000 fellow thinkers:

“Fuck me up the asshole”.

In the crowd was Heathcote Williams, the future poet, playwright and artist. Williams recounts what happened next: “A man with a bowler hat, beside himself with anger, shouted out: ‘We want poetry. This is not poetry’, and Ginsberg retorted, looking up towards the gods: ‘I want you to fuck me up the asshole.’”

And it goes on in a similar manner for another 2,400 words. If you think that sounds like fun, head down to your local newsagent now.

The International Poetry Incarnation – which featured Allen Ginsberg, Adrian Mitchell, Gregory Corso and Michael Horovitz – is said to be the moment that signalled the arrival of the 1960s counterculture movement in London. However, in ‘White Heat’, his otherwise splendid history of the 1960s, Dominic Sandbrook writes dismissively: ‘Seven thousand people was indeed an enormous attendance… on the other hand, it was still considerably smaller than the typical crowd for a Second Division football match… to millions of people, the event meant absolutely nothing. What is more, it had not even been a very good reading.’

Oh, really? Watch this extraordinary clip of Adrian Mitchell from Peter Whitehead’s film of the reading, ‘Wholly Communion’, and tell me it has the same impact as Torquay vs Rochdale.

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I should be so lucky: blackmailed by a poet

My interview with the writer Michael Horovitz appeared in the Times on Saturday. You can read it here.

This piece had a curious gestation. I contacted Michael in December as part of my ongoing attempts to track down a lost London counterculture magazine of the 1970s to which Michael had contributed.

I asked him to help, and he said he would, but only if I first wrote a feature about him based on the many anniversaries he was about to celebrate, including his own 75th birthday. It was blackmail, but of the nicest sort because Horovitz is an extraordinary figure, who I had great fun interviewing and writing about.  He also has a fridge packed with some of the most delightful cupcakes I have tasted in years (and I have tasted a lot of cupcakes). The piece then proved to be a surprisingly easy sell to the Times and has directly led to a couple of other pieces that are now in the pipeline. To all of which, I say ‘Hurrah!’

Michael has worked with artists and writers as distinct as William Burroughs, Paul McCartney, Lenny Bruce, Dudley Moore, Spike Milligan, Joe Strummer, David Hockney, Peter Blake, Allen Ginsberg and Patti Smith, and of his many achievements, the one I sadly didn’t get space to write about in the Times was the part he played in the unexpected cultural renaissance of Kylie Minogue.

It was at one of Michael’s Poetry Olympics events at the Royal Albert Hall in 1996 that Kylie first shook off her Stock, Aitken and Waterman pop image when she performed a tongue-in-cheek spoken word version of ‘I Should Be So Lucky’. ‘Indie Kylie’, the NME star, was born.

Michael currently has an exhibition of his paintings on display at Art@42 in Notting Hill Gate until the end of April, and a documentary about his life was broadcast on Sunday on BBC Radio 4, which you can listen to here.