I like chapters. And Chapter. And stories. And poems. And music. And good nights out. As such new monthly event, In Chapters, featuring unique thematically-linked collaborations between writers and musicians, was guaranteed to please the likes of me. Especially because it is organised by some of the people behind one of my favourite literary festivals: The Laugharne Weekend. Those people include top novelist and festival director John Williams (The Cardiff Trilogy) and Laugharne’s musical curator Richard James (Gorkys Zygotic Mynci). The theme for the first instalment of In Chapters was trains but luckily attracted a room full oftrend – rather than train – spotters.
For just over an hour the crowded non-geeky theatre audience was taken on a journey from the valley lines of South Wales to the London Underground through all new work created by the creative collaborators for the event. The roll call of special guests was impressive, taking in established names and newer talent, as well as Richard and John. Heddwyn Davies (The Threatmantics) assisted Richard in rounding up a collective of musicians including drummer Andy Fung (No thee no ess), cellist Lucy Burke (Jimi Alexander & the Satellites), multi-instrumentalist Gareth Bonello (The Gentle Good) and train-related sound loops and collages from producer Iwan Morgan.
Against projections of film footage of railway lines and tube stations, music interchanged with and overlaid quick change acts. Events kicked off with a brilliantly bleak and noiresque short story from crime novelist Robert Lewis (The Last Llanelli Train, Swansea Terminal). ‘Donald at a Dead End’ related to the Moorgate Tube crash of 1975. The live set also featured a strong comic performance of a monologue from young bilingual talent Catrin Dafydd (Random Deaths and Custard), singing acapella at the start of her story ‘Dau Gi’ (Two Dogs) and then gets an instant laugh with the opening line: “Is our train moving, or is it the other one. Yeah, I’m moving my trains moving? Oh no, it’s the other one. I feel a bit sick I do.” ‘Dau Gi’ is about an unemployed mum who gets the train to Cardiff while the kids are in school, to forget about things like her fat husband and his bollocks and his bollockings: “Let me entertrain you, that’s what the engine’s saying.”
Bridgend’s answer to Salinger, Rhys Thomas (The Suicide Club) followed with a new piece of darkly comic fiction ‘Mr J Pinkerton of the Railways or The Wrong Side of The Tracks.’ Written from the perspective of a railway track worker, it tells of Mr J Pinkerton, for whom a gentle stroke had driven the former trainspotter to stand on the platforms of his local station to call out train information and updates to soon-to-be passengers.
A change of pace.
“Click. Clack. Click. Clack,” the lines of infamous avant-garde wordsmith and orator Peter Finch’s poem ‘Train Train’ chugs cross-country and choo-choo hurtles over bluesy folk music from the live band. Was the event a success? The man from Academi, he say “yes.”
I had a chat with Richard and John in the bar after the event. They seemed pleased with how the night had gone. I asked Richard why he got involved with the new venture? “Because John promised me a lot of money and I haven’t seen a f***ing penny of it yet…” he laughs, then continues: “No, really I think it is good to be involved in something different and I’d like to think that it is something that I’d go to were I not involved. It brings the spirit of the festival in Laugharne to the city.”
A jovial John Williams then explained further: “It was one of those pub conversations that mysteriously comes to life. We chose trains as the theme for the first session because who doesn’t love trains and if you live in Cardiff trains are important to you as a means of escape. We are hoping to make it a monthly event, and we’re hoping the next one will be as good as the first one, if not better.” I hope so too – January’s page-turning collaborations were inventive, impressive, fresh and alive. I don’t want to have to wait a month for the next instalment. More please.
Next month’s theme is ‘Cafes’, and the month after may or may not be ‘Birds’. To keep up-to-date on future events become a fan of In Chapters on Facebook.