The fourth Laugharne Weekend may well be the last, so the rumour mill goes, but please say it ain’t so as despite the threat of train strikes and snow storms the Welsh festival still managed to fill me with sun-soaked joy. This is how it went…
After hitching a lift with Prince Charming to the pretty West Walian town that inspired Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood and claiming my weekend festival wristband, I headed off to see funnyman Dan Rhodes, accompanied by Matt Thorne as the ex-Brit School performance poet of the moment Laura Dockrill had cancelled. While I was disappointed not to be treated to her vocal pyrotechnics, it was still a great pleasure to hear this year’sE.M.FORSTER winner read from his excellently gruesome new novel Little Hands Clapping (Canongate) set in a suicide museum. The museum featured the expected celebrity suicides including Sylvia Plath, Virginia Wolf, and Kurt Cobain as well as plenty of strange characters and big laughs. All the more surreal for the wake taking place in the rest of the restaurant beyond our curtained room, which meant Dan delivered most of his gags off-mike. Dan also read acrostic poems by school children including his nephew Spike and quizzed the audience – ‘Everyone has a favourite Elton John song, what’s yours?’ – taking the first letters of titles as cues for which story to read from his first collection of 101 stories about girlfriends . It was Dan’s fourth year appearing on the bill at Laugharne, he claimed this was down to ‘a series of clerical blunders.’ The delectable Booker-longlisted author and journalist Matt Thorne read about the comic politics of his creative writing class at St Andrew’s. Anyone who has ever studied creative writing would have laughed and groaned along with him – I know I did.
Next, on Dan’s recommendation, it was over to see former Jayhawk Mark Olson play some gentle folk-country songs with Norwegian multi-instrumentalist Ingunn Ringvold like a true troubadour in The Rugby Club. In the Millennium Hall afterwards Jane Bussman’s celebrity stories were a bitter pill to swallow: and good as her turn of phrase was, her fascinating career story unfortunately comes off far poorer on stage than on paper, so, instead, I found pal Niall Griffiths and his editor, Robin Robertson, the fiercely humoured three-time Forward Prize-winning poet for a drink before heading to the Congregational Church. There I heard a softly-spoken Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch reading from her well-received Picador collection Not In These Shoes before Robin grabbed our attention and showed us exactly why Forward liked him so much. A serious highlight of my weekend, as was the chatter after.
Saturday began with some more great poetry as Academi boss Peter Finch launched his latest amazing experimental poetry collection Zen Cymru and his publisher Seren plied us with wine. Music followed from the Swansea/ Cardiff band No Thee No Ess featuring core members and songwriters Paul Battenbough (King of Despair lead singer) and Andy Fung (Richard James Band) playing their fantastic alt-country Americana vibes complete with pedal steel magic (Jon Berry). The hilarious Welsh novelists Catrin Dafydd and the afore-mentioned Niall Griffiths kicked off some more literary talk and read from their upcoming new novels. Catrin’s new work of fiction, provisionally titled Random Births… (and something still to be decided) is a follow up from the brilliant black comedy Random Deaths and Custard and features the main protagonist Sam Jones, now aged 21, with a baby. From the extracts she read, it is all set to be another winner. Finally the day was rounded off with a look-in at Keith Allen’s three-night talent show Laugharne’s Got Talent featuring teenage dancers in hot pants, the worst band in the world (probably), and some half-decent singer-songwriters. Despite the uneven talent on offer the evening was actually made quite enjoyable by Keith’s put downs and impromptu drumming at inappropriate (quiet, heartfelt) moments. This may or may not be why Keith got punched in the face; the supposedly high-brow audience packed into the Rugby Club’s function room enjoyed themselves at any rate.
After such R&R it was more than time for some Freud: The Musical, or at least writer and folk singer Charlotte Greig and Anthony Reynolds’ interpretation of it. Songs from Dr Freud’s Cabaret sounded fantastic (both are wonderful musicians) but in my opinion half an hour was far from long enough to cover the vast subject matter; perhaps that’s just the psychology graduate in me? Outside, taking a breather, a table of well known writers and I were accosted by a local lunatic (more than a little worse for wear). She insisted this table of wordsmiths were both ‘students’ and ‘second class citizens’ for coming to Laugharne; proclaiming ‘I go to Hay, it is far superior.’ (Not so, it is just different). She then scared us all into thinking we were going to die at the hands of a mad woman with manic machine gun laughter – all of us expecting a kitchen knife massacre – before she suddenly about-turned changed and invited us to share a bottle of wine with her, at her nearby cosy abode. We declined, politely, and ran for cover, finding ourselves back in the safety of the crowds and the musical afternoon at the Rugby Club.
A stiff drink later, and Race Horses rounded off my afternoon wonderfully. What with the lead singer’s angular energy and pink leopard print tight trousers and their set of sample-soused, amazingly catchy songs – most notably the Beatles-bright ‘Scooter’ – I guarantee this latest psychedelic pop outing from Wales will be massive. I wound down from the festival talking to the writers Paul Durden (Twin Town), Rachel Trezise, Niall Griffiths, Rob Lewis, Charlie Connelly, Carys Eleri and the worn out organisers Richard James, Richard Thomas and John Williams as the sun went down on another lost literary and lyrical weekend in Laugharne. The big names may not have made it along this year, but the audience still had plenty of fun. Start campaigning for a Year Five now.
I am reading: Keinc, a fantastic experimental bilingual poetry debut from Rhys Trimble, a John Tripp Award 2009 finalist (which launches tonight) and the new short story collection Touch from Bridport Prize-winning author Graham Mort.