Poetry is very rarely the subject of mainstream attention but last week Mancunian poet Mike Garry’s was, when he released his poem – set to music by composer Joe Duddell – that pays tribute to Mr Manchester, Tony Wilson. The video for the single, St Anthony: An Ode to Anthony H Wilson, features many famous faces from the North West and beyond, showing the breadth of Wilson’s admirers.
Given that you never met him why was Tony Wilson such a huge influence on you?
Because he was everywhere and a bit different to the norm. I was brought up in Moss Side/Fallowfield/Rusholme in Manchester. No one talked like Tony. No one quoted Nietzsche and he was everywhere – telly, radio, walking down the street. He was interested in everything and everyone and he ran a club that was so much more than a club. He was a movement within himself. He made me realise that I could do anything I wanted if I was passionate about it and if I worked really hard at it.
How long did it take you to write the poem?
43 years. Every poem I write takes a lifetime to write because the skills we acquire increase every single day, but in terms of sitting and writing from start to finish it probably took a week.
The poem is very personal but when writing it were you aware it would be a sentiment shared by many?
That’s what good poetry is – things that are personal to you but are also universal in many ways but I’m not aware of it. No, I don’t sit there and go: “Right, I’m going to write a poem that will strike a chord with everyone.” I write for myself really. Very selfish of me, yes, but I’m a human being and feelings and thoughts on the whole are universal, aren’t they? Love, loss, family, pain, etc.
What made you want to record the piece to music?
All the press are saying that I went to Joe with the music. I didn’t . Joe’s manager, the brilliant Ali Hudson heard me perform it, spoke to Joe, then Joe heard it and asked me if I wanted to do it. Joe Duddell is a professor of music. He’s a genius. He spends hours every day looking very closely at music and sound, he plays hundreds of instruments and he is passionate about what he does and works really hard at it – a bit like me with poetry. So when someone like that asks you to work with them, you’d be mad not to. He’s not some kid with a Beatles songbook sat in his bedroom.
What does it mean to you to have world class musicians and actors reading your poetry in the video?
Yeah – it’s a real honour for them, isn’t it?
As a spoken word artist is it frustrating to have to put your words to music for it to gain mainstream attention?
I’m not a spoken word artist, I’m a poet, I write poetry. No, it’s not frustrating at all to be honest because most poetry in the mainstream is shite, isn’t it? I’m glad the good poetry isn’t mainstream for two reasons: one, mainstream drowns quite quickly; two, most poetry is dull. Like music, you’ve got to work real hard to find good poetry. Fortunately I’m of Irish heritage and from the north of England and I’ve found that seems to be where the best writers and poets come from.
Do you hope St Anthony will encourage listeners to explore poetry?
Yes, definitely, but you’ve got to do your work and you’ve got to hunt it down.
Where can people in the north seek out good spoken word events?
I’ve no idea. I rarely go to poetry gigs – it feels like I’m going to work when I do. I did go to an event that Bad Language in Manchester recently put on and that was pretty good. Commonword always seem to put on good events by good writers. The Windows Project in Liverpool always seem to do good stuff. The Spotlight in Lancaster do a lot of good stuff as do the university. A lot of it is hit and miss though and it’s about personal taste, so get in the interweb and suss it out yourself.