sat 23/01/2021

English Journey Revisited, AV Festival, Newcastle | reviews, news & interviews

English Journey Revisited, AV Festival, Newcastle

English Journey Revisited, AV Festival, Newcastle

J B Priestley's damning of Newcastle, revisited by Northerners and Southerners

The description of the AV Festival’s closing event was vague in the promotional material. Going only by the promise of “music/performance,” and the undeniably odd combination of Alan Moore and Iain Sinclair with performance musicians including the guitarist from drone doom band Sunn O))), expectations were hard to form. The organisers must have realised the mystery - four sheets of A4 were thrust into our hands last night by ushers upon entry as a means of explanation, although the itinerary was hardly kept to.
Iain_Sinclair_Geordies like few things more than to be told how great their locality is by Southerners, and being a kind of bridge between both situations (a Southerner who has lived in Newcastle for the last three years), I can understand the appeal on both sides. Iain Sinclair’s opening garb went down well, despite being somewhat condescending – he located his “canny Newcastle welcoming” in a beggar who asked for exactly £1.80, an apparent representative of the city’s population.

The poetry Sinclair (pictured right) had written showed far deeper research: the Jarrow March, a subject he has admittedly written on before, but also Morden Tower, a little-known literary hub in the city and the sociology of Seaham. His ease of performance was made all the more evident by Tom Chivers, whose readings of Barry McSweeny-inspired poetry weren’t quite as entertaining as his retelling of when he met his idol. For both men, the openness of Northumberland was a consistent theme, as well as one picked up on visually by local artist Graham Dolphin’s video projections.
In a laid-back Geordie drawl, Tom Pickard read witty, observational prose about a domestic Newcastle the other writers would never know about.

However, both were shown up by local literary hero Tom Pickard. Indeed, playing up to the “canniness” which Sinclair had identified in his introduction, Pickard strode on stage, announced his jetlag-induced apathy and suggested the crowd throw money at him. In a laid-back Geordie drawl he read witty, observational prose about hash, pubs and opium and poetry about a domestic Newcastle the other writers would never know about.

The readings were interspersed with combined film and musical performances from FM Einheit and Susan Stenger. The films were loaded with local relevance – clips from Get Carter mingled with shots of Lindisfarne and Holy Island – and local piper Andy May joined in to close part one with Get Carter’s famously eerie theme tune. Meanwhile, FM Einheit comprised a one-man orchestral soundtrack through a metal sheet, a Bosch electric drill and rubble. At times it was impossible to believe the bare-footed man throwing pebbles around was responsible for filling The Sage with such noise.

It was also a mere warming up for the sound and reading spectacle that was to arrive with Alan Moore in part two. With what seemed a comparably underwhelming projection of John Martin’s The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah alongside Turner’s Snowstorm: Hannibal Crossing The Alps, Moore stepped out like a Harry Potter extra in a spangled long coat that, as he said, meant he didn’t even have to read anything to warrant applause. The Moore fans were suitably satisfied.

Stephen_OMalleyHowever, what he proceeded to embark upon was an epic journey through the history of both artists, the movers and shakers of the Romantic period as well as the political background, up to Cormac MacCarthy and back again through Priestley’s anti-Newcastle attitudes in a non-stop apocalyptic thundering of a reading. This was when Stephen O’Malley (Sunn O)))) (pictured left) provided perfect fellow wizard-like accompaniment, before Einheit returned, lovingly caressing a giant spring with the drill. Gone were the polite Geordie-adorers of the first half. Here, Newcastle had been revisited by the four horsemen via an art history lesson.

The house lights came on as unexpectedly as the performance before it had arrived, the audience (those who had remained) having been put somewhere else than The Sage’s glossy views over the Tyne. It became clear why English Journey Revisited’s cards had been kept so close to the AV chest – nobody would have believed such a situation could have occurred had it been revealed.


Well this review felt a little limp, I personally loved the event. Perhaps you witnessed some of the team that were involved in the event leaving as they were required else where but I certainly did not observe many people leaving as you've stated. I think you crave an angle and the obviously fashionable one was of desperate satire. And I'm itching to say something utterly juvenile like 'Fucking Southerners.'

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