Thursday, 19 July 2018

I Disgrace You By Exploding

It's three weeks ago now, but the final chords of Busoni's piano arrangement of Bach's Chaconne in D Minor are still ringing in my ears. Maybe it's because of the commitment with which you played; maybe it's something to do with the heat that evening and since then: a heat in which everything expands, rises; something to do with returning to Cosy Hall, Newport, Shropshire, to re-record the first half of the concert ... but I'm getting ahead of myself.


Here you are, intent at the piano, as I noticed all those years ago in my poem The School Concert.  And we were intent too - your audience. Intent on the music, on your youthful confidence in attempting a huge programme. Beethoven. Brahms. Bach. All the Bs. And as if that wasn't enough of a challenge - three pieces for guitar by Villa Lobos. And Chopin to conclude. You have such style. 

Son, you don't know this, but last night 
at the concert, I disgraced you by exploding.

I try to hold myself in at these events - those occasions when my heart threatens to give out, give up, give over, give in to the pride, terror, passion of watching you play the music. 

It was when you were sat, back straight,
intent at the piano and all my love for you
crescendoed into beats so loud they surely 
drowned out your perfect notes.

Performance is communication, and you communicated power, youth, hope beyond perfection. And in the Brahms Intermezzi, tenderness. And through the Villa Lobos something else - playfulness and intensity. Most of all, you communicated passion for the music and the sheer pleasure in skill resulting from hours and hours of practice. 

I had to shut my eyes at times. It wasn't that I wasn't sure of you. I wasn't sure of myself. 

I shut my eyes, controlled my breathing
as at your birth.  It was as useless 
as it was then, and my life burst out of me
flooded the hall red with all the years 
since our final strain of childbirth.
           
I wrote the poem after the first school concert - this concert was the last marker of your school days. A flourish before what comes next - holidays, student life, moving on, finding other patterns and rhythms. 

Last night, they applauded you 
as they should've done then, when
open-mouthed, you sang cries to the new world. 

And, oh yes, I have privileges. I got to hear the first half again, when we went to re-record it the following week, having discovered that it hadn't recorded first time. And here it is ...

Live at Cosy Hall
Jonty Lefroy Watt
Click on this link for Jonty's Albums on Bandcamp - £3 to download. CDs also available. 

Thursday, 5 July 2018

I Watch Football


My mother told me once that when I was born, my eldest brother was disappointed to find out he had a sister. With two brothers already, a third would have meant that two-a-side football could have been a feature of childhood. (It's okay - I've had therapy, and my brother is a big fan of my poetry, so no hard feelings.) But if you should hear me, in this World Cup season - by way of fitting in - say that I understand the off-side rule and that I'm an Arsenal supporter, please don't ask me any follow-up questions to which the answer isn't Thierry Henry.

Since being overlooked for the 2018 England Football team, I've been trying to make sense of my footballing career. It started in the back garden, where I filled in as player number 2 for whichever team was going to lose. We wore the grass to muddy patches and I insisted on short hair and trousers, wincing whenever the ball came too close.

Growing up in Highbury, I went once (or maybe twice) to an Arsenal game sporting the red and white striped scarf knitted by my grandmother (I Return To Highbury). This same grandmother took us for Christmas treats to the Arsenal restaurant. Everything about those occasions seemed exotic and red - tomato ketchup, napkins, paper chains, the Arsenal emblems.

I can put a date to one of the most exciting moments of my childhood - 1971 - when Arsenal won the double and we were allowed out of a church service, dressed in choir robes, to cheer the successful team parading their trophies from the top of a double decker bus travelling down Highbury Grove. Even God recognised the need to acknowledge such a miracle.

Whenever there was a big game we were invited to Auntie Margaret's flat to watch it. I loved these occasions for the comforting sight of moving pictures; and the tea and Jaffa Cakes. Whenever Arsenal or England lost, though, I thought that maybe if I hadn't been watching, the result would've been different.

Despite all this experience, I realised early on that I would never be able to rely on football for an income, so I trained to be a teacher as a back up plan, and kept secret my plan to be a poet. There are some parallels between classroom management and captaining a football team, and some parallels between football and poetry, but not many.

On Tuesday, my eldest son and I watched England's precarious win over Columbia to reach the World Cup quarter finals. The crowd's reaction to the see-sawing of the teams' fortunes was not that different from the reaction of the crowd at the game I went to last year at Marine AFC in Liverpool. In minor league football the same passionate response was evident in the chanting, shouting, cussing, roaring song, and criticism of the referee's decisions. Everyone in the crowd seemed to enjoy having an expert opinion, based, no doubt, on years of footballing experience. But despite the similarities, I found Tuesday's game uncomfortable to watch: the behaviour on the pitch ill-mannered, uninspiring and tense with unwarranted aggression. Many of the players had a disdain for the referee which overshadowed and diminished the rare flashes of talent and inspiration.

If I'd been on the pitch for the England v Columbia game - say if I'd been picked as captain after a long career - I would've have tried to get my team mates and the opposition to simmer down. "It's just a game," I would've explained. Once I'd got their attention with this surprising news, I would've followed this with something about how it's the joining in that matters, and that both teams would achieve more football through co-operation and respect for the referee's decisions, even if they would have made different ones in his position.

I think that might have made all the difference.