Friday, 16 September 2011

Jeely Pieces

09:21:00 Posted by Lindsay 5 comments

Priceless words, for me are not long winded, convoluted or unnecessarily complicated. There is a place for obscure words, and in context that is perfectly fine. But for me the talent to express the complex and abstract in the simple and understandable will always trump the difficult texts. For me that is a sign of a wonderful writer. Someone who can describe something difficult or complex in words everyone understands, not just those with a degree or who read a lot. Add a dose of silliness or comedy, and you’ve got me. Tim Minchin, he nails it. But through my life there have been others less recognised.

I am fond of a writer, songwriter and poet called Matt McGinn, from my hometown Glasgow who I grew up hearing frequently. As a child his songs were simply funny and made me laugh. As I grew I began to notice they still resonated with me. Matt was born in Glasgow but educated by scholarship at Oxford. His communist leanings were quite well known and as a working class person he spoke for me. My father was a steelworker when we lived in Glasgow until the steelworks closed and he was a keen member of the union.

Matt, despite being highly educated never baffled or confused, just entertained. I moved to Blackpool as a 4 year old but my first dialect was Glaswegian, and these words speak to me in a way I find hard to describe. I wasn’t a child or kid, I was a ‘wean’. I never ate sandwiches; I ate ‘pieces and jam’. I love to hear these words as they remind me of an incredibly warm and happy time in my life spoken by my loving family. Matt’s comedy shone through and entertained but there was always something else there, not always identifiable but a definite message. There was a point to be made, and he did it effortlessly and managed to make it memorable and funny. Here is a sample of one of my favourite songs of his;

I'm a skyscraper wean, I live on the nineteenth flair,
But I'm no gaun oot to play ony mair,
Since we moved to Castlemilk, I'm wasting away,
'Cause I'm getting one less meal every day.

O ye cannae fling pieces oot a twenty-story flat,
Seven-hundred hungry weans will testify to that,
If it's butter, cheese or jeely, if the breid is plain or pan,
The odds against it reaching earth and ninety-nine to one.

On the first day my maw flung out a piece o' Hovis brown.
It came skyting oot the winda and went up insteid o' doon,
But every twenty-seven hours it comes back into sight,
'Cause my piece went into orbit and became a satellite.

On the second day my maw flung me a piece oot once again.
It went and hit the pilot in a fast, low-flying plane.
He scraped it off his goggles, shouting through the intercom:
`The Clydeside Reds have got me wi' a breid-and-jeely bomb!'

One the third day my maw thought she would try another throw.
The Salvation Army band was staunin' doon below.
`ONWARD, CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS' was the piece they should have played,
But the oompah-man was playing a piece-on-marmalade.

We've wrote away tae Oxfam to try and get some aid,
And a' the weans in Castlemilk have formed a ``Piece'' brigade;
We're going to march to George's Square, demanding civil rights,
Like `Nae Mair Hooses Over Piece-Flinging Height!'

The poem/song was about the Mitchell Hill Road tower blocks in Castlemilk, Glasgow which once housed 570 families, but was demolished in 2005. When these were built in the 1960’s Glasgow working class communities were systematically taken apart. Removed from tenements where whole families lived together and the communities were strong. They were given no choice and transferred into the new tower blocks in the city and their old homes demolished. This was sold to them as a great new way of life, but not everyone agreed. Families were separated, the old ways were destroyed and the working class had no control over their own communities anymore. Matt took this and spoke for the smallest most powerless person, the child. In his simple comedy there is a serious message, which I find isightful and clever. In many of his songs he refers to the colour red, such as his song ‘red yoyo’ and he seems to slip in into many as a reflection of his political stance. He was very much for the working class, and never moved away from Glasgow.

My mum told me she went to a wedding once and Matt McGinn was there, and everyone was avoiding him as he was a nightmare when he was pished. He’s an undervalued poet as far as I’m concerned, and his dialect and message are my priceless words.


Lindsay said...

Damn page won't let me edit typos, I was rushing, apologies.

Ashley R Lister said...

No need for apologies. The typos just make it look like genuine Glaswegian :-)

Seriously - another awesome post. I'm going to spend a happy day researching Matt McGinn.


vicky ellis said...

What a clever approach to a political poem. He's obviously a very talented writer and I can see why he appeals. Tackling real issues and portraying working class environments is crucial to make poetry relevant for a wider audience. It's also an outlet for the 'voiceless' to have their grievances aired.

I wonder why he's not more well known... The cynic in me has an answer to that but I'd prefer it weren't the case.

Brilliant post Lindsay. (From a fellow 'red') :)

Lara Clayton said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. I've never read any of Matt McGinn's work, and I'm so delighted that you have introduced him so wonderfully in your post.
As Ash has already said, I'll be spending time Googling his name - and exploring his work in more depth.
A truly amazing post, Lindsay.

Ste said...

Yep, same sentiments here - there's gonna be a lotta googling going in this weekend! There's a 1960s copy of The Communist Manifesto in my personal library and every xmas Karl Marx sits on top of the tree! That makes at least half our blog reds! Great post :)