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Roger McGough/Liverpool Playhouse

The Mersey prodigal's way with words woos Larry Sidorczuk

Written by . Published on February 4th 2013.

Roger McGough/Liverpool Playhouse

ONE thing stands out quite clearly from this one-man show: Roger McGough could probably recite his shopping list and any audience - but particularly this one - would love it.

Perhaps they even admired his green cord pants and red trainers, but there you go.

'This one-man show showed he's still
more than capable of giving voice to his
Muse and, moreover, that live recitals of
prose poetry still matter amongst
the cacophony of contemporary life'

There's a particular kind of special relationship which McGough and the Liverpool Playhouse seem to have nurtured over the years. None more so than his literary evolution into the world of French, aristocratic, grande-salon adaptations of late. These include Tartuffe and The Hypochondriac, where he combined the subtleties of light comedy into a fully-fledged translation, through a novel use of rhyming couplets. No mean feat, particularly for a poet who prefers to convey emotion in open verse and haikus. 

This was the original hallmark of the Mersey Sound poets (Adrian Henri, Brian Patten) which reflected a collective move towards a linguistic vernacular often brash and intensely personal. It was almost like an early version of rap through a Scouse patois. But that was then and this is now.

So, where is McGough today? Well, he's certainly earned the respect of his peers in his promotion as President of the Poetry Society, has a CBE, is an Honorary Fellow of Liverpool JMU and has a weekly slot on BBC Radio 4 [Poetry Please]. Not bad for a lad from Litherland. Must be all that sea air and the tannery, now long gone. Little wonder that he's been described as 'the patron saint of poetry' by Carol Ann Duffy.

Friday night’s As Far As I Know was a one-man show in advance of his new adaptation of Molière's The Misanthrope (15th Feb to 9th March at the Liverpool Playhouse].

It coincided with the title of his recently published book and he recited a fair chunk of verses on the night. Thirty-eight to be precise. This included a reworking of his 1960s poem Let Me Die a Young Man's Death which, given McGough's longevity, now conveys a sense of settled acceptance...

"My nights are rarely unruly. My days of all-night parties are over, well and truly. No mistresses no red sports cars, no shady deals no gangland bars, no drugs no fags no rock'n'roll. Time alone has taken its toll".

Indeed, this new body of work reflects his own personal journey and relies heavily on both home-grown sentimentality and meaningful self-reflective observations of the mundane. He’s clearly got this down to a fine art. His poem To Sentimentality says..."Nostalgia for those innocent times, of confident first lines and clear mornings. The smell of coffee, an empty page".

As an aside, during the recital, McGough referred to the poet’s craft as "a smile on the verge of tears" which, as far as I could tell from the audience reaction, was the most poignant moment of the night.

Apart from his writing skills, what is often overlooked is McGough's actual delivery. He has honed this quite well and can be heard in his Radio 4 programme. It's laconic in a soft, south Liverpool accent, which makes it easy to appreciate, and his enunciation is crisp.

Perhaps we don't tend to value the importance of delivery of prose poetry as much these days, but he managed to convey the sense that we were actually all sitting in his front parlour rather than in an auditorium.

OK, so he was playing to a home crowd so resonance, empathy and respect were obviously apparent, but there aren't that many local poets who have sell-out shows these days.

Let's face it, McGough doesn't have to prove himself any more: the days of self-doubt and self-justification are long gone. He can, instead, take a more confident, wider perspective over his life and its family-orientated origins.

Not for him to rage against the dying of the light. No, his purpose now is to embrace the fruits of his labours over the years and gift them back to his wider family of fellow-travellers.

This one-man show showed he's still more than capable of giving voice to his Muse and, moreover, that live recitals of prose poetry still matter amongst the cacophony of contemporary life.

McGough's skill relies not so much in overcoming these competing sensory distractions but, more distinctly, by creating a personal revelatory space for himself and his readers and listeners to share where "the chaos within gives rise to the dancing star". Or, as he neatly puts it, "You have a book in your hand. Take comfort from this".

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Leon KayFebruary 4th 2013.

He also does a mavellous waitrose voiceover
Rose rose rose arisen.
or as Groucho Marx would say show me a rose and I'll show you a girl named Sam. GO FIGURE.....

Reggie McCough (Poeit)February 4th 2013.

Reggie McCough here. Poeit, author and wreckontour.

May I just point out to anyone planning to go to this event that this is not about me. It is in fact Mr Roger McGough who does me in his tribute act. As my fan will know, he started, doing me in the 60s and even copied my whimsical singing group The Scuffles, which was me, Mike Kodak and John Bucket. I was annoyed at the time when they had a hit record with a parody of my Billy The Pig. There was a legal case but we settled out of court on condition that I kept out of his garden and stopped shouting through his letterbox.

He's been making a good living doing me for years. In fact far better than me. I haven't been on telly since Scene at Six Thirty with Mike Scott. Although I recently played the Square shape in Mister Maker. Unfortunately you could only see my legs in the red tights. They even cut part of that because of my varicose veins. I don't mind him doing so well but it comes to something when he gets all the critical praise, TV and Radio jobs and books published - while all I get is the odd poem on here when Ms Sammons is incapacitated after reviewing a dodgy curry and needs a space filler.

Other than that, the only way I can get anyone to listen to my poetry these days, is to nip into the confession box at the local church before the priest realises it's me. He's a tough audience though, the last gig cost me 4000 Our Fathers and 160 Hail Mary's. He's even stuck a "For Sale" sign on the side of the box to put me off. No wonder congregations are falling.

But anyway, if you go to this, thinking it's me, you won't be disappointed. He's a very nice chap, a great ambassador for the city and nearly as good as me.
And as somebody said to me today, imitation is nearest to Fazakerley. So I'm not bitter. In fact I count myself as a fan. He could still slip me a few bob though, seeing as how I pretty much launched him.

Thank u very much!

Professor ChucklebuttyFebruary 4th 2013.

I just noticed that my very, very close friend Reggie McCough has come out of hiding to post a comment under this article.

Poor Reggie, he's trying to put on a brave face about this tribute act being liked better than him. And of course there was that humiliating business last year when Reggie's agent, Barry Fish, got him a six week stint at the Liverpool Everyman.

When he turned up to do his one man show, they gave him a shovel and a wheel barrow and said "start clearing that lot up" The bastards had knocked it down!

Still, it was cash in hand and he found a bag of onions in the rubble, left over from Paddy's Bistro.

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