Roger McGough, author of more than a hundred books of poetry for adults and children, teams up with LiTTLe MACHiNe as he heads to Chichester’s Minerva Theatre (February 7, 7.45pm).
They will be setting poems to music with Roger promising a fine selection of vintage, classic and surprising poems, on the back of his exuberant new collection joinedupwriting.
The collection ranges from forgotten friendships and the idiosyncrasies of family life to the trauma of war and contemporary global politics, exploring the human experience in all its shades of light and dark but always with Roger’s signature wit.
“We were together at a gig in Teddington or Kingston or somewhere like that for an evening of poetry,” Roger says, “and I was doing the second half. LiTTLe MACHiNe were booked into the show, and I really liked what they were doing.
“They would put poems to music in their own way. It was not folky. It was not rock ‘n’ roll. It was just their own way of giving attention to some forgotten poems – and it was also educational.
“So we started doing some things together, and it was fun. Doing what I do as a single, solo poet, I am often on my own, so it was good to be with three other men who are wise and have cars and call me guv!”
Roger has had the most remarkable career down the decades.
“I was listening to something on the radio this morning and they were talking about some young poets being working class. They were Nigerian poets and they were talking about this identity and the journey and the struggles to be accepted by this white old-man male-dominated establishment… and I was thinking here we go again.
“We started off as the Liverpool Poets, and with a lot of people at the time there was the assumption if they heard a Liverpool accent that you were not very bright. But we used our voices to broaden the access to poetry really.
“Basically we were just expressing ourselves.
“You had the Mersey Sound tying in with The Beatles which brought attention to it all. It was later on that the critics started saying that it was never quite proper poetry. But we were just writing poems, and our influences were what had gone before.”
The 60s were an amazing time – “especially in retrospect. You never really know at the time what the times are really like.
“But we had CND and we were aware that we were in a world that could have ended with a press of a button… and now we have got global warming. There are so many pressures on young people now, which is why poetry is socially important. You might not feel that you are actually changing the world, but it does give a sense of voice to young people.”
The 60s were a time of opportunity… to an extent.
“You went to university and it was a free university education and then straight into teaching. I thought I would give it a go and that there would be something else if it didn’t work out. I thought I would do this, that or the other. TV was starting off, and there were opportunities there. All sorts of jobs were coming onto the market that you would never have thought of.”
But remember, the poverty was still terrible. When Roger was 15, his dad was working on the docks – and it seemed the only options were the docks or an office job: “You didn’t think you could be a lawyer or a doctor because that cost money or you weren’t clever enough. You didn’t think you could be an artist because you weren’t good enough. Young people were put off certainly.
“For a lot of people it was still very tough, especially the poverty. I never had any money. We had been through a bleak period, and there was a light at the end of the tunnel, but we were still in the tunnel.”