The two great owls of po­etry and rock ’n’ roll

The Herald Magazine - - Arts OPINION - KEITH BRUCE

SOME are born owls, some achieve owl­ness and some have owl­dom thrust upon them. The poet and critic Hay­den Mur­phy has at­tained the sta­tus of wise old bird by his own ef­forts.

When he launched his lat­est col­lec­tion of verse at the Ir­ish Con­sulate in Ed­in­burgh on Tues­day, his vi­brant green tie might well have been se­lected to tone per­fectly with the emer­ald ban­ner in front of which he stood to read.

Plumage apart, how­ever, he was a re­served and ob­ser­vant pres­ence as is his cus­tom, wher­ever his perch. Mark Han­niffy, Con­sul Gen­eral of Ire­land in Scot­land, in­tro­duced him as the em­bod­i­ment of cul­tural li­ai­son be­tween the two coun­tries and no-one in the room – most of us quaffing a com­pli­men­tary Guin­ness – would have con­sid­ered that a bold claim.

Much of the con­tex­tual and his­tor­i­cal back­ground which has ac­com­pa­nied this news­pa­per’s cov­er­age of the su­perb Ir­ish drama that has been a fea­ture of Fer­gus Line­han’s Ed­in­burgh In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val pro­grammes has come from his ar­chive, freely shared with his fel­low crit­ics.

Among the ded­i­ca­tees of the po­ems in the new col­lec­tion, In the Ear of the Owl, is the ac­tor Barry McGovern, whose mag­nif­i­cent solo turn in Beck­ett’s Krapp’s Last Tape was fol­lowed this year by Druid theatre com­pany’s sim­i­larly Her­ald An­gel­win­ning stag­ing of Wait­ing for Godot, and that lit­er­ary her­itage runs through Mur­phy’s new work, with many ref­er­ences to the world of James Joyce, whose sin­gu­lar ter­rain he sur­veys with the ex­pe­ri­enced eye of a mas­ter nav­i­ga­tor.

But In the Ear of the Owl is chiefly a deeply per­sonal work, full of de­tails of Mur­phy’s own life and loves, linked by a re­cur­rence of owls of many shapes and sizes, and pub­lished a full half­cen­tury after his first col­lec­tion.

There are evoca­tive mem­o­ries of child­hood and of el­derly rel­a­tives, as well as tributes to friends who have steered the course of his life since. It is also a beau­ti­ful lit­tle book, pro­duced in part­ner­ship with the Dum­fries-based artist Hugh Bry­den, who has drawn the feath­ers that flut­ter down the edges of the pages and who also hand-stitched ev­ery copy of the lim­ited edi­tion from his Ron­cadora Press pub­lish­ing house.

The in­de­pen­dent ef­fort of that pro­duc­tion res­onates with the ethos of punk rock, which brought forth song­writer Vic Go­dard, who was on a two-gig visit to Scot­land last week, and on whom the sta­tus of wise old owl of rock’n’roll has now been thrust.

He seems to be both amused by that and revel in un­der-cut­ting it, with con­fes­sions of his fa­mil­iar­ity with hard drugs and naivety about the sex­ual avail­abil­ity of fans when he and his band Sub­way Sect were on tour with Buz­zcocks.

It is his as­so­ci­a­tion with the ear­li­est era of British punk and then af­fil­i­a­tion with Glas­gow’s Post­card Records – Orange Juice songs Fall­ing and Laugh­ing and Hol­i­day Hymn fea­tured in his set in both Ed­in­burgh and Glas­gow – that have con­ferred on him elder states­man sta­tus.

That and an un­mis­tak­able croon­ing style, his pe­ri­odic em­ploy­ment as a post­man and sin­glet ap­proach to stage at­tire.

Hay­den Mur­phy’s book shares a def­i­ni­tion of “A Wise Old Owl” as some­one with whom you do not to­tally agree, but do re­spect, and that seems to fit Go­dard ex­cel­lently well.

To reach an age when you can put things in con­text and draw wider les­sons from them is a priv­i­lege, and ca­reer­ing through a chaotic life­style to be ac­claimed as a great sur­vivor of an ex­cit­ing and fondly-re­mem­bered time is an achieve­ment. Both are the more fa­mil­iar ways to earn re­spect as a grand old owl of the arts.

Those who are born with an owlish wis­dom be­yond their years have a much tougher flight-path.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.