Book Review: Gig by Simon Armitage

This is the fourth book that I have read by Simon Armitage in the last couple of months, and I think it is the last of his non-poetry books (read my reviews of his other books here and here). I have nothing against poetry, especially the likes of John Cooper Clarke or Attila the Stockbroker; it’s just I find that poems are best when read by the author. I tend to get the emphasis in the wrong places. My beautiful wife writes some great and funny poetry, which she has promised I will be allowed to read at the next poetry open mic night at the Gregson.

In Gig, Simon writes about the similarities between performing in a band and that as a poet. He also reviews many of the music gigs that he’s been to over the years, along with discussing those bands that shaped him.

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Right from page one I loved this book, and by the end you feel that you don’t just know Simon, but that you also know his whole family, his wife Speedy Sue, his daughter Tudge and his old man. There are also dotted throughout the book song lyrics that he wrote for a series of documentaries, mostly featuring people behind bars. People who don’t get to be heard with very powerful stories.

One paragraph that made me laugh out loud and I just had to read to my wife was when a fan asked when he came out as a poet in Huddersfield, did he get his head kicked in. All Points North mainly covered Simon’s earlier life, before becoming a full time poet, while in this one we laugh along with Simon when he’s ‘on the road’. Simon is also a big fan of The Fall, whose frontman Mark E Smith sadly passed away two years ago. I fhave many albums by The Fall and even went to see them live at The Dome in Morecambe (now pulled down, The Dome, not Morecambe), and they were terrible.

When Simon went to see another band he was worried that there were loads of skinheads in the audience, but upon further inspection, it was just that most men there were bald. A very similar experience to when me and Helen went to see Half Man Half Biscuit, a band I would also recommend.

Bad gigs I’ve been to could be a whole blog all on it’s own. Anyway, I properly enjoyed Gig by Simon Armitage, and I will keep an eye out for when he’s next giving a poetry reading near Lancaster.

Book Review: Walking Home and Walking Away by Simon Armitage

Back in November me and my lovely wife went away for a week to the north east. One of the many highlights of the week was visiting Barter Books, the largest second hand bookshop in the UK (read about it here). Of the books that I picked up, one was by Simon Armitage (read about it here) and because I enjoyed it so much I picked up another of his; Walking Home, subtitled Travels with a troubadour on the Pennine Way.

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Simon was brought up in the small town of Marsden, which is on the Pennine Way, and if you were walking from the south to the north, it is the first town you would come to after setting off. One funny story is how one man asked if he could camp in their garden and then sent a Christmas card every year for over 20 years.

The premise of Walking Home is quite simple. Walk the Pennine Way from north to south, finishing in his home town, but do it without spending money. He would rely on the goodwill of strangers for food and lodgings, as well as transporting his luggage each day, and in return he would perform a poetry reading, passing round a sock at the end for donations. As expected, Simon has a way with words, what with him being a poet, but what makes the journey more memorable is the mishaps on the way; getting lost, inclement weather, blisters etc. The Pennine Way also passes through an area I know quite well, from Keld to Malham. I always find it interesting to read about places that I know from another person’s viewpoint.

One of the high points of the book was when he stumbled upon a trail hound race, which is something that we also stumbled upon on a walk around Haweswater Reservoir (read about it here).

As Walking Home was such a great success, Simon wrote a sequel; Walking Away, subtitled Further travels with a troubadour on England’s south west coast path. He doesn’t walk the whole thing, ‘only’ the 265 miles from Minehead to Land’s End. Once again can a travelling poet survive on his poems alone. Many years ago I spent two weeks walking some of the south coast path. Not being walking fit I found if quite tough, especially as I didn’t have anyone to ferry my large and heavy rucksack each day, but I did stay in the town of St. Ives for two nights, which Simon also passes through.

If you enjoy travel books with a good dollop of humour then you’ll love both of these, and you don’t need to have read the first one to enjoy the second. Additionally, the only poems in the books are ones that he wrote on his walk, so don’t let that put you off.

There are plenty of walking books out there, but another book about the south west coast path that you should read is The Salt Path by Raynor Winn (read about it here).

Book Review: All Points North by Simon Armitage

This was an absolutely cracking read. It was another book that I picked up from Barter Books (read about it here) while we were on holiday in the north east.

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Initially I had got my Simons confused, thinking that this was actually the presenter from Nevermind the Buzzcocks. That is Simon Amstell. This is a very different Simon. A poet from the north of England.

The book is full an northern anecdotes, some of them first hand, others second or third hand, and a few which despite being made up and still hugely enjoyable. There are also a few poems. I especially enjoyed the story behind being commissioned by the Coop to write one, with the instruction that it might be nice if some of it rhymed. There aren’t too many poems, so don’t let that put you off.

The story of a man who tried to break the world record for sitting in a tree and came back down after 28 days, thinking that he had broken the existing 27 day record, only to be told that the record was in fact 27 years.

I also enjoyed that the writing style was very different to anything else that I had read recently, in that this book is written in the second person present tense, whereas everything that I write is generally first person past tense.

“You go to the book shop”, as opposed to “I went to the bookshop”. The book made me want to become a better writer, to experiment, to improve. It also made me want to read some poetry.