You will bump into Ian D. Hall wherever you are around Liverpool.
Fancy a cuppa’ on Bold Street? Ian will be there, chatting enthusiastically to the latest Scouse troubadour to have released an EP. Taking in a play at the Playhouse? The writer will be down the front, making notes and preparing to tell the world about it the very next morning on his popular website. Or, if you’re nipping for a pint along Hope Street, look up… you’ve guessed it, there you’ll spot him, taking pride of place on the Everyman Theatre’s portrait wall.
The gregarious Midlands émigré is omnipotent in this town for a reason: he cares. He cares enough to spread the word about the work of Liverpool’s creative community – whether a millionaire publisher or record company executive has signed them up or not. Hall has his ear to the ground and lives by his own rules. But, recently, the University of Liverpool graduate has been persuaded to concentrate on his own creative side and finally scratched his scribe’s itch by releasing a book of poetry… and that’s where our chat with him begins.
Congratulations! ‘Black Book’ by Ian D. Hall… sounds good doesn’t it?
Thank you… it is both exciting and a little daunting. It’s very rock and roll, too, but it is also precious and I’m very protective of it. The collection has been 30 years in the making. I have been in anthologies before and I have published poetry online, but nothing truly matches the feel of a proper book… the words seem more alive, I guess, and more playful.
We agree. It’s tangible, isn’t it… something to cherish. Which poem do you cherish the most in there?
That’s like asking ‘who is your favourite child’… or ‘which girl at school did you like the most’! If I had to, I would probably suggest ‘Kerouac Dreams’ – for it’s a memory of another time in my life and it arrived in a stream of consciousness. ‘When Echo Was A Boy’ comes to mind, too, a poem I have never performed live, for its use of language. I do feel like I’m neglecting the others, though!
You never neglect your duties to journalism and write about creativity in Liverpool daily. What drives you?
Liverpool is a city like no other. The poetic nature of everything that happens here grabs me: the truth of the workers on the docks, the football, the love for its past and for its future… I was in danger during the nineties of falling out of love with music – it was just becoming a pastime and I’d relegated myself to just listening to old favourites.
That is dangerous. Though we’re all tempted… what changed?
I moved up here! Within a short time, I had my love for music once more and I couldn’t believe how many terrific bands and artists I could write about. Back then, it was the likes of Space… these days, I love writing about Satin Beige, Eleanor Nelly, Ian Prowse, Vanessa Murray and John Jenkins, for example. These artists, and many others, opened my eyes again and when music was almost dead to me, now it is a veritable green house of sublime and important action.
Your love for Liverpool shines through when you write…
I immediately fell in love with the city – how could you not? I have had the good fortune to live in a lot of places. I grew up in Bicester and Birmingham, spent time in New York City, lived in Salisbury and I’m also half-Cornish… but nowhere in the country is like Liverpool. I got in a taxi the second time I came to Liverpool – just to prove to my good lady that I would be fine finding my way to her house – and the taxi driver got talking to me, asking the usual questions. After answering to the silhouette of the back of a nodding and chatty head, we pulled up outside where I live now, and he said to me: “You won’t leave.” The back of a head has never been so right.
There you go again, painting poetic pictures! Let’s get back to the book. When did the poetry bug first bite?
I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t like poetry. My Grandad was a fan of the Liverpool ‘Beat Poets’ and those of the same era from America – I remember his front room was a small library, full of Reader’s Digest magazines and small poetry volumes.
And then you started to write?
Yes, perhaps as a way of trying to write song lyrics, I think. I was a huge fan of progressive rock and was getting demoralised with writing on the back of a maths book! Listening to Marillion’s ‘Misplaced Childhood’ opened things up further for me, as I loved the poetic feel of the album, something I hadn’t truly grasped with their previous recordings. That was a time of discovery, for me, and I thought for the first time that I could perhaps write something in return and it could stand alone as a poem… then things happened, I got involved with other day-to-day tasks and families started to come along. It wasn’t until after 2000 that I started to write poetry again. Then, when I arrived at the University of Liverpool to study for a degree in 2008, I realised just how much I had missed it.
You mentioned Liverpool’s beat poets… are they your favourite Scouse poets?
Everybody will always point to the holy trinity of Roger McGough, Adrian Henri and Brian Patten and I cannot be any different – they are just superb, especially Mr. McGough. However, living as we do in the 21st Century, I still find myself in the company of some marvellous poets, when the tolling of the day is done. There are so many to mention, so many different styles, but to name some: Barry Cooper-Finch, Christopher Coey, Ralph Kinney, Jamie Carragher, Natalie Wharton, Ian Wignall, Susan Fagan, Davy Edge and Peter Grant. There are so many distinctive voices in Liverpool, all with the beat of the Mersey wrapped tightly around their heart.
You certainly know your stuff around this town. Does the place itself intrigue you as much as its people?
You can spend all day in Liverpool and something new will happen every minute! I spent my teenage years in a small town in the middle of Oxfordshire; the nearest entertainment was either in Oxford or up in Birmingham… so, I took what I could find. Liverpool, however, is brimful of things to do and despite some people’s best attempts to turn the city into somewhere just as plastic and unforgiving as the next, it always finds a way to creak open another door of mystery. I love the people, the theatres are wonderful and it was with great pride that I was on the steering committee for disabled access at the recently refurbished Everyman Theatre. I wish, in a way, I had also been here during the great boom years of independent record shops, though I don’t think anybody else would have seen my wages! There is a true zest for life in Liverpool which, unless you live here with it, never gets seen beyond that river.
You mentioned being on the disabled access steering committee. Does Liverpool do enough in this area?
Like any place, there is always more to be done… but I am also very aware that some places just cannot do more due to budget constraints. There are some great venues that I would really like to see more music or theatre in and talk about the shows, but they just simply cannot do any more. Not everywhere can be like the Philharmonic Hall, for example! Not everywhere can have refurbishment like the wonderful Royal Court or Everyman Theatre. It is something that will always be ongoing… but Liverpool does it better than almost anywhere else.
Pic courtesy of Liverpool Sound & Vision