Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Linton Kwesi Johnson at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

On Monday night I went to see Linton Kwei Johnson at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the Southbank. He was being interviewed and talking about his life as part of the Southbank's BOLD festival (i.e. B(e) OLD) about artists over the age of 60 (or something like that). Linton wasn't over 60 when he created his great works, but he is now, and looking good and dapper to boot.

I first heard of Linton 40 years ago in 1978 when he was righteous with his dub poetry album and heavy, heavy reggae backing to poems about protest and resistance to racism and police brutality and the wonderful and scary 'All Wi Doin Is Defendin'. I last saw Linton ten years ago at the Barbican when he was celebrating the 30th anniversary of his first album, 'Dread Beat An Blood' (as Poet and the Roots) with Dennis Bovell and his band providing the reggae to his poetry.

Linton talked about his early life in Jamaica, coming to London as a child in the early 60s and experiencing racism, joining the Black Panthers and becoming politicised, developing his approach to poetry and performance, adding a reggae backing to his performances. There was lots of name-dropping, from influential black writers and thinkers to John Lydon and Public Image Limited who Linton supported in the late 70s.

He finished off the evening with a reading of four poems, beginning with 'All Wi Doin Is Defendin' which he wrote in 1978 even though it wasn't recorded and released until 1978. It was great to hear him read his poems and the rhythms in his voice.

It was fascinating to hear him talk about politics and some of the 'causes' he'd been involved in and led and the gradual rise of the influence of black politics. He gave a shout out to David Lammy MP for continuing this today. He also commented that he wasn't just spouting slogans, he was 9and is) a serious political activist - don't just talk it, be it and do something.

Some favourite comments:

- he hasn't published any new poetry in recent years since he doesn't feel it's up to the standard of his earlier material.

- in the early days he recited his poems to a reggae tape and had three mates skanking behind him to enhance the atmosphere - I loved him referring to them as his 'backing dancers'!

- he's not 'West Indian', he's Caribbean - 'West Indian' refers to Columbus getting lost and mis-naming the islands because he read his maps wrongly.

It was great fun to see Linton again and just listen to him talk about his life. The interviewer was Robin Denselow who asked a question and then wisely shut up and just let Linton talk. If only more interviewers were like that!  The photos were nicked randomly  from Twitter so I can't give credits - sorry, but thanks for posting.

If you're interested, there's a new selection of his poems recently published by Penguin and it's well worth a look.

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