There are, generally speaking, two types of festival, one is a celebration of music and one a celebration of literature. The music ones are where you might warm your hands by a pyre of burning Portaloos (Leeds Festival, 1998; dancing next to police in riot gear) or discover the truth about mathematical structures in the natural world (Aphex Twin, Reading Festival, 1999.) The literary ones are where you’re more likely to see your favourite writer (who will go unnamed, Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival, 2002) so drunk that he had fallen asleep with his head on the bar or listen to your favourite poet (also, unnamed, Hay-on-Wye, 2002) mumble his way through your favourite poems. Now, I put it like that – they don’t seem so different. Both types of festivals take you outside of your ordinary experience.
So it’s a damn fine idea that Crossing Borders brings music and writing together. There’s a wonderful festival in Laugharne, in Wales, at a small village where Dylan Thomas had his writing “shed” that, for me, epitomises the potential of bringing together words and music. Most of the readings and performances take place in and around the three pubs in the town. There’s no way of predicting whether the person you’ll go shoulder to shoulder with at the urinals is DBC Pierre, a member of The Clash or Laugharne Rugby Club’s star winger. It’s total equality. It’s total chaos. And all the better for that.
At the Latitude Festival, in Suffolk in the east of England, there’s a more genteel approach. The music stages are at one end of the field, and the arts and literature are at the other end. I remember watching Patti Smith read in the poetry tent (with hundreds of people all packed in to listen) and then going up the hill to watch her sing songs in the cavernous, and packed, music arena.
There’s lots of things I’m excited about, when I look at the Crossing Borders line-up. John Cooper Clarke, punk poet and godfather of stand-up poetry. Edwyn Collins, a wonderful musician whose electrifying recent performances would be astonishing, regardless of his remarkable recovery from a brain hemorrhage. There’s David Vann, whose Legend of a Suicide, was one of my favourite books of this year. There’s Jamie Lidell who sings so soulfully, with such virtuosity and Motown authenticity, it’s hard to believe that he’s a nerdy white boy who started out on the electronica scene. Then there’s Roddy Doyle – a fantastic novelist but, to my mind, an even better short story writer. I can’t wait to see him.
Now I’m excited.
Having spent the last few years as part of performance poetry collective, Aisle 16, I have moved from casual festival-goer to hardcore, ten-festivals-a-summer, stalwart of wellies and warm beer. I can put up a tent in under five minutes. I know the value of waterproof trousers. I can weave through a packed crowd with both politeness and speed. But, the really good news is that – at Crossing Borders – we’ll be staying in a hotel. I shan’t be waking up, caked in my own sweat, shriveled by dehydration, gasping for air with the sun burning through the cover sheet. That’s worth celebrating.