Interview by Steve Dean
Photo by Simon Bamford
Having seen Mark Anthony Bailey a.k.a. the Trent Vale Poet out and about performing all over Stoke-on-Trent, including our own launch party, Stoke Sounds invited him round for a chat.
So how long have you been writing poems?
Oh, a long time - since the age of about sixteen and I’m forty-eight now.
So you’ve got quite a backlog then?
I’ve got suitcases full of stuff I’ve written over the years.
Have you ever been published in any form?
I’m hopeful of one day being so, but I mainly do CDs. I’ve built myself up more as a performing poet and most of my impact is in my performance. I’ve done six or seven CDs over the years, which I sell myself at gigs or wherever.
‘Blind Date’ is a great humorous poem. Is it one of your most popular works?
It is. As far as I understand, that poem got a play on Dandelion radio, which is a John Peel-inspired radio station in Bristol. A fellow got in touch saying he wanted to put it on his playlist, which was nice.
Do you play any musical instruments at all?
No, but I used to be half-decent on the bodhran. I’ve got a good sense of rhythm in my poetry and voice, but I don’t play a musical instrument; in fact, I marvel at somebody who can play an instrument and sing at the same time.
I know that you are good friends with Andy of ‘Nemo’, have you worked with them often?
They’ve put music to five or six of my poems over the years. We used to go out as the Trent Vale Poet Band. We’d do five or six of my poems and then I’d shuffle off the stage and they’d then come on as Nemo.
From what I’ve seen, you go down very well with audiences – is this always the case?
Nine times out of ten, yes. Sometimes it goes a bit haywire, like. You know? Tits-up.
Yes - every performer, no matter how talented, has a bum gig from time to time.
No matter how you try, you’ll never entertain everybody that you perform for. That’s a fact of life.
You quote John Cooper-Clarke as an influence. Have you actually seen him perform?
I’ve seen him twice, when he came to the Wheatsheaf before it was Wetherspoons in Stoke. He was absolutely brilliant. I have his CDs and tapes. When people compare me to him, I take it as a compliment, I really do. So, yes; I also like Ivor Cutler, John Betjeman, and also people like the late Hovis Presley.
Yes, he died mid-forties of heart attack. Big lad from Bolton. Brilliant poet and really funny poems.
You appear to get to compere lots of events, you did a great job at the Stoke Sounds launch…
Yes, I compere various events and shows; charities and the like. It’s another string to my bow. I do a poems and pints night at the White Star in Stoke the last Thursday of every month. I get some poet friends from out of the area and they come down and read their poems and we get one or two local musicians who make a break from the poetry.
Do you ever actually write songs with musicians; where the songs are actually sung instead of spoken?
No, I just write poems, but they can be adapted to songs. The Clay Faces do a song called ‘Black Heart’, which was adapted from a poem called ‘In the Dank Quarter of my Soul’. They used the words, but they sing them. It was on a compilation CD which was released in America called ‘Shite and Onions’; which is American-based Irish bands and stuff. It’s been released all over the world; Japan, Australia, everywhere.
Have you earned any royalties from it at all?
Not as yet, no. (Laughs)
A lot of your stuff is funny. You must have a well-developed sense of humour…
I just look at the absurdities of life. We all know the world’s got its mithers and stuff, but in pubs and clubs, you want a bit of a laugh sometimes as a contrast to some of the singer/songwriters who get up and do their thing. Some can get a bit down at times, so I come on messing around and supply just a bit of a contrast.
Have you ever thought about writing comedy scripts or anything like that?
I have written a few short stories, although I’ve had nothing published. I wrote a couple of bits for a magazine that only lasted two copies. I forget what it was called now.
You’ve never attempted a novel or anything like that?
No. I don’t think I’d have the patience to write a novel to be honest with you. I consider myself first and foremost, a poet.
Well, I must say that your stuff is of a quality. It is certainly work that will be remembered…
Well, the other week, there was a poetry evening at Sheffield and I went there… you know, Northern poets and that… and I blew them away – they absolutely loved it.
How many gigs do you think you’ve done in your time and what kind of acts have you supported?
God, loads and loads. Sometimes, I go out seven days a week. In my time, I’ve supported John Otway, Mark Radcliffe’s Family Mahone, Jem Finer from the Pogues, Roy Wood of Wizard, and bands from all over the place. I like doing acoustic nights and of cause, the more people who see you, the more gigs you are likely to get offered. Nobody’s going to see me stopping in the house. I just love it. I love writing things people can identify with. People come up to me and ask if I can write poems for them and I’ve even been asked for framed copies of poems I’ve written for wedding anniversaries and further asked to put ‘Trent Vale Poet’ at the bottom. It’s great and I enjoy it.
A great many people disregard poetry and quite blatantly dislike it, what are your thoughts on that?
I think poetry gets a bad name from when you’re at school. You’ve got to do it, and when you leave school, you tend to leave poetry behind with it. Sometimes people in pubs will say “poetry? That’s about clouds and green fields and stuff isn’t it?” But, when I get up there and do my stuff, they see it differently and think “great”. I had a lovely experience a few weeks ago: I was on my way to the bus stop to go to Stafford, when I passed a bunch of fifteen or sixteen-year-olds outside a house who recognised me and started going “give us a poem then, give us a poem…” So I did and they said they thought it was fantastic and could they have a copy? So I popped the poem through the door later. That really made my night, that did.
Appreciation is all the reward you need sometimes, I think…
I’d like to be discovered, I really would. I’d like to have a book out; a big book of all my words and stuff. But most of all, I’d like to be remembered as the poet who brought a smile to people’s faces. I really would.
Footnote from Paul of Nemo:
Just a note on the interview. You asked if there were any TVP poems that had been set to music where the words were sung instead of just spoken and TVP said no.
Well this is not entirely true, the song "Hanley Town" that the TVP band did (it's up on the MySpace) has spoken verses, but the chorus is sung.
The words were written by the TVP and the chords were written by me, but I don't know who came up with the little melody in the chorus. It certainly wasn't me. But originally it was all spoken/chanted. I know it started off as having no melody in the chorus coz there is a very early recording of this song knocking around somewhere where the chorus is just spoken, but then I have later recordings of it where a little melody has evolved in the chorus. I guess it must have evolved out of what Andy (NEMO) and the TVP were doing when they both joined in for the chorus.
One thing's for sure, it's the only example of the TVP singing that I know of.