A Hay festival steward’s day – and night

This mornings blog is provided by my husband, who has been coming to Hay with me for 8 years, and stewarding for the last 6. This was his day yesterday –

After nine hours of stewarding, some light relief was needed. Although I was pleasantly surprised by being amused and interested in what Charles Moore had to say about the Iron Lady, I can’t say that I was inspired to read Homer (the two presenters reminded me of Baddiel & Newman’s professors), or learnt anything from the two American presenters of The Mortal Instruments (six instalments of escapism for “young adults”).

First up was Suggs, the lead singer of Madness. I saw his one man show “My Life Story in Words” last December, and I’d highly recommend you get to see it before it closes. This was different, as instead of being accompanied by a pianist, Suggs was prompted into vignette by Martin Chilton. Inspired to write on the day of his 50th birthday whilst laying in the bath, hungover after a party at Wiltons the night before, and seeing his cat die, he first reflected on his childhood. His dad (a heroin addict) left at the age of 3, and he was brought up by his mum, a Jazz singer in the Colony Club in 1960’s Soho. This led him into a world of social misfits, who gravitated towards somewhere which got around the limited opening times of pubs and intolerance by being a private members club.

His real name is Graham McPherson (but only his mum, the Inland Revenue and the Police call him that). He was schooled in Wales for a while, but on return to London he was picked on for his funny accent and being a “haggis” and decided on a change of name. Opening his mum’s encyclopaedia of Jazz Music at random, he dropped a pin and landed on the letter E of…Peter. Thankfully the surname of the obscure flute player from Kentucky was Suggs. He didn’t answer to his real name for months, until everyone, including teachers, finally accepted it.

He cited Prince Buster and Ian Dury as musical influences, Tommy Cooper as an absolute hero (his impersonation in his stage show brought the house down) and The Liberty of Norton Folgate as the favourite song he has written. Currently working on a new album provisionally titled “Where have all the Wan*ers Gone” and touring with Madness in December, he is a national institution and an all round top bloke. As you might have guessed, I’m a big fan.

Next up was Robin Ince, “in and out of his mind”. A three hour show, squeezed and edited into one, delivered at a rate of knots. I was laughing so much that I couldn’t make many notes.

He spoke fondly of Brian Blessed appearing on the Infinite Monkey Cage (2 and a half hours of the most delightful tinnitus I’ll ever have), showed his frustration with suggestions for curing insomnia (have you tried camomile tea, a comfy pillow? No, I sleep on manure and broken glass) and a lack of interest in football (what do you think of Chelsea? It’s been a very pleasant flower show so far).

A long but pleasant day, apart from the rain, mud and sliding the car out of fields (many thanks to Colin for the pushes!).

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