Hidden Door Festival took place over nine days in Edinburgh from 28 March–5 April 2014. HD had hired 23 of the city’s disused vaults and transformed them into art showrooms, music venues, bars and other performance spaces, which included poetry. It was a monumental achievement to put an exciting programme together and utilise such a space. It was free during the daytime and a charge was made for the extensive evening line-ups. David Martin and his HD organising team deserve a massive round of applause.
I got there on two nights. First of all on Saturday 30th March. I saw a little music but I was mostly interested in the collaborative poetry event organised by SJ Fowler. Poets were placed in twos beforehand and asked to come up with a new poem, written and performed collaboratively.
There were plenty of interesting approaches. I enjoyed most of the sets. The two that worked best for me were Colin Herd & Iain Morrison (both talk about HD at these links), good poets in their own right, and they had obviously rehearsed really hard. They talked and sang over one another with flawless timing, and the bureaucratic jargon-influenced poem sounded both clever and funny. And then Jow Lindsay (performing under a pseudonym) and Samantha Walton stole the show with an incredible piece of poem-theatre, including lines nicked from poets’ ridiculous Facebook status updates: possibly the best performance of poetry I’ve ever seen (ironic, as parts of the poem were less than gently mocking the performance of poetry). Then there was the HD bar with Estrella lager, then The White Horse Bar on the Canongate, and then dancing through the small hours in a club... What a night!
Tuesday 1st April was the music/poetry collaboration night. It began with Jane McKie reading a short but very good poem before a band played. Then I saw Andrew Philip reading some of his ‘MacAdam poems’ with backing from the musical duo, Holm, on guitar and violin. Think more Arab Strap or Mogwai than Aly Bain (not that there’s anything wrong with Aly Bain). It was intense, dramatic stuff and the music and poetry were a great fit for one another. I caught the first twenty minutes or so of Brian Johnstone’s band Trio Verso, who played experimental jazz improvisation (can’t think of a better way to describe it) along with Brian’s poetry. I’d like to hear more, as it was certainly different and enjoyable.
However, I had to go, as Janette Ayachi and I were reading a poem I’d written for two voices as a response to Steve Reich’s astonishing composition, Different Trains, which was then performed live by the Viridian Quartet. I’d never written anything quite like it. Over four A4 pages, it used lists of railway station names (mostly made-up), twisted health & safety regulations to do with luggage in stations, phrases from the text of Steve Reich’s work used in completely new contexts, allusions to other poems by Kenneth Koch, Tishani Doshi and Tomas Tranströmer, and some original lyric poetry as well – and somehow ended up as a meditation on love: perhaps a love poem or an end-of-love poem or both simultaneously. I should say that I did even manage to squeeze hidden doors into the poem!
The bodies we love
contain hidden doors
to other bodies
Janette and I had also rehearsed for hours to get the timing right: we read some sections separately, some together, some weaving between one another. It went great and Janette was a star. We left the stage hanging on a question - "Are you sure?".
The Viridian Quartet went straight into Steve Reich’s piece afterwards and their performance was amazing. It was just great to see it live. I’d heard it on CD played by the Kronos Quartet and also on YouTube, such as this terrific performance, but nothing can quite match up to the live experience.It must take incredible concentration to play as the four musicians are often supposed to be slightly out of time with one another but it sounded flawless for the full 27 minutes.
Afterwards, there was more partying and some rappers took the stage. More dancing. And then on to somewhere else, although it wasn’t quite as late a night as the previous Saturday. I would like to have got back again but money and time wouldn’t allow it. The Hidden Door Festival is an extraordinary event and I hope they find another brilliant venue for its next incarnation. It’s certainly something which deserves everyone’s support.