Liz Lochhead: Somethings Old, Somethings New

Liz Lochhead’s solo spoken word show at Assembly Rooms opens with songs from Joni Mitchell’s delicately moody album ‘Blue’ on the sound system; appropriate not only for her first poem of the afternoon, Old Vinyl, but also for Lochhead’s themes of lost love and lost time. Like Joni Mitchell herself, Lochhead excels at turning intensely personal memories into something universally tangible. Nostalgia never gets old, and as Joni writes, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” Still, this is hardly a sad show. Lochhead intersperses memories and tributes with feisty, raunchy humour. She’s a wonderful spoken word performer, a great lady of letters, and generally a kick in the head.

Like Joni Mitchell herself, Lochhead excels at turning intensely personal memories into something universally tangible.

Old Vinyl is one of the longer poems in the set. It’s a nostalgic ramble on the comforting hiss and crackle of a beloved record, interwoven with lyrics from Paul Simon to Bob Dylan to Billie Holiday. A saxophone player gently complements her recitation. This is poetry that’s meant to be heard aloud and the music only enhances the experience. The saxophone is used in some of the remaining poems, often for adding touches of humour like the roaring solo when Lochhead says “let’s get raunchy” or a bit in My Way when she mentions that it’s the only Frank Sinatra song she can’t stand. Her accompanist also makes use of a mouth harp at one point. Much of Lochhead’s nostalgia is for the 60s, when she was a young art student. As she recites poetry over jazz, you feel transported back to a time when beat poetry was the hot new thing.

The set takes her through early loves, lost friends (a memorial poem to her friend is particularly beautiful, with its images of ospreys soaring over a lake), and her delightfully raunchy take on aging. In a bathroom in a Canadian seniors’ café, Lochhead catches a glimpse of the archetypal aging diva. The old broad reapplies her lipstick and fixes Lochhead with a look that says, “It happens to the best of us.” While the performance is mostly aimed at an older audience, there’s truly plenty here for anyone to appreciate. Lochhead writes what she knows, but she’s such a talented wordsmith it hardly matters if you can’t recall the days of Mary Quant and miniskirts. Something’s Old, Something’s New is a nostalgic trip, but if never feels self-indulgent or lugubrious. Lochhead has enough humour, heart, and stage presence to make an audience fall right in rhythm with her words.

Reviews by Lauren Moreau

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The Blurb

A retrospective of more than 45 years of poetry, lyrics, performance pieces, best of revue material and in character monologues by the current Makar aka National Poet of Scotland. Plus some bittersweet brand new stuff and bluesy, soulful sax from Steve Kettley. ‘An inspirational force in British poetry, a writer who has tirelessly brought poetry to the drama and drama into poetry’ (Carol Ann Duffy, Poet Laureate). ‘Brilliant, raucous and scabrously funny’ (Sunday Times). ‘Funny, frank and frisky’ (Scotsman). ‘All round pleasure’ **** (ThomDibdin.co.uk). ‘One hour didn’t seem long enough’ (ThreeWeeks).

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