Arts

Murray Lachlan Young on shrinking attention spans and blurring comedy into verse at Open House Festival

David Roy speaks to 'million pound poet' Murray Lachlan Young about his imminent appearance at Bangor's Open House Festival

Murray Lachlan Young will be appearing at Bangor's Open House Festival on August 16

"THE things that I get asked to write about can be really diverse and bizarre – everything from space travel through to philosophy, from quantum physics to pop music," says poet/comedian/writer Murray Lachlan Young of his ongoing gig as BBC 6 Music's 'poet in residence', which regularly finds the US-born British versemeister tackling topical topics in his own inimitable style.

When we spoke to Young (50) last week in advance of his imminent appearance at the Open House Festival in Bangor, he was just about submit his poem Test Cricket Explained to Shaun Keaveny's 6Music afternoon show to mark the start of The Ashes.

"It's a poem trying to explain cricket to people that aren't interested in cricket," says Young, himself a life-long cricket fan. "But the idea of the piece is not to be successful and to leave people even more confused than they already were."

You can have a listen to the amusingly cricket jargon-jammed 60-second-long fruit of his labour by finding the August 2 edition of the Shaun Keaveny show on BBC Sounds, then fast-forwarding to the 57-minute mark (stick around for The Kinks' ode to England's favourite summer sport afterwards).

"I was never a particularly good player, but I find it fascinating," enthuses Young, who grew up in Kent and tells me he actually comes from "a rugby family": his dad possibly played for London Scottish (though he's not quite certain of this) while his brother actually got into the England set-up as a teenager.

"I suffered from a late puberty," says the poet of how his own sporting career was cruelly curtailed. "I went from being a good child player to being a child playing amongst men, so then I just thought 'this isn't very much fun at all'."

Of course, sport's loss was poetry's gain: having studied media performance at university, Young pursued a career as a self-styled 'rock and roll poet' who preferred opening for music stars like Pet Shop Boys, The Pretenders and Julian Cope to the poetry circuit while creating era-defining work including The Supermodel, The Closet Heterosexual and Simply Everyone's Taking Cocaine.

This gambit paid off in style when Young signed a major label deal with EMI Records in 1997, becoming Britain's (and, let's face it, the world's) first 'million pound poet', releasing the album Casual Sex & Other Verse, wowing the crowds on the main stage at Glastonbury and fronting his own MTV show before, in true rock and roll style, discovering that he just wasn't cut out for corporate backed fame after all.

Happily, Young survived his brush with stardom (and a subsequent five year lay-off/recovery period) to re-emerge in the early 21st century as an older, wiser performer whose wit was sharper than ever, as evidenced by poems such as Is It Wrong To Wear the Thong, The Day the Taleban Came To Tea and Tumbleweed Toupee, all of which you will find in his career-spanning 2017 collection How Freakin' Zeitgeist Are You?

 

However, you don't want to just read these poems – you want to witness them being performed by Murray himself in Bangor next week, as part of a live show which mixes verse with stand-up comedy.

Indeed, it seems that being asked to craft the occasional 60-second attention getter for 6Music has proved a useful tool for honing Young's live set, as he explains.

"It's an incredibly good discipline to have because a lot of stuff I tend to write is long-form," reveals the poet.

"So keeping up with 'quick' stuff is really useful – and it's very useful for my stand-up show. I put the poems together and then put stand-up in between, so it provides a nice punctuation for the live show but it also keeps me fit and honest as a writer, which is really good.

"It's a really good discipline, kind of like the idea of a haiku or a limerick where you have to say an awful lot in not very much space. That's quite a useful thing to be able to do, especially in an age when people are getting used to dealing with smaller chunks of information.

"They're telling stories with images on Instagram, or tweeting with 280 characters. Obviously on Facebook, people just go on for hours, usually about things nobody wants to hear about.

"Facebook is moaning, Twitter is proving you're cleverer than everyone else and Instagram is showing how amazing your life is."

I can sense a poem coming on...

:: Murray Lachlan Young, Friday August 16, Open House Festival, Bangor. Tickets, venue information and full festival programme via Openhousefestival.com. Visit Murraylachlanyoung.co.uk

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