Comedian, broadcaster and folk singer Mike Harding has added poetry to his talents and his latest book of poems, The Connemara Cantos, published in September, was the main strain of his two-part Word Play show at Mareel on Thursday and Friday evenings.
The one-time Rochdale Cowboy has come a long way, geographically and artistically, from his early days playing venues and working men’s clubs in and around his home-town of Manchester.
Harding’s upbringing in the Lancashire city formed the focus of Thursday’s show and his later life on the road was the source of numerous jokes and anecdotes as well as the poems on Friday.
A meagre audience turned up on Friday, which was a shame, as the affable Harding served up an enjoyable mix of comedy, road-wise wisdom and poetry that was moving, thoughtful and evocative.
Harding, who has Irish ancestry, has bought a house in Connemara where he has lived off and on for a number of years. He quipped that poetry was his “hobby” and that he’d been led to believe Shetland was very like the west of Ireland, so the wind and rain did not disappoint. Harding is also an old friend of Aly Bain who he met first in 1969
His first poem, Old Pig Iron, was dedicated to skiffle legend Lonnie Donegan, without whom, Harding said, there would have been no rock and roll. As well as inspiring these bands, he had given an entire generation from suburbia an escape route to something more glamourous and exciting.
Harding talked about his early days on the road with a band called the Rainmakers, including a yarn about performing in a club owned by the charming, multi-cultural icon Bernard Manning. Gigs like these proved too much for Harding and he moved away from rock’n’roll for gentler musical pastures.
His life on the road provided an inspiration for a poetic gem about the countless lives lived behind the windows that Harding passed nightly on his way to gigs around the north of England.
Harding’s delivery is unhurried, but he scarcely paused for breath during the hour-long show. His narrative between the poems covered areas as diverse as Navajo reservations and the southern US as well as western Ireland and England.
Poetic themes ranged from taking his mother’s arm (she sadly died three years ago) in Walking Mother to the Car, to visits to a friend with “three-stone” of mackerel to be disposed of and the titular Shipping Forecast.
Paddy No-one mixed the comic-horror with the sad – Paddy, a naavy, is buried in concrete on a construction site and no-one notices or cares. The Running Boys of Summer was about missing his grandsons when they go home from their holidays and the show finished with the humorous PiedPiper of Connemara the attempts of Harding’s friend and Handyman to get rid of a rodent drawn by the smell of crushed eggshells.