Red Ginsberg by J. Michael Anderson

Red Ginsberg by J. Michael Anderson

In October 1955, in San Francisco, a little known poet called Allen Ginsberg stepped up to read at an event organised at the Six Gallery, a reclaimed auto workshop resurrected as a space where artists and other members of the city’s active bohemian community could meet and present their work.

No one knew that Ginsberg’s epic poem ‘Howl’, an extraordinary diatribe against the neuroses and paranoia of Cold War America during that decade but also a eulogy to his own circle of friends, would have the impact it did, but the long verse would thrill that select audience, trumpet the arrival of a new and radical writing community – the Beat Generation – and send tremors through the literary world in the years to come.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the owner of the Bay Area’s City Lights bookshop and press, invited him almost immediately to publish the poem with him and, a year later, it would appear in print. A year after that, a censorship trial, concerned with the provocative language that peppered the poem, would catapult ‘Howl’ into the international headlines and, after it was deemed not obscene, turn Ginsberg into the most widely reported poet on the planet.

On October 10th 2015, from 2-11pm, Still Howling will commemorate the 60th anniversary of the first reading of Ginsberg’s potent work. The event, to be staged at the Wonder Inn in Manchester, will feature poetry, music and art, linked to the poem, and a symposium, allowing discussion of ‘Howl’’s place and status six decades on.

The occasion has been organised by Simon Warner, Leeds University popular music lecturer, and Manchester-based artist Roger Bygott. It will take place in a recently re-opened, post-industrial building, revived as a performance venue, echoing the spirit of the original Six Gallery venture all those decades ago.

Taking part in the celebration will be individuals with strong connections to Ginsberg, who died in 1997. His biographer Barry Miles and British poet Michael Horovitz knew the US writer well and both played a part in the legendary International Poetry Incarnation at the Royal Albert Hall in 1965, when Ginsberg headlined. Both will participate in the symposium, alongside Peter Hale of the Ginsberg Trust plus poets including Christina Fonthes and Elmi Ali.

Also contributing will be Steven Taylor, Ginsberg’s guitarist over the last 20 years of his life. For New York-based Taylor, this Manchester gig will be more than just another date in the performing calendar, because he was born and grew up in the northern city before emigration with his family in the mid-1960s. He will collaborate with Horovitz, perform a solo set and give a British premiere to his short choral work Footnote to Howl.

The evening event, to be MC’d by city legend CP Lee, will climax with a performance of ‘Howl’ by the British actor George Hunt. Ten years ago, as a recent graduate, Hunt delivered the poem at Howl for Now, a 50th anniversary event in Leeds. A decade on, he will reprise that remarkable reading in Manchester.

There will also be a series of musical performances, paying reference to Ginsberg and the Beats, by acclaimed spoken word artist Heath Common, joined by the Lincoln 72s and Dub Sex front man Mark Hoyle, alt-folk singer-songwriter Chris T-T, whose debut album was called Beatverse, and the Isness, an offshoot of the well-regarded Mancadelic band Folks.

An exhibition of art linked to the event will also be on show – ‘Howl’-related works by UK painter J. Michael Anderson, including the striking signature piece Red Ginsberg created exclusively for Still Howling, and print pieces by Roger Bygott.

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