Tag Archives: Interviews with Andy White

Stealing the Moment: Talking with Andy White (part iv)

No more waiting… QLD Poetry Festival is here, live tonight (and continuing across the weekend) at The Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts. That means Andy White is walking down a Brisbane street somewhere, listening to its music. It also means that this weekend is your first chance to get your hands on a copy of Stolen Moments. Good times indeed!

Here’s the fourth instalment of our interview:

So far you have touched on influences such as Brian Patten, John Cooper Clarke, Leonard Cohen, Dylan and The Beats and how they played a pivotal role in turning you on to poetry as an art form. Could you talk a little bit about who you are reading/listening to now? 

It’s difficult to get the time, juggling things all the time. When you’re on the road you get given a lot of CDs, which I usually listen to all at once, and keep the ones I like. This is the main source of new and unheard music for me when I’m not in Australia (when I am, it’s a mix of 24-hour Muse and Triple J, courtesy of The Teenager).

Producing records or pre-producing with songwriters and sorting out their songs, a lot of decisions have to be made about music and words. I find inspiration in people starting off writing or recording. Not usually the material, but the vibe. So to relax, have time off, I find myself going back to the classics and digging deeper into music I discovered when I was younger, finding things I couldn’t have known were there.  Also listening to music I know nothing about and have only an instinctive reaction to – where I can’t analyse the structure and can’t understand most of the lyrics. Jazz. I like Italian singer songwiriters – Fabrizio di Andre, Vinicio Capossela. Usually though, what I am listening to is related in some way to what I am digging in a more general sense.

Jazz is a great example of this. I was in Los Angeles and stopped by a junk shop which had obviously inherited the vinyl record collection of an older guy. He lived in West Hollywood and his albums were in pristine condition. I bought a George Shearing live record from the 50s – so I can hear what Kerouac writes about so beautifully. Also a fantastic-looking New Christy Minstrels album which anyone who’s watched ‘The Mighty Wind’ (the folk ‘Spinal Tap’ – same cast just as great) would appreciate. The Minstrels on the cover look exactly like the New Main Street Singers and I swear there are 15 people sitting on high chairs all playing acoustic guitars and smiling. How could I resist? I also bought a Television album I’d lost track of in red vinyl and an LP of inauguration speeches of US presidents from Roosevelt up to and including Richard Nixon. Nice.

For what I’m listening to in general, here’s what I listened to on the plane journey home from Canada slash LA a couple of weeks ago. Just after I’d visited that store and the evening of the afternoon I wrote this blog http://www.21stcenturytroubadour.blogspot.com/

Installed in United’s economy cabin with its 1970s feel – terrible food, annoyed stewards and an entertainment system designed by John Logie Baird – there’s nothing for it but to settle upright (‘back’ is not an option) and listen to whatever music is on the Pod, read whatever’s in The Bag.

I crank up the hand-me-down iPod I have been given by The Teenager. Since I don’t live by the Pod (I don’t like the ear-things too much and I like hearing the sound of the streets when I am outside) there’s not  too much choice. But at least all of it’s good.

Doctor – the screens. I feel another list coming on.

1. Blood On The Tracks.

Straight to this one. The depth in the narratives and the quality of each line is stunning. Age brings out the depth, for sure, and I’ve learnt that the songs reveal themselves gradually.

2. Andrea’s rough mixes

I am producing an Oslo singer-songwriter, piano-player who’s simply super-talented. Plays the piano and autoharp. She’s got an incredible voice, writes lyrics in Scandinavian style – getting to the heart of the matter with both a quirky touch and without a lot of the baggage songwriters carry around.

3. Tom Waits’ new song

‘Bad As Me’ New song by old favourite. Great lists in this song. Waits is probably the most talented of the old masters (well, he has been permanently ancient for years) whose current output is  as good as it’s always been. Lloyd Cole is like that too –  it’s just that if an album hits you in a particular way at a particular time (like ‘Rattlesnakes’ did for me) it’s impossible for the fan (not the artist) to get back to that place again. Nothing to do with the songs.

4. Twilight Hotel album

Brandy from TH sang with me at Edmonton Folk Festival. This album’s got atmosphere and cool old guitars everywhere. Drums rule the mix – as with a lot of my current favourite albums – Robert Plant, Ray La Montagne.

5. Muse

Hold on. The Teenager must have borrowed the iPod before I left and filled it with the entire Muse catalogue including studio albums, out-takes, live concerts and video footage. I see why they’re huge and (sort of) love them but … five minutes and I’m done. Better take a turn reading …

6. Elvis biography.

‘Careless Love’. I loved visiting Sun Studios in Memphis a few years ago, and Graceland too (see ’21st Century Troubadour’ for a chapter on this visit) but only had my childhood memories of Elvis to guide me. I remember he died the summer punk took off in Belfast and we were busy ripping up t shirts and borrowing safety pins off our mums – and practising in a basement listening to the first Clash album – to really care.

Since going to America and a friend lending me the two volume Elvis-biography-to-end-all-biographies (there will never/should never be another) I have spent hours with this book and its predecesssor ‘Last Train To Memphis’ (more exciting – generally the rise more interesting to me than the fall and especially so with Elvis).

7. James Ellroy

I’m on Part 3 of the trilogy. ‘Blood’s A Rover’. It’s been years now since I read a book by an Englishman. God how I miss proper sentence structure and educated wit. I can’t wait to get back to the latest Martin Amis.

Hang on a moment … (Shurely shome mishtake – Ed)

Here comes Melbourne.

I also wanted to ask what is the heart of invention for you as a singer-songwriter-poet?

William Blake said it all – “Innocence and experience.”

Thanks Graham it’s been a pleasure. See you in Brisbane.

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Stealing the Moment: Talking with Andy White (part iii)

Here’s the third instalment of my interview with Andy White. Not long now until, Andy launches Stolen Moments at the 2011 QLD Poetry Festival this weekend at the session, All Is Roar And Crash (4:00pm, Theatre Space, Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts).

There are a number of poems in Stolen Moments, such as avenue B and 1925 that show the hardships of life on the road. How difficult is it to remain creative and connected when the exhaustion of touring kicks in?

This is one for my book ’21st Century Troubadour’ (published in Ireland I hope to bring it to Australia next year) which almost has the creative spirit of exhaustion as its guiding principle. The book is centred round an Irish singer-songwriter who travels the world carrying an acoustic guitar and accompanied by a bag so heavy it’s “currently showing up on Google Earth as a small island.”

It’s such a major theme that it spills over into the poems. However, poems are not perhaps the place for the kind of Dickensian hyperbole which most of these adventures require. They’re more for the moments in which the world caves in and you feel you’re being taken down in the process of this collapse. It’s a tangible feeling and one which most travelling musicians experience.

The fact is that creativity is more likely to come out of a scenario in which every nerve in your body is shredded from the schedule, the promoter is a crazed transvestite ruling his own kingdom with the help of a rod of iron and a smoke machine, the sound system is swimming in beer, the check-in girls at easyjet don’t want to let you off paying excess baggage and everyone in one particular LA shoe shop thinks you’re a member of U2 when all you’re trying to do is catch the bus to the next gig.

(Although I must say in passing that U2’s beshaded lead singer referred to me as “a legend” in an interview in New York last month. I wonder if he’ll ever read “o god let me die after bono”).

All of this is the real life glamour of the road. It’s tough, but it sure is sexy. It’s a big part of what I love about what I do, and it’s what people are interested in asking about. Something underneath the skin is what excites people. Everyone knows that the celebrity tittle and tattle is just that – concocted by a paid PR person in an office somewhere. I’d rather be on a Greyhound than in the First Class lounge. Though I wouldn’t mind stealing their sandwiches.


avenue B

hauling gear
past second-hand stores
and dusty cafés

I saw the man
I once was
smoking outside
a coffee shop
leaning back in a straw chair

he glanced at me
just for a second
our eyes met
and I looked away

straining and sweating
concentrating on
keeping the wheels of

the bag
the case
my guitar
a ukulele

from falling off the kerb

eyes down
the only way

nobody’s getting off this planet alive
declares the woman in front of me
to anyone who’ll listen

I’m listening

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Stealing the Moment: Talking with Andy White (part ii)

Andy White launches his second poetry collection, Stolen Moments (Another Lost Shark Publications) on Saturday August 27 in the Theatre Space of the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts at 4:00pm as part of the session, All Is Roar And Crash. This is one of many events not to be missed at this weekend’s QLD Poetry Festival.

Here’s the second part of our chat, including a poem from the collection to whet your appetite! For those of you who aren’t able to be there in person this weekend for the launch experience, stay tuned for details of how to get your hands on a copy of the book post-launch.

Now, over to Andy!

Do you have a favourite ‘Brisbane poem’ in the collection? What are your memories of writing this poem?

I don’t have a favourite, it’s a bit like the Steve Martin ‘I never smoke marijuana’ sketch. Or having to decide what your favourite time of day is. I’d instinctivelly say ‘breakfast’, but if you pressed me then I’d have to add ‘late at night’. My mum would chime in with ’11pm’ (the time I was born – unsuspecting that this could qualify as ‘early in the evening’). ‘Lunch’ sounds good although sadly it’s an outdated concept. ‘Early afternoon’, ‘late afternoon’ and all of ‘the evening’ have got to be up there in the reckoning too.

So, even though the poem where the chinese spacecraft lands on the magnolia tree – and the one which sticks like frozen marmalade on burnt toast – come to mind, if I’ve got choose one it’s:


in brisbane, when it rains

it’s 3:43 in a brisbane suburb
and I am staying in a
poetry house

all around me
many-shelved bookcases of delight
containing the true holy writ
of the beat generation

on the radio
people discuss
drought statistics
water solutions and
a pipeline from the north

the rain starts swiftly
not separate drops but
a deafening sheet of water
confounding drought statistics
blowing talk of pipelines
into the middle of
next week

and just when you think it can’t
the rain on the roof gets louder
and just when you think the poem you are reading
with its list of mundane details
can’t get any longer
it increases in length and adds another verse

and the mundane details improve with each
repetition and you end up
so severely
you doubt your own
verbal sanity

for lord I have heard the word and
I have felt its power
I have witnessed public anger
private animosity
emotional severing and
passive acceptance of
the verb the adjective and the
non-rhyming conjunction

I am in a place where
the word is both king and queen
and metaphor is a holiday destination
where the king and queen go
to take a week off from meaning
from the cruelty of
here and now

then the rain eases
the noise on the roof decreases
the decibels descend
and I am drawn towards sleep
my brain racing with images of
and spain

paragraphs and public laughs and
poetry and all its worth
spread out in front of me
like an audience
around a table

clock says

love you


Defying the cliche of the modern poet writing poems after breakfast, the first time I read at QPF I decided to drink red wine and stay up late as late as possible. Not  on ebay buying anthologies or facebook ‘liking’ youtube clips of Steve McQueen, but writing actual poems.

Or maybe it was the fact that I couldn’t pluck up courage to go back into the room where I was staying, where the walls were lined with books – many of them valuable first editions. All of them bearing down on me from positions of power. Intimidated? N-n-no. Challenged? But of course.

I like staying up listening to people talking on the radio. Not chat or phone-ins, but news radio. Like a lot of musicians, I’ve got music going on in my head all the time anyway, so listening to voices talking is good. Doesn’t get in the way (unless of course you want to get rid of the music in your head – in which case, ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart’ or ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ will do the trick).

I like the crescendo of this poem. Preachers always grab my ear – in a real sense (my Northern Irish background) and a purely dramatic one (Burt Lancaster). It’s got the usual mix of a mangled ‘TS Eliot buys a Happy Meal’ reference, Iron Curtain nomenclature, and a series of seemingly random half-rhymes (really just products of a killer combination of internal deafness and a strange accent).

I can exclusively reveal that the two stanzas in italics are the most rewritten of the whole book, and that ‘my brain/racing with images of czechoslovakia and spain’ are my two favourite lines.

There you go – I got to ‘favourites’ in the end. Next I’ll be making lists. For isn’t that what we guys spend hours doing?

A good list can:

1. Waste a good amount of time so you can put off starting to write a poem.

2. Fill up an equal amount of space as a paragraph containing real depth and insight.

3. Tell you a lot about yourself through your reactions to the list. How attracted to/jealous are you of the person writing the list?

4. Inspire you to write your own list which you can send to the writer of the list with a pithy note attached. He or she will then…

5. Write back with a witty and generous riposte, ensuring a happy ending.

Which this is.


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Stealing the Moment: Talking with Andy White (part i)

Andy White’s return to QLD Poetry Festival this year is extra special for me as Jules and I are now holding sparkling new copies of his second poetry collection, Stolen Moments (Another Lost Shark Publications), which will be launched at the festival on Saturday August 27 at 4:00pm in the Theatre Space of The Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts as part of the session, All Is Roar And Crash.

So with the festival only 9 days away, Andy and I have been talking poetry…

Many of the poems in your new book, Stolen Moments, were born in Brisbane. As a touring artist you get the opportunity to visit many cities each year, so what is it about Brisbane that gets the poetic synapses firing?

When I was at school I knew I should like poetry. It was one of those things which was in my blood – distilled emotion, the perfect phrase. I didn’t love it, but I knew its worth, as we battled with Heaney and Longley and the Old Victorians. None of them saying much to me. Spike Milligan was better – reminded me of Lewis Carroll and the Beatles lyrics I’d grown up listening to. When we reached third form – maybe your Year 9 – we had an English teacher who thought she was Miss Jean Brodie (without the fascist baggage). Told us to throw the anthologies in a heap in the corner, loosen our ties (yes, all schools in Belfast had uniforms then – evened everything out a little) and tell the class a little bit about each other. Likes, dislikes. Loves, hobby horses. She believed that we only needed to know one poem – ‘Ode To A Nightingale’. Said it was all we needed for now – and we all believed her, hung on her every word. I still love that poem.

But something else happened that year which awoke me to the power of poetry. Brian Patten came to visit the school – a real live Liverpool poet. Someone who knew the Scaffold and probably, by extension, the Beatles. We gathered at his feet and listened. I bought the ‘Liverpool Poets’ Penguin book. Listened to old records of Roger McGough. Then our Miss Jean Brodie teacher was supplanted by a Leonard Cohen-loving teacher, just in time for sixth form and for falling in love. She wore scarves and eyeliner and burned incense in the classroom. And – let me remind you – this was 1980s Northern Ireland with a full-on terrorist war raging outside. The girls in the class talked make-up with her and she told the boys how to talk to the girls. During this time my fascination with the Liverpool Poets’ style didn’t disappear, but listen enough times to ‘So Long Marianne’ in  a darkened aroma-filled room when you’re supposed to be hurrying to chemistry class and you’ll understand my new-found devotion to the singer-songwriter’s version of the spoken word.

Things changed, I went to college.I studied English in England and got familiar with all types of poems – not even the Nightingale could save me from the rest of the 19th century. I saw Ian McEwan read ‘The Cement Garden’ to twelve people in an all-nighter. Sat in lectures listening to structuralists and post-structuralists. Barthes worshippers and Leavisites. Back home the troubles got worse, then better. I had been writing scraps of poems since I can’t remember when. It was always the natural thing to do. Then I saw John Cooper Clarke at a reading in a college disco. Amazing. I’d heard ‘Snap Crackle And Bop’ – but seeing him was something else. I was back in that school room again – charged up about poetry like when I saw Brian Patten for the first time. I went back  to my room, found a litttle black book and started copying poems into it. A friend organised a poetry reading gig and I was away. Reading fast and furious. Slamming before I knew the word. For me it was all about a mix of JCC, Dylan, Beats and the Liverpool Poets, all leaning a little bit towards Leonard.

After I started putting my poems to music, bashing them out with an acoustic guitar, it all changed. Poetry became something either to be considered on the page, not heard, or scribbled real fast – a thought which wouldn’t necessarily turn into a song. My first volume ‘The Music Of What Happens’ collected all my poems together. Written from 1971-1999, twenty-eight years collected in a suitcase and edited into some sort of shape by a novelist friend of mine. I launched the book in Dublin, Belfast and Galway. At the heart of the Irish literary establishment – who all thought of me as a singer. They never looked beyond my album covers, which amused me – I knew I started off with the word on the page, when music was something you listened to on Radio Luxembourg or which granny taught as I tried to keep up with her on the piano or violin. Before I discovered the acoustic guitar.

The next time I was excited by poetry was arriving in Brisbane and experiencing QPF. In 2006, I think it was. It’s as simple as that. I was booked to play but I was encouraged to read too. I got to my feet and didn’t stop for four days. The weekend inspired me to write – I filled books sitting around in Graham & Julie’s house (great I didn’t stay in a hotel that time) in the company of the Beats, Cohen and a fantastic collection of CDs and first editions, happily co-existing and drawing from them.

It’s the company I keep in Brisbane which gets me going, and the collective aspect of poetry I’ve found there. Above all the excitement generated at readings – and not just during the festival. Speedpoets is amazing – the highest standard poetry readings I’ve ever seen. Woodford too – something so right that it anagrams into Wordfood – I found the same electric atmosphere in a huge circus tent one New Year as 2007 slipped into 2008. Not the darkened upstairs of a pub with three or four people huddled round a candle mumbling – this was poetry on a grand stage (even if the work was small scale) with costumes and applause and performance.

It’s this dressing-up too – the way poets act out their poems and know how to speak into microphones and don’t mumble solo into their navels but get up collectively in pairs makes it exciting. Everyone knows it’s hip and relevant and funny and moving they don’t need to be told – just like in San Francisco and Liverpool, poets need a scene – they need a city and it’s not always going to be London or Paris or Sydney. Better if it’s not. That’s where poetry is hip and happening and live and emotional.

Just like poetry is in my head. That’s why Brisbane means poetry to me.


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