Sheila Chapman writes:
A member of the audience said that The Shire Oak Room at HEART ‘had the enticing atmosphere of a New York Jazz Club’ on Saturday night and thus the stage was set for a very special event .
When I was researching the evening I had checked out reviews of The Fruit Tree Project jazz band (Dave Evans on keys, Colin Sutton on Bass and Alex Wibrow on drums), and came across this comment: ‘...they take on grooves and at times semi-free excitement equally to create a thrilling array of sounds’. Not knowing a great deal about jazz I was a bit puzzled by these words, but as the band kicked off the night, playing compositions by Dave Evans, I began to understand exactly what they meant. As one member of the audience (Terry Bridges) commented, they were ‘polished and consummate performers’. They entranced the audience and I, for one, found their array of sounds both thrilling and absorbing.
After a few numbers they were joined by the poet Rommi Smith, who explained that her poems for the night were taken from her pamphlet Mornings and Midnights. These poems are based on the lives of female legends such as Billie Holliday, Bessie Smith and Josephine Baker. They do not seek to tell the biography of these women, because that would demand too much ‘truth’, but rather to illuminate and narrate their lives through the life of Gloria Silver, a mythical diva whose experience and history is the backbone of the book.
Rommi’s collection of mornings and midnights poems is growing. We were treated to some poems from the pamphlet such as: Any Old Death Will Do, ‘...and maggots are the jewels against my skin’, which explores Gloria’s reaction when she reads her own obituary while still very much alive (apparently something that actually happened to Peggy Lee); and when Bessie Smith Came Face to Face with the Klan ‘... stark white hooded exclamation marks’. We also heard new poems such as Fur Coat, Moonsong Jelly, and Rain - where the musical rendition of the sound of rain in the intro was restrained, and incredibly evocative.
The poems, whether spoken or sung, were interwoven with the music with power and passion, and true musicality. Some written comments from the audience will tell you what it was like:
Words and music melted together like an ice-cream fruit sundae. But do not be misled as the core is as hard-hitting as a bullet (Glo Simons)
Moving, angry, engaged. The coherence of music & word & song was the best I’ve heard. (Murray Edscer)
Such professionalism in the execution of performance. Such knowledge in the poetry and background itself. (Jane Austwick)
It was a brilliant night. Once again some members of the audience say it all:
A moving and exciting performance ... more please. (Anon)
Overall, a wonderful & moving performance – very inspiring! (Anon)
What a fantastic combination of the spoken word and fab music. (Bev Robinson)
Rommi so soulful. (Selina)
This event was absolutely outstanding. (Jane Austwick)
An inspiring evening and wonderful to have this on our doorstep! (Anon)
Inspired – a great addition to a literary festival. (Beatrice Schofield)
As Murray Edsecar said: "This was inspirational. ... an entrancing evening."
The Fruit Tree Project: Mornings and Midnights by Rommi Smith is published by Peepal Tree Press, Leeds (2005, 2008)