How the beat poet found himself reborn in the underground snooker club

Allen Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg

Beat poet Allen Ginsberg in an underground snooker club – it’s a strong and not so unlikely image, given the man’s wide-ranging interests in all kinds of experience. And that is where Birmingham composer and pianist Steve Tromans is taking his Howl project this evening.

The performance will be as part of Sam Marchant’s ongoing Churchills Snooker Club sessions and starts at 9pm. The band will feature many of the original musicians from the premiere of this Birmingham Jazz commission at the CBSO Centre back in 2004, the full line-up being: Steve Tromans, piano and direction; Sid Peacock, vocals and narration; Mark Hanslip, tenor sax; Chris Young, tenor sax; Mike Green, double bass; and Miles Levin, drums.

After its premiere Howl was toured in the UK between 2004-2006, with performances at music, literature and poetry venues and festivals including Cheltenham International Jazz Festival, Glastonbury Festival, The Vortex in London, Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, Between the Lines Literary Festival in Belfast, and Stanza Poetry Festival in St Andrews.

And what does it sound like? “Relentless, fast, energising, mesmerising – there’s no polite response possible,” was the answer of Aldeburgh Poetry Festival director Naomi Jaffa back in 2005.

Steve says: “It would be great to see as many people as possible check out the gig – those who remember the work from previously, and those who may be curious as to how such an epic seminal poem could be given an avant-garde jazz setting.”

For a mere £4 you can explore some great poetry, some fine modern jazz and even enjoy free pool all night as well. And all underground. It’s the full beat experience right there.

Churchills is at 20 Stephenson Street, Birmingham, and you can catch up with Steve Tromans and his busy musical life here.

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1 reply

  1. A special night: the hundredth anniversary of the premier of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, The Roller trio and Colin Mills new quartet in Kings Heath, but I’m scheduled to catch up on homework… Looking for info on the net I find that Radio three has The Rite.. on the wrong night, and I can’t find out what the Medledeev reference of Colin’s is about but… The Jazz Breakfast tells me that Steve Tromans is presenting Howl again. I saw/heard this in 2004 when Birmingham Jazz commissioned the piece for the CBSO Centre, so I could not miss this prformance in Churchill’s Snooker Club (!?) … I never liked homework…
    The venue is ( probably) as unlikely and anachronisticly styled as was the room for the first reading of Howl in 1955 and the audience was suitably hip. I spotted, and greeted, four others old enough to be au fait with Ginsberg from early editions, and delighted in the strong bohemian current amoungst the younger ones: jazz beards and long hair are well back in vogue I am pleased to note!
    The performance was stunning. Steve urged us to applaud the players as we felt fit – ” this isn’t the Symphony Hall” but the power of the pieces and the playing was such that we were all rapt until a few seconds after the last note died…. then we showed our appreciation! Each piece of the poem and two intrumentals moved between lyrical/mournful (featuring the saxes of Louis Mather, depping at short notice, and Chris Young) , declamatory (when Sid Peacock’s perfect reading of the poem featured ) to wonderfully manic, full tilt (driven by Mike Green’s strummed “bass from space” and Miles Levin hitting everything at once). I worried on occaission that the players were so deep in the music with their eyes shut that they would miss Steve’s directions, but I should know better of these consummate professionals.
    I’ve run out of superlatives….but it is amazing to think that so few people have heard Howl , perhaps in 100 years it will be played in the Albert Hall, in the meantime watch out for postings – Steve hopes to do it again at the Ort Cafe. See you there, and perhaps at the Red Lion next Friday (7th) when Steve, Miles and Chris Mapp, The Steve Tromans Trio, play for Birmingham Jazz.
    Nigel Holt

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