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Murray Lachlan-Young


Murray Lauchlan Young is currently a house poet on BBC Radio 4's 'Saturday Live'. Previously he has had his own shows on MTV USA and BBC2.  Mac Dunlop caught up with him recently in his Yurt near Land's End

Your reputation is based on being a performer of poetry, would you say that your work only lives when it is spoken?

I often write by speaking things out and seeing how they sound because sometimes the rhythm doesn't speak on the page.  It's also the ancient way of poetry.  I think some people see writing for the page as superior to performance but then you could read anything by Shakespeare, which was all written for the stage.

In the 90's there was a burgeoning performance scene known as "Slam" poetry.  Did you go through that cauldron of competition?

No, I based myself entirely in the music industry.  Once I was invited to be a guest performer at a Slam in Bristol, and I found the whole thing horrifying. I've been to Slams where there was fist punching, where people bring their friends along to roar every time they come on.  To be honest, I think it was the thought of actually doing it myself that terrified me!


You took a break from performing and from the Live Poetry scene - were you under a lot of strain?

That period lasted for five years, and I went from being completely off the rails, and feeling mad to eventually beginning to work again.  I had this huge record contract and they sacked everybody and I was suddenly thrown into the corporate rinsing machine.  Family members started acting strangely, everything seemed to be changing, and what seemed like endless interviews... I'd be in a situation like this, only it would be with be somebody trying to assassinate me, and if you can imagine doing twelve of those in a row! It became obvious that in the music industry, performers are like people on the reception desk. They are considered difficult, annoying, they take too much time... and I was thinking "Why did I start doing this, I don't think I'm any good at it, I feel I've done everything under false pretences..." and around that time we moved to this place that had a Victorian Spring system with twelve collection boxes, this fantastically built piece of plumbing that needed renovation, and so I spent my time digging holes - I just needed to be earthed.


Did all that affect the way that you write or compose?

You have to trust your ideas.  Looking for truth as an artist is where the strength came back from. As far as the actual style of the writing itself, I've been getting more into the craft of it.

Your new theatre show is called "Modern Cautionary Tales for Children", can you tell me a bit about it?

Actually it premiered at the Acorn Theatre in Penzance. It was a bit clunky at first, but the whole thing is that it's a family show and it's a laugh.  Originally, the late Arabella Churchill, got in touch, saying "If you want to try out any material, I've got the Glastonbury and Bristol Children's Festivals".  So I started off just reading poems out loud under a tree, and by the end of it I had found myself as a poet again. It was about working in a non-contract environment, I mean, if kids don't like it they'll just turn round and walk away, or they'll say your rubbish. Children's entertainment is the toughest performance environment.
I went to the Curnow School for children with severe learning difficulties (SLD) in Redruth and I managed to get the kids up on stage.  There's a piece in it called "Nine Dead Williams", where we get nine children up, and they have to die one after the other, and we had all this dancing on stage. The great thing about the show is that its about improvisation and connection and its about having no fear, so you find yourself in a place where you can't fail.



In the past you've mentioned being inspired by other performance poets?

At my lowest point, I talked with Julian Cope. I was touring with him, and seeing the body of work coming out of him as a writer was pretty impressive.  Another poet, Attila the Stockbroker once said to me, "There is X amount of people in this country who like me, and they provide me with my living. I owe them a huge amount, and that's why I give my all in every performance".

Out here near Landís End, you're about as far away from the metropolis and its music industry as you can get, is Cornwall an escape or an inspiration for you?

We came to Penzance to visit some friends for a weekend and we just made a gut decision. We thought "Right that's it, we're not going to be people in retreat, we 're going to live in the town, meet people and be part of the community!" And we did, but for our two boys, we wanted a more rural up-bringing, so we moved again a little further west.
Now, when I go to a gig in London or Manchester, I know I can come back and be myself. I'm grounded here.



You seem to have set up a low carbon lifestyle, is that what you want to achieve here?

We're just trying to have fewer possessions, with no higher ethical thing attached to it, we like the idea that we could end up with just one large suitcase.  Maybe that's too idealistic with children, but we're trying to be more conscious about buying things.  It's easy to buy things you don't really need.

Are you working on other projects?

I've been working on a piece for a Dance Company, called "The death of Three Second Home Owner's Wives".  The characters get killed off in uniquely Cornish ways!" One is attacked by seagulls as she eats a pasty, and ends up falling down a mine shaft - you couldn't get that anywhere else! I'm also working on a play based on the interaction of local Cornish people and some incomers who live in a little cottage in the middle of nowhere.  I get a lot of inspiration from Cornwall.





First published in Cornish World