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
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
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
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
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
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.