Belper Arts Festival: Ian Mcmillan Interview

A Beat Generation Les Dawson?

The best ideas often occur in a pub. So don’t be surprised that it was in Belper’s ‘Black Swan’ that someone said “Why don’t you get Ian McMillan for the Arts Festival?” A few emails later and Ian, along with musician Luke Carver Goss were booked for the 12th of May.

‘The Bard Of Barnsley’ still lives in the village of Darfield, near Barnsley, where he was born. The inhabitants have been a rich source for his work. Actually ‘work’ is not what he calls it. “It doesn’t feel like work: shovelling is work; sitting in an office sweating and wishing you weren’t there is work. I do suffer from Freelance Disease and that means that you always say yes when people ring you up because it leads to amazing things! And, if it doesn’t, there’ll be another opportunity along in a minute. I just feel like I’ve had a fantastic life. Anyway, I’m unemployable in any other walk of life. I can’t drive, swim or ride a bike. What else could I do?”

Ian has been described as The Beat Generation Les Dawson. “To be honest, I can’t believe my luck at being able to make a living doing the things I love.” That love has taken him into broadcasting and he writes regularly for newspapers. He visits schools and prisons and, most famously, is the poet in residence at Barnsley FC. “It gets me and them a lot of publicity. That has to be good for poetry. Poetry is for everyone and the poet can be a guardian of the language.”

‘Poetry is for everyone’ runs through all aspects of his work, including how he goes about encouraging others to share his conviction about the potential of the arts to transform lives. His conception of poetry is also all-encompassing: “There are a lot of people who write poems, raps, rhymes, rhythmic anecdotes, songs: maybe we define poetry too narrowly.”

Ian McMillan and Yorkshire go together like roast beef and Yorkshire pudding! But what is it about Yorkshire that inspires him? “As far as Yorkshire goes, I like the Yorkshire language. Its short vowels and choppy rhythms. I like the landscape with its constant reminders of history and politics. And I like our oppositional nature, our ‘brussen-ness’ to use a Yorkshire term.”

The ‘little grant’ Ian received from Yorkshire Arts all those years ago means that he’s living proof of how modest financial aid can reap huge artistic dividends. Unsurprisingly, he has made his voice heard in the wake of the announcement of significant Arts Council cuts and the risk to what he called in a song of his ‘little non-metropolitan centres of inspiration.’

Does he think he would get the same help today?

“I hope I might get the same help. Everyone in the arts is worried. But I hope that people will understand that the arts are vital to everyday life.”

Ian will be joined by Luke Carver Goss at his concert in Belper. Luke is an outstanding musician and educator. His credits are endless and he is an integral part of the evenings performance.

Ian Mcmillan And Luke Carver Goss will be performing at Christ Church, The Triangle, Belper, Derbyshire on 12 May at 7:30pm. Tickets are £12.50 from OXFAM BOOKS AND MUSIC, King Street, Belper and online. 

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