Arifa Akbar: Rock 'n' roll writers catch festival fever

The Week In Books

Come summertime and an army of tousled haired troubadours begin to trudge out of tour buses onto grassy verges and muddy fields, microphones in hand, to entertain a sea of festival-goers. These performers are not pop stars per se but a new generation of writer-performers who are well on their way to acquiring a hybrid rock star status.

Writers have, increasingly, been getting booked for music festivals as part of the literary line-up at Latitude, Green Man, the Big Chill, and most recently, Glastonbury, which introduced its first lecture series last month, at which writers including Tom Hodgkinson and Alex Bellos, gave talks from under the shadow of the Pyramid Tent, drawing a crowd of thousands who had probably had their fill of Bruce Springsteen.

Matthew Clayton, who developed this side to Glastonbury, said he was inspired by the amorphous legend that is the Islington pub, Filthy McNasty's, which famously brought together books and music in a smoke-filled back room where Alex James, Nick Cave, et al, riffed with words before riffing with music (even the toilet graffiti quotes poetry!). "They really mixed it up. I wanted the same spirit. Reading from a book is kind of boring," he said.

Authors appear to agree; Simon Armitage, Alain de Botton, Geoff Dyer, Jonathan Coe and Hari Kunzru comprise the literary billing alongside musical line-ups featuring Pet Shop Boys, Bat For Lashes and Basement Jaxx, at the country's biggest music festivals later this month, and next.

While it's not a new phenomenon to provide a cerebral antidote to the musical hedonism of a summer festival, writer-performers are growing in popularity and range; Latitude has seen its arts programme almost double in size over four years, with ten tents (rather than the original six) including extra speakers outside, and a 'Literary salon' created in the style of a Bloomsbury drawing room; Port Eliot, the Cornish event that originated as an alternative book fest, has now evolved a quirky music arm in which 'crossover' writer-musicians read, or play music, or both (Kunzru DJ-ed in previous years with the festival's co-founder, the Hamish Hamilton publishing director, Simon Prosser and Louis de Bernieres is set to play mandolin this month); the Big Chill has installed a bookish element called Words in Motion.

But although the festival circuit is taking writers out of the dusty bookshop Q&A and remoulding them into trendy, 21st century troubadours, some feel this is part of the ruthless process of marketing the author instead of, or as well as, the book.

The concept now has its very own marketing professionals; literary promoters are enlisted to fill up festival tents with the right sort of writers; North London's iconic music venue, The Roundhouse, holds readings by Will Self, Iain Banks, AL Kennedy; writers are groomed for TED talks, The New York journalist Malcolm Gladwell has paved the way for on-the-road 'lecture tours', impresarios train novelists to perform to 3,000 seater auditoriums at the Sydney Opera House.

The 'take it on tour' mentality might suit Mick Jagger, but it can be excruciating for a crowd-shy writer who prefers to perform with words on paper, not punt them to a live audience. De Botton sees the good, and bad, in the rise of the festival-going, lecture touring new writer. Few, he says, would argue with the idea that literature and its live delivery, has any less drama than a Coldplay concert and some writers who spend most of their lives in isolation relish a captive audience.

But not every writer is a natural performer, though some might be pushed by their publishers to become so. In a recession hit market when it is harder to make a living from books, let's hope writers are not forced out on the road but enter the festival tour bus in the true, kickback spirit of summer rock and roll.

P.S.The graphic novel has covered the gamut of adult topics, from politically inflammatory Manga to the comic erotica of Alan Moore. Now, Philippa Perry, the wife of cross dressing artist, Grayson Perry, is penning her own Manga tale (left) in collaboration with her Japanese housekeeper, Junko, with whom she communicates in drawings (due to Junko's limited skills in written English). The result, Interruptions of Contact, is a story of psychotherapy, following an ambitious barrister with a "compulsive habit" (a touch of OCD?) and his psychotherapist, taking in the graphic thrills of dream interpretation and erotic transference. A strange topic it may seem, but I imagine it will be every bit as fascinating as one of Grayson's pretty vases, which, on closely inspection, reveal a lurid cast of drug peddlers and tramps.

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?