Ipswich: You can’t stop the beat, new festival celebrates voices of a generation

Festival of the Beats organisers Paul Fisk and Allie Catchpole are bringing the beat poets to Ipswic

Festival of the Beats organisers Paul Fisk and Allie Catchpole are bringing the beat poets to Ipswich. Picture: Su Anderson

One of the books that first moved Paul Fisk to start writing poetry was Michael Horowitz’s Grandchildren of Albion. He couldn’t have imagined 20 years later he’d be eating smoked prawns with him on Aldeburgh beach.

Poet and artist Paul Fisk, from Ipswich, with artist Emma Johnson and her work On The Road featuring

Poet and artist Paul Fisk, from Ipswich, with artist Emma Johnson and her work On The Road featuring the road trips of Jack Kerouac. Picture: Su Anderson

“I read his poetry in the 1990s... I met him for the first time in Aldeburgh. He was struggling to hang this Hockney on a nail and I’m like ‘sit down, make me a cup of tea and I’ll do that’ now I’m mates with him,” smiles the published poet, artist and film-maker.

He’s the brains behind The Festival of the Beats, a unique month-long literary, art, film, spoken word and music festival celebrating the Beat Generation.

For those not in the know, the beat generation was a group of American post-Second World War writers who came to prominence via their counter culture writings and life-styles.

Officially running from January 31-February 2, it includes an arts and artefacts exhibition at Ipswich Town Hall which is open 10am-4pm Tuesday until February 8 (10am-7pm, January 31-February 2).


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Billed as an explosion of visual poetry, turning the written word into an arena of images, dating back over half a century, there will be psychedelic and mythical paintings, along with contemporary works, lens-based works and the festival’s commissioned portraits of the eight beats.

There is also a collection of beat archive material like letters, photographs and personal items, along with memories and images of Ipswich in the 1950s and 1960s.

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“It’s very ambitious,” says Paul, who’s pulled everything together with the help of his other half Allie Catchpole.

“We’ve got a David Hockney portrait of Michael Horowitz... this is the last one left and he’s going to exhibit it here. We’ve got about 45 pieces of work leading right back to the original beat [movement]. We’ve got Michael’s own paintings, some of the early work he did in the 1960s.

“We’ve got letters, first edition books, posters and stuff from the time. You’ll be able to touch the books and read, it’ll be like a library in here. We’ve got talks, a discussion panel where a lot of beat historians and writers are going to look at how the first generation beat movement influences contempory culture...

“We’ve got a letter from Ted Jones, the black beat poet; it’s a thank you letter to John Row for putting him on in Norwich in 1970. He gave him some cash upfront, so it’s like thanks for the cash and he’s drawn a hand.

“We’ve got some Carolyn Cassaday family shots, photographs in her house and stuff which was taken by Chris Challis when he wrote his book Quest for Kerouac... he took a load of photos and lived with a lot of the beat guys back then. I’ve a photograph of Carolyn sunbathing in her back yard.,, stuff like that’s never been seen before.”

Headlining the festival are Attila the Stockbroker, Horowitz, Vanessa Vie, Luke Wright and Comrade Sir Henry. They will be joined by Joe Runnacles, Rowan James, Ant Poet, Andrei Costache, Matt Catling, Silbury Hill, The Garden DJs, Breezers Jazz Quartet, Bill Celith and the Hobbits.

Guest Speakers include Matthew Levi Stevens, Jordan Savage, Mike Manson, John Power and Nic Saunders, who’ll be showing several films. Other films include Killing my Darlings, Magic Trip and Naked Lunch.

Hockney, Emma Johnson, Jason Nunn, Juanjo Guerra, John Power, Duncan Brown, Jason Haye, Oliver Marc Holmes and Paul will be showcasing their artwork.

There will also be plenty of memories and images of Ipswich in the 1950s and 1960′s when there was a strong beat movement in the town.

“There was a real poetry, beat group in the late 1960s and early 1970s which they ran out of the Orwell Book Shop. There were a lot of first generation beat guys who used to stop off on the way to the ferry to Felixstowe and to Europe. They did poetry reading around in The Vaults next door, the Black Horse, the King’s Arms, local pubs...”

Paul’s love of beat culture goes back to when he was 14 at Northgate High School. One Christmas, his English teacher brought a reel to reel tape machine into class and played Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues.

“Everyone around me was into the punk rock music at the time... but I went into the library and found sheet music of that song and wrote it down, that was the birth of it. He used to read from Jack Kerouac books and I used to love it.”

He has Allen Ginsberg to thank for coming up with the idea for The Festival of the Beats.

While a mature student studying fine art, a class visitor asked who influenced him. Nobody else from him and Paul knew who Ginsberg was, so suggested Paul should put on an event.

Starting off as one day, then two it developed a life of its own and continues growing. He already has filmmakers, photographers, artists, writers and poets wanting to get involved next year.

“I love it, I would do it for nothing... it’s not about money, it’s about giving it [knowledge of the beat generation] to people. Allen Ginsberg said if you can create something that touches someone 500 years from now you done it, that’s what your job is as a creative person.”

Supported by Ipswich Recreate and UCS, full details of events and how to book tickets can be found at www.festivalofthebeats.com.

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