The New Beat

Collaborative spoken-word CD revives forgotten medium

Immerse your senses in the beauty of the city in the last hour of the night.

A newly released spoken-word recording, the CD features the collected verse of Kamloops poet Alex Forbes, narration of actor/singer Tina Moore and music of local producer Henry Small.

Moore's voice is hypnotic as she takes Forbes' text from the page into an auditory realm where the imagination swims freely, poetry being a spoken art at heart.

A gentle current of nostalgia moves through the poems, from the first lines of the opening track, a long poem in which Forbes reflects, through evocative imagery and lyricism, on his hometown.

"Walking east across the viaduct, above the oldest streets of Vancouver, I catch sounds from the after-hours club on Station "

For anyone who hails from the big city - and there are more than a few exiles from the Coast in our midst - these poems recall the blue-collar past of a milltown in its gritty, street-wise youth. Yet there is more to the collaborative project that connects it to the past, as Forbes explained.

"In the '50s and early '60s, putting verse together with music was actually quite common," said the TRU English instructor. "Jack Kerouac recorded with Steve Allen, for example. That's the tradition."

It is a tradition enlivened at this time of year by Dylan Thomas's famous 1952 recording of A Child's Christmas in Wales. The memory of families gathered around the hi-fi enraptured by Thomas's musical recital endures, but Forbes' collaboration is more closely linked to the influence of the Beat movement and counterculture poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Kerouac.

"When Henry and I first talked about this project he was excited because, he said, 'Alex, this is a return to the Beats." He used to go to Beat concerts in New York that were all music."

Seventeen other, mostly shorter poems are book-ended by another long one, Portland Al, which has its own intriguing history. Until a few years ago, Portland Al ran a corner grocery store on lower Main Street that was more about his lifelong passion as an audiophile than groceries. It was a storehouse for a vast collection of records and memorabilia, including autographed photos of Al with various stars such as Count Basie.

"He's disappeared. That's what the poem is about. I actually did try to find him."

Al always talked about his chance meeting with Elvis Presley when The King came to town in '57. There were no photographers around to capture the moment, so he had a hard time convincing people. "He told me that Elvis had stood in his store exactly where I was standing back in the 1950s . And he said, 'I can't explain it, there were no photographers.' "

The inquiring poet managed to connect the dots based partly on an account in Backstage Vancouver by impresario and radio host Red Robinson.

Forbes learned that Presley dodged media that had staked out the CN Train Station by getting off the train from Seattle at the freight yard further down Main. By retracing his footsteps, Forbes found that would have led Presley right to Portland Al's.

"I was able to connect the dots which neither (Portland Al nor Red Robinson) could connect. The Vancouver appearance was his last outside of the States."

Along with poems tied to place and identity, the CD includes boppin' with Mr. Mynah and two poems on bees, the result of an earlier collaboration with local painter Tricia Sellmer. There is also a lengthier piece, oranges: a novella for puppets, an oral rendition of Forbes' recently released novella Oranges.

True to form, the CD follows an earlier recording Forbes did with the artists involved. The Bill Miner Road Show, released two years ago, retells the train robber's story in verse with Moore's narration and Small's musical backing.

The beauty of the city in the last hour of the night is available online from CD Baby, iTunes and various other online sources.

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