Thursday, 13 November 2008

I : The Morden Tower

I first heard of it in the late sixties, when of course its great days were over, as they always are. The name of Basil Bunting caught my attention, and brought an echo of my schoolboy past in the mid-thirties. I had seen it in Ezra Pound’s “Active Anthology”, borrowed from Croydon Public Library (a treasure house, incidentally, of Trotskyist books, put there at the suggestion of a local radical called Arthur Ballard; books which had an influence far more immediately intoxicating than that of poetry, though of far less enduring value). Among the alliterative and otherwise funny names Basil’s stuck in my mind; his poetry didn’t, nor has it yet, though his reading of “Briggflatts” was well worth hearing, and can be heard on an L.P.

Tom Pickard had dug Basil out of obscurity, and Tom ran the Tower.

Basil Bunting in the Morden Tower, 14/02/1975.



Basil with Jonathan Williams and Thomas Meyer, Colpitts, 18/11/1977.


The Morden Tower, outside 04/06/1982





The Morden Tower, inside 29/01/1971







Connie (Pickard) awaiting Carol Rubenstein, 11/09/1969





The Morden Tower looks its age on the outside, and on the inside has beams, wall mouldings and white-washed walls, decorated with posters and line drawings, varying with time. In one phase, fortunately short, it was lined with pictures in glazed frames. Nowadays there is warmth and electric light and some modest seating, but in 1969 when I started going there were piles of damp cushions and a chill. A note in my album to the picture of Connie Pickard above says: “Connie at the Morden Tower, awaiting the arrival of Carol Rubinstein, who occupied the Bard’s Cushion and read her poems.”

Morden Tower reading by Hugo Williams and Galway Kinnell


There was a long period during which the lights failed, due to vandalism or possibly to unpaid bills. This was overcome by storm-lamps and candles, making for a stage-Bohemian effect, a challenge to the photographer, not to mention the reader.


Jerome Rothenberg Tower, 02/11/1971





David Wright and Philippa Reid 08/06/1972




Adrian Henri and Nell Dunn, Morden Tower, 29/09/1972



For a while a move was made to the upstairs bar of the Old George. These were the days when illumination was still provided in pubs; though I must in fairness report that amid the gloom of the downstairs bar of the Old George it is still possible in 1987, to obtain a pint of D.B., and Archie Rice need not yet emigrate. These middle class surroundings attracted a matching audience, the lumpenproletariat of duffle-coated students was leavened by some more academic figures, notably the tall ascetic-looking figure of David Burnett, librarian and poet, who appeared later as an anchor-man of the Colpitts.


Tom Pickard, The Old George, 05/12/1973



Jeremy James note : I saw Basil Bunting at the Tower, and heard him read Briggflatts three times - there, in Harrogate, and at Durham University. One of the web links has a recording of him reading 'What the Chairman told Tom' and there is the start of Briggflatts. I never heard an accent like his, until several years later I came across an IBM engineer with the same Northumbrian burr. "Tchere may be a fault wit' the chard chreader". It made this prosaic piece of electromechanical IT kit sound like something that could accompany the holy grail. I've inherited the LP of "Briggflatts".

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