Tuesday, April 3, 2012

We Gotta Get Out Of This Place (From Like Real People)

Morden Tower, Newcastle, 1920

Hearing of a budding poetry scene in the far north of England, Andrew and I hitchhiked together from Cambridge to Newcastle, a bleak, gray city then economically devastated by the decline of its traditional shipbuilding industry.  There we found a little enclave of youthful working-class poets led by a dashing blond-mopped teenager named Tom Pickard, who on his miniscule weekly dole stipend was not only raising a family but running a poetry-reading series in the Morden Tower on the city’s old medieval wall.  (This enterprising youth had single-handedly spurred back into verse-writing the long-silent Basil Bunting, former Objectivist colleague of Pound and Louis Zukofsky, and though totally disregarded at that time, still one of England’s finest living poets.)    The lack of electric lights at our reading in the medieval tower was not for quaintness’ sake but because impoverished young entrepreneur Pickard hadn’t been able to foot the bill that month.  We went ahead anyway with candles, and it felt like poetry was meant to be read that way.  To college boys Andrew and me this trip was an altogether marvelous adventure.  We were invited to read our poems on local television – certainly a first for both of us.  We drank dark brown ale with young Geordi poets in Tyneside pubs rocking with a life and atmosphere that defied the gloom of  the streets outside, and went dancing in a subterranean club filled by long-haired boys with the throbbing din of Marshall amps and flashing with the pulse of black-light strobes.  This, too—so far from our world of Oxbridge and London—was England,  perhaps much closer to the “real” England circa 1964.

 Tom Pickard reading at Morden Tower, 1973

Basil Bunting, Morden Tower, 1977

      Eric Burdon’s then-popular song “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” made a particular kind of poetic sense in that context.  Obvious differences in scale notwithstanding, the tiny underground poetry movement and the exploding electric rock minstrelsy of the period were essentially linked, the former as it were standing on the latter’s shoulders;  both constituted expressions of a generalized resistance against England’s dead-end prospects.

From:  Tom Clark, Like Real People, Santa Rosa, Black Sparrow Press, 1995

The Animals, Newcastle Castle Keep, 1964 (l-r:, Eric Burdon, Alan Price, Chas Chandler, Hilton Valentine, John Steel)


NOTE:   Reading this section of Tom Clark’s Like Real People a couple of nights ago knocked me a little bit sideways and cocked my head, giving new perspective on an era  I’ve thought about a lot (my wife thinks far too much), but never in quite this way.  

As a young British Invasion music fan, I remember  when my father bought me a book called The Liverpool Poets, featuring the work of Roger McGough, Adrian Henri and Brian Patten (who, as I recall, later joined Mike McGear né Michael McCartney and some ex-Bonzo Dog Band musicians in GRIMMS).  The poems didn’t  grip me then and for some reason the photos  got under my skin in a bad way.

Reading here about Clark’s journey north and slightly west (and remembering unforgettable Newcastle accents I’ve heard) , however, made it irresistible to essay some photo research and it was terrific to find the scene Clark describes (including photographs of Morden Tower, dashing Tom Pickard and Basil Bunting) documented in some considerable volume in glorious black & white.

I was struck by the reference to the great Mann-Weill song We Gotta Get Out Of This Place, which The Animals immortalized.  For the same reason Steppenwolf singer John Kay once said that Born To Be Wild claimed its bright permanent place in the rock  song firmament  (Kay said that everyone feels they were born to be wild), I think We Gotta Get Out Of This Place resonates deep in the heart of anyone with a heart who has ever heard it.

Ray Davies of The Kinks (among others properly credentialed  to speak on this subject)  said that it’s the best record ever made.  I once read a moving interview with Newcastle boy made good Bryan Ferry confirming exactly the poetic sense Clark describes and the song’s effect on him seeing The Animals performing in situ when he was a teenager on the verge. 

The rest of Like Real People, a book of poetry and prose, is also excellent.  I highly recommend it.



Eric Burdon’s Corvette (courtesy The House of the Rising Sun, It’s My Life, We Gotta Get Out Of This Place, Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, etc., etc.)


  1. Wow, this is fascinating. You read poetry on local television in England?
    What an experience! I just ordered Tom's Real People . . . Now I have to read that one. I have other books of his, but not that one. He's always so interesting.

  2. No, that was Tom who read poetry on tv. I have no television experience at all. Janie once sang in a Christmas chorale on the Today show -- that was kind of neat. I think this is an excellent passage in a fine book that combines poetry and memoir. I also think that Eric Burdon's Corvette speaks volumes about what his hard work and experience meant to him. The original Animals were stunningly good and seem in retrospect to get better every year. Curtis