Big City Dilemma – Jeremy Reed and Itchy Ear

Posted: August 22, 2013 in Chat
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Big City Dilemma


Big City Dilemma is a collaboration between poet Jeremy Reed and music auteur known ubiquitously as Itchy Ear.

The collaboration is called The Ginger Light.

It is a mix of visuals, sound and sonic qualities, of the visual and aural qualities of Jeremy Reed’s poetry.


This is a cd of their very successful performances, sampling vox pops with studio sounds, reverb and performance-time readings, bringing in sung choral lines, stutter of electronics.

Performances incorporate visuals, lights, film clips to create an all-round sensual experience.

Jeremy Reed has a good voice for this; his preferred technique is intoning the poems, it is non-conversational, a-casual – but he can linger on words, savour the sounds of the language; he performs and you go with him.

Itchy Ear has a wonderful repertoire of sonic effects, a deep sense of rhythm and rightness. I have always been a sucker for electronic music and he saves the wasted years, referencing our ennui and the insistent beat behind our lives underneath it all.

Jeremy gives us ambi-sexual adventures and city encounters. It is London, it can only be London.  Hidden in the 16 tracks is the concept of the thief as sampler, the culture-exclusion of the outlaw, the liminal world of the hustler , flaneur, and city-survivor. But the thief is king, he is Jean Genet, and the chemical disorder in the nerves; he keeps you pushing on always one step ahead of the fall.

The thief takes – for the huge kick of transgression; but then he dumps his goods. Another thieves to assert his self, different, amongst the more ordinary ruck of us. Genet thieved also for these reasons. The thief is a bit Raffles-ian, boundary crosser, homeless-yet-at home everywhere. The thief questions where our boundaries and borders are: what is ours, can also be his; what is ours and treasured, can be his trash.

On the downside, anyone who has ever been robbed… is never safe again. The thief is a liar and cheat and dirt – that is, when he isn’t a metaphor.

There are poems referencing iconic figures like Rimbaud, Francis Bacon, Garbo, Thom Gunn, of modern peripherals like Peter Doherty.

The insistent electronic pulse pushes on like a compulsive disorder, lit with bell tones, piano timbres that halt – their sound scintillating in the ear, the mind – then back into the city vortex. He brings in brass on Multitrack, girl backing singers intermixed with the slice of a camera taking and re-taking the promised picture to set your name in lights. The voice promises you nothing  of that, but the city Survivor’s Kit. The low tone of the voice, and the held back but wide repertoire of the music set up a cadenced and satisfying experience.

The city is stratified, the layers once more economically sealed from each other – only the thief can move between and within the stifling piled up detention zones of the city. Be warned the city will give you nothing, but if you learn its tricks, its ways, the hidden intersections, you can be a survivor, fully qualified, badged and certified.


Available from: Cherry Red Records –


Poets have collaborated with musicians before – we have the pioneering jazz collaborations of Danish poet Inger Christensen. You could go back to Auden and Britten with Night Mail, to Edith Sitwell and Walton on Promenade.

You could even reference Roy Harper with Lifemask’s opening movement of ‘The Lord’s Prayer’. John Cooper Clark. Since we are way off track – how about Principal Edward’s Magic Theatre doing Shakespeare?

On track we have Idlewild working with Edwin Morgan, Sorley MacLean collaborating with music and digital media. Eddie Reader singing Burns.

So how about singer-songwriters – how about Leonard Cohen? Even there he had to tone down his language and imagery for the song.

Musicians setting poetry to music is another matter – as was commented at the Leeds Lieder Festival: such experiments hardly ever work: Britten and Owen’s War poems was cited as an example. Why? They are two complete mediums . And they each include their own rhythms and music, their own phrasings and structures. The language has to be read in a certain way to make it work. Music has to be phrased in certain ways to make it work. The two working together is rarely happy.

‘Come into the Garden Maud’ from Tennyson. Maybe it worked for the audiences; did it work for Tennyson?

  1. Itchy Ear says:

    Reblogged this on Itchy Ear Blog and commented:
    Google Is A Giant Company, But Very Few People Know These 13 Facts… Until Now. #7? WOW.

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