It’s fair to say that this isn’t really my manor. Yeah, I love The Railway Hotel in Southend for many reasons, the first being the wonderful bunch of people who choose to drink there. It’s an old-fashioned boozer that has successfully resisted any vogueish makeovers and remains a pub for people that like pubs (oh, and music, definitely music). It’s the kind of place where musicians, artists and poets (and the occasional photographer) meet up to drink, politely and non-judgementally discuss each other’s work and the work of others and drink and then drink some more. I may have fabricated a piece of that last sentence; you decide which bit.

The reason for this trek out to Southend-on-Sea was the launch of books by Ralph Dartford and Phil Burdett and live performances by each of the authors. The last time I saw a live poetry event was nearly four years ago when Dr John Cooper Clarke supported Squeeze in Greenwich, which sets the bar fairly high. No worries on that score; Phil Burdett and Ralph Dartford had the goods and were ready to deliver.

Ralph Dartford

It’s no secret that both of these artists have had their demons and maybe still do; that’s where the authenticity shone out in both sets. Ralph Dartford opened reading selections from his current volume “Recovery Songs” packed with pathos, humour and stark social realism (“Addict” set the tone for Ralph’s performance) joined up by a seamless narrative which demonstrated some superb comic timing. The audience was Phil’s home crowd, but they were attentive and hugely appreciative during Ralph’s set. I recommend the book and you can get it here .

Phil Burdett

And the it was time for Phil Burdett, on a long and unpredictable journey from some very dark places indeed, to premiere his book of prose and poetry “Rhyming Vodka with Kafka”. Never one for convention, Phil delivered a mixture of readings from the book punctuated by songs old and new with support from fellow Southend legend Steve Stott on mandolin and fiddle (I’m not going to ask what happened to the banjo). For a first attempt at this format Phil nailed it, with the audience enthralled by the material and the delivery, pin-drop silent during the readings and wildly appreciative at the conclusions, particularly “The Bad Pub Guide” and “Dogs Accustomed to Loud Music”. Maybe a prophet can have honour in his own country.

Steve Stott

Bottom line – I loved both performances; the audience loved both performances. I bought both books; a lot of the audience bought both books. It’s a long time since I’ve seen an entire audience so totally immersed in a performance. Thank you Ralph Dartford and Phil Burdett for making me realise that I need more poetry in my life.