The month of May sees the arrival of Liverpool’s most innovative writing festival, WoWFest. Returning for a 17th year, the festival will run for the whole month, proffering a panoply of events, with appearances from the likes of Fred D’Aguiar and Sean Street. But what makes WoWFest so great, and what differentiates it from other writing festivals, is the way that it draws from outside the immediate circle of literature, and pulls in many fringe aspects of writing that are rarely discussed. This year sees a focus on the power of music.
One of the festival’s most interesting musical intersections will be the appearance of Geoff Travis, who will be at The Bluecoat on the 5th May (when Record Store Day will still be a recent memory) for ‘Culture of Independence’. He will discuss a cornerstone of independent British music, Rough Trade Records, of which he is the founder, as well as grassroots movements and the spirit of revolution in music. This event is a must for any musicians or wannabe independent label owners looking to get an insight into how to create a musical revolution. The music industry has changed so drastically since Rough Trade formed in 1978 that it has become almost unrecognisable, but I think that now, more than ever, those looking to get into the music business could really benefit from the insight of someone like Travis, especially considering that 40 years on, Rough Trade still provides a home to some of the best artists around, including Parquet Courts and Sleaford Mods.
It is fitting that WoWFest should be hosting Geoff Travis, as Rough Trade seems to be a record label that are very much focussed on lyrics. From Morissey’s legendary sadness, to the bitter romanticism of Pete Doherty, Rough Trade have always been a label who have promoted lyricism of the most powerful kind. Not to say that lyrics are the be-all and end-all. You only need to look to jazz, then some years later acid house, to see that music doesn’t have to have lyrics for it to be capable of affecting culture. However, it does tend to be the poetry of bands like The Smiths that really connects with people on a political level, and particularly as we are still in the haze of Bob Dylan’s historic Nobel Prize win, what better time to celebrate the coalescence of music, literature and revolution.
As well as seeing the birth of Rough Trade Records, 1978 was also the year that Steve Ignorant, lead singer of Crass, sang ‘punk is dead’ on the album The Feeding of the 5000. In a fittingly ironic turn, Ignorant will feature in the Punk Survivors event at LEAF on the 12th May, along with fellow survivors Don Letts and Pauline Murray, to discuss the enduring legacy of punk rock. I’m sure he will offer a very unique perspective though.
Other musical events include former Faithless guitarist Dave Randall, who will be in conversation on the 26th May, also at LEAF, discussing his new book, Sound System – The Political Power of Music, feeding into the whole theme of music-as-revolution.
And that’s just the musical side of proceedings. There is a plethora of fascinating literary events, with discussions, spoken word nights and much more spread across the month.