To celebrate the release of Still Searching for the Big City Beats as a second edition with Burning Eye Books, Glenn Carmichael and Kevin Evans revisit the origins of their cult novel from 70’s punk to rap to poetry to fiction.
Kevin and I first met at the ‘Anarchy in the UK’ tour in December 1976, where we witnessed the Sex Pistols and our lives were changed.
We lived in Cardiff. Kevin formed a Punk band, the Tax Exiles, and in late 1977 I was their manager. Circumstances and the death of Punk Rock meant that I moved to London in early 1978, but Kevin and I stayed in contact. Kevin moved to Cornwall, following his journalist girlfriend who had found a position as court reporter on the West Briton newspaper.
In 1978 I formed a band in London, the Twilight Zoners.
I visited Kevin in Cornwall and we did an impomptu gig at an open mic event. Kevin on bass and me singing Joy Division’s ‘Transmission’.
The Twilight Zoners disbanded in 1979, and in 1980 Kevin arrived in London. He contacted me and suggested that we form a band. The White Brothers were born. Me and Kevin rapping, Kevin on bass and a drum machine. Our influences were the Last Poets and Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five and we declared ourselves ‘London’s premiere Rap Band’. After some success the White Brothers disbanded in 1982. Years passed. Kevin and I were both living in the East End and always friends – mixing with the same people, who would go on to become the characters in our novel. At the end of the 1980s Kevin contacted me and suggested we ‘do something’. I felt too old to rock ’n’ roll, so I suggested that we form a poetry duo. The Big City beats were born. We started performing on the poetry circuit. Performance poetry was in it’s infancy. In 1988 the only performance poetry club was the monthly Apples and Snakes in Covent Garden. We auditioned and were told that we needed to work on our set. We knew we were good enough – as good as we’d ever be, and so decided to start our own performance poetry club. We found a venue, upstairs at the White Lion pub in Great Windmill Street, Soho. The Hard Edge Club was born. A weekly performance poetry club. At the time we only identified about 10 acts that qualified as ‘performance poetry’. We started the club. Six of those acts appeared on the first night, but a magazine programme called ’01 for London’ featured us on television and our opening night got a double page spread in the ‘Evening Standard’ newspaper. This publicity meant that they came – weird and wonderful performance poets. The Hard Edge continued, weekly for 5 years.
I moved to Cardiff and eventually, in 1993, ended up in a rehabilitation centre for drug addiction in Weston super Mare. Kevin and I stayed in touch and he proposed the idea of us writing a novel. Kevin’s first outline, I stripped down to become the poem ‘Distance’ which features at the end of Still Searching For the Big City Beats. Kevin then suggested the beginning opening scene for the novel, based on our own experiences, but a fictional account.
I moved to Bristol, Kevin was in Bow in London. I started the Bristol Poetry Slam, Kevin continued running the Hard Edge. We worked on the book via email over the next seven years. In 1998 we won the Eastside Writers Award for the first chapter of Still Searching for the Big City Beats. As well as a cash prize we were put in contact with an agent, but nothing came of it. And so in 2000 we self published under the PIMP$ OF THE ALPHAB£T imprint.
So basically Kevin and my story is one of Punk Rockers, who became rappers, then became a performance poetry duo and finally novelists. This is only part of the whole story. All the above were very important to us. Two young men trying to put their words out into the public domain.
Clive Birnie had the bravery to found Burning Eye Books, publishing performance poets. I live in Bristol and know many of those spoken word artistes. So I watched with admiration as he continued to succeed. Then I noticed that as well as spoken word collections he was publishing the odd novel.
Still Searching for the Big City Beats is the first novel using the spoken word scene as its backdrop. Clive was up for it. He has a great copy-editor, Harriet Evans, who worked with us to polish up the novel to the present format. And here it is. It is a novel about London’s early performance poetry scene, but it is also a novel about two young men striving to make their dreams of reaching the big time a reality – only to find that precious dreams can turn in to nightmares as reality bites.