Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.
Here is the fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
I know where I was when I heard Billie Holiday’s version of Strange Fruit for the first time. I was in my bedroom listening to a compilation tape made by my chum Kim.
It features (yes I still have it) Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side, Prefab Sprout, Jimmy Giuffre, The Animals and Billie. I was 13 maybe 14 years old and hadn’t heard anything like it.
The lyrics started out as a poem by Abel Meeropol called Bitter Fruit. It became a song and was recorded by Billie, Nina Simone and others.
I’ve just listened to an amazing half hour radio programme about the song on BBC Radio 4. It’s part of a series called Soul Music. It will be repeated tonight at 9.30pm but is also available on BBC i player. Recommended.
The programme’s stories blend in with my thoughts on Selma which I finally got to see last week at the newly-refurbished Jam Jar Cinema in Whitley Bay. Those thoughts will continue to percolate for some time…
Talking of Jam Jar it was the venue for yet another successful Free as a Bard event on Sunday night. I co-organise the evenings with Pete “Iron Press” Mortimer and we never know how the evenings will go. We were delighted by the turnout. It was such a lovely audience (we’d like to take you home with us.. we’d like to take you home!) and the performers slotted together perfectly.
Poets Andy Croft and Harry Gallagher had the audience eating out of their hands and the wonderful, talented and delightful musician Jenny Lascelles needs to set up a fan club after Sunday’s performance. I will join!
In just over a week’s time Pete Mortimer’s Eclectic Iron Festival will launch down the road in Cullercoats. The festival’s predecessor, 2013’s Iron Age Festival won Best Event at The Journal Culture Awards last year. Eclectic Iron, billed as “A Seaside Festival of Words, Music and Oddities” will be just as fun!
Tony Harrison, specially brewed local beer, poets on rocks at sea, Ann Cleeves, free entertainment by buskers each night, a fringe event, a haiku workshop following a bike ride along the coast and more! For tickets ring 0191 251 6009 or book online at www.ironpress.co.uk or buy direct from Cullercoats Coffee shop on John Street, Cullercoats.