Morden Tower shown within Tyne and Wear
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The Morden Tower in Back Stowell Street on the West Walls of Newcastle upon Tyne, England, is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and a Grade 1 listed building. For the last 45 years (since June 1964) Connie Pickard has been custodian of Morden Tower, and has made it a key fixture of Newcastle's alternative cultural life. Countless memorable music and poetry events have happened at Morden Tower in that time, which Connie has run largely single-handedly and often out of her own pocket.
The Tower was built about 1290. It is one of five Drum towers that remain of the sixteen that were built on the line of the medieval town wall enclosing the city of Newcastle. The tower and wall were built on ground sloping towards the south, which formed part of the precinct of the Dominican of Black Friary. From the 16th century it had housed the Company of Plumbers, Plasterers and Glaziers.
The Morden Tower has been a major centre for poetry readings in the North East since 1964 when Tom Pickard and Connie Pickard took out the lease. It has developed a national and international reputation for attracting some of the most outstanding UK and American literary figures working during this period. It has been particularly noted for its association with many Beat and Black Mountain poets.
Tom and Connie Pickard were instrumental in bringing about the Newcastle’s Poetry Revival. During this time they amassed a collection of books and pamphlets not obtainable in bookshops at the time. Using the Morden Tower as a venue for poetry readings and a book room they ensured Tower audiences were kept in touch with writing from Edinburgh, Paris, San-Francisco, Greenwich Village, Liverpool and Ladbroke Grove.
During the 60s and 70s the Tower was an inspiration and catalyst for other counter culture ventures, in particular an out post for Alexander Trocchi project among other things.
Basil Bunting gave the first reading of Briggflatts in the Morden Tower, on 22 December 1965. More than any of the host of celebrated poets to have read there, Bunting perhaps embodies the fusion of international modernism with local oral tradition for which Morden Tower readings are noted: the intimate, simple space of the Tower's upper room has been recognised by poets and audience alike as an ideal location for voiced poetry.
‘Morden Tower – simply the most congenial place in the world in which to perform poetry’ Bob Cobbing
Poets who have read there include, Basil Bunting, Allen Ginsberg, Ted Hughes, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, Seamus Heaney, Tom Raworth, Carol Ann Duffy, Fleur Adcock, Liz Lochhead and many others.
Significant literary events
- Pete Brown gave the first reading on 16 June 1964: Bloomsday
- Basil Bunting gave his first public reading of Briggflatts in 1965
- Allen Ginsberg gave his first European reading of Kaddish
- Ed Dorn gave his first European Reading of Gunslinger
- King Ida's Watch Chain - 1965: A collection of Poems by Basil Bunting. A new format magazine designed by Richard Hamilton
- The Spoils – Basil Bunting 1965: Cover design and photographs by Richard Hamilton, distributed by Migrant Press
- High on the Wall: a Morden Tower Anthology, published by Morden Tower in association with Bloodaxe Books to commemorate the tower's first 25 years in 1990. Edited by Gordon Brown.
Music at Morden Tower
Morden Tower also has a history of providing a platform for new and experimental music. Musicians who have played at the Tower include Alan Hull of Lindisfarne, Grayson Capps, Les Cox Sportifs, Paul Smith of Maxïmo Park, Richard Dawson, Teitur, John Power, Chris Corsano, Mecca Normal, Sir Richard Bishop, Jack Rose, Cath & Phil Tyler, Burning Star Core, Prurient, Jakob Olausson, Mama Baer & Kommissar Hjuler, Jozef Van Wissem, C Joynes, Keith Fullerton Whitman, Jazzfinger, Peter Walker, Alasdair Roberts, James Ferraro, Monopoly Child Star Searchers, Calvin Johnson A Hawk and a Hacksaw, Tonstartssbandht, Silver Fox, Rachel Lancaster, Viv Albertine, Stuart Moxham, Wrest, Funeral Dance Party, Morgellons, Big Fail and Matt "Black Pudding" Bovingdon on knife and fork. The European and many others.
A Better Noise, Subterranean, Jumpin' Hot Club, NO-FI & A Glimpse Of Paradise have all promoted semi regular gigs at Morden Tower over the last ten years.
Whitehouse performed here in 1983, supported by Ramleh and The New Blockaders. Whitehouse's set has become notorious for an incident in which the entire audience walked out, after William Bennett had slapped a female audience member in the face.
- Caddel, Richard; Anthony Flowers (1997). Basil Bunting: A Northern Life. Newcastle Libraries & Information Service. ISBN 978-1-85795-058-8.
- Basil Bunting Poetry Centre (2001-10-19). "Basic Bunting - A Basic Chronology". Archived from the original on 2006-07-18. Retrieved 2006-12-01.
- High on the Walls: an Anthology celebrating twenty-five years of Poetry Readings at Morden Tower, Gordon Brown, Bloodaxe Books, ISBN 1-85224-148-9