Gil Scott Heron, poet, song writer, musician and author, died way too soon on 27th May 2011. By way of a tribute, this evening features poet Lemn Sissay talking to one of Scott Heron’s long time friends and his publisher at Canongate books, Jamie Byng. The lights dim and we are shown a video of Gil Scott Heron performing his 1977 song “We almost lost Detroit”, it’s the first of several videos shown during the evening filmed last year and capturing the very essence of what Gil Scott Heron does.
Lemm Sissay then comes onto the stage to read the poem “B-movie”. Released in 1981 on the “Reflections” album, it’s a searing indictment of Ronald Reagan which has lost none of its poignancy when applied to certain world leaders today. Sissay and Byng then sit to discuss Scott Heron’s memoir “The Last Holiday”. Jamie Byng says the book came about because Gil Scott Heron had originally narrated and recorded it all from a third person perspective called himself “The Artist”. We also get brief insights into the man, such as his late night phone calls to Jamie Byng to discuss any topic he fancied through to Byngs’s visits to Scott Heron when he was imprisoned for drug use. Scot Heron referred to his incarceration as a “drag” but apparently was well respected by the other inmates who didn’t mess with him.
In between the discussions, they show some more excellent video clips of Gil Scott Heron performing “The other side” and “Winter in America”. Byng says that Scott Heron was pleased with this footage and felt that it came as close to capturing what it is he truly does as any other footage he’s seen. By way of a break from the discussions, poet and writer Salena Godden performs a poem that she describes as a mash up of a Martin Luther King speech and a Gil Scott Heron poem.
Next up, musician and producer Barry Adamson (a recent Brighton resident) takes to the stage with beat box and distortion pedals to rework some of the tracks of the last Gil Scott Heron album “I’m new here”. He’s previously played with or done remixes for Depeche Mode, Nick Cave, Magazine, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and a host of others. Tonight he uses the distortion pedals to make his vocals deeper to match that Scott Heron growl. They’re good versions of the songs and he also uses a guitarist to add to the vibe of the songs.
Proceedings were occasionally slowed down by some rambling questions from Lemn Sissay who would lose track of what he was saying and pause just slightly too long. At the start of the show he said he wanted to keep it improvised as that’s what Gil would have done, which is fair enough if you’re a musician but something like this with a host conducting interviews and bringing different people on needs a little bit more structure and some prepared questions. A question and answer session with Byng would have been good too, although he was going to be playing music in the bar afterwards so I’m sure he could have been approached before playing.
All in all though, it was a decent enough tribute to a great artist but for me only highlighted the fact that Mr. Gil Scott Heron left us far too early at the age of 62.
And no better tribute than Esther Williams’ version of “Home is where the hatred is”.