A session with Pete Mullineaux

SALMON POETRY has published a delightful new collection by Galway-based poet Pete Mullineaux entitled Session. The poems are all related to music and sound, and links both with human interaction and nature.

There is a strong presence of Irish trad as Mullineaux has been learning/playing fiddle for some time now and in many ways this is a celebration of the music and the musicians – some poems relate to actual musicians and performances.

There is also a strong presence of the Galway city and county landscape, and the western seaboard from Clare up to Donegal. Besides the lyrical element there’s also a voice of protest in several of the poems which perhaps derives from Mullineaux’s work in the creative writing and drama field where he is involved with many diverse groups – Travellers, asylum seekers, environmentalists, people with learning difficulties.

Writing in praise of the book, author Sean Crosson observes: “This collection of rare beauty and understanding takes us from the universal presence of sound in nature and everyday life, to its manifestation in traditional music.

“Here Mullineaux has captured the rituals and subtleties of the form, from the first, sometimes faltering, initiations of the musician through the extraordinary energies and relationships that emerge in performance.

“Traditional music is characterised by an awareness of the past, place, people, and occasionally protest while its greatest musicians reanimate the familiar tune with surprising additions, changes and often great humour. Mullineaux’s poetry exhibits all of these qualities giving the reader an extraordinary insight into this music and the places it inhabits, particularly the west of Ireland.”

Rebel mum

Mullineaux has been living in Galway for 20 years but originally hails from Bristol. Today the city is one of Britain’s most vibrant cultural centres but that wasn’t the case when Pete was growing up, as he recalls over a morning phone call.

“Bristol is super trendy now but when I was growing up in the city there was nothing going on, there were just the docks and all these sailors,” he states. “The Salvation Army coffee shop was the only place that would be open where we could get together. As teenagers that’s where we would all meet and sit around talking about music, about Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan.”

Session is Mullineaux’s second poetry collection with Salmon, following A Father’s Day which appeared in 2008. The new volume is dedicated to his mother and it is to her Mullineaux attributes his lifelong passion for poetry and the arts.

“My mother was an actress,” he reveals. “When she was young she ran away to join ENSA [the organisation that provided entertainment for British armed services]. When I was young she used to tell me stories and introduced me to poetry and I am forever grateful to her for opening that world up to me and that’s why I dedicated the book to her.

“I remember one day I was doing my homework in the kitchen and she came in and said ‘quick, come and see this man on the telly’ and it was Bob Dylan singing ‘Blowing In The Wind’ and she was as excited by him as I was. She also introduced me into that world of social protest, she would be out protesting herself on a range of issues.”

Punk and poetry

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was another early influence on Mullineaux’s poetic sensibility; “One of the first poems I recall making an impact on me was Longfellow’s Hiawatha,” he reveals. “I loved the rhythm of it and the sound of the words and I think that merged with my early love of music so when I was writing poetry, rhythms and sounds were things I was strongly drawn to.”

Mullineaux was only 13 when his poem ‘Harvest Festival’ was published in two anthologies, Poetry & Song (Macmillan ) and Man & His Senses (Harrap ) as well as being recorded by Argo records alongside music and song from Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger.

Some years later Mullineaux gravitated to the London punk rock scene and became a singer and writer with The Resisters under the name Pete Zero.

“The Resisters was a fantastic experience,” he recalls fondly. “I was working in a left-wing printing press at the time and we were all living in squats. We were basically a left wing garage-band protest group, a bit like Tom Robinson. So we would be playing all these anti-racism and anti-sexism songs and gigs. We recorded one album, just called The Resistors and it’s actually just been reissued by Retro Records.”

In 1991, Mullineaux and his family made the decision to leave London and relocate to Galway.

“We had been visiting Ireland for several years,” he explains. “My partner Moya Roddy is from Dublin. Then when our daughter Cassie was born it just seemed harder to continue living in the city. I remember I would be taking her to the local park for a walk and thinking ‘I could be having this all the time’ so one day we just upped sticks and came here to the west of Ireland.”

Irish trad

Settling in Ireland saw Mullineaux begin to engage with Irish music. “I only took up the fiddle three years ago but when I first came to Ireland I’d taken up the mandolin and I remember getting lessons from John Horgan on it,” he says. “I had always been into blues and country and so on, so it was different for me to get into the particular rhythms of Irish music.”

Those rhythms are apparent in many of the poems in Session which have an inherent lilt and musicality which echoes their subject matter. “That is something I was aiming at all right,” Mullineaux states. “With ‘The Old Triangle’ for example, I wanted that to have the same rhythm as a jig.”

Throughout the book there are also doffs of the hat to poems and poets that Mullineaux admires with the appearance of brief phrases from poems by the likes of Ted Hughes, Les Murray, and John Montague.

“As well as being a salute to the world of music I also wanted the book to pay tribute to the world of poetry,” Mullineaux notes, “So there is that seam of references to various poets running through the book.”

Mullineaux also makes a point of praising the cover artwork for Session. “I am thrilled with the cover. It’s an image by Fran McCann. I first came across his work in Kenny’s and I met with him afterward and picked out a picture to use for the book and it really suits it, I feel.”

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