The Will to Gig by Anna Ghislena

Reviewed by Emma Lee

Anna Ghislena is inspired by live rock music and its culture; she also writes concert reviews and interviews for online music publications. The Will to Gig features 8 poems describing the anxiety-inducing lateness of public transport and desperation to get to a gig; looking at daft things requested on band riders; still loving the blast of rock when elderly and apparently past it; finding a band name; fake versus real fandom; being beaten up for being a ‘weirdo’; and feedback. I’ve been there, and wanted to love this, but was concerned that in wanting to love it, I might be placing too much expectation on it.

The title poem looks at the relationship between loyal fans and the band:

We are loyal to the core. The will to gig is our law,
even when your new album sounds like the one before.
You couldn’t do without us, you really shouldn’t last!
So kiss my bestial arse with a backstage pass
and to the end of my days I’ll persist,
to ensure that your name will exist.
My tee-shirt declares that I’m with the band,
now please, rock harder, like you’re with the fans.

It captures the love/hate dynamic when fans demand a new album but the band aren’t ready to create one, when the band need fans to keep buying merchandise and tour tickets but fax in a performance because of tiredness, illness, or personal problems, whereas the fans want the band to make it a special date night. Internal and end-of-line rhymes in the open lines of the stanza give the poem an energy which seems to fade in the final four lines. In those lines, the rhyming format seems to drive the poem without effort, instead of working for it: the lazy “I’m with the band” doesn’t seem to be a reference to Pamela Des Barre’s book, but suggests groupies, which isn’t intended. Throughout the pamphlet, fans are just fans, and it’s refreshing to see that. The only time gender features is in “The Launch”, where a new band has to figure out a name:

Found the chords, the riffs are born,
got a front, an axe, a bass, some beats.
The song is written, the group is formed,
what name should the vessel take to the streets?

A mother? A lover? Seek out a legend?
Symbolic? Insane? Cast off the vote.
No taking the sis! Impress my girl-friend –
anchor success with a name like a boat.

The poem lists Kill Hannah, Jane’s Addiction, The Donnas, Pearl Jam, Blondie, All About Eve, Twisted Sister, Dead Sara, Hail The Virginmarys, Joy Division, Thin Lizzy, Roxette, Good Charlotte, Taking Hayley, Saving Aimee, Rose Tattoo, Molly Hatchet, Madder Rose and ends:

So with temptress or saviour or old recipe,
harness longevity; keep Alice in Chains!
The historic tradition has a drink in it too;
smash a bottle! I name this band girls’ names.

May God bless her and all who sail in her.

Like other poems in “The Will to Gig”, it has a light touch, and rhymes give it a structure that stops it barrelling off into an enthusiastic, untamed epic. Like the bands Ghislena follows, these poems have the rawness and energy of a live performance. They also have the bagginess of a stall-bought t-shirt that only comes in male sizes and gets overlooked in the atmosphere and camaraderie of a live performance, but is noticed on the thirtieth consecutive replay, by which time there’s a shiny new album out and the band have developed their sound in the interim. The Will to Gig is a good demo EP that would have a music journo place the band on a ‘one to watch, especially live’ list. There are plenty of bands that don’t sound the same once tamed, auto-tuned and fastidiously produced in a studio.

So I liked this, rather than loved it. Personally I would have liked an occasional poem to focus on a specific gig, not necessarily naming the band, but capturing what made that particular night special or some of the idiosyncrasies of a venue. Reading these poems as a whole, they focus on the universal, treating fans as a homogenous tribe: the danger of this is that their language becomes generic.