Friday 7 June 2013

Jazz, science, sounds, poems: I'm fairly buzzin

I've been away from here for a while for two main reasons: I'm writing a book (for adults) about the alphabet. It's called 'Alphabetical' and it'll be out in November. The other reason is that I've been rehearsing a show called 'Centrally Heated Knickers' based on my book of that name published and in print with Puffin.

The poems in the book were a commission from the Design Council and they were each triggered off by a science theme. As a project it was overseen by the Association for Science Education at (let me recommend them highly) and they produced a book called "star* Science, Technology and Reading" which is available at their site.

This comes from more enlightened days when teachers, researchers and advisers were thinking together about how to inspire children's sense of enquiry and imagination in all field but in particular from the perspective of science. As this is something that I believe in, I was more than happy to take part. I see no conflict or opposition between the kind of enquiry that poetry goes in for and the kind of enquiry that science goes in for. Of course, in our separate professional fields we work to different routines but along the way we share the ideas of inventiveness, planning, daydreaming, speculating in order to arrive at our respective endpoints.

After the show I did with the Homemade Orchestra based on my nonsense poems in 'Michael Rosen's Book of Nonsense' and 'Even More Nonsense', Tim Whitehead and Colin Riley from the Homemade Orchestra approached me about putting together another show. We lighted on 'Centrally Heated Knickers' - they are both scientific and artistic musicians, after all.

Over the following two years, they have created a musical show based on about 25 of the poems from the book. I've added some material from other books or written new stuff. Tony Graham (ex-artistic director of the Unicorn) has been working with us for the last 6 months directing and devising the show, turning it into a theatrical event. Maisie Whitehead mimes and dances. Dave Preston features on guitar, Jim Hart on drums and vibes. Tim plays sax and bass clarinet. I do most of the poems. The Homemade Orchestra also sing, play teapots, saucepans, bicycle wheels and anything to hand.

The end result is musical, poetical...with loads of jazz, rock, digital sounds, audience participation and even a scientific display of the inner ear!

It's something that I am very proud to be part of. I think we are breaking new ground in combining the arts with science within a show that anyone can get hold of, from quite young to adult. The title of the show is obviously frivolous but at each point in the show there are layers of ideas, feelings and science going on, hooked together with music and poetry. I feel  - now we've done two shows and getting into the groove - that it's one of the most inventive things I've been part of. I don't think that anyone coming to see it would have ever seen anything quite like it.

The tour is up on my website under 'Events' at The show has its own website and a tweet address on @HeatedKnickers

If you are a teacher or parent reading this, can I say that if you want to get the most out of the show with your children, do think about using the two books I mention at the beginning of this blog. You could read some of the poems to the children  before or after coming to the show. The "*star" book has many wonderful suggestions about work you can do with the children. And our website has already got some fun stuff to do but a lot more will go up soon.

Hope to see you there.

Link to the "*star" book here:

The show is supported by the Wellcome Trust and the Arts Council.