Birds chirping. The harmonious sound that can only mean a delightful early morning or a disastrous late night. In this case I was experiencing the former. Rolling out of my shared bed in a shared house in South Norwich, the last thing on my mind was my impending interview with celebrated poet, playwright, comedian, record store owner and friend of music, Henry Normal. Luck would have it that the progress of cellular communication had grown at such a rate in previous decades that I was able to initiate and conclude said interview via the medium of wireless telephony, while still in my underwear, on my tiny oak desk, in my tiny beige room, with a tiny double glazed window.
It felt rather liberating to be engaging in profound and intellectual dialogue with a man 40 years my senior and significantly more experienced in every aspect of life, in one’s lingerie. For all I knew he could be in exactly the same situation; sprawled in bed, using a Dictaphone to pre-record and a speaker phone which would enable him to pontificate while remaining soundly a-slumber . Such are the thoughts of journalistic spaniels; all youthful exuberance and absolutely zero work ethic unless corralled or there’s something in it for them.
Henry Normal answered my telephone call at precisely 11:01 in a normal, Northern accent. Probably the most jubilant man I’ve ever encountered over the phone at 11:01. Normal struck me as a man who wakes early and goes to bed early, resting easy and enjoying the pleasures a gentleman of leisure can only enjoy. We begin to chat about his new book “Staring Directly into the Eclipse” where he reveals he “hasn’t written poetry in 20 years”. As I pry into the mindset behind the work he answers – cordial and cautious. “I would hope the work is a little bit more mature than some of my previous endeavours. I wrote a lot about love in the earlier years but I’m now in a stable relationship and the nature of my relationships with people like my son and even my mother in law have changed.”
“I tend to write to poetry from an emotional stand point” continues Normal when asked about the motivations behind his writing in general. “It’s not an intellectual exercise like trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle. I’ve written comedy for 40 years which is more about rhythm and logic whereas poetry is more about emotion.” Having been responsible for some of Britain’s best loved comedy from The Royle Family to Gavin & Stacey with his production company Baby Cow Productions co run by none other than North Norfolk Digital’s favourite star, he speaks with some authority.
The most admirable quality about Normal is that he is not entrenched in one form of art. He runs a record store in Chesterfield, he’s written some classic comedy and he’s a keen poet. He is not phased by the pompous selectivity of the modern artist, rather he embraces art for the sake of art; as a form of creative expression, a way to deal with emotions and to improve the lives of others.
We closed the chat with Henry not being able to name a single act on the Poetry Stage at this year’s Latitude Festival where I assured him I would come see him in full glory. We talked Led Zeppelin, Pulp and “a movement called Doll Busters, which I doubt you would have heard of”.
As I plonked the phone down I began to ponder Henry Normal and his vision of creating art in an emotional sense, on a personal level, for oneself. Normal is a man well rested and it is my view that to create true art one has to lounge and sleep. I went straight back to bed and I can guarantee he did too.
Henry will be performing on the Poetry Stage at this year’s Latitude Festival.
Words by Aaron Powell