tony Chestnut (it’s the reluctance to wrap up in the cold, apparently) his articulation and the way he stresses the odd syllable is utterly captivating. Think Stephen Fry if he lived in Aigburth. The Future Tony’s eager to tell me everything he’s got coming up during Liverpool’s Capital of Culture year; “There is an event called around Liverpool in 80 pints,” he says, “which is basically poetry, live music, storytelling and theatre in various pubs and wine bars within the city.
Two pints of lager, a packet of crisps, and a rhyming couplet. Phil Daley sits down with Tony Chestnut - the ‘Busking Bard’ of Liverpool
“I also brought out a DVD which I’m pleased to say sold out, and there’s is a guy putting a book together. “I pop up all over the place. I had some work in the Liverpool Tate, I did a graduation ball at Anfield Stadium, I’ve done Valentines events for a group of stockbrokers, and I even did something for the Masonic Lodge.
n a rainy Saturday evening in Liverpool, Tony Chestnut or how he refers to himself, pointing to each appendage: Toe, Knee, Chest, Nut - the self styled peoples’ poet, stands outside the pub smoking a roll up. His ancient tweed jacket and Lennon style flat cap sodden as he hopelessly seeks shelter under a hanging basket.
“I think if you do something long enough with enough conviction then others will believe in what you are doing.”
You won’t find Tony in open mic or revue nights, nor on a soap box or speakers corner. His chosen forum is the pub. His medium, the napkin. He will wander into a bar or cafe, survey his stage and then set about making his living. For just a couple of pound or a pint you can give him a topic, a few challenge words to rhyme, and ten minutes later he’ll return with a scrap of paper, a postcard or a beer mat covered in his prose.
Facebook, and it’s no surprise then that Tony looks bewildered when I show him some YouTube uploads he appears in; “I’m obviously doing something right if a friend of mine Googled me and I popped up all over. The fact that I haven’t put myself up there gives it a validity, and If it encourages that sort of attitude, and its celebrating life and friendship, then ‘It’s all good,’ as they say.
The Lyrical Photograph Sat in the back room of The Royal Albert on Lark Lane, Tony sips his Guinness, pulls out a wad of postcards freshly pinched from some museum or gallery, and starts a new poem on one he’s already titled ‘L’Pool.’ “Primarily I’m an entertainer” starts Tony. “There’s a birthday every day, leaving dos, anniversaries, christenings, weddings. I create a kind of lyrical photograph which people get to keep, spreading a bit of love and positivity.
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liberated by my creativity.”
“I dedicated myself to being a poet. This is how I get by. I’ve got no ambitions, I’m just happy to be. Once you set the ball rolling, perpetual motion is impossible to stop.” With that, Tony checks the time, claps his hands and makes his excuses. Its 7 o’clock and time to start his rounds. He slides my commissioned poem across the table, pinches a cigarette and moves onto the next table, and the next sonnet of his oeuvre. Then there’s a pause, and he comes back over. Maybe he wants to know more about this article? Jesus, what if he wants more money? “To tell you the truth” he says, with a grin, “I can’t even write a letter to the gas board without it rhyming!”
The Wandering Poet There were a lot of dead ends trying to get in touch with Tony. Phoning pubs and cafe’s asking for one of their regulars isn’t exactly reliable journalism practice. Busking bards don’t tend to be on
“I’ve been doing it for nearly ten years now, people know who I am. Bar to bar, personalised prose. I am just much as a part of the city as the taxi cabs.” Tony’s been on the scene for ages, but exactly how long is a cagey subject. Revealing your age, Tony says is a ‘gentleman’s prerogative,’ and one that he swiftly manoeuvres the conversation away from. He’s been peddling poems for ten years, and given his roguishly tatty appearance, He looks good. New Beginnings “I feel like I am on the third chapter of my life. I used to play in a band called Crikey it’s the Cromptons, then I became a tour manager for the Boo Radleys. I moved into making visuals and animations projected in clubs like Cream and Orbit in Leeds, but then that ran its course. Unfortunately I found myself homeless selling the Big Issue, which is a thankless task. I thought there must be other ways to get by, and so I started asking people if
they would be interested in a poem. To my pleasant surprise the answer was often yes, so I stopped doing the Big Issue and dedicated myself to being a Busking Bard.” Like most of his ‘patrons’ I’ve always known Tony as just one of those quirky characters Liverpool seems to have an endless stream of. Every Christmas Eve I sit with old friends at the very table we sit at now, and hope he wanders in full of festive spirits - usually whiskey. Last year he got halfway through our Coca-Cola Christmas advert themed poem before finally admitting he couldn’t read his own handwriting, accepting defeat with a “Sod it! There’s polar bears and lorries in there somewhere. Mine’s a pint!” Don’t underestimate him though. In ten years he’s written over 60,00 poems, and as I listen to his opinions on everything from money-wasting councils to the similarities between Scouse and Geordie girls
I’ve had people tell me I’m a bit of a legend, which amuses me. All the time I wanted to be famous playing in bands and never was. Now I’m just ‘being,’ and it seems like I am reaching some sort of acclaim.” why does he do it? “It gets me out the house, its fun, and it’s a way of making a living whilst doing something I love. “I get to exist true to my principles without having to do the Nine-to-Five. I feel like I’m
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