When we asked Andy Hollyhead if he’d had to do much research to inspire his poem on The Wellington, he told us it was a tireless process of spending time in a pub, drinking beer and watching people. The history of the place was equally exhausting to discover, hung proudly as it is on the walls for any casual visitor – or commissioned poet – to peruse. Still, we feel it’s safe to say it was even more difficult to convert all of that into the piece he recorded for Overhear. We caught up with him to find out what he had to say about ale, access and Birmingham accents.
‘The way Overhear was pitched to me was fascinating.’ Andy tells us, ‘An app that allowed a piece of prose or poetry to be tagged to a specific location and be listened to by visitors, or anyone who happened to be passing… this could be an opportunity to engage those who wouldn’t normally be reachable through more traditional publishing methods.’
He pointed at one immediate set of audiences in particular: ‘During October, there’ll be many more people interested in literature in all its forms descending on the city for Birmingham Literature Festival. It’s a unique showcase for the city, and rightly the jewel in the literary-events-crown for Birmingham and the West Midlands. This seems like a great opportunity for people to use Overhear, either as part of a formal literary event or whilst they’re waiting for the train back home.’
‘For those that may be travelling a distance, I think it’s a chance to explore Birmingham,’ he adds ‘and hopefully when they pass The Wellington and listen to my hybrid Birmingham/Black Country accent they’ll feel just that bit closer to the event!’
If you are visiting Birmingham and want insider information on The Wellington before you get there, there are few people better placed than Andy to give it to you – see the tireless research referenced above. ‘I think I was very fortunate to pick a location that was so rich not only in history but also in personality of the “punters”’. The Wellington is a Specialist Real Ale pub. They don’t do food, they don’t have fifty gins behind the bar. They sell beer and (reluctantly) the odd glass of wine. There’s nothing pretentious about what they’re doing.’
‘It’s also a location that plays to its history, not just of the building itself but of all pubs, off-licences and small local shops,’ he continues, ‘The Wellington – or Welly – is not only the building itself but the heritage of the “traditional” pub in and around Birmingham, shown by the dozens of pictures hanging there. Very little additional research was necessary; it’s laid bare on the walls of the place.’
With regards to how place features in his previous writing, Andy had this to say: ‘Place is almost an extra character in my work. I commute daily into Birmingham for work, through the suburbs and into the city centre, across the nicest and roughest parts of town. My writing focus for the last six months has been a ‘cosy’ murder mystery with a gay protagonist set in and around Chasewater, a man-made reservoir on the edge of the Black Country/Staffordshire border.’
‘This project has been very different from how I usually write. I have experience in short and long-form prose and have written some poetry in the past but a commission for a particular place, with a particular deadline – it’s been an enjoyable new experience and I’m very keen to hear the contributions from others on the project.’
Andy’s poem, Specialist Real Ale Pub, is available to collect from The Wellington using the Overhear app from 26th September.
Andy can be found on his website www.andyhollyhead.co.uk