Sunday, April 05, 2009

Les Barker's Guide Cats for the Blind

Some of you may know I have a slightly serious problem with my eyesight. I have a severe bout of glaucoma, which I am told will make me blind within my lifetime. A prospect that, whilst there are probably worse things, one nevertheless has to come to terms with... and prepare for.

So, I was doing a little bit of research and came across Guide Cats for the Blind. This was originally a poem written by a fella called Les Barker.

If you haven't come across Les before you can probably be forgiven as he seems to have kept a relatively low profile. I only recently discovered him myself... and I can tell you, he's a bit of a gem... a bit from the old school as it were... very funny and well worth listening to if you have a good sense of humour and enjoy hearing words put together well, as I do! smile

Here's an excerpt from one of Les' live performances of Guide Cats for the Blind, set to some amusing pics... of Maine Coon kittens:

Les Barker (born 30 January 1947) is an English poet. He is most well known for his comedic poetry and parodies of popular songs, however he has also produced some very serious thought-provoking written work.

The poem Guide Cats for the Blind led Les in an an unexpected direction. The poem was heard by Clive Lever, a keyboard player and comedy songwriter from Maidstone, who also happens to be involved with an organisation called the The British Computer Association of the Blind. The association runs a program called 'EyeT4all' which aims to make computers accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired.

Clive got in touch with Les, who agreed to the poem being used as the title track of a double fund raising CD. Les also agreed to the recording of a series of albums, in which his poems and songs would be recorded by artists from the folk world but also by well known celebrities from the entertainment and theatrical world. Presenters from all five BBC Radio stations featured on the albums and so far between £40,000 and £50,000 has been raised for the British Computer Association of the Blind's 'EyeT4all'.

So far three 'Guide Cats' albums have been produced, 'Guide Cats for the Blind', 'Missing Persians File' and 'Top Cat, White Tie and Tails'. A fourth album 'Catnav' is being prepared at the moment.

The CDs contain performances of Les's poems by members of the folk world like June Tabor, Martin Carthy, Steve Tilston, Mike Harding and Tom Paxton but also well known figures like Jimmy Young, Nicholas Parsons, Terry Wogan, Nicky Campbell, Robert Lindsay, Prunella Scales and Andrew Sachs.

Les' involvement with the British Computer Association of the Blind has been a new development for him and it has brought Les's work to a wider audience outside the folk club and festival circuit which has taken him very much to their hearts over the years.

Originally from Manchester he trained in accountancy before his talent for the written word was discovered. At first he toured around folk music venues as a solo performer then later with the Mrs Ackroyd Band (named after his pet mongrel dog Mrs Ackroyd).

Les is not a singer and the Mrs Ackroyd Band, with classically trained vocalists Hilary Spencer and Alison Younger and keyboard player Chris Harvey, have enabled Les' parodies to be performed live to enthusiastic response.

As well as touring Britain he has also performed in Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, the United States of America and Canada.

Les Barker recently had a heart problem which involved undergoing surgery, and he has had to disband The Mrs Ackroyd Band for the forseeable future but he has started solo gigging again and is happily well on the way to full recovery.

There is a growing campaign, by his folk fanbase, to get him chosen as the Poet Laureate for 2009. Even if this is not successful, it may bring his work to the attention of a wider public.... and I thought I would give this a helping hand tonight! smile

You can read more about Les Barker @ Wikipedia.