Where In The Tree Is Vivien?

I recently finished reading a biography about possibly my country’s greatest actress: Vivien Leigh. Triumphant and tragic, always lovely, ever fragile, her most difficult part was that of her own life.


My post on an old movies site on Facebook provoked a conversation about her being England’s greatest actress. I was asked what it was about her that made me of this opinion, and how she faired in comparison to the likes of Dame Judi Dench and Dame Helen Mirren. (The question was asked in all innocence, purely out of curiosity, as it was posed by a fan of Vivien’s who was curious as to why I hold her in such similar esteem.)

I replied that both Judi Dench and Helen Mirren are fine actresses, (Elizabeth Taylor too), but to me there seems a certain gravitas in both Leigh’s performances and in her attitude towards her craft. Most of her performances were on stage and not before a camera, and she would often say that she was an actress, not a film star. Two Oscars not withstanding.

If only her Lady Macbeth, among other roles, had been recorded!

She brought both beauty and art to her roles, but she thought that her looks obscured her abilities as an actress.


Responding to the original question in making a decision about where she ranks, we can only go off anecdotes, regard, performances and achievements.

There was a firm courage that underscored Leigh’s sometimes fragile demeanour, which becomes apparent when you learn of her long struggle with both tuberculosis,(which ultimately would claim her), and mental illness. There are accounts of her appearing on stage after undergoing electric shock treatment, burn marks still visible on her temples.

When she was making her final film, Stanley Kubrick said that it was obvious she was ill. About to shoot a scene, she would be shaking on set. Leigh would take herself off to the side, master control of herself, then come back and complete a perfect take, her trembling  returning on finishing.

This final indication of dedication and braveness underlines her greatness. One man’s meat and all that, but when considering the pantheon of our great actors and actresses, for me Vivien Leigh is up there at the very top.


VIVIEN LEIGH holding her Academy Award for Best Actress for Gone With Wind. 1940.

reviewing jackdaw’s songs of the north

Here is a wonderful review of my book, Heading North, written by the great poet Nat Hall from her Shetland perch. My gratitude to her.


img_8071Out of darkness, the bleakest point from the island, came cobbled thoughts, a flash of ink blended with salt – now nights have cleared, here comes my humble impressions of jackdaw’s blend of geopoetics inside his début collection, Heading North.

“Heading North”, by Andrew James Murray, is the second volume from Nordland Publishing’s Song of the North Series. Its author defines himself as a northern guy with a northern accent and attitude, yet attracted to even more northern latitudes, landscapes and who follows in the tradition of both geographical and inner landscapes – bleaker in places, mysterious and remote. His journey takes us from the comfort of his familiar Manchester world to the Ring of Brodgar on a far away archipelago bathed by both a sea and an ocean, via a myriad of known & unknown places – Berlin, Prague to the cobbled streets of Stromness. But it also…

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A clamour of crows,
raucous and riotous
in their autumn fraternity.

Light-golden bathed,
beneath the season’s
bowered crown.

A dirt road winds
through the 
foilaged banks.

A single jackdaw
dines on a
roadkill banquet,
upon the forest edge.

Melting into sundown.

And from the depths:
the screaming,
spectral, jays.


Mongrel Nation

My annual St.George’s Day post. Ancestors. Parade Day in Manchester. Celtic Saints. African Ancestry. Genetics. Connections. A couple of flags.

Happy St.George’s Day to you in England and the great diaspora.

City Jackdaw

St. George’s Day again. I tried to reblog my original post that I did on this day, two years ago, but think that I can only reblog a post once? Anyway, the highlighted, following title should take you to it. It is about St.George, St.Aidan, Ancestry, History, DNA, and what it means now for me to be English, or rather, British, or rather, African. Go figure. Mongrel Nation.

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My Hesitant Lover

From an early frost, the day has emerged into a thing of beauty. I would show you, but the camera on my phone is temperamental. Instead, you will have to picture it:

the blue sky is barely adorned by cloud, the sun shining down upon the newly-budding trees, and the birds are busy gathering nesting material from this urban, crumbling Eden.

Here, in what is often referred to as ‘Rainy Manchester’ there is a sense of making the most of things. The air feels lighter, and scented with inspiration. I’ve been sat outside this morning, giving a few tweaks to some new poems:



Six Line Poem;


(and, ironically)

Rainy Day Blues.

After the publication of Heading North, it would be easy to get carried away and start to think of another collection.

But it is too early-the poems will come when they come. Seek too hard and they will be chased away. My muse is a hesitant lover.

Those Damn Social Mores

This old photograph was taken in a local park that resides below the church that my wife and I got married in. On the back of the photograph is a rather sad inscription:

‘Dorothy in coloured dress because she was not allowed a white dress as her mother not married’


The sense of sadness deepens when you study the expression on the poor girl’s face, made to feel separate from the other children present.

Made an example of through no fault of her own.

They are all grouped together for a staged photograph, but she is distinct from the others.

Would I have noticed this without the written inscription? Probably not. But now-she is the focus of everything.

I wonder if her mother was present, and how she felt seeing her daughter treated so, no doubt ostracised herself?

If that photograph was taken today, the girl would have fit right in with everybody else.

Whoever Dorothy was, I hope she went on to have a happy and fulfilled life, this day becoming long forgotten.

The Jungle Has A New Queen

Have you ever seen I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here?

At the end of each series, the winner from the previous year comes on to hand the crown over to the new King or Queen of the Jungle. Well that’s how I feel right now. In December I was the latest poet to be published under the Songs of the North umbrella.


My book Heading North was the second collection brought out by Nordland Publishing in the series, and now a third collection has been published: Compass Head by Shetland-based poet Nat Hall.

It is another quality book by Nordland, rich both visually and lyrically. Here is an excerpt of the review I gave on Amazon:

‘Sometimes the imagery is elegant and sensual:

‘My fingers felt that final wave/flirting with your skin/in wet sand/smooth as a shell/or golden grain-/a silky sea/lace on our land/like petticoats/loose on your legs/plundering’
from From Shell To Sand

and other times simple and sharp:

‘February/sky like a shooting/Kalashnikov/fires hail stones on my/car roof just like bullets/on a tin can’
from Hit Sky

both styles equally effective.’


Compass Head  is a good collection of contemporary verse, and can be purchased here:


Nat’s WordPress blog can be found here:


From the Jackdaw to the Blackbird: the crown and baton has been passed on. Enjoy your reign.