Stewart Smith

Total Psychic Orgasm: The Poetry and Jazz of Tom McGrath and Lindsay L. Cooper

This paper explores the attempts of poet, playwright and jazz pianist Tom McGrath, and his friend, the bassist and poet Lindsay L. Cooper, to fuse poetry and jazz in the 1960s onwards. These efforts have their roots in the post-war Jazz And Poetry movement and find fuller expression in their later hybrids of projective verse, sound poetry, performance art, jazz and free improvisation. While McGrath has been widely celebrated as a dramatist, his musical activities have been largely overlooked. As this paper argues, many of the ideas McGrath explored as a dramatist were first developed in these inter-disciplinary projects. This relates to his instigation of social and cultural exchange as director of Glasgow’s Third Eye Centre. I also discuss the importance of improvisation to their practice as musicians and poets. Cooper regularly worked with improvising vocalists like Norma Winstone and Maggie Nichols, and his major work, ‘A Madman’s Guide To Music’, re-imagines the poem as a score for improvising musicians. By bringing their experiences of the London counter-culture back to Scotland, McGrath and Cooper helped forge a popular avant-garde that was socially engaged and internationalist in outlook.

Stewart Smith, independent scholar