Saturday 24 June 2023

Poem: My Heart Is A Boat | Windrush 75 | The Royal Albert Hall


Hello! Good morning,

I'm drinking tea and watching the sunrise and I feel like writing a blog post and taking a moment to process and share some poetry and thoughts and photos here on my blog from the amazing Windrush 75 concert at The Royal Albert Hall before it fades into memory, and before I jump into the next shiny thing. You will find more clips on my insta and tiktok and twitter but I have always liked to treat this blog like a scrap book, keeping an archive of highlights and my adventures in making books and poetry and gigs over the decades. Thank you to anyone following this page, hello to any new people who find me here. Welcome. 

Firstly, thank you for all of your comments and messages about this one gig and poem. I was blown away by your messages, thank you. I was so honoured and so excited to be invited by Trevor Nelson to perform and write a piece for the Windrush 75 Concert. I was also nervous about it as I knew I wanted to write something new for it. I was not sure where to begin to try to capture this moment in history and experience, and my own feelings about Windrush and heritage and ancestry and migration and colonialism and empire in a poem to be broadcast on the BBC and perform to peers and elders on such a big stage. 

I left London and headed south to perform two lovely shows in Exeter and Totnes and stayed down there for a while with dear friends on the coast. I looked at the Devon skies and seas and sun rises and went deep into the themes of this poem and the process. I knew right away that I wanted to fill the Royal Albert Hall with the ocean, with timelessness and the weight of ocean water and our conversation with it. 

I wanted to share in that united feeling that we are not all in the same boat, and that so many of us came here by boat, and that many are still arriving by boat, and how we are all connected in blood and saltwater. I wanted to celebrate that we share the same time in history, that we share an ancient resilience and courage. As some of you know I am currently working on the second Mrs Death Misses Death novel and so this was setting the tone for me and leaking into my writing, I was visualising and dreaming of Mrs Death filling the Albert Hall with ocean, with ancestors and ghosts, with loss and grief, and with BIGlove, ONE Love. 

I intentionally chose to write a rhythmic flowing poem with rhyming verses, as I often have done for show pieces, for protest poetry, for poetry that is to be performed to large crowds and also for poetry I want to perform to music. Every time I started writing this, I kept coming back to the last verse from another short poem 'No Holds Barred' (published in Pessimism is for Lightweights) and so this became my starting point and here was where I found my chorus and title...

my heart is a boat

my ancestors longships

my grandmothers Windrush

the rubber dinghies sunk without trace 

As I performed the piece we played loops of the ocean crashing to shore and watery blue and green and golden light filling the Albert Hall. There was an undercurrent, a low bass line played by Chineke Orchestra. Chris Cameron was the musical director, thank you for helping me pull this together and make this dream come true. "Now we know how many seas it takes to fill the Albert Hall"

Finally I should mention this: when I received the invitation to do this gig I asked to have a kimono made by artist Diane Goldie with a shimmering picture of ‘Queen Nanny’ on the back. I stood on stage wearing this stunning art kimono decorated with Jamaican hibiscus and hummingbirds. I had Queen Nanny on my back: Nanny of the Maroons. Rebel Queen. She who fought for the freedom for 1000’s of enslaved peoples and led a revolution against the tyranny of colonialism and the slave trade.


“If you know your history, then you will know where I am coming from..” I thank Diane so much for making this spectacular piece for me, for this show, for the poetry, for this heart, I will always wear this very special kimono with pride and with love. Thank you. With the rebel Queen Nanny of the Maroons on my back and my grandmothers beads around my throat, I felt like anything I didn’t get into the poetry was empowered and represented in this way visually and spiritually.

So, this was a dream gig. And I won't ever forget it. I was so happy to be invited to participate. As poets we dream to be invited to share truth and hope, to be who we are and dance with our elders and ancestors and share our bright fierce souls and shine our heart out. Sending thanks to everyone, thank you to all the legends and heroes on stage and back stage and to the warm audiences in Royal Albert Hall and at home as it was broadcast on BBC Radio 2.  Thanks to the ancestors that got us all here.

It is my birthday this weekend and so I gift you all the text of this poem to read here today. I'm excited to be this age, enjoying doing the work I love and writing the books I want to write. This past year or so has been a helter-skelter time, but we keep on keeping on and feel blessed today.

My next performances will be headline shows at WOMAD July 30th, GREEN GATHERING August 5th and then SHAMBALA August 25th - See you in some happy summer field or singing by a smoky camp fire very soon. Happy midsummers!  

Keep on sailing,

Your heart is a boat!

Thank you, 


es the Place for Me, Bob Marl


"On Thursday 22 June 1948, an ex-troop ship called the Empire Windrush docked in Tilbury, carrying 800 passengers who had left behind their homes in the Caribbean for a new life in Britain. Radio 2 and BBC Sounds commemorate the 75th anniversary of Windrush with a series of programmes, including this special one-off concert for Radio 2, curated and hosted by Trevor Nelson. Recorded at the Royal Albert Hall, the concert features an array of guest stars, including Craig David, Beverley Knight, R&B group Loose Ends, saxophonist YolanDa Brown, calypsonian Tobago Crusoe, G-folk pioneer Hak Baker and award-winning author and poet Salena Godden. Accompanied by the Chineke Orchestra, conducted by Chris Cameron. The concert captures the breadth of musical influence which the Windrush generation has had on British culture over the last 75 years, with performances including Loose Ends’ Hangin’ On a String, Hak Baker’s Windrush Baby, and Craig David’s Fill Me In, as well as renditions of classic tracks like Lord Kitchener’s London is the Place for Me, Bob Marley’s Is this Love, and Goldie’s Inner City Life."

My Heart Is A Boat

We're outside a pub

and she's yelling

telling me to

get back on my boat

My friends say she's just racist

but I put down my rum

and walk over and ask

do you need a hug?

I stand with open arms

as wide as a map of the world

she bursts into tears

I hold her for a while

My jacket gets stained

in orange foundation

my lapels are streaked 

with black mascara

The pub is rumbling 

under the mad full moon

and the spring tide

crashes to shore

My heart is a boat

My ancestors longships

My grandmothers Windrush

The rubber dinghies sunk without trace.

(audio begins: slow low bass line, ocean soundtrack)


My heart is a boat 

My ancestors long ships 

My grandmothers Windrush 

The rubber dinghies sunk without trace 

Vast ocean and destiny 

The horizon, the sea

Home in my bones

Forever singing to me

The unknown ahead

The unseen and untold

Ancients, old souls 

Their stories unfold

Ancestors spirit 

Holding them dear

Ghosts of the elders

History lives here

The truth under water

The thin paper words

Welcome to Britain

Cold and unheard

And who's left behind?

And what did you leave?

Shivering at Tilbury Dock 

Your young hope and belief 

Come willing, come able

Your mother country calls

To build the war effort

To build road and walls

Hale and hearty

Immigrant sons

Sent to the front line

Trench foot and guns

Taking a bullet 

March side by side

For country, for crown

For honour, for pride

Singing Jerusalem 

This green pleasant land

Give with whole heart

Take with gloved hand

Movement of people

The tall tales told

Invited to London

The streets paved with gold

We bring the music

Culture, colour, spice

Trading the sunshine

For rain, snow and ice

Trading the peoples

Sugar canes daughter

If Kingston is my pepper

Then London my salt water

And the rivers of tears

That stick in the throat

We'll sail to the truth 

My heart is a boat 

We dream of the heat

The warmth of home

We dream of the soil

Where our roots were grown

My heart is a boat

And I sail through time

My boat has a heart

We share the bloodline

Our heart is a boat

Our boat is a heart

Keeping us united 

When we're torn apart 

See the ocean at night

Stars shifting above 

Mirrored in moonlight 

Reflecting ONE LOVE

The seabed is a cemetery

Nameless, timeless, space

Sea water holding memories

Of past, person, place

Our boat is a heart

And love is for free

Welcome aboard

Us, them and we

(ocean soundtrack fading out...)

whispering singing: 

My heart is a boat  

My heart is a boat 

My heart is a boat

My heart is a boat

Here's some behind the senes pics by me 
and also official images by Andy Paradise:

Pessimism is for Lightweights

Mrs Death Misses Death

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