DIGGING PETE MOORE
It is across the Levels on an arrow straight lane that I drive on a soft autumn afternoon to meet Pete R Moore, this month’s Roots and Branches interviewee. Poet, philosopher and performer, he is currently enjoying a success in collaboration with Estas Tonne, the charismatic Russian troubadour. Their song Who am I? has become something of a Youtube sensation, spawning cover versions from all over the world.
Moore lives on a legendary off-grid site, formerly owned by a cantankerous old man called Sam, where for years people found sanctuary in a natural idyll under his capricious rule. I turn down a track with no sign, and rock over potholes between some old peat pits that have matured into lakes thick with reeds, and overgrown with brambles and willows. I hear the reedy bleat of a coot and see a flight of mallard on a sortie.
When I pull to a halt in a clearing, a young man appears silently from the thicket and in a lowered, but urgent, tone tells me I must move the car. It’s not a parking place, apparently. Sam’s rules had to be adhered to. I eventually leave the motor by some long static caravan hidden in a coppice of birches and make my way down a curved path past crates of empties, gas bottles and disabled furniture towards my destination. It’s a sultry autumn day: still, humid and strangely silent for a travellers’ site. I glimpse some water through the bulrushes; it looks clear, but somehow feels stagnant.
Moore greets me outside his personal hideaway: a, lean, handsome man in his forties with an easy smile and an attractively nervous edge. Dressed in well cut vintage trousers, shirt and waistcoat, he ushers me into a comfortable sitting room scented with wood smoke, where he serves a glass of cool water from the spring at Coxley, before settling with his arms along the back of a well worn sofa under a glorious full size reproduction of Gustav Klimt’s dreamy psychedelic and sexy painting, The Maiden.
‘Siblings?’ I ask.
‘I have two brothers. They run a financial advice company in Kent. I am definitely the slack sheep of the family.’
He likes a pun, and his poetry and conversation bubble with word play. Drugs have won the human race – is one of his creations. Later in the conversation he referred to Tea In The Park as a A Stab in The Dark.
After school, he went to Manchester University.
‘How was that?’ I ask
‘Fucking rocking. I turned up just after Madchester and just at the beginning of the second summer of love. Rave was in full swing. And I definitely got on the swings and the roundabouts. I’m astonished I passed anything.’
'Hundreds of thousand of people were descending on London to party. They can’t stop us now! as the bass kicked in. Everybody was squatting. Fuck money – who cares? Let’s party.’
He has the true artists’ talent of bringing intensity and narrative to not just his work but also to his life, and he makes his own narrative sparkle, maybe with glamour, but definitely with excitement.
On the last day of his finals in 1991, Moore went to Glastonbury festival. ‘It was epic. An epic free for all. Ecstacy, sound systems and blasting sunshine. The fence around the stone circle was smashed down. Eavis said I guess it’s a free party now. 300,000 people. It was massive.’
But there is something also elegiac about these memories, as though he is talking of a much missed, but dead friend. As though the clear, clean water of those days has somehow turned stagnant.
‘The best years of my life have been when I was single mindedly following my creative will. I always make a prayer to the goddess,’ he jabs his thumb at the maiden in the painting behind him. ‘Each of us is a lover and the universe is our beloved. To return to the goddess is our true life mission. Life is not a riddle to be unraveled, but a rhythm to be revelled. Or put another way, Shut up and dance.’
‘Each of us is a lover and the universe is our beloved. To return to the goddess is our true life mission. Life is not a riddle to be unraveled, but a rhythm to be revelled. Or put another way, Shut up and dance.’
‘No. I was writing poetry since I was a child, but uni killed it. Sometimes,’ he drawls, ‘you have to stray from the path to realise how useful it was.’ His smouldering intensity is broken by the flash of a smile. ‘I reawakened it in India,’ he continues. He was running from a tricky love affair – an activity he seems from our conversation to spend a fair amount of time engaged in. ‘I was pretty much thinking in verse. I was casting magical spells moment to moment.’
I recommend everyone to hear, particularly live, but if not, the CD of, Moore’s poetry. He has a talent for seduction in verse, ‘Only love can span the abyss’, though I often thought the person he’s trying to persuade to fall in love is himself. He also throws some sharp darts that hit fairly hard: Your busy schedule is just a tool you use to keep you asleep; but Moore’s best poetry is a cocktail of biblical imagery, straplines from adverts and snatches of pop songs, all whipped up in a storm laid on by William Blake, and which urges us to liberate our bodies and minds and lives. ‘We write our own movies in which we are the stars.’
In the mid 90s he was squatting in London, then Brighton, and then joined the crew of a Chinese junk until that familiar problem – a woman – made him jump ship. He explored Mexico, and went to India many times, where he became a face on the Goan scene.
‘It's up to the mountain and down to the sea,’ he explains, ‘for the wanderers’ life is the life for me.’
At a festival in the mid 90s a friend who had heard his work said to Moore: If you don’t perform it, I’m going to perform it.
‘It was like being dared. The first time I got up on stage was at Earthspirit in Tonbridge Wells. I managed half the poem from memory. There was an audience of about 3 in a sea of mud. Still it was terrifying.’
Moore’s collaboration with the legendary Russian guitarist Estas Tonne began on Arambol beach, in North Goa. There’s a surprise, I hear you say.
‘Arambol was full of creative people itching for a project. Six days after I met Estas we did a full play called The Colours of White. I enjoyed the performance and was honoured to be asked to perform with Estas.’
It’s my opinion Estas should be as pleased to be working with Moore as Moore is to be working with Estas. Moore complements Estas’ genius with a wonderful playfulness.
‘He’s much better at promoting himself then me,’ Moore admits, ruefully. I agree. I can see how easily Moore has withdrawn from the world to his bolt hole on the Levels. I am reminded of the writer Marianne Williamson’s injunction: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world."
‘I don’t know if I am more afraid of success or failure,’ Moore tells me. ‘It could be my perfectionism. And to some extent it’s shyness. That arrogance of not wanting to be judged. Being afraid to be judged for what you said,’ he adds wistfully.
I ask him about what he’s doing now. There’s a guitar by the sofa. ‘Do you ever pick that up?’ I ask.
‘Sam doesn’t like the noise,’ he laughs. ‘I feel frustrated where I’m at. I feel between… ‘ he starts, and then stops. ‘I tried to be grown up, I had almost a proper job, I was in love and wanted to have kids… but I was building an empire of dirt. It was at the expense of that wanderers’ life. I would love to let go and trust again. Be a free spirit following the muse… be more whole-heartedly devoted to the path of spirit. ‘
Out of the window I see a bearded man open his caravan door, throw something into a clump of nettles, look around, and go back inside.
‘When I came here, before Sam lived on site, there was Dave, Leon, Huggy, Emma, and of course Amanda’… (the owner and designer of Haruka Clothing). ‘At that time the yard was a pretty vibrant community of creative travellers. Many people have written books here.’ He sighs. ‘I’m not going to leave till I get the book done. It’s gonna happen.’
It’s time to go, and I ask if I can photograph his sitting-room so I can recall it later.
He scratches his head. ‘Is there anything I’d like to remove?’ he asks himself. ‘Perhaps the high heels. And these.’ I notice him surreptitiously hide a couple of books, one titled Multi Orgasmic Man.
When I get back to my desk and start to write up the interview, I wonder quite how I am going to finish the piece, because despite feeling an abundance of positivity and admiration for Pete Moore’s work and character, I can sense a certain energy ebbing from him, and I don’t want to strike a negative tone. For at least three months I procrastinate. And then one afternoon I hear the news that old, cantankerous, bullying Sam has died. The person who gave me the news said they were going straight over to the Yard, just to feel the freedom.
Pete read a poem at Sam’s funeral. There is now talk of the residents getting ownership of their pitches. Maybe it will yet again be the vibrant community it once was. And hopefully Pete Moore, reclining under his Klimt goddess, will be at its creative centre. As he himself says, in his poem Pearls in Wine:
Cast off your boat from the teeming banks
And steer for the heart of the stream.
Cling to nothing - not hope, not fear -
But dare to live the dream!
For all we have so far imagined
Is merely the mists of dawn
But the light of awareness lays bare the mud
Out of which every lotus is born.
Read more on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pendragonpoetry
See: Who Am I (Pete Moore and Estas Tonne)
Words: Guy Kennaway
Images: Dimitris Koutroumpas