FOR one night only, York Literature Festival man of ideas Miles Salter is bringing together northern performance poets Roger McGough and Ian McMillan at the Grand Opera House tomorrow.

"Where there's muck, there's verse," says Barnsley Bard McMillan, as he licks his lips at the prospect of two men of words from either side of the Pennine divide uniting in the common cause of wit and wisdom.

"Roger is coming up 78, and I first saw him at the Corporation Brewery Taps in Doncaster, just near the station, when they had the Liverpool Poets – Roger McGough, Brian Patten, Adrien Henri – in this one room, and it was just so amazing to see them performing there. I remember Roger saying, 'once an ale-hose poet, always an ale-house poet' and that's stuck with me."

For reasons known only to Ian, he had expected the gig would last nine hours, as if it were a prog-rock concert. "But they only did 20 minutes each! Me and my girlfriend were sitting there thinking we'd be there all night and we'd need a taxi home, but it taught me you don't have to do a long set!"

Ian has gone on to share shows with cartoonist Tony Husband; magic lantern film specialist Ian Beesley; musicians and knitters in The Shed's Hat show; a bus and woollen Presley wigs on the Elvis Bus Tour of Ryedale; and his own Ian McMillan Orchestra. Sharing Wednesday's bill with Roger McGough will be another double act of sorts notched on his belt. "I think we'll be doing a bit each, then a bit more each. That would be my perfect way to do it, so there's no such thing as top of the bill and we can feed off each other," says Ian.

"But I'm really the junior partner in this gig, so it'll be interesting to work with someone without whom I wouldn't exist. Roger was the guy who said you can stand up in an ale house and read poems, and only now do you recognise what a revolutionary thing that was, standing up and doing that."

McGough is now a senior statesmen of British poetry with a CBE to his name. "Sometimes he wears his CBE on his sleeve," says Ian. "I wear my heart on mine. Would I wear an honour? I've always said, 'No. I'd refuse it'...quietly!"

Gazette & Herald:

Liverpool poet Roger McGough

McMillan and McGough have shared a stage once before, some 30 years ago. "We did something together at Bristol, with me and him and the two other Liverpool Poets." recalls Ian. "We said at the time, 'We must work together again', but it's taken Miles Salter to put us together in York.

"But Dead Ringers, the BBC sketch show, did do impersonations of me and Roger and John Cooper Clarke together, where everything Roger said sounded like a poem and with me it sounded more like my brother.

"But that was the ultimate accolade, being impersonated with Roger on Dead Ringers, so that was the last time I 'worked' with him!"

Both Ian and Roger keep themselves "match fit" for performing. "Roger likes to run around parks in London; I run endlessly to catch trains," says McMillan, whose admiration for the Liverpudlian stretches to his poetic look.

"The good thing about Roger was he was one of the first guys to wear an ear-ring; I can remember it glinting in the light at the Doncaster ale house; he had this ponytail and he looked like a poet in his glasses with coloured frames. Doncaster had seen nothing like it! He was bohemian, a Romantic, witty, cultural, saying all those things you wish you'd thought of, and he still does that."

York Literature Festival presents Roger McGough and Ian McMillan, Grand Opera House, York, November 25, 7.30pm. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at