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Up The Nerd Punks 2 at EdFringe 16.15-17.15 @ Opium

Friday, 21 October 2016

20.16 Blog #23: Ken Loach & Hope

This afternoon, I watched the squatters occupying the old BHS building be evicted by bailiffs and police.  They piled plants and possessions onto bikes, said thanks to Subway opposite their temporary home (for free cookies I believe) and headed off.  Seems advertising their anti-Phillip Green party to be held at the old BHS building had encouraged the owners to push through an eviction sooner rather than later.  I got home and listened to the Autonomads, a Manchester ska/punk/dub/folk band who sing about security guards at the Job Centre and exposing the systematic cyanide of signing on.

In between these events, I went to see I, Daniel Blake.

I have loved Ken Loach since Film Studies at York College back in t’day.  At a time when I was discovering real-world politics, his films presented real-world humans.  3-dimensional, honest, believable and human, this form of British kitchen sink drama felt so touchable to accompany a need to grow up swiftly to exist within my new post-school world.

The last Loach film I saw in the cinema was Looking For Eric, and although I enjoyed The Angel’s Share, I can’t say either are my favourite.  But throughout Loach’s work is a real sense that working class people are good, decent and friendly.  He’s a myth-buster.  From Riff-Raff to My Name is Joe to the heavily polarised worlds of Bread & Roses and Land & Freedom, his working class characters are there to support one another.  Sweet Sixteen maybe is an exception, which is why is makes that film so powerful in its sheer hopelessness (but that’s just my reading).  At least with I, Daniel Blake he could rely on his neighbours, co-workers and the friendliness of strangers at the Library.  It’s not much, but it’s something.

I Daniel Blake is an old story now, one of benefit sanctions, ATOS and job seekers’ which still exists, but is sliding off the agenda of the right-wing tabloids who have now turned their sights to target refugees and immigrants in the wake of the EU referendum result.  If anything, they have shifted the zeitgeist us vs. them mentality now (peddled by the Tories) from “scroungers” and the disabled to “foreigners”.  The film ends with Daniel Blake declaring his is a citizen, no more, no less, and yet Mrs May might well ask Mr Blake, were she ever to walk amongst the people of Newcastle, “a citizen of where?”

There are a number of powerful moments peppering the film, and I cried so many times I lost count.  But one moment that has stuck with me is when the young child, Daisy, visits Dan who is refusing her help.  She insists.  She says, “If you helped us, why can’t I help you?”

With a handful of exceptions, Loach’s films show humans helping humans.  Yes, there are humans hurting humans too.  I often quote folk-punk band ONSIND, and one song states:  True hope resides in that moment where a person holds their hand out to a stranger on the ground.

There is despair, darkness, sadness and blood in Loach’s films.  There are tears, fists and poverty that grinds into your guts.  But there is also friendship, family and community.  There is solidarity between people and therein lies the hope at the centre of Loach’s films, like glinting treasure in the mud of an ocean floor.

And this, dear reader, is why I want to write hopeful poetry.  Angry, bitter and loud.  But hopeful.

I will not allow myself to be destroyed by these betrayals / I won’t ever let these bastards grind me down. 

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

20.16 Blog #22: The Power of The Podcast

The first Podcast I started listening to was Wittertainment (aka the 5 Live Film Show) off the back of seeing Mark Kermode (ol’ Marky K as I call him for some unanswerable injokey reason) on various programmes, hands a’flappin’, films a’reviewing.

Like Mark loves his horror films and Simon likes his various voice-led personalities, when I get into something I become something of a collector.  So in the past year I’ve been scouring new cool unique and odd podcasts for my Generic Fruit Based Device.

My top ones at the moment are Imaginary Advice by Ross Sutherland, which is a collection of strange stories, spoken word pieces, anecdotes and experiments in language.  Whilst spoken word is becoming snappier to fit the model of 3 minutes slam and viral videos, Ross is playing with stories well over 10 minutes.  For a (massive) punk rocker such as myself, it’s a super break from punchy pieces.  Six House Parties is incredible.

There’s No Such Thing As A Fish is probably one of the better known podcasts, run by the QI Elves, it’s like an episode of the panel show but without comedians vying to be the funniest in the spotlight like bears clawing for a chucked fish.  Rather, it’s like mates chatting and sharing strange, curious and unbelievable facts which give good fodder for future poems, stories, play and conversations.

Podcasts have become something of a zine-like culture.  Zines are for people to put a little bit of themselves into writing and images, bound together with staples, glue and oodles of love.  I guess a blog has similar qualities.

I’ve found the Podcast has the same DIYness.  The best podcasts are the incredible specific ones, the ones that have a fanbase dedicated but on the otherside of mainstream, underground, cornered, familiar to those who also explore the same caverns.

Batman The Animated Podcast, to me, sums up what a podcast should be.  Very specific, very nerdy, very honest to the podcastee, Justin Michael, talking about his childhood and love for the Animated 90s cartoon.  But I’ve never been a big fan of perzines (personal zines).  I love people telling their story, but some can be a wee bit self-indulgent.  But BTAP also talks about the history and use of animation, casting, writing, acting, sound, lighting and all those processes.  It’s a fascinating insight and everything I want from a Batman-themed medium.

So this year I’ve been making podcasts with the night I run, Say Owt Slam.  Some have been edited by Odd Horizon, some I put together myself.  I spent a long time playing with audacity, downloading the right fomas, playing with editing, uploading and re-uploading.  I can honestly say the Say Owt Podcast is very DIY, despite using the Evil Eye-of-Sauron-like iTunes platform.

#1: Sophia Walker & Adele Hampton 
#2: Dan Simpson 
#3: Jack Dean 
#4: Dave Jarman 
#5: Rose Condo 
#6: Scott Tyrrell 

Thanks to listening to Desert Island Discs, I think my interview style has progressed over the course of the podcasts.  I think we got better at nailing topics, as well as having fun.  I think the one we did with Rose Condo really got to the heart of writing and the process of creating spoken word.  I can’t wait to continue the Podcast deep into 2017.

You can find Say Owt Podcast on iTunes.  Please listen, subscribe, download, share and any and all feedback hugely welcome.

Now I want to make a new podcast about Batman, though.


(p.s. Desert Island Zines sounds a great idea….)

Sunday, 25 September 2016

20.16 Blog #21: Page Against The Machine

The Unspoken Rule of Spoken Word

Last night myself and Stu Freestone presented our 11th Say Owt Slam at the Basement, 23 months after we first started in October 2014.  It’s been an enormously fun time giving a platform to local and travelling poets and showcasing some of the breath-taking talents across the UK with guest poets.

It’s been a long road learning about promotion, comparing, marketing and performance and sometimes in the haze of drinking in Dusk afterwards I can forget those lessons and the need to record them.

But one thing I noticed at the Slam last night was all but one of our poets read from the page.

There are plenty of reasons why a poet would want to read from the page.  I’ve seen Ross Sutherland use a notebook as a prop, despite the fact he knew the poem and revealed the page was blank, in order to play with the concept of a story-teller.  John Cooper Clarke and Rob Auton use a huge overflowing notebook of scribbles like a giant tome of blurted thoughts matching their styles.  Poets might want to use the page as a way to emphasise the literary-ness of their work, or even plug their book by visually using it.  The poem might be work-in-progress so no point learning it just yet.  But, at the end of the day, the most likely reason we poets read from the page if we simply haven’t learn out poem.

This is not a swipe at any poet, especially the ones last night, who read from the page.  It’s scary enough getting on a stage in front of a crowd to express yourself, especially hard if it’s a slam and at the end 5 strangers will judge your performance.  And our winner did read his 2nd round poem from paper, so page poetry =/= loser by any stretch.

Plenty of times I’ve not learnt the poem.  I’ve been guilty of trying the poem without fully practising, only to scarper into my pocket for the print-off like clutching for the lifebelt, drowning in a sea of forgetfulness.

Sometimes you just can’t learn a poem, and that might because of your mind, your time or even the fault of the poem’s ungraspableness.

So here’s some offhand thoughts about reading from the page:

1.  It has the potential to root you.  If you’re a poet whose feet end up doing the awkward dance on stage, it means they won’t wander.
2.  It can give an aura of authority as a story-teller or literary crafter.
3.  It draw attention to the poem rather than the performer, giving focus to the use of language.

But on the flip side:

1.  It limits your hands, which are an useful expressive tool.
2.  It means your eyes, and mouth, are face-down, meaning less connection and limiting vocals into the mic.
3.  It creates the (false) suggestion you don’t know the poem or are less invested in the poem.
4.  If it gets lost, damaged, the lights make it unreadable or it rustles you’re in trouble.

So I would always suggest if you are to read off the page, get a notebook.  Cover it in stickers or doodles, or get one slick and impressively smart.  Make it appear like your brain physicalised, a wad of papers or a precious tome.  Use it as a prop.  I know that people read off their phones, again, I have read off my phone and I get we live in a digital age and I also get that not everyone can afford printers or printing costs, but for every problem there is with paper, reading from the phone (or other electronic device) adds a devilish extra issue:  it looks like you didn’t go to the effort to even print off the page.  Obviously this is not true, you could know this poem inside-out, back-to-front, intimately and beautifully connected with this piece.  But the casualness of a phone give that extra element of suspicion from the audience.  Poetry has such raw live connecting power beyond connecting to Facebook.

The audience are your friends, but audiences also make assumptions.  In theatre, we understand signifiers.  Colours, such as purples and greens, detonate villains, whilst reds and blues denote heroes.  Status is ‘read’ through action and stance.  Characters with swords are warriors, characters with flowers are lovers.  Put an old character and a young character on stage we assume they are related.  The stage is a canvas which we interpret signs and symbols.  

So last night I presented as a scrawny guy in an Anarchist t-shirt and patches on his trousers which probably meant the audience expected political/protest poetry, so I tripped up the audience up by doing a poem about dinosaurs.  Scott, our guest last night, tripped up the audience several times with awkwardly graphic but hilarious tales, like his piece Coitus Interuptus, and that’s where some of the humour can come from, being surprised and belaying expectation is one of the funniest, or even touching, experiences audiences can have.

So subsequently, if you come to the stage with paper on your head, the audience are already unpacking this situation with expectation and assumption, and you can use the page to your advantage.

When I did my EdFringe show, Up The Nerd Punks 2, I read a fictionalised tour diary from my notebook, which broke up the more energetic non-page-read performances.  I also read a poem I’m Sorry I Missed Your Gig from the notebook, but cut up the piece so it flopped out of the notebook like a scroll.  Cheap laugh, but just gave reading from the page an extra dynamic.  After years of trying to resist the page and just learning everything, I see the potential of using the page.

So I am not going to say: “Just go learn your poems!” because everyone approaches the text and performance in a different way, but I will say, whether poem mic or (indeed especially slam) do consider how you are presenting yourself and, inevitably, your poem to the audience.

All the best!

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

20.16 Blog #20: Can I just say...

Last week my band played a gig in Sheffield, which was riotous, sweaty and proved to me that underground DIY punk music isn’t dead, it just went folk-punk.

But something happened after our set which (conveniently) sets up something that’s been in my head for a few months now.

A young punk (I think a University student) came straight up to me to offer feedback on not only the set, but the make-up of the band.  This is just after we’d played our last song, as the applause from the welcoming audience died away, just as I was taking off my guitar, with all my body choked full of adrenalin, this guy started explaining to me how the band could work better.  I couldn’t focus on his, or what he was saying.  It barely registered.  I changed the conversation to DIY venues.  He felt that Wharf Chambers in Leeds was “too far down the rabbit hole”, by which he meant, to left-wing (I think).

The fact is, I have often felt that we as artists need to be quicker to find honesty in conversations.  Too many times have I seen a poet, actor or musician and felt they could have been better, if they changed a line, did a different poem, sorted out their introductions, slowed down, sped up, looked for the humour, used the mic.  Whatever.  Likewise I have learned for someone to point out the obvious in my work and sets.

This is a question of ‘quality’, a definition loosely set by a collective consciousness.  Problem is, how do we grade art?  The Clash’s London Calling is a high quality album to me, but probably not to a classical music fan.

So often, standards are set by a collective conscious, but that consciousness is dictated by people in power, reviewers, funders, programmers, professors.  The gatekeepers of culture.  And your gig-goer or theatre-attendee doesn’t always factor into this grand scheme.

So if it boils down to opinion, we should be ready to offer some thought on the art we have experienced.  That’s what this guy was doing, he just did it at the wrong time, too forward, too
So when is it the right time to offer constructive feedback?  When that person is in the bar afterwards, chuffed with their performance?  Later on, through the de-humanising social media which lacks the subtly and nuance necessary to offer feedback?

In my experience, this guy should have waited until a break between future bands, because actually his points were fair enough.  But I kinda felt accosted, I switched into Friendly mode rather than being able to properly acknowledge his feedback.

But if we’re ever going to improve what we share, we do need to share our thoughts afterwards.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

20.16 Blog #19: Guns Blazing

This year’s Edinburgh Fringe was a real lesson in captivating audiences.  And caging them.


Some acts come out guns a’blazing.  They absolutely and unequivocally nail it from the get-go.

My chum Stu recommended Jayde31, a show I would have never bothered with otherwise, simply due to being late a night, stand-up cabaret and in a venue I don’t often frequent.  But Jayde hit the audience like an avalanche, giving no time to breathe, question or flinch as she bombarded us with the greasy parts of growing up.  Key, she never gave us real pause to consider or think until she allowed such a moment in the beautifully crafted moment of pathos so necessarily on the Fringe, and so rarely given so earnestly.

Mark Thomas blew me away when I stumbled across Bravo Figaro, and only after did I read up on his history in the left movement.  Red Shed was expensive on my poor wallet.  But the show was full of hilarious and heart-wrenching stories and character from the Yorkshire working class.  I was almost tearing up within the first 5 minutes, and was in tears for the final song of Solidarity Forever echoing around the room, and history.  But Mark looked like he’d taken a swim in the North Sea by the end of his show, dripping with dark sweat.  Because he worked the crowd marvellous.  Mark throws himself around, the characters and action are enormous to fill this large space, but also to bulk up our hearts.

Milk Present’s JOAN featured Drag King Louis Cyfer, who portrayed the fumbling frantic and fantastic Joan of Arc  Who’d have thought a Saint could be so boisterous as she leapt around in this round space, grabbing audience members onto stage, leading us in a chorus of battle and portraying three men in her life.  The final scene was heart-wrenching as Joan (spoiler alert) prays to Saint Catherine, and we couldn’t have got to that point if we didn’t laugh with her and love her for the past 70 minutes.

So this ‘Guns Blazing’ approach makes me think about absolutely confidence, and control, of an audience.  Other poets on the Free fringe exhibit this well, Dom Berry and Monkey Poet springing to mind, whereas others, like Harry Bake, favour a more relaxed, welcoming approach.

Guns Blazing is hard to maintain, and harder to make tight and accessible.  But Guns Blazing doesn’t mean an intensity that scares, it can also be a friendly intensity.  I’ve always thought about the way that punk poetry should try and reflect a full punk band, how can only individual be the equivalent of guitars, drums and shouting?

In theatre, we often say if you aim for as much energy as you can muster, make your character unbelievably big, then you can always tone it down.  It’s much harder to work from less.

So whilst I never hit the ground running to the extent of the examples I’ve given, it was fascinating to see three different performers (a stand-up comic, a piece of theatre and a story-teller) all hit the audience hard, keep on pummelling and, inevitably, also make me feel deep emotions I’ll carry with me for a long time.


Sunday, 28 August 2016

Blog 20.16 #18: The EdFringe Hiya

The day after Edinburgh Fringe was made for unpacking, washing, eating and powering through Stranger Things like a Normal Human Being.

I took the show UP THE NERD PUNKS 2, a sequel to Up The Nerd Punks last year.  I don’t know quite why a sequel seemed to fit.  It obviously suits the nerdiness of film and game sequels, but I felt there was more to say on the subject.

The show began as exploring what it means to ‘battle’, in the sense the inspiration, whether you are a villain or a hero, when two ideologies clash etc.  But as the world has increasingly become tense with racism and nationalism, the show became about drawing lines in the sand.  Not exploring the fight, but committing to the fight.  It hard for me, despite my Anarcho-Tendencies (not a crust band) I’ve always liberally acknowledged everyone has their own opinions and backgrounds.  This is true, but as the world feels edging closer to a darker 1932-esque fascism, there’s less requirement for introspection and more need for action.

I started off with audience hovering around 6, but my final show (admittedly a Saturday) ended with a rammed room of 30.  I did about 2-3 hours flyering a day, and got to hang out with poets from across the UK all lovely people.  I didn’t get to hang out with as many people as I’d like. 

The curse of the Fringe is the “Hiya!” as you pass someone in the street, or it is for me.  I put flyering, show, seeing shows and rest as priority, and seeing people seems to slip away.  For that, I am sorry to people I didn’t get to see, but I guess it reinforces everyone does Edinburgh differently.  I guess that's my battle every year to simply hang, and actually, in retrospect, without realising it, thatw as a central part of Up The Nerd Punks 2.

I wish the Fringe could accommodate for people not able to spend hours in bars spending money on booze to have a place to hang out.  If there is such a space, let me know.

Thanks so much to everyone who came to the show, my 11 guests over the 10 shows and general smiley friends.  Much love xxx (angry scrawny punk love)

This was my 3rd year taking up a show, and I was racking my brains as to how I approached it in 2012 with Letter To The Man (from the boy).  Every time I return, I learn about a new venue, cafĂ©, takeaway, bus route or method of flyering.  I always see Edinburgh as a way to raise my game.

So what have I learnt from this EdFringe which I didn’t know before:

·         You can always tweak your show.  Don’t be afraid to keep teasing with it, that’s the specialty of doing so many shows back-to-back.
·         The size of an audience doesn’t always reflect how loud they react.
·         The Free Fringe people are lovely.  They have to be.  When you flyer next to them, exit flyer them and guest with them everyone has to support each other.  I don’t mean be friendly with each other, I really do mean support each other, whether propping up at a bar or propping up that keenness.

So UP THE NERD PUNKS will return for the 3rd, and probably final, instalment.  I will make the branding around this less nerdy, and the show less pop culture heavy so it’s more universal.  I want to explore the origins of punk, and part of activism, with the history of sci-fi and fantasy and how punk culture and nerd culture might just help us save.  It’s the end of the world, the destruction of all life, the apocalypse.   We need to travel in time.  We need to be the Kitty Pryde, Terminator, Doc Brown.  We need to save the future.  We need to save the world from…Bromaggeddon. 

Where we’re going, we don’t need bros.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

England poem references

If anyone's seen Up The Nerd Punks 2, I have a poem which references several struggles in English history.  Here they are if you wanted to read more:

Wat Tyler and the Peasent's Revolt 1381:  Uprising against higher taxes due to the Hundred Years war and an end to unpaid serfdom

The Diggers 1649:  Amidst the Civil War, they demanded anyone could work the land for the good of everyone.

The Luddites 1811-16:  Used direct action to oppose machines taking their jobs in cotton and wool mills.

Peterloo 1819:  Protest of 60-80,000 people protesting high corn prices, land laws and demanding more rights and the vote.  Were charged by soldiers and 15 were killed, 700 injured

The Match Girls 1888:  Went on strike for better working conditions in match factories

Suffragettes 1897 onwards:  Women and men fighting for votes for women.  Used tactics including arson, vandalism, occupation, intimidation, disrupting meetings  Were often arrested and forcefed

Conscientious Objectors:  Anti-war and anti-militarism has always been part of British culture.  If you were bullied or pressured into joining the army or being conscripted, but refused to kill, you would be shot for 'cowardice'.

Miner's Strike 1984-85:  Miner's defended their livelihoods and the working class across the UK.