Upcoming gigs

Upcoming Gigs

Click here for my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter @Henry_Raby

Resolution of Sound @ Stained Glass Centre 3rd June 2017

ADAM Festival @ Acomb Library 15th June 2017

Say Owt Slam Clash of Champions III @ The Basement 2nd July 2017

Deer Shed Festival 22nd July 2017

Nerd Punks 3-D @ Edinburgh Fringe, Banshee Labyrinth 20-27th 21.50-22.50


Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Emma Goldman (Or ‘5 Books Of Anarcha-Feminism’)

EMMA GOLDMAN (OR ‘5 BOOKS OF ANARCHA-FEMINISM’)

There have always been (and will always be) little boys and little girls who question the workings of the world, raging against the sweet ration and battle against the injustice of bedtime. 
In 1869 a girl was born into the Russian Empire’s poverty.  Despite the threat of pogroms, school books burnt, brutality and beatings, Emma still spoke back.

Arriving in New York, Emma discovered the mechanisation of modern life in the American system, where the wage slavery of the day isn’t a parent’s helping hand, it’s a master’s balled fist.

Emma became an Anarchist, realising all men and women are property in the eyes of the capitalist state, patriotism assumes the world is divided by iron gates, religion trains slaves and marriage makes slaves.
Emma’s sentences were dipped deep in gasoline.  Hearing her speak of revolution was a revelation, if your ears were a nation your ear drum would be banging the beat for freedom.

She cooked her speeches and writing with the insight of Emerson, Ibsen and Wilde, and when she spoke it was with the celebration of being alive.  Emma spoke out.

Now, Emma was no proto-hippie, she was a celebrity of anarchy, the papers named her Red Emma: the most dangerous woman in America.  She was arrested for her part in an assassination attempt and argued the need for propaganda of the deed.  It is capitalism which forces men and women to be violent against authority’s lies, but terror must never be institutionalised.

Emma, speaking for free love, sex worker rights, better birth control and homosexual liberty at the turn of the century.  “Man can conquer nations, but his armies cannot conquer love” she wrote because love is a hope that topples the king from his throne.

Emma travelled to Soviet Russia and was disillusioned with the Bolshevik state responsible for the annihilation of the most fundamental values, human and revolutionary.  Others argued the end justifies the means, but in her eyes terror must never be insitutionalised.  

“If I cannot dance to it, it’s not my revolution” Her famous quote came from being told her frivolous dancing will only hurt the Cause.  If anyone tells you this, don’t pause, just keep dancing or singing or riding the fairground rides.

Every tiny act of expression in life forms a join-the-dots worldwide constellation of rebellion, linked like the arms that lock tight outside NATO summits.

So why remember Red Emma?  Like a Punk Rock Pussy Riot Party, let’s look beyond equal pay to a day when price tag society no longer makes us property, there is no binding packaging to love and no hierarchies to label us. The only competitive culture I want, is a dancing competition.


What else are we fighting for, if not the freedom to dance until the sun is dawning without the fear of landlord’s calling or the harsh grasp of work the next morning?


Tuesday, 20 June 2017

20.17 Blog #19: The Wonderful World of Dissocia

I went to see the National Theatre of Scotland’s tour of The Wonderful World of Dissocia at York Theatre Royal in 2007.  I remember for three clear-as-day reasons:  1. It was the year I went to University, and the period of a handful of years I saw numerous plays that would inform how I looked at, and loved, theatre.  2.  I have the ticket in the play script I bought (signed by Antony Neilson, the author) and 3. I was 18 and we got drunk.

You see, we’d all gone to see the play as a Youth Theatre trip.  We were all the top-tier of the group, some of us had gone off to University, YT was a great place to catch up, do something silly in-between doing silly things at BBQs and festivals and parties.  For some reason, YTR had a drinks offer which, if memory serves (though unlikely it does) pints were £1.  We loved the show, so we went back and saw it again for one of the gang’s birthday.  With £1 pints.  But we left at the intervanl.  I’ll explain.

The Wonderful World of Dissocia is a parody of Alice In Wonderland, with a spot of Wizard of Oz thrown in.  The kind of thing that people like Neil Gaiman riff on all the time.  Lisa goes into a magical world to try and retrieve her lost hour, and in the process meets all manner of strange characters whose existence plays-on-words.  The Oathtaker becomes the Oat-Cake-Eater, The Scapegoat, whose job is to take the blame, the residents of the Lost Lost Property who have lost their sense of humour, temper and inhibitions.  The story revolves around the evil Black Dog trying to destroy/rule Dissocia, and the resolution being Lisa turns out to be the source of life in Dissocia.  However, Neilson’s Dissocia is a twisted Wonderland, the text peppered with swearing, a slab of nudity as well as a sexual assault.  It has a childish quality, like a naughty child was re-writing Peter Pan by replacing the word ‘Pirate’ with the word ‘Knob’ and the show was genuinely hilarious, as well as unsettlingly dark in places.  So we went to see if twice, because we laughed so much.



But the second half is hard to watch.  Roughly 20 minutes, it sees the entire world transformed into a Hospital ward, and numerous Nurses and Doctors come and treat Lisa.  But the energy is flat.  The scene bitingly realistic, tender and the complete opposite of the nutty 1st half.  It’s because the world of Dissocia is inside Lisa’ head, roughly reflective of a hallucinogenic adventure in the countryside, seeing a goat, an airport, a hot dog van but filtering it into a manic world.  The Black Dog King is both the black dog of depression, and her boyfriend, Vince, who makes her feel guilty of her lapses into another world in her head.

The show stayed with me, because of the context of seeing the show with good mates and the laughs.  But also because the play is brave enough to bore the audience in the second half, a comment on mental health services.  Two extremes, two different experiences, two worlds all within one stage.  In the Foreword to the text, Neilson talks about “the greatest oppositional forces facing normal people come from within…”


Finally, Neilson says “We must be magical or suffer the consequences”.  He wants spectacle, and the ability to make an audience laugh is a powerful, and addictive, tool.  I guess that’s stayed with me, not only I want my events and work to be the good night out full of entertaining fun energy, but also that within there are opposites:  seriousness, politics, drama, tension, silence and commentary.


Monday, 12 June 2017

Blog 20.17 #18: Why I'll NEVER Vote for Corbyn (but I will)

Clickbait title, obvs.  I love Jezza.  But I now feel like we need to make the debate about the many, the ‘us’, not just for this Election but the future of a supportive society.

If you checked out my other Blog, you’ll know I have a shaky history with the Labour Party.

But I’m still buzzing from Thursday night.

If you caught me sometime in the last week, on a gloomy day I’d had said even if May increases her majority by a tiny amount, she’s lost.  Because she called this whole faff to prove she was right, and anything but a landslide looks like failure.  On a gloomier day, I’d have said we’re looking at a Tory Landslide.

At the start of the campaigning I said I wasn’t going to put a Vote Labour sign in the window (only anti-Tory sentiments).  On Friday, I joined the Labour Party, one of 150,000 bringing the number up to 800,000, the biggest political membership in Europe.

Highlights from this election have been an emotional rollercoaster.  Corbyn’s speech in York in May was inspiring, a roaring and fiery man far from the wet lettuce the media portrayed him as.  We grabbed the cut-out Dalek that lives in our house (left by housemates long gone), slapped a printed-off image of May’s face upon its head and presented #DalekMay to the world.  Dozens of people stopped to get photos with her.



Next stop was Halifax, a town on the knife-edge of Tory/Labour marginals.  Outside the launch of the Manifesto we, and a plucky small band of protestors, chanted alongside Dalek May.  If anything, just to irritate them inside.  Against the gigantic brickwork of a converted old mill building, we seemed very small at this stage in the campaign trial.  David and Goliath-eque some might say.  That could bode well.

We tracked the Real May to York University, and in the drizzling rain, with a tune 2nd in the pop charts being our soundtrack, we popped away whilst inside May refused to debate, and white men refused to not kill millions.

But, for all, this, hopes felt low.  Even as we sat down to watch the results slide onto infographics on the BBC, we worried even the stronghold of York Central could go Blue.



As it stands, it was a cracking night.  Backed by booze, good jokes, good friends and result-after-result where Labour grabbed Tory seats and baddies like Rudd seated over 300 seats.  It felt, for the first time since those early demos against fees in 2010, like I was part of something.  It felt like finally winning, something the left hasn’t had for a long, long time.

But this:  This was the highlight.  I love my friends:


video


So I joined Labour the next day, because I want to keep that momentum.  But also because I watched an excellent video from Akala, but disagreed with a few points.  Akala said he wasn’t voting for the Labour Party, he was voting for Corbyn.  He wasn’t alone, but Corbyn has always placed faith in the Party, not the personalities.  He wants to create a movement, not a cult of personality.  I’ve met really committed activists, trade unionists and agitators these last few weeks canvassing, the real heart of the party. 

The Blairities might still be around, eating their humble pies, but that’s why I’ve joined to pressure them to keep the socialist ideals in the manifesto, and keep them in line.  And finally, Akala said he didn’t even know the name of the person standing in his constituency, but Rachael Maskell in York Central has been tirelessly fighting for the NHS and refugee rights.  More women and disabled people people from ethnic minority groups have become MPs than ever before.  Even a MP of Palestinian decent was elected (admittedly for the Liberal Democrats).

If Anarchism has taught me anything, it’s to kill your idols, or at the last not put them on pedestals.  I love Jezza, but he’s far from perfect.  He’s also not young, and although we have plenty more years out of him yet, we need to look at the Party being a social movement dictated by the working class, by women, by minorities for the benefit of all society.  So I’m joined to shift away from the central aspect of Jezza and onto the Party as an 800,000-strong group with 40% of the country voting for it.


But I’ll still sing VOTE FOR JEREMY CORBYN to the tune of Seven Nation Army.  Obvs.


Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The Shy Tory Factor

The Shy Tories peeked their heads out of the Polling Booth.
In the echoy community centre, like blue meerkats, they checked no one was watching.
That afternoon they kicked a homeless man, but they didn't make eye contact whilst they did so.
The Shy Tories marched into the school, and stole the children's meals.
Peas and carrots cascaded across the floor, as the children clutched their spectre-thin stomachs.
But the Shy Tories had needed take a deep breath beforehand, to steady their nerves.
The Shy Tories jeered at a woman in a wheelchair, quoting invented facts.
But it was a woman they already knew, because the Shy Tories found it difficult to meet new people.
The Shy Tories ended their evening by Privatising the NHS.
Shy Tories find it uncomfortable to leave the house, so sold it off from the security of their own mansions.
"Are you coming out to be Strong & Stable?" guffawed the Proper Tories, who strode along the streets with great big steel scissors used for cutting up the public sector.
"No" the Shy Tories muttered before having a little cry, for their scissors were very small.
The Shy Tories peeked their heads out of the Polling Booth
And condemned both the old and the youth.

20.16 Blog #17: "In this household, you vote Labour"

I grew up in a Labour household.  Voting Labout was part of the scenery, the day-to-day life, you vote Labour.  There was no conflict, debate or uncertainty.  You vote Labour.

I was 9 when Tony Blair’s Labour landslide unseated a generation of Tory rule, and I can vaguely remember it, a whiff of positivity in the house, but nothing more than a ‘good thing’ has occurred.  I genuinely think 9 year-olds are much more clued-up in 2017.

In 2001 I remember there was a little bit of a buzz around school, I think I proudly declared we were Labour just because that’s what we were in our house.  I couldn’t vote in 2005, and again I feel like the whole election washed me by.

My relationship to the New Labour government had transformed from the whiff of positivity into a casual breeze.  History would prove that the Iraq War was a mistake and the public were lied to, but under Blair and Brown’s following years in power the moreorless satisfactory funding to the welfare state meant things were stable.

I didn’t really follow my first General Election (May is a busy time for 3rd year students), and I think that’s because of the general fine-ness of New Labour.  I know that’s from a position of privilege, that it didn’t negatively harm me, and indeed arguably the Tuition Fees helped me (though free education would have helped me more).  I hovered over voting Lib Dems, like many of my generation, but heard at the last minute they might go into Coalition with the Conservatives.  The who?  The Conservatives.  “You don’t vote for the Conservatives” had been the mantra.

Instantly I joined movements against the Coalition, and this period of my life felt like the most active, and reactive.  Every few months the Coalition would come up with a new sickening austerity measure, such as the Bedroom Tax or ATOS tests, and we’d pile down to London, or outside York Council Chambers, or over to Manchester or Leeds or I’d try and write a wobbly poem.  It felt a bit of a whirlwind, constantly whipping up anger, opposition and energy to combat the latest attacks. It felt politics was entirely dictated by the Coalition, the Labour Party kept quiet.  On demos, I chanted “When I say Tories / You say Scum, When I say Labour / You say traitors” at their general passive under-the-breath agreement with Tory austerity.  “Build a bonfire, but the Tories on the top, put the Lib Dems in with Labour and we’ll burn the bloody lot.”  There’s a photo I cut out of a newspaper of Cameron, Milliband and Clegg all smiling, in suits, together like mates. They look identical, the policies seemed the same too.

In 2015, I couldn’t vote for Labour.  I felt their policies “better our cuts than their cuts”.  In hindsight, this again a privileged position that I wasn’t being directly attacked by Tory austerity, so it was all too easy to shrug, vote Green, and see the Lib Dems get decimated and Cameron become the new norm.  I was almost sad that Cameron resigned.  I hate May, but Cameron had been the one I railed against for 6 years.  I wanted him kicked out.



So this year is the first time I have engaged with the Labour Party as a canvasser, probably like many people.  I’ve seen Corbyn speak in York, and followed his speeches, interviews and debates.  I went through a period of being highly grumpy with him and his lack of opposition, to being highly inspired.  The manifesto is what people have been demanding for years in the fact of Tories arguing for 'no alternative'.  he's a powerful speaker, a principled man and though his party is still full of Blairites and less-than-perfect MPs and ideas, it smells better than the Tory cesspit.

Over the last 7 years I’ve been drawn towards Anarchism and the deconstruction of the Westminster hierarchy.  I know the Labour manifesto is far from perfect, Corbyn himself still, highly problematic and essentially we’re voting for bigger cages and longer chains in a capitalist system.  But the Tories want to see the working class die.  They want to see disabled people die.  Refugees die.  Abused women die.  The homeless die.  They actively want that.  Why else would their policies exist?  They are a poisonous fog, and the electorate are getting lost within their toxic rhetoric.  Sorry Tories, you're the Bad Guys.

So I don't think my relationship with Labour has been tribal. It's changed from the nice, normal breezy air to a pungent bitter uninvited chill.  Now do I see it as a wind of change?  Certainly the new Manifesto is refreshing, everything I’d like to see to end Austerity and try and rebuild a country that believes in its population, wants to support and educate, rather than condemn and punish.


I’m sure, even if Corbyn becomes the Prime Minister on June 9th, I’ll still be agitating against the state.  Just this time, it’ll be a state run by a chap who makes his own jam, so I guess there’s more room for fun chants.

GOVERNMENTS DON'T GIVE A DAMN
THEY'RE TOO BUSY MAKING JAM

WE WANT PEACE, WE WANT FREEDOM
OUR PM'S A VEGETARIAN

ANARCHISTS MAKE BETTER LOVERS
NOT THOSE WHO COLLECT DRAINHOLE COVERS


Sunday, 4 June 2017

But I couldn't vote for Labour because...

I went to the hospital because I was feeling ill
Then I broke my spine picking up the gigantic bill
I guess that’s what happens when the NHS is privatised
But I couldn’t vote for Labour because Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t wear a tie
I went to the theatre, but there was nothing on
I’d go to the museum, but there isn’t one
I’ll just stay home, watch re-runs instead
But I couldn’t vote for Labour because Jeremy Corbyn is a Socialist Communist Marxist Red
I went to the job centre, I went to the housing market
The only work was making sure the people get deported
I’m starting to learn we should have looked after one another
But I couldn’t vote for Labour because Jeremy Corbyn collects drainhole covers
I went to the school to collect my child
Instead of inspired he just looked tired
Constant cuts and exams don't give him the skills he needs to know
But I couldn’t vote for Labour because of what Jeremy Corbyn said 30 years ago
The papers said we’d go back to the 1970s
But more punk and ska quite appeals to me
80% of the media is owned by 5 billionaires and the BBC are a highly paid Tory-team
But I couldn’t vote for Labour because Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t Sing God Save The Queen
I went to the food bank because I was feeling peckish
But the person there said, sorry, just checking…
Are you really starving because we have some Nurses going hungry?
But I couldn’t vote for Labour because Jeremy Corbyn is a bit scruffy
I went into the Nuclear Bunker, and don’t you just love it
When everyone’s just dying to get the Red Button and push it?
And kill millions in a British Nuclear Apocalypse when the bombs are released?
But I couldn’t vote for Labour because Jeremy Corbyn wanted peace
I went to the Generic Dystopian Future in order to write this poem
I wanted to scaremonger but I’m not really sure where this is going
I guess, as Britain felt the stranglehold of 5 more years of austerity
I probably shouldn’t have voted for Theresa May because she’s a heartless Tory.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

20.17 Blog #16: The Anti-Slam II: Return of the Anti-Slam I


Dear Sir and/or Madam

Imagine my horror upon once more entering the City’s Screen Basement, for the first time since my last encounter with the below-level venue, after swearing I would never return after experiencing a shockingly abysmally shocking Anti-Slam.  And what did I therein discover?  Why, yet another abysmally shocking abomination: The 2nd York Anti-Slam.

First up it seems Mr Raby and Mr Freestone’s act is that they haven’t got their act together, starting the night in a shambles and setting the tone firmly shambolic.  Mr Freestone's choice of music reminded me of a mid-00s emo kid from Grantham, something I thought I'd never hear so long as I saw people with purple laptops.

I’m welcoming of any Nationality, especially white ones, but can someone please send the slacker Canadian, Ford Mulligan, back home?

MC Patri-NAH-chy was a perfect example of feminism-too-far.  If you want emancipation for women, my dear, you’re going to have to be a little less loud and a little more accommodating of my Man Ears.

Arthur Fisher’s poetry was much more traditional, and much more welcome.  I’d happily welcome him into my home, and happily take a meal with him and his welcome, clutching, grasping, shaking foppish safe hands.  What a gent.

Becky must have been one of these Gender Kids I’ve heard about, parading their nipples like this is some 1960s ‘love in’.  Well I loved it not, go back to your Tumble-ers!

Honey Brown’s performance left a lot to be desired, mainly the desire for erotic passion.  I’ve had more sexual stirrings from the kitchen cabinet than her bland brown unboisterous tale.



My nephew is a huge fan of Dan Galeforce, he owns CDs, hats, t-shirts and bed sheets all with the grime Artist’s face on.  I can’t see the appeal personally, give me a good old-fashioned pop tune than this modern ‘grime’, the bane of the wide nation.

Grisilda Wilderbeak’s performance reminded me why I don’t like geese.  Quackers!

Paul Kerr started off very wrong, but then got very right by channelling President Trump.  God bless him, and all who sail in him.

My suspicions were raised when Rosalie Gardner’s poetry was very human.  Almost too human.

Finally, I’ve known some Orcs in my time, I’m no Orc-ist, but, like I always say, No Blacks, No Irish, No Greens.  Sorry Gilbert o'Groat, you can take the Orc out of the Waaagh, but you can’t take the Waaagh out of the Orc.



The judges were no better, Mr Dan Simpson taking up space with his beardy privilege, a mysterious ‘Andy’ proving poetry is being overrun with dim-witted working classness and Ms. Monica Offlebaum who’s spiritualism caused me to spit-ualism.  The scorekeeper looked the role, if only he’d not chosen Lederhosen.

Thank goodness Mr Raby kept everything together.  Good man, that.

Yours


A T Slam


Tuesday, 16 May 2017

20.17 Blog #15: Hallelujah! Gigs in Churches

Last week we put on Shane Koyczan in All Saint’s Church.  It was the biggest gig as Say owt me and Stu Freestone had ever undertaken.  We approached it with a DIY effort.  A co-production with Apples and Snakes’ Kirsten Luckins, the three of us organised tickets, hire, seating, lighting, staging and supports ourselves.  So a massive thank you to everyone who came to see the show, caught the supports and clapped, laughed and cried.

The first time I visited the Church was a gig out on by my mate Jamie as Owls Owls Owls featuring ONSIND and Spoonboy and then another OOO gig with Chris Clavin (Ghost Mice).  I booked the Church for Buddy Wakefield, x3 times World Slam Champion.  The audience were kinda small for that gig, in 3 years the number rocketed thanks to the healthy York scene.  But I didn’t really know how to acquire Pas or lighting, Buddy just got up and did the gig.

Earlier this year, we put on Harry & Chris in the space.  Again, with very little set-up, just 100ish people in the Church.  The main reason is we wanted to try and branch out from our usual home of The Basement and try our hand at something under our control  The Church is kind enough to let us come and go as we please, as long as we tidy up and make sure we’re locked up.  Rather than signing away our control to venue bookers and bar staff and contracts and splits, it feels, for a single night, ours.

There’s some problematic elements to using a Church, I’ll admit.  The fact that as an atheist, I know some people feel uncomfortable under the roof of organised religion.  The Church as a whole hasn’t got a great record on LGBTQ+ rights.  But I know this particular Church are a far stretch from the arch-villainy of Westboro.



But I think the reason I like using the Church is the DIY attitude of re-using space.  There are Churches across the UK which mostly sit empty, and it’s nice to reuse them to support gigs, musicians, poets and the community.  Churches were built for all manner of reasons.  Praising God an obvious one.  Sanctuary (what we might now call a safe space) being one.  A place to come together another.

The issue comes from the sanctity-ness of the space.  This wasn’t a problem for Harry & Chris and Gecko, their cheeky and silly patter and poems/songs just seemed like a chilled house show.  But Shane Koyczan’s poetry is full of hope, joy, power and his delivery suitably impassioned.  With that in mind, he was worried that maybe the setting would be a bit ‘Holyish’.  We didn’t use a lecturn from the Church, for example.  The setting of the Church adds layers.  Elements of preaching, of otherwordlyness and of a hierarchy of God, preacher and flock.  DIY is meant to reject these structures, and (as we talk about in the latest Say Owt Podcast) I hate it when poets are put on a pedestal.  Anyone can write poetry, anyone can share it.  We advertised Shane as a superstar, and he is when you crunch numbers, but anyone can crunch hearts.


So I think using Church spaces is highly rewarding, but there are things to consider about the connotations of the space, how audiences perceive performers and how you break down the barriers of performer and audience and power.


Monday, 8 May 2017

Slam Poetry: Crisis of Competitive Open Mics?

The following was delivered as a paper for Huddersfield University’s Open Mic Symposium 6th May 2017

My housemate, Dave Jarman, runs two open mics.  Monday and Tuesday mornings often one of the first questions I ask him is:  “How was the open mic?”  Responses range from quiet to busy, typical to nuts, fucking mint to a bit shit.

York has a very specific open mic culture.  There’s one most nights, usually more than one.  Sunday you can nip from the Fleece to the Hop to Dusk, which runs from 11pm to late.  You see the same faces, it’s a community of people who play in each other’s bands, go to each other’s nights and, inevitable, talk about each other behind their backs.

I’m part of the poetry and spoken word scene, and there’s no better thrill for me to sit down and set the scene to rights with my other poetry mates.  Did you hear that person’s new poem?  That night was ace.  That night was a bit naff.  Their new book is out.  If I hear one more poem about fucking dinosaurs…!

I think this is across the open mic spectrum.  I think inevitably audiences, and performers, have their favourite acts from a night, despite that not being the ethos of the evening.

Western Culture is shaped to appreciate competition.  It’s at the centre of capitalism.  Top of the film and music charts.  Top of the football league. Top of the polls.  We’ve seen it in the Buzzfeed articles of Top 10 Clickbaits you Need To Avoid and we’ve seen it in the binary of 1 Government, 1 Prime Minister, 1 President, 1 Referendum Outcome coming out on top.  

In a slam each poet gets a time limit, usually 3 minutes and judges, usually chosen from the audience, just give each poet a score, usually from 1 to 10 (with decimal points).  The winner receives some form of monetary rewards, either a paid gig, some money or a even a trophy.

As Tim Clare puts it in his essay from the Penned In The Margin's Stress Fracture’s collection:  “Analysing a slam poem’s reaction is refreshingly binary:  either it wins or it doesn’t.”

Tim is an incredibly energetic and playful poet, a regular at Latitude and the Edinburgh Fringe.  He’s not afraid to scream, to writhe, to improvise, to utterly deconstruct genre to manic levels of intensity. 

“Slam exists outside the echo chamber of academia; it’s consumers aren’t expected to recognise abstruse Classical references or reductive, self-indulgent conversations with previous writers.”  It values the opinion of the casual listener as much as the learned expert.  When I allocate judges, I often get this response “I don’t know anything about poetry.”  Doesn’t matter, judge something on your terms, your experience, your perception.  You can’t be wrong.  Just disagreed with.  This is democratising, taking power away from the structured order of publishing and academia and into the audience in the heat of the moment.

The best thing about a slam, is it gives more agency to the audience.  Whether judging or not, everyone is calculating their own private score.  They can debate this afterwards amongst themselves.  You find yourself rooting for a poet over another poet.  The sports comparison only goes so far:  yes it’s a competition but entirely subjective.  It’s not about quantifiable goals.

However, by setting up this competitive and opinion-based structure, it encourages people to disagree with the judges, to discuss who they thought was their favourite act, they should have done a different poem, that wasn’t as strong, if they’d only learnt the poem etc.  At the last slam I compered for a student society, 3 of the 4 entrants had never entered a slam previously.  I put this down to the unusual nature of the event being attractive proposition.

Post-night, you will have a favourite acts, because all our views are shaped to criticise and conclude.

Years ago I did a gig in Bolton.  No one was really in the audience, it was nice but I left feeling like it didn’t serve a purpose.  A chap I was playing with said “it was an answer to a question nobody asked”.  But there is a point to the slam night.  It’s to crown a victor.  I’ve heard it said:  “The point isn’t the points, the point is the poetry” but I tend to sideline this phrase, and ideology.  If it’s not the point to get points, what’s the point of the points?  When you distil a slam night down, yes it’s about fun, it’s about performance, it’s about sharing art but we have a narrative drive from doors open to ending poem.  It means we can keep the night on track, audiences can zone in and out, but they know where the story is going.  They just don’t know who the protagonist is.

In Aristotle’s Poetics, he says: “Tragedies are not performed in order to represent character, though character is involved for the sake of the action.  The plot is the first essential part of tragedy, its lifeblood, so to speak.”

I don’t want to go into too much detail of the various ideas of Propp and Todorov because Narrative theory is a wide spectrum of ideas and perceptions.  But essentially Stories have rules, they have the starting balance, breaking of equilibrium, they have climax, they have resolution.  They have structure.

Aristotle says “The character takes second place” and in the slam, the character is merely a component of the story (though hopefully not a tragic one).  Especially with an established slam, there’s a predictable format:  Intro from host, sacrificial poem to warm-up the crowd, first round, guest poet, second round with top 5 scorers, crown the winner who does a finale poem.

So within this structure we have introduction of the world, the characters, the conflict, the climax and the resolution.  And if even if the audience know the entrant as a friend, here they are transformed as a character within this narrative, a slammer eager to outdo their opponents.

Perhaps there is something refreshing, even liberating, to become part of this predictable structure and become a cog within the slam machine for the evening?  You are no longer simply a human, you are a performer, a slammer, a high scorer, a winner?

Certainly as a character, you have your desire, and drive.  Like Richard III after the crown, Hamlet after revenge, Romeo after love:  the slammer is after a high score and victory.  As play-wright Stanislavski says:  “tell me what you want, and I’ll tell you who you are”.  Play-wright Alan Ayckbourn says:  “No one crops up in a play without a specific function.”  The function of each slammer is, at their core, to win.  Sure, there are other reasons for entering, to boost their confidence, to try new material, out of curiosity, get into the night for free, to impress someone.  But, at its core, there is a specific, quantifiable, understandable, goal for each character in the slam.  No more “answers to a question nobody asked” like my Bolton gig.

Obviously I’m being slightly frivolous to imply that a slam is like a play.  But my adding this layer of a dramatic arc, everyone’s energy is upped.  They have adrenaline, they have purpose, they have a goal.  By openly celebrating the slam as a competition, it allows the poet to embody an aim.  And that, I would argue, makes everything tantalisingly dramatic.

But are slams truly shaking the establishment?  Horkheimer and Adorno in Dialectic of Entitlement talk about the monopoly of culture that is a “common denomination for cataloguing and classification which bring culture under the sphere of administration.”

Culture is controlled and defined as something to do in relation to work.

“Amusement under late capitalism is the prolongation of work.  It is sought after as an escape from the mechanized work process, and to recruit strength in order to cope with it again.”

This means that culture has no benefit beyond recharging humans go back into work, continue to slave in the workplace, to then afford some culture at the end of the week.

“Pleasure hardens into boredom because, if it to remain pleasure, it must not demand any effort and therefore moves rigorously in the worn grooves of association.  No independent thinking must be expected from the audience… any logical connection calling for mental effort is painstakingly avoided.”

Ah, but Dialectic of Entitlement was written in 1947, a post-war world where culture was tied to the difficult task of rebuilding a war-ravaged world.  The late 50s and 60s brought counter-culture, and slam poetry owes its legacy to Allen Ginsberg, Gil Scott-Heron and Patti Smith.  Of course slams do call for mental effort from the audience, it actively encourages and enforces this “independent thinking.”

Audiences at slams are not passive. Even if they are not a scorer, the format means they can disagree with the scores and the outcome.  And if someone thinks they could do better, they’re welcome to sign up for the next slam.

The problem with slams is that there is fast becoming a model for how slams work, and who wins.  What kind of poems tend to win slams?

Tim Clare points out successful slam poetry often takes one of two forms:
1.  a first-person identity politics monologue championing the position of an ostensibly marginalised voice
2.  the presentation of a strawmen argument – typically conservative – which the poet proceeds to tear apart, often humorously.
At a slam this week, two of the competitors said their poems weren’t particularly ‘slammy’.

Negative aspects of slams:

·         The poetry that wins has been crafted to hit certain criteria, it’s funny or political.  If a slam is a competition, like any athlete, they follow a certain mode of winning.

·         It puts far too much emphasis on celebrity, the ability to get up and get the crowd on side, regardless of the writing quality of the poem

·         It reduces the poem into a brief 3 minute maximum format

·         It creates a who-to-book formula, the slam-winning poets apparently have a decent CV, and poets who can’t, or don’t wish to, win slams seemingly get left to the wayside.

 ‘Slam Poetry Sucks’, a parody on YouTube by Harris Alterman.  In it, he takes these forms of performance, writing and style and produces a very accurate, if a bit nasty, satire on slams.
A comment on YouTube:

Sums up the entire slam poetry movement, but minus the relentless Marxist propaganda (especially hypocritical, considering that slam poets are invariably privileged middle class students) and interminable clich├ęs and tendency to yell out and overemphasise lines made of cheap political maxims. So it's actually a bit better than the crap I've had to sit through at spoken word events.”- Iain Robb, 2016

So what am I saying?

I’d argue that all Open mics are intrinsically competitive.  The slam format embraces this and, for better or worse, creates a vibe you don’t find at a traditional open mic.

Is that because we live in a competitive society?

Is that an organic space for people to improve?

Arguably in this capitalist society, competition forces wages and working conditions down.  The end result is:  profit.

What is the ‘profit’ gained from an open mic?  I guess the recognition you entertained people.  Maybe future gigs.  In a slam there is the very definitive reward.  Or prize.  Or capital.  We could even see this victory as profit.

On a grassroots level, the poetry scene means that the individual artist owns the means of production, e.g. their own mind, mouth and ability to perform.  But we’re still selling that product, the poem, to the slam audience.

In order to prove our YouTube friend, Iain Robb correct, I’m going to quote a little Karl Marx.  I’m a walking, talking, poetrying stereotype. In the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx states:  “These labourers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market.”

Obviously Marx is talking about economic competition, but at the same time we cannot underappreciated the comparison with a poet selling themselves at a slam, becoming the commodity, creating a poem from their labour, the “fluctuations of the market” being the whim of the audience, the type of night, the context of the week, the comparison with other poets at the event.

Key event happened that week?  Do your political poem.  Headliner a feminist?  Do your feminist poem.  Everyone doing very serious pieces?  Do your funny poem.

Das Kapital, Marx adds “The labourer is not a capitalist, although he brings a commodity to market, namely his own skin.”

Open mics exist as an open space, slam’s competitive element adds a capitalist undertone of labour for profit, or at least victory.  We poets are not the capitalists, though we produce fodder for the slam engine.

The arts can be commodified so that the end result is owned by the corporation rather than the individual.  Comic books being a good example.  Teams of individual writers and artists create the books, stories and characters but the result is a Marvel or DC product.  The recent wave of poets writing poems for adverts, like Nationwide or Deliveroo or the Jeep Renegade, are the same, the poet’s produce is not their own.

But there is a point that slam poetry has been monopolised.  Has slam poetry become another form of commercial consumption?  To quote my favourite podcast:  Tab A into Slot B poetry?

Slam has hit a popular point, wherein it can be defined, predicted and even rigged so that the outcomes are all a palatable combination of the predictions I have mentioned before.

I love slams, and will continue to promote them.  But I will also continue to redefine, even undermine them.  I want to stop the competitive element turning slams into a commodification of art, whilst at the same time seeing them rocket as an accessible form of inspiring, agitating and divisive entertainment.

There are many ways that we can make sure slams stay passionate and democratic and diverse.  I’ll touch on these in a later blog, so your thoughts would be highly appreciated.


10/10


Thursday, 4 May 2017

Tell Me A Story

Tell me a story

History gets re-written, and re-interpreted.  My poet’s sensibility takes history and wants to make it a lesson on our current reality.

Let me try and stick with facts:

13th May 1939 937 Jews escaping Nazi-gripped Germany aboard the MS St. Louis, refused entry from Cuba, America and Canada.

288 managed to make it to the United Kingdom, the rest to the Netherlands, France and Belgium.  If you know your history, you might guess these 254 died after invasion, internment and genocide.

Compared with the 6 million Jewish people murdered by the Nazi machine, this seems a drop in the ocean.  But that’s 254 that could have lived beyond 1945 had they been welcomed.

So the story goes humans crammed into boats.  How can I put into words, in this space, the elation at escaping, only to be told you are the threat to the destination nation?

The fact is, humans remember events in 75-100 year cycles.  The mass wars of the Napoleonic era were a memory when once again the soil of Europe was red and bloody and my Grandpa landed in Normandy. 

On Holocaust Memorial Day, 2017, the Republican Party banned people from 7 countries from entering the United States of America, including Syrian refugees.  As these countries were mostly Muslim so we refer to this as the Muslim Ban, if you want to mince words and say it wasn’t so, fine, but an anti-Muslim agenda is part of the Western Government plans.

On Facebook someone assured me there are no Nazis anymore.  They assured me that the racism that persists will not then permit fascism to exist.

But we remember the world in 75-100 year cycles, and I want to stick to the facts.

If you drag migration into the centre of the political discourse
If you allow right-wing marches in the street to mask incitement of a race war
You allow this wave to rise high under the guise of a free speech
The wave will strike hard against this beach
And the Mediterranean sea is already wetted red
And detention centres will spread

And their cause will be far darker than to simply detain and deport.


Tuesday, 2 May 2017

20.17 Blog #14: Better Watch Your Mouth

A few years ago, I did a tour with Jenn Hart, and we bonded over our love for Gravity Falls, Martha (she’s mostly bones) and radical left-wing politics.  She has a new collection out with Burning Eye Books, and I’ll repeat here what I said for the blurb:  “Jenn hart’s poetry is like a ferret.  It can be your best friend, or bite your face off.”

Jenn’s said she wanted her collection to be called ‘Urgh Men’ in reference to Jenn’s dedication to feminism.  Jenn is one of the fieriest people you could meet when it comes to women’s rights and representation.  She’s written highly important poetry in the form of Let Loose, Lucy and put on great gigs and events in Bristol.  So Jenn’s crusade against sexism would make ‘Urgh Men’ a fitting title for this collection.

But there is so much more to this collection than a men-hating agenda (though don’t worry, there’s plenty of righteousness).  Jenn’s poetry is defined by her own autobiographical experiences, and not the outside influence of dickhead men.

Jenn’s collection is her most revealing assortment of poems.  It’s poetry that goes beyond the surface and deep into Jenn’s history, world and personality.  Few poets allow themselves to be so open and human in this world of high-energy slam-style spoken word, stand-up gag poems or easy Things Are Bad rhetoric.  Jenn’s collection is refreshingly…Jenn.



The collection is a series of landscapes which make up Jenn’s world of women’s voices and experiences.  Adelaide Adams is a rolling account of smells, tastes and places, from whiskey to Balham, from cough tonic to the Pharmacy.  You can feel the sawdust in her hair.  So too does Lydia Bennet’s Cottage, a character from Pride & Prejudice, conjure beautiful and sad images of moth balls, chamber pots, geraniums and the plum tree.  There’s a sweet melancholy to these poems, Life At The Manor tells of Jenn’s dysfunctional family of housemates and when that friendship starts to break down.

If Life At The Manor is an sad account of the last year or two of Jenn’s life, 83A Gordon Avenue, Circa 2009 is a powerful anecdote of friendship, a warm piece about adulthood.  04/07/2008 is the exact opposite, a cold meeting between Jenn and a man who is right resigned firmly in her past.

Coral Roads is the perfect end to the collect and a perfect summery:  “I am terrified of being impressed with someone else’s lifetime as they help me cross the road.”  It’s here you realise all her pieces are about friendship, from the fictional characters of her precious novels, to the people in her past, the people in her present.

As a fellow punk poet, it’s easy to understand punk through the male prism of John Cooper Clarke and Attila The Stockbroker.  The easy rhymes, simple politics and scattergun delivery.   But here Jenn is proving that punk also means being honest and open.  Autobiographical.  Raw.

This collection is a magnificent patchwork of people, voices, places and emotions.  Funnily enough, it’s the smells, textures and tastes that really stand-out.  When you read this book (ideally before bed with a cup of camomile tea) you can breathe in this world, all neatly stacked in 31 pages.


Wednesday, 26 April 2017

20.17 Blog #13: Make 'em laugh

Last night was a very lovely evening.  Words & Whippets has been running since 2013, born from Yorkshire season but has continued to be York Theatre Royal’s annual advertisement for spoken word and poetry.  As programmer, I’ve been very proud to bring ace acts from across Yorkshire (and beyond) to the theatre and hugely delighted by super audiences.

One conversation that came out of last night’s post-show drinking session was about the need for a few decent comedy poems.  The headliner, the sublime Kate Fox, has a whole back catalogue of funny stand-up poems.  Kate, as she chats about in the Say Owt podcast (plug plug plug) is very proud to celebrate the stand-up tag.  Also performing was Andy Bennett, a master at rhyme, meter and using those to great comedy effect to lampoon Lord Byron, internet trolls and boozy behaviour.  Both Kate and Andy got the audience roaring with laughter.

A few Yorkshire Ales down in conversation with poet & play-wright Hannah Davies, we compared out sets to this stand-up ability.  The very useful tool to pull out a very funny poem.  Though no joke is ever guaranteed to land, sometimes you can be sure a funny poem will leave the audience smiling.

“But Henry!” I hear you cry:  “You’re a political person and a political poet!  You shouldn’t have to make people laugh just to appease and amuse them!”

Well you’re right gentle reader, I think it’s perfectly reasonable for a poet to do an entire set without going for a single laugh.  And many do, and that’s about how you want to engage with an audience. Some poets we’ve had at Say Owt events write very moving, fierce or personal poetry but actually it’s their chatter between pieces that has the humour.

But I know for a fact I’ve been in situations at certain nights, usually buzzing with energy, where I think a good few laughs would dissolve some tension, shift the atmosphere or lead nicely into the next poet whose work is less intense.

I think I use humour in most of my poems, so I’m not really talking about employing comedy.  I more mean a very specific, well-crafted, well-rehearsed poem that’s definitely going to get smiles if you pull it out of the well-worn poetry bag.  A useful tool in the ongoing struggle to make a room entertained.

So how do you go about writing a ‘funny poem’?  I do remember, many years back, being annoyed about the fact I did not have more gag poems up my sleeve, because, I felt, I’m a funny guy!  I tried to put the energy into the spontaneous audience participation I rely on.  I think I have a list of ‘issues’ I want to face, for example I know I always want to address nationalism, sexism.  I know I want to write about home or friendship.  This is perhaps the punk in me, where most punk bands tick the boxes to earn punk points.

I don’t feel I really have this with a funny poem, no funny topic in the corner of my brain waiting to see the light.  But a great book I read was Off The Mic for stand-ups, with the advice always keeps your eyes peeled at the world.  Certainly poets do this, but I think I focus on the serious topics of the world.  That needs addressing.  That needs challenging.

For me, if I find a funny idea I immediately run with it.  Pretend You’re A Dinosaur came from when me and some mates pretended to be dinosaurs at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.  I’m Sorry I Missed Your Gig came from a wicked zine by Emma Thacker.   These are poems I know have some comedy currency.

Having said that, Pretend You’re a Dinosaur became about being tough in the face of anxiety, and I’m Sorry I Missed Your Gig about improving the gig-going experience so I suppose I always find some substance in the sentences.




Sunday, 16 April 2017

20.17 Blog #12: All Change, Ta: Gender Equality in Theatre

I’ve just finished reading All Change Please, Lucy Kerbel’s new book about achieving Gender Equality in Theatre (find it here).

This isn’t so much a review as more a reaction.  And when I say reaction, it’s only my own instinctive thoughts (in 20 minutes and 17 seconds, as per my blog rule).

I need to re-read it, even though Lucy’s book is very manageable.  It’s not hugely long (150 pages) and broken down into bite-size sections and subsections.  But when we talk about Gender Equality in any industry, it’s a vast discussion with a lot to explore.

My quibbles with the book are two, and that’s mainly because of the company I keep rather than my own skin in the game.  One is the book is hetronormative in the sense it sees a clear binary between female and male and (unless I missed it) doesn’t clock queer experiences.  And after centring my feminism through riot grrrl, zines, radical feminist poetry and radical feminist friends maybe I wanted some more confrontational language.  But I totally appreciate Tonic, Lucy’s organisation, are about working within the structures to question the structures, being practical and opening dialogue.  So I guess I’ll pop the petrol bombs away for today.

My experience with women in theatre was they were active inspirational educators.  My Mum took me to see theatre from as early as I can remember, and my Year 6 Teacher had studied Drama and wrote our school plays.  Drama teachers at secondary school were women, and my years spent learning in York Youth Theatre was defined by confident and inspiring women.  Tutors are University were sharp, intelligent and, admittedly, slightly bonkers.

Lucy talks about the way that women in theatre buildings tend to be found in administrate roles than artistic.  It reminded me that as much as I owe a huge debt to the women who inspired me to work in the arts, and I’m sure they are chuffed to be an inspiration, is it not the role of women to be the muse for men.  And each of these women were, and are, dynamic artists whose role extended (and continues to extend) beyond educator into theatre-maker.

My own current experience is being a Youth Theatre practitioner, and Lucy talks about the important role of young people in the discussion around gender equality in a whole chapter.  Youth theatre tends to be 60-70% girls, and actually Youth Theatre practitioners tend to mostly be women too.  In fact, I’ve heard it’s quite good to get men to work in this context to offer some diversity to the freelance pool.

I don’t need to repeat all Lucy’s insight into how scripts for young people are often male-heavy, and resign the girls to very mundane, archetypal roles.  This is reflective of scripts as a whole.  The Platform plays, as well as other writers like Laura Lomas and Evan Placey, have been trying to address this.  In my own plays for youth theatre, I’ve always deliberately set up, from the start, the goal that female characters will have a strong voice in the narrative.

There’s an argument that lurks often in Telegraph articles and the Facebook threads of white hetcis male directors and actors that this is a token gesture, that the story is what matters in plays is the telling of the tale and it’s the narrative drive and it’s the universality of experiences and other such dismissible gibberish so the boys can swagger and protect their platforms.

The fact is, the girls in the youth theatre groups I work with are passionate, enthusiastic and highly talented people and deserve to have roles which challenge them as much as the majority of male roles are diverse.  And if the female characters are defining the story, it encourages female actors to define the world.  With Harrogate Youth Theatre, next term we’ll be working on Bryony Lavery’s It Snows.  With a few edits (replacing the insult given to a character in the play called Huntly from C**tly to Runtly) I’m excited that the script puts an equal emphasis on female roles as male roles.

I’m a cisgender man, and very privileged to be afforded many opportunities in life and career not available to women with the same experience.  Like I was inspired, I’d also like to try and inspire.


I’m still very much learning how to achieve gender equality in the arts settings I work, but Lucy’s book is great additional tool to the conversation (or battle).

Monday, 10 April 2017

20.17 Blog #11: Retail Therapy by Out Of Character Theatre Company

Out Of Character Theatre Company’s production of Retail Therapy
http://outofcharactertheatre.squarespace.com/blog/

Out Of Character’s Retail Therapy starts with a simple sketch.  A casual conversation between two people discussing the failings of the NHS.  It’s a nice gentle opener that settles into a realistic tone.  That is, until the reveal these two characters, grumbling about the NHS, are actually Doctors on their break.  This sets the tone for the rest of the show, taking the recognisable aspects of the world and giving it a clever, often surreal, spin.

The frantic rush that surrounds Black Friday is turned into a manic fist fight reminiscent of a Beano comic.  The outcome is the birth of twins and the disastrous loss of a place in the queue.  Other highlights are the ex-Investment Banker working at McDonalds whose desire to please results in an assassination.  Similarly, two cleaners in dead-end jobs are revealed to secretly be mercenaries (when they can get time off work).  An Argos catalogue bonking you on the head can result in the transformation into a fascist wannabe-despot.

This is a cartoon alternate reality, based loosely on our own consumer-heavy world of shops, shopping and business.  But it is populated by people with strange glints in their eyes.

What makes the show really powerful, however, is when these strange people provide no help whatsoever to people who do need help.  Instead of supporting a woman who is having anger issues, she is batted back-and-forth between Nurses and Doctors and Consultants who do more harm than good.  The initial jollity of League Of Gentlemen-esque caricatures soon proves to be a disturbing Kafka-esque web of bureaucracy with no redemption.  Each sketch as a satirical bite making the audience take a hard look at the consequences of a world so obsessed with shopping channels rather than real support and emotion.

Out Of Character charge into each role with a great sense of humour and play.  The sketch-based format is made easier to digest over the hour by the curiosity of what characters will re-appear, what combination of actors will work with who, and their commitment to the recognisable-but-offbeat world of shopaholics.


The twisted humour has the audience laughing at each and every sketch, but the giggling soon fades for the final moment when Out of Character present heart-wrenching facts about cuts to mental health services.  Out Of Character are capable of drawing out the absurd humour of a world fixated by shopping, and then hitting hard the point that this obsession with retail does more harm than good.  For all its chaotic surreal nuts and bolts, Retail Therapy is cuttingly honest.

Friday, 7 April 2017

20.17 Blog #10: 13 Things To Do You Do When Your Punk Play Finishes And You Suddenly Have Lots Of Time

8 Things To Do You Do When Your Punk Play Finishes And You Suddenly Have Lots Of Time

A piece by Henry Raby

1.  Follow-up in the show.  Work out how much you spent, ask for feedback, collate feedback, chase promoters, chase producers.  Store all your stuff neatly so it can be re-constructed when the show breathes again.  Thank the venue, thank the audience, thank people that helped you out.  Thank yourself.

2.  Put Bojack Horseman on in the background and treat it like the radio.  Laugh so it reverbs around the walls at the clever writing.  Sink low alongside the characters into their unique pits.  Feel happy.  Feel sad.  Feel broken.  Thank yourself.

3.  Keep up good habits.  Keep the vocal exercises, keep up the physical lessons learnt.  Keep up the positivity from the show.  Don’t look back in anger, I heard you say.

4.  Plan.  What’s next?  Not in detail.  But, you know, keep the cogs a’turning.

5.  Don’t be creative.  At least, I haven’t been.  I’m storing it up.  I’m itching for it.  When I do it, it’ll flow better than jotting stuff down.

6.  Do be creative.  But in a totally different way.  I played some guitar at an open mic. 

7.  Read something totally different.  I’m not touching anything punk.  I’m not reading any interviews, articles or zines about punk.  I’m reading something political, admittedly.  A Very British Coup.  It’s fun.  It’s scarily predictive of a Corbyn future.


8.  Go for walks by the river.  If you don’t have a river, go get one. You’ll find them just lying around, ripe for the plucking.

9.  Listen to all that Hip-Hop you forgot you said you'd check out

10.  Learn some new guitar chords

11.  Tidy your room (as of time of typing:  unfulfilled)

12.  Clean the house (1/2 fulfilled)

13.  Make a non-demoninational egg hunt around the house for your housemates

Sunday, 2 April 2017

20.17 Blog #9: 6 Things I Learnt From Vandal Raptor

6 THINGS I LEARNT FROM VANDAL RAPTOR

So this week I presented my solo show, Whatever Happened To Vandal Raptor, at York Theatre Royal.  The show’s been in the works for a year, and I’m incredibly proud of the final product.  My first ever solo show which doesn’t just exist as a set of poems, but a full narrative story.  First show with entirely new material.  Far from extinct, VR will have a life beyond the walls of YTR’s Studio.

But, because this is the Internet, I have borrowed from Buzzfeed to neatly summarise some of the lessons learnt from this process, production and pretending to be a dinosaur.

You Can’t Prepare Enough

Like a clock ticking down until a detonation, I was very much aware once we hit the rehearsal process there would be little time for my other projects.  This meant my podcast didn’t have a new update for a while, but it also meant I got all my sessions for the Youth Theatre groups I run written up in good time.  We did a Big Shop of food.  As a freelancer, you often have the luxury of dictating your own timetable, but in this instance your timetable dictates you.

DIY lesson:  When you have no manager, you have to make sure your time is manageable.

The Writer Is Not The Editor

It’s hard for me to think of a poem as finished.  Partly because I enjoy tweaking for specific audiences, updating references or changing due to changing attitudes.  I also enjoy adding spicy spontaneity.  But many times during the process, I wanted to change lines, sometimes for the best to make something clearer, often because I worried about the meaning of the scene.  But there’s got to a be a point where the show is the show because the script is the script.

DIY lesson:  Just because you have the ownership over the script doesn’t mean you can control the script.

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

A solo show doesn’t necessarily mean you work alone.  A running gag has been the fact I’m an Only Child, and I don’t like sharing.  But I can’t express how much I love the bunch of people that offered their support.  Simon Bolly and Emily Rowan of Flora Greysteel for their advice on loop pedals, Jonny Gill for lending me equipment, John Holt Roberts for giving me some much-needed guitar lessons, for Hannah Davies, Dave Jarman and Jack Dean for coming into the rehearsals and watching a run.  To all the folks at York Theatre Royal, especially Juliet Forster, for their support.  For everyone that shared on social media, that came and everyone that couldn’t make it but wished me all their best.  Although, as an only child, I’m totally not prepared to share my toys, I would like to share my undying, eternal, unyielding and unending gratitude and hope I can return the favour somehow.

DIY lesson:  Punk is not, as Mr Lydon seems to think, about pissing people off.  It’s about building community.

Advertising your Marketing and Market your Adverts

I never studied publicity, I have just learnt it from doing gigs and events over the years, and I’ve far from perfected it.  My Facebook page has over 900 Likes, and the event I co-run, Say Owt, often sells between 60-90 tickets.  We plugged the show through these networks.  We had a feature in York Press, were in the York Lit Fest programme as well as the York Theatre Royal brochure.  We exit flyered punk shows, Josie Long and other York Lit events.  We didn’t get terrible audiences, but we could have done with more.  Was it the price (standard for theatre, not so much for poetry/music).  Was it the blurb?  Was it just too niche?  Things to think about.

DIY lesson:  It’s easy to be stuck inside your own world of punk, protest and dinosaurs, but you still need to make that madcap world accessible.

No Gods, No Masters, Yes To Quatermasters

On this project I worked with director Natalie Quatermass.  There’s no way in the 7 Hells that this show would even exist without Natalie’s ability to keep the cast on track (me) but also make sure the subject matter (kinda me) was heartfelt, well-paced, dynamic and had the true spirit of vital story-telling.  Natalie’s passion for making a strong, exiting piece of theatre is at the heart of this production.


DIY lesson:  Make work with your mates.