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, 10 October 2017

20.17 Blog #32: Praise is my Kryptonite

Today is World Mental Health Day, so I thought I’d throw my tattered flat cap into the ring.

I wrote a blog a-g-e-s ago about my anxiety in a social landscape which you can read here.

I constantly have this little voice in my head telling me I’m shit.  I’m worthless.  I’m a failure.  I’m not going anywhere.  After I perform, no matter the response from the audience, seconds after leaving the stage I’ll be strategically analysing everything that went wrong, or could go wrong, with the set and night.  Glass half empty?  More like glass gets smashed.

I had a mentoring 2-days with Third Angel which was staggering useful about funding, company structure and planning for making theatre work.  It seems so natural now, but it took me years and years to even begin to consider applying for pots of money or stepping outside the comfort zone of small scenes because I thought:  “Who would want to give me any money?”  “Who would want to book me for a gig?”  Cos I’m naff, said the brain.

 I shudder at arrogance and ego like Gollum squirms at Elvish rope.  Overly confident poets and artists really get my back up.  They are few and far between in our scene, but their swagger seems alien.  Yet praise is my Kryptonite.  If someone says:  “That were good, Henry” I think they are:  Lying, wrong, confused, stupid as I say “Thank you!”

It’s because my brain, for whatever reason, has been wired over years to see the negative than the positive.  The brain is a muscle, the more you exercise it the more it grows in a certain angle.  I recently did an online CBT course in trying to rethink how you think.  I’m trying to do more mindfulness exercises.  Eat healthy.  Go for walks.  Listen to less angry music.  That’s hard for me.  Love my angry music.  Any further recommendations welcome.

In our last slam we have a number of poets come down to read very personal poems about their identity, sexuality, gender, mental health and survival.  It was very impassioned and beautiful and, I’d like to hope, somewhat empowering.  And that matters in that moment, at that time, in that space.  All strong pieces, all being shared, all being appreciated.  The hierarchy of poetry seemed not to matter a jot (it might have helped our guest, Jackie Hagan, celebrates the mistake, the failure, the incompetence, the imperfection).  

Thanks, poets x

World Mental Health Day is raising awareness, and poetry is a perfect tool to say to an audience “HEY I feel like this!”  Rather than paste over this fear, better to show those cracks as we rebuild the house.

“Bran thought about it. 'Can a man still be brave if he's afraid?' 'That is the only time a man can be brave,' his father told him.”

Thanks Well-‘ard Eddard.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

20.17 Blog #31: Punk Publishing

Since I started writing poems, I’ve been trying find ways to put them into the world beyond words.  In my first year I (rather arrogantly) made a CD of recordings using a little Dictaphone without any sense of editing, structuring or whether anyone would actually want the bloody thing (I guess marketing).

I also put some poems out in the form of zines, under the title Snapping Turtle Press.  This was me and my mate venturing into some self-publishing, and we really enjoyed the rough-and-ready DIY element of glue, staples and combining words with illustrations.  I even went to a few zine fairs, but in the end it was just a fun hobby and it takes a lot of energy to keep putting out zines, so much respected to regular poetry zines like Paper & Ink whom I devour.

I always had huge respect for Burning Eye Books, who mainly focus on publishing performance poets across the UK.  At Say Owt, the night I run, we’ve had lots of their published authors, Harry Baker, Rob Auton, Vanessa Kisuule to name but a few.  I am hugely proud to announce I will bringing out a collection of poetry on Burning Eye next year! Woo!

The book is called Nerd Punk, which is no surprise to anyone who knows my poetry.  It’s about growing up, friendship and home plus protest and politics.  And dinosaurs.

It’s been interesting pouring through old documents, zines and my memory to put together all these poems from the last 11 years.  I don’t think there are many poems from the first couple of years of my poetry writing and performing career, and some poems never really made it into my core ‘sets’.  It felt like, if someone them weren’t included here, they would get lost in the mists of time because they never made the ‘cut’ to the live performances.  Similarly one of two were very specific to the context of a show or event and didn’t really need to be part of the collection.  Because I couldn’t include song lyrics, one poems just fell apart as it was built around a Bedouin Soundclash song.

It’s been an interesting journey going back in time (and I do love nostalgia).  Revisiting and editing old pieces, realising that the structure is much sharper as it has been shaped by performance.  Rather than chunks being added to a poem, the poem has become more streamline and I hope the pieces are stronger for this.

So keep an eye out for the collection in (hopefully) April 2018.  No doubt I’ll be shouting about where to buy it and have a book launch.  I’d love to get out there in a tour if anyone’s up for booking me around that time, drop me an email henry@henryraby.com

Thursday, 14 September 2017

20.17 Blog #30: Make it till you fake it (or: Say F Off to the Pay Off)

Life is not mathematics.  Energy + time + money does not = happiness/money/sucess

For a long time I think I bought into the myth, prevalent in the Arts for sure, one day you will 'make it'.  You will be the actor/writer/director that you idolise.  I sometimes feel, far even beyond politicians, that artists are placed on pedestals.  Glorification.

There's a constant phrase bandied around that your energy + time + money will 'pay off'.  Well, not always.  Some people are just in the right place, and right time.  Some people are thrown opportunities at them.  Some people have to work twice as hard because their have the world stacked against them in a sexist/racist/classist/ablist world.  Sometimes you work hard in the wrong direction.  Like a wonky swimmer splashing in the wrong direction:  land was off to the east.  Sorry, you spent hours swimming to the west and nothing but emptiness.

I wrote about this in another blog about The Land Of Should.  Expectations and assumptions are not always healthy for artists.  I should be getting paid gigs, I should be working on an album I should be getting up earlier, I should be healthier, I should be better.

And, yes, if you do put a lot of energy into a task you will get better.  Practising guitar or a new language.  Getting better at free-writing, getting better at learning poems, getting better at mic technique.  But career-wise, it's trickier.  We talk of 'paying off' like it's a reward.  It has its origins as a gambling term from 1905, only in 1951 recorded as meaning 'to be profitable'.  The greasy hint of money hovers around the phrase.

When does something 'pay off'?  2 weeks?  5 years?  When you hit 30?  When you don't worry about money anymore?  When you've impressed our 12-year old selves?  When you've impressed your parents?  When you win the Nobel Prize for Literature?

Essentially, I think there's a difference between a 'goal' and a 'reward' and a 'pay-off'.  Rewards imply you are given something for your service or attitude or achievement.  There's a power structure (maybe with Christian undertones) that someone with more authority 'rewards' you.  I don't like that very much.  Goals can be small  Goals can be achievable.

So the 'payoff' in a film is when you stick it out, and then something much more exciting happens at the climax.  You paid into the film, and the payoff is the end result of your attention.  But of course the whole time you are making and working should be a ups and downs and waves and slumps of experiences, not a journey leading to one single point.

I guess this is one of the lessons I need to learn for myself, and use this blog to remind myself:  The arts are bloody hard.  Don't expect anyone to hand you anything just because you did work in the past.  Just because your CV is impressive.  Just because you have put loads of time, energy and money into your projects doesn't mean at some fixed point there will be a specific, financial, appreciative career payoff where someone gives you ALL the commissions and ALL the awards and ALL the gigs and ALL the respect.  There is no magical point.

It's a road, not a upwards climb to a plateau.  But, along this road are many celebrations, victories and successes.  Try to acknowledge them.

Monday, 4 September 2017

20.17 Blog #29: Refresher on Freshers

10 years ago Tony Blair has just transferred from being PM to a memory, and Gordon Brown was sat in Office, continually making the mistake of not calling a General Election.  The following year, the Banks would crash.  ULP!

Arctic Monkeys and Kaiser Chiefs were now well-established mainstream stalwarts and a hundred thousand white indie lads found other white indie lads to make jangly guitar pop in a great swathe of WHOA-OH-OAH-OHS.

Memes were just kinda like the little stick guy who goes ‘I see what you did there’ and ‘close enough.  No one had played Pokémon for 8 years.  UKIP were getting big, but they’d get bigger.


September I started University, a year after most of my chums.  I took a Gap Year, and was all the better for it.  Done a bit more travelling, discovered a bit more music, discovered a bit of more of drinking culture.  Read loads of Pinter and Beckett.  Its cliché, but I did ‘find myself’ in the fact I was more comfortable, much more of an adult now I was 19 rather than 18.

I didn’t go far, gentle reader.  York is only 25 minutes away on the train and my grandparents would visit with my Dad regularly, with gift aides full of biscuits and…biscuits.

After a year of being out of education, I was keen to get my teeth stuck into lectures and essays.  My course focused on the academic approach to theatre-making:  ideas, language, theory, concepts.  The physical workshops supplemented the seminars.  I enjoyed myself, and meeting new people.

Freshers week I joined a whole host of societies.  Student Radio, Student Newspaper, Film-making, Theatre, Tea-Lights (comedy), Punk, Rock, Music Library and probably a load of others that have slipped into memory, their membership cards lost to time.

So why am I typing this, for my own sweet swathe of nostalgia?  No, like most of my blogs, it’s a gentle outpouring of thoughts to try and offer some insight to the world out there.

University was hard for me.  It was brilliant, but also hard.  I had such a tight, beautiful friendship circle back home in York, it was hard to recreate anything resembling that network.  Even though I made some totally wicked mates I’m still in contact with today, I had to deal with an intense feeling that I ‘wasn’t doing it right’.
Though probably not true, my general anxiety (which I now understand more) meant I felt like I was always out of the loop.  I struggled to find somewhere to live in 2nd year as everyone else seemed to have found mates, a house and a new life like a breeze. It felt like parties happened on my periphery, I wasn’t always in the Theatre shows.  I was the weird one.  Obviously not true, but true enough in my head.

I hope not to offend any friends I had at Uni, you were (and are) rad super awesome people.  But the vastness of University was a hard slog navigating so much.  I think there were some moments which were the hardest of my life.  Certainly the hardest up until that point.

I was going to post a link to an article, but all you need to do is google 'student mental health' for a whole heap of stats which may be hard, if somewhat unsurprising, viewing.

So I’d like to offer some advice for anyone starting University, or restarting, or generally existing in a space outside their comfort zone:

·         It’s OK to think things aren’t going right.  They might be going right.  They might, in all honestly, be going totally wrong.  But it’s OK to feel like you’re failing, you’re not weak for acknowledging your fears and concerns.
·         Find a world outside Uni.  I went to a lot of music gigs and got chummy with people in the ska-punk scene, but also found solace in the theatre and spoken word/poetry.  The Uni scene is a bubble, it’s nice to pop out.  Same for visiting another nearby city, I was often jumpig on trains to Manchester, Bradford and Huddersfield.  Good space to think, trains.
·         It’s obviously depending on money and geography, but nowt wrong with visiting home.  Either as a special mega cool event, or just to sleep in your own bed for a change.
·         Don’t try and forcibly re-invent yourself.  But do try and think outside whatever box you currently felt like you were pinned in.  It is your chance to try something new.  This could be anything from going veggie to forming a band to getting involved in politics to dying your hair to going for nice walks to whatever. Or just making more pasta dishes, watching new films or doodling more often.
·         Having been out of ‘education’ for 7 years I have learnt two very very big lessons.
1.  Value those 3 years where you can learn, explore, feed and debate in education.

2.  Post-Uni, never stop learning.  Dictate your own education.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

20.17 Blog #28: Pay-30p-if-you-decide

Doing PBH Free Fringe gives you thick skin. People can pay-what-they-decide, I've had, like many chums on the FF will have had, people walk past and not give me a penny for 60 minutes. As someone who struggles to value their art (and their very existence) this can seem like a sadistic pastime. One chap gave me 30p, I almost prefer the non-payers as at least they refuse to engage with the choice of a value.

So far I've averaged £2 per person. But this is the very core of DIY: Disseminating power to individuals rather than enforcing a structure. The choice, and power, lies with the individual audience member.

It's hard to not impose a narrative on your audiences. It's easier to assume their bored than unable to pay.

It's easier to assume you've given them a shit time than they misunderstand the value of your work.

It's easier to assume they have judged your work as poor quality than the simple fact by 21.50 they have run our of money.

And yet, standing with a bucket post-show is a tool and we still need to gauge, as well as engage, our audiences. So, like Jorah Mormont (for a fruitlessly unnecessary amount of time) I must grow thick skin, see people value me and not afford very much.

Analyse, dissect and, yes, assume to better my craft, and rationally therefore my value, as the two are linked in the cold hard context of show + bucket + monetary value + lack of eye contact.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

20.17 Blog #27: Our Mutual Friend and Our Mutual World-Building

My favourite author, Franz Kafka, had a great affinity for the work of Charles Dickins.  You can see in his work the attempt to employ Dickins’ style:  Larger-than-life characters, exploring the workings of a city through a protagonist and ‘world-building’.  Especially in books like The Castle and America.
I made the comparison because in 2016 I adapted Kafka's The Castle for Hull Truck Youth Theatre, and this week had the great privilege of seeing their version of Dickins’ Our Mutual Friend by Bryony Lavery.  I used the term ‘world-building’, a phrase which probably needs unpacking by more literary scholarly people elsewhere, but in the context of theatre, Kafka and Dickins are excellent tools to ‘build worlds’.  In Youth Theatre, it’s practically essential you build the world around the characters.

In a Youth Theatre show, you often have a vast array of young people.  The Dumb Waiter or Abigail’s Party or Art certainly exist within a world, but it’s a small world of a handful of actors in a single room.  But Youth Theatre can boast much larger casts, and can use this to their advantage to build societies, scenes, locations and, essentially, a whole world.  The river dwellings, the dust mounds, the High Society toffs, the pubs and the water itself all become locations full of movement and character.  There’s never a dull moment, and the world constantly whirls from place to place with effective pace.  There’s a core cast of characters who present the inhabitants of this world with vigour, all scrabbling and searching for better lives in this grey Victorian land.  Meanwhile the chorus of Mutual Friends shape the world around them: building, exploring and expanding.  It is testament to director Tom Bellerby’s experience with this group, able to mould them into a flawless tight, whirling ensemble.

The end result is an effective telling of what could be a complex story.  It never gets too bogged down in each individual moment, but finds the overarching themes.  Plots, subplots and sub-sub-plots are all marvellously packaged by a tight ensemble.  I could smell the filthy river, the pampered Houses, the stale taxidermy shop.  This is a great success on the part of the creative team as well, the eerie and ever-moving crooked wooden set providing a suitable platform for the cast, not to mention the chilling, ever-present musical score.  Lavery's script is fast-paced, but takes time to tell a few good character-driven joeks before rattling off into another part of London.

In The Castle, I tried to conjure a cold, desolate village of inhospitable pubs, quiet secretive streets and the brooding presence of the Castle itself.  The ensemble of Hull Truck built this world marvellously, but allowed room for perversely flamboyant characters.  It is here that Youth Theatre can really achieve what a ‘professional’ cast of adults cannot. 

I also saw another Youth Theatre show last month.  In The Blue Road by Laura Lomas, recent commission for Derby Theatre, Dundee Rep and the Royal & Derngate, the cast portray a post-apocalyptic world.  Tensions are high, danger lurks and food is scarce.  But what helps define the dystopian world is the backing chorus, their poetic musing on the past, on the present, on hoe, opens up this world beyond the handful of teenagers discussing their options to a larger tale about human struggle.

As someone who visits, and runs, a number of nights where performances are tied to a single mic and a single performer, it is a pleasure to see shows which take me beyond into a huge, sprawling world and navigate the characters within.

Monday, 14 August 2017

20.17 Blog #26: How To Learn Your Poems (ish)

Ah, Edinburgh Fringe.  So close, yet so far.  6 days until my show opens, and here I am.  Furiously learning new poems.  Nothing ever changes, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I have probably annoyed my housemates (and neighbours) in jabbering around the front room, paper strewn around like litter, trying to get those words off the page, onto my head and onto my tongue.

Nevertheless I thought I’d take a break from pouring over poems to just give some quick thoughts on Learning Poems.

Normally my advice for people learning poems is, unfortunately you just learn them.

But here’s some handy tips in that process.

1.  Stand up.  Wander around.  Move your feet.  For me, it gets the blood moving, gets a little bit of a beat.  You find the highs and lows of the poem, where the energy hits certain beats.  I’m a fidgety person, and I like to use that habit in learning by getting moving.

2.  Break down the poem into sections.  This helps if you have verses, or a repeated line.  Find the checkpoints, where you need to get to, where you’ve come from.

3.  Keep having a go at it without the page.  Don’t glue yourself to it.  If you’re getting it wrong, check rather than constantly stare at the infuriating page.

4.  Intense bursts.  Go over and over it, but then take a good breather. Let it sink in, let it cement.  Go make some food, read a book/magazine.  Have a dance.  Write a blogpost.

5.  Don’t panic.  If all else fails, turn the page into a prop.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

20.17 Blog #25: EdFringe Predictions

The reviews and Fringe Firsts are coming in thick and fast, with the first wave of shows finishing as we head towards the middle of the Edinburgh Fringe.

Except not for me, as work calls to me in other sphere (rent needs payin’, patches need purchasin’).
But, as you’re well aware, I am psychic.  So here’s a list of show which I haven’t actually seen (yet) but can predict their going to be high quality and well worth giving your attention:

Above The Mealy-mouthed Sea:  Unholy Mess, 2-3pm, Underbelly

Instructions For Border Crossing:  ARC & Dan Bye, 4.40-5.55, Northern Stage @ Summerhall

Cosmic Scallies:  Graeae, 6.30-7.50, Northern Stage @ Summerhall

Confabulation:  Eamonn Fleming and LittleMighty, 1.40-2.40, Pleasance Courtyard

A Machine They’re Secretly Building:  Proto-Type, 2.40-3.40, Summerhall

JOAN:  Milk Presents, 7.20-8.20, Underbelly

There’s also a TONNE of amazing work with the PBH Free Fringe, too many to list.  So instead, grab a Blue Book and just indulge!  As long as you drop some money in the bucket at the end.

I’m up with NERD PUNKS 3-D 20-27th August at the Banshee Labyrinth.  9.50-10.50 with a special guest each night.

Henry Raby (Nerd Punk Poet) returns for a cataclysmic, world-shattering, word-splattering apocalypse.  Where we’re going, we don’t need bros.  Zombie hordes, arcane prophecies, robot uprisings, doppelgangers, plummeting comets, planet-hopping, dimensional rifts and time travel.  Time to save humanity, all in stunning 3-D.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

20.17 Blog #24: Deer Shed 2017

Saturday we all rocked up to Deer Shed Festival, my 3rd time at the family-friendly festival.  Actually, ‘family-friendly’ doesn’t do it justice.  Unlike other festivals, who have little separate areas for the kids while the parents can go off and watch the other acts, Deer Shed totally embracing children.  Thousands of them.  After a few hours you’re almost dizzy with the constant chattering, running and joy from the children and young people.  You can hear me chat to Megan, Creative Director of the Festival on the Say Owt podcast:  https://soundcloud.com/sayowtpodcast/say-owt-podcast-19-megan-evans/sets

I say we, because it was the first time we’d gone as Say Owt, and a crew.  Myself, Dave Jarman, Chris Singleton, Stu Freestone, Jenni Pascoe and  Ralph Dartford spent the day soaking up the atmosphere of the mighty festival, watching some acts, bands, even chatting to some of the attendees and writing some brand new poems especially for the event.  We then pitted ourselves in a slam, with some help from special guest Dom Berry.  As expected with a spot of new poems, an audience mostly comprised of under 10s and a little bit of improvised freestyling there was a ramshackle element.  I’d like to think we did a good fun hour of entertainment among many other acts and artists, if there was a wild chaotic element running throughout.

I didn’t want to just take a simple slam where we bring poems specifically for children.  I did one of my ‘normal’ poems for adults, as did Stu freestone and Ralph Dartford.  The show before us did pretty simple poetry, aimed directly at children.  Clearly the kids enjoyed it, but I think we did the stronger show.  Not that it’s a competition (although we did run a slam competition) but rather than considering the ‘expectations’ around performing to young people, we just went for an entertaining showcase which I think paid off.  Thanks to Deer Shed and my fellow poets, hope we can return next year for more madcappery!

20.17 Blog #23: Rolling Resistence

On Friday I drove o’er the Pennies to deepest darkest Lancashire to take part in Reclaim The Power’s Rolling Resistance against Fracking in Flyedale.  As expected, the event was a mixture of demonstration, blockade and mad party.  When we arrived Pete The Temp was DJing a mixture of dub, hip-hop and folk, tasting over the top and getting everyone boogieing with the power of a loop pedal.  His cheeky moment between pieces, joyous energy and clever construction meant everyone was having a great time.

The best moment was when one of the dancing Nannas behind me proclaimed:  “Eeee I’ll sleep tonight!”

I did a few poems, and other people joined in with their poems and speeches.  We learnt about the other activities that week, as well as the wider issues around farming.  Food was served to the few hundred people in attendance, all free.  Under the steely gaze of Police, people of all ages chatted together, some clear crusties from the environmental movement, others local farmers, others concerned older people.  A local woman spoke to the crowd with tears in her eyes how appreciative she was for people being there.  We’d come from Yorkshire, but others had travelled from Nottingham and Bristol for the actions.

I can’t speak much for the activism side, I’ve never performed a lock-on or other forms of direct action.  But the event was a reminder amongst the anger and actions, it’s always useful to have some poetry or music to stir everyone’s spirits.  When the trucks begin rolling into Kirby Misperton in September here in North Yorkshire, I hope the abundance of poets and musicians in York and the surrounding cities will come and get involved, it’s a bright, colourful wing to a beautiful movement.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

20.17 Blog #22: That Friendly Face

When I was 17-18 I started going to more events in York, after discovering the wonders of John Cooper Clarke and performance poetry.  I went to a few open mics, and I recall ending up at a night of poetry at York Library (now York Explore).  I was trying to find my voice in a literary scene perhaps older, more mature and maybe not quite right for a gobby punk like myself.

At the night, I met and chatted to Helen Cadbury. I can’t remember if Helen performed, but I remember talking to her, and Helen being very friendly to this inexperienced young poet.  Over the years Helen was always a sociable face who you’d bump into at events, around York Theatre Royal or have good discussions with over social media forums.

Helen sadly passed away last month, and yesterday I attended her memorial at the Quaker Meeting House.  Helen was a writer, drama facilitator, poet and educator.  Other people who knew Helen better than I have articulated her life and character.

I just wanted to write a blog about how I saw her as part of an artistic scene.  At her Memorial I thought about that first encounter.  A lot of people spoke about Helen’s nurturing side and her support for the community.  But Helen was also a socialist and a pretty fiery person (not to mention someone with a wicked naughty sense of humour).

I was thinking about now, as someone nearing their 29th birthday and planning a series of new spoken word events under the Say Owt banner, people’s role in the scene and community.

York is a very unique city.  Lots of scenes and communities intersect.  Helen’s memorial was attended by theatre, literature, poetry, Leftie and, of course, Quaker people.  I feel like I dip in-and-out of numerous scenes in York, poetry, comedy, theatre, activism and music to name but a few, and the sub-categories each one boasts.

I think it’s important to be encouraging and nurturing in all scenes.  To give people support, mentorship and advice, wherever constructive criticism or much-needed praise.  To point them in the right directions, to pass them onto other nights and events.  I’d like to do this in the spirit of Helen, not patronising, not intensive.  But just being that friendly face you bump into around this city.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

20.17 Blog #21: Grant For The Arts and The Land Of Should

If you’re anything or anybody like me, you live in the Land of Should.  I should do this, I should do that.  It’s the burden of a guilty expectation.  It’s taken me a long time to unlearn what I should be doing on a career-scale.  “I should be earning xyz, playing these festivals and getting those kind of gigs” etc.  I still live in the Land of Should on a personal level, but having a set of expectations doesn’t help give you a structure for ambition.

One of these goals in life was that artists should have Grants for the Arts.  The route to being a successful artist is a pot of money from the Powers That Be that seemingly validates you as a professional.  The trouble was, the vastness of the G4A was a scary prospect.  Too scary to get my head around.  How to approach it, how to digest it, how to find support for it?  Not because it seemed a very unpunk thing, but because I liked immediacy.  And I guess I shy away from hard work sometimes if I’m not naturally already pretty good at it.  Thanks for friends who told me to just get on with it.

But, with huge support from Kirsten Luckins over at Apples & Snakes, and advice from a number of other amazing people, the event I co-run, SAY OWT, has received a Grant For The Arts from Arts Council England.  It felt a lot of emailing, timetabling, rewriting and messages flying-back-and-forth.  A lot of maybes.  This actually felt a lot more could than should.  We could do these events is a lot better ‘bluesky’ thinking than we should do these events.  It’s more ambitious to think could than should.

The programme we’ve put together is not just a dedication to the exciting and raw slams we’ve fostered, but also open mics featuring crossover events with other nights across the UK, workshops, special events and scratches, plus opportunities for poets to be our Local Guest and part of an Anthology.

This massively exciting for me and Stu to start juggling these new responsibilities, but I guess it’s understanding this doesn’t mean we’ve ‘made it’ and suddenly are grown-ups with our G4A.  If anything, it’s more complicated!  We’ve run 3 seasons of Say Owt, and yes we’ve cemented a night but it’s time to push onwards and really define what it could be; a supportive, quality and experimental scene.  And not what it should be.

Friday, 30 June 2017

20.17 Blog #20: We Are Unstoppable / Everything Is Possible

Everything Is Possible has been York’s 2017 Big Community Show, a now traditional feat where the people of York come together under the banner of York Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre to produce a large-scale production.  It’s hugely impressive, not just for the size of the project, but the dedication poured into every costume, prop, scene and line.

Everything Is Possible is the story of the Suffragette movement, and although from a York perspective, it’s not afraid to draw stories from Leeds and London to explore the militant side of the movement.  The show is very funny, very important and always makes me very weepy.  Massive respect to the creatives, cast and crew.

Stories are important, and of course theatre is the industry of stories.  Whilst the fight for the vote was a centralised idea around the movement, it was not just about being allowed to tick a box. The vote represented validation within the political spectrum, to be able to engage with politics.  The show admirably talks about the sheer poverty of women in Britain at the turn of the century, the sheer lack of both worker’s and human rights and the fight for them, not just the base desire to tick boxes in a polling booth.

I have been given the very privileged position to programme a series of ‘buskers’ for the opening protest outside the Minster before the show begins, which takes the form of a modern day Women’s March akin to those that boldly defied Trump and the patriarchy across the globe earlier this year.  I'm really grateful for this opportunity to be part of it, and I know the poets and musicians who have given their time and resources to perform have been super excited by a wing of this mighty production.

As someone known for ‘protesty stuff’ I can’t deny there are problematic elements to staging a protest, taking the perfromative elements of a movement and making them into the show’s prologue.  Though the cast are chanting slogans, and holding banners, and talking to the audience about social issues, the piece is non-partisan in order to be accessible to the public, and also appease the varying degrees of politics within the cast. 

All stories have an agenda.  The make sure children don’t stray off the path and talk to wolf-like strangers, or go knocking on Gingerbread Houses, or it’s OK to kill giants.  Or one day your Prince will come (ugh!).  However even, for example, the Sisters Uncut chant of “back up back up we want freedom freedom / Sexist racist cuts we don’t need ‘em need ‘em” suggests an anti-austerity agenda, at odds with the Tory voters of the cast and public.  And for the inclusive community aspect of the production, a compromise is required.

With this in mind, it’s been amazing to see some ‘realness’ in the form of buskers I have asked to perform who, without being overly partisan, are able to talk about social issues which the ‘script’ of the play would not necessarily allow, and possibly get the charity of YTR into hot water.  The buskers, as outsiders, have a level of rebelliousness that adds an extra spice to the production.

I think this show has reminded me of the privilege as a freelance artist to navigate politics.  Both on my personal page, and the Say Owt page, we promoted the Labour Party because their Arts policies (among many) were more beneficial to us and our audiences.

It is fine for me as an individual artist to upset Conservative voters and criticise their Austerity agenda, as well as other social issues because my agenda is solely my own.  A production like Everything Is Possible as a massive amount of staff, volunteers and associates with all manner of ideas and politics and must acknowledge

But in actuality, this is the background to all movements.  As the show presents, some Suffragettes were all for violence and militancy, willing to break the laws.  Others still happy to respectably petition.  One thing that the show didn’t quite touch upon (though I do appreciate it can’t cover every single aspect of the massive movement within a 90 minute running time!) was the resistance to the First World War from the Suffragette movement, and how it split into ant-war activists and pacifists (generally from a Socialist and Quaker perspective) and the women prepared to fly the patriotic flag.

But I am proud that the buskers I programmed, and myself as a busker too, were able to add into the mix these other ideas, opinions, poems and songs.  Some women smashed windows, some women sold papers, some made tea at meetings.  Some people chain themselves to fracking drills, some people film it for legal purposes, and some people make the tea too.

Systems aren’t made of bricks they’re made of people, and the same goes for a movement.  A movement needs diversity, as much as there’s the respectable Parliamentary approach to change that some politicians present, we also need the spikier side to protest. As I talked about in a blog from a while ago, keep agitating, keep debating, use your platform as a host, performer, theatre-maker, musician, poet, comedian, manager, audience member, space-owner etc to talk about anger and hope and love and rage.  And solidarity.

Deeds Not Words
Unfuck the world

If you want to know more about militant women’s fights across the world:

Sisters Uncut:  “Sisters Uncut is a feminist direct action group taking action to defend domestic violence services.

The Nanas:  Anti-Fracking Grannies out to cause trouble for the big energy companies!

Tonic Theatre:  Working towards achieving gender equality in theatre (I wrote about their work here)

War On Women:  hardcore punk band dedicated to making Safe Spaces on the Warped Tour

The Norwich Radical:  Articles on women in music scenes, from patronising attitudes to periods

Petrol Girls:  Feminist hardcore band calling out sexism at festivals (and the world)

YPJ:  Kurdish women fighting ISIS in the Middle East

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

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:


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.




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.