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

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.

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.


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.