Performance Poet

Month: November 2021

Beaten Down but Happy (Manky Poets, Fix, Word Central, Survivors)

There is a strange feeling comes over you when you reach the beginning of the end of a tour. Sat at hotel restaurant in Shrewsbury I felt very emotional, beaten down but alive, sad but happy, grounded but affected, all at once. It was a complex kinda feeling one that felt right though. Natural. Honest.

Starting in the middle Fix was an experience for me. Monday, Fuel Bar Cafe Manchester, A real honest spoken word account of my days and nights as a hedonist, the good, the bad, and the strung out. One of my favourite ever performances, one where I really enjoyed myself on stage. It felt good, it felt right. It was well received. I have big plans for Fix. More to say about that at a later date but believe me, wheels are in motion.

Manky Poets was a lovely event to come back to, hosted by the dab hand of copland smith. It’s the longest running Manchester poetry event and its headliner for the month, Steven Waling did it proud. It was also a chance for me to air a few sections of Fix a few days before the full show. Fix is actually about an hour and a half in length (without the necessary chapter intros) so may never get read in its entirety, as a result each reading can be more or less unique, in what sections get read and in what order. Since the show is non linear (decided by themes not dates) it can be read in virtually any order. This excites me. As for Manky Poets and earlier Beatification I really enjoyed the poetry of Ben Willems, a real talent.

Tuesday was Word Central. I had already a headliner during Lockdown but had yet to make the live gig. I had not been to the Central Library in Manchester since its massive refurb so loved being in there. Tony Curry is a fascinating and supportive MC and Paul Neads runs a tight ship. It’s always lovely to perform and being with a live audience was an excellent experience.

Survivors was a wonderful blend of poetry and music, the headliner was captivating reading her poems about the USA in Fall and Yorkshire, her nature poems perfect for a November evening online. Deborah McNamara is a very warm and welcoming host. It did the soul good.

So now there are only two more events. So my next post will probably be my final blog on the road but I’ve really enjoyed going back over recent, fresh memories. I may have felt a mixture of feelings tonight, but positivity always rings through like a peal of bells.

Yes.

The Corridor of Days (Sale Write Out Loud, Beatification and Lit Up)

There is a joy to touring that is impossible to express in its entirety. It is, as I have already said the elevation of the mundane, the familiar world seen through an unfamiliar lens.

There was a moment, last night (18th) where I had a clean 2 hours before Lit Up. I was booked into a hotel in Manchester city centre. I meandered through the Christmas Market. Now, a friend of me described it as buying stuff you didn’t want during the year. I echoed him in a way saying that it’s full of niche things. I told him about a wooden collapsible fruit bowl I’d bought a few years ago. I was just trying to sound cool. I love the market, wherever it ends up, there’s not a huge difference between the one in Birmingham from Belfast or Manchester, but that’s not what I’m looking for, it’s that rosy cheeked kind of  cosy smaltz that I love sometimes.

So I walked through it, it’s more spread out because of Covid, I prefer it that way. Walking around I felt an affinity for city living. There’s a sense in me these days that there’s a crossroads coming up in the headlights but then we always believe we are living in interesting times. There’s a sense  here that Manchester is my spiritual home, a place I still come back to.  Looking out from my 7th floor window over central Manchester it hit me: how come I’ve never seen the city from this angle, this perspective?

Working backwards, just cause, Lit Up last night was brilliant. Thanks to Conor at Community Arts Partnership, Nick Lovell and Cat Brogan headliners and of course our amazing open mic. This blend always makes for a good show. We encourage everyone to perform a mix of their own poems and poetry covers.  Cat performed poems ranging from the Tyrone colloquial to poetry about women as mountains, of kids like frogs, a smattering of Yeats and her own experiences with learning Irish. It was a superb set.

Nick Lovell also performed an eclectic set, his own poems, life as a dog track race, refugees, and a blasting of Nigel Farage with a huge nod to John Cooper Clarke’s Twat. His selection of poems was also inspired, everything from Macavity the Mystery Cat, to a series of Adrian Mitchell’s anti war poetry, including, of course, Mitchell’s Tell Me Lies About Vietnam

Open mic was brilliant Gerald Kells, Rhoda Thomas, Mike Baynham, Jeff Cottrill, Raquel McKee, Paul Butterfield Jr, Sarah L Dixon, Lorna Meehan, Nathalie Sallegren, Clive Oesman, Lantern Carrier and Geraldine Reid. As you can see from that roll call the gig was a treat. Thanks to all.

Finally, Conor’s skill in writing a wrap up poem at the end of each event, relating, in poetry the themes, subjects and purple passages of all the poems of the evening. Always a highlight and a fine way to finish. Next one December 16th.

Wednesday’s Beatification was a warm hearted return to the stage at Fuel Bar Cafe where I will be reading Fix on Mon. It was packed and once again it was a joy to see in the flesh, various poets I’d only been interacting with in small digital boxes. The format is great, it’s pretty much open mic but John G Hall extends a 10 min slot for all performers so you really get to stretch your poetry legs. Turns from Gerry Potter bashing Thatcher and Morrissey, Ben Willems was a revelation, I’ve heard him many times and he’s always been good but on Wed he was really on it. Anna Percy read from her new book, Steven Waling again brought his surreal skein at everyday life observations, John himself was unashamedly political as per. Other readers such as Helen Clare and some new faces I really enjoyed. I had to split slightly before the end to get home but left with a headful of inspiring words, tender hearted moments and a little moxie.

Monday’s Sale Write Out Loud was a lovely intimate affair. Everyone got to read plenty of work so I performed 3 sections of my new show, the first time I’d read any of it in public. I loved the vibe that night with great readers including Joliva, Dominic Walsh and Tony Sheppard and others. The host Sarah Pritchard is a fine performer and also very knowledgeable so it was no great surprise to find out she was an English teacher. Keep an eye out for the long running event (I headlined there in 2010), I have a lot of fond memories of the place and event, whether it was run by Steve O’Connor, Rod Tame or Sarah. Good times.

Tonight is Manky Poets Headliner Steven Waling Chorlton Library 7.30pm start. I’m open mic-ing it. I’ll write that up in good time.

For now though, it’s time to appreciate where I am. Manchester is a fine city. Head there some time. It can open your mind and do your heart good.

 

London and opening times at Manchester (Write and Release, and Genesis Slam)

It feels like so much and so little has changed since the last blog entry.

London was a wash with little highs and very few sighs. Staying with friends and their families has become a mantra on this tour. My brothers family in Cov, My old uni mate Michael, his wife Catherine and his two kids. Now, in Manchester its a friend Kev from my clubbing days and his 2 little ones. It’s been wonderful.

Attended Write and Release online from Michael’s front room in Redhill, his pad got a good rating from the other poets as I had to move from the kitchen due to signal. It was lovely to perform at Write and Release again, having headlined it a few months back now. It’s hosted and run by Randy Horton. It had a good mix of open mic and I would recommend it as somewhere to try new stuff.

London’s only live gig was Genesis Slam on Thurs. It held a packed audience and a lot of keen and talented slammers. The winner was well deserved and it was fun to see Dan Simpson MC at the slam. I came across Dan at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2018, his poetry is of very high concept and incredibly cerebral but packaged for instant ingestion. Joel Auterson’s final round sacrificial poem about growing up was one of the most beautiful poems I’ve heard in ages. The winner mixed triumphs over stuttering and the pure joy of his poem about how to love yourself left you feeling full of light. It was a fine slam.

BTW Dune (5 stars)

Now, in Manchester its time for 3 gigs this week, Manky Poets on Fri, Beatification on Wed and Sale Write Out Loud event tonight. I have performed at them many times, as open mic and headliner. The bend this time is to promote the one person show at Fuel Bar Cafe in Withington Mon 22nd (8pm start £5 door). It means this week I will be reading snippets to give a taste of the show. I am very excited about finally rolling it out and nervous energy threads its way through the days.

All in all though, this tour has been full of positive, little lifts and beautiful interactions with old friends and new acquaintances. Onward!

Hybrid Tour (09/11/21) Brum and London (Oooh Beehive Slam and Yes We Can’t)

Howdy

Another few days of the Hybrid Tour and it hits a couple of online events. Fri was OoohBeehive Slam and Sunday Yes We Can’t feat. Vic Pickup and Kevin Higgins

However, this section of the tour was a chance to stay with an old poet friend Spoz and also his wife Claudia. The two of them are superstars and as I told them over dinner, the highlights for me aren’t just the events but also meeting old and new friends. The touring throws up so many memories and new experiences, performing so many times in places like Birmingham means there’s always a mixture of the familiar and the brand new. The cafes bars and restaurants don’t really change much but the  city around it often shifts form, there always seems to be something new to discover and places as worn and comfy as old shoes. I love the cities with their mixture of the original and the derivative. It’s at times like these that I mentally riff on Psychogeography.

For the uninitiated Psychogeography is the study of the effects city architecture and roads have on the emotions and behaviour. It started as a political expression of action through the Situationists of 1960s Paris and lives on today as a largely literary schematic. Novelists such as Stewart Home, JG Ballard, Will Self,  Peter Ackroyd and others often write as active psychogeographers. I have been a huge fan of Psychogeography, in literature it is often expressed as how certain areas of cities perpetrate cycles of behaviour, as if it is the location that controls behaviour not free will so much. It is often concerned with occultism and ley lines, how geography affects mood and therefore action. In literature it is a very rich seam for plot, theme and narrative.

I have sometimes gone on a Derive,( a walk as political act, as an active meander), taking note of the effects of city geography on thought, mood and behaviour. London and Paris are the archetypical locations for Derives but they can be done anywhere. Key Psychogeographical texts include Hawksmoor, Lights Out For the Territory (Non-fiction) and Crash. The Situationists thought that Derives were the necessary research to be done before re-ordering the architecture of a city to best aid emotional harmony and happiness. These days it is good way of understanding cities, how they flow, structure themselves and prohibit some meanders while supporting others.

As for the gigs, Oooh Beehive I did a good turn, got to the semi final and was pipped to the final spot by the fantastic Elizabeth McGeown. Elizabeth and I have gone head to head many times in slams, she is an awesome performer and writer. For me, what was wonderful was that our semi final group of 3 (there were 2 groups of 3) were all Northern Irish poets, also including the powerful performer Mel Bradley. I am often evangelical about how many good poets Northern Ireland houses, and under Covid the online poetry events have been witness to numerous NI poets who have graced slams, open mics and headline slots and features. As I stated before, Covid has had some real silver linings. However I was left after the slam wondering if I should have performed a different poem. As it is you can never know how another poem would have gone down, judging is always subjective. I am happy though that Elizabeth and Chris Campbell are through to the grand final in Dec. Check it out, it should be a fine event.

Yes We Can’t was an open mic slot but for me the main thing was to get a feature set from Kevin Higgins. Kevin is a highly accomplished Irish poet and I can’t believe it took so long to hear him. I was not disappointed, his crackly wit and skilful take on world events, politicians and society and culture is a must see/hear. The weirdest thing though was watching and performing from a hotel room. It was kind of surreal but luckily the wifi was fine. Finally I also heard Vic Pickup, also for the first time. Her personal take on motherhood and also poetry itself was a joy. As for the gig in general it had a huge turnout and was ably and fantastically run by Poets Prattlers and Pandemoniums (Emma Purshouse, Steve Pottinger and Dave Pitt) all three are worth checking out individually, but as a three part group they are heard to beat event-wise. I was part of their Home and Away Event representing Northern Ireland, which introduced myself, Cat Brogan and Nathan Elout-Armstrong to a lovely poetry scene based in the Black Country. I was lucky enough to have been to their event in physical form, the headliner being Ash Dickenson, he is also worth checking out.

So, I am now staying with an old friend from uni days Michael, chilling with his kids and Catherine, so these few days are another highlight. Thurs is the Genesis Slam, Hackney. I have to be sharp to nab a sign up on the night slot. It should be exciting. In the meantime, thank you London and Birmingham, it’s been a blast

 

Hybrid Tour (5/11/21) Touring, Zoom and Fire and Dust

Howdy

I love touring. Touring is an absolute joy and I have sorely missed it under Covid. Some events are returning to live physical shows, some of these are purely live, some, like York Open Mic have gone hybrid.  Hybrid means there is a laptop and probably a projector screen at the event and zoom poets can perform up alongside poets at the venue.

What seems to be the general POV is that all the gigs being online has served a great purpose. Poets from around the world join others at online events. Events that were once held in a room somewhere filled by local poets are now including people from at far away as USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. There is a global network of poets who, before Covid didn’t know each other and had little chance to ever meet.

Some events, such as Fire and Dust in Coventry has is now running two events a month: a live gig and an online one. The live gig was sold out and was a fantastic experience. One of the hosts, Raef Boylan informed me that many of their audience had been well served by Zoom gigs and that they weren’t about to abandon that sector of their overall audience who have got so much out of the format.

I got to the stage where I was champing at the bit. I had missed touring so much when gigs started returning I took the decision to do what I am  calling the Hybrid Tour. It does what it says on the tin, it’s a mix of live gigs and online gigs all done on the road, as it were. It’s also a chance to see old friends, family and colleagues.

The focus of the tour is, for me, finally performing my one person show Fix (The Spoken Word Show of a Recovered Club Casualty). It’s to be read for the very first time at Fuel Bar Cafe Manchester Mon 22nd Nov. It is beyond fitting that it is to be read in that city at that particular bar venue. Most of the carnage I wrote about in the show has all been based in Manchester when I lived there for 11 years. It is the city I started my poetry in and where I developed as a writer and a performer for 7 years until moving back to Northern Ireland 9 years ago. The show is being performed fittingly at Fuel, the place I read for the very first time in this month in 2004. I have performed there at various key moments and periods of my career: ran events there, book launches, residency etc.

So it is that I got to read at the first gig of the tour: Fire and Dust with headliner Anthony Owen Coventry. I was reading as part of the open mic. I was not disappointed. A fine event in a lovely warm backdrop of an independent bookstore. The gig was hosted by Raef Boylan and also Ann Atkins and the open mic played along just nicely. One of the readers had practiced sign language with me online during the second lockdown so it was brilliant to see her in the flesh for the first time. This, I am sure, is going to be a theme of the tour for me: finally seeing poets in the flesh after always seeing them in a small box.  The headliner Anthony Owen was superb, a professional, assured performance by an accomplished Cov poet who’s book Cov Kids (Knives Forks and Spoons) is a love letter to his city. He is mainly known for war and peace poetry. HIs use of imagery was fantastic and I was glad to get the opportunity to hear him read.

The gig was only my 4th time on the mic since March 2020. Some poets are still to perform live again. I do appreciate what Zoom has done for poetry as I have already mentioned. I have been so used to it that I forgot just how exciting and engaging live readings are. Having a mic in the hand doesn’t sound much but for me taking it off the stand and seeing the whole audience as a body of people just plugs me into the reading straightaway, seeing and most of all, hearing the audience reaction is something we really miss online. To explain, when reading online most of the times the whole audience is on mute and poets have had to accept the strange experience of finishing performing a poem with no sound of applause.

That said though, as I have said Zoom has its upsides and I look forward to competing at the Oooh Beehive Online Slam tonight 7.30pm, knowing there can be competitors attending from all around the globe. Oooh Beehive has been a revelation during Covid, lockdowns and the slow return to “normalcy”. That is what the Hybrid Tour is all about for me: performing online at some of the finest zoom events round the UK as well as seizing the opportunity to perform and compete at live events as they return to their requisite poetry scenes.

There are several reasons I love touring so much. One of them is dropping in as a visitor into a local scene, experiencing the community feeling at live poetry events. The network of regular contributors that you get the privilege to see, hear and perform for. It’s a way of breaking the routine of seeing the same faces at the same gigs. It is a breakout. A breakout from the day to day, a breakout from  drudgery and doing nothing for the sake of it. A musician friend told me once that the reason he loves touring is because it is front facing, it is always moving forward. It is for me the elevation of the mundane, even a train journey becomes somehow slightly magical. Onwards and Upwards

 

 

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