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