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WHATEVER HAPPENED TO VANDAL RAPTOR? UK tour

TESTT (Durham): April 12th

The New Adelphi (Hull): April 15th

Workshop Theatre (Leeds): April 17th

Hydra Bookshop (Bristol): April 18th

Derby Theatre: April 20th

Harrogate Theatre: April 24-25th

Ovalhouse (London): April 26-28th

NERD PUNK BOOK TOUR

London Book Launch at Ovalhouse, April 26th

York Book Launch at All Saints Church, April 29th

Small Fry DIY, Warrington, 2nd May

Spoken Weird, Halifax: 3rd May

Born Lippy, Newcastle 9th May

Shaken In Sheep Town, Skipton: 10th May

Find The Right Words, Leicester : 16th May

Queenie’s Coffee Nights, Huddersfield: 21st May

Gong Fu Poets, Coxhoe: 31st May

Verse Matters, Sheffield: 7th June

Slam Dunk, Hastings: 28th June

Word Club, Leeds: 29th June

Poetry Jam, Durham: 4th October

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Rejection Doesn't Mean You're A Reject

For those of you unfamiliar with neither the tradition of non-commercial non-profit driven art-making nor putting up shelves:  DIY means Do It Yourself.  Whilst sometimes taken as a don’t-ask-for-help culture, I take it as a call to make the work you want to make and not wait for permission.

Because this has been neatly wedded in my artistic genetics, I don’t apply for jobs that often.  It also explains why I’ve never held a salaried position.  Also why poor.  Obviously I still sign up for the Arts Jobs newsletter, as well as Lane’s List, the London Play-wrighting Blog and scouring various other opportunities sites.  But I know people who are constantly putting in applications for jobs or projects, or submitting poems for competitions, pamphlets and publishers.  It’s old news, but as the old Tories policies of Austerity continue to squeeze the arts there becomes a bottleneck of applications for fewer jobs.

Last week I didn’t get to interview stage for a job I was really gunning for.  I tried not to envisage actually getting the job for fear of setting expectations too high, but certainly hoped I’d be invited to interview.  When one is faced with such news, there’s plenty of routes an anxious brain can walk.  The road to bitterness is well-trod (treaded?) for a privileged kid like myself.  Assuming that the system is rigged, or stacked against you, is not very helpful when you’re able-bodied, white, male, het and cis.  Plus it’s difficult to change in your circumstance.  Use what little power you have to undo what you perceive as a rigged system in the systems you’re part of.  This road is a sole-shredding, effort-filled uphill slog.

So the other road your brain can take is all downhill.  It starts with acknowledging you weren’t right for the job, a fair assessment.  But then why weren’t you right for the job?  Because you’re not good enough, obviously.  Because you’re not experienced enough.  Because you’re not strong enough.  Because you are good enough, but you wrote a terrible application (even if you spent hours and hours on it).  This is the road that leads to the Land of Should.  I should be at this point in my career.  I should be doing more.  I should Get Better.

The problem with trying to Get Better means feedback.  The problem with anxiety is you pile feedback onto feedback that turns into a weighted, unhelpful burdensome barrage of worries/thoughts.
Not going to lie, not getting an interview put me into a funk these last few days.  And it’s made worse by the guilt at feeling arrogant.  The shame in knowing your worth.  The disgust at yourself that you dared to think you had potential.  All the italic gut-punch flashing thoughts.


As I say, I don’t apply for as many jobs as other people in the industry do.  And everyone deals with rejection in different ways.  But being rejected doesn’t mean you’re a reject.  Shamefully my instinctive gut reaction is to give up, or make a career choice.  Obviously sometimes one needs to readdress strategies and approaches, but to swing to an extreme is never useful.  I guess what I’ve learnt is to take it slowly, to digest, to consider and to take those negative thoughts, interrogate them, breath and let them slide for the more practical package.  So as you continue walking along this over-used, exasperated metaphorical road you have your walking boots, well-resourced backpack and iPod playing your ‘Onwards!’ playlist.

Friday, 9 February 2018

Energy Doesn't Just Mean Energetic

If you watch videos from poets like myself & Dave Jarman we’re much happier to toy with the microphone, to stomp around the stage and to offer more interaction.  I think secretly, me and Dave wish we were rock stars in bands (well, he is).  Dave is bold.  Kate Tempest paces the stage like a tense caged beast, Vanessa Kisuule is an articulate whirlwind and Dom Berry is like a bubbly, walking, talking human high-five.



By contrast, if you watch Hannah Davies energy it’s much more around her face.  The expression of a staunch story-teller, unfazed, the warm eye-contact and of course well-paced delivery draw you in with a welcoming intensity.  Sara Hirsch, our last guest at Say Owt, is a trained actor but she brings characters to life by painting stories with conversational language rather than bluntly embodying them on the stage.

There are different ways you bring energy onto the stage, and how you use it.  Certainly the louder, faster and more intense poets will often be more memorable.  The ones who bellow or ditch the mic or strut across the stage or clamber into the audience.  But that doesn’t mean poets who read from the page or refrain from such ballsy acts are not using energy.  A political point is not made more revolutionary by shouting; a comedic rhyme structure is not funnier because it’s faster.

On Tuesday I took part in the ATG Slam, and most other poets read from the page/phone.  A mixture of introspective, warm and playful poetry from a good number of first time performers.  I knew I didn’t have the scores to win, so I decided to perform a poem off-mic, loudly, messily and, for those who know me, spontaneously self-referential.  I didn’t win, and in the process blew a speaker.  I’m not a punk poet for nothing, right?  I guess I just wanted to bring a different energy into the space, one less introspective, measured and sharp and something more raw and jumbled.

Energy can come from all sorts of places; physically on stage mine tends to be more in my upper body.  I like to ground myself, but enjoy twisting my shoulder, scanning a room, hunching over the mic and sometimes having a little wander.  My energy goes into a bit of chaos, a constant fiddling with the mic stand, rubbing together of hands, being surprised by myself or the audience reaction.  I’d like to call this energy cartoony and playful, urgent and klutzy.

But here are some words that might be good synonyms for how a poet can use energy on stage without necessarily meaning louder or faster.

Generous
Faraway
Disconnected
Fresh
Quarrelsome
Barbarous
Friendly
Relaxed
Rigid
Scratchy
Hushed
Adorable
Anarchored
Squiggly
Lonely
Kind-hearted
Light-hearted
Heavy-hearted
Simmering
Necessary
Blissful
Limp
Triangular
Vital
Sugary
Warlike
Defensive
Buoyant
Neighbourly
Jagged

Expert


Tuesday, 23 January 2018

“So what’s coming up in 2018, Henry?”

What’s with all the blog silence, Henry?

Last year you wrote 39 blogposts.  That’s pretty much one every 9 days.  I think.  I’m not good at maths.

It’s now January the 23rd.  if you’re maths is right, you should have written 2.5 blogs by now!

Well, I started writing more blogs because I wanted to flex my digits (hence the ‘rule’ I could only write them in 20.15 minutes because it was 2015 and subsequently gained 0.01 seconds for each passing year).  And it worked, I had a structure!  I always advise people that the best way to get into writing is to try free-writing first.  No pressure, no aim beyond stretching your brain and fingers.

But I’ve quite happy I’ve got a point where I’m not just bubbling around in my head and need to structure them into blogs. I’ve having conversations about theatre in my new theatre company VANDAL FACTORY alongside the marvellous and highly competent director Natalie Quatermass where we’re constantly dissecting what it means to make relevant and engaging political theatre in 2018.  We’re also hacking at the concept of touring as Whatever Happened To Vandal Raptor? hits the road in April.

Spoken word I hear you speak?  I’m having great discussions not just online (mainly through the highly helpful Poetry Promoters Facebook group) but also from Say Owt spaces.  After a gruelling civil war, I have declared myself Artistic Director (think King In The North but more spreadsheets) and have added to the ranks of Say Owt Dave Jarman and Hannah Davies as Associate Artists.  We’ve been having spirited chats about funding, organising, promoting and, importantly, mentoring as we work more with the wider poetry community of performers.

And I’m excited to have more conversations with poets and organisers across the UK as I go on tour in May.  I have a book coming out with Burning Eye called NERD PUNK which collects all my best poems from the last 10 years!  A few years ago I’d see this tour as more a solo outing, but I open up the offer to other poets to jump in my car and hit various open mics and have meet new poets making great work.
So I’m not going to be churning out blogs because I think I’ve found a few gangs to collaborate with and spending my time enjoying those natterings.  But that DOES mean I’ll be bringing those conversations back to my house, back to my room, to my desk and onto this here computer screen.  It’s just these blogs won’t be written in 20.18 seconds.  I shall allow myself this kindness.

“So what’s coming up in 2018, Henry?”

Haha, I have already cunningly listed my upcoming adventures!  I hope to catch you upon one of them!

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO VANDAL RAPTOR? UK tour

TESTT
Durham, DH1 4SG
April 12th
7pm

The New Adelphi
89 De Grey St, Hull HU5 2RU
April 15th
7.30

Workshop Theatre
Leeds, LS2 9JT
April 17th
7.30

Hydra Bookshop
Bristol, BS2 0EZ
April 18th
7.30pm

Derby Theatre
Derby, DE1 2NF
April 20th
8pm

Harrogate Theatre
Harrogate, HG1 1QF
April 24-25th
7.45pm

Ovalhouse
London, SE11 5SW
April 26-28th
7.45pm

NERD PUNK BOOK TOUR
May
Thursday 3rd May:  Spoken Weird, Halifax
Wednesday 9th:  Born Lippy, Newcastle
Thursday 10th:  Shaken In Sheep Town, Skipton
Wednesday 16th:  Find The Right Words, Leicester
Monday 21st:  Queenie’s Coffee Nights, Huddersfield
Thursday 31st: Gong Fu Poets, Coxhoe (Durham-ish)
June
Thursday 7th:  Verse Matters, Sheffield
Thursday 28th June:  Slam Dunk, Hastings
Friday 29th June:  Word Club, Leeds


SAY OWT UPCOMING EVENTS
Say Owt Slam #19 featuring Sara Hirsch 3rd February @ The Basement
Rob Auton’s The Hair Show 9th March @ The Crescent
Gecko 22nd March @ All Saints Church
York Anti-Slam #3 1st April @ The Basement

Hannah Silva’s Talk In A Bit 15th May @ The Basement


Saturday, 16 December 2017

20.17 Blog #39: Top Theatre of 2017

Here’s some top picks from the year of theatre-goings from this here 2017

Everything Is Possible:  The York Suffragette Story

It’s no mean feat to bring together hundreds of volunteers from across York with different skills to create a mass community production.  But York Theatre Royal are experts at this by now, and moments of this grand production were a breathtaking visual treat backed by mass voices.  The struggle for the vote is one part of a larger struggle of human rights and class war.  Totally justifies my belief that when cops drag OAPs from the gates of KM8 wellsite in Kirby Misperton they’re on the wrong side of history.  Though I wanted a more scathing analysis of the current political climate (yes, we have a female PM, but yes, we still have mass sexism and rape culture) I was proud to have helped programme some buskers in the form of poets and musicians beforehand for the outside scenes and be part of the faux-protest that did raise awareness of women’s charities.  Wrote a blog about it here.



Pink Sari Revolution

Sometimes shows about social justice can paint the hero as a pure and perfect leader for change, but Pink Sari Revolution was also nuanced and clever.  The main character, Sampat Pal Devi, is a mighty force in the world fighting for women’s rights and inspiring to the core but also a problematic figure.  The writing was inspiringly well-paced and really made me think about how you love along such a complex story in snappy scenes.  Also loved the great tree snarling from the concrete and splash of beautiful pink  in the set.



Youth Theatre

Great Youth Theatre shows have included seeing Salisbury Playhouse’s The Government Inspector, Zoetrope at West Yorkshire Playhouse (blog here), Pressure at Harrogate Theatre, The Blue Road at Derby Theatre and Our Mutual Friend at Hull Truck (as discussed here).  The Youth Theatre sector continues to thrive and make amazing work to rival, even best, what we deem 'professional' work.


Morale Is High (since we gave up hope) - Powder Keg
All We Ever Wanted Was Everything - Middle Child

Two shows I saw on the same evening back-to-back at the same venue and both very similar.  A little bit like a Bus Man’s Holiday in the sense both shows about luckless millennials trying to work out how to make an impact in a grey Tory Britain.  As a luckless millennial, I could only sigh and say “yep, seems about right”.  Both shows used great noisy live music, All We Ever Wanted was a great showcase spectacle and Powder Keg were a great sizzle of two chap chemistry and Beyblade references.



The Tin Drum – Kneehigh

This was my antidote to seeing some meh theatre over the course of the year.  It was expensive, but it was ace.  Visually it had everything you need from Kneehigh, messy and evocative and splashy and bright.  The songs were like a punk orchestra.   Time-to-time it’s nice to drag myself from the back rooms of pubs doing solo sets to see something that dominates the stage with a spectacle of style and sound.

A Show That Gambles On The Future - Mark Thomas

Of all Mark’s shows I’ve seen over the year, this was perhaps the most akin to a stand-up set rather than a theatre show.  Nevertheless Mark’s magnetic energy makes him both a dominating, yet welcoming, presence.  His quickfire conversations and cageless enthusiasm make him a must-see for anyone (like myself) exploring how to not only engage an audience, but keep them hooked whilst you unpack Brexit, the monarchy, Tories and capitalism.  Mark is an excellent example of how you grapple with these huge concepts and leave spirited and renewed.  Also see:  Josie Long.



Wednesday, 13 December 2017

20.17 Blog #38: Top Albums of 2017

Onsind:  We Wilt, We Bloom



They’ve done it again.  Onsind’s ability to paint pictures, craft stories and create characters have always set them apart from the folk-punk bands singing about booze and broads.  No, Onsind’s albums are explorations and here’s no exception.  An insightful, account of Britain in 2017, it unpacks racist border control, self-harm, nationalism, longing, mental health and being a millennial.  You can quite easily lose yourself in an Onsind album, and feel a beautiful mixture of blue sky happiness and forlorn loneliness all within a handful of chords, guitars and Durham howls.

Gecko:  Volcano



If it’s an earworm you’re after, then this album is full of clever, witty and instantly memorable lines and lyrics.  Gecko sits neatly within the spoken word scene, a mixture of gentle folk and hip-hop delivery.  But most importantly, the songs are all sweetly playful.  Gecko takes little ideas, strange concepts and essentially gags and manages to make highly infectious tunes.  We have him back in York 22nd March, keep your eyes peeled on the Say Owt page.

The Menzingers:  After The Party



I came to The Menzingers rather late, but they’ve certainly lodged themselves onto my iPod and brain.  My first reaction to After The Party was a bit meh, and as an album it doesn’t really boast the strongest Menzingers songs.  But the holy trinity of Lookers, Bad Catholics and the title track, After The Party.  Sullen and raw, maybe these songs helped with a tricky year of navigating being single for the first time in a while.

Worriers:  Survival Pop



Lauren Denitzio’s vocal deliver and very sharp song-writing made this a perfect example of punk in 2017.  Very personal and truthful, it has the rawness that I really needed from this winter.  There’s also well-crafted politics on ‘Gaslighter’ and ‘What We’re Up Against’, it’s not necessarily hardcore but has a great melodic hook and musical presence.

Prophets of Rage:  S/t



Maybe a tad over-polished for my punk sensibilities, nevertheless this album has been a staple of this year’s anger at constant failures and flops from authority figures.  Though all stars of the 1990s, the musicians have proven protest music is alive, loud and has agency.  I wish more female voices were part of the all-star line-up I know I’ll look back at 2017 as the year we declared time to UNFUCK THE WORLD.

Captain Ska:  Liar Liar




OK.  This is the real soundtrack to 2017.  Yeah it’s just a single, so I’m cheating.  Other protest songs will come-and-go but I will never forget this track dropping before the General Election and that wave of energy that came with finally getting behind a Labour Party opposed to austerity.  The song was a fiery inspiration that backed travelled to Halifax to protest the manifesto launch.  We danced to it outside the ‘debate’ between May and Corbyn at the University of York.  And it will always be a song that gives me hope.  I also like playing it at Police Officers at Kirby Misperton.  You never know, right?  Might convert a few.  She’s a liar.  You can’t trust her.

Shout outs to:

Public Enemy, Nothing Is Quick In The Desert
Iron Chic, You Can't Stay Here
Fresh, s/t
Jesus & His Judgemental Father, It Might Get Better
Bolshy, Reap The Storm
Days N Daze, Crustfull
Limp Wrist, Facades
Trigger Warning and the Safe Spaces, Everything Is Problematic
CRUMBS, Mind Yr Manners
Priests, Nothing Feels Natural
Porch Cat, Bad Victim
Open City, s/t
Mary Bell, s/t
Kehlani, SweetSexySavage
Kamikaze Girls, Seafoam
Downtown Boys, Cost of Living
Dishlicker, Reality Sounds Better
Bonobo, Migration
Austeros, I've Got This
Escape From The Zoo, Killacopter
David Rovics, Ballad of a Wobbly
Princess Nokia, 1992 Deluxe


Saturday, 9 December 2017

20.17 Blog #37: 2012, Starbucks, Cuts, Tax and debating the facts

5 years ago I took part in one of the most successful pieces of protest I think I’ve ever been part of.

Cast your mind back to those early days of the Coalition.  The message being transmitted from Tory Towers with little Lib Dem liars giving little Lib Dem thumbs up was:  The country is broken.  It’s bust.  It’s cashless.  So we can’t afford apparent luxuries like the NHS, welfare and housing.  Soz.  #toughchoices

The immediate argument in response was:  There is loads of money out there.

One of the loudest arguments was to close the tax loopholes, redefine the definitions between tax ‘evasion’ and tax ‘avoidance’. Or just tax massive companies more.  Amazon, Google and Boots were all seen as huge profit-making companies that refused to pay their tax.  You can read about it here.  Starbucks had paid no corporation tax whatsoever in 2011.  None.

This all feels a little bit like treading water, so apologies if you all know.  But at the time, it was news to me.  It felt like it wasn’t just ideologically hating the Tories, the Party I had been warned about throughout my life, but that there was a very decent argument to oppose their austerity.  We were right.  We had good reasons.  We were not being represented by the media.

UK Uncut had been holding occupations and sit-ins to raise awareness of this situation.  They called for a day of action on the 8th December, arguably one of the busiest shopping days in the calendar. A in York group organised to stand outside Starbucks with free tea, coffee and cake and discourage people from giving their cash to the business, whilst raising money for a York women’s refugee shelter.  Also because food is political, and food should be free.  And food and coffee should not be a tool for a massive corporation to make money while cuts will affect everyone at the very bottom.  Starbucks even tried a divide-and-rule tactic warning staff if they were forced to pay taxes it could affect their staff’s rights.  Nonsense, of course.



Firstly, this little action felt a very novel idea, despite it not being particularly large.  But until then a lot of focus had been around waiting for Trade Unions to call massive strikes, or funnelling people into London demos.  This was before the Occupy movement, and giving out free food on the street (through York Food Not Bombs) felt novel.

So the Police came to keep an eye on us, and the Manager of Starbucks came to keep an eye on us.  And people took our grub and went elsewhere.  And at one point Jimmy Carr (who had a gig that night) nipped past our protest to grab a coffee.  He’d recently been embroiled in a tax scandal, so goodness knows why he decided to risk more media attention for choosing a tax-dodging business.

Now an 'alternative' to austerity is part of the political conversation.  There are other pots of money, other opportunities, other streams to explore is part of a new conversation.  Closing tax loopholes, taxing the very, very rich and finding an alternative to austerity are all part of Labour’s recent manifesto.  And even the Tories seem to be rebranding as Nice Tories with slightly less cuts and the offer of Millennial Railcards in their recent budgets.


And I think it’s because groups like UK Uncut and little local pockets of activism started to change the conversation, raising awareness, keeping it in the public eye.  I’m going to talk more about it in another blog,  but I just wanted to reflect on 5 years ago when we were building a momentum (but not that kind) to open these discussions in the freezing cold, outside Starbucks.


Monday, 27 November 2017

20.17 Blog #36: Save Charles Hutchinson

It was announced last week that Charles Hutchinson, Arts Editor for York Press, is under threat from redundancy.  You can read up for more context here.  This blog is about the local issue of Charles’ valuable position within the York scene, but I hope it resonates with all local communities that feed into and support one another.

I have old clippings from the very first shows I was in as a Youth Theatre member where Charles reviewed the shows.  Part of the struggle of Youth Theatre is to get noticed by press, nationally and locally.  It is simply not recognised as a ‘proper’ artform by the gate-keepers of the culture, whether the staff of magazines and newspapers themselves or even, sadly, the Marketing Department of theatre buildings.  But Charles would come and review Youth Theatre, and continues to do so.  It is amazing to say to a young cast we have a reviewer in, and their work will be treated fairly by someone in the paper for all their family to see.  There cannot be many reviewers for local papers up and down this country who will readily come and watch, review and champion Youth Theatre.  This is one of Charles’s many mighty traits.

Charles must have reviewed every theatre company in this city at some point, giving them time and space in his columns.  York has a wide art scene, and Charles could quite easily focus on the larger theatres.  But he also visits the pub shows and the site-specific works when he can.

What does this all matter?  It shows that someone with power cares about your work.  That someone in a privileged position can give you space in the local paper, and a platform.  Actually there’s a lot of kindness and generosity in how Charles navigates the scene.

Of course, I have issues with the chap.  We’ve been trying to drag him down to Say Owt gigs for years (even though he always does a lovely preview for us).  We argued about his call to chop out the Porter in Macbeth (the only working class character!).  And I’ll be perfectly honest, I know some people across the network take issue with certain elements of Charles’ reviews or approaches.  But there is no denying he’s always up for a lovely healthy debate and natter, whether about theatre or Elvis Costello.  He’s amicable and approachable around when you bump into him, always up for a chuckle and puts his heart into the scene.  And it sets a great example for cross-promotion, watching each other’s back and valuing our art.

It’s not just the fact we need an Arts Editor for the main paper in the city, but that we need them to be a chummy and committed person like Charles.


I write this because I hope Charles can remain as long as he feels he can best serve York, and that the role of Arts Editor will still exist as a vital lynchpin of such a cultural hub.