Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Apps & Austerity attack at an arts affair

Another year, another August, another Edinburgh Fringe adventure!  This year I took another solo show up with PBH Free Fringe:  Apps & Austerity.  A blow-by-blow examination of the last 10 years.  Defining the 2010s and it's memes and movements.

As my book came out last year, I wanted to find a good excuse to start writing a new set of poems.  Having the whole of the decade was a pretty good pool of source material!  But it was also a chance for me to move away from the more nerdy material I've been writing.  Put more distance between the cartoony/comic booky influences and try to not only dig deeper into the wider world, but dig deeper into myself and find Henry 2.0.

Certainly the show was very well-received.  After 5 years of performing on the Free Fringe, I can tell when an audience haven't clicked or connected with the show.  Usually because they put 50p in the donations bucket at the end.  But this year I had much more audiences leaving, irregardless of the wright of their wallets, saying they enjoyed the show.

I think the poems in Apps & Austerity were written much more with a wider 50 minute performance in mind, and so I tried to seed ideas, references and lines throughout the piece which meant there were more connections for the audience to fuse together.

I'm hoping to re-tune the show and take out to a few venues, if anyone is interested in the show drop me an email henry@henryraby.com

I found this year a lot harder than past years, despite being proud of the show.  I think this is because flyering never gets easier, and yet it's the only way on such a DIY level we can find audiences.  You just have to pitch the show every time the flyer leaves your hand. 

I don't think I took the time to properly self-care, which for me means waking, escaping the Fringe, eating somewhere away from the crowds.  I had later nights, which were with amazing pals, but potentially took their toll.  EdFringe is no easy feat.

One thing I also noticed was, as we move towards an increasingly cashless society, people apologised for not having any money for my bucket.  Something I know some artists rectified with a cardless cash machine, and something we need to think about if we're asking for donations and most people just use contactless in the future.

I want to give a huge thanks and shout-out to everyone on the PBH Free Fringe and the scene beyond.  The poets and spoken word artists who offer so much love, solidarity and support.  Who give a hand flyering, point audiences in the right direction, advertise at the end of their own shows and generally offer compassion and company.

Thank you so much xxx
I am so proud to know you all and hear you say words and have you hear mine.

Friday, 28 June 2019

Big Gigs

On Thursday, Say Owt put on the biggest gig of our 4.75 years of existence.  The previous 120 capacity record has been defeated by 200 people at The Crescent to see Hollie McNish.

Weirdly, in the weeks run up to this gig, I did the least amount of work I’d ever done for a gig.  The event had sold out, so no need to promote.  The venue got everything sorted and just needed to provide a mic. Compared to previous events where we fought for every ticket sale, needed to source chairs, equipment, organise the venue, this was all a straight-forward.  We did record a podcast with Hollie, which you can hear here!

I don’t mean to say this was an easy gig, but it did feel all the previous harder work and harder input was paying off with a comparatively easier event.

But what really struck me about the gig was how Hollie, with such a large fanbase, brought so many new people to a Say Owt gig.  I always ask for a cheer if the crowd have been to a Say Owt gig before, a cheer if new and the response is nothing short of edge-of-your-seat keen!  Certainly got a good block noise from newcomers!

With my business hat on, it’s a great opportunity to promote to new audiences to come to our smaller gigs (like this one plug plug!). But it’s also so valuable to feel part of a growing scene, where a night out watching poetry and spoken word is the same as a music gig, comedian or piece of theatre.  Maybe even one day we’ll have the same tribal bulk as football?

But what matters to me most is that we are bringing new people to the genre, and providing a platform not just for performers, for audiences to feel part of a scene and an inclusive artform.  Whether a gig has 20 people in a pub backroom, or 200 people at a big gig venue, as long as the gig is inclusive, passionate, honest and quality than we (as promoters & hosts) are doing a good job.

One person on Instagram said “First poetry gig I’ve been to, and absolutely loved it!  Thank you.  You were all amazing!”

Thank you everyone for coming, and Hollie for being rad!!!

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Fight For Your Right To Youth Strike

I wasn’t always this angry, you know.

When I was a teenager, I was mainly interested in the latest Games Workshop release.  This rock n’ roll lifestyle didn’t kick in until later.

In 2003 Tony Blair’s New Labour Government began talk of war, and I was 14, a few months shy of my 15th birthday.  The Conservatives, ever the Party of Flag & Country, back the war.  My general mood was:  If we have to do it, we’ve got to do it.  I saw rule-following as inherently a ‘good’ thing, and I wanted to be a good person.  It was an era of early Harry Potter books and Lord of The Rings with the ‘good’ pure protagonist.  The angsty Potters and Katniss Everdeens would come later.

2 million people marched in London against the war, and in York school students marched out and sat on York bridges for hours.  Not my school, though I don’t think I would have joined them even if I’d known about it or the person sat next to me had stood up in defiance.

From 2004-2009, a mixture of Youth Theatre, Nietzsche, Communist History tutors, punk music and University lefties helped shape my worldview in later years, just in time for the 2010 coalition to feel my ire.  But it’s not just about politics, it’s also about confidence and courage.  I would have been too nervous, too introverted to break such a cornerstone rule of classes and walk out, even if it was a cause I was committed to.

This is my biggest regret in life.

Across 2019 in the UK, school students have been walking out of classes once a month inspired by Greta Thunberg and the European movements.  I’ve had the pleasure to attend the first Leeds walk-out, followed by two in York.  They have been colourful, passionate and, of course angry.  But mainly hopeful and good-spirited.  I’ve been proud to donate my megaphone.

I suppose I wanted to say to any introverted young person, to the nerdy studious kids who are mainly indoor gamers and readers: 
You are so much braver than you realise, and if you want to protest please know you are powerful.

When The Dust Settles

“When this is all over” Hope declares
“We will have the biggest party the world has ever seen.”
What she means is
“When we win.”
Hope is breathing in a lungful.

Does she mean “we” as in everyone in this square
The ‘we’ who painted placards bright in the sunlight
Drew a tearful polar bear, pathetic ice caps
Black seas, dying trees
Slogans standing beside memes
Save, planet and burn being the main themes.
Rallied together despite the disapproval and threats
“What do we want?!” she roars
“Climate justice!” comes the reply
“When do we want it?!”

Or does she mean “we” as in everyone on Earth
The ‘we’ who feel the increase of heat
Temperatures rise, failing of crops
Or flooded populations, poisoned seas
Butchering of trees.

“When the dust settles” she explains
“We will celebrate”

School students walked out, risked detention or worse
When they march, they clamber onto shoulders and street signs
Seek applause from passer-bys
But seek no permission.
There are 9-year olds here, wide-eyed gripping parent’s hands
Born in 2010, making the same demands.
Used blue and green chalk to make the street beautiful
With a great full planet Earth.
Now, they congregate and the square has been claimed.
Hope tells me she spent years soaking up angry truths
Tapping Twitter hashtags, joining Facebook Groups
Now she wants to make the News.

She takes over the soundsystem and the square erupts
Music plays from the speakers, dancing is a relief.
Across the world, streets are shut
Tents pitched, lock-ons clicked
Glue is used, Police are tricked.

There is no possibility of failure, a final full stop
No possibility for compromise, as time flies.
But emergencies can still be fun
And I can’t wait until we’ve won.

When do we want it?

Now now now

Monday, 29 April 2019

Manchester Punk (Poetry) Festival

I discovered punk and poetry around the same time.  John Cooper Clarke’s scattergun verse is where the Venn diagram intersects. But I soon discovered a scene of performance poetry beyond the Bard of Salford, and punk music beyond the 1970s.

Mid-2000s I went to local gigs to see local bands.  And touring bands like Random Hand and Sonic Boom Six became my favourite bands.  And the more I wrote poems, the more the poetry scene became a poetry community with nights, hubs and friendly pals in cities across the UK.  In 2015 me and Bridget Hart toured the UK to poetry and punk venues, in 2018 my theatre company toured our show about punk to theatre venues and DIY spaces.  Seems JCC isn’t the only place where the Venn diagram intersects.

I’ve done a few gigs with punk bands, and when I used to put on music gigs I’d always get a poet to do a set.  Punk’s not always been about just guitars.  80s gigs used to feature cabaret acts, comedians, story-tellers and all kinds of spoken word artists such as Joolz Deby, Attila The Stockbroker, Porky The Poet (aka Phil Jupitus) and Craig Charles.

Manchester Punk Festival are doing some really exciting and diverse work.  Their festival is a passion project from a consortium of gig promoters who showcase not just shouty punk, but international bands, folk-punk, ska, indie-punk and queer and female representation, and spaces for films, podcasts and ethical food.  I like how they re-think how you manage a large-scale festival, how you approach that structure in a DIY, non-profit driven pro-inclusive model.  They have defined a brand which feels professional, but also DIY and inclusive.  Last year they started a Comedy Stage, so I approached them to see whether they would be interested in running a Poetry Stage.

So after what seemed an eternity of plotting and planning and play-list-making, my line-up for the three days was born.  Something I really noticed at MPF over the weekend were bands really appreciating people coming to support them.  I guess normally punk bands play in the small venues, so pooling everyone together can feel an epic gig.  Kermes played a gloriously sweaty fun set, Whoanows were charmingly fresh, Nervus celebratory, Cherym a fistful of fury, Martha stormed through banger-after-banger-after-banger Perkie was intimate and soulful to name but a few.

And it got me thinking about punk and punk poetry.  Poets often play to smaller crowds, and often present more personal and individual work.  Bridget Hart’s Saturday set was a loveletter to the people in her life.  Martin Appleby told little stories and insights of the scene.  Suky Goodfellow directly interacted with her audience in a Choose Your Own Adventure-style poetry set.  Cynthia Rodriguez took the mic out into the space for her anti-borders banter.  Kit Rayne showed a slice of her tattooed nerdy queer heart.  Simon Widdop juggled stories of home.  Genevieve Walsh was in her natural environment of back-room pub pal-packed poetry.  People hopped up for the open mic.

And I?  I was the first person to perform at Manchester Punk Festival in slippers.  Because if I can’t have comfy feet, it’s not my revolution.

Punk tried to tear down that barrier between audience and performer.  No rock star pomp, we are you, you are us, get a guitar, make a zine, write a poem and join in.

We want that connection with the performer and audience.

The last act I saw at the festival was Perkie.  She played a song called Werewolves which I’d never heard before.  She said it was about this punk community.  I had a little cry.

Punk should be more than just music; it’s a culture, which includes Comedy and Poetry (and film too!).  I’m glad that poetry could be part of the DNA of the Festival.  Up The Poetry Punks!

Monday, 8 April 2019

Three NaPoWriMo poems

NaPoWriMo is the national poetry-writing month.
Participants try and write a poem-a-day.
I had some busy days (and some naff days) so have managed three new poems so far.
All untitled, all fresh, all need work, all here in this blog

Motorway stretches thinly onwards into darkness
Repetition like black and white cartoon loop.
Just point the wheels in the right direction
Keep my foot where it belongs
And count down the seconds.
Across the country
Packages and parcels and produce
Totalled and transported.
Ambulances ignite and illuminate streets
A bleak blue.
Late-working lovers return, party-goers get going
Sleepy key-fumbling.
I trust in the deep red speakers on the passenger seat
Dispatch carefully curated podcasts and playlists.
The world breathes past at 70 miles per hour.
The Google Maps app ticks.
How did it get so late,
And who is over-taking me?

To get to either of my jobs
Or the centre of town in general
I walk past a Model Shop.
I’ve been in this shop
Plenty of times for brushes
And paints and flocks.
But I’ll admit, these many times
Were many years ago.
It’s unchanged in stock
Presenting twee railway
In 1.76 gauge.
Window-rammed with
Cars and toy soldiers
Measured in millimeters.
Glued-up Spitfires and Bombers
Drone above plastic fields of
railways and trains.
Scenes affixed from
Memories of Britain
In Penguin books.
A reminder of consistency
In hobbycraft and
Nostalgic pursuits.
Seems so English
(or British)
Like bowlers and suits.
As I often dash
Late for a shift
Or stride home
I try and snatch
A new fact from the window.
A new name or detail
Colour or brand
As an excuse to keep my
Phone in my pocket.

I have faith.
I have faith that when I press the traffic light button, it will work.
The red ring will illuminate, or the WAIT decree will shine.
The municipal system will be enacted, Green becomes Yellow
And when the Red light halts wheels, Green Men invite
And we will cross the road safely, you and I.
Trust me.
Have you no faith
That I pressed the button?
Have you no faith
That the uppercase WAIT assurance shows
That the request works?
Have you no faith
So you must press the button as well, add nothing
Waste your finger?
Have faith.
I pressed the button.

The traffic crossing is working.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

The Angels, the Vandals and the Greysteels

Last week myself and Natalie Quatermass were in Sheffield all week being mentored by Third Angel.  Me and Nat are Vandal Factory Theatre Company and, after our first show last year, are developing a new play called English Dirt

A line from our last show kept buzzing around our brains.

Who owns the roof that you live and eat and work beneath
Is it fear of starvation that makes you believe what you believe?

This has led us down an English country road of land-ownership, which naturally leads us to question the enclosure laws, power dynamics, nationhood, borders, the State and identity.  With the constant question of sovereignty and Britishness being dragged into discussions across Parliament, the media and pubs our show, English Dirt, set about exploring this theme.

The last year has seen us cover floors with Big Sheets Of Paper and read articles, books and zines around our topics.  It feels like we started this conversation back in 1066, but we’re finally making progress.

I’ve interacted with Third Angel a few times over the years, once at a workshop at York Theatre Royal, speaking at their conference a few years back and generally seeing their productions.  Their co-Artistic Director Alex is a superb mentor who helped us whittle away at some ideas, find connecting themes and narratives and gave us support to find the next stages of our route.

We also worked with band Flora Greysteel, a joyous duo.  We felt our history of land laws should relate to the history of British protest, and Simon and Emily are dazzling in their ability to take the slither of a song or attitude and transform it into spectacular music seemingly in seconds.

I think this last week has taught me a lot about shifting through ideas.  We kept referring to the idea the statue is inside the block of clay already, the sculptor’s job is to excavate it.  We are finding out show, piece by piece, among this vast and important history and story.  If we are wandering down a road, we have thrown away some of the baggage, but also seen new sights along the way.
We also managed to see Standing At The Sky’s Edge at Sheffield Theatre, a show with similar themes about ownership, class and identity in modern Britain.

I wanted to document this week and say thanks to Third Angel and Sheffield Theatres, a big warm hug-filled thanks to Flora Greysteel and my collaborator Natalie Quatermass.  I am excited for the next stage of English Dirt’s muddy road!