Friday, 24 January 2020

Left Wing Signs & Symbols Aid

In the last week, various news outlets have ran articles how in 2019, the Police put Extinction Rebellion on a list of terrorist groups.
Before anyone misrepresents me, without question I condemn acts of terrorist murder, from the killing of Joe Cox to the Manchester Arena attack.  But what is important is the distinction between protesting, Unionising, picketing, direct action and ...terrorism.
Many other groups were included in this counter-terrorism list.  The UK has no left-wing terrorist organisations prepared to kill for their ideology, unlike the right-wing.
And yet Socialist, Communist and Anarchist groups have been included (along with signs and symbols not uncommon with my wardrobe) in this database.  I have performed at 0161 Crew's anti-fascist festival in Manchester.  I've been to UKUncut, XR and Reclaim The Power actions, I'm in the IWW and I have an Anarchist Black Cat patch.

I find this revelation about the Home Office unsurprisingly, but no less disturbing.  Anti-fracking groups were labelled terrorists by Manchester Police in 2018 and spied on left-wing and anti-racist groups throughout the 1990s.  Across the pond, a Republican law-maker has called 'the LGBT' a terrorist group.  And Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn was continually painted as a terrorist sympathiser for his work finding dialogue towards peace processes, to the extent to this misinformation I heard of someone saying that Corbyn had actually been in the IRA.

Of course, the Muslim community have been at the brunt of this invasive surveillance and bias.  The Government's data-collecting wing Prevent "continues to inflict harm on the lives of individuals and create an environment which weakens political participation and threatens any form of dissent."
Since 2001, the media and the Right have constantly conflated Muslim with Terrorist.
I'd urge everyone to watch Suhaiymah Manzoor-Kahn's This Is Not A Humanising Poem, an urgent piece about being a Muslim women in the UK.
"If I need me to prove my humanity, I'm not the one who's not human."

In the West, the legacy of Blair and Bush's War On Terror continues where the term 'terrorism' can be used to define, or redefine, the narrative.  My union, the IWW, are listed in the counter-terrorism training.  But next comes Unison, GMB, TUC, UCU and whatever other Unions challenge the Government's grip.
The poetry, arts, music and theatre scenes know all about language.  We see the way that the media and the State can spin, so workers rights is 'Communism', anti-racism is 'woke', feminism is 'man-hating', Queer identities are 'paedophilic and predatory' and environmentalism and Trade Unionism is 'terrorism'.
At music and poetry gigs, will these common and beautiful ideas of feminism, LBGTQ+ rights, workers rights and anti-racism be targeted by the counter-terrorism wing of Policing?  Are we radicalising?
Is this what the 2020s offers, as flags are waved to celebrate 'freedom' and as more Tories and bankers and billionaires raise their champagne?  Slapping each other on the back, seeing themselves as 'the good guys', the one's who defeated the baddies, the Terrorists, whilst any opposition, however moderate, is painted as the Threat.

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Never Kissed A Tory

When Theresa May called her election, I never thought I'd canvas for Labour.
I'd put an anti-Tory slogan in the window, sure.  I was still bitter about Miliband's Labour supporting austerity.  I was angry they supported the Workfare bill.
But the manifesto, spearheaded by then-leader Jeremy Corbyn was a manifesto that I could get behind.
So I did some door-knocking.
Then in 2019, when Johnson called for the 4th General Election of the year, it was all-hands-on-deck.
Because this Labour manifesto would pull the UK out of cruel austerity measures and steer the UK towards a Green New Deal.  So I went door-knocking again.
We all know how it ended, and you probably don't need another voice in the storm saying What Went Wrong.
But during the campaign, I put on a gig with Grace Petrie and we raised over £900 for York Outer Labour Party.  I could never have seen myself doing this in 2015.
We wanted to fight against the 630th worst MP, Julian Sturdy.  We lost, of course, and Sturdy is free to continue barely being around his constituency.  It was a fight worth fighting.
I wanted to write a quick blog about the arts in these circumstances.  Because it's always been hard for me to in my colours to a specific mast.  For every fistful of policies I agree with, there will be another fistful of issues.  I guess politics is sometimes about compromise.
There are some organisations I would never do a gig for, some obvious ones (If, in the unlikley event York Tories asked me to come and do a gig, it would be a resounding No).  Others more complex, e.g. anything affiliation with the SWP.
I noticed after the EU Referendum in 2016, a few Arts organisations publicly bemoaning the result, especially as they receive funding from EU sources.  But there was no mention of the pros of EU membership on their website or social media until the votes had been counted.
It's always hard, because art is meant to have a broad appeal.  If you just perform to people within your circle, you're just back-patting in an echo chamber.
I find this fine if you need to energize and impassion, but what we've clearly seen this last election is that we can put thousands of boots on the ground and canvas, flyer, door-knock and it doesn't matter in the face of wave-after-wave of billionaire-backed lies.
I saw a status by a poet saying their next collection would be called 'I Hate Tories'.

Well, as much as I hate Tories (and would never kiss one), I think the art we make has to entice and education.  I hate the Tory Party, but there's a block of their voters that have committed to installing a pro-poverty Party.  And it scares me how we switch them away from this toxicity.  I guess as I get older, I'll try and make a distinction between a dyed-in-the-wool Tory who cheers for power, privilege, austerity, poverty, war and greed.  A Tory who advocates for the deaths of the disabled, the deportations of ethnic minorities and cares not-a-jot for the future of the planet.  This is not the same as a Tory-voter who feels their views float towards that spectrum of narrow British politics.  Still won't kiss ya, though.
So I'm going to try and rethink and reimagine the art I make, the theatre and poetry I write.  In the early 2010s I wrote a lot of protest poetry.  Reflecting demos and rallies.  They do the job, but it's a specific job.  I've tried to write more playfully politically since, and my last few key poems have been about people, history and places.
So how can we continue to energeize and impassion, but also keep changing the narrative.  And indeed, how do we find those audiences beyond our safe left/liberal bubbles in arts spaces and gigs?
It's time to feel what we need to feel.  Reflect, analyse, cry and re-group.
Love, rage & solidarity always x

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

A Poem For Boris Johnson

Now if you were to ask
I’d say my favourite band are The Clash
And recently this band had a mention
From Prime Minister Boris Johnson
He claimed they were his favourite band
And like the best of activists, I took to Twitter
Said Boris, you don’t understand

Rebellion and resistance against the elite were the Clash’s main themes
Saying you love them is like the King who praises the guillotine
It’s like Dracula keeping a set of wooden steaks
A Battering ram being beloved by castle gates
The fly swatter cheered on by the fly
You seemed to have missed the point of their lyrics
Boris you don’t strike me as a punky kinda guy.

And I thought that would be that, a grumpy Tweet, no more
But one afternoon I had a knock on my door
It was old Boris, all bluster and hot breath
Fear of failure and the ditches of death
He said:  “I need a punk poet to pen me a verse
Paint me in a good light
Before things get much worse”

Well in this economy, I can’t be choosey, got rent to pay
So I said:  “OK, but it must be the truth today”
Well maybe it was my kind, trustworthy face
Or the guilt he needed to expunge and displace
“Oh yes”, he galumphed, it’s me you can trust
I asked about my fee
And pointed to a deal on the side of a bus.

He bumbled through his autobiography of silver spoons, Eton, Oxford, the Bullingdon Club
Burning notes in front of beggers and smashing up pubs
Said “I became a journalist, got sacked from The Times for making things up
In 1990 I helped my chum Darrius Guppy beat up a man pretty good”
Now Boris was breathless from the sudden splurge of sins
Cocked like a rifle aiming for grouse
He downed his tea, caught his breath, and drew me in

Then came a barrage of breakages and blunders
He bellowed them out like a cricket bat made of thunder
“I wasted millions in vanity projects as Mayor of London
Promised not to close the Tube ticket offices but now they’re all gone
Promised no fare increase but the costs went up
Like the capital’s homeless
Cut 300 firefighters, closed three fire stations for good.”

Well now Mr Johnson was at the end of his millionaire wits
Told me his What Ho history of being an MP in a garbled blitz
“Like Horatio at Trafalgar, Welly at Waterloo
I told my constituents of Uxbridge I’d do anything for you
I’d lie in front of a bulldozer to stop another Heathrow Runway
But when it came to the vote in Parliament I...ran away.”

He told me all his praise for austerity, for greed and profit 
Didn’t have a problem with the EU until it could be spun as unpatriotic
The man was crumbling like the fracked white cliffs of Dover
“As PM?  I put forward a Brexit deal moreorless the same one I quit over”
Now his eyes flashed a red that belied is blue blood in his veins
“It’s not my fault!  My treacherous MPs
The Remainers and Labour, the EU, Libs and Bercow:  They’re all to blame!”

What do you stand for, I asked?
The Queen he gasped!
God bless her! He spluttered
(though he admitted he lied to her too)
Toff tears from this big blubbering fool
“There’s no poets here” he lied automatically
“Never mind the flooded North, I’m the real national emergency!
I can’t tell what’s this character I’ve invented
Help me navigate what’s true
I want to go back to guesting on Have I Got News For You!”

Oh Boris, I sighed, this isn’t a scoop
Your lies, the incompetence?  That’s a loveable trait
People like the way you back-stabbed Gove and your mates
The racist comments?  Your Party happy to look the other way
In fact, that’s why they love you, a cartoonish replica from another age
You can say what you want, make a Big Ben-high pile of mistakes
Just proof that Old School Tie power and class privilege never really fades

He warbled from his quivering mouth
Oh goodness me, how do I get out?
This is torture, like I’m trapped in Dante’s Hell
Bojo, I’m afraid we’re in Limbo
Until December the 12th
Now chillout, stop thrashing, sit down relax, can I ask

Do you want another cup of tea while we listen to The Clash?

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

The Young Conservatives

We are The Young Conservatives who
Came of age in Austerity Britain.
But we're doing just fine, so keep the
Stats and poverty nicely hidden.
Ironed shirt, M&S tie, neat hair
I rate my Union Jack striped underwear.
Here's a tip: Best to look away
When our Old School Tie MP tuts about "disabled gays".
Our generation's big issue is the climate crisis
Don't truant, swot in school Fellow Kids
To become the bankers & brokers of the future
Making money from the broken system rapture.
We're not racist!
(but defend the Windrush Scandal)
Rees-Mogg fans too lukewarm to handle.
#BackBoris - Make our filters a Royal Blue
(Dammit why is Left-wing music so cool?!)
We Young Tories praise the cuts on Snapchat
Prop up pro-austerity Eton top hat lads.
Bad budgeting is why the poorest die
Wait...did that Councillor just touch my thigh?
Look at the hatred in those working class eyes!
Applauded when Father cut the NHS down to size!
"It's so hard being all right on the British Alt-Right" we cry.
Golly gosh, watch us weep when we get criticised!
Quick! Find an immigrant to demonise!

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

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