Saturday, 27 December 2014

Home & Away: Best bits of 2014

The final gaps of 2014 are weaving through the air, it’s breath rancid and rotted.  In the doorway stands 2015, bright, handsome, head full of hair.  2014 smiles one last time.  “It was a good life” he says, a voice pained but essence of a brightness.  Then he passes on.  “No” 2015 says, in a voice like honey.  “It was a good year.”

This has truly been a good year both home and away.  Here’s some of my highlights:


I put on Hannah Nicklin’s show A Conversation With My Father totally DIY in the Black Swan with ace support acts.  I forgot to get everyone to sign up to a mailing list though.


I toured with Travels By Telephone to Birmingham, Norwich, Brighton, Bristol, Manchester, Knaresborough, Scarborough, Newcastle and various rural venues with our show Practise Patience.  We are dead proud of the show, and still looking for any dates in 2015!  We met some wonderful people, caught up with old friends and had some amazing feedback (“The most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen”).  We did the show in York to a packed out crowd!  AND NO BLOOMIN’ MAILING LIST!

Download the live recording and get a zine here


I put together TWO compilations of poems and songs  about my favourite game/cartoon:  Pokémon.  Off the back of this, I started playing more acoustic sets under the name Pewter City Punk and went outside my comfort zone.  Download here


I performed at Boomtown Fair, the biggest festival I’ve been to so far.  My set went down well, I met some cool poets and saw a whole bunch of brill bands and acts.  Thanks to Tim for driving me and Sally for putting me on!


Me and my Emma made a zine with interviews from over 25 female York musicians about their influences and experiences.  We did a launch with Kinky, Freaks + Geeks, Chrissy Barnacle and Jenn Hart.  You can pick up the zine here, and a good read it is too!


I did more rural touring in Suffolk and Norfolk, and it’s always nice to write poems for random people on random topics, thanks to Creative Arts East!  Read about it here


Alongside Stu Freestone, I put on the first Say Owt Slam featuring Mark Grist.  The night sold out, and we had 15 amazingly high-quality poets fighting for the title of first slam champ!  Mark was superb as always, and we got great reviews in One & other and The Nouse.  Next slam is 23rd Jan with Sophia Walker, and the one after that in March.  Again, forgot to do a mailing list.  Whoops.


I went and say a WHOLE LOTTA Youth Theatre (see my blogposts here and here).  I wrote a play for Harrogate Youth Theatre, adapted A Midsummer Night’s Dream for them and wrote a play for York Youth Theatre.  I became a Trustee of Upstage Centre YT and have done more freelance work than ever before in the sector.  Looking forward to writing another play for Harrogate in 2015 and hopefully other freelance opportunities.  Check out my website for more info here.


I put on WORD & WHIPPETS 2 at York Theatre Royal featuring Rob Auton and the Sky Show.  Rob’s show is very odd but magical, very funny but very moving and I’m dead happy we also had Chris Singleton, Lizi Patch and Genevieve Walsh performing their ace poetry.  Hopefully will be another W&W in 2015, more info to come.  And although it sold out, totally forgot to make a mailing list.  Agh!


I compared and programmed the spoken word & comedy stages at Galtres Festival 2014, putting on ace acts like Jess Green, JB Barrington, Jenn Hart, Danny Deegan, Zach Roddis and loads more.   Though we were small in the poetry section, everyone who came had a wicked time seeing something different amongst the music, and the comedy tent was always rammed with people eager for some gags which Peet Sutton and Seb Bloomfield provided admirably with their cast of comedians.  I know Galtres had issues with paying traders and acts after Galtres, and I know there is an uncertainty with 2015, so I’ll say as much as I know:  I do not know if all my acts were 100%, nor whether Galtres will return in what capacity, and I have not been asked whether I’d want to be involved as yet.  But I did dance to The Levellers and forgot to get a mailing list.  Eeeek.


I put on Buddy Wakefield, one of the greatest poets in the whole wide world.  And he was amazing.  Mind-blowing.  Highly skilled.  Thanks to York Lit Fest for their support, and All Saints Church for letting me use the space.  And guess what?  I MADE A MAILING LIST!!!  Whooooop!!!

Go sign up here

So thanks to everyone that gave me a gig or came to check me out home or away, all the acts I gigged with, all the acts I put on and most importantly YOU.  Yes YOU.
Always looking for gigs, writing and workshop opportunities or new connections, here’s to 2015!

Henry ‘Mailing List’ Raby

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Top albums of 2014

This certainly has been the year of queer punk, queercore & indie punk-pop!

AGAINST ME! (Transgender Dysphoria Blues)
Black Me Out!  This album came kicking and screaming into my ears early on January, and I knew this would be a staple of the year.  Fusing a fist-and-furious assault of punk rage that Against Me! had kind of lost over their last few albums, this album featured Laura Jane Grace screaming her heart out over trans* rights and experiences making every track feel raw and salted and totally replayable.  Each track gets my blood pumping and when I saw them live in Leeds I was certainly not disappointed.

KINKY (self-titled) & NOT RIGHT (Your Turn)
This is a joint position, because both bands have delivered awesome old school-sounding punk/hardcore but with all the aggression of queer and feminist policies that I’ve come to discover over the past year.  Kinky were so cool, we put them on twice in York and Not Right were amazing at Nottingham Queer Fest.  Their albums are so sharp and snappy and moreish, unashamedly in yer-face it’s glorious and what I love about both punk and queer. 
Also firm favs of 2014’s riot grrl and queer punk releases were daskinsey4 (Bent Coppers) Petrol Girls (EP), Skull Puppies (Venus Crytrap), Caves (Leaving)

MARTHA (Courting Strong)
When I talk about a replayable ablum, I mean an album that as soon as it’s finished, you just want to hit play once again.  Martha’s album full of stories, growing up, love, gender identity, isolation, home and hope is a fantastic piece of work.  Crafting stories around the upbeat indie-punk-pop, every song has layers in both the lyrics and sound, every verse is full of catchy clever line and live their ramshackle DIY essence should teach bands with a similar sound to punk-afy their lives.  Even the NME praised this Durham super-group!
In terms of cool indie-punk, I loved Thee AHs (Corey’s Coathangers) Colour Me Wednesday/Spoonboy split Young Attenborough (Isolations) Ace Bushey Striptease (Slurpt), Doe (First Four), Happy Accidents (Not Yet Jaded)

Helen is a firm favourite on the acoustic York scene, with her amazing voice, clever song-writing and beautiful strumming she’s always worth checking out.  I have been waiting for this album for a long time, and it was worth the wait.  It’s the perfect album when I’m needing a moment to relax, to drift away and allow the Beverly legend’s music to wash over me.
Some other brill folk music this year included Tree Trunks (Snorgasm), Andrew Jackson Jihad (Christmas Island), The Roughneck Riot (Out Of Anger), Rail Yard Ghosts (Blackgrass), Tim Loud (Out Of Anger), Dan Kemp (Climb Treets Every Day), Ash Victim (Love, Rage & Confusion)

BEAR TRADE (Blood & Sand)
Just one fantastic loud, fast, punk rock album from these North Eastern lads making great tunes and the peppering of Likely Lads sound clips really made this a album to stomp down to the street to.  Another great punk album was The Menzinger’s Rented World, but I only just discovered their early albums.

Wicked chilled out and groovy children’s cartoons turned into R&B classics.  Believe it.  It’s brilliant.

KATE TEMPEST (Everybody Down)
Not quite my cup of tea, maybe because it’s a reworking of Brand New Ancients and that jarred for me, but there’s no denying her delivery and powerful use of language.

PERKIE (Time Machines)
A very intelligent album which also boasts some sharp wit and cutting punk ethos sitting neatly above Perkie’s delicate and gentle piano underpinning.  Full of gentle and clever songs about growing up, feminism and living your life by your own rules.


I love Sonic The Comic.  I love, love, love, love them.  Their album, Pixel, is so bright and bouncy and fun.  This EP has slightly less hooks, but still packs the power of an upbeat and charming band using their love for punk with their love for gamer nerdiness and their cliptune reworking amazingness.  I can't wait to see them in York in January!

Saturday, 20 December 2014

I Love Youth Theatre 2014 (part 2)

Hello!  Last year I made it a goal to see as much Youth Theatre as possible across the country.  I wrote a blog about the shows I saw at the end of 2013, and you can read it here

So this year once again I put my diary aside, booked my train tickets, begged for comps, and set off to see young people making great theatre.

By the end of March, I had been fortunate enough to see a fair few shows, so I wrote a mid-year blog on the YT shows, which you can read here

A few days after writing the blog, I went to see Upstage Centre’s production of The Bloody Chamber as part of their Springboard event.  Upstage Centre are going from strength to strength, and I’m proud to announce I will be working as a Trustee in 2015 supporting them in many awesome upcoming productions.

 In April 2014, I bounded down to deepest, darkest Salisbury to see my friend Dave Orme’s production of Bedlam with Stage65 Youth Theatre.  The production had a good balance of physical ensemble scenes whilst giving breathing space for actors to play with the 18th century characters.  The sense of uneasy background ensemble spying and sneaking helped portray this world of gossip, rumour, mystery and the inevitable question:  Who really belongs in the asylum?

Next up I visited the midlands, and Nottingham Playhouse’s All Quiet On The Western Front directed by Allie Spencer.  Such a dark, complex and weighty text was handled brilliantly by this cast who managed to find all the moments of humour and melancholy, occasionally reminding us these soldiers were no more than children through clever theatrical moments and great playful use of staging.

Back on my hometurf of York Theatre Royal Youth Theatre, The Genius directed by Natalie Quatermass and A Thousand Reasons Not To Fly directed by Jenna Drury were both marvellous inventive and fun performances from the 8-11s.  A feast of fun characters and wacky moments, The  Genius was brilliantly nutty and A Thousand Reasons Not To Fly had a very emotionally charged ending that genuinely touched the audience’s hearts, perfect proof of the ability of youth theatre to move.

In July, I also saw Harrogate Youth Theatre’s similar age range perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by Jonquil Claughan.  This was my own adaptation of the classic play, drawing on lots of poetry and updating and streamlining the language whilst keeping the magic, wonder and humour.  The cast (as well as a local school who also used a version I adapted) kept all those elements of ensemble creating the magical world of the fairies and the woods.  I loved adapting this Shakespeare, and realised how incredibly easy it is to find humour still within the Mechanicals and their little play, and the wonderment of the fairy kingdom.  If anyone is interested in looking at my adaptations, please just get in touch.

Carriageworks Young Theatre Makers presented Extraordinary in July directed by Ruth Cooper, an original piece of work drawing ideas from an enormous cast which spanned the ancient Greeks, World War 2 and into the distant future.  Ingeniously telling the story of various child geniuses (genei?) it allowed for a number of connected scenes and connected characters all telling their own stories in their own worlds, but part of a larger picture, handled well by the group all with their eyes fixed on the central theme:  suspicion of the extraordinary.

I travelled to Derby to see the double-bill of The Willow Pattern and The Chrysalis.  Emma Waslin’s The Willow Pattern found those charming moments of humour, but also the tension within the ancient tale.  Visually the show was full of colour and vibrant images.  In contrast, Sarah Brigham’s The Chrysalides was full of tortured characters exploring the bleakness of this zealous dystopian future.  Both casts embraced their challenge of performing on the main stage of Derby Theatre with gusto, energy and a commitment to telling two great stories.

Back to Nottingham in August, I killed two birds with one stone and managed to catch Equus before hitting Nottingham Queer Punk Fest. Sarah Stephen’s cast were highly professional in their dissection of this deep and rich play, drawing on fleshed-out characters but an also a very haunting and brutal atmosphere, at times intense, and often unsettling.  Nottingham Playhouse have suffered at the hands of Labour City Council cutting funding, and I hope they can still continue the good work for their Youth Theatre in some capacity, who always produce excellent quality work.

In November, I managed to catch York Youth Theatre once again, this time with their 16+ groups performing Brecht-inspired pieces, Mr Puntila & His Man Matti and The Circle of Chalk.

Mr Puntila & His Man Matti (again directed by Natalie Quatermass) opened with a visceral experience which saw the audience avalanched by an onslaught of snotty, righteous, youthful anger, all shouting for occupations, getting rid of the rich and the injustices of capitalism.

But Mr Puntila & His Man Matti also showcased hilarious comedy moments; with a sea-sickeningly swaying distorting back-and-forth charm it left the audience feeling drowned in Puntila’s drunken world of swagger and ruse.  Knowing looks, snooty jibes and brash songs all peppered this capital play.

I was incredible honoured to be asked to write The Circle of Chalk for York Youth Theatre.  Inspired by Brecht’s version, but also the original ancient Chinese crime drama, I poured a lot into this production.  I read up on the polices and arguments of various nationalist organisations, researched the situation in the Ukraine and Palestine and wrapped the production up in the poetic story-telling I’ve learned from both my own spoken word gigs and Shakespeare.

(me and Natalie basking in the fame of a MASSIVE poster)

Using collaborative story-telling, Julian Ollive’s The Circle of Chalk cast wove an intense story rich with a range of flawed, funny, charismatic, despicable and loveable characters.  Their inventive ensemble work gave every moment a thousand shrewd angles, and their unflinching questions on the nature of nation rippled through the audience.

I have also had the pleasure of work with The Lawrence Batley Young Company this year, working with a very enthusiastic bunch of young people looking at snippets of Shakespeare.   I will be working with them next year, as well as writing another piece for Harrogate Youth Theatre and, as always, looking for commissions or freelance work.  So if you want to read any of my scripts so far, take a look at my work or get in touch for whatever reason, just drop me an email on

Thanks to everyone who supplied me with a comp, thanks to everyone for the invites, thanks to Harrogate Theatre and York Theatre Royal for the commissions, and thanks to all the directors and casts for fantastic work.

Have a great 2015!  More great Youth Theatre please!

Saturday, 29 November 2014

The Circle of Chalk

In 2004, ten years ago, I was a scrawny, heavily spotty teenager crossing over from secondary school to the world of College.  I had never really listened to music, been to a gig or thought much about politics beyond racism=bad.  By the time I left in 2006, and took my gap year I had fallen in love with punk and ska, dropped my religion due to A level Philosophy, fallen in love with political art due to Ken Loach in Film Studies and had a taste of left-wing politics in Modern History.

I also performed in a number of Youth Theatre plays as a member of York Youth Theatre.  I made friends (hopefully) for life, and performing The Trail on the Main Stage will stay with me as a defining factor in life.  The poster is still on my wall.

So it is such an honour that, 10 years later, I was commissioned by York Theatre Royal to write a play for their Youth Theatre.  A few years back, I wrote Gargoyles of York for their 5-8s which, though being about the secret fun gremlins of the city, was also a defence of the important buildings we have.
I was asked to adapt the old story of the chalk circle for one of their 16+ groups, which as roots in Brecht, Chinese crime drama and the Judgement of Solomon.  I managed to see the play last night, and was so incredibly proud of the cast for their hardwork and beautiful story-telling, and thanks to their directors Julian and Lizzie for bringing the best out of the cast.

But the best element was coming out and debating and discussing the themes of the play, the styles used and the fantastic performances with my mates.  Also shout-out to the other 16+ group, who created a visceral and visual madcap performance of Mr Puntila & His Man Matti.

They’re on again tonight, 6.30 and 8.30, make sure you get down to York Theatre Royal!

I wrote The Circle of Chalk in the summer of 2014 whilst politicians and voters debated the pros and cons of Scottish Independence.  This year we’ve seen more conflict in the Ukraine and Palestine.  In the streets of the UK, the EDL and Britain First have sworn No Surrender singing “I’m England till I die” and Clacton put its support being the United Kingdom Independence Party.

Brecht wrote his adaptation of this ancient story in 1944, after fleeing his homeland of Germany to escape the rise of the Nazi party, a group infamous for their belief in the power of nation, country and family ‘purity’.  His version is also written from the perspective of Soviet Russia asking its citizens to redefine how the land should be used.

The Circle of Chalk is a story of duty, parenthood and the failings of the legal system.  It’s a play about love and surviving through strife. 

What makes a nation: is it the patrolled borders, the historical lines on a map or the cultural melting pot of its people and places?  Who decides what is home-grown or alien, who defines who belongs?

It is the next generation who will also redefine these lines.  The future is unwritten, the past can be rewritten and in the present day, Youth Theatre casts deserve rich texts to explore these deep ideas of politics & the personal.

Saturday, 8 November 2014


I really wanted to write a blog about the slam myself and Stu Freestone put on last week immediately after the excitant of the gig itself, but one thing led to another and it’s taken me a while to get round to it.

Essentially, I’ve always found York a very literature and page-poetry heavy city.  That’s in no way a criticism of that style or genre of writing, I have the utmost respect for the nights which cater for poets who like to casually share their thoughts.  The positives are obvious, a safe, pleasant space.

But as someone more interested in the performance side to poetry, I wanted to run a slam for some time.  Teaming up with fellow poet Stu Freestone, we decided to go for Say Owt Slam.  The core idea is, it will be regular enough to be on people’s radars, but not too regular that it becomes stale and samey.  It will try and feature guest poets, and I hope these will represent the LBGTQ+ community, as well as female and poets-of-colour, and also bring poets to York who would not necessarily gig.  But importantly, the idea was it would be an exciting, dynamic and fun-fuelled space for noise and commotion.

We weren’t disappointed.  The crowd brought their energy and spirit making it a lively night, but more importantly each poet was absolutely top form.  Brilliant comedy poems, brilliant political poems and brilliant performances.  I was seriously blown away by such energy.

Here’s a review

Here’s the next one

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

"I’m here today writing poems for people"

“Hi, my name’s Henry, I’m here today writing poems for people.  Would you like to challenge me to write a poem on any topic you’d like?”

This is usually the spiel I deliver, all smiles and safe distance, trying desperately to prove that my pitch is not due to an obsessive fixation with that person, or fuelled by a intense desire to write poems by any means necessary.  I am, in fact, supported by Suffolk Libraries and Creative Arts East, and by extension Arts Council England, to write poems for anyone who wants one.

I visited Haverhill & Brandon Library, followed by the Heart of Norfolk in, well, Norfolk.  While there I performed to classes of Year 5 and 6s and met all manner of very nice, some very intense, people and savagely hunted for veggie food in their high streets.

I returned two weeks later armed with 39 poems written for 39 people, and hopefully everyone who gets their poem will appreciate it fits their request.  I also came back with Travels By Telephone, aka Jamie Wilson, and we performed several sets of solo material, and then our fusion show Practise Patience.  You can check out the show here.

So I now have to actually write a couple more pieces, and catch up on other work.  But I wanted to just add some thoughts here.  A lot of the time, people are amazed by my ‘ability’ to write poems for people based on their requests.  There’s no great trick, and the ‘talent’ lies within the practise and preparation.  I try to break down an pretence of being A Poet, break down any dividing line between me as an artist, and them as a audience.  The poem is based on their suggestions, their ideas and their input.

I hope this proves how writing poetry is so easy, a simple question, a few scribbled thoughts and then we’re away writing poems and stories.  Libraries and pubs are spaces where this can happen, a public space without the hang-ups that theatres instil in people.

So if you’re reading this and you gave me a suggestion, thank you so much!  I hope the poem you got was appropriate and inspired you to write something too!  But if you felt the poem could have been better or not quite about what you had in mind, then by all mean…go forth and write!

Wednesday, 17 September 2014


Below is a copy of a preview I wrote for YorkMix for their website:

28th October, City Screen Basement, 7.30, £5

S.O.S. is the brainchild of Henry Raby (@HenryRabyPoetry) and Stu Freestone (@StuFreestone).  We both consider ourselves ‘performance poets’ which essentially boils down to the fact we gig a lot.  Together, we’re proud to present SAY OWT POETRY SLAM.

The rules of a poetry slam vary from place-to-place, but our version will give 15 poets 3 minutes each to perform a piece.  There will be 5 audience members tasked as judges who will give each poet a score out of 10.  This means that poets are in competition, albeit a friendly one.  The top 5 poets will then perform once more and the highest score from those will be named Say Owt Slam Champ!

The stakes are raised, the energy is upped, the performance is sharper and the poems are stronger.  It also hands agency to the audience, even if they’re not judging.  A well-timed whoop or extra loud clap can affect the judges’ decision.  It also means afterwards strangers will debate who was the best poet (“no, you’re wrong, that metaphor was ace”).

York is very rich in poets and writers, with regular nights like Speaking In Tongues, Spokes, The Spoken Word and Speaker’s Corner, plus York Literature Festival and the yearly night I run at York Theatre Royal, Words & Whippets.  Hopefully, Say Owt Slam will be a melting pot for these poets, with the raw heat of a competitive night.

The response has been incredible.  Within 12 hours all our slots were filled.  It will be a bit nerve-wracking, but mostly very fun. Most slammers are from York, but some are travelling from Harrogate, Newcastle, Leeds and Hull!

Mark Grist, Girls Who Read:

We also hope to bring a headliner each slam well-versed in performance poetry.  For the first one, we’re incredibly excited to have Mark Grist.  Mark was a teacher who became part of the Peterborough rap scene.  Mark brought his gentlemanly, nerdy and traditional poetry style to the rap battle circuit, and proved a cult favourite.  One recording of a battle went viral on youtube, attracting 3 million views.  He’s also done Bestival, Latitude, Glastonbury, Reading/Leeds and a host of other UK festivals.

This is the first York slam for at least 3 years (as far as I’m aware), and we’re already looking at a date for the 2nd slam in January.  If you fancy having a go at the second slam, or want more info, email us  Also, this looks like selling out so make sure you grab a ticket asap here:

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Farewell Cockpit, Leeds

Thanks to the medium of Facebook, I found out that The Cockpit in Leeds is closing down.  An integral part of the Leeds music scene, though the venue was far from a perfect space, it did host bands of all genres and sizes and no student in Leeds (07-10 for myself) could exist within the city without encountering the underground venue at some point.

I got to DJ thanks to the Non-Stop boys a couple of times, and danced merrily to the odd punk/ska tune they would occasionally play at Slam Dunk nights.  I was a member of Punk Soc, and we often dragged poor freshers along.

So here’s a list of cool bands I caught with memories:

Slam Dunk all-dayer saw farewell to The Hydropaths (though they’ve reformed for a few shows in November) and hosted the Creepshow, The Skinks and Random Hand, pretty much a perfect line-up.  It was also one of the first dates I went on with my girlfriend, even though I abandoned her to go dance…

First time I saw Frank Turner was at the Cockpit, which was a very exciting time just as he was riding on the waves of Love, ire & Song, supported by Chris T-T  I’ve lost count how many times I saw Sonic Boom Six & Random Hand, and grateful the Skints played a fair few shows before seeming to mainly stick to festival circuits.  King Blues were another favourite.  Saw The Beat and had some punx shout the wrong Exploited lyrics at me.  The Undertones with my mate John was a fun 1st year highlight.  The amount of times I dashed there/back for gigs, both while still living in Leeds or back in York. 

It cemented itself as a venue you knew bands would play, and a hub for a scene.  Even if it didn’t actively promote scenes or a DIY ethic like smaller venues, it was a hub for familiar faces.  I’ve not been for a long time, but was keen to see Against Me!.  The show’s been moved, so now I’ll never squash into that small space and sticky floor, but thanks for the memories Cockpit!

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Galtres Festival, zines & privilege

Last week I had a wicked time at Galtres Festival, hoe-downing to The Levellers, dancing along to Holy Moly & The Crackers, singing along to The Franceens, giggling thanks to John Otway and grooving to the Human League.  I also had the privilege of programming spoken word/poetry and comedy/stand-up for the Snapping Turtle and Little Top stages.

I use the word ‘privilege’ not to mean ‘honour’, but rather a sense of power.

I am armed with many tools of privilege.  I’m a white male, born in the UK, from a working class family but never fell into poverty.  I’m hetrosexual and cisgender, though adhere to queer theory and don’t believe in gender binaries.  My school wasn’t great, but it was still gave me a good enough education allowing me to use the system to eventually get a degree from a red brick university.

So many other people have spoken much more passionately and articulately about the issue.  Check out Jay The Nerd Kid, for example.

To say:  “I don’t walk into a room and see gender, ability or colour, I see human beings” if such a problematic statement.  It is complete erasure of people’s experiences, treatment by society & patriarchy, struggles, representation in the media and opportunities.  The same goes for poets, comedians, bands, musicians etc.  Saying “I just book acts I want not based on gender/colour” as if even acknowledging gender or colour or disability would somehow be sexist/racist/transphobic/ableist.

Some argue to give artists a platform just because of their colour or gender is unfair, and that every artist should be judged based on their skill.  Of course quality control has to be a factor, I’d be a hypocrite if I said I don’t consider this.  But there is an abundance of quality POC, female, trans, queer and disabled poets on the scene, and of course the more these artists are given a platform the more it encourages other people to try their hand at writing, reading and performing.

At York Theatre Royal, I programme a night called Words & Whippets.  In 2013 we had 6 acts (including myself).  This was split 50/50 male and female.  For W&W 2014 we had 5 acts, 2 women and 3 men.  Galtres Festival had 12 acts, and 5 of them were women.  Unfortunately several female comedians had to pull out of the comedy stage, so in the end we only had a single female comedian.  However the slam we ran was all-female.  I put on Hannah Nicklin’s solo show earlier this year, with 3 female acts, and 2 male acts (including myself).  Myself and Stu Freestone are putting on a new regular slam called Say Owt Slam.  The first event is 28th October, and we have gone for a very safe choice in Mark Grist as a headline act to help raise the profile with a well-known act.  But I'm keen as part of our platform, once the event has been established, to book a variety of acts from across the UK from the LBGTQ, Black, Disabled communities and scenes.

Last week I put out a zine based on 26 different interviews with female musicians from York, about their influences, experiences and opinions.  The zine can be found here:

I’m not saying we need to pat ourselves on the back, and neither do we beat ourselves up.  I’m not saying I’m a hero, nor a failure, because there’s no way to get it right/wrong.  But it’s always worth thinking about.  It’s an issue that needs considering and evaluating.  I am very grateful to have so many awesome feminist and queer friends I can learn from.

Always check your privilege.  Check your perspective, check your place in the world, check how you are assuming how the world works.  If you are a promoter, check your acts, check your line-ups, how you run events.  All I can do is ask you to at least consider it, for the moment.  But if real social change needs to happen then the next stage is to change it.  Deeds not words!

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Summer meltings

This is an important announcement for those of you who haven’t melted yet.

My summer will mostly be spent distributing sweat amongst my black t-shirts as I desperately try to prove wearing black punk band t-shirts is still cool despite the sun melting the Earth to liquid.

Saturday 2nd August I’m compering another Down By The River event at City Screen Basement, these are always lovely showcases of various acts and talents, details here:

I’ll be at Boomtown Fair 8-10th August, performing at 4pm on the Wandering Word stage on the Friday afternoon, which gives me plenty of time the following days to enjoy plenty of ska, reggae, folk, gypsy and The Street Dogs (flatcaps at the ready!)

Tues 19th I’ll be performed at Reclaim The Power.  But that’s hush hush.  So ssshh.

Wed 20th at the Woolpack, I’m launching a new zine featuring interviews with a variety of female musicians from York with ace poet Jenn Hart, musician Chrissy Barnacle, queercore band KINKY and local garage rockers Freaks + Geeks.  More details soon.

Then Fri 22nd-23rd August is the big one:  Galtres Festival where I’ve put together the Spoken word section of the Little Top and the Snapping Turtle stage.  It’s going to be a wicked festival of folk, rock, theatre, comedy and poetry and you should come.  All of you.  We can melt together.

Then I’m finishing off the summer by supporting Chris Clavin in Norwich and York.  Chris founded legendary Plan-It-X Records and plays in Ghost Mice, both hugely influential DIY cornerstones of my life.  Sat 30th sees me saying some words at the Big Gay Bar all-dayer at the Woolpack, where I’m also launching their zine.

All through the month when I get chance, I’ll be adapting The Circle of Chalk/Caucasian Chalk Circle for York Youth Theatre’s 16+ November performance and I promise it’ll be my best play yet.  Ever.

See you around!

Friday, 11 July 2014

Comics & Comix

On Tuesday I managed to pop along to the Comics Unmasked:  Art & Anarchy in the UK at the British Library.  I got there nice and early, and it was pretty quiet as I dipped in and out of the strangely shaped rooms of comics on display from the early satirical publications dating back to Hogarth and jibes at the Napoleonic War through to strange 60s & 70s freaky comix and, of course, endless silent watchful mannequins of what the British Libraries assumes to be protestors adorned with V masks.

I have a deep love for the strange and wonderful world beneath the accessible establishment-sanctioned Beano comics and the American glean of Marvel & DC, though I don’t profess to be an expert by any means.  But as I always understand it, the medium of comics has always fought to be a recognised and respectable genre, and yet there are many comic-writers and artists trying specifically not to be accessible, attempting the spikey and the subversive.

My main issues with the exhibition was the focus on writers and artists like Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore and Pat Mills who inevitable did huge amounts for the genre, but whose creations are well and truly part of the establishment now no matter their humble punky origins.

I wanted a focus on the nerdy, DIY comix being made for zine fairs and Etsy shops, the ones you find in the corner of independent shops like OK Comics in Leeds.  I wanted to thumb through some comics, read up some short stories, feel the story unfold in my hands, as comics are designed for.  Instead they were caged in glass.  I caught a page of a Nemesis The Warlock story which looked interesting, but couldn’t see which collection it was from.  I would have nipped to a comic shop to guy it if I could have peered round the glass to see.

But I suppose my main issue is this question of Anarchy in Comics.  I think there’s a distinct difference between politics in comics and ‘anarchy’ in comics.  Anarchy, for me, means a rejection of the current system of organising, designing, publicising, writing or thinking.  Morrison’s Arkham Asylum:  A Serious House on Serious Earth may have been a revolutionary take on psycho-analysis and artwork for the medium, but was still a massive cashcow for its writer and DC comics.  V For Vendetta is an exciting look at Anarchy vs. Fascism which was turned into a Hollywood star-studded film about Conservatism vs. Liberalism, which wasn’t really unpacked much from where I was standing.

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, or indeed what I’m even looking for, but there’s something saturating about putting comics about politics, LGBTQ, sex and anarchy behind glass in a British institution, there’s a loss of rawness which I feel and love when I visit independent comic shops, zine fairs or get a load of new zines in the post.

Also, where were the mention of Fight The Power, Wild Cat, Anarchy Comics or Breaking Free?  It’s possible I missed them, but those were REAL anarchist comics.

Anyway, I have read a few new comics recently and wanted to quickly shout their praise/shout them down


Me and my girlfriend have been totally hooked on this book, now in it’s 3rd collected volume.  Essentially Romeo & Juliet in space, the booked manages to create a huge and varied cast of soldiers, mercenaries, writers, wizards, Princes and ghosts and, in very carefully crafted writing, I’m totally invested in all of them.  It also has huge possibilities for a whole new world to explore and take the characters across a universe not limited by exiting canon.  Plus, I want to be Lying Cat’s friend.


Another huge universe I can’t wait to explore, the premise is a city overrun by monsters and ghouls relies on a young God, Battling Boy, to defeat the baddies.  Very much a 80s Young Hero Saves The Day style romp (think Karate Kid meets The Never Ending Story).  The art work is really cool and unique, there’s a nice nod to Marvel’s Thor and bizarre cartoon baddies you’d likely see in TMNT, Street Sharks or Biker Mice From Mars.  Can’t wait to give this a re-read.


Very much like Occupy itself, the comics spends a lot of its time trying to justify its existence.  Plenty of heroic and images of people (non-violently) standing their ground, references to the political issues and a strong sense of commendable spirit.  Unfortunately this feels (a bit like Occupy) a bit flimsily and more admirable than inspiring.  Also…where are the people of colour of the LGTBQ  community?  Sometimes I feel like our movement digs its own grave…


I haven’t given this a proper read yet, but I do really like it.  Someone recommended it to me when I was on tour (sorry…can’t remember who you were…but thanks!).  It’s about a couple who can freeze time when they orgasm.  It’s a lot about perceptions of sex growing up, and I think most people will relate to both characters and their awkward-heavy teenage years.  It’s pretty explicit, but has quite a lot of heart actually, and does what good sci-fi should, use the fantastical plotline to explore relationships and love.


Thanks York Library!  I never normally read romance graphic novels but this was a really sweet story about love and the oppression of society on lesbian and queer couples.  Though I ‘ve been told the sex scenes are quite fantastical and unrealistic, overall it’s a touching tale you need to read.


Yeah, I know.  I should have read this year ago.  But I’m getting round to it, honestly.  I have Vol 1-3 and loving it.  Such madcap artwork, it wish that paradoxically messy & sharp style was around a lot more.


Bought this on a whim, don’t know if it’s because I read a negative review but it’s not inspired me all that much.  Feels like it’s cashing in on the Walking Dead-style maxi-series rolling-cast-of-characters style hoping to be commissioned for TV.  Feels a bit more TV-ish than comic, actually.  I feel like it should be better, but characters all seem a bit derivative.  Maybe it’s because all the way through the series, the magical creatures accuse the humans of being evil and monstrous, when I can’t quite see much difference between the humans and Hinterknd, and maybe that’s the point, but that lacks a punch of philosophy.  Compared to Saga, which takes a good dark look at war, this feels the weakest comic I’ve taken a punt on, sorry.


Been out a while now, and I’m eagerly awaiting vol 2, this has a really cool (albeit predictable) premise about a bunch of scientists being turned into super-beings by a plague in space, this pays true to the Fantastic Four but uses the Ultimate Marvel style of sweary grumpy characters, nasty corporate businessmen and secret government agencies to tell a super-hero story with very few heroics.  It could go the Ultimate route (the final chapter is mostly a crash-bang-wallop affair) but what I love is the Watchmen-style background it weaves, with little hints, clues and riddles to secrets behind the scenes.  It’s very much going to be a comic I’m looking forward to re-reading.

Hey, Neil Gaiman, finish Sandman:  Preludes so I can judge it, will ya!?

Friday, 4 July 2014

Nerd Punk Article

For those of you know don’t know me, I love nerdy stuff.  Mainly cartoons.  I never stopped watching cartoons when I hit teens, and I have recently picked up on some ace stuff, finally working through Regular Show, Adventure Time and Gravity Falls.

The first time I learned about Michael Jackson, Citizen Kane & Soviet Russia was watching The Simpsons.  Many children’s first experience with cultural references are through cartoons and film/TV.  Ash Ketchum and Luke Skywalker and the lessons they have taught us mean a lot more to a lot of us than Jesus or the Prime Minister.  So if a programme aimed at children does deal with a politically important subject matter, in this case Trade Unionism, it bears some analysis, because that child’s parents could be striking the following week, or that child could one day be in that position when industrial action is an option placed before them in the battle for worker’s rights.  Plus, y’know, it’s fun to rewatch old cartoons from the early 00s.
That was the essential theme of my first solo show, Letter To The Man (from the boy) and continues to crop up throughout my work.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Practise Patience June tour

So in 2012, I compered the acoustic stage of one of the Shatterfest all-dayers, and wrote a poem for each of the performers.  This eventually became the Snapping Strings zine at the end of 2013.  But throughout the year, I developed one of the poems with the musician who had inspired it: Travels By Telephone (aka Jamie Wilson).

The poem became a full 30 minute show, where we played with story-telling and poetry.  We wrote poems, songs and carved a narrative to make PRACTISE PATIENCE.  And we’re dead proud of it.

It’s about throwing your phone away.  Communication, friendship, trees, tea and the thwacking of tambourines.

So we headed out on tour across the UK to share this show.  I’ve never been on a tour like this before in the traditional sense, so with my Gameboy DS in my pocket, Jonny Gill t-shirt and a bag o’ dreams me and Jamie head off in the Camper Van of fun.

First up, Birmingham at the ORT Café, cool little space which houses artwork and feels a nice place to drink away a cheap tea and chill out.  We played Table Football before the set, I got a little furiously carried away, mostly at the thrill of meeting a host of new musicians I greatly admire, like Elly Kingdon, Paul Stokes & Sarah & Stef.  Perfect friendly first tour gig!

Armed with the sounds of The Vengaboys, we headed to The Owl Sanctuary in Norwich with staff who were the pinnacle of openness, offering us a place to crash, food and beer.  We performed with mics in the front bar, testing the flexibility of the show and challenged by Kenny, the drunk old school punk to yammered away in the corner of our eyes and did a spot of yoga during our set.  We even had a boogie to Vengaboys on the jukebox.  Thanks to Dan, Dan, John & Matt!

After a battle through London to reach Brighton, we did a super lovely unplugged set at the Mad Hatter thanks to Harry from Young Attenborough.  Mostly new faces to me, it was a decent sized crowd who were respectful as we light up the corner of the small bar and had great feedback from the seaside crowd about a show by the seaside!  The next day I fully explored Brighton, and I can see why so many people move there in pursuit of a leftie/alternative scene.

Finally we hit Brighton, but I think it hit us hard.  Roomtown Fair is a big house party/show full of sweaty punks dancing to ska, reggae, swing, punk and folk-punk.  I had a whale of a time catching some of my favourite acts, like Jake & The Jellyfish and Dan Kemp, as well as discovering bands like Fat Sandwich, Damsel, Block Fort and Let’s Go Nowhere.  Thanks to the Trouser Flapping Manor for their dedication to DIY, being amazing hosts and Jenn Hart, for booking me and Jamie to do the show.  It was like discovering my own tribe.

It’s amazing so many lovely people out there putting on friends, helping out acts, taking a chance of something new and building something they want to see.  Long live DIY!

So, I’m not home.  But we have some dates left, 18th June at the Dog & Parrot in Newcastle, The Winchester in Bournemouth on the 25th and York on the 27th at the Black Swan.  But we’re still looking for gigs, in houses, garages, cafes, pubs…anywhere we can have a engaged and friendly audience.

Monday, 9 June 2014

The People's Poet

In my post-tour bluesy dozy state, I just wanted to add my love and respect to Rik Mayall

I’m going to write a comprehensive blog, but suffice to say I’ve just gigged in Birmingham, Norwich, Bristol & Brighton and come across very diverse and exciting punk scenes, from Birmingham’s lovely gang of queer/nerdy/vegan punks into friendship & well-being, to the punk rock ‘n’ roll inclusive venue of the Owl Sanctuary to the unplugged let’s-do-the-show-right-here of Brighton to the bouncing-off-the-ceiling-punk-as-fcUK-ragga-ska-madcappery of Bristol’s Roomtown Fair.

During this trip, I thought about what ‘punk’ poetry means, and managed to see the very ace Jenn Hart who has a superb poem, I Am about those narrow definitions of punk culture on art and identity.

Rik’s Young One’s character is a constant reminder to check out pompousness within political scenes, to check out ‘radicalism’ and, most importantly, to laugh at ourselves as performers.  Punk is manic and madcap and a bit weird but, importantly, it’s theatrical.  He conquers the audience with his presence, something I always strive for in performance to totally pin down the attention.

I talk about Rik in my podcast on the history of punk poetry, you can listen here

Thanks People’s Poet


Thursday, 22 May 2014

Don’t throw in the towel

On Saturday I performed a new piece as part of a new event run by the ArtsBarge called Round One.

ArtsBarge are a group in York trying to set up a boat as an arts venue full on York’s river, the Ouse.  They’ve been gifted a space which, by weekday, is a boxing ring, and by weekend, well, whatever they want.

Programmed by Tom Bellerby, compered by Phil Grainger, the night was 12 acts performing in the boxing ring, 10 minutes each, the focus on new snappy and sharp work, but also the spirit of collaboration.

I’m not going to go into the ins-and-outs of why, but suffice to say what was expected as a friendly, arts event turned into a battle.  Acts tried desperately to make the audience at the back of the space stop chatting and listen.

For me, I’ve done those gigs where some of the audience are chatting, and some are listening, and for my money it’s a battle you’ll mostly lose, but worth fighting.  Sometimes you can get them to listen, if briefly, but if they’re in the mindset to ignore you, they will.  Some performers on the night changed the game, went off stage/mic , some went all-out. 

It became like throwing ourselves at a wall to see if it’ll buckle, bend or break.  We ran headfirst at the audience, we seduced them, threatened them, waved out hands wildly for their attention.  At the time, I felt overwhelmed by it, but in retrospect it was kind of useful.

I saw Red City Radio on Friday, a brutally blunt, awesome punk back from Oaklamhoma, who’s opening intro was the singer screaming into the mic “We’re Red City Radio, who the fuck are you?”

Audiences need to be given parameters, they know what to expect in theatre venues and music venues, and at poetry events.  But this fusion with a focus on the live, boozy bar element meant they couldn’t really focus on the quieter, subtle dancing, theatre, stand-up or poetry in-between music.
That doesn’t mean to say that the audiences were unruly, disruptive or wrong, only as a side-project of them enjoying the night did it mean us acts struggled.

But sometimes we have to fight to be heard, or prove we deserve to be heard.  It was a challenge, certainly afterwards I felt pretty naff, and most acts felt exhausted like they’d gone 12 rounds with a boxing champ.  But it’s worth these experiments as theatres and even fringe theatres are cut, we must find these audiences and spaces beyond the confines of black box theatres, smug pub function rooms for poetry or regulated arts events and rock the boat.

Don’t throw in the towel

Sunday, 11 May 2014

York, Coxwold & Selby... Dinos on tour

This week has been a quick succession of gigs, so wanted to quickly day thanks to everyone putting me on.

Thursday I led my first youth theatre group with the LBT Young Company, so dashed back to York to support Richard Tyrone Jones and his show Big Heart.  I was amazed Richard’s heart didn’t implode after doing the show at double-quick time due to an earlier curfew on the venue.  My head was in a 9-11s mode, so I did my Toby The Tyrannosaurs Rex poem.  Thanks to Rose & Alan for having me.

Then it was off to Coxwold on Friday night to perform Practise Patience with Travels By Telephone, as well as doing a quick set.  This was part of the regular Little Festival Of Everything that Flanagan Collective runs with the Fauconberg Arms.  Thanks, as always, to the pub, Paul and Alex for having me.

The space we did PP in, The View, is perfect for the type of show, intimate, friendly and overlooking the rolling hills of nature.  And no phone signal, an integral part of the plot! 

Then I did some poems in the front bar.  I worry sometimes poetry sets can intrude on people enjoying their meals/drinks.  Music can be enjoyed as a background feature, but poetry and spoken word requires a reverential silence, so it was key to keep it snappy.  Again, I did Toby.

The next day, Saturday, I performed to a few children some of my children’s poems.  Toby reappeared once again.

Finally on the Saturday night in Selby I opened for Slackjaw, The Vexed and Nu,Progodi.  I was a bit worried, even though I knew a few of the crowd, the Riverside is an odd shape and people expected grindcore, not poetrycore.  However they crowd were attentive and really responsive, I couldn’t have expected better from a bunch of well-behaved punx.  Thanks to Sam for the gig opportunity (and Nick for driving me).  I guess the nature of punk is to try and accept the slightly out-of-place or odd, and the nature of Selby and small towns is to give anything a listen, because not much music/art comes through.

That’s seems to be a recurring theme with the Little Fests and punk gigs is people are willing to give things a go, and provided they aren’t saturated (I kept sets short) they appreciate the passion, energy and commitment I hope to bring.  I think as performers we can never get complacent and never take our audience for granted, and never get ego-tistic assuming that we ‘deserve’ people’s attention.

In the context of spaces not associated with poetry/spoken word, if unfamiliar audiences give us a modicum of their attention then its then up to us to prove we can deliver, but not intrude.

That way spaces can be gradually transformed, or audiences encouraged into gigs, spaces and venues where poetry/spoken word thrive.

And, yes, I did Toby again for the punk rockers and grindcore fans of Selby.  Maybe it’s because the engaging theme of friendship and mischief appeals to elderly residents of tiny villages, eager under 10s and drunk punks.  Or maybe it’s because everyone loves dinosaurs.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Cages & Wages: Thoughts on May Day

It’s May 1st, May Day, also known as International Worker’s Day across the world.  This Saturday will see marches and actions to celebrate this day in the left-wing calendar.

What are the origins of May Day?  Many fought in the 1800s fought for many rights we now take for granted, and one such battle for the fight for the 8 hour day (8 hours for work, 8 for recreation and 8 for rest).

May Day has come to represent those battles, for better pay, working conditions, pensions, the weekend, sick leave & pay, material leave & pay etc etc.

But we need to be careful not to ‘romanticise’ elements of the working class movement.  Trade Unions are still hierarchical organisations with power structures.  I believe in the power of a Union, but we have to be careful when we sing “The Union keeps us strong” because sometimes the Union bureaucrats sell us out in negotiations.

I am also aware of the language of the socialist working class movement is, obviously, about working.  It’s very macho, male-orientated and has a focus on ‘pride’.  Sometimes uses this word ‘hard-working’. 

But let’s not forget, work steals from us.  Work steals our time, energy, resources, dignity.  It puts us into boxes, categories, makes us competitive, gives us a reason to mistrust immigrants, women and be at the mercy of the managers and economy. 

We are wage slaves, our cages & chains built with the things we want and need.

Be wary that ‘hard-working’ and ‘pride’ are also the language of the Conservatives and the Right-wing.  They tell us to be proud of something which steals from us.  Be proud of earn a living.  Be proud of earn a wage.  Proud to climb the ladder.  Be proud of these chains and cages. 

This is their trap.

And this focus on ‘working’ as a sense of identity in your class means those who don’t or cannot work don’t always fit into this working class struggle.

I want to quote from the preamble to the Industrial Workers Of The World Constitution:

Instead of the conservative motto, "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work," we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, "Abolition of the wage system."

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

A laugh can be a very powerful thing. R.I.P. Bob Hoskins

After hearing the sad news about actor Bob Hoskins, I popped on my DVD of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and here are some initial thoughts

WFRR is one of my favourite films.  It came out the year I was born, and I’ve seen it a tonne of times over the many years.  What makes is great is a bizarre concept (it’s based on the novella Who Censored Roger Rabbit) of film noir with cartoons.  Maybe this is because Disney had yet to explode with its 1990s boom, and cartoons in general had become more action-orientated (He-Man, Thundercats, Ninja Turtles, Transformers, BraveStarr etc) so there is a whiff of nostalgia tied to the 1947 setting.  This strange combination works so well.

The plot is quite complicated for a young person, but breezes along so you’d tied into the action and suspense.  It’s a PG, despite being full of cartoons the film features sexual references, alcoholism and plenty of murder.

And finally, every time you watch it, you notice another little tiny piece of trivia, another little Easter egg.  The fact Goofy was accused of spying in a newspaper headline, that according to a plaque on the box, Yousemite Sam gave Valiant the Toon gun, the little grumbles that Benny The Cab makes, the little details of the Weasel Gang…it’s a full, colourful film with a straight simple plot that doesn’t make it overcrowded, except the final celebratory scene of cartoonary.

But it’s Bob Hoskins who pins it all together, crafting a bitter, lemon-faced old drunkard spitting and griping, before a charged and keen detective who evolves into a fun, hopeful and heroic clown.  All the time, Hoskins plays off puppeteers, inanimate objects and thin air.  He has chemistry with cartoons in a way modern actors struggle with CGI creations.  Hoskins commits to the role, treats it with all the seriousness of any crime thriller, and it’s that commitment to the drama and suspense alongside the zaniness which makes the whole thing work!

I love him in other films, his little daft cameo in Brazil and his working class mentor-character in Made In Dagenham.  But he’ll always be, to me, Eddie Valiant.  Flawed, grumbling, a serious miserable man in a world of madcap cartoons.

We’ve got to find humour to combat the Judges and freeway-buildings.

A laugh can be a very powerful thing. Why, sometimes in life, it's the only weapon we have.”- Roger Rabbit