Saturday, 24 January 2015

20.15 Blog #2: Don't Judge Me

Another 2015 blog written in 20 mins 15 secs.  Don’t judge me xxx

This last week I’ve had the privilege of performing at TWO slams, the very awesome SLAMalgamate in Newcastle and Say Owt Slam in York.

For those of you who don’t know, a slam is where poets have an allocated amount of time to SLAM words into the audience’s heads.  This might be through traditional means, such as saying them, but the rulebook is sketchy when it comes to literally slamming huge painted wooden words into people’s ears.

Thankfully, Thursday in Newcastle was the former, as 17 poets tested their mettle by performing an outstanding showcase of performance poetry.  It’s always exciting watching a slam and gauging what hits the audience.  Some poets try political stuff, some personal, some funny.  It all works, but like a rhyming Highlander, there can only be one!

Jenni Pascoe is the fantastic face of Jibba Jabba and SLAMalgamate, but there’s a whole host of lovely faces backing up that lovely face, a scene united together, promoting each other’s events and making the upstairs of the Cumberland Arms feel like everyone’s local.  Downstairs, a bunch of folk fans are playing all manner of instruments, and in the other bar posters advertising ska gigs adorn the walls.  The Cumberland Arms is cool, this slam is coooool.

So I want to capture that feeling in a little cage, feed it, learn from it and then dissect and recreate.  Or perhaps just simply honour.

Say Owt Slam is the brainchild of myself and Stu Freestone.  We wanted a night which feeds all the other poetry nights into one space, to raise the profile of the scene and raise the standard.  Slams do this by raising the stakes.  Yes, poets are being judged, but it’s all fun and friendly, and all the poets know what they’re in for.  The slam on Friday featured Dai Parsons, who runs Spokes, and Andy Humphrey from the Speaker’s Corner came down.  Also in the crowd was Dave Gough from York Lit Fest.  Rose Drew from the Spoken Word would be there, but she didn’t get a ticket in time, and we sold out.  Whoop!

A lot of the poets from #1 (from October) and #2 had never been to a slam, much less performed in one.  Some had never really read poetry live before!  But that charge and that energy makes everything electric.  In a city of many unplugged acoustic acts, this York slam really does send sparks.  The night was won by Jack Dean, and rightfully so with his understanding of powerful and dynamic spoken word, but many other poets got great scores with more subtle works.  In the end, we were all winners, weren’t we?

Well, not quite.  Second up was Stephen Quinlan from Manchester, whose poem was a very clear Mancurian “sod off” to UKIP.  Like a chemical reaction, suddenly a gentleman (who from them on became known as The UKIP Guy) stood up with an affronted NO as if someone has pitched a occupy tent on his garden, and stormed off.  Stephen, ever professional, just carried on and received a high enough score to carry him to round 2.

UKIP Guy showed his disdain at criticism of the controversial (read:  vile) party that is creeping up the polls.  He’s welcome to do so.  I think if I heard anything I’d disagree with, I’d be inclined to vocalise it, to argue with my feet, to show my disdain.  If someone read a poem entitled Reasons I Hate Immigrants I think I’d be uncomfortable and angry.

What happened next was totally uncalled for though.  UKIP Guy went and pestered Stephen throughout the rest of the night, trying to get a debate going despite the other acts doing their sets.  Stephen did an amazing job of keeping is cool.  I must admit, dear reader, I didn’t realise until afterwards, as my head was too deep into running and compering the slam, but I should have acknowledged it, and used my privilege and power as White Man On Mic to get UKIP Guy to chill out.

But this is an interesting debate.  We called the night Say Owt Slam, a reference to the famous Yorkshire phrase, the ever present need for alliteration plus the acronym SOS.  But is anyone really free to say whatever they want?  Am I OK with giving a platform to beliefs I disagree with?  The poetry scene is often very left-wing leaning, but what if someone came with an ableist, sexist, racist, transphobic or homophobic poem, or one that could be perceived as such?

Well, education is a big part.  The power and set-up of a slam or performance means a call-out is difficult in this context, but taking the poet to the side afterwards and having a chat about their intention is always helpful.  The other possibility is, in the slam context, the poet will inevitably do poorly.  The crowd might not cheer, or even boo.  The room will turn against them.  The power of a collective feeling will root out unfriendly poetry on this platform.

At least, that’s what I’d like to believe.  Art should create debate, who should have got a higher score, who should have won etc.  It’s only fair the words spoken also create a discussion.  Plus, the general rule it, no can really be censored, can they?  You can’t censor someone post-performance.  But I also feel there’s a duty to safe spaces, and to totally and utterly call out any horrible vibes.

These are my thoughts, and I’m running out of my 20 mins and 15 seconds.  The best thing to do is to keep slamming, keep performing and let the atmosphere channel the vibe of the room.

Oh, and I can’t wait to hear Jack’s poem:  ‘Nigel Farage Is A Dick’ which left UKIP Guy feeling nonplussed, but everyone else in the room, collectively, in stitches. 

The collective feeling won out.

Saturday, 3 January 2015


The 2015 blogs are a series of articles written by me in 20 minutes and 15 seconds.


It’s no surprise that music is a recurring theme throughout a lot of my poems.  For those of you that know me, you’ll no doubt be aware I own more band t-shrits than HMV.  The floor of my room buldges due to the weight of CDs, and my iPod is full to bursting.  It gorans and wheezes under the pressure of thousands upon thousands of songs.  My first love was punk, and then came ska.  Since then, I loved the mod music of the 60s and 70s, soul, blues, R&B and hip-hop, folk, hardcore, queer punk, rock ‘n’ roll and new wave.  Inevitably I always return to guitar music, like a cat finding sanctuary under it’s favourite grubby car.

But I want to write a little blog about dancing.  My first memories of dancing, like most, was school discos.  Cotton Eye Joe was a favoutie tune for us 90s children.  That song perhaps cemented my love for fusion music.  Hyphens galore, I love ska-punk, folk-punk, hip-hop etc. and Rednex did a odd merge of 90s dance and hillbilly.  Yeah, it never caught on, but it’s not your average pop tune either.

Me and my friends growing up never really went out for a boogie or a dance.  We used to hit old men pubs for ales, find a large table and crowd round and make up silly injokes and debate the meaning of life.

So the majority of dancing I ever did was at gigs.  Now, the first rule of punk gigs is obviously the pogo, but as I soon learned that’s an enourmous effort to maintain, and not always feasible with people slamming around you or even the low ceiling of punk dives.  The mosh pit is the second go-to style of dancing, and of course the skank is trademarked by the ska and ska-punk genres.

The Mosh Pit
I quite quickly fell out of love with pits, inevitably because of the small size of venues meant all it takes is one or two dickheads to wade in, and the pit becomes less fun and more of a battle to not get too bruised.  And let’s not forget, when all’s said and done, we’re here to see a band (at least I believe so).  I remember casually dancing along to bands like UK Subs and then some huge psycjobilly or skinhead punk would throw their weight (usually with shirt off) looking to start something.  Now, as a skinny and (traditionally) scrawny fellow I can’t keep up, and nor would I want to.

Pits should be about respect.  Respeting that not everyone is as tough as you, and therefore toning it down.  The old addage is ‘If someone falls down, you pick them up’ but I’d like to hope people only fall down in the first place, not because you shoved them.  I recall a gig with The Skints where the crowd were eager to mosh even to the most chilled out vibes.  I stopped seeing mainstream bands I liked, such as The Coral or Happy Mondays, due to drunk blokes throwing their weight around when the music didn’t call for it.  The dancing is a repsonse to the music, not a reponse to your own egocentric ideas how to behave to impress (both in the sense physcially and astonishingly).


This is where I’m in my element.  I’m a naturaly bouncy person, my feet seem to have the talents of a Tigger (thoughy my mind at times become Eeyore).  Ska seemed eprfect for me, in fact for a long time, I could onlt ever listen to music with an off-beat tempo.  Skanking can still be intrustive, those flying kicks can hit low and high, but you can find your own space with your own groove, and there are different ways depebnding on the music of said band, and the atmosphere.  My girlfriend has a video of me somewhere dancing in the York streets after a demo to Capdown on the sound system.  Any excuse.

So why is dancing so important to me, why does it keep reappearing in my poems?  I have a whole poem about it in the form of If I can’t skank, it’s not be revolution and my tribute to Emma Goldman is partly due to her famous quote (which my poem is based from).

Well, I remmeber one of the first gigs I went to rocking out to a local band called All Sexy But Ginger, and just loving being in my own world fuelled by the chaotic tunes of ska-punk.  Physcially, I often hold msyelf close, duck down, hands in pockets, hunch over (expect when performing I hope).

That same expression is the same as whne I do a gig, and try and bring that energy.  Punk for me is partly about energy .  Bringing some passion which otherwise doesn’t exist in day-to-day life.  We are battling the day-to-day.  The mundane must be killed, so let’s fight that drudgery with some physcial movement!  And that’s why punk pits need to acknowlegde that people are finding their terms of expression, so double-check before you intrude upon them on the dancefloor.

So wap on the soul and groove those feet, listen to some psychobilly and swing those arms, get the disco blaring, head that head a’head bangin’ and see you in the pit! 

Say Owt Slam #2

In October 2014, me and Stu Freestone decided to put on a slam.  The night was a huge success, with 15 amazing poets and Mark Grist as guest poet.  The standard was exceptionally high, and the audience reaction was amazing.

So now Say Owt Slam returns 23rd Janurary.  15 poets will have 3 minutes each to wow the audience, with the best poet receiving £30 cash prize and bragging rights.  The night will be a fun and frantic display of spoken word and performance poetry.

“I went with high expectations, and was not disappointed”- Nouse

“[an] exciting evening of lively and thought-provoking entertainment” – One & other

“I can’t remember the last time I got so much entertainment out of a fiver”- audience member

Details can be found here

Guest poet at the event is SOPHIA WALKER, a globe-trotting poet who has won the London Poetry Olympics in 2012, was the BBC Slam Champ in 2013 and won the Best Spoken Word Show at Edfringe 2014.

23rd Janurary, £5, 7.30, The Basement, City Screen, Coney Street, tickets available here
Sophia will also be running a workshop at the Golden Ball 5-7pm, tickets a mere £5, details here

For more info, get in touch at