Saturday, 16 December 2017

20.17 Blog #39: Top Theatre of 2017

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

Everything Is Possible:  The York Suffragette Story

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

Pink Sari Revolution

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

Youth Theatre

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

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

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

The Tin Drum – Kneehigh

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

A Show That Gambles On The Future - Mark Thomas

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

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

20.17 Blog #38: Top Albums of 2017

Onsind:  We Wilt, We Bloom

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

Gecko:  Volcano

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

The Menzingers:  After The Party

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

Worriers:  Survival Pop

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

Prophets of Rage:  S/t

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

Captain Ska:  Liar Liar

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

Shout outs to:

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

Saturday, 9 December 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 27 November 2017

20.17 Blog #36: Save Charles Hutchinson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 17 November 2017

20.17 Blog #35: Anarcho-Autosuggestion (and a Westeros wall map)

This week I watched Tim Crouch’s TEDx talk on The Art of Autosuggestion.  If ever you’re feeling bored, just watch some TEDx talks.  You’ll feel much smarter and, more importantly, more productive for your time.

Tim’s always been an influence on me as a writer and performer, ever since I saw his ground-breaking show The Author back in Edinburgh Fringe many years ago, and I love his magical I, Shakespeare plays.

In the video (which you can watch below) Tim talks about Emile Coure and how “our actions spring not from our will, but from our imagination.”  If we can control our subconscious, we can change the way we perceive the world which means we change the world.  Not only essential for mental health, but also for theatre-making.

A theatre company that highly influence me is Third Angel, who have various styles and use various technologies.  But they always acknowledge the presence of the audience in some way.  Alex Kelly beings their show 600 People with a list of welcomes, with appropriate responses.   I recently say Mobile by PaperBirds which not only acknowledged the audience, but welcomed them into the mobile home space, and thus the story.  Though I often struggle with immersive theatre where I am meant to specifically play a role, I do enjoy theatre where the audience are recognised.

This is entirely the spoken word and performance poetry form.  A performer faces an audience, often dictated by the performance space and microphone.  Sometimes the audience are cast, sometimes they are encouraged to interact more, sometimes the poem is not addressed to them but nevertheless it’s hard to ignore a group of people sat.  In theatre terms, there are no 4th walls.  There aren’t even 3 normal ones.

So this means any story, location or character presented in the poem exists solely in the audiences minds.  Unless props are used, which rarely are, the audience rely on the words and the poet’s hypnotic delivery.

“Let the imagination in” Tim says.

The subconscious re-writes what we’re shown.  Or indeed, told.  We don’t need to believe Hamlet exists in front of us, we just need to place an autosuggestion within our subconscious.  When Hannah Davies tells her story of finding all manner of objects in her son’s pockets we don’t need to actually see them.  That would ruin the magic, and the power, of our own imaginations.  All she needs to do is implant the suggestion of the gun-shaped twig and the bubblegum wrapper.  We shape the twig.  We taste the gum.

Theatre sometimes does everything for the audience.  It lays out the world on a plate.  But when I first read Lord of The Rings, I had no reference point for a map.  I had to construct it myself.  When George R. R. Martin was writing his Song of Ice & Fire series, there was no map.  Book-lovers pieced it together.  Now my wall has a huge map of Westeros and Essos, but at one point that world existed only in the heads.  Maybe this is why I get grumpy about how quickly characters in the show can seemingly teleport from place-to-place.

In my show, Whatever Happened To Vandal Raptor?, I did question:  Why not just cast the show with 4 actors, rather than multi-role them?  Was this my nervousness around working with others?  My ego at not letting others say my words and my story?

I wanted to implant the suggestion of these characters.  They are as tangible as you want them to be.  They appear through me, but moulded and formed by the receivers:  the audience.

The 4 characters in many ways represent 4 different aspects of not only post-punk life but parts of me.  Enthusiastic but stretched, tired and cynical, confident but rudderless, hypocritical and spineless.  And in this spectrum, the audience are invited to find parts of themselves, either on one end in the raging passionate Hog character or the timid, but still present, Bert.  The idea of these characters exists, and those ideas are made real inside the audience’s minds.

“The creative act is not performed by the artist alone” – Marcel Duchamp quoted by Tim in his talk.

Think when we talk of horses, that you see them”- the prologue of Henry V

See not a punk, but think of a punk.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

20.17 Blog #34: Zoetrope, mental health and Youth Theatre

I remember reading a book about Mindfulness.  One Mindfulness exercise is to focus on breathing, to slow down, take time to fall into a rhythm, break the tension and be meditative in order to not get overwhelmed with negative thoughts.  If the thoughts get too over-powering, just pull yourself back to the breathing.

The instructions about focusing on breath, being aware of your whole body and checking for tension and stress all seemed familiar to me.  Doing the exercises unlocked a little memory in the back of my head:  I had, at one point, laid on the floor and moreorless done this exercise before.  It wasn’t called Mindfulness, it wasn’t presented as something for mental health either.

It was a Youth Theatre session, back when I was around 16-18.  It was preparing for a run of a show, or possibly for an intensive rehearsal.  Or maybe even at the end of a long rehearsal.  It was about calming down, finding a focus and making sure mentally, as well as physically, we were in tune with ourselves.  It’s something I have used with my youth theatre groups over the years as a practitioner.

I don’t remember ever hearing the term ‘mental health’ when I was a teenager at school.  I knew people got depressed.  But not the nuance, nor the universality that everyone if affected by mental health problems at some point in their lives.  I remember being aware there was a number you could ring at my University if you needed someone to talk to.  I never did, but I really appreciated its existence.  It seems so clichéd to say, but these days young people today are so much more clued up to mental health issues.

On Saturday I went to see Zoetrope, a West Yorkshire Playhouse Youth Theatre production written by Rebecca Manley and directed by Gemma Woffindon.  A Zoetrope is device which, pre-dating cinema, creates the illusion of movement with a sequence of phases of motion.  A spectrum.  And the characters in the play represented a spectrum of mental health, all denoted by a colour of the rainbow.  These characters were accessible and well-defined, but not stereotypes or caricatures.  They were masterfully portrayed by the young cast who each embraced something unique and tangible about these 7 young people dealing with anger issues, an eating disorder, depression, self-harm, voices and alcoholism to name but a few.  The pace of the show meant we were never overwhelmed, except at key moments when the revolving stage showed intense situations, both within a characters minds and outside in the social world.

The rest of the cast provided the chorus of parents, doctors, nurses, support workers, solicitors and school friends that influenced the lives of these characters.  The power of a tight ensemble presented a clockwork world of formality, with one well-choreographed burst of energy in the middle of the show at a frantic house party.

Plenty of warm moments of humour and camaraderie were balanced with dark, almost hopeless, undertones making a rewarding 67 minutes of strong youth theatre, with a heart-stoppingly powerful penultimate scene followed.

I know that schools are also talking about mental health, and that it’s becoming much more mainstream to talk about these issues, rather than hide them away.  And it’s incredibly stirring that this is being presented through the diverse genre that is youth theatre.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

20.17 Blog #33: Frack Off!

How do you write an Anti-Fracking poem?

In May 2016 North Yorkshire County Council approved an application to carry out Fracking outside the village of Kirby Misperton, near Flamingo Land.  An existing wellsite, this would be the first time Fracking had happened in the UK 2011.  I’d spent a lot of my activist energy against austerity, and green issues like Fracking had always been on my periphery vision. But I went to the day-long protest and debate in Northallerton.  Suffice to say there were people from across the country from different backgrounds and ideologies opposing this dangerous use of fossil fuels.

In true punk rock tradition, if you have a grievance with the world you create a 3 minute piece about it.  So I wrote ‘Boroughbridge Road’ which went through various iterations and edits before finally ending up as the poem you’ll find on YouTube.

The poem came out of that vast day of people coming together with an empathises on Yorkshire-ness.   I often worry so much it doesn’t work when performed outside God’s Own Country.  The anti-fracking movement has many heads, and one is to defend the rural countryside as beautiful, peaceful and homely.  At the climax to the day, everyone held aloft a White Yorkshire Rose to symbolise the purity of the Yorkshire countryside.  The White Rose may be a royalist emblem originally, but to me it means home and community.

So that was my first experience with the movement.  Since then I’ve visited the Kirby Misperton Protection Camp and the gates several times.  I’ve been to Preston New Road site and hope to do more as the struggle escalates.  Of course, there can be many other reasons for fighting fracking not associated with the purity of the landscape.  I’ve asked myself, if the site was a wind farm would I be so quick to defend the green?  There are plans for 1000 new buildings in the Hammerton area.  In the middle of a housing crisis, should I be opposed to this like I’m opposed to Fracking?

The answer, to me, lies in the massive dangers associated with Fracking as proven time and time again in Australia and America and no matter how many times Internet People assure me that British laws and regulations will keep the water and land safe, I simply to not accept the risk when companies’ priorities are profit.

So I decided to use my poem as a piece of propaganda.  It would be a tool to use at open mics, slams and general gigs.  Its continued use of the White Rose imagery works well in local York pubs, we’re quite proud of our boundaries up here in t’North.  Insult the Yorkshire attitude and we’ll retaliate.  The North is often to the firs to be slashed in its public services.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence the three hot spots for Fracking licences have been Barton Moss (outside Manchester) Preston New Road (outside Blackpool) and Kirby Misperton (25 miles from York).

So I was trying to inspire a defence of the Yorkshire land in the poem.  I enjoy reading it and getting away with saying “frack off” in the pub.

Please come to the gates of KM8, the wellsite outside Kirby Misperton.  Visit the protection camp.  Find out for yourself what is happening.  The people defending the countryside are a mixture of the young and old, the hippies and the middle class, locals and visitors.  It’s passionate and friendly and beautiful and I’m proud to be have been part of it, and will continue to be.  Below is a list of things you can do to support the anti-fracking movement.

·         Visit and to read up on the local dangers of Fracking and to join the mailing list.
·         Visit to donate whatever you can to support the campaign.
·         Join the Facebook groups Kirby Misperton Protection Camp and Frack-Free York to keep updated.
·         Share articles and information online.  If you’re on Twitter, follow @F_F_Ryedale and @FFNYorkshire.  #Frackfree #WeSaidNo
·         Contact your local MP
·         Write a letter to York Press, BBC Radio York or your local press.
·         Contact Secretary of State for Energy Greg Clark MP
·         Contact Third Energy to tell them to stop Fracking:
·         Politely ask the companies supplying the Fracking site to reconsider who they are working for and the damage they will cause:
Sky Scaffolding Stainsacre Lane Industrial Estate, Fairfield Way, Whitby YO22 4P 01947 821259
Moorhouse Drilling Bessingby Industrial Estate Enterprise Way Bessingby Industr, Bessingby, Bridlington YO16 4SJ 01262 608731
Grimaldi Agencies UK Ltd 28 St James's Square  St James's  London SW1y 4JH 0207 930 5683
Walker Crane Services Motherwell Trading Estate, Motherwell Way, Grays RM20 3XD 01708 867251
·         Come down and support in person
·         Visit the Protection Camp where people are camping over to be closer to the protest.  Maybe take some supplies, toilet paper, water, food etc.  Being a smile and show your support.  It’s on Kirby Misperton Road, left off the A169 as you drive towards Malton, postcode YO17 6UE, follow the signs for Flamingo Land.

·         Visit the protests which are happening outside the Fracking site.  Every weekday local residents are taking a stand.  It’s on Kirby Misperton Road between Kirby Misperton and Little Barugh village.  Again, if you can bring sandwiches and support that would be greatly appreciated by the local residents who are continuing to fight against Fracking.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

20.17 Blog #32: Praise is my Kryptonite

Today is World Mental Health Day, so I thought I’d throw my tattered flat cap into the ring.

I wrote a blog a-g-e-s ago about my anxiety in a social landscape which you can read here.

I constantly have this little voice in my head telling me I’m shit.  I’m worthless.  I’m a failure.  I’m not going anywhere.  After I perform, no matter the response from the audience, seconds after leaving the stage I’ll be strategically analysing everything that went wrong, or could go wrong, with the set and night.  Glass half empty?  More like glass gets smashed.

I had a mentoring 2-days with Third Angel which was staggering useful about funding, company structure and planning for making theatre work.  It seems so natural now, but it took me years and years to even begin to consider applying for pots of money or stepping outside the comfort zone of small scenes because I thought:  “Who would want to give me any money?”  “Who would want to book me for a gig?”  Cos I’m naff, said the brain.

 I shudder at arrogance and ego like Gollum squirms at Elvish rope.  Overly confident poets and artists really get my back up.  They are few and far between in our scene, but their swagger seems alien.  Yet praise is my Kryptonite.  If someone says:  “That were good, Henry” I think they are:  Lying, wrong, confused, stupid as I say “Thank you!”

It’s because my brain, for whatever reason, has been wired over years to see the negative than the positive.  The brain is a muscle, the more you exercise it the more it grows in a certain angle.  I recently did an online CBT course in trying to rethink how you think.  I’m trying to do more mindfulness exercises.  Eat healthy.  Go for walks.  Listen to less angry music.  That’s hard for me.  Love my angry music.  Any further recommendations welcome.

In our last slam we have a number of poets come down to read very personal poems about their identity, sexuality, gender, mental health and survival.  It was very impassioned and beautiful and, I’d like to hope, somewhat empowering.  And that matters in that moment, at that time, in that space.  All strong pieces, all being shared, all being appreciated.  The hierarchy of poetry seemed not to matter a jot (it might have helped our guest, Jackie Hagan, celebrates the mistake, the failure, the incompetence, the imperfection).  

Thanks, poets x

World Mental Health Day is raising awareness, and poetry is a perfect tool to say to an audience “HEY I feel like this!”  Rather than paste over this fear, better to show those cracks as we rebuild the house.

“Bran thought about it. 'Can a man still be brave if he's afraid?' 'That is the only time a man can be brave,' his father told him.”

Thanks Well-‘ard Eddard.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

20.17 Blog #31: Punk Publishing

Since I started writing poems, I’ve been trying find ways to put them into the world beyond words.  In my first year I (rather arrogantly) made a CD of recordings using a little Dictaphone without any sense of editing, structuring or whether anyone would actually want the bloody thing (I guess marketing).

I also put some poems out in the form of zines, under the title Snapping Turtle Press.  This was me and my mate venturing into some self-publishing, and we really enjoyed the rough-and-ready DIY element of glue, staples and combining words with illustrations.  I even went to a few zine fairs, but in the end it was just a fun hobby and it takes a lot of energy to keep putting out zines, so much respected to regular poetry zines like Paper & Ink whom I devour.

I always had huge respect for Burning Eye Books, who mainly focus on publishing performance poets across the UK.  At Say Owt, the night I run, we’ve had lots of their published authors, Harry Baker, Rob Auton, Vanessa Kisuule to name but a few.  I am hugely proud to announce I will bringing out a collection of poetry on Burning Eye next year! Woo!

The book is called Nerd Punk, which is no surprise to anyone who knows my poetry.  It’s about growing up, friendship and home plus protest and politics.  And dinosaurs.

It’s been interesting pouring through old documents, zines and my memory to put together all these poems from the last 11 years.  I don’t think there are many poems from the first couple of years of my poetry writing and performing career, and some poems never really made it into my core ‘sets’.  It felt like, if someone them weren’t included here, they would get lost in the mists of time because they never made the ‘cut’ to the live performances.  Similarly one of two were very specific to the context of a show or event and didn’t really need to be part of the collection.  Because I couldn’t include song lyrics, one poems just fell apart as it was built around a Bedouin Soundclash song.

It’s been an interesting journey going back in time (and I do love nostalgia).  Revisiting and editing old pieces, realising that the structure is much sharper as it has been shaped by performance.  Rather than chunks being added to a poem, the poem has become more streamline and I hope the pieces are stronger for this.

So keep an eye out for the collection in (hopefully) April 2018.  No doubt I’ll be shouting about where to buy it and have a book launch.  I’d love to get out there in a tour if anyone’s up for booking me around that time, drop me an email

Thursday, 14 September 2017

20.17 Blog #30: Make it till you fake it (or: Say F Off to the Pay Off)

Life is not mathematics.  Energy + time + money does not = happiness/money/sucess

For a long time I think I bought into the myth, prevalent in the Arts for sure, one day you will 'make it'.  You will be the actor/writer/director that you idolise.  I sometimes feel, far even beyond politicians, that artists are placed on pedestals.  Glorification.

There's a constant phrase bandied around that your energy + time + money will 'pay off'.  Well, not always.  Some people are just in the right place, and right time.  Some people are thrown opportunities at them.  Some people have to work twice as hard because their have the world stacked against them in a sexist/racist/classist/ablist world.  Sometimes you work hard in the wrong direction.  Like a wonky swimmer splashing in the wrong direction:  land was off to the east.  Sorry, you spent hours swimming to the west and nothing but emptiness.

I wrote about this in another blog about The Land Of Should.  Expectations and assumptions are not always healthy for artists.  I should be getting paid gigs, I should be working on an album I should be getting up earlier, I should be healthier, I should be better.

And, yes, if you do put a lot of energy into a task you will get better.  Practising guitar or a new language.  Getting better at free-writing, getting better at learning poems, getting better at mic technique.  But career-wise, it's trickier.  We talk of 'paying off' like it's a reward.  It has its origins as a gambling term from 1905, only in 1951 recorded as meaning 'to be profitable'.  The greasy hint of money hovers around the phrase.

When does something 'pay off'?  2 weeks?  5 years?  When you hit 30?  When you don't worry about money anymore?  When you've impressed our 12-year old selves?  When you've impressed your parents?  When you win the Nobel Prize for Literature?

Essentially, I think there's a difference between a 'goal' and a 'reward' and a 'pay-off'.  Rewards imply you are given something for your service or attitude or achievement.  There's a power structure (maybe with Christian undertones) that someone with more authority 'rewards' you.  I don't like that very much.  Goals can be small  Goals can be achievable.

So the 'payoff' in a film is when you stick it out, and then something much more exciting happens at the climax.  You paid into the film, and the payoff is the end result of your attention.  But of course the whole time you are making and working should be a ups and downs and waves and slumps of experiences, not a journey leading to one single point.

I guess this is one of the lessons I need to learn for myself, and use this blog to remind myself:  The arts are bloody hard.  Don't expect anyone to hand you anything just because you did work in the past.  Just because your CV is impressive.  Just because you have put loads of time, energy and money into your projects doesn't mean at some fixed point there will be a specific, financial, appreciative career payoff where someone gives you ALL the commissions and ALL the awards and ALL the gigs and ALL the respect.  There is no magical point.

It's a road, not a upwards climb to a plateau.  But, along this road are many celebrations, victories and successes.  Try to acknowledge them.

Monday, 4 September 2017

20.17 Blog #29: Refresher on Freshers

10 years ago Tony Blair has just transferred from being PM to a memory, and Gordon Brown was sat in Office, continually making the mistake of not calling a General Election.  The following year, the Banks would crash.  ULP!

Arctic Monkeys and Kaiser Chiefs were now well-established mainstream stalwarts and a hundred thousand white indie lads found other white indie lads to make jangly guitar pop in a great swathe of WHOA-OH-OAH-OHS.

Memes were just kinda like the little stick guy who goes ‘I see what you did there’ and ‘close enough.  No one had played Pokémon for 8 years.  UKIP were getting big, but they’d get bigger.


September I started University, a year after most of my chums.  I took a Gap Year, and was all the better for it.  Done a bit more travelling, discovered a bit more music, discovered a bit of more of drinking culture.  Read loads of Pinter and Beckett.  Its cliché, but I did ‘find myself’ in the fact I was more comfortable, much more of an adult now I was 19 rather than 18.

I didn’t go far, gentle reader.  York is only 25 minutes away on the train and my grandparents would visit with my Dad regularly, with gift aides full of biscuits and…biscuits.

After a year of being out of education, I was keen to get my teeth stuck into lectures and essays.  My course focused on the academic approach to theatre-making:  ideas, language, theory, concepts.  The physical workshops supplemented the seminars.  I enjoyed myself, and meeting new people.

Freshers week I joined a whole host of societies.  Student Radio, Student Newspaper, Film-making, Theatre, Tea-Lights (comedy), Punk, Rock, Music Library and probably a load of others that have slipped into memory, their membership cards lost to time.

So why am I typing this, for my own sweet swathe of nostalgia?  No, like most of my blogs, it’s a gentle outpouring of thoughts to try and offer some insight to the world out there.

University was hard for me.  It was brilliant, but also hard.  I had such a tight, beautiful friendship circle back home in York, it was hard to recreate anything resembling that network.  Even though I made some totally wicked mates I’m still in contact with today, I had to deal with an intense feeling that I ‘wasn’t doing it right’.
Though probably not true, my general anxiety (which I now understand more) meant I felt like I was always out of the loop.  I struggled to find somewhere to live in 2nd year as everyone else seemed to have found mates, a house and a new life like a breeze. It felt like parties happened on my periphery, I wasn’t always in the Theatre shows.  I was the weird one.  Obviously not true, but true enough in my head.

I hope not to offend any friends I had at Uni, you were (and are) rad super awesome people.  But the vastness of University was a hard slog navigating so much.  I think there were some moments which were the hardest of my life.  Certainly the hardest up until that point.

I was going to post a link to an article, but all you need to do is google 'student mental health' for a whole heap of stats which may be hard, if somewhat unsurprising, viewing.

So I’d like to offer some advice for anyone starting University, or restarting, or generally existing in a space outside their comfort zone:

·         It’s OK to think things aren’t going right.  They might be going right.  They might, in all honestly, be going totally wrong.  But it’s OK to feel like you’re failing, you’re not weak for acknowledging your fears and concerns.
·         Find a world outside Uni.  I went to a lot of music gigs and got chummy with people in the ska-punk scene, but also found solace in the theatre and spoken word/poetry.  The Uni scene is a bubble, it’s nice to pop out.  Same for visiting another nearby city, I was often jumpig on trains to Manchester, Bradford and Huddersfield.  Good space to think, trains.
·         It’s obviously depending on money and geography, but nowt wrong with visiting home.  Either as a special mega cool event, or just to sleep in your own bed for a change.
·         Don’t try and forcibly re-invent yourself.  But do try and think outside whatever box you currently felt like you were pinned in.  It is your chance to try something new.  This could be anything from going veggie to forming a band to getting involved in politics to dying your hair to going for nice walks to whatever. Or just making more pasta dishes, watching new films or doodling more often.
·         Having been out of ‘education’ for 7 years I have learnt two very very big lessons.
1.  Value those 3 years where you can learn, explore, feed and debate in education.

2.  Post-Uni, never stop learning.  Dictate your own education.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

20.17 Blog #28: Pay-30p-if-you-decide

Doing PBH Free Fringe gives you thick skin. People can pay-what-they-decide, I've had, like many chums on the FF will have had, people walk past and not give me a penny for 60 minutes. As someone who struggles to value their art (and their very existence) this can seem like a sadistic pastime. One chap gave me 30p, I almost prefer the non-payers as at least they refuse to engage with the choice of a value.

So far I've averaged £2 per person. But this is the very core of DIY: Disseminating power to individuals rather than enforcing a structure. The choice, and power, lies with the individual audience member.

It's hard to not impose a narrative on your audiences. It's easier to assume their bored than unable to pay.

It's easier to assume you've given them a shit time than they misunderstand the value of your work.

It's easier to assume they have judged your work as poor quality than the simple fact by 21.50 they have run our of money.

And yet, standing with a bucket post-show is a tool and we still need to gauge, as well as engage, our audiences. So, like Jorah Mormont (for a fruitlessly unnecessary amount of time) I must grow thick skin, see people value me and not afford very much.

Analyse, dissect and, yes, assume to better my craft, and rationally therefore my value, as the two are linked in the cold hard context of show + bucket + monetary value + lack of eye contact.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

20.17 Blog #27: Our Mutual Friend and Our Mutual World-Building

My favourite author, Franz Kafka, had a great affinity for the work of Charles Dickins.  You can see in his work the attempt to employ Dickins’ style:  Larger-than-life characters, exploring the workings of a city through a protagonist and ‘world-building’.  Especially in books like The Castle and America.
I made the comparison because in 2016 I adapted Kafka's The Castle for Hull Truck Youth Theatre, and this week had the great privilege of seeing their version of Dickins’ Our Mutual Friend by Bryony Lavery.  I used the term ‘world-building’, a phrase which probably needs unpacking by more literary scholarly people elsewhere, but in the context of theatre, Kafka and Dickins are excellent tools to ‘build worlds’.  In Youth Theatre, it’s practically essential you build the world around the characters.

In a Youth Theatre show, you often have a vast array of young people.  The Dumb Waiter or Abigail’s Party or Art certainly exist within a world, but it’s a small world of a handful of actors in a single room.  But Youth Theatre can boast much larger casts, and can use this to their advantage to build societies, scenes, locations and, essentially, a whole world.  The river dwellings, the dust mounds, the High Society toffs, the pubs and the water itself all become locations full of movement and character.  There’s never a dull moment, and the world constantly whirls from place to place with effective pace.  There’s a core cast of characters who present the inhabitants of this world with vigour, all scrabbling and searching for better lives in this grey Victorian land.  Meanwhile the chorus of Mutual Friends shape the world around them: building, exploring and expanding.  It is testament to director Tom Bellerby’s experience with this group, able to mould them into a flawless tight, whirling ensemble.

The end result is an effective telling of what could be a complex story.  It never gets too bogged down in each individual moment, but finds the overarching themes.  Plots, subplots and sub-sub-plots are all marvellously packaged by a tight ensemble.  I could smell the filthy river, the pampered Houses, the stale taxidermy shop.  This is a great success on the part of the creative team as well, the eerie and ever-moving crooked wooden set providing a suitable platform for the cast, not to mention the chilling, ever-present musical score.  Lavery's script is fast-paced, but takes time to tell a few good character-driven joeks before rattling off into another part of London.

In The Castle, I tried to conjure a cold, desolate village of inhospitable pubs, quiet secretive streets and the brooding presence of the Castle itself.  The ensemble of Hull Truck built this world marvellously, but allowed room for perversely flamboyant characters.  It is here that Youth Theatre can really achieve what a ‘professional’ cast of adults cannot. 

I also saw another Youth Theatre show last month.  In The Blue Road by Laura Lomas, recent commission for Derby Theatre, Dundee Rep and the Royal & Derngate, the cast portray a post-apocalyptic world.  Tensions are high, danger lurks and food is scarce.  But what helps define the dystopian world is the backing chorus, their poetic musing on the past, on the present, on hoe, opens up this world beyond the handful of teenagers discussing their options to a larger tale about human struggle.

As someone who visits, and runs, a number of nights where performances are tied to a single mic and a single performer, it is a pleasure to see shows which take me beyond into a huge, sprawling world and navigate the characters within.

Monday, 14 August 2017

20.17 Blog #26: How To Learn Your Poems (ish)

Ah, Edinburgh Fringe.  So close, yet so far.  6 days until my show opens, and here I am.  Furiously learning new poems.  Nothing ever changes, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I have probably annoyed my housemates (and neighbours) in jabbering around the front room, paper strewn around like litter, trying to get those words off the page, onto my head and onto my tongue.

Nevertheless I thought I’d take a break from pouring over poems to just give some quick thoughts on Learning Poems.

Normally my advice for people learning poems is, unfortunately you just learn them.

But here’s some handy tips in that process.

1.  Stand up.  Wander around.  Move your feet.  For me, it gets the blood moving, gets a little bit of a beat.  You find the highs and lows of the poem, where the energy hits certain beats.  I’m a fidgety person, and I like to use that habit in learning by getting moving.

2.  Break down the poem into sections.  This helps if you have verses, or a repeated line.  Find the checkpoints, where you need to get to, where you’ve come from.

3.  Keep having a go at it without the page.  Don’t glue yourself to it.  If you’re getting it wrong, check rather than constantly stare at the infuriating page.

4.  Intense bursts.  Go over and over it, but then take a good breather. Let it sink in, let it cement.  Go make some food, read a book/magazine.  Have a dance.  Write a blogpost.

5.  Don’t panic.  If all else fails, turn the page into a prop.