Thursday, 27 July 2017

20.17 Blog #24: Deer Shed 2017

Saturday we all rocked up to Deer Shed Festival, my 3rd time at the family-friendly festival.  Actually, ‘family-friendly’ doesn’t do it justice.  Unlike other festivals, who have little separate areas for the kids while the parents can go off and watch the other acts, Deer Shed totally embracing children.  Thousands of them.  After a few hours you’re almost dizzy with the constant chattering, running and joy from the children and young people.  You can hear me chat to Megan, Creative Director of the Festival on the Say Owt podcast:

I say we, because it was the first time we’d gone as Say Owt, and a crew.  Myself, Dave Jarman, Chris Singleton, Stu Freestone, Jenni Pascoe and  Ralph Dartford spent the day soaking up the atmosphere of the mighty festival, watching some acts, bands, even chatting to some of the attendees and writing some brand new poems especially for the event.  We then pitted ourselves in a slam, with some help from special guest Dom Berry.  As expected with a spot of new poems, an audience mostly comprised of under 10s and a little bit of improvised freestyling there was a ramshackle element.  I’d like to think we did a good fun hour of entertainment among many other acts and artists, if there was a wild chaotic element running throughout.

I didn’t want to just take a simple slam where we bring poems specifically for children.  I did one of my ‘normal’ poems for adults, as did Stu freestone and Ralph Dartford.  The show before us did pretty simple poetry, aimed directly at children.  Clearly the kids enjoyed it, but I think we did the stronger show.  Not that it’s a competition (although we did run a slam competition) but rather than considering the ‘expectations’ around performing to young people, we just went for an entertaining showcase which I think paid off.  Thanks to Deer Shed and my fellow poets, hope we can return next year for more madcappery!

20.17 Blog #23: Rolling Resistence

On Friday I drove o’er the Pennies to deepest darkest Lancashire to take part in Reclaim The Power’s Rolling Resistance against Fracking in Flyedale.  As expected, the event was a mixture of demonstration, blockade and mad party.  When we arrived Pete The Temp was DJing a mixture of dub, hip-hop and folk, tasting over the top and getting everyone boogieing with the power of a loop pedal.  His cheeky moment between pieces, joyous energy and clever construction meant everyone was having a great time.

The best moment was when one of the dancing Nannas behind me proclaimed:  “Eeee I’ll sleep tonight!”

I did a few poems, and other people joined in with their poems and speeches.  We learnt about the other activities that week, as well as the wider issues around farming.  Food was served to the few hundred people in attendance, all free.  Under the steely gaze of Police, people of all ages chatted together, some clear crusties from the environmental movement, others local farmers, others concerned older people.  A local woman spoke to the crowd with tears in her eyes how appreciative she was for people being there.  We’d come from Yorkshire, but others had travelled from Nottingham and Bristol for the actions.

I can’t speak much for the activism side, I’ve never performed a lock-on or other forms of direct action.  But the event was a reminder amongst the anger and actions, it’s always useful to have some poetry or music to stir everyone’s spirits.  When the trucks begin rolling into Kirby Misperton in September here in North Yorkshire, I hope the abundance of poets and musicians in York and the surrounding cities will come and get involved, it’s a bright, colourful wing to a beautiful movement.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

20.17 Blog #22: That Friendly Face

When I was 17-18 I started going to more events in York, after discovering the wonders of John Cooper Clarke and performance poetry.  I went to a few open mics, and I recall ending up at a night of poetry at York Library (now York Explore).  I was trying to find my voice in a literary scene perhaps older, more mature and maybe not quite right for a gobby punk like myself.

At the night, I met and chatted to Helen Cadbury. I can’t remember if Helen performed, but I remember talking to her, and Helen being very friendly to this inexperienced young poet.  Over the years Helen was always a sociable face who you’d bump into at events, around York Theatre Royal or have good discussions with over social media forums.

Helen sadly passed away last month, and yesterday I attended her memorial at the Quaker Meeting House.  Helen was a writer, drama facilitator, poet and educator.  Other people who knew Helen better than I have articulated her life and character.

I just wanted to write a blog about how I saw her as part of an artistic scene.  At her Memorial I thought about that first encounter.  A lot of people spoke about Helen’s nurturing side and her support for the community.  But Helen was also a socialist and a pretty fiery person (not to mention someone with a wicked naughty sense of humour).

I was thinking about now, as someone nearing their 29th birthday and planning a series of new spoken word events under the Say Owt banner, people’s role in the scene and community.

York is a very unique city.  Lots of scenes and communities intersect.  Helen’s memorial was attended by theatre, literature, poetry, Leftie and, of course, Quaker people.  I feel like I dip in-and-out of numerous scenes in York, poetry, comedy, theatre, activism and music to name but a few, and the sub-categories each one boasts.

I think it’s important to be encouraging and nurturing in all scenes.  To give people support, mentorship and advice, wherever constructive criticism or much-needed praise.  To point them in the right directions, to pass them onto other nights and events.  I’d like to do this in the spirit of Helen, not patronising, not intensive.  But just being that friendly face you bump into around this city.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

20.17 Blog #21: Grant For The Arts and The Land Of Should

If you’re anything or anybody like me, you live in the Land of Should.  I should do this, I should do that.  It’s the burden of a guilty expectation.  It’s taken me a long time to unlearn what I should be doing on a career-scale.  “I should be earning xyz, playing these festivals and getting those kind of gigs” etc.  I still live in the Land of Should on a personal level, but having a set of expectations doesn’t help give you a structure for ambition.

One of these goals in life was that artists should have Grants for the Arts.  The route to being a successful artist is a pot of money from the Powers That Be that seemingly validates you as a professional.  The trouble was, the vastness of the G4A was a scary prospect.  Too scary to get my head around.  How to approach it, how to digest it, how to find support for it?  Not because it seemed a very unpunk thing, but because I liked immediacy.  And I guess I shy away from hard work sometimes if I’m not naturally already pretty good at it.  Thanks for friends who told me to just get on with it.

But, with huge support from Kirsten Luckins over at Apples & Snakes, and advice from a number of other amazing people, the event I co-run, SAY OWT, has received a Grant For The Arts from Arts Council England.  It felt a lot of emailing, timetabling, rewriting and messages flying-back-and-forth.  A lot of maybes.  This actually felt a lot more could than should.  We could do these events is a lot better ‘bluesky’ thinking than we should do these events.  It’s more ambitious to think could than should.

The programme we’ve put together is not just a dedication to the exciting and raw slams we’ve fostered, but also open mics featuring crossover events with other nights across the UK, workshops, special events and scratches, plus opportunities for poets to be our Local Guest and part of an Anthology.

This massively exciting for me and Stu to start juggling these new responsibilities, but I guess it’s understanding this doesn’t mean we’ve ‘made it’ and suddenly are grown-ups with our G4A.  If anything, it’s more complicated!  We’ve run 3 seasons of Say Owt, and yes we’ve cemented a night but it’s time to push onwards and really define what it could be; a supportive, quality and experimental scene.  And not what it should be.