Interviews

Future Projects from Jenny & Rachel (aka Rally & Broad)

In which Rally (Jenny Lindsay) and Broad (Rachel McCrum) let you know what they’re going to be up to, now that Rally & Broad is drawing to a close. The final tix are flying out the door, pals – Edina  is sold out in advance (but with a limited number available on the door): there are still a few left for Glasgow on Sunday 19th June, with AL Kennedy, A New International, Jonnie Common, Colin McGuire, Roseanne Reid and Georgia Barlett-McNeil!

Once More, With Feeling! Oh yes… xx

R&B

 

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Six Questions For…. JO CLIFFORD!

Jo Clifford is known as one of Scotland’s leading playwrights. She has written about 80 performed scripts in just about every dramatic medium, some of which have been performed all over the world. Rally & Broad are delighted to welcome her to our Glasgow stage this month on Sunday 24 April. Tickets here!  Josephine Sillars interviews her below!

JoClifford

  1. As well as being one of Scotland’s leading playwrights, you are also an actress, poet and teacher! Which medium are you the most comfortable in (and is there anything you can’t do?) 

I’m rubbish at football. And weightlifting is not my strong point. Of the things you list that I can do, I love doing all of them…I guess because acting/performing was something I was blocked in for about 40 years, I feel I have to catch up a lot of lost time. And get the hugest satisfaction and pleasure from…

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6 questions for…Liam McCormick!

‘I’m not weird you’re weird.’

Liam McCormick is a young poet and performer based in Glasgow. He was one of the BBC 1Xtra Words First Glasgow poets and was subsequently selected by BBC 1Xtra to represent the Glasgow scene, performing at The Roundhouse and on-air, and also gaining mentorship from Kate Tempest, George the Poet and Bohdan Piasecki from Jan – June 2016

Our Rally & Broad wunderwummin on the ground in Glasgow, Josephine Sillars, sat down with Liam to ask him some questions…

Rally & Broad ‘First Editions’ – Sunday 2oth March, Stereo, Glasgow.With Stina Tweeddale (Honeyblood), Janice Galloway, Louie (Hector Bizerk) & Jack of Diamonds aka Toby Mottershead! £6 on t’door or a little cheaper in advance here

 

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Liam McCormick: Photo by Bibi June

  1. Recently you were selected by BBC 1Xtra to represent Glasgow as part of Words First! How have you been finding the experience, and what are you most looking forward to in the next few months? 

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6 Questions for…Malachy Tallack & Chrissy Barnacle!

Malachy & Chrissy will be performing together as part of our Ampersand Sessions on Sunday 21st February at Stereo, GlasgowStereo, Glasgow, as part of an amazing bill including Emma Pollock, Katie Ailes & Catherine Wilson (Loud Poets), and Jenny Lindsay & Heir of the Cursed (formerly Genesee). Tickets just £5 in advance or £6 on the door! ‘mon down!

In the meantime, our intrepid wummin on the ground in Glasgow, Josephine Sillars, asked Malachy and Chrissy a few searching questions…

  1. I’m very excited to hear what your collaborative piece is. Without giving too much away, what can we expect to hear from you both?

Malachy: We’ve written a couple of songs together before, and we’ll probably be playing at least one of those on Sunday. Hopefully we’ll have a new song or two for the occasion as well

Chrissy: Harmonies and hooks, I hope. With minimal choruses.

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6 questions for…Ryan Van Winkle

Ryan Van Winkle is a poet, live artist, podcaster and critic living in Edinburgh. His critically praised first collection, Tomorrow, We Will Live Here, was published by Salt in 2010 and won the Crashaw Prize. He was awarded a Robert Louis Stevenson fellowship in 2012 and was listed as one of Canongate’s ‘Future Forty’ in 2013. His poetry / theatre experiment ‘Red, Like Our Room Used to Feel‘ was one of the top ten best-rated shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2012 and in 2015, his second collection ‘The Good Dark’ won the Saltire Society Book of the Year. His poems have appeared in New Writing Scotland, The Prairie Schooner, The American Poetry Review, AGNI and The Australian Book Review. He was born in Connecticut and says ‘Tomato’ like an American.

We are utterly delighted to have Ryan as our headline poet at Rally & Broad’s ‘Hangover Special’ at The Bongo Club on Friday 22nd January. Ahead of this, Rally & Broad Officer-In-Chief Josephine Sillars asked him a few questions…

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1. Your latest collection, The Good Dark, recently won the Saltire Society Poetry Book of the Year! How does it feel to have won, and do you have a favourite poem from the collection?

 

Thanks very much. There’s many great books published every year so it was surprising to be nominated and jaw-dropping to hear I’d won. Of course, it feels wonderful to be acknowledged but, mostly, I hope it means a few more people might find their way to my book and to the others on the shortlist. However, that was all the way back in November, so I felt dreamy for a few days and then thought – shit, now I have to write another book.

I don’t really have a favorite poem but I do seem to read ‘Summer Nights, Walking‘ a lot.

2. One of the many projects you have worked on over the past few years was Reel Festivals / Highlight Arts, of which it is the belief that the arts can be used as a tool to promote unity and solidarity with communities and individuals from around the world. How important is this idea in your own literary work?

Thanks to Highlight Arts (nee Reel Festivals) I’ve been privileged to work with brave & talented poets as well as translators &organizers from Iraq, the High North, Pakistan and Syria. I help with literary programming and translating activities which meanspart of what I do is bring poets from the UK together with poets from these regions to work on new translations face to face. It is a very intimate process & I’m proud to facilitate it alongside committed translators and organizers all of whom believe that the creation of good art (and access to it) is paramount. So, while we do have this very beautiful & idealistic objective – the practice itself is tactile and based on making and sharing work. The artists who work together, we feel, have a tangible relationship which can be presented on stage (or in film or books) offering a glimpse into another culture and, importantly, the bonds between friends, artists and peoples.

What I end up thinking about and learning about is how people are wildly kind, generous and loving all over the world and that the differences between people across cultures are far less significant than our similarities. It turns out that kids skip school in Damascus, that radio stations in Erbil play recognizable hits, that there’s people everywhere who enjoy a good boogie. It is always astounding to see in how this kind of common ground, obvious whenever one sits across from another person, helps us to empathize with those whose experiences are wholly unique.

So, with my own poems I feel that the very act of writing something is an act which attempts to bridge a gap between individuals &that requires empathy, imagination and honesty. So, my work doesn’t exist to explicitly ‘promote unity and solidarity with communities and individuals from around the world‘. But might be fair to say that my work with Highlight Arts has been informed by my efforts as a writer – as someone who attempts to use language to close a distance between myself and a reader. I believe, and have witnessed, how we can connect with people whose experiences are outside our own, and these experiences can inform the way we speak and act in our own lives. Art, like the range of human emotions, spans generations and cultures. Anyone who has experienced musicians during a jam session will have seen this and it is the same when poets or visual artists work together. We have a cultural bond with each other which transcends.

Which sounds ridiculously lofty and not at all something I think about when I’m writing a poem. The poems themselves are largely personal affairs, often an effort to explain something of myself to myself.

3. In 2012, you wrote in the Edinburgh Review that ‘for many working in the Edinburgh arts scene, it has been and remains a fight’. In your opinion, is this still the case in 2016?

As a poet I’m fortunate to work in one of the quieter art forms. Writers don’t take up much space or need much in the way of resources which is why Edinburgh is such a great city for us. There’s plenty of events and opportunities on every level – from the grassroots to the professional.

However, as someone whose helped to organize live and loud stuff – theatre and gigs at the Forest and with Forest Fringe etc – it is a hard city to work in. Partly, people say, that’s because of Edinburgh’s population size and therefore limited audience – though I think the number of sold-out, high quality events happening regularly kind of refutes that notion. Personally, I think running an autonomous space here takes a lot of effort and money. So, I think musicians, theatre makers, and independent venues supporting local talent have a harder time than necessary in the city, especially the city centre.

From what I can see, Hidden Door, Out of the Blue, Leith Late and groups like ‘Desire Lines’ and ‘Music is Audible’ have made a real effort to sustain a dialogue between the city and the artists and organizers who choose to work in it and increase its profile, economy and livibility. I think some individuals on the council get it and are listening but I’m not sure what steps they can take to redress thefact that it is fraying and onerous at the moment to run an autonomous space in the heart of the city.

3. As well as your published work, I have heard from a reliable source (Broad) that you have put on some superb one man one shows. Are there any challenges to writing a performance piece that differ to written poetry?

I’m sure it is different for other poets but, for me, I can’t write specifically for performance. That’s not where my head is when I’m writing a poem. Often, I’m writing to myself or to a loved one, I’m writing to a small worry, a tiny sense of an idea. If I wrote specifically for performance I would totally ruin things by drifting to the polemical, the comedic, the prosaic and didactic. So, I try not to let the performance into my head too much when I’m writing something and I prefer to re-contextualize poems I’ve already written simply for the page into whatever performance or commission I’m working on. That can’t always be done, of course, like withViewMaster – I did set myself a challenge to write a 10 minute poem for each slide.

And that was daunting but I kept in mind something the poet Mario Petrucci once said to me when I was struggling to write to spec. He said something along the lines of, ‘when you’re writing for a commission, just write about what you want.’

Now, this might be a wild extrapolation (and Mario was certainly more eloquent) but I took that to mean, ‘if you’ve been thinking a lot lately about poverty or loss and you get a commission from the Forestry commission to write about wolves – find a way to shift it in the direction of your concern.’

So, after looking at a reel of Mecca or Tulip Time in Holland for the ViewMaster show, I’d just write about what I wanted. Which, in the back of my mind, was nostalgia, loss & legacy. And forgetting that I had a rough deadline and something in mind for the poem beyond the page was sometimes a challenge to getting actual words down.

4. As an American poet living in Scotland, why have you chosen to make Edinburgh your base?

It was an accident. I ended up here the same way people end up in Cleveland. A very happy accident.

6. And finally, who is your favourite writer at the moment, and is there anything that the Rally & Broad audiences should read up on before seeing you at the show? 

My favorite writer at the moment is Stephen Dunn whose poems are deceptively simple and dauntingly honest. No homework is necessary. 

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Six Questions for…Agnes Torok!

Agnes Török is a spoken word performer, poetry workshop leader, poetry event organiser and happiness researcher. She is the winner of multiple Poetry Slams in three different countries and two different languages. Török has been featured as a TED speaker, on The Today Programme and BBC Radio Scotland. Her two acclaimed one-woman spoken word shows ‘Sorry I Don’t Speak Culture’ and ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It Take This Survey’ have been awarded the Best International Spoken Word Show Award (2014) and the Best Wellbeing Show Award (2015) at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (PBH). She’ll be performing at Rally & Broad on Sunday 22nd November at Stereo, Glasgow with ‘Said the Joker to the Thief…’ and in the meantime, took the time to speak with R&B’s wonderful Josephine Sillars.

  1. Your latest Fringe show, ‘if you’re happy and you know it – take this survey’ has been described as the ‘science of happiness’. What makes you happy?
Lots of stuff! People, mostly. Good people and good books. Writing and performing poems. Wine doesn’t hurt either.
2.Your poetry deals with themes ranging from personal to political. Do you believe in ‘art for arts sake’ or do you feel that poetry has a responsibility to challenge people?

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Six Questions for…Alan Bissett!

Alan Bissett is one of Scotland’s best known writers, novelists, playwrights, performers, and activists, with Very Good Reason. We’re absolutely delighted to have him back for Rally & Broad ‘Because The Night...’, at Stereo, Glasgow, on Sunday 31st May with Caroline Bird, The Last September, Marianne MacRae and Hailey Beavis (tickets here). Oh yes!

With Rally & Broad at Festival of Politics 2014. Photo credit: Robb Macrae

With Rally & Broad at Festival of Politics 2014. Photo credit: Robb Mcrae

Ahead of May’s show, we sat down to ask him six questions about writing, labels, politics, art, activism and all the rest. And boy, did we get some cracking answers…

1. Novelist, playwright, performer, activist – that’s a lot of strings to yer bow! Which one is twanging hardest for you at the moment?

To be honest, it’s getting harder to tell the difference between them. Obviously at one level, if you are sitting down to write a novel you are a novelist, when writing a play you are a playwright, and so on, but otherwise it all bleeds into one. I only became a ‘performer’ in the first place because I was doing so many readings from my novels in schools, libraries and festivals that after a while you just memorise it and it tips over into theatre. Some of the activism has felt ‘performed’ – not because you’re not being truthful but because you have to engage a political audience in exactly the same way that you engage a theatre audience. So for example, I just got back from Wigtown, where I was billed as ‘stand up’, which involved me improvising a comedy set that included storytelling, banter, politics, plus bits from my novels and plays – which I think might form the basis of a future tour. I can’t really see the joins anymore. Let’s just call it all ‘blethering’.

2. Cutting straight to the mustard. Post Indy ref – what is the role for artists? And, with hindsight, what role do you think artists played in the referendum?

I think artists played a huge role in the indyref, both within, say, National Collective and beyond it. I’m not going to kid myself that the opinions of artists were as important to the general public as those of politicians or economists, but we did add another dimension that was more colourful and imaginative, and we were able to frame the debate in certain ways – through poetry, theatre, songs or illustrations – that allowed people to understand differently and see themselves inside the magnitude of what was going on. The numbers people can’t do that, which is why they often had to rubbish us – ‘oh you’re just people who make up silly stories and draw pictures, what do you know?’ Well, we gave the whole thing an emotional layer that is often more powerful than talking about GERS figures.

Our ‘role’ afterwards? Well, I don’t think anyone can or should proscribe what any artist’s ‘role’ is. But clearly the whole process is ongoing. We don’t have an indyref to bind us together, which is why it’s probably the right thing that National Collective folded and also why we’re now seeing divisions emerge during the movement, some based on sound political principles, others on ego. But I think the artists will continue to try and make sense of it all in their own ways, sometimes individually, sometimes collectively. There have been very fine works created during the white-heat of the campaign, but we’ve yet to see a true masterpiece emerge. I think there could be several in the offing, but we’re still in an extraordinary state of flux so it’s hard to pin things down. Soon as your pen touches the page the material is dated.

AlanBissett2

3. What do the words ‘Scottish culture’ mean to you?

Well, Scottish culture is different things to different people, obviously, and it should feel inclusive. I might think Allan ‘rivers of blood’ Massie has lost the plot as a political commentator, but I can see that he has written some very fine novels which deserve to be taken seriously as works of Scottish literature. However, I can certainly say that the Scottish culture which means the most to me is the kind which feels oppositional and rebellious, which is a clearing a space beneath the hegemonic Anglo-American culture (some of which is obviously very good, but hegemonic nonetheless) to articulate the language, themes and stories of working-class (or other marginalised) Scots. Unless Scottish writers themselves do this then we”ll just have this homogenous Hollywood/BBC culture, and an entire people’s consciousness will go with it. This is what Hamish Henderson called the ‘carrying stream’ of the folk tradition, and it applies as much to Eddi Reader as it does to Irvine Welsh. That’s the stuff that’s really valuable to me.

4. So, the seeming rise and rise of the spoken word/performance poetry scene in Scotland. Do you see yourself as part of it? And if so (or if not), what are your thoughts on it?

Oh I don’t know. I’ve been on the ‘scene’ for about fifteen years now and when I started out there was a lot less of what would now be called ‘spoken word’. Rebel Inc had done some great stuff creating a buzz for live events in the Nineties, and Liz Lochead was a stand-out before then, but that had died away by the time my first novel, Boyracers, came out in 2001. Back then the ‘poems and pints’ vibe in the back room of a pub was more the thing, but people weren’t really expected to be ‘performers’ and to be honest I found some of it quite boring. I always felt it was being rude to the audience to expect them to listen to you for twenty minutes and not even make an attempt to be entertaining. I mean, with the best will in the world the human brain doesn’t work that way!

I was like: we’re really missing a trick here, and I resolved to make my readings more of a theatrical experience, which is why I stood out back then. I got involved in nights like Discombobulate with the poet Magi Gibson and the comedian Ian Macpherson in Glasgow in the mid/late Noughties, which was really about consolidating that ethos across a whole bill, and which was eventually replaced by Kirstin Innes’s and Anneliese Macintosh’s Words Per Minute. I think both contributed to the current crop of very, very strong spoken word nights we now see, like Rally and Broad and Neu Reekie! which really have perfected the form.

Things have truly changed now and evolved into ‘spoken word’, where writers are expectedto be good performers and boring acts just aren’t programmed. There’s a level of professionalism about younger writers – in terms of the way they present themselves onstage – that’s much more in tune with what live audiences want. I’m certainly not a rarity anymore. As for being part of the current ‘scene’? No, I’ve probably been around for too long for that to be the case. But I definitely approve of this generation of stage-ready younger writers, who all seem really politicised too, so I don’t feel estranged from it either. If the current spoken word scene was Britpop, then Irvine Welsh would be John Lennon and I’d be Paul Weller.

5. What’s coming up next for you?

I’m touring a comedy set around Falkirk, called What the F**kirk? which is about, you guessed it, Falkirk. Having spent so long looking at the things on the national level during the indyref I want to really focus in on the local: asking what it means to have a ‘home town’ and trying to work out whether or not community still exists. It’s definitely feels like my first ‘post-referendum’ statement, which is going beyond the Yes/No binary.

After that, in Spring 2016, it’s the big one: my play about the ex-Rangers manager Graeme Souness, written in verse. We’ve tried sections out in front of test audiences and it provokes big reactions. I can’t wait.

Beyond that I’d like to try a stand-up tour. I should also get around to writing another novel, but I have to wait until my theatre slate is clear and the right idea presents itself. You need to keep doing things that no-one will see coming. There’s no point in releasing a novel just for the sake of releasing a novel. Why miss the chance to fuck with people’s expectations?

6. And finally…Because the Night…belongs to who?!

…vampires, of course! *

*Team Gary Oldman in Dracula 1992. [excellent choice…Ed]

Alan Bissett’s Collected Plays is out now with Freight

(http://www.word-power.co.uk/books/collected-plays-2009-2014-I9781908754448/)

What the F**kirk? will be touring Falkirk venues from 3rd-14th June

(https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/falkirkcommunitytrust)

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Six Questions For….. Jenny Lindsay & Rachel McCrum!

IRETHIN

Guid day! So, here at Rally & Broad HQ we got wind of a joint pamphlet launch from a couple of poetry/ wordy types. We like a guid pamphlet launch so we thought it worth conducting one ae our Six Questions interviews with the authors. We’ve never met them, but we’ve heard that they occasionally come to Rally & Broad, so we thought we’d check them out. Broad sat down with the Jenny Lindsay one, and Rally spoke to Rachel McCrum. We all got on pretty well, I must say, even though Jenny ate all the biscuits and Rachel tried to nick Rally’s lighter. Anyway – we’re going to head down to their launches at The Jazz Bar at 2.30pm on Sunday 11th (where they are joined by Christopher Willatt) and check em out at The Old Hairdresser’s in Glasgow on Thursday 16th at 7pm. Be nice tae see some of you guys there too – ours is a pint of chutzpah and a side order of cognitive dissonance. 😀

Broad to JL: Nice scarf, lass! I used to have one just like that! Anyway –  why ‘Ire & Salt’?

I spent ages swithering over this title! My pamphlet is essentially about personal and political power. Both of these entwine, both were fundamental themes of the Scottish independence debate (which is the back-drop to all the pieces in the pamphlet), and I’ve experienced both power and complete dis-empowerment both personally and politically in the last three years. A diagnosis of chronic depression and anxiety in June 2013, learning how to live with that and various ups and downs, being in a position of authority as an educator, having a platform, being an activist, amazing camaraderie, horrific break-ups… All have made the last 3 years pretty interesting and have made me revisit theories of power as part of understanding what I’ve just experienced.The Ire is the anger that powerlessness produces as well as the spark that can overcome it. The Salt is the tears of relief at retaining or regaining yer own agency after feeling dis-empowered.

It’s also a preserving agent. We’ve just experienced a pretty damn significant cultural and historical shift in Scottish politics. What is going to be preserved from that and who is going to preserve it? Who has power now and are we really as empowered as we could be, given the riff that Scotland has become empowered as a consequence of the vote? How many things continue to just happen at us and how many things can we shape? Political disempowerment and depressive illness share this one characteristic: both feel like they are happening at ye, and not something you can shape.

I mean, there’s also a fair bit ae word-play going on with that there title too, but I thought I should try to sound intelligent…

Rally to RM – Nice to meet ye! I got lost on the way here, sorry I’m late: I ended up in the wrong place. On the subject of place – Do Not Alight where Again? And why?

The long version…(or just skip to the end. There’s a much shorter answer after all this waffle).

Setting out this pamphlet has been a really odd process. Firstly, it feels somewhat overdue – the last one (my first one) was in 2012. C’mon, the poems aren’t even that long. But I honestly didn’t feel I’d done enough writing since Glassblower to have filled a pamphlet, or at least fill a coherent one, despite having had all these incredibly experiences with poetry trips to Greece and to South Africa – and not really having made time to write about any of them. If it hadn’t been for commissions and collaborations in the past two years, I’dve felt totally stulted. That’s not a word. Ah, it is now.

So, come January, I had all these half written poems hanging about and had convinced myself I was going to have to write a pamphlet’s worth of new ones in three months. On the verge of throwing everything up in the air for good in a suitably melodramatic fashion, I gave myself a bit of a shake, took the poems I did have, and found that they told a story, of sorts. So then I had a look back over the past two years, to try and understand where the story had come from…

It was the Scottish referendum. It was being in Scotland while it’s having what was (is?), let’s face it, a remarkably civilised debate about this huge question of future of the country, whilst being from Northern Ireland, which has not proven so capable of such a thing. Realising that because of this whole stupid hangover of Empire called the United Kingdom, being not so much an immigrant in another country, as, y’know, more of a blow in. But definitely not being Scottish. Despite all the invitations to engage in that process, despite the glorious and inspiring commitment to civic rather than ethnic nationalism that the referendum made, I honestly never felt more of an outsider than during that time. In practical terms, it meant it felt very odd to campaign and tell Scottish people how I thought they should vote. In personal terms, it meant I definitely wasn’t Scottish. How frightfully self absorbed.

Ouch. But, aye.

So that means I’m Northern Irish, right? And what the hell does that mean? I don’t live there. I don’t contribute anything to the culture or the economy or the society there anymore. Moreover, I’m of Northern Irish middle class Protestant heritage, one of the least sexy cultural heritages you could lay claim to, but it is mine, and how do you deal with that, flaws and faults and all? I still call it home. My family is there. There is a certain – character – that you could say is bred there.

There was also something quite specific for my generation, who came of age – I particularly mean the middle class lot who were finishing secondary school and heading out to university, but has also been true for any numbers of generations coming of age before ours – that Ireland was never seen as good enough. To make a life, a proper life in the world, you had to get out. The diaspora, all those ones wandering about.

Louis MacNeice writes how

‘I can say Ireland is hooey,

Ireland is a gallery of fake tapestries.

But I cannot deny my past to which my self is wed.

The woven figure cannot undo its thread.’

Which is all very romantic and maudlin. Don Paterson, with a more cynical robustness, talks about the ‘Irish boomerang – it doesn’t come back but sings you a song about how much it would like to.’

Putting the pamphlet together let me look at Northern Ireland, and find a way to love it (and I do – oh, you buggery stubborn country, I do, and I hope the book shows it) and leave it. For now, anyway.

There are over two years between the first and last poem in the book, and they move from asking you to listen to an accent and hear the story behind it, to making the accent vagrant, leave, move on. I’ll always love Northern Ireland, with a knot the size of a clenched fist in the pit of my stomach, but I’m done with spinning the guts out. I’d like to look outwards and forwards. I’d like to swallow the world.

The short and prosaic version…It’s a sign I first saw on disused railway platforms from a train winding up through the Highlands. Look at that language! It’s so politely firm and forbiddingly melancholy, all at the same time. Smashing.

DoNotAlightHere

Broad to JL: We at R&B HQ ken well the battle between Poetry and Promoting. So: Poetry and Promoting get into a ring and have a fight. What wins, and why?

Jesus. Of late, promoting. But! I should say that’s by design. I love programming events. I find it brilliantly fulfilling to create or co-create an event that artists and an audience can enjoy in that moment. It’s empowering for everyone, if done well, and it is a creative outlet in its own right. Poetry’s always there though – jabbing its finger in mah back saying, ‘Oi! I’m the bloody reason you’re doing this remember, fool!’ And so poetry always wins cos it’s the catalyst for the promoting. I bloody love spoken word. I can’t imagine ever not wanting to run events and I can’t imagine ever not writing poetry or whatever the hell it is I write. In conclusion: they go two rounds and declare it a draw. On a personal level, one has rarely existed without the other. I’ve been running events for as long as I’ve been writing.

Rally to RM: I’m crap with a hammer and nails and am prone to watching DIY shelving units crash to the ground. But I like DIY platforms. Tell me more about this and how you make them sustainable?

I landed in Edinburgh in 2010, via Manchester, Belfast, New Zealand, Oxford and basically a lot of dithering about in my 20s. I mean, I had a briefcase at one point – it was quite official looking dithering – but I didn’t really know what I was doing. I didn’t really know what I was doing when I landed in Edinburgh – ostensibly, the reason I’d moved up was for a PhD but I wasn’t too hot at that either. However, I had a wonderful Italian anthropologist for a supervisor who knew I wasn’t very happy, and told me to go forth and find my people – find my community – as this would help me understand the PhD better. I found the Forest Cafe.

The Forest Cafe, unlike anything else I knew, says ‘yes’ to everything and then works out how to make it happen afterwards. Without Forest, I would never have fallen in love with building platforms and stages, with seeing how empowering that can be for folk, and how much strength a like minded community can give one another. It was a whole DIY punk world that I’d never been part of before. I loved it then, I love it now. Some of the very best of people. With Forest came Inky Fingers, then Blind Poetics, then that thing that we’re trying not to mention here, and now, looking forward to summer 2015, SHIFT/…new solo shows from Scotland based spoken word artists for the Fringe.

But I also think there’s something really special about Scotland, about Edinburgh, in particular.

The way the DIY world supports one another – not just within poetry but with music as well – the sense of community, the space to try things out and suceed or fail, to pick yourself, to keep going, to collaborate. And the way the larger institutions – the Scottish Poetry Library, the Scottish Book Trust, the Libraries, the Book Festival, the City of Literature, even the University – connect with the grassroots scene, are aware of and support it – and vice versa. Maybe it’s a scale thing – we all drink in the same pubs – but maybe something more.

Ways to make DIY platforms sustainable? For my tuppence worth…

  1. Find a collaborator, a comrade, a partner in crime. Find a partner in crime with whom you can laugh, cry, drink and work. Who will support, share, provoke, energise you. Who you will always love to bits, and could kill half the time. Who will have your back and kick your arse all at once. Who has similar approaches to work and to appetite, to afternoons in cocktail bars and staggering to the late night chippie, to the occasions when to tell you that you look amazing in that dress and that that new poem is the best thing that has ever been written (and recognises when the time is to tell you that both could probably do with some more work). To mutally acknowledging the need, occasionally, to throw it all up in the air, have a nap, and start all over again. No, you can’t have mine. Yes, I know she’s pretty special. Get yer own.
  1. Find your community. The one you respect. The one that you’d push past exhaustion for. Learn from it. Don’t get so excited about the thing you’re doing that you forget to look around you and support the things that other people are doing. Don’t compete. Don’t self promote at the expense of others. Don’t bitch about one another. Find the thing you do, find the thing they do. Support one another. Hold each other up. Applaud one another. When you start playing, performing to more than yourselves – and you will – they’ll still be there. Still be there.
  1. Learn how to work with the professional world, the institutions. They are not the bad guys. They are there to help, and they’ll have expertise, experience and perspective to learn from, and opportunities beyond what you can achieve on your own. They’ve probably got public funding, and that means they’re reaching out to wider audiences than you could ever do on your own. That’s a good thing. Public funding for the arts is a Very Good Thing. And you are probably more nimble, closer to new audiences than they are, quicker to react and to act. You can help each other.
  1. Say yes to everything. Then understand where your energy levels are, and when to say no. Don’t burn out. Take care of yourself. Do the things that you believe have integrity. But where you can, take a leap out, say yes.

Broad to JL: What is the best gig, ever, that you’ve been involved with, and why?

Well, there is this one thing I’m involved in that is hands-down the best creative partnership I’ve ever been involved in and also contains my favourite ever events I’ve ever been part of, but I think we’re trying not to talk about that, right? He he! So: here’s another top 2!

Firstly, in 2006 the Scottish Slam Team went down to Bristol’s Old Vic Theatre to take part in the Three Nations Slam Championships. It was me, Bram Gieben, Graeme Hawley and Milton Balgonie. We won the national title and in the individual scores I came first, Bram came second, Graeme came third and Milton came fourth. We were the complete outsiders and no-one had ever heard of any of us. It was bloody brilliant.

The second has to be the National Collective Edinburgh Sessions from Jan – Jun 2014 that were organised by a small team and led by Cameron Foster and I. They were a great mix of art and politics, debate and discussion and they were informative as well as entertaining. It’s not often ye’ll get a debate on forestry alongside a spoken word artist alongside a theatre-maker alongside a discussion about fiscal policy. They were great motivation and built up a lovely network of friends and campaigners.

For balance: the worst was being heckled by an elderly lady at Stanza in 2011 who shouted out that my language was “appalling, dear!” It practically started a riot as the aforementioned Balgonie shouted “Nae censorship at Stanza!” and thus a short interlude of back-and-forth ensued with various members of the audience chiming in. It was the first time I had performed an hour-long show. Ever-so-slightly off-putting.

There’s plenty of quality profanity in a couple of the pieces in Ire & Salt though, so I look forward to a repeat of this in August…

Rally to RM: Oi! That’s my lighter! Harrumph. Anyway –  home and identity are a big part of what you write about. So: weighty question –

Where do you consider home?

Where I can lay down my hat. Where there’s a pot of Earl Grey. Where I can find a shoulder to rest my head on. Where someone will tell me their story. Where I can work as part of something bigger than myself. Where I can feel of use.

And that concludes our interview! Come hear and see these two and buy their pamphlets too. That Jenny likes a lot of biscuits and lighters don’t come cheap… 😀

 

Six Questions for…The 2015 Scottish Slam Champ BRAM E. GIEBEN!

In February 2015, Bram E Gieben competed against fifteen of Scotland’s best slam poets to win the title. He’ll go on to represent Scotland in the Slam Worlds in Paris in June. Rally & Broad were both in the audience that night, and it was an incredible performance, equal parts power, control and fire. We’re delighted that he’ll be appearing at Rally & Broad on Friday 20th March for ‘Dance While The Sky Crashes Down’ with RM Hubbert, Alan Bissett, Lynsey May and Elyssa Vulpes. In the meantime, a few queries about what makes him tick tick tick…

BramEGiebenRally&Broad

  1. So…how does it make you feel?

    It honestly feels incredible, for a number of reasons. I’ve always seen myself as something of an outsider on the slam, hip-hop and poetry scenes – too hip-hop for the poetry crowd, too poetry for the hip-hop crowd, and too hard to place for a lot of slam judges and fans. To win, especially against a huge field of very talented poets, has definitely made me feel that I’ve been working towards this eventual goal, and that it hasn’t all been in vain. I was ready to quit slam after this year, just to make space, I guess, for new voices… but this has given me an extra boost to keep going. What I hope, more than anything, is that my win gives hope to people whose poetry is a little weirder, edgier and more combative that they too can win slams and acclaim for their performances if they work hard enough… and that it’s not always deeply personal, emotionally-wrought poems and poets who win; that polemic and rhetoric and satire and wordplay all have their place, if delivered with passion and a little bit of stagecraft.

  2. You’ve been doing spoken word in Scotland for a while. What are your thoughts on the scene over the past number of years? And how is it looking to you now?

    I think in may ways the scene is healthier than it’s ever been – people like Loud Poets have popularised it for a new generation of people, and the level of talent coming up through the ranks is inspiring. Someone like Sam Small, who I’ve collaborated with in the past, have pushed spoken word out to new audiences who had never encountered it beofre. There’s a progression – a talented poet can go from packed clubs and bars doing open spots or features, to paid gigs at showcases like Rally & Broad and Neu! Reekie! I have benefitted from that progression a great deal, and I think in general, spoken word has much more mainstream recognition than it did when I started 10 years ago. If I was going to be negative for a second, I might express some concerns that a generic, slam-influenced style and solipsistic subject matter have become more prevalent – I think it is still very hard to get noticed or applauded in the same way if your work is transgressive or experimental, and I also think this is a factor in the feeling that some artists have that work which deals with gender, sexuality or race in a confrontational way can sometimes be passed oveer or marginalised. I might also lament the fact that although the performance scene is driving interest in poetry, it is still page poets who get most of the press – as if one has to ‘graduate’ to the page from the ‘sophomoric’ spoken word scene. But these are minor quibbles, and quibbles that existed in some form 10 years ago, so I don’t let it bother me much. The fact is, the scene continues to grow and evolve with little outside interest or interference, and probably, this is a good thing. I’d like to see more Scottish poets travelling to perform, I’d like to see more recognition for Scottish poets from English tournaments, organisers and events. But the fact is if any of that is going to happen, we have to make it happen ourselves. Thus has it ever been!

  3. Poet, performer, rapper, musician, novelist, journalist, record producer, ex-Chemikal Poet, Post-cyberpunk miserablist and crime junkie…you have an insane number of strings to your bow. How do they relate to one another? And do any of them play more loudly than others, for you?

    I’ve long struggled to separate music, spoken word, performance and storytelling. I think the confusion about ‘what I do’ stems from that. With my new stage show, I am combining all of these disciplines and approaches – something which synthesises them all in a theatrical way is what I am working towards. Journalism was fun for a while but wasn’t very renumerative – like many of the strings in my bow, coins don’t tend to rain from the sky when I pluck them. But I am still writing the odd piece for places like The Quietus, and I still write fiction for publication as well as performance. In my experience, self-taught artists like myself, in this day and age, are usually multi-platform artists. It’s a function of the accessibility of the means of production, promotion and visualisation which are part and parcel of our bold new creative era. The one thing left for me to figure out is what I, as an artist, can do which will be a financially rewarding pursuit as well as a creatively fulfilling one. I;m working on that…

  4. How important are Slams?

    I think slams are vital for a number of reasons – first and foremost, they still draw a big crowd, and for an event organiser, the slams tend to help pay for the shows, which will be quieter but more expensive to mount. Secondly, they make you raise your game, by comparing yourself to other poets, and learning from their technique. Thirdly, they provide a calendar or focus for a calendar of spoken word events in a city or region. This gives the scene a chance to renew itself every few years. The only way in which they are damaging, I think, is in terms of what they do to some poets’ egos. It’s worth remembering that the opinion of a judge – no matter how qualified – is just that, an opinion, and that there is a degree of arbitrariness in every slam contest. Finally, I’d say that the need for more regulatuon of which slams qualify a poet for the nationals, how that qualification works, and standardisation of rules for slams is looking increasingly necessary, just to avoid squabbles over fairness. I can see a two-tier ‘pro’ and ‘semi-pro’ slam circuit arising in years to come, and I think that raises as many problems as it solves…

  5. What are you bringing to Paris with you in June?*

    I’ll be bringing some old favourites like BURN and KEEP GOING. I am a bit worried about finding a French person who can translate words like ‘phenotype’ and ‘polycyclical’ in plenty of time… I’m optimistic, as they like a bit of controversial politics and science fiction, the French.

  6. Finally, looking to ‘Dance While The Sky Crashes Down’ at Rally & Broad in March…how will the world end?

    I’m on record as being a great believer in ecophagy, or Earth-death. I strongly believe we are among the last generations of humans to walk the planet. I think the world will not end, but rather carry on without us, or with a considerably diminished human presence. The great die-off seems inevitable to me. There are a few technological scenarios I could see ending capitalism, dispensing with profit-driven economic models and leading to a kind of population plateau, which might resemble a post-singularity technocratic utopia, where humans get to mine the asteroid belt, explore the stars and spread the human virus beyond the Sol system. But my strong gut instinct tells me that billions upon billions of us will die before those technological high water-marks are reached. 

    In the resulting chaos, I think it’s unlikely that the values we prize as ‘civilised’ will be seen as important by those with the traits to survive. My prediction for the next few decades is an abrupt slide into fascist totalitarianism for what is now known as the ‘West’ and a continuing descent into medieval barbarism elsewhere in the world, with the surviving population hotspots tending to favour dictatorships like Russia rather than quote-unquote ‘democracies’ such as we inhabit. The erosion of liberal values in favour of ruthless self-preservation is already perfectly visible in the rise of UKIP and the Conservatives in the past decade. But the true horror won’t start until the temperature rises a few degrees – then you’ll see democratic and liberal values thrown out in favour of the genocide and murder of climate change refugees. Religion is due for a big revival – people will reject utopianism and myths of progress in favour of the simplistic ‘eye for an eye’ fables of dead eras.

    Teach your children to hunt, fish and grow vegetables. Teach them to kill without hesitation in self-defence. Teach them to ride horses. Teach them not to put their faith in machines or live their lives through the proxies of social media. All very easily said, of course. Harder to do. Me? I plan to hole up in a tower block with a bicycle-powered dynamo, a DVD player and a box-set of Adventure Time. That or join some sort of post-apocalyptic biker gang….

http://www.bramegieben.co.uk/

Six Questions For… Kevin Gilday!

kevin gilday

Kevin Gilday is the featured spoken word act at Rally & Broad: The Apology Shop! (Glasgow) at Stereo, 2.30pm, Sunday 25th Jan. He is also one of the Loud Poets team who launch in Glasgow at The Old Hairdresser’s on Thurs 5th Feb. Tickets for The Apology Shop available here: http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/rally-broad-the-apology-shop-glasgow-tickets-15141804545

1: You’re a Man Who Loves Beer. Tell us more.

Well I love beer, maybe a wee bit too much sometimes, so I decided to write a show about it. It’s part spoken word, part drunken monologue about nights out, sexual misadventures, casual addiction, crippling hangovers – all the good stuff really. It ran for three weeks at the fringe and is now touring all over the place, including a week of shows at the Toronto fringe in July. (Cheap plug!) The next performance will be at The Old Hairdressers on 19th Jan (with the lovely Agnes Török).

2: Slams, 10 – 20 minute sets, one man shows. What do you get out of each of these types of performance?

I’ve taken to thinking about this in terms of music/bands… Doing a full solo show is definitely the most gratifying format – like doing a full album with all the singles, album tracks and weird stuff that all comes together as a cohesive whole – you get to tell a story without skipping the interesting bits in between. Doing a guest slot is like doing a festival set – you’ve only got a limited amount of time so batter out the greatest hits and hope someone enjoys it enough to look you up afterwards. And slams are like being on (dated cultural reference alert!) Top of the Pops, or whatever the modern equivalent is, you might only get to perform one piece so you better make it a good one.

3: You’ve been gigging pretty steadily for quite some time. What drew you into the spoken word scene?

I think there’s an independence of spirit to the spoken word scene that’s really attractive to me. Everything is pretty much DIY – folk just deciding to run a night, or put on a slam, or start printing pamphlets – there are no established rules yet so we’re all just making it up as we go along. The other aspect is being self-reliant. For ages I was in bands – writing, rehearsing, playing gigs – and as anyone who has ever been in a band will tell you, it’s a massive hassle trying to co-ordinate four or five people. But with spoken word it’s easy, I don’t need to rely on anyone else, I don’t need to lug about any heavy equipment – I can basically perform anywhere at anytime – and that kind of freedom is incredibly liberating.

4: The life of a performing poet can be a mixed bag. Best gig/ worst gig: spill!

In terms of the size of the crowd and the emotions involved, I think performing at the Yes rally the day before the referendum was probably the best gig I’ve ever experienced. I only performed one piece (and had to take out the swearing!) but it was an incredible experience – a feedback loop of pure optimism. I’ll never forget the feeling I had afterwards.

I’ve done a few rotten gigs in my time but I think the worst(/funniest) was during my fringe run a couple of years ago. I had a late night slot in a venue without a door (bad start), had to chuck some guy out for signing Partick Thistle songs, engage another audience member in a debate about the merits of Ikea, started a fight with some loud gentlemen outside and half the audience left in despair. Ended the night crying into my pint.

5: The Scottish spoken word scene was recently described by The List as being “in rude health.” Do you agree? (and feel free to elaborate!!)

I do. I’ve only been involved in spoken word for a few years and even in that short time I’ve seen things develop. I think the main pillar of progression has been variety. There’s an incredible strength in depth to the scene right now, you can go along to any open mic and see people perform slam style, hip hop influenced, comedic, traditional, scots and any other kind of poetry you can think of. We now have genres within our niche little movement and that’s something that’ll allow the scene to expand into different strands as we become more recognised.

6: Finally, the theme of this month’s Rally & Broad is ‘The Apology Shop.’ How will you be interpreting that, if at all, in your set?

I’m still working on a way to tenuously link my set but I’ll certainly be apologising in advance for my language!

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 More about Kevin: Kevin is the winner of the StAnza Digital Slam, the Creative Stirling Slam and a two time Scottish National Slam finalist. He is the presenter of Rhyming Optional, Subcity Radio’s dedicated Spoken Word show, and has performed all over the country including the Edinburgh Fringe and Glastonbury Festival. He will be taking his critically acclaimed show The Man Who Loved Beer for a run of shows at the Toronto Fringe in 2015.