The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Family

Apologies for the massive expanse of time between my last post and this one. It’s been a while. I’ve been so busy that the most I’ve been able to do on this site is keep the gigs page up to date! And hey, I’ve introduced a gig archive section, because everyone wants a record of almost completely useless information, don’t they?! So things have been pretty exciting on here. Not.

But what I’ve been busy doing, actually is, I think, pretty exciting. A number of things have been eating up my time, some more interesting than others, but I’m not here to write about the emergency meeting my housemates and I called in order to deduce what was causing our tumble-dryer to start customising everyone’s clothes in the style of a Jackson Pollock painting (it was an ink cartridge trapped in the filter), or the production of Blue/Orange in which I played Bruce last week, or the mountains of cake we begrudgingly worked our way through after the birthdays of both Millie and Jenna over the weekend, or the fact that we turned my front room upside down into a makeshift film set to make the Method trailer (it will be online soon).

O’, no. I am here to write about the solo show I am currently working on: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Family. It’s about my dad and me, and the laughably little we have in common. We are such different men, and the nature of our relationship (or lack thereof) has always fascinated me. So a year and a half ago, on a train back to Birmingham from a gig in London, I started writing about it. I wrote about the few things we do have in common, and the handful of times (at that point, specifically the two times) I’d felt really connected to him. One of those two times was when I watched this video on YouTube, in my first year at University:

Incredible stuff. Spine tingling stuff. That penalty save! Wow. (Or not, depending on how you feel about football.)

My dad is a Luton Town fan, and this match is legendary in our family, or in his mind at least, so it’s become somewhat legendary for me. He wasn’t there when I watched the video, I was on my own in my room in my halls of residence, but I felt like we had shared an experience, across time (24 years of it, from 1988 to 2012) and space (all M42 & A42 of it, from Nottingham to Brum).

He was born in London, moved to Welwyn Garden City, moved to Luton, then moved to Nottingham. Always North, and always directly in line with the M1. Which got me thinking. I decided I wanted to start in Nottingham, where I was born and grew up, and hitchhike south down the M1, stopping off at every place he ever lived, every pub his parents ever ran, and speaking to everyone he never knew (perhaps a bit ambitious but you know what I mean!) until I get to the Wembley. A pilgrimage, if you will, based on football and shared experience, and sountracked by Gerry Rafferty.

Since I started writing 18 months ago, a lot has changed in our family, and I want to reflect that in the longer show I hope this becomes. But for now I have the opening 20 minutes of a one-man spoken-word/theatre piece (whatever anyone wants to decide it is!) which is centred around these 2 experiences I have ‘shared’ (either literally or emotionally) with my dad.

I first performed this 20 minute extract earlier this month as part of ‘Lit Fuse’, a joint Apples & Snakes and mac birmingham venture which featured other new work from the excellent Lily Blacksell, Elisabeth Charis and Roy McFarlane, working with director Polly Tisdall. And I’m performing it again TOMORROW in ‘Biting Tongues’, part of Capital Theatre Festival, again working under the brilliant directorship of Polly Tisdall (who is, by the way, an award-winning storyteller and theatre-maker in her own right), and again alongside Lily Blacksell’s new piece, this time with other new work from good friends and fine Birmingham-based poets Lorna Meehan and Carl Sealeaf.  I honestly think it will be a thoroughly enjoyable evening of new spoken-word/theatre, and I’d love to see as many people there as possible.

The plan after this? Well, go on the hitchhike, for starters!, and then make an hour-long show, possibly even in time for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014, though whisper it quietly…

New Videos

At the back end of last month, I struck out into a beautiful, icy Digbeth – Birmingham’s artiest derelict suburb – and filmed some new performance poetry videos. Here is the result. If you like them, please show your support by spreading them as far and as wide as your kind fingers and mouths feel inclined to. The fact you’re even reading this is much appreciated! Enjoy:

THE ONLY WAY

 

DISMEMBERED VOICES

 

DISASTER SEX

Scribble Kicks and last-minute gigs

20th November 2012. Can you remember it?

Christmas hadn’t happened.

The world hadn’t ended yet.

The royal baby was still a royal secret.

It was but a humble Tuesday.

Well, you’d remember it if you went to the inaugural SCRIBBLE KICKS, the first ever Writers’ Bloc event at mac birmingham.

To counterbalance Grizzly Pear, our performance-poetry night at the Bristol Pear, I wanted to put on a page-poetry and prose friendly evening of readings in a relaxed and marginally less-bawdy atmosphere, where the emphasis is entirely on the words. Originally Scribble Kicks wasn’t going to have a headliner (and future events, about which I’m currently in discussions with mac (ding! for pretentious managerial-speak points), probably won’t), but it happened to so neatly coincide with the publication of two excellent collections of contemporary British poetry that it would have been foolish to turn down the opportunity to happily marry the two. Abi Curtis’s The Glass Delusion and Luke Kennard’s A Lost Expression are both published by the Man-Booker shortlisted Salt, and it was a privilege to welcome the authors to the cafe-bar at mac to launch the books and read their new work.

Scribble Kicks is nevertheless still all about supporting new and emerging local writers, so there were plenty of open-mic slots available, which provided a platform for an eclectic and delightful range of readings from Writers’ Bloc  regulars, mac‘s own ‘Future Poets,’ undergraduate and MA students at the University of Birmingham, and entirely new faces (to be most encouraged!). I’m very keen to see the event become a place where Birmingham’s writers meet to share work or works-in-progress more formally, drawing on the good work done by Apples and Snakes with their Poets’ Place initiative at Central Library. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for the next edition, which I’ll write about on here, as well as on the Writers’ Bloc Facebook page and mac Birmingham‘s website. You can follow me on Twitter, and Writers’ Bloc and mac are also on there.

3rd December 2012. Ring any bells?

NORTH tourIt won’t for most, but for 12 lucky people, it certainly will! On the last Monday of the autumn term, I organised one of the most last-minute gigs in the history of gigs that anyone has actually called a gig. Not only was it called a gig, however, but it was part of a tour…”Girls on Tour”, to be precise. The girls on said tour included the wonderful Sally Jenkinson, a fine spoken-word performer and big-dog at Wandering Word who I had the all-too-brief pleasure of meeting at the Bristol Poetry Festival in September, Liz Greenfield, another excellent poet, and the extremely talented singer-songwriter Dominie Hooper. Seeing an endearingly ramshackle Facebook event page declaring an endearing vague tour of the north with certain dates yet to be filled, I decided to think like a southerner, declare anything from Rugby upwards the ‘north’ and invite the girls to perform in the Beorma Bar in Birmingham Uni’s Guild of Students. Due to the fact that all this happened about 3 days before the date we hit upon, the audience turn out was small. Did I write 12? ha! Can’t you people spot a comic under-exaggeration? Well, it was 12. But my god it was good. The intimate atmosphere, and the fact that, of those 12, half live in my house, leant the evening a generous cosiness, as if I’d invited the three performers into my front room. Sally was great, at turns deeply personal and hilarious, and it was fantastic to finally see her on stage. Liz’s poems were often bizarre, challenging, terribly unPC (therefore also hilarious!), and somehow managed still to contain pockets of breathtaking imagery and metaphor. And Dominie’s performance was simply gorgeous, both musically and lyrically. Of the modest selection of merchandise available from the girls, our house went home with a copy of Liz’s pamphlet, Nobody’s Uncle, and 2 copies of Dominie’s EP, Run It Over, both of which you should buy, now (links are above). Now.

For all the semi-stressed dashing around, it was unquestionably worth it.

So remember kids; if someone asks to read poetry and play music in your pantry in front of paying audience with 10 minutes notice, say yes instantly.

Hit The Ode – 29.3.2012

Last Thursday saw the March-edition of ‘Hit The Ode’, the last of this triptych (don’t worry, though, they’ll be back later this month, and the publicity bandwagon will be rolled when all the acts have been finalised).

Although only my third ‘Hit The Ode’, the night has immediately rocketed up to among my favourite regular events. In fact, it was February’s ‘…Ode’ that inspired me to create this site, such was the rare, finite and e(c)lect(r)ic chemistry of that evening. Jon Sands and Ken Arkind were utterly breathtaking as the final headlining pair, following very contrasting but no less enjoyable sets from travelling singer-songwriter Paul Murphy and Bristol-based slam champion Vanessa Kisuule.

We got 4 headliners for the price of 3 that night, which went only some of the way to make-up for the notable absence, this time around, of Luanda Casella, the international act on the bill. The Brazilian spoken-word artist had apparently been prevented from entering the country, which says a lot about the power of her poetry, but unfortunately said nothing to us!

That logistical and ethical nightmare aside, the evening was still full of great spoken-word, with sets from Leicester b-boy John Berkavitch and Norwich’s Molly Naylor.

But first, some highlights from the open-mic:

> Jack Blume performed his piece ‘Small Birds’ (heard at the Slam vs. Edinburgh) with similarly disconcerting aplomb (video available in previous post).

> I did a little set (I’m not reviewing myself, so that’s that I’m afraid! (The videos of the evening are not playing ball, hence the delay, so I’ve decided to do a ‘read-only’ review of last Thursday!)).

> Hannah-Rose Owen-Wright, another fellow UoB Writers’ Bloc stalwart, performed a short but energetic set which whizzed ‘like a fucking pinball’ (that’s from her first piece, about buses; I’m not just swearing gratuitously!) between public transport, claustrophobia, exhaustion (‘my legs are full of twitches that don’t quite happen’ – what an exquisite line), travelling, jazz vocals and sex. She was engaging and appreciably aware of the performance-aspect of her poetry. At times a little vague and conceptual, and consequently difficult to instantly engage with, this was nonetheless a very enjoyable and coherent 5 minutes from the New Zealand open-mic-er.

> Once she was flowing, Lorna Meehan had me absolutely captivated. A slightly shaky start and a few forgotten lines didn’t throw her off a rhythm that was ultimately lucid and dexterous. It’s very rare that I remember in-tact lines a week on from a reading, but her description of a shy teenage girl shuffling her feet at some boy’s ‘subtle abundance of eyelashes’ has been branded on my mind ever since.

> A woman whose name escapes me (utterly unprofessional, I know, but until you pay me to do this, I’m allowed to be!) performed, and she was either a Divorce Lawyer, or pretending to be a Divorce Lawyer. All her poems were about divorce. At different points in its long and gruelling process. It was black comedy gold, if that’s not too weird an image to digest. So cold and calculated, and therefore so funny. So utterly, cynically, disconcertingly hilarious. The absolute emotional removal with which she delivered her poems – all titled with generic legal objectivity – made for a markedly different atmosphere, at once unnerving and very refreshing.

> Jess Green has performed at 2 of the three ‘Hit The Ode’s I’ve been to, and both times she has been a force to be reckoned with. Humble and honest she may be, but her poems don’t lack punch; each a genuine, heart-felt roller-coaster; tumultuous, but in the best possible sense. When she finished performing, having heroically abandoned a failing microphone, I wanted to stand-up and cheer. You can check out her stuff at http://www.jessgreen.org/p/audio.html

So, to the headliners:

> John Berkavitch was the epitome of friendliness, in a baggy plain T-shirt and dungarees, sporting a massive endearing grin. He took his bag on stage with him (because ‘I’m from Leicester and that means I take my shit with me’) and performed one piece; a kind of narrative poem about his family life in childhood that managed to effortlessly encounter all sorts of other issues along the way. The lack of artistic pretence was such that it felt like I was sitting in a chippy listening to him tell a story, which happened to occasionally rhyme; a wonderfully intimate thing. This meant that sometimes he stumbled or had to go back on himself, but this wasn’t an issue; in fact it was barely noticeable – the goal wasn’t some slick and infallible masterpiece but a touching portrait of his quite unique experiences of growing up. It was a pleasure to listen.

> Molly Naylor is a rising star on the performance scene (you could say risen, but her already-impressive CV is rapidly inflating, so only expect more): Ross Sutherland is directing her play – ‘My Robot Heart’ – at the Eddie Fringe this August, and she’s working on several other big projects, including a sitcom pilot, and other work for the stage. Her set at The Victoria showed off her tremendous versatility; Like Vanessa Kisuule at the last ‘…Ode’, she can make an audience laugh with consummate ease, then, a metaphorical flick of the wrist later, she’ll have you empathising and emoting like your life depends on it. When you saturate yourself with anything, it becomes a little difficult to distinguish the good from the bad, or at least the mediocre, even in your own life (as I’ve found recently with poetry and my writing in particular), but Naylor cast some much needed light on this for me. Her poems are both instantly satisfying and also offer a great return if you invest some more thought. I left the pub walking, if not ‘like the nineties’, as she described the gait of an old school acquaintance, then at least with a revitalised spring in my step.

Hit The Ode – 23.2.2012

Review taken from http://uoblogfest.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/hit-the-ode-part-2/

Hit the Ode (part 2)

Hit the Ode, a monthly spoken word event organised by West Midland’s Apples and Snakes, returned last Thursday to prove that this is an event going from strength to strength. This month’s collection of open mic and featured poets consistently bowled the audience over with their humour, lyricism and raw emotion. The Victoria provided a resplendent setting; the intimate nature and dimly-lit room providing an evocative background for words that were even more powerful.

For those who are now regulars, Bohdan Piasecki is as much a celebrity as the poets he introduces. As a compere and poet himself, his obvious passion for the spoken word excites even the most cynical of audience members. The room was the most filled it’s been yet – an apt reflection of the growing popularity of Birmingham’s spoken word scene.

Advertised as ‘an eclectic mix of styles, voices and languages’, the night fulfilled just that. As the name suggests, open mics in any setting are a gamble. Apart from one crude and mediocre poet overcome by misogynism, however, the poets that performed were as worthy of the stage as those paid to be there. ‘Carys Matic’, an English teacher based in South Korea, humorously recited a poem about British stereotypes she’s often been expected to play up to on her travels. Ben Norris, a Birmingham-based student, excellently explored the connections one experiences with lovers and Grandparents alike, providing a humbling contrast to the more raucous poetry of the evening.

The first featured poet was Paul Murphy. An established resident of Birmingham, he is most-recognised as lead singer and punk poet of the band The Destroyers. Sharing his good and bad experiences of life with rhythmic rhyme, his words flowed instinctively. As was often the case throughout the evening, the audience were continually lulled in with humorous anecdotes and then left reeling at the sagacious and sombre moments.

Vanessa Kisuule, a multiple slam winning poet from Bristol, was the next featured poet. Speaking to her after the event she said that shy writers should not be deterred from the spoken word scene, as poets often use performance to hide the fact they aren’t prolific writers. From her recital, however, it was clear that Kisuule does not fall into this category. Her beautifully crafted metaphors were brought alive by her performance. With poems such as Little Red Bow, her honest and humbling account of a vulnerable friend, and Sandwich, a comic tale of OCD and relationships, the audience were moved from laughter to tears and back again.

The final highlight of the evening was the performance of New York City poetry circuit veterans, Jon Sands and Ken Arkind. Reciting their work alternately, the poets covered topics from a brother’s marriage to his male partner, to the ramblings of a woman on a New York subway platform. They captivated with beat, music, and poetry that obviously was anything but superficial. Possibly the best Hit the Ode yet, the bar has definitely been raised. There is no doubt that as talent continues to emerge, Birmingham has not seen the last of nights like this.

By Elisha Owen