I need your help!

I’ve just launched a Kickstarter campaign to help raise the rest of the funds we need to finish The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Family and get it to the Edinburgh Fringe, and beyond, this year. We have the support of IdeasTap, Underbelly, Apples & Snakes and mac birmingham, which is fantastic, but sadly not enough to cover everything. On top of this, we recently had some bad news from the Arts Council regarding a funding application we made to them, so we really are in need of a saviour or two (or a hundred)!

There’s a whole heap of rewards for people who pledge to help the project (anything from a fiver upwards gets you something in return), at the top of which is a personalised commissioned poem PLUS an hour-long intimate spoken-word set performed by me AT YOUR HOUSE! And lots of things in between, like signed copies of my now-sold-out Nasty Little Press pamphlet and signed posters, meet-and-greets, free tickets to the show, all sorts. This is of course alongside the cultural return you get for your investment, which is a show that will hopefully play to thousands of people this summer and to thousands more across the UK on tour next year.

So please help us in any way you can. And if you can’t afford to help us financially, please pester anyone you know who’s rich enough to do so! Spreading the word on your own social media is a really really useful thing, and something for which I’d be enormously grateful.

Thanks in advance for any help you can offer. I’m so passionate about this project. I hope others believe in it too.

WATCH THE VIDEO AND MAKE A DONATION HERE

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Family – full show

In November I developed and twice performed the first twenty minutes of what I hoped would become a full hour-long one-man show. I even wrote about it, and how I hoped it would grow. Well, since then, I’ve found a producer (the apparently super-human Oscar French), found some support and expertise (the apparently omniscient Louisa Davies), found a filmmaker (the apparently nocturnal Paul McHale), found an artistic mentor (the boundlessly talented Inua Ellams), found a rehearsal and performance venue (the definitely real mac birmingham), retained a director (the apparently eternally energetic Polly Tisdall), and – crucially – found some money (from performance poetry overlords Apples & Snakes, and overlord of all overlords Arts Council England). So it’s happening!

Tomorrow morning, Oscar and I, armed with hired film equipment and a plan more flexible than tabloid morals, will embark on a journey from Nottingham to Wembley, hitchhiking whenever we can. We’ll be blogging as we go, on the show’s brand spanking new website. It’s sure to be a genuinely fascinating ride, and hopefully also a genuinely fascinating read! The hitchhike will inspire the show, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Family, and the footage we get over the next few days will not only be used as a record of the trip for me to look back on, but will be incorporated into the show too. Details of the performance, how to buy tickets, and everything else you need to know (which is pretty much limited to the details of the performance and how to buy tickets!) is all on the show’s website, but for the sake of ease, and insatiable self-promotion, here are the details in the digi-flesh:

19:30, Saturday 6th September 2014
Hexagon Theatre, mac birmingham
Tickets £5, available here

I really hope to see some of you there. The show will be followed by a brief open-floor discussion in which the audience will be invited to offer feedback, in order to shape the development of the show before (fingers crossed) a UK tour and Edinburgh Fringe run in 2015! So I really hope to see some of you there! I’ll be the tired, dirty, happy traveller, thumbing a ride to the venue…

Hitchhikers promo

Poly-vocal Playground

Given that I discovered the joys of spoken-word only relatively recently, and am still very much finding my feet in the West Midlands scene, it shouldn’t surprise me that I’m constantly discovering more and more things you can do with it. The latest find in my gold-panning exploits is probably the most game-changing so far, and has really opened my eyes to the medium’s potential for versatility: namely, poly-vocal poetry.

Several posts ago I mentioned that I’d successfully auditioned for the city of Birmingham team for the inaugural National Team Poetry Slam Championships (a catchy name!), and May’s edition of Hit The Ode (31/5/12) marked our debut performance. This was by no means a last dress-rehearsal (the Champs are not for another 4 weeks) but more a playground for us to try out various ideas and make changes based on audience response. By changes, I mostly mean cuts, as we need to lose about 30 seconds to make the slam-standard 3 minute mark, but also to see if our contrapuntal weaving actually works. Okay, so I’ve just seen the footage and we need to lose 90 seconds (gulp!).

Rehema Njambi, Hannah-Rose Owen-Wright and I each have very different voices. Rehema was born in Kenya and grew up in Kent, producing a lovely kind of soft musicality, her inner Kenyan becoming more prominent when she reads poetry. Hannah is from New Zealand but has English parents (notably, a Brummie mum and a sister who now lives here, in Balsall Heath). In N.Z. they say she sounds English, though to most English ears she will doubtless sound distinctly Kiwi. And, despite being the most conventionally “local” of the 3 of us (just up the M42 in Nottingham), my accent has somehow become a hybrid bastardisation of north Notts and Sheffield (someone at Hit The Ode asked if I was from Sheff.) with select Mancunian vowel sounds (think Elbow’s Guy Garvey: “LUHV, TRUHST, DUHST). I don’t know how this has happened; both my parents are from the South (my dad’s a Londoner, mum’s from Oxford). All I can think of is that my granddad was from Manchester, though sadly our lives didn’t overlap as much as they might have done so I’d be amazed if he is responsible for how I speak. More likely, and much less sentimentally familial, is the influence of my peers at school, and probably a desperate need to sound nothing like my folks!

Our Championships poem has thus ended up being largely about heritage, exploring how we sound, how we feel, and how the three of us have wound up representing a city that none of us are from! I’d like to tell you more, show you the video of the Hit The Ode performance even, but that would be to spoil the surprise for the Bristol audience, and the other teams. Bristol and London’s teams have already started wheeling out the fiercely competitive scaremongering propaganda, and the Twitpic banter is in full flow!

We performed again five days later at Rhymes in Kings Heath, formerly a monthly event back for a one-off poly-vocal special, run by our team “coach” Lorna Meehan, a fantastic performance poet, actress and comedian in her own right. With no rehearsal (save for the last-minute car park run-through we managed to squeeze in at the interval) between Hit The Ode and Rhymes, the performance was clunkier, slower, and (because we were performing with mics for the first time) punctuated by an embarrassing boom-stand incident which saw my mic fall from its clip and hang limply around my shins for a few painfully long and silent seconds! But the evening was by no means disastrous. We performed our individual poems too; Hannah experimenting with a different combination of existing work, and Rehema taking my breath away with a remarkably honest poem about her younger brother. I premièred a new piece too, “F-Bomb”, which went down pretty well, though it will also need serious reductions to hit 3 minutes! Again, a video of this will not be forthcoming till after the Champs, so get down to Bristol. If not for this reason, I still really recommend a trip to the South-West on June 28th to see some of the best individual slam poets flex their figurative muscles, as well as the highlight: pioneering poly-vocal pieces.

This is the Facebook event: http://www.facebook.com/events/397372280304723/, and here’s the place you actually do the actual buying of the actual tickets: http://bierkellertheatre.fatsoma.com/events/63235/

And…here’s a mysteriously effective trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9uxH1UG0tY&list=UUJdSS9jwAUskX-oPi56ACXg&index=1&feature=plcp

Hit The Ode and Rhymes were personally exciting for another reason, too. Elisha Owen and I wrote and performed a duet (is it pretentious to use the word duet in terms of poetry? Yep, probably, but I’ve gone and done it anyway) after seeing the exciting German pair Le Poonie at Hit The Ode in April. It came from some small sketches I’d made which tried to incorporate clicking into a performance piece, and it turned into something much bigger and more exciting, with a story, some comedy, and some pathos too, I hope. It went down a storm (as much as anything can go down a storm in a small room upstairs in a West Midlands pub) and we performed it again at Rhymes to a more intimate but equally receptive audience. Rhymes was also the first time my mum has ever seen me perform poetry, which was nicely surreal – I hope she enjoyed it!

Both the duet with Elisha and the team poem were mentioned in Gary Longden’s review of the evening: http://garylongden.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/rhymes-poly-vocal-special-station-ph-kings-heath/, and Elisha has also bashed out a fascinating blog post about her submergence in the performance poetry world too, infinitely more succinct than this one: http://www.thelostartofenjoyinglife.blogspot.co.uk/

The potential for drama is inherent in poly-vocal pieces. It allows for the creation of characters and scenes between them; for dialogue, tension and conflict – immediately more vivid and distinct than with any individual stuff…directionless rambling monologues therefore refreshingly avoidable. It creates textures and patterns, and allows for greater extremes of volume, pitch and intensity to be traversed. And the best of it adheres to the Slam practice of no props, no costume, no backing tracks…it remains exclusively about the words, only here the things you can do with them are brimming with myriad possibilities.

All in all, it’s a bit bloomin’ excitin’.