Getting Away From It All with Simon Mole

Simon MoleI’m really excited to announce I’ll be shadowing MC and spoken word performer Simon Mole as he runs a workshop at ARC in Stockton on the 16th of August.

He’s a really talented performer who mixes theatre and rap together and he’s equally well-known in the world of UK hip hop as he is in spoken word.

His CD and vinyl releases have been aired on Radio One and he’s been tipped by The Metro as ‘one to watch’. If you’ve never seen his stuff, check it out here.

He has a really laid back and conversational style which I’m a big fan of as, even when he’s using lots of rhymes, it holds on to a sense of ‘realness’; sort of like the way Simon Pegg can make something really unusual seem completely believable to an audience.

The workshop, Getting away from it all: Raps, Poems & Short Stories, is aimed at 14-19 year olds and is themed around holidays. It’s set to be class day, with some very intriguing interactive activities planned to get every member of the group writing some fresh and original work.

It’ll run between 10am and 5pm and, if you want to book, you can find more info here:

http://www.arconline.co.uk/whats-on/workshops-and-classes-workshops-and-classes-get-involved-young-people/getting-away-from-it

Review: Jibba Jabba 25/07/13 @ The Cumberland Arms

It’s about 30 degrees and I’m crammed in a crowded, darkened room. The sweat is pouring from my face into a puddle on the floor and we’re all listening to a woman with tarot cards explain a mysterious Hindu proverb. You’d be excused for thinking I’m in the Far East, but I’m not. I’m just in Byker!

It was the latest installment of Jibba Jabba! Which was host to two sneaky Edinburgh Fringe Festival previews from the marvelous Kirsten Luckins and Steven ‘Friz’ Frizzle, as well as the charming ukulele stylings of Alix Alixandra.

DSC_0526Final-JPegAlix opened up the show, starting with a song about it being too hot to have sex, a lovely jazzy number which had all the allure of Rosemary Clooney’s “Come On-a My House”.

I first heard Alix when we were performing together a few months ago at a guerrilla gig in Sunderland and she’s definitely one to keep an eye on! She’s a fascinating musician, with a good knack for writing catchy chord progressions and vocal melodies.

You’d expect that the stripped down sound of just her and an un-mic’d uke would make her fall into the background a bit on stage. But you’d be wrong! Her voice has a captivating soulfulness to it that just grabs you by the ears and pulls your face in her direction.

By the time she did a song entitled ‘You Could Have Just Stayed’, with its lyrics reflecting on the failings of a past relationship, I don’t think there was a jaw which hadn’t dropped in the audience.

DSC_0798Final-JPegKirsten Luckins wowed us with excerpts from her brand new show The Moon Cannot Be Stolen, a collection of poems, stories and experiences from her time spent living in India. As I mentioned at the top, it was hot by this point (I mean really really hot) and as Kirsten led us through the drug riddled, violent underbelly of 90’s Goa, I couldn’t help but get transported there in body and in mind: a bit like Universal Studios’ 4D thingy but with less bum bags (and I’m referring here to both the belt/purse contraptions and the people who wear them).

Having been the Apples and Snakes co-ordinator for the North East and a poetry coach at their monthly scratch club for a number of years, I suppose it should come as no surprise that Kirsten is an amazing poet in her own right. But every time I see her she really does blow me away and this time was no exception.

Her style is voluptuous and dense with images, nodding its head to poets like Zena Edwards in its smooth and sexy delivery. However, her speech often flits between a quite ‘literary’ language and a much more conversational tone, which gives it a true versatility of expression. To put it another way, she’s a poet who’s not afraid to call a spanner a spanner when it’s most blatantly a spanner; she never minces her words unnecessarily in a vain attempt to try to sound ‘poetic’ and I think this flitting of styles gives her work a real rawness and clarity.

However, I must admit I was skeptical about how she would create a show about a year spent traveling; one which would be accessible to someone who perhaps hadn’t been to India or even abroad at all.

But The Moon Cannot Be Stolen is much more than a travel diary: it’s a deep questioning of the nature of each of our identities. As she looks back on her past self she asks who she was then and who she is now. She asks if any of us have an internal identity, or whether it’s all just a result of the time and place we’re living in at that particular moment.

As well as this, she also performed a short poem which managed to make dysentery sound sort of beautiful, which is living proof that, though you may not be able to polish a turd, you can cover it in sparkles!

Catching up with her after the show, she told me about her feelings towards the 25-year-old Kirsten. “I feel very maternal [towards her]. I just want to grab her and say ‘what are you doing!?’ but I also feel very lucky to have had that experience”.

If you’re lucky enough to be at The Fringe this year, you can catch her full show from 3rd to the 10th of August at La Tasca at 4pm. You will not be disappointed!

DSC_1225Final-JPegStephen ‘Friz’ Frizzle was also on top form, performing his catchy rewrites of pop songs into hilarious, scathing and topical punch lines for his new show Plinky Plonker. The highlight for me was the opening ditty, a rework of Justin Bieber’s ‘Baby’ into a dig at the news’s obsession with the royal birth; also his version of ‘Monster Mash’, which is literally about Monster energy drinks and mashed potato. It has to be seen to be believed and you can catch him at The Fringe at Fingers Piano Bar between 3rd and 24th of August, 6.40 pm.

And on top of all these antics there was the usual open mic! We saw some fantastic performances from Ettrick Scott, Dominic Berry and Juli Edgdell as well as some more… challenging work from a Mr. Ian McGregor-Hart, who took to the stage multiple times to play midi tracks off his phone and sing out of tune lyrics about parrots and planes.

Such is the nature of open mic though I suppose and, all in all, it was a brilliant night. And for only 3 quid as well! Well, you know how the old saying goes: the best things in life are 3!

Photographs kindly provided by Jonathan Parker @ Spurious Nonsense Art Photography

Geordie Sore

Last year I met a top notch poet called Ben Norris while we were doing a slam in Bristol. In jest, he mentioned that it was hard to get his head around the difference between the way I looked and the way I talked. I was wearing a suit at the time, with a waistcoat, and I was talking in.. well I was talking in my voice.

He joked that when he thought of people from Newcastle, he thought of them all looking, acting and talking like the cast of Geordie Shore- and how we all laughed!… But there is a grim truth to this joke; sure enough, whenever I travel somewhere, I find the same response over and over. Most recently, while meeting a friend of a friend in Berlin who said simply: “I don’t know anything about Newcastle except Geordie Shore”.

geordie-shoreThe fact that there is so much more to the North East than this means these comments have often filled me with utter despair, though I know it’s by no means the fault of anyone who’s said it. Geordie Shore’s pulled millions of viewers since it aired and it’s now shaped Newcastle’s public image irrevocably. MTV has sold us down the river, tricking the rest of the world into thinking the North East is a twisted fantasy land full of psychopathic Ken and Barbie dolls.

But as time went on this bitterness towards MTV started to grow into an idea for a show. Exactly what kind of culture does the North East export to the rest of the world? What do North East celebrities make it seem like? And what’s it really like?

I don’t think any of my favorite things about living here, namely World Headquarters, Tynemouth Beach or The Sky Apple Cafe, would ever make it on to MTV or end up in a Cheryl Cole song. I think its safe to say there’s another side to modern Newcastle that’s not being talked about, a more unique and (dare I say it) intelligent side.
As well as this, what about the history? The Train, The Light Bulb. Will our creation of so many planet altering inventions be washed away by the Jager Bomb riddled urine of an MTV reality show?

And, just like that, two of the ideas for poems I had buzzing around in my head sort of collided and I thought: what about a piece narrated by Joseph Swan, as he tells us about a Gothic-style nightmare he’s just had about the cast of Geordie Shore? (Try looking for that in a Cheryl Cole lyric). Joseph Swan, for anyone who’s not sure, was an inventor from Gateshead who created the light bulb.

Joseph_SwanHowever, to write this tale I would have to do some essential research because… and here comes the twist… Until this point I’d never actually watched Geordie Shore. I mean, I had had all its ‘pivotal’ moments summarised to me on a daily basis from colleagues and friends, from hot tub sex to poo in box, so I already felt fairly sure that there was nothing to be gained from watching it.

BUT HOW WRONG I WAS! Well I mean, there wasn’t anything to learn or gain spiritually. But it was a comedy goldmine!

I was faced with the challenge of where to start, there now being so many series to choose from, so I went for the “authentic” experience of starting at the beginning and, I must confess, I haven’t watched them all. However, the 4 hours of what I got, I’m assured, is the basic standard of the rest.

I laughed (in that *crying on the inside* sort of way) at the vacant comments, like Holly’s “being Geordie is a lifestyle: you go out to get pissed and don’t give a shit about anyone”. Or the now infamous bastardisation of the Geordie tongue in phrases like “tashing on” and “game as a badger”.

But there was something sinister there as well. The constant plying with alcohol, to people who are (lets face it) basically children. Or the fact that their boss, Anna, is really nothing more than a corporate pimp, dressing them up in scanty clothes even more revealing than the ones they own and encouraging them to get drunk and flirt with strangers to attract business.

I mean, I’m not saying that the cast of Geordie Shore are some sort of angels led astray by a smooth talking business executive (especially not after the whole ‘Sophie’s a racist’ *thing*). But I don’t know how an organisation like MTV can justify plying these spoilt, emotionally underdeveloped young adults with so much booze and god knows what else so that they make utter tools out of themselves for the sake of entertainment.

I find it all pretty barbaric to be honest and, while it’s a fool on the cast for letting themselves look that stupid, I think the real scumbags here are the people facilitating it and making it seem like it’s an example of real people from Newcastle.

Anyway, to end on a lighter note, as well as this poem I’m now working on a host of other voices and stories from the North East. It looks I’m going to be attempting something which many of my friends and colleagues have been doing well before I started: fighting to give Newcastle an alternative voice!