Everything that was wrong about 2016 on a plate… or not

There’s a broad consensus, that 2016 has not been a great year. Perhaps it’s not been so bad for those who consider themselves ‘winners’ having voted for the UK to leave the EU or for Donald Trump to be Barack Obama’s successor, but the seemingly endless roll-call of celebrity deaths – many far short of average life expectancy – has put a bit of a dampener on things.

While social media has been awash with outpourings of public grief, many have been calling for some perspective, and for more consideration to be given to the refuges of Syria. It’ hard to argue that such a bewilderingly vast humanitarian crisis warrants more compassion than a few dead pop stars and whatnot, but I also understand the way losing a childhood hero or figure one deeply admires and whose work has had a significant cultural impact and has touched the lives of many has a sad resonance. It’s easier to feel something for someone with whom you’ve connected in some way through their music or moves than for large numbers of people of whom you know nothing. I’m not defending it. But by the same token, mourning the loss of an icon does not necessarily mean one feels nothing for the plight of those whose lives have been devastated by war. It’s not a binary question.

But while everyone has their own perspective on what’s made 2016 stand out as one of the (supposedly) worst years in living memory, what the equations of dead celebrities vs the suffering of millions of real people, leave vs remain, Trump vs Clinton (all of which tipped to the wrong side) reveal is a social division which is binary in the absolute.

Things have been heading this way for a fair while now: a vast mainstream culture is countered by an equally vast buy infinitely fragmented array of non-mainstream cultures. Big business is now the dominant force in politics: the role of ‘the people’ and the value placed on them by government has diminished to the point of being negligible. The idea that Brexit was in some way a ‘people-powered’ two-fingered salute to the establishment elite was a myth perpetuated by a bunch of establishment elite looking to con the malcontent in order to achieve their own ends. And while the numbers dependent on food banks continues to soar, so ‘the other half’ are comfortable with iPads for all the family and trips to Disneyland at half term.

Amidst all the shit, daily life goes on, and it’s also shit on a microcosmic scale. My experience today seemed to somehow encapsulate all that was wrong about 2016. Having been to Durham to visit the in-laws, we decided to treat ourselves with a detour toward Whitby to catch the sunset by the coast. The smoke rising from a fire on the moors partially obscured the setting sun, and so we stopped at a pub for food. It was 3:45pm. The doors were open, the lights on but in fact they were closed: the barman, sitting by the bar, was simply waiting for some of the residents to arrive. That’s rural pubs on a bank holiday in 2016, though. They simply can’t sustain opening all hours in the face of rising costs and big-business competition in more ‘key’ locations.

And so we found ourselves at Cross Butts Stables Restaurant. It looked homely enough, boasting locally-sourced produce and ‘proper’ food, cooked to order. It is, as I would later learn from their website, the place ‘Where town really does meet country’. Agh, shit.

We took our seats – well, a seat and a bench with an array of well-stuffed cushions, with squirrels, pheasants, a larger-than-life fox and various other wildlife carved into the towering uprights at the back – at the table hewn from an entire oak tree, not far from the roaring wood-burner and watched twilight’s last gleamings through the windows of the barn-sized conservatory building. Being vegetarian, I wasn’t too concerned by the lack of steak pies, but it might have helped if they’d mentioned that they’d run out before Mrs N ordered one rather than five minutes later.

The Great Yorkshire Brewing Company Lager I ordered had to be substituted too, as it ‘wasn’t pouring properly’. I went for a GYBC Cider instead: on arrival, it was the most lagery cider I’ve ever tasted, to the extent I was suspicious the contents of my glass corresponded with the Coors Light glass it arrived in. To be fair, my brie wellington was great, but the fact the meals were served on chopping boards was not. But 2016 in a single sentence: a portion of chips served in a plant-pot on top of a chopping board.

The game is over. The wheel has been reinvented. And a burger andchips on a rough-hewn chopping board with 3” terracotta pot on top costs £14.

Why does this infuriate me so? Because it’s pointless. It’s beyond frivolous. It’s hyping and pimping stuff and charging over the odds in the name of – what, exactly? It says ‘we’re doing this because we’re so cool’. It’s like Pulp’s ‘Common People’ has been put in the blender and rendered a compote by hipsters who think that charging double for the experience of being poor is the apogee of entrepreneurialism. It’s the celebration of the idea of quality produce, the dignity of labour, saving the planet by cutting air-miles, recreating the spirit of a golden age of simpler times in the cuntiest way imaginable.

2017 will see Trump step into his new role and, in all likelihood, the Tories will invoke article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and lead the UK out of the EU. 2016 was not Armageddon, but merely the beginning of the end. Might as well enjoy the artisanal, thrice-cooked chips now before things get really bad….

 

cross-butts-hotel-and

Image from TripAdvisor

Underground / Overground (Again): Taking the Rage Off the Road

I’ve spent most of the last three years purpsefully avoiding publication. It may seem perverse, but there you have it: the idea behind the Rage Monologues was to work on an open-ended project which was about immediacy.

The pieces were penned to be performed in public, and not really to be read in private. The nature of the material and the performance fed into one another synergetically: I wanted to create visceral, raw material to be performed in the most uncompromising, uncomfortable style: each performance was different, with edits being made before each show, meaning the monologues were not fixed, but in constant development, and performed in a fashion which would have an impact. I wasn’t concerned about that impact being positive, and over time, I’ve lost any anxiety about being poorly received: I would rather people walk out in disgust than be impartial or disinterested,  or simply find myself amongst the infinite spoken worders whom audiences would likely consider adequate but forgettable.

Not publishing and keeping the monologues as something which existed only in the moment and in the ether was a deliberate act of rebellion: going offline and making the work available to only a limited audience was  intended to be subversive, a middle finger to globalisation, and ‘the process’: write, publish, tour, or similar. The fact the pieces weren’t published meant the only means by which they were aailable was at performances. A sense of exclusivity so often builds anticipation and can the the key to a cult reputation, and I took the monologues to some substantial audiences at respected – and packed – spoken word nights, wth some major highlights being in Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester.

The rock concert analogy is a fitting one: band shift more merchandise after a strong show: the punters have usually consumed booze and are ‘in the moment’. But ending a set and shuffling off with nothing to sell proved problematic, especially given that as an individual (and , as a writer, a relative unknown) with a full-time job and a young family, my touring actities were – and remain – limited to spoken word night slots in places I could reach, and return from, by train on an evening – and a sale or two afte a performance can go some way to mitigating travel costs, not being a writer who commands ‘guest speaker’ or ‘headline’ slots (and I like it that way, and find ‘guerilla’ appearancs to unsupectin crowds are generally more effective than spouting to a crowd already familiar with my work, which is no way for an author to grow a readership).

And so, while the primary objective of the project remains unchanged, I’m aware that making my work unvailable to practically the entire world is self-defeating. While I would love to perform at evety spkoen word night in every city around the globe, it’s not going to happen. And while going underground as an artistic statement is fine, and keeping things clandestine is cool, rendering one’s work inaccssible and unavilabe can be, to an extent, self-defeating. So this happened: a proper book and e-book, published by Clinicality Press – available at spoken word performances and globally for those who can’t attend live events in the north of England (click on the image to purchase).

Rage Book Cover copy

And if you’d like me to bring the rage to a spoken word night near you, then of course do get in touch…

Rage on the Road – September / October 2016

Following a clutch of well-received, high-octane readings in York and Manchester in June, July, and early August, in which I premiered some new material and collaborated for the first time with master noisemonger Legion of Swine for the first time , offers of slots for reading have been rather thin on the ground. Which means it’s time to revert to guerilla appearances at open mic nights, which is actually something I quite enjoy.

Hijacks planned so far are as follows:

26th September 2016: Fictions of Every Kind @ Wharf Chambers, Leeds. 19:30, £3 entry.

1st October 2016: Open Mic Night @ The Basement, York. 19:30.

More to be announced. Or maybe they’ll just happen…

Meanwhile, there are just five copies of the limited-edition Rage Monologues pamphles left. I must be doing something right. These are priced at £3 and are available only at readings.

 

Rage Cover 2

Meanwhile, back in the real world…

A large propotion of the dialogue in my fiction writing is appropriated from real-life: conversations I’ve had, snippets I’ve overheard. I constanty have an ear flapping for lines I can use. Sometimes, I’ll overhear pieces I can’t necessarily use, but which are probably worth sharing simply as material, fragmens of life which in many respects provide their own commentary. THe last two day have yielded the following, one of which is timely the other of which… well. I’m just going to put it out there. This is life in the 21st century, as it happens.

 

Colleague 1: I think I’m going to vote to leave. It’s just.. all these immigrants.

Colleague 2: But there’s so much more to it than immigration. A lot’s been made of immigration, but there are other issues. Take the economy…

Colleague 1: I don’t really understand the economy, so I’m going to base my vote on the things I do understand, that matter to me, and I’m rabout the immigrants, taking our jobs and sending child benefit back to their home countries…

 

 

Trendy U-40 mum to her two primary-school age children (approx 6-8): We need to get some food. So, what where should we go, Pret a Manger or Marks & Spencer?

 

 

 

Rage on the Road, Summer 2016

After a few weeks of watching bands, writing, getting ground down by the day-job and wound up by the shit flying every which-way in the run-up to the  referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, it seems like a good time to let off some steam. I’ve had the good fortune to find a few well-timed events amenable to giving me a slot to air some rage monologues, meanig I’ll be letting it all out on the following dates:

June 26th: York Anti-Fracking Open Mic at the Fulford Arms, York, 13:00-16:00. Facebook event page.

June 29th: Bad Language at the Castle Hotel, Manchester, 19:30. Event page at the Bad Languge website.

July 16th: Irk, Super Luxury, Legion of Swine at the Fulford Arms, York, 19:00. Yes, this is actually happening. Facebook event page.

I still have a handful of the limited, numbered ‘tour edition’ pamphlets of The Rage Monologues in hand. Copies will be available for purchase exclusively at these events. Because literature is the original rock ‘n’ roll.

 

Rage Cover 2

Keeping Busy: A Week in the Life

Sometimes it feels like treading water. Trying to remain productive over and above surviving the daily grind, paying the bills, the regular essentials like eating and remembering to charge your phone.

Other times, things happen. Life gets even busier, but for the best. I’m not one for a ‘tour diary’ or, worse still, a regular diary, but the last week has been hectic, in a good way.

Wednesday, I made the trip to Leeds to perform at Verbal Remedies. A slightly smaller crowd than in March, they were nevertheless enthusiastic and encouraging, and my set was well received. I sold a copy of the limited, numbered tour edition of The Rage Monologues (almost half of this run has now sold) and got to chat with some really cool people. It was also something of a privilege to appear on the same bill as guest speakers Ian Winter (Hull) and Hannah Stone (York), who were outstanding. This is very quickly becoming one of my favourite spoken word nights going, and the standard of open mic performers is consistently strong. For the second time in two months, I was astounded by Lauren Butler’s lung capacity.

A short clip of my performance of ‘News’ also got shot that night. There isn’t much footage of me reading, and this is probably one of the best yet.

One day, I’ll figure out how to actually embed this video…
https://www.facebook.com/facebook/videos/10153231379946729/

Friday saw me take the rage back on the road, this time making the journey to the Scribble night at The Shakespeare in Sheffield. The journey was stressful to say the least: I knocked off work at 3:45 and caught a bus to the station, hopping on the 4:45 York to Sheffield (direct via Leeds) which was due to land in Sheffield at 17:48: ample time to make the 17-minute walk to the venue at my pace. Signal failure at Sheffield meant that we sat at Leeds station for half an hour, during which time I began to regret the chilli-cheese wrap I’d made for lunch. The train stalled again at Meadowhall and we were advised to disembark and hop on the tram. This stopped around every 500 yards, and I finally jumped off at somewhere near but not very near the station at 18:45 in a state of anxiety and bursting with rage. I figured I might channel this into my performance later, and yes, I did, although I’m not sure how well it translated. I’d got the walk from the station mapped out on my phone, but quite lost and with the even scheduled for a 7pm, start, I hopped in the nearest taxi and made it with minutes to spare.

The Shakespeare is an ace venue: the upstairs room is large and a good, plain rectangular shape with good acoustics and the bar downstairs offers 9 hand pumps and more decent beer than even I could consume. It was good to catch up in real life with Rob Eunson and to meet more new people, and while the reaction to my performance (a trio of rage monologues, during which, utterly pumped after my terrible journey, saw me leave the mic and rave manically to the audience, who looked terrified) was mixed, it was a good night. The other speakers were, again, excellent, and besides, I don’t expect rapturous applause and unanimous acclaim doing what I do.

That same day, my first new material in some time hit the market. While my February publication project, Something Must Break / Dream of the Flood, was ‘new writing’ I haven’t had work featured in anyone else’s publications in a year or two. So, for ‘Ambition’, a rage piece I only wrote earlier this year and performed for the first and only timer in Leeds in March to feature in issue 3 of The Curly Mind, the on-line zine curated by Reuben Woolley, a poet I admire greatly, is a big deal. You can read ‘Ambition’ here, and it’s worth having a nose round the other work at The Curly Mind.

Landing home after Sheffield at around 11:30am, it was an early start on Saturday for Live at Leeds, where I changed from writer / performer to music reviewer and landed early doors for some of the bands on at midday, and stuck it out till gone 10:30pm, by which time I’d seen 10 bands play in some five venues and on six stages, leaving myself with pages of scribbled notes from which to chisel a 1,500 word review for Whisperin’ and Hollerin’ by 10pm on Sunday.

Not every week is like this, and I’m now even further behind on my email than ever. But, having started to build what feels like momentum taking the rage on the road, a hometown performance in York in May seems like the way to go, ahead of venturing to Manchester in June.

Who knows, I might even find the time to write some new material before then. But meanwhile, it’s bank holiday Monday, it’s chucking it down and I have DIY to do…

 

Rage Cover 2

Rage on the Road: Updated

As mentioned in my previous post, I don’t intend to make a big deal of my spoken-word performances this year. I’m not trying to drum up support among those already familiar with my work. Taking turns at spoken-word nights where I can get them is a strategy for reaching a new (unsuspecting) audience. And no doubt scaring / irritating / offending people. But for those familiar with my work who do like the idea of seeing a bloke rave like he’s having a breakdown in front of an audience in the name of entertainment / performance art, prospective dates are as follows:

27th April 2016: Leeds: Verbal Remedies @ Verve Bar, 19:30

29th April 2016: Sheffield: Scribble @ The Shakespeare, 19:00

13th May 2016: York: Speakers’ Corner @ The Golden Ball, 19:30

29th June 2016:Manchester: Bad Language @ Castle Hotel, 19:30

 

Hopefully there will be more to announce shortly. Meanwhile, here’s a taste: