I really like Bristol.
No, that’s not a euphemism or Cockney rhyming slang.
Since I started performing poetry all over the place, I’ve had the chance to visit towns which I never would have done for any other reason. I’ve seen Wolverhampton, Swindon and Manchester. Guildford, Berlin and Barnstaple. And all in the name of poetry.
But there’s one city which seems to have become a talisman, a good luck charm, and that’s Bristol. Good things have happened to be on many occasions in Bristol, poetically speaking. And I have never been there for any other reason than poetry.
When I first started performing around the Torquay and Exeter area, Bristol poets were held in awe by the local hosts and promoters, and we would regularly see people such as Nathan Filer and Byron Vincent, amazing us with their skill and commitment and their sheer brilliance. Consequently, it became a kind of goal to aim for, and Bristol itself stood as a beacon of poetic endeavor to which we should all aspire.
The first time I went to Bristol was for the Bristol Slam. Indeed, this was my first ever slam and there were many names there who would go on to be friends and colleagues in the poetry world. People like Vanessa Kisuule, Tim Vosper and Stephen Duncan. None of them knew me from Adam, and amazingly, I came second in the slam to Stephen. We went for a drink afterwards, the euphoria ensuring that it wouldn’t be able to get to sleep!
The next time I went to Bristol was to Acoustic Night at the Halo. It was a birthday present to myself a little journey away, and some of the Bristol slam people were there and they remembered me. Tim Ledwitch was as brilliant as ever. Amazingly, the host of the night liked me so much that he offered me a co-headline set for a couple of months later on! The euphoria ensured that I wasn’t able to get to sleep that night.
The next time I went to Bristol was to do the headline set at Acoustic, and it went very well indeed. The euphoria ensured that I wasn’t able to get to sleep that night.
By now I was zooming about all over the country and building up a reputation as a comedic poet, so the next time I came to Bristol was to support Vanessa Kisuule at Hammer and Tongue. I made a little holiday of it and stayed in a nice hotel, and I was just about to leave for the gig when I got an email to say that my first book had been accepted for publication! I remember dancing around the hotel room in my very camp manner indeed.
And then the gig itself went very well. The two Tims were there, and Graham Chilcott, and everyone was most complimentary about my set. The euphoria ensured that I wasn’t able to get to sleep that night.
Last night I was back in Bristol again, headlining at Milk. It was a fantastic night, filled with talent and friendship. All of my Bristol poetry friends were there, and my set was greeted marvelously. I didn’t get much sleep last night.
There is a constant criticism of Bristol poetry, that there really isn’t much variety, and that it is youth orientated, slam-style, three rhymes per line and too deeply serious for its own good. Last night at Milk there was plenty of variety and styles of performance, and it was great to see Samantha Boarer, who I really do admire in a deep and special way. She’s just about one of the funniest people I know.
So Bristol remains for me a city devoted to, and standing primarily for, spoken word and performance poetry. Indeed I cannot see it except through this lens. I’m sure I will be back there again very soon, and when I do, I shall take some sleeping tablets.
I also like it because someone has spray painted, in large letters, the word ‘Arse’ on a wall next to Bristol Temple Meads.