In the Glare of the Neon Yak- What it’s all about.

In the Glare of the Neon Yak- What it’s all about.

Introduction: The setting of the beginning of Neon Yak is obviously based on London Paddington, particularly the sleeper service, though for some reason this one is going north, to Edinburgh and further. I once caught the sleeper service to Paddington, but found that it was named erroneously. Because sleep is the one thing that didn’t happen. Ten years ago I took the train from one side of Canada to the other and the magic has always stayed with me. But Canadian trains are different, your bed travels in the direction of the train, not oblong to it, and you don’t fall off your bed as it goes around a corner.

The idea of Neon Yak came on a crowded train from Edinburgh to Devon. I was standing in the vestibule with lots of other people for part of the journey and I thought, hmm, I should write a show about the different people here, and call it Vestibule Dreams. The show started to mutate when I saw that I could create connections between all the different characters.

Tony the Train Manager : Tony is based on a real person. A van driver who I knew. He had the same gruff voice and West Country accent. He would make up such amazing stories about the things he’d seen that day. ‘Hailstones the size of yer fist’, was one frequent story. He was a bizarre gentleman who had a weird phobia of Cornishware bowls, you know the kind, with the blue and white stripes.

The Circus of Mediocrity: When I was a teenager I wrote a novel. It wasn’t very good, but it was set at a circus. At the time I wanted to be regarded as a serious writer, so I wrote this psychological novel about a circus where weird things were happening. The idea stayed with me and sprang into mind when I decided that the characters in the train should be members of a circus. Only it would be a hopeless, raggedy, run down Circus. The ring master is clearly drunk and very fed up.

Jacques : Jacques was the main love interest in the novel mentioned above. The narrator ran away to the circus and slept in the wardrobe caravan with Jacques as his room mate, among all the sequin costumes and the smell of damp. Jacques was a bit of a prima Donna. This is the character that I had in mind when I was writing Jacques’ lines in the show. Young, excellent, flawed, slightly self indulgent.

So Jacques gets turned on by clowns. I expect this is a real thing. Weirdly I’ve had people ask me, having watched the show, whether I get turned on my clowns. No, I don’t. And they always look a bit startled. As if they wished they hadn’t asked. Mind you, if you look at a list of the people I’ve dated, you’ll see plenty of clowns. Sometimes, these things only become obvious in retrospect.

Molly : Ah, Molly. Molly is based on a real person. She’s in her late eighties and she’s still obsessed with sex. She’s a wonderful person. And yes, she actually did stand in her back garden at night and see the bombs falling on Bristol during the Second World War. I have told her that she is a character in my show and she has no interest in it whatsoever, bless her. Nothing fazes her. Amazingly, she still goes swimming in the sea when it’s warm enough.

Jennifer : Jennifer is also based on a real person. During the train ride across Canada I became friends with a lady called Jennifer, who was travelling for work but took the train because she was afraid of flying. Being the middle of winter, we decided one night that we would try and see the northern lights as the train passed across the prairies of central Canada. Jennifer and I lay on the floor of one of the carriages and looked out through the windows, up at the stars and the satellites and the aircraft, and the lights of a distant city burned on the horizon, and it could well have been the most romantic night of my life had there been any physical attraction. We didn’t see the northern lights, but she did point out the W of Cassiopeia, which has forever reminded me of her. This is alluded too later on in the section with Adam. The next day she got off the train at Edmonton and I said bye to her in the station, and wrote down my email address. I never did hear from her.

Is this all a dream? : The bit in the middle is just music and me faffing around with a toy train. It felt weird going to a shop and buying a toy train. This section was put in to give me a rest as by now I’d been talking for forty minutes, and I thought it would also give the audience a rest from listening to me talking.

Adam : There are aspects of Jennifer in Adam, too. But he’s a physical kind of person, in my imagination, an alpha male tough guy who gets what he wants and acts as a bit of a bully, but also happens to be a clown. I don’t know why Jacques should love him so. The episode in the toilet cubicle is clearly going to be just a one night stand, a momentary diversion from life, a transaction which will soon be forgotten, yet the narrator clearly thinks that this is the start of a beautiful relationship. It’s doomed, he’s doomed, we are all doomed!

I gave my phone to a young lady called Jennifer : This very short line draws together all of the story, and it only came to me after I’d written the first few drafts. In a moment which I can still remember, I scrawled it down and then a big smile came to me as I realised how clever I’d been.

The Neon Yak: So what’s the Neon Yak? I based it on the idea of Herne the Hunter. Herne, part man part deer, is a mythical figure from the forests around Windsor and north west Surrey, where I grew up. A glimpse of Herne was meant to herald a time of uncertainly. When I was a kid I would go on cub camps into the woods and I remember one of the cubs was particularly spooked and certain that we would all be haunted by Herne the Hunter. It didn’t help matters that, for some reason, the legend was also crow barred into the TV adaptation of Robin Hood, at the time riding high in the ratings in the early 1980s.

Coming from Surrey, woodland landscapes have always been important to me, particularly those around Woking, which are deep and dense and downright spooky. The idea of a Herne-like phantom, but kind of an opposite to Herne, came to me during the writing process, a glimpse of whom signals that things will be better. It’s a very visual imagining.

The narrator : Is the narrator me? I’ve certainly travelled a lot these last few years, and caught lots of trains. And yes, I’ve often felt like a Poundland Michael Palin. Looking at my writing, it’s amazing how much of it takes place on trains, planes, and other forms of transport, even cargo ships and space capsules. Perhaps the whole show is a psychological cry for help, an admission that there’s something indefineable that I’m looking for, that I just need to escape . . .

Performing this show has been a wonderful experience, and every time I do, it feels like the characters have become friends, people in whose company I feel totally at ease. Which has never really happened before. It seems to draw together so much from my life. I just wonder what I will think of this show in future years.

On being busy and loving it! (London and Milton Keynes)

Well, haven’t I been busy lately? A couple of years ago I really couldn’t take any more travelling and I kind of curtailed travelling around to gigs and things, mostly because of the day job and the logistics involved in trying to get to places far and wide. It all became something of a trial, until I found myself in a position where I was having to cancel gigs at the last moment due to work and the sheer impossibility of getting to them.

This year has brought a new philosophy to what I do, the idea that I am only doing gigs where everything is planned out in advance and that I might enjoy them and really not have to worry about anything. My thinking now is that I don’t really have anything to prove. I’ve hit all of the targets I had when I first started spoken word, and anything which happens now is a bonus. Plus there’s the added excitement of being very comfortable now with my performances and my material. Of course, it could all go fits up at any moment.

The last two months have been very busy for me. I’ve been zipping around the country like a mad thing, guesting at various events and taking my tea based poetry show to various fringes and festivals. Not only Edinburgh, but then immediately afterwards a gig in Hampshire, then. Devon, then up to London for some filming, back to Devon, then up to Milton Keynes for a gig. Next week I’m in Newcastle and then I’ve got a gig in Cornwall. If I had an agent they would probably have been fired by now!

Sunday was huge fun. I went up on Saturday night and stayed at the cheapest hotel I could find in Woking. It’s a place I’ve stayed in before, and amazingly I had the exact same room I’d had the night I performed in Hampshire. The streets of Woking were busy and it kind of reminded me of the Edinburgh fringe, except nobody wanted to go and see a show and I didn’t have to flier. My room had all the equipment necessary for making a late night cup of tea, except for a kettle. The lady in reception apologised profusely. They were out of kettles, and someone must have purloined it and nobody had noticed. It didn’t matter, it was late and I was very tired.

The next day I went up to London and met up with Peter Hayhoe of the Muddy Feet poetry YouTube channel. I am a big admirer of their output and I have had a couple of poems videod by them in the past. We met at Canada Water and he drove me out to Barking, where the filming studio was on an industrial estate. The whole process was made somewhat harder by the fact that a rap video was being filmed in the studio next door, so there was significant sound bleed, in fact it reminded me again of the Edinburgh fringe. Nevertheless, we did some filming and the whole experience was very enjoyable.

From the industrial estate, I caught the bus to Barking, the overground to Liverpool Street, the underground to Paddington, the train to Newton Abbot, and then the bus to Brixham where I spent the night at my mothers. It took seven hours to get home.

Two days later and I caught a train back to London, and then up to Milton Keynes. Scribal Gathering is a gig I’ve wanted to do again for some time, having performed there five or six years ago. I was picked up from the hotel by a man holding a large sign which read, ‘Robert Garnham, Professor of Whimsy’, which I found most amusing, and we drove out to the venue in Stony Stratford. And wow, what an amazing gig it was, a variety of music, comedy, storytelling and poetry, and the audience really did seem to like what I did. A performer would do anything for such a response, and to be honest it made me feel invincible, if only for a few minutes. I met some lonely people, too, and they let me keep one of the posters from the wall advertising the gig.

At such times I really do get a case of imposter syndrome. Before a gig, I tell myself that I’m really not worthy of headlining, reasoning that I really have no right to come along and profess to be so good at spoken word as to deserve such a slot. And afterwards, I always think that I’ve been somewhat mistaken and that it didn’t go as well as I’d thought. But at the time of performing, I felt absolutely amazing, and perhaps that’s why I travelled there in the first place.

So the gigs seem to fizzle out mid October and I’m looking forward to a bit of a rest. I’ve got a very special performance coming up of my show from last year, In the Glare of the Neon Yak, with the Totnes jazz rock band Shadow Factory, and that’s taking all of my energies at the moment. As I caught the train back from London to Devon today, I listened to various recordings and tried to run through the lines in my head.

I know that eventually these gigs and opportunities and excuses for zipping around the country will finish and I’ll be left with just the memories, and I’m okay with that. It’s the accumulation of memories which makes life worthwhile and I’m glad I’ve sorted out my mind to a point in which this is the foremost consideration. Each day is an adventure at the moment. And the next stop is Newcastle!

On the mutation of performance poetry into spoken word, and the resulting slow death of whimsy.

Reading Pete Bearder’s wonderful book on the history of spoken word, and listening to the Poet Waffle podcast in which Daniel Cockrill interviewed Jonny Fluffypunk, both spent time lamented that the age of the experimental cabaret performance poet seemed to have passed. A movement in which the term performance poetry seems to encompass everything from naked juggling to indoor fireworks, a time in which the performance of poetry was tied in with either physical prowess and spectacle, or the creation of a separate persona, a poetry character. I’m sure there are performers out there who are still up to these sorts of shenanigans, but they don’t seem as prevent as they used to be. And that’s a bit of a shame, in a way.

When I first started performing over ten years ago, these sorts of performers were the only ones that I knew about. Rachel Pantechnicon, Chloe Poems and others seemed to mix the cabaret style which I craved with poetry in a way that was almost offhanded, they could have been doing anything but it just happened to be poetry. They could have been reading the bus timetable, and it felt like these were just the tips of the iceberg, that a whole world out there existed of quirky characters mixing poetry and all manner of performance art.

It must be said that the Torbay scene, to which I belong, seems to have clung on the longest to this mindset and a healthy local scene exists of poets of spectacular variety and, dare I say if, oddness. Ten years ago, Chris Brooks at Poetry Island and Bryce Dumont at Word Command would invite down the finest performers whose prime purpose was spectacle and comedy. And when I started performing, they encouraged me to be as wacky as possible. I lament the fact that I did not choose an alternative name for myself, but over those first few years I pushed the boundaries of what I thought performance poetry might be. I created a robot to perform on my behalf, Robot Garnham, and I would often perform from the middle of the street, or by phone from the toilets. I performed while eating crisps, or while playing darts. I performed while covered in a blanket because I said I was scared of the audience. I performed from inside a box. I performed while accompanied by a salad spinner, which does a great impersonation of the Paris metro. I performed while on a circular disc which would spin me around. And it all seemed perfectly normal.

And now, I’m achingly mainstream. I discovered slam poetry and won a few slams here and there, and then decided that everything should fit in to three minutes.

When I look at the spoken word community these days there are still plenty of poets who inspire me and make me excited, but the fact remains that over the last ten years, the scene has shifted. Performance poetry is now spoken word, which implies a lack of performance. Poems are earnest and introspective, autobiographical and issue led, which is a good thing, but often you go to a spoken word night and they’re all the same. It’s wonderful, but it gets you down after a while. There are lots of people, but not many characters. Everyone seemed heavily influenced by the culture of slam poetry and by those American poets who shout a lot and hardly pause for breath and get millions of YouTube views. It’s like a sub genre of performance poetry has taken over the scene completely.

And if I can pinpoint the one thing that seems to have killed off the scene in the most part, it would be the slam poetry culture of no props, no costumes. It’s like the slam poetry genre was invented to mitigate against actual performance or spectacle. Maybe there should be a new sub genre of slam itself, weird slam, where anything goes, the bigger the spectacle, the bigger the mark.

And me? I’ve been trying to fit in with both distinct styles. I think I’m probably somewhere in the middle. Yes, I do slam poems, but I try not to be too autobiographical, (my life is far too boring), and I try to have an issue or two beneath the surface. But lately, artistically, I’ve been thinking that the excitement of those early years has been replaced by the need to fit in with the current style.

Bryce Dumont was nice enough, ten years ago, to record every performance I did, and I have all these audio files. They’re a remarkable source of inspiration and I have been going through them, remembering what it was I was doing. I can’t wait to start rehearsing and just going wherever the muse might take me.

This is not to say that the character driven cabaret style of performance poetry is dead. Miserable Malcolm is a superb and hilarious invention, Jonny Fluffypunk is still out there doing his thing, and Rachel Pantechnicon has made one or two appearances of late. It seems, maybe just to me, that the spoken word scene and the performance poetry scene are two different scenes, one rhythm led and rightly obsessed with delivery and writing and heartfelt honesty, the other led more by spectacle and downright weirdness.

So that’s why I say here today, let’s bring back the weirdness! And Torbay seems the only place in the country where that weirdness is still inherent. Tom Austin, Steve O, Shelley Szender and, dare I say if, myself, turning up week after week being as odd and as silly and as funny as we possibly can. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to bring back the whimsy!

See also https://robertdgarnham.wordpress.com/2018/09/14/spoken-word-as-fun-the-peculiar-torbay-spoken-word-micro-climate/

Shadow Factory and Robert Garnham : In the Glare of the Neon Yak

I first heard a jazz band in Totnes called Shadow Factory a couple of years ago and I was immediately hooked by their style, their experimentation, their reinterpretation of classic songs and by their wonderful original material. They sound absolutely amazing and they are lovely people.

So I was completely blown away when they asked if their could write some original music for my show from last year, In the Glare of the Neon Yak, with a view to a live performance!

Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me a huge honour and thrill to announce that I will be teaming up with Shadow Factory for a special performance of my show in Totnes! This will be a really special evening and I hope you can come along!

In the Glare of the Neon Yak is a riproaring piece of spoken word storytelling set on a sleeper service in the middle of winter. A train full of circus performers are being stalked by a mysterious entity which seems to mean more than just its eerie manifestation. A portent, an omen, the Neon Yak symbolises dark times. Will our hero find love? Will Jacques, the tight rope walker, get back together again with his ex, the circus clown? Does the secret of the Neon Yak lie in the hands of a randy old lady? Has the buffet car run out of sausage rolls? Will Tony the Train Manager find where they’ve put Carriage F? An hour show combining poetry, storytelling and music, In the Glare of the Neon Yak is the sparkling new show from spoken word artist, Robert Garnham.

Tickets can be purchased below.

https://www.totnespulse.co.uk/product/in-the-glare-of-the-neon-yak/

Much Ado about Muffins

A stark yellow light bends oblong from
Faux Edwardian windows
Illuminating each individual cobble of the
Pretend medieval street.
A sign hangs and creaks in the autumn breeze,
An antiquated font black on white,
Much Ado About Muffins.

Derek Dubbins is on duty, dour, he damps down
The desk with a bleach soaked dishcloth,
Rain-macked tourists huddle in the doorway
With rucksacks the wrong way round,
Derek sneers, scrubs harder, his knuckles whiten
While his regular clientele read the Daily Mail
And nod in agreement with the letters to the editor.

This is not the sort of place
Where you might ask for soya milk,
A traditional establishment
Harking back to a past that never was,
A display cabinet of scones,
Jam tarts, a framed photo of Margaret Thatcher
And another of that mad orange-faced gibbon,
You know the one,
And Derek himself, gammon red and
Incensed by subjects as diverse as breast feeding,
Health and safety regulations,
The rights of minority groups,
Croissants.
Nothing makes his blood boil more than the expression,
Live and let live.
In short, he’s a bit of a cock.

But Brad does not know this, Brad,
Eager and carefree and delicately attired
In a plain white tshirt and three quarter length trousers,
Converse all stars with no socks, Brad,
Sunny demeanour, a fervent believer
In the goodness of other souls,
Though quite possibly wearying after the
First ten minutes,
Brad lays his slender and manicured fingers
On the freshly bleached desk and says,
Would it be possible to order a wedding cake?

Why of course, says Derek,
Who’s the lucky bride to be?
Oh, replies Brad, that would be me!
Then let’s out a laugh,
Or my partner, my love, my other half,
Bradley.
What?, Derek asks.
Yes, I know, I call him Bradley
Because otherwise we’d both be called Brad
Nothing worse than shouting out your own name
During an orgasm!

No, he replies,
No, he replies,
No, no, no.
I don’t need your custom here.
I don’t need your cash.
Your ways and whims
Make a mockery of my beliefs,
Just go, just dash,
Before I call the police!
And brandishing his stainless steel cake tongs,
Derek watches
As Brad takes leave.

Silence descends upon Much Ado About Muffins.
Nervous cleared throats
And the occasional rustling
Of the Daily Mail.
All
Is as
It should be.

The dead of night.
A moonless midnight,
A silence so deep it stuns.
The kitchen refrigerator
Quietly hums.
Derek slumbers under his duvet,
Dreaming dreams of a new day
Where people know their place,
How great life would be
If everyone were like he.
He imagines a world without . . .

Fairies
Appear at the kitchen window,
Their dainty wings beat softly on the pane,
Each one emits an iridescent glow
Which sparkles, moves,
They let themselves in
And flutter round the room,
Twelve of them
Waving their magic wands,
Light as air.
Gary, Bruce, Dave, John, John, Roger,
John, Dave, Bruce, Gary, Roger and Sebastian.

They land on the marble work top.
Ok, girls, says Bruce,
You know what to do.
We’re here to celebrate
A love that’s true.
Let’s use our fairy dust
And bake with all our might
And feel proud of our efforts
At the end of the night.
Let’s get to work, let’s light the lamp,
It’s like then shoemaker and the elves
But a little more camp!

Ok, girls,
Let’s do this!

They make the base
They drain the dregs
They roll and kneed
They beat the eggs.

They laugh and joke
They take a risk
They craft and cook
They cut and whisk

They stir and mix
And prod and bake
And ice and fill
The wedding cake

And there it stands
So tall and glad,
Congratulations
Brad and Brad. Ley.

The fairies sit back and gaze at their efforts.
A triple tiered masterpiece with icing gently
Soulful like a rococo palace,
By turns baroque and stately, it stands as a
Testament to the love which
Propels the planet itself throughout its lonely orbit.
We shall bring Brad first thing, says Bruce,
Show him his cake, and then,
Our work here will be done.

At that moment the fairies hear
The trundling lollopping footsteps of Derek
On the old rickety staircase, and his
Baritone voice booming,
Fe, fi, fo, fum,
I’m off to have a dump.

Derek spies a suspicious sparkling,
Creaks open the kitchen door,
And there before him, the wedding cake
In all it’s majestic splendour,
The words Congratulations Brad and Bradley
Spiking his heart with a vengeful angst,
He goes bloody ballistic.
Tears into the fresh frosting and flings it, frantically,
Out the back door and into the yard
Where it lands next to the recycling bins.
He turns and stamps back up the stairs,
Stampy stampy stampy,
What an absolute bell-end.

Well, ladies, says Bruce,
No use standing round here all night
With a face like a slapped arse.
You know what to do, my lovelies.

They make the base
They drain the dregs
They roll and kneed
They beat the eggs.

They laugh and joke
They take a risk
They craft and cook
They cut and whisk

They stir and mix
And prod and bake
And ice and fill
The wedding cake

And there it stands
So tall and glad,
Congratulations
Brad and Brad. Ley.

Again, the fairies stand back to admire their efforts.
In divinity does the cake
Seem to defy gravity, its delicate frosting
Reminiscent of a winters forest,
And equally ethereal the finely spun sugar lacing,
Like dew on a spiders web,
As tentative and timeless as love in all it’s glory ,
Less a cake, and more a hymn to matrimony.
We shall bring Brad first things they say,
So that he can pick up his cake, and then,
Oh then, our work here is done.

At that moment, bugger me,
The trundling, lollopping footsteps of Derek
On the old rickety staircase, and his
Baritone voice booming,
Hey diddle dee dee,
I’ve come to have a wee!

A moment or so later the second cake
Joins the first in the back yard next to the recycling bins,
Which he never uses anyway,
And most of the fairies can see a pattern forming.

Alright, says Bruce,
We’ll have one last crack at this.

They make the base
They drain the dregs
They roll and kneed
They beat the eggs.

They laugh and joke
They take a risk
They craft and cook
They cut and whisk

They stir and mix
And prod and bake
And ice and fill
The wedding cake

And there it stands
So tall and glad,
Congratulations
Brad and Brad. Ley.

For a third time, the fairies stand back,
For the cake is a corpulence of crusted creams,
Daintily drizzled with delicious dustings of sweetness,
White with ice frosting, a triple layered dream
Held up with Corinthian columns, finely sculpted
Decorative dainty Daisy chains,
It stands as a hymn to love, a monument to
The deepest adoration, the passion
Which keeps us all from going insane.

A door opens upstairs,
Followed by the trundling, lollopping footsteps of Derek
On the old rickety staircase,
Tiddly om pom Pom,
I think I’ve got the runs!

There’s silence.
He pushes open the kitchen door,
He sees the cake in all it’s majesty,
Congratulations Brad and Bradley,
And just as he’s about to lunge,
Bruce, the fairy,
Suddenly appears right in front of him,
Lit up in ethereal light in the dark of the kitchen light.

Arghhhh!, says Derek.
You!, says Bruce.
Keep away!, says Derek.
What the fuck are you, I mean,
Seriously!

I am the Ghost of Christmas Past, says Bruce.
Really?, says Derek.
Naaah, says Bruce.
Keep away!, says Derek.
Keep away, keep away!
Just what do you want from me?

The fairies surround him, but there’s no menace.
The glow of their wings flits across the ceiling,
Iridescent magic reflecting back from pots and pans.
We want you to love, says Dave.
We want you to cherish life, says Jim.
We want you to open your eyes, says Bruce,
And see that there’s so much else beyond
Your faded jaded introspective worldview.

Love is a dream for many.
Love is a ludicrous nonsense.
Love is the aim of every soul.
Love should never be banished.
Love is a celebration!
Love is the glue that keeps us all sane,
Love is more than just a game.

And love does not care for labels.
Love is a miracle whenever it occurs,
A passion shared is doubled, and it spreads,
Soars, fills the world and builds it up.
There were generations who couldn’t,
The world rattled with their silent screams,
It happens today in places less free,
Hearts torn in twain by the thunder of disapproval,
Lives ruined amid the scream of self righteous bullies.
He who stands against love
Stands against life itself.

There’s a magic in the air
As Derek feels a weight lifted.
He sees the world anew, then stares
Deep into his own soul,
Shudders at what he sees,
Deafening and darkness and the Daily Mail,
Hatred dictated by front page opinions
And the need to appear big.
You’re right, he whispers,
Love shall be celebrated,
And I’d be proud to play my part.

At that moment, a lonely sunbeam
Slants through the window, signals
The dawn of a new day,
And In walks Brad, accompanied by
Gary, Roger and Sebastian.
Proudly, and with a tear in his eye,
Derek announces, here,
With all the blessings of my humble tea shop,
And with honest and newfound best wishes
For a happy life together,
Please accept this
Splendid wedding cake.

Brad smiles, and leaps for joy,
Then bends down and inspects the cake carefully.
That’s very sweet of you, he says,
And it’s a beautiful cake,
But I have a wheat intolerance
And Bradley is allergic to dairy products.

Spout : A show about tea!

Spout is an hour show featuring poems, stories and autobiographical silliness all around the theme of tea. If you’ve ever enjoyed a cup of tea, or are a coffee drinker eager to make that leap, then Spout is the show for you! Spout is sure to create a stir.

Meet Roberts gran, who’s very fussy about how she likes her tea. Meet Aunt Rosie, who likes to sing while she’s boiling the kettle. Marvel at poems about hipster tea shops, tea-based rap songs and a group of magical fairies who specialise in baking cakes for gay weddings. This whole show will make you see tea anew!

Robert Garnham is an award winning LGBT comedy spoken word artist from Surrey. He has been long listed three times as spoken word artist of the year and has features in TV advertisements for a certain building society. Spout is his ode, his love letter, to this beverage of kings, this every day magic potion, tea!

Spout will be featuring at the Barnstaple Theatrefest, Reading Fringe, Guildford Fringe, the Glasdenbury Festival, Big Poetry and the Edinburgh Fringe, with other events to be announced soon.

Here’s an interview with the creator and writer and main performer of Spout, Robert Garnham!

I didn’t sit down to write a show about tea. I just realised one day, ‘hang on a minute. I seem to have an awful lot of poems about tea’. I think the reason behind this is that I spend a lot of time in coffee shops, invariably drinking tea, and wondering what to write about, and then looking down at the tea making paraphernalia in front of me and thinking, ‘yes, that will do’. In fact, I had so many poems about tea that some of them couldn’t possibly be squeezed into the show.

Of course, the show isn’t just about tea. In a funny sort of way, it’s probably the most autobiographical thing I’ve done. My grandmother and my aunt both feature prominently, and it was the weirdest thing, they just kind of barged their way in to the script while I was writing it. I would visit them both and invariably, out would come the tea pot and the whole ceremony of making a cuppa and having a chat. And my word, they could chat. I’d hear all the gossip about the neighbours and then they’d move on to stories about the olden days. It was always difficult getting a word in edgeways.

Working in retail, my first responsibility of every day would be to make everyone a cuppa. ‘We don’t do many miles to the cuppa’, is the saying we adopted, to explain why we would stop so often for a brew. And whenever a new recruit would start, I’d say to them, ‘are you good with technology?’ ‘Yes’, they’d reply. ‘Great, then can you go and put the kettle on’.

I don’t know about you, but I prefer mugs to cups. There’s nothing more refreshing than a strong tea made in a big thick mug. You can’t gulp tea down with a dainty cup. And there’s always the risk of accidental slurpage. A mug makes tea informal. They’re also easier for washing up, too, more robust than dainty cups. There’s a line in the show, ‘I’d rather have a dainty cup and not a builders mug’. This is pure fiction, personally speaking, and I only put the line in there because it rhymed and scanned, and not because it is true. I’m a poet and I’m allowed to do things like that.

So how would I describe Spout? It’s certainly scatalogical, a little bit weird, yet it hopefully takes the audience to places that we all know and recognise, whole simultaneously making them think about the world anew. I mean, that’s pretty lofty, isn’t it, having a show with such aims. And I hope it means that you might learn something about me, too. We’re all different, and yet we’re all the same. We are brought together by the things that we enjoy.

This show is dedicated to my grandmother Winifred, and my aunt, Mildred. Both were strong, independent women, Londoners who survived the Blitz, and helped imbue in me a love of those little stories which keep us all sane, tidbits of gossip, anecdotes, and humour in all the kinds of places where they might otherwise have been lost. They were also both prolific tea drinkers.

I hope you enjoy watching Spout as much as I’ve enjoyed writing and rehearsing it.

The Ballad of Josh McGrew

The Ballad of Josh McGrew

When it’s forty below and the tent is so cold
And icicles cling in your beard.
Your sleeping bag barely is much of a comfort
And life is as bad as you feared.
The howl of a wolf in the lonely cold woods
Sends shudders of primordial guilt
And the hunger which pangs like the wolf’s wild fangs
Demolishes the life that you built.

The moon is aglow in a sky filled with stars
And the forest is ominously dead.
Your senses acute, the sole of a boot
You can hear with each rhythmical tread.
The great northern lights light up the night
Like fingers of phosphorus fire.
And if any damn fool say they don’t question it all
Then they would be surely a liar.

And if that’s not enough you’re feeling quite rough
And parts of you are starting to whiff.
You’re out of hair gel in your own private hell
And in the mornings you’re ever so stiff.
You watched as a bear ran off with your iPad
And an otter peed in your shoe.
And your beef flavoured Pringles had a bad best before date
And without Netflix there’s not much to do.

The endless Wild woods seem to go on forever
And the wifi signal is patchy.
You haven’t had a chance to do a good laundry
And your pants feel uncomfortably scratchy.
You let out a cuss word when you lost your password
While changing your status on Facebook.
You rolled over last night and had such a fright
When a pine needle stuck in your buttock.

The last time you went on a trek such as this
Was in Wetherspoons finding the loos.
And your Instagram post hasn’t had many likes
And your selfie was facebombed by a moose.
And there’s twigs in your hair and twigs in your socks
And there’s probably twigs up your bum
And there’s twigs in your crisps and twigs in your soup
And you hope it’s not the same twigs that have been up your bum.

The mountains loom like mountains tend to do
And loneliness points at your scowling.
And you feel sleep deprived and just half alive
Because the stupid wolves kept on howling.
And you feel with a quiver, if fortune were a giver
Then to you he’s been something of a miser.
You decide that next time you log on online
You’ll moan about it on Trip Adviser.

An Interview with Robert Garnham

(I was recently interviewed by a university student to help with her dissertation and I thought I’d share the text of her interview, minus the questions.)

It’s quite long, so feel free to read if at your own pace!

Interview:

I’d always written when I was younger. I wrote comedy short stories and silly little bits which made me laugh, and I continued writing these into my adult years. I then went through a phase where I wanted to be a deeply serious literary author. By the time I got to my thirties, it was obvious that this wasn’t going to happen!

I did literature at both A Level and at university and the courses covered poetry but most of it noted me rigid. It’s probably better to read such things for pleasure rather than to write an essay. The only poet who appealed to me was Frank O’Hara, who I didn’t even see as a poet, as his work seemed to talk to me.

When I finished my postgraduate degree, I decided that I needed to see more culture. The only problem with this is that I live in Torbay, so really there wasn’t much around. I looked in the local paper and it said that there was a night of performance poetry at the Blue Walnut Café. I went along, and Byron Vincent was the headliner. The whole night inspired me to have a go myself. I asked the host and he gave me a slot for the next week. Which meant that I had to go home and write something.

I wrote a couple of comedy poems and the next month, the audience laughed at all the right places, and that’s when I thought, wow, this is what I want to do!

As a kid my only knowledge of poetry was Pam Ayres, who my mother loved and whose books were in our house, and John Hegley, who I had seen on television. I also liked the poetry of Robert Service, as I was obsessed with anything to do with the Yukon.

My father was in to music and comedy and by some kind of osmosis, I got in to them too at an early age. The wordplay associated with comedy and stand-up informed my writing, and when I started writing poetry, it was to music that I turned, to pop groups especially and their succinct use of language. Neal Tennant, David Byrne, Bob Dylan, Morrissey, Kirsty Maccoll, Kate Bush, Jerry Seinfeld, Alan Bennett, Bob Newhart, these were the people who introduced me to poetry.

My knowledge of the poetry scene has always been somewhat sketchy. Naturally at college and university we studied a good array of poets, but the canon was always a bizarre array of straight, white old men.

However, as a performer on the national spoken word scene, I find it to be dominated overwhelmingly by much younger poets. Spoken word is a relatively new art form with its basis in YouTube and Slam or battle rap culture. I go to poetry events around the Uk and find myself, at forty five, to be the oldest person in the room.

However I have also been to events where I am the youngest person in the room, particularly those aimed more at page poets. I am often booked at such events as some light relief!

I get up early and I try to do an hour of writing between seven and eight. This is just playing around with words and ideas. I have used the same cartridge pen for everything creative I’ve written since 1995, mostly because I write out everything Long hand. At nine o clock I might do some reading or research, which is just a flimsy pretext to watch comedy or listen to music. At ten o clock I will have a very specific writing session for a couple of hours, working on whatever my project is at the moment. At lunch time I might go to the gym and when I’m walking there, on the machine, or in the sauna or the pool, I’m trying to memorise poetry or my show. The afternoon is for more performance related playing around. This can be the most rewarding time. My hero is the performance artist Laurie Anderson and she suggests being loose, going in to a session with an idea of being creative and playing around with props, ideas, words, performance aspects. From four till six I will work on admin, emails, submissions, online forms, all that kind of stuff.

If I have a gig in the evening I get very nervous and I have to lie on the floor for a bit or shut myself off from the world. If I have to travel to the gig, I’ll listen to music, in particular, Pet Shop Boys, or Sparks. Something that matches the effect I want to have on the audience.

If I haven’t got a gig, then there will be another writing session in the evening, which lasts until around nine PM.

Even after all these years, I love writing. The feel of the pen in my hand, and having bits of paper scattered everywhere with snatches of poem on them, which I then have to somehow glue together, and the really good feeling when you make that connection. My biggest motivating factor I to write something which hopefully I will find funny.

The weather also plays a factor. There’s nothing better than a rainy, gloomy day, and sitting at my desk with the rain streaming down, a window open, and being in the middle of a really creative period. Time seems to stand still and the words flow smoothly.

It’s very rare that I have a day off from writing, rehearsing, performing or admin. I think my work ethic is mainly to know that I’ve done a good job, or as much as I could. I do have lazy days, though!

I would read absolutely anything when I was younger, from Jack London to Dickens, Douglas Adams, biographies of comedians or astronauts, non fiction books about Canadian history or motor racing. I am influenced today mostly by the comedy books, from cartoons such as Garfield, which gave me a wonderful sense of suburban ridiculousness from an early age, to Woody Allen, Les Dawson, Ivor Cutler and the aforementioned Pam Ayres. I didn’t care who wrote the book, so long as it was funny, and this has translated to my work today, the urge to use the wonderful tools language and it’s effects to make people have fun.

I love to read contemporary novels, particularly Haruki Murakami, Ali Smith, David Mitchell and Paul Auster. Recently I read Dan Rhodes’ book, Gold, and I thought it was so funny that I was rationing the number of pages I read a day so as to prolong the process! The writers I like are those that take you away from the present moment but always ground their fantasy in the normal, recognisable world. The Spanish writer, Juan Goytisolo, who passed away last year, wrote the most mind boggling humorous yet political novels which played with language and the form of the novel itself.

I read a lot of contemporary spoken word artists, such as John Hegley, naturally, but also Monkey Poet, Byron Vincent, Vanessa Kisuule, Dominic Berry. It just so happens that too of my best friends are also amazing contemporary poets, Samantha Boarer and Melanie Branton, and both have amazing books published in the last year.

Writing is a form of artistic expression. I believe that most people wish to express themselves in creative terms. My sister paints pictures and plays the flute, and my mother is a flower arranger who dabbles in ikebana. My dad used to paint, too, and my grandad was an inventor who would toil away in his workshop like some kind of comedy mad professor.

I can’t sing, dance or play an instrument, though I have tried all three. Writing and performing are the two things which bring me joy and, in a funny sort of way, help me to make some kind of sense of the world and the human condition.

The moment you pick up a pen and write something, then you’re a writer. There’s no ceremony or procedure. If you want to be a writer, then write.

My advice would be to keep writing and rehearsing, watch other poets, play around, be comfortable with your material, have fun as you’re rehearsing, try to be different, and most of all, write and perform to please yourself first and foremost. Don’t worry about what other people are doing, or what success it might seem they’re having, or what you think the audience might like. Just play your own game. And have fun. If you’re having fun while you’re performing, then the audience will have fun, too. And play around, and be loose.

I spent the majority of last year working on my first purpose written solo show, In the Glare of the Neon Yak, an hour long poem which I performed all over the Uk. I’m currently making a film of this with a film maker friend of mine, who is making his own interpretation of my work. At the same time, i am working with a jazz band to make a new stage version of the show, which is currently being written and will be rehearsed and finally performed probably towards the end of 2019.

My father passed away a couple of months ago, and I have written an hour long poem about his time working in the Australian outback, which I hope to perform just once, accompanied by a friend who is a violinist, it should be a good evening.

My new solo show for the festival and fringe circuit next year will be called Spout, and if is a set of poems and comedy material about the subject of tea.

On top of all this, as if I’m not busy enough, I’ve been working on two collections, one of serious pagey poetry, the other of upbeat comedy poems.

Why I am Not a Poet

My fellow poets, for some time now it has been evident that I have been moving among you, observing the way that you operate, and infiltrating your performances and book launches. Indeed, I myself have now been performing for almost ten years. I’ve been doing it for so long that I am performing in my sleep. Which is the exact opposite of the usual audience, who sleep while I am performing.

During this time, as I operate slyly and behind the scenes, I have been able to make the casual observer believe, thanks to my jacket, my book of verse, and the fact that I am single, that I am, indeed, a poet too.

Yet on closer inspection, even the most broad minded of literary critics will be inclined to point out that, no, this is not the case. My rhyming couplets have all split up. My found poems were hidden for a reason. Nobody has ever stuck around long enough to tell me what the Rhyme scheme of my poems might be. I have never once worried about enjambement, those I know that those who like it, do go on a bit. And once, I got very conceptual and sent off a blank piece of paper to a poetry journal. They wrote back promptly, congratulating me on my excellent blank verse.

Dear poets, I have moved among you. Yet it has to be said that you live in an environment in which I have started to feel at home. A poetry gathering is the kind of place where, for some reason, I suddenly feel very tough. I know that generally I am quite butch and masculine in any case, but I feel even more so in a poetry crowd. And when I took the money on the door of a comedy poetry night not long ago, I certainly made sure that there was no funny business.

I am the poetry interloper, a phantom who skulks the festivals and fringes, whose name creeps into journals and publications. Even my name helps with my anonymity, it’s such a plain, boring name with none of the more exuberant vowels or letters of the more exciting poet. My name makes me sound like a parking attendant, or a geography teacher. Google my name and the first thing that comes up is a former mayor of Cheltenham.

But I’m proud not to be a poet. And I’m even more proud to be thought of as a poet, usually by people who haven’t read any of my work. The delicious groan at a comedy night when I’m introduced as a poet is a good sign as it means that the audience has already lowered their expectations, after which, anything is a bonus.

So if I am not a poet, then what am I? Yes, there’s an existentialist crisis if ever there was one. But to be honest, I don’t even think about it. I am a. . .. performer . . .an entertainer . . . A performance artist . . I am none of these things. And do you know what? That makes me feel really happy!

An Interview with Jamie Harry Scrutton

Jamie Harry Scrutton is one of my favourite spoken word artists. I first saw him in Manchester at the wonderful Evidently show, where I was co-headlining. Jamie got on stage and performed a poem about Mr Muscle, and it was so utterly unlike anything I’d ever seen. We soon became good friends and I have invited him down to Devon to perform on numerous occasions, where he always wins new friends with audiences with him whimsical musings. Jamie also combines animation with his spoken word, creating a wonderful and very unique mix which has to be experienced.

How did you first get in to spoken word?
I have always had a passion for creative writing but I have never adapted my work in to performance material. I catered my work for publication opposed to physically showcasing them through performance. I have been sending my writing off to various publication outlets since I was twelve years of age. My first submission and first rejection was from The Parragon Publishing House based in London. They responded by letter, reverting me to the book “The Writer and Artists Yearbook” at my local library, where I discovered various other outlets to try and place my work. At the time, I was submitting a Short Story Collection titled “The Complete Short Diary Tales,” which was based on various fictional characters, portraying their life experiences, contained in a diary form. At the age of 15, I fell into Poetry. By the age of 16, I found myself writing rather whimsical verses, which I subsequently began performing at the of 18 and still continue to perform to this day, at the tender age of 29!

When you think of ideas, do you see them initially as poems or animations?
Sometimes, I do write for the purpose of adapting the anecdotes in to Stop Motion Animations but more often, the process is about creating a concept to marry with the character, which would materially be based on observational life.

How long does it take to make an animation?
It depends. I would say between 2-4 weeks. My first Animation which I created titled “MANBUN” took me just over a week to make. The process was consistant 12 hour shifts, delved in to the art of making.

How did you learn the processes to make an animation?
The process came naturally, really. I wanted to create a Short Film which would be different to what I originally would create. I wanted to represent my Fine Art craftmnaship and produce a Film which would visually tell the narrative through a literal fictious character. This is where “MANBUN” rooted from. I filmed a side profile of me narrating the Anecdote and then Sketch by Sketch, I traced over the video to make the Short Film. In the end I must have produced apporximately 900 sketches. I am still learning, adapting and progressing the Art of Animation through to this day. I always birth new processes, in order to be different from my previous Animation.

Who are your influences?
Pam Ayres is definately an influence. I am always inspired by life, pretty much all of the time. Obviously Robert Garnham is a huge inspiration and a very good friend of mine too!

Do you think of the character first, or the story which they tell?
Usually, the story would be the seed and the character would be the plant. I would take a situation from everyday life and then create a character which would then morph the whole narrative of the Anecdote. More often, it could be the other way around.

What does the future have in store for you?
I will be releasing a DVD titled “The Animations of Jamie H Scrutton – Volume One” sometime in January 2019, which contains all 12 Animations of mine. I will be releasing an Animated Music Video I have produced for a brilliant Spoken Word Artist and very good friend of mine named Lence. The Animated Music Video is titled “Heard” and we will be releasing it on the 8th January 2019 at Kino 101, based in London. Another Animation of mine titled “My Husband Has Booked Our Funeral” has been selected to be screened at The Horror On Sea Film Festival on the 13th January 2019, based in Southend On Sea. I am in talks of creating a comedic Music Video for another good friend of mine in the new year. Also, I am planning to take a bit of time out from spring 2019, in order to create new future projects. I am planning to visit Leicester again and refilm three of my student Short Films at the end of 2019 in commemoration of 10 years working in Film. One of the Films will be “Havisham,” where I will be reprising the role of the deluded Miss Havisham. They will be a twist of Animation in all three pieces and the processes I have learned within film over the past decade!