2006-07 | Spoken word beginnings December 2006, a few weeks before my 18th. I’m at an impromptu jam session, at a Bromheads Jacket after-show party, in a secret underground venue in Sheffield’s red light district. Somebody had heard my early poems on MySpace and ushered me onto the mic… From there, I began introducing bands on the Yorkshire indie scene. Before long, I had a string of regular compère slots. My breakthrough came at a Love Music Hate Racism gig in April 2007, where I first performed my early trademark ‘Nazis on the Doorstep‘ piece. 2007-09 | Skint & Demoralised success In May 2007 I was contacted via MySpace by a Sheffield-based songwriter/producer, using the alias ‘MiNI dOG’. He started layering my poems over some electro instrumentals, which soon developed into an indie-pop songwriting partnership – Skint & Demoralised. After 6 months, our demo ‘Red Lipstick’ was played by Steve Lamacq on BBC Radio 1, and from there it snowballed. In March 2008, we signed to Universal. We recorded in NYC with The Dap-Kings, and completed ‘Love, And Other Catastrophes‘ at RAK in London. Début single ‘The Thrill of Thirty Seconds‘ was Colin Murray’s Record of the Week on R1 and playlisted on 6Music. We were being hailed as “the next big thing” by the likes of The Sunday Times Culture, Q, Clash, The Times, The Guardian, and many online music sites. 2009 kicked off with a headline UK tour, before a summer release of ‘Red Lipstick‘. It was Sara Cox’s Weekend Anthem on R1, but charted at #100 and saw us dropped. Despite this, we were a big hit at festivals, including Glastonbury, Latitude, Leeds/Reading, and Bestival. 2010-13 | More Skint & Demoralised, plus solo festivals In April 2011, Skint & Demoralised signed to Heist Or Hit Records, and subsequently released three albums through the label. This included a 20-date tour of the UK in October 2011, plus some headline shows in Germany that Christmas. In summer 2010, I returned to the UK festival circuit with far less gear to carry; performing 30 minute spoken word/comedy slots at Latitude, Leeds and Kendal Calling. The three Skint & Demoralised albums received critical acclaim. 2013-15 | Full return to spoken word A hat-trick of spoken word slots at Glastonbury 2013 gave me a fresh appetite for poetry, which led me to co-found a collective known as A Firm Of Poets. We had an anthology published by Ossett Observer in September 2014, and were a hit at regional festivals. In spring 2015, I formed what is now the UK’s leading spoken word record label: Nymphs & Thugs. In the summer, I did a week’s run at Edinburgh Fringe, and then in autumn/winter, I co-fronted A Firm Of Poet’s 22-date UK theatre tour ‘Ossett Observer presents: The People’s Republic of Poetry’. 2016 | Projects and political activism 2016 began with a project called ‘Four Under Parr’, which saw me programming and producing four monthly events in response to the Martin Parr photography exhibition at The Hepworth Wakefield. I was a central figure on the #JC4PM tour, and performed on both nights at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool. That year, I shared a stage with the likes of Sara Pascoe, Francesca Martinez, Attila The Stockbroker, Grace Petrie, The Fall, Sleaford Mods and Paul Weller. I visited ‘The Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais, and campaigned for several issues including homelessness, anti-racism and the refugee crisis. My work with The Poetry Takeaway led to me starring in a national TV ad campaign for Nationwide Building Society. 2017-18 | #LIVEwire and #TwoLittleDucks Spring 2017 saw the Nymphs & Thugs #LIVEwire tour, which supported the release of Salena Godden‘s album on 2LP gatefold vinyl. The album was shortlisted for the prestigious Ted Hughes Award. I then did a full Edinburgh Fringe with my début one-man show ‘Two Little Ducks’. The show explores the working-class Leave vote; my experiences at the Calais Jungle; and a fictionalised character called Maria. It received rave reviews. After a slot at the Roundhouse’s Last Word Festival, ‘Two Little Ducks’ embarked on a 22-date UK tour in autumn 2018, accompanied by my debut collection on VERVE Poetry Press (buy here). Earlier in 2018, I was commissioned by Arts Council Collection to write responses to the ‘Revolt & Revolutions’ exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. I also wrote the official poem for and performed at the European Youth Forum’s bi-annual Yo! Fest in Strasbourg. 2019 | Classrooms, comebacks and commissions My début poetry collection for kids was published by Bloomsbury Education on 11 July. ‘A Hurricane in my Head’ is targeted at kids aged 10-14 and is available to purchase here. It was one of National Poetry Day’s recommended reads, which led me to appear live on Blue Peter. Following a 6-year hiatus, my band Skint & Demoralised are back, with brand new music on Fierce Panda. All four singles received plays on BBC Radio 6Music, and our fourth album ‘We Are Humans‘ is out digitally and on limited edition white vinyl (purchase here). I appeared in another national TV ad campaign for Nationwide Building Society, was commissioned to write this poem for Cancer Research UK, this poem for Leeds United FC’s centenary kit launch, and this poem for Jeremy Corbyn’s General Election campaign. Nymphs & Thugs also announced our biggest series of ‘LIVEwire’ events to date; with four large regional shows and four Leeds residencies taking place from September 2019 until April 2020. 2020 | EP release, radio show, articles and more In April, I released a spoken word poetry EP called ‘A Life of Wearing White‘. Parts 1 and 2 are available to stream or download in all of the usual places. I’m also co-presenting Roaring 20s Radio alongside Salena Godden and Amah-Rose Abrams, which airs monthly on Soho Radio. I co-starred in a Nationwide Building Society advert alongside my better half Maria Ferguson. I was also commissioned to write a poem for a COVID-19 mural at North Ormesby primary academy in Middlesbrough. The Poetry Society invited me to be a patron for this year’s Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award, which is a great honour. I’ve started writing regular articles for The Football Pink. I did an online performance of my ‘Two Little Ducks’ show, which you can stream back in full (links in this post). And finally, I was commissioned to write a Leeds United promotion poem for Welcome to Leeds, with Ralph Ineson voicing it once again.
Sample: Twenty-Two Miles
Just twenty-two miles, that’s all it is. The sunlight bounces off the cliffs, and because they’re taller, they look closer from France. I listen to the waves, lapping over breakfast. I’d have a croissant and a coffee, but I feel sick. I’m sure if you’ve traversed through continents and oceans, you’re gonna look across and think, “I could swim that”. The seagulls float gracefully, in ravenous packs. And my head’s a fucking shed from all the parallels and chasms. David Walliams: Ten hours thirty-four. Sport Relief. Eurostar: One hour. £29. P+O Ferry: Ninety minutes. £40. Channel Tunnel: Thirty-five minutes. £49. A smuggler’s dinghy, in the dead of night. Up to £13,500. Yesterday afternoon, I was sat playing cards with Ethiopians and Eritreans. The breeze picked up, so they invited me inside: into their home. And no word of a lie, right, no word of a life, there as a Bradford City sleeping bag. For those of you doing an internal shrug, there are twenty-two miles between my house, and their stadium. It’s the same between Leeds and York. Between Newcastle and Hartlepool. Manchester and Blackburn. Birmingham and Leamington Spa. Northampton and Milton Keynes. Oxford and Reading. Bristol and Newport. Exeter and Torquay. Southend and Romford. Portsmouth and Bognor Regis… Calais and Dover. They ask me, with wide eyes, if Bradford are a decent team. I haven’t got the heart to tell the truth. I want to ask them all how they got here: how long it took, and how they managed. But that kind of thing is either volunteered or locked away. They offer me a cigarette, and I smoke it just to socialise. I give them some Euros to buy some beers, and I’m Father Christmas. There are people who walked across deserts. Whose drivers were shot in the chest. Whose dinghies were sinking and floated ashore. Whose bodies were subjected to unspeakable acts. They burp with the beer and cheer with the cards; and for a while, it feels normal. The universal language of betting and banter: brotherhood forged in the belly of the beast. Flags are now playful affiliation. The lad sat beside me taps me on my knee, so I lean in and lend him my ear. He asks me very softly if I can justify why my country is leaving them here. His question somehow silences the room. Playing cards stripped suddenly of worth. He’s not asking me as a journalist or a lawyer. Just a fellow human being on this earth. I feel sick again, with shards of sunlight piercing through roof. They ask me if they’re likely to be welcomed in by law, and I haven’t got the heart to tell the truth.
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