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. 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 the '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 S&D, plus solo festivals In April 2011, S&D signed to Heist Or Hit Records, and subsequently released all three of our 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 slots at Latitude, Leeds and Kendal Calling. The three S&D albums received critical acclaim, and every one of our singles was played on 6Music. 2013-14 | Full return to spoken word A hat-trick of spoken word slots at Glastonbury 2013 gave me another taste for poetry, having preferred music for the past 6 years. Following a late night conversation with a fellow poet, the foundations were laid for collective known as A Firm Of Poets. I found myself performing at poetry events for the first time in my career; gradually finding a more matured and varied approach to my writing. We had an anthology published by Ossett Observer in September 2014, and were a hit at regional festivals. 2015 | Edinburgh Fringe and #PROPoetry In summer 2015, I did a week's run Edinburgh Fringe. Whilst there, I did a live interview on Shaun Keaveny's 6Music Breakfast show. The opening night sold out and received 5* in Broadway Baby, and the run was a huge boost for me overall. I formed spoken word record label Nymphs & Thugs in the spring, releasing an album to support my Edinburgh run. In the autumn, A Firm Of Poets embarked on a 22-date national theatre tour 'Ossett Observer presents: The People's Republic of Poetry'. Throughout 2015, I began to work with Trinity Homeless Projects as a result of my 'I Matter' poem. I was commissioned to write a piece for the Orgreave Truth & Justice Campaign compliation CD, and spoke live on Channel 4 News when Kellingley Colliery closed. 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 | #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, which represented a significant gear change for the label overall. I then did a full Edinburgh Fringe with my début one-man show 'Two Little Ducks'. The show looks at the reasons behind the working-class Leave vote; my experiences at the Calais Jungle; and a fictionalised character called Maria. It received rave reviews. 2018 | #TwoLittleDucks completion After a couple of one-off shows culminated in a slot at the Roundhouse's Last Word Festival, 'Two Little Ducks' embarked on a 22-date UK tour this autumn, accompanied by my debut collection on VERVE Poetry Press and a studio album on N&T. Earlier in 2018, I was commissioned by Arts Council Collection to write responses to the 'Revolt & Revolutions' exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. I also performed at the European Youth Forum's bi-annual Yo! Fest in Strasbourg, outside the European Parliament. 2019 | #RemarkableLives poetry in schools Since writing the 'Remarkable Lives' poem for the AET schools group in September, their entire family of schools have adopted "find your remarkable" into their logos and are focusing heavily on the theme for the rest of the year. I visited Lea Forest Primary in Birmingham, who've had a mural made of the poem, and am now travelling around the UK delivering 'Remarkable Lives' sessions to Primary, Secondary and Further Education groups. In September, I'll be publishing my début collection for children (aged 11-13).
RED, WHITE & BLUE The Britpop snarl. Geri’s dress. “Cool Britannia”. “Girl Power”. Shaking hands with Tony Blair; the nineties’ finest hour. Nick Griffin’s BNP from the ashes of the National Front. The Falklands Wars, “Up Yours, Delors”, the Boxing Day Hunt. Contextual chameleon, so keen to misconstrue. Polarised reactions to red, white and blue. Winston Churchill, Austin Powers, Michael Caine, Bouncing Bombs; Rangers fans at Ibrox, The Last Night of the Proms. Flags beside the railway line, Britannia Bar in Magaluf; Northern Ireland’s marching season… soldiers sleeping rough. This flag is liberal guilt and pride and honour too. An ever-crumbling Union: red, white and blue. It flaps and drapes, emboldens, adorns; comforts, confronts, welcomes and warns; verifies, intimidates, emblazons, provokes; for some, it’s nostalgia, for others, it chokes. Mods or monarchy? Taint or teach? Buckingham Palace or Benidorm beach? Roadside burgers, Readers’ Wives; Enid Blyton’s Famous Five. Tourism, paraphernalia, Boris Johnson’s bumbling failure; car stickers, calf tattoos, coffins on the evening news. A reg. plate on a lorry bound for Dover; an orphan’s eyes fixated at a tunnel by the port. A victory lap for Team GB, that Sunday night in Stratford; families nationwide, enraptured by a sport. From ‘Only Fools & Horses’, Corrie, and ‘Mr Bean’, to the savage, brutal Empire, and all that came between. The Great British Bake-Off. The crumbs of Enoch Powell. Squinting for a lounger in matching shorts and towel. A pin badge on a polo shirt, with braces, and a Harrington, on a skinhead in a flat-roofed pub. A girl dressed in gingham with a little plastic flag; the Jubilee in sepia in the local Liberal Club. If it’s an emoji in your Twitter name, we probably disagree. Bigots blurring boundaries: should hate speech be free? I feel bad for saying I’m ashamed of it. I feel bad for saying I’m proud. Arms aloft; chanting with my back towards the crowd. This flag is a threat. This flag courts suspicion. This flag is childhood or chasing pole position. This flag is my privilege. This flag is my oppressor. This flag is law and order. This flag is an aggressor. Yeah, this flag is kicking off and this flag is clinging on. This flag is a pensioner that owns every swan. This flag is liberal guilt, and pride and honour too. An ever-crumbling union: red, white and blue. Royal weddings, Fish & Chips, Monty Python, Nelson’s ships. Swinging Sixties, Mersey Beat, Dr Martens, Carnaby Street. Who, Jam, Pistols, Stones, Maiden, Oasis, Blur. Henman Hill, the telephone; “shaken, not stirred…” Fry-ups in 40°c sunshine. Cockney rhyming slang. The Blackpool Illuminations. In 1966 it was a symbol of the times. Now, it’s mainly racist connotations. Oppressive rule in Ireland for 800 years. The invention of concentration camps. Guns versus spears. Rape, pillage, rule, ruin… educate, transform. Liberate from fascism. Call migrants a “swarm”. The Butcher’s Apron. The Lonely Yomper. Unification. Divide and conquer. This flag is liberal guilt, and pride and honour too. An ever-crumbling Union: red, white and blue.
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