Funny Roots

For the past few months, Poets, Prattlers, and Pandemonialists have been working hard on the ‘Finding Our Funny Roots’ project (funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund) for Creative Black Country. As part of it, we’re creating a one-hour show for the ‘Funny Things’ comedy festival which takes place in Wolverhampton at the end of October, and over the summer we’ve been incredibly busy pulling together the various strands which will go to make up the show.  

Our aim is to give the audience a sense of Black Country comedy from 1950 to the year 2000.  To this end, Creative Black Country’s willing band of wonderful volunteers have been doing oral history interviews with folk across the region to uncover the comedy gold stored away in their collective memories, we’ve also been out and about in the Black Country chatting to folk, and we’re working closely with Josiane Boutonnet and Paul McDonald – lecturers at Wolverhampton University – whose academic understanding of the nature of comedy has been absolutely fascinating.

In August we held a preview show with the lovely people from Wolverhampton Friendship Centre 050 group.  We had a performance by a Black Country comedian, imparted some interesting nuggets of facts about our region’s comedy, told jokes, shared memories, held a quiz, and – most importantly – had a lot of laughs. All the elements from that event will be in the Finding Our Funny Roots show at the Arena Theatre on Saturday 26th October (tickets for that are available here).

Our biggest problem …AARRGGHHHH!!!… has been choosing what to put in and what to leave out of the show.  AARRGGHHHH!!!! For example, did you know there were Black Country nights that happened in Australia and Canada?  No, nor us.  Did you know that chapel services in the Black Country were sometimes comedy heavy?  Nope, neither did we, but Black Country historian Ned Williams put us straight about that.  Most crucially, do you know where the Black Country actually is?  No? Well, it doesn’t look like anyone else does either.

Oh, and did we mention that we only have one hour to fit all this in – and give a sense of the awesomeness of our region – while making sure our audience is entertained? No pressure! 

Next week, we begin rehearsing the show.  Dave (our tech genius) has been working his magic, and Steve and Emma have drafted and re-drafted the script ready for the first read through and blocking in just over a week’s time, when we will be joined by our special guest artists who’ll help knock the show into shape. 

By the time the curtain raises on the 26th, we hope we’ll be ready to amaze you with facts, tickle your funny bones, and fill you with pride for the wonder which is the Black Country. To whet your appetite, we’ll be posting some of our out-takes on social media. Follow @pandemonialists and @CreativeBCuk and keep your eyes peeled!

See you on the 26th. Arena Theatre. 5pm.

Parklife

Last night we ran the first ever Ironbridge Festival poetry slam. That’s great in itself, but this slam was held in the most beautiful venue ever. A yurt. A veritable palace among yurts. Just look at this!

And what a night of poetry we had! Last night was one of the strongest line-ups we’ve ever had at one of our slams. In each and every round there were poets who sneaked through by one point or missed out by two, while the quality of each and every piece kept the audience on the edge of their seats. Splendid stuff.

Our finalists all left – as our finalists always do – with works by some of our era’s literary giants. Works we know they’ll treasure forever. Or until their first visit to the loal charity shop, whichever comes sooner. Congratulations to our winner, Nick Degg – who secured himself a paid gig at next year’s festival and got to go home with Kevin Keegan – to runners-up Jason Smith and Mike Took, and to all of the poets who took part.

Above all, our thanks to the audience members who came up at the end of the night to say how much they’d enjoyed the evening. Especially the folk who told us they’d never been to a poetry event before, and would never have thought they’d enjoy one, but had absolutely loved it. Who wanted to know when the next slam would be so they could bring their friends. That’s what all this is about really, isn’t it? Bringing new audiences to poetry.

For us, after a wonderful evening of poetry in a beautiful venue, that really is the icing on the cake. That’s why we love what we do. And why we keep on doing it. Even in a yurt.

Stourbridge shuttle

Earlier this year, the good folk at West Midlands Railway asked PPP to produce a poem to celebrate the 10th birthday of the Stourbridge Shuttle, the gem of a service which links Stourbridge town centre with the national rail network. So we rolled up our sleeves and set about it.

Here, for you all to enjoy, is the poem. Specially commissioned for the cutest train in the world.

The Stourbridge Shuttle is ten years old
so it’s time for a celebration
and to travel all the length of its network,
from Stourbridge Junction to Stourbridge Town station.

It’s part train, part tram, part genius
quirky, hard-working, unique
a metaphor for our region
making 1000 journeys a week.

The brainchild of Black Country boffins
up the road in Cradley Heath,
with an incredibly clever piece of kit
squirrelled away underneath.

The spinning flywheel gizmo thing
as it travels down the route
hoovers energy up* to help it climb back
efficient, dynamic. And cute.

As you travel to college, or pop down the shops
or make your way back from the pub
if you’re a train buff from Tampa or Tamworth
or off into town for some grub

you aren’t going to want your passport
though you can bring it if you choose
you won’t feel the need for a sleeper coach
but you’ve time for a three-minute snooze.

You see, Stourbridge has got something special.
The Shuttle. It’s out on the track
working the shortest branch line in Europe
from Town up to Junction and back.

A million passengers can’t be wrong.
That’s a fact. It’ll see no rebuttal
we’re every last one of us treated first class
when we sit ourselves down on the Shuttle.

There were seven wonders of the world.
The Black Country’s now made it eight.
Happy birthday, Stourbridge Shuttle!
You’re a belter. Yam bostin’. You’re great.

*It could just as easily be magic done by some bloke waving a wand. Or a squirrel. We’re poets, not engineers.

You can find a video of @bigstevepoet performing the poem here.

Top-notch, first-rate.

We’ve had some great times at Yes We Cant over the past two years, and last night’s poetry shindig was right up there with the best. It was one of those special evenings where everything fell perfectly into place. Narwhal notepads for competition winners (and how many poetry nights offer that?), a VAR decision on an open-mic poem, a stuffed rabbit collecting loose change for charity, and a Captain Morgan pint glass redistributing wealth. Phew.

As if that wasn’t enough, we also had the launch of the first ever Hundred Club poetry pamphlet – congratulations Jane James!! – and a headline set from Ben Davis which was just off the scale. Utterly superb. Clever. Witty. Hilarious. Poetry delivered at a hundred miles an hour, and then some. Turns out this was Ben’s first ever headline poetry gig. All we can say is that poetry promoters should be queueing up to offer him more. And to book Jane, too. You won’t regret it, they’re both ace.

Great things are happening in a Black Country back-street boozer, and we’re chuffed to bits about it. Get yourselves over to Walsall in October for more Yes We Cant magic. It might just change your life.

One in a hundred

Summer is time for two of our favourite traditions. One is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – we went, we gigged, we saw as many shows as we could handle, and we had a great time, thanks for asking. The other is the summer afternoon spent sitting in the beer garden, chewing the fat, and coming up with all sorts of new pandemonialist ideas.

What, we wondered, could we do to help raise the profile of poetry in the Black Country? How could we give a leg up to some of the talented poets whose work we enjoy? And how could we make it fun?

Well before last orders, we’d hatched a plan. The Hundred Club. What is it? Glad you asked. The Hundred Club is our venture into the wonderful world of poetry publishing. Every few months we’ll present the work of a poet or spoken word artist from the Black Country by producing a chapbook of the best of their work. There will be just 100 copies of each chapbook, individually numbered, and when they’re gone… they’re gone. Buy one of these, and you’ll have a collector’s item, a limited edition booklet to read, cherish, and possibly sell for millions when the poet in question becomes wildly, outrageously famous (which is what we’re all hoping for).

The first in this series is now at the printers. If all goes to plan, we’ll be launching it at Yes, We Cant in September when we return to the Pretty Bricks after our summer break. The Hundred Club is yet another good reason to make sure you pop down to one of the Midlands’ best poetry nights, soak up the atmosphere, enjoy what people have to say, and maybe share some words of your own.

Above all, Sunday September 1st is a date to cheer on Jane James as she becomes the first member of our Hundred Club, so put it in your diaries. And bring a fiver for a very special book.

Yes We Cant is Two Years Old

It seems only yesterday that we sat in a pub over a beer or three (or four) and had the bright idea of setting up a regular poetry night in Walsall, and to be honest we’re not entirely sure where the time’s gone. But this month, Yes We Cant is two years old.

That’s two years of bringing top-notch poetry and spoken word to our part of the Black Country, and it’s all been done without any kind of funding. What’s more, we took the conscious decision that Yes We Cant (like so many of the nights we put on) would be a pay-as-you-feel event, so that anyone could turn up, take a seat, and give poetry a try.

It’s not only worked, it’s worked splendidly. We’ve brought poets like Johnny Fluffypunk, Brenda Read-Brown, and Elvis McGonagall to the function room of a real ale pub (who’ve supported what we’re doing from day one, thanks) and packed that room out. We’ve had excellent support slots from poets as diverse as Nellie Cole, Casey Bailey, and Paul Francis, all with books to sell. We’ve given a platform to a huge number of local poets who’ve stepped up behind the mic for the first time at Yes We Cant, got bitten by the performance bug, and come back again and again and again.

And now, we are two. This Sunday we’ll be celebrating as only the pandemonialists can. So come along to the Pretty Bricks for another night of great entertainment, for inclusive, exciting, top-notch word wizardry. Our headliner will be the effervescent Joe Cook, while Graham Attenborough travels in from Shrewsbury to take the ‘Alf Ender slot. If you’ve never been before, drop in, we’d love to see you. All of you are welcome. Again and again and again.

The Saboteurs

Congratulations to all the winners of last weekend’s Saboteur Awards, and especially to all our friends who received an award or were on the shortlist for their genre. We know how much hard work you put into what you do and how passionate you are about it, and what a boost to morale it is to get a little recognition for all you’ve done. Whether you won or not, we hope being considered for these awards is a stepping stone to greater things, and that you’ve a spring in your step this morning and for weeks to come!

Awards, by their nature, can only turn their spotlight on a handful of individuals and organisations. So here’s a shout-out to all the people putting their heart and soul into keeping poetry and spoken word alive and kicking in the unsung towns and cities round the country. A shout-out to the wonderful nights we’ve been to in Doncaster, Morecambe, New Mills, Welshpool, Banbury, Leeds, Hull, and more. A shout-out to the audiences who support those nights, because without you we’re nothing. Poetry and spoken word has always been – and always will be, in our book – a wonderfully democratic art form, where everyone can make their voice heard, can share what matters to them, can listen to what matters to others.

So, whatever part you play in this poetry community, here’s an imaginary gold star from the pandemonialists to say Thank you. Pin it on your frock, your shirt, your dungarees, or hang it from your ear. Whatever takes your fancy, but wear it with pride! We’ll hope to see you at a poetry gig somewhere, very soon.

Cheers!

Busy

Oops. Almost the end of April, and we’ve just realised we haven’t written a blog for ages. Sorry about that. We’ve been busy. Yes, there’s the usual stuff – our fantastic Yes We Cant poetry night in Walsall, the wonderful Home & Away in Wolverhampton, and our own individual poetry gigs out and about round the country – but we’ve also got a couple of other projects on the go. Big ones. Exciting ones.

Thing is, we can’t really talk about those just yet. But that’s why we haven’t been typing blogs like this one for a while, and why this one is a little bit hasty, a little bit rushed. You know how it is – our ‘to-do’ list is monstrous at the moment, and – well, we’ve got to go. It’s about to eat the sofa.

See you soon at a poetry evening somewhere*, we hope!

*Walsall on May 5th, for example.

Thanks For All The Fish

Saturday December 29th, and it’s time for Poets, Prattlers, and Pandemonialists to settle down with our collective mug of cocoa and reflect on what we got up to in 2018. It’s fair to say we’ve had a blast, right from the first moment of the Wolves Lit Fest slam back in January through to our pop-up bookshop in Light House just a few days before Xmas.

We are absolutely passionate (when we’re not sitting around with our feet up, drinking cocoa) about taking poetry out to new places, and bringing new people to poetry, and this year we’ve done plenty of both. Our Black Country Broadsheet brought together some of the best performance poets in our region, and took poems and videos out into pubs and clubs, to hairdressers and tattoo shops. We continued to bring top-notch headline poets to our Walsall night Yes We Cant (where we rounded off the year with The Antipoet – one of the nation’s most outrageously talented and hilarious poetic acts) and we set up a quarterly event, Home & Away, at the Light House in Wolverhampton to create a brand-new platform for more voices who weren’t getting heard elsewhere.

When we weren’t busy with all that, we found time to take our Edinburgh show (yes, it was longlisted for a Saboteur Award, and our thanks to all those who nominated us) to venues round the country from Morecambe to Whitchurch to Frome. On top of that, we each fitted in gigs of our own – because we do have lives away from PPP – and Emma had a new collection launched, Steve co-wrote a punk autobiography, and Dave wrote a couple of plays. This autumn, we created the Mappa Mundi Poetica to highlight all the wonderful poets and poetry events across our region. And then, in case all that hadn’t been enough, we unleashed the ‘poet’ T-shirt on the world. As of now, it’s raising the profile of poets and poetry in about seventy different locations, in a range of sizes and colours. This makes us happy. Very happy.

Thanks, 2018. We’ve been busy, we’ve had fun, we’ve made new friends and we’ve heard new poetry voices. Perfect. Our thanks to each and every one of you for all your support, because we couldn’t do it without you. More of the same next year, please.

Happy new year from PPP!

Mappa Mundi Poetica

We’ve always been passionate about the West Midlands and inspired by the energy, drive,  and imagination of the people who live here. And we love being inspired by others, too.

So when we saw Scott Tyrrell’s beautifully-drawn map of poets on the UK spoken word scene, we were truly gobsmacked. We also knew it couldn’t possibly begin to reflect the wealth of activity and talent which is to be found here in the heart of the country. So we decided we’d create a map which showed that talent, a map which would include page poets and poetry activists and poetry nights as well as what’s happening in spoken word.

One month later, after a lot of work, our Mappa Mundi is ready, a resource for anyone who wants an overview of poetry activity in our region. You’ll find events to go to, and poets to watch out for. You’ll also find that the map is still – and always will be – a work in progress. Although we know a lot, we don’t know everyone or everything that’s going on. And poets are busy people, which means some of the ones we contacted haven’t replied yet. The beauty of our map is that it can change and evolve, so if a new night springs up, or another one closes its doors, or a local poet gets a book deal with Bloodaxe or Verve, the map can reflect that.

With a nod to history, and our tongue in our cheek, we decided to call this the Mappa Mundi Poetica Westus Midlandius. We know the latin is probably wrong, but that’s half the fun. The wonderful cover image – a masterpiece created by Midlands artist Catherine Pascall Moore – harks back to the original mappa mundi, but with a very modern twist. We hope you enjoy it, and that you find poets you know as well as ones whose work you hadn’t heard of.

The map is now ready to share. You’ll find it here: https://www.pandemonialists.co.uk/mappa-mundi/

P.S. Like we said, the latin’s probably wrong. But just look how enjoyable getting latin wrong can be: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIAdHEwiAy8