Melody Maker: Jemima Foxtrot

This week we throw the spotlight on a poet who I have been incredibly fortunate to share a stage and BBC TV screen with, the unique soundweaver, powerful poet, Jemima Foxtrot.

She mixes powerful, sonic heavy poetry about modern life with snippets of her favourite artists’ songs – as well as her own – in a belting singing voice that will knock you for six. She’s been shortlisted for the Arts Foundation Spoken Word Fellowship 2015, she’s performed at the Barbican in the company of Beck and Simon Armitage, she’s written a critically acclaimed poetry play, she’s featured  in the BBC Arts series ‘Women Who Spit’ (alongside yours truly) and  she’s currently touring the UK.

I caught up with Jemima Foxtrot and asked her about music, Melody and what makes a performer.

Jemima Foxtrot

When did you first start performing as a spoken word artist? Had you done other kinds of performing before that?

The first time I performed a spoken word poem was in my first year at the University of Manchester at the New Student Writing Society Open Mic Night. That was nigh on eight years ago. I did bits and bobs throughout uni but then stopped for a while. It really picked up again a couple of years ago. And yes, I used to do quite a lot of acting and was fronting bands between the ages of 14 and 18 (which I loved!) Performing is a big thrill for me and I now love that I get to be in control of and write all my own material.

What was your poetry ‘big break’?

I have Luke Wright to thank a lot for putting me up for certain opportunities. The big one was when I was shortlisted for the 2015 Spoken Word Arts Foundation Award. Luke nominated me for it and I was completely amazed that I was shortlisted, I never thought that would happen at all. The other people on the list (Hollie McNish, Ross Sutherland, Sabrina Mahfouz and Rob Auton) were really established, and rightly so – they’re all amazing! I felt pretty out of my depth. But yeah, that was a big one as I don’t think many people had heard of me before then!

You too were featured in the BBC TV series ‘Women Who Spit’ in 2015. The series, which was the highest viewed Arts content made by the BBC in 2015, featured five young female poets talking about social issues that matter most to young women.

1795633_10207035091460321_3102801918456624554_n

Here are all the ‘Women Who Spit’ at a BBC party, these are the faces we made after just having met Michael Palin.

Making the film for my poem ranks among one of the best experiences of my life.What was the experience like for you?

It was incredible! I love being given commissions, subjects to write on. It really sorts me out and gives me focus. I was given the subject of body image and got going straight away. I’m a bit of a daydreamer and have fantasised before about like, I don’t know, having a music video. Kate Mirashi’s vision for the piece was so inspired and complicated and wonderful and I just felt so lucky to be able to write and star in my own short film.

 How did you find out you got the gig?

I got a voicemail from Kate from the BBC basically just asking me to call her back. I did it, immediately of course. I think I was in my pyjamas drinking tea and it was pissing down outside.

What was it like filming it?

I had great fun filming it although I was reminded how tedious filming can be. I used to do a bit of TV work when I was an actor for a bit and there’s always lots of takes because some things just aren’t quite right. It’s a very different experience from performing live! It was also a bit weird because it was entirely filmed in my house. It was strange seeing bits of my room moved around to be in or out of shot.

What has the response been like?

The responses I’ve had about it have been amazing. I think issues of body image are all too common so people can really relate to it. I’ve had emails from strangers which have actually made me cry, just sort of letting me know that they’ve felt like that too and that they took a lot of comfort from it. One woman wrote that she couldn’t wait to show it to her daughters when they’re old enough.

p02q9vrs.jpg

Copyright BBC

You can view Jemima’s iPlayer film  here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02q67pw

And if you like poetry films by sassy, interesting women watch all 5 of the Women Who Spit series here:http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02q2wb3/episodes/player

 

Your show ‘Melody’ centres around the premise of using both song and poetry to tell its tale. How did that style develop? What is the show about?

As I said earlier, I have been both lead singer and actor in the past. I started writing and performing poetry and I missed the singing. I’m always singing to myself and I think that snippets of song woven in and out of poetry can be really powerful. It just became more and more of my style. Melody is a full-length poetry play: it explores the relationship between music and memory all told through a journey home from work. It’s a bit of a rollercoaster, emotionally, and is fairly autobiographical. I’m pretty over some of the sadder moments of my life that feature in the show now. I think that’s a result of doing it over and over again.

You took the show to Edinburgh and got called ‘spine-tingling’ by the Scotsman!!! What was it like being in Edinburgh for the festival? How was the response to the show?

Edinburgh was amazing! Melody was the first show I’d ever taken up there and we did it for the full run. I was lucky in that I had my amazing co-writer, director and friend Lucy Allan up there with me for a good half of it so it didn’t get too lonely. I was trying (and mainly failing) to do a part time job ‘from home’ during the festival (never again!) It was up and down, sometimes we had a full house and once I performed it to just one person – although that was quite a lovely and intimate experience in the end, the one woman who came that day loved it.

Any Edinburgh horror stories?

Waking up every day and flyering was 21 individual, daily horror stories. I hated the flyering. Hated it.

You did a gig with Beck! Explain yourself- how did that come about?

Oh yeah, that was pretty amazing! And the only thing that consoled me for not getting in to Glastonbury last year (same weekend). Well, it boils down to a couple of people having some staggering faith in me, and believing I could meet the challenge of writing a poem and performing it in the Barbican main hall. I felt incredibly lucky, like I was in another world. It was an honour to be on stage alongside incredible big-name poets like Simon Armitage, Don Paterson and Sam Riviere too.

Any advice to young people interested in getting into spoken word performing?

Take every opportunity you get. Work breeds work. Get loads of people to see you and what you do, you’re never sure where it will lead. Read more, be strict with yourself on that. Listen to music. Walk and say yes to parties. Remember to surprise your audience – keep them on their toes!

 

Glastonbury Quick fires:

Camping or campervan?

Camping, although if I could drive and if I had a campervan it’d probably be campervan. Carry more booze in that way eh?

Shangri-La or Healing Fields?

Both?! Healing Fields can heal me after my night at Shangri-La.

She-wee or not she-wee?

She-weeeeee! Of course.

Adele or Ahhhh-don’t?

Meh. I’m not that bothered to be honest. Big respect to her though, the woman can sing.

What are you most looking forward to at this year’s festival?

My favourite thing about festivals in general is staggering around, smiling with people and discovering surprises. I’m going to stay free!

 

The line-up: the owls are here…

FINALLY… it’s time to unleash the owls.The Poetry&Words full line-up is here.

poster_BLOG_FINAL

 

We’ve got the incredible Jodi Ann Bickley (the genius behind the One Million Lovely Letters project). We’ve got Elvis McGonagall and Attila the Stockbroker. We’ve got headline sets from John Hegley and Buddy Wakefield and Tanya Evanson. AND a full parliament of owls worth of poets more for you to look forward to. Check out the full line-up below and roll on June.

Thanks to Scott Tyrrell for the gorgeous poster.

Jess Green, Mischief Thief

The first line-up announcement from Poetry&Words is on its way and what better way to celebrate than to interview the first of our announced acts for 2016 the sensational, library-storming, fist-pumping, Gove-bashing luminaries that are  Jess Green and the Mischief Thieves.

To celebrate their return to Poetry&Words for another year of political tales and beautiful sounds I caught up with Jess Green- poet, political activist, (and soon to be) playwright.

Jess Green and The Mischief Thieves 5.jpg

 

You’ll be performing on the Poetry&Words stage with your band, The Mischief Thieves this year (Dave Morris on drums and Scott Cadenhead on guitar) when did you start working with music and how did you get together?

I started working with the band about 3 years ago, we had a different guitarist back then. We started working together because Dave’s my boyfriend and he had a mate who was a guitarist so we just started putting some of my poems to music and seeing if they worked. Both our previous guitarists were mates of his who he played with in rock bands. We took our first show up to Edinburgh in 2013 and were astonished by the positive response we got. At that point we felt more like a group who were delivering a show (I felt a bit silly calling us a band when I certainly cannot sing!) whereas now I think we definitely feel like a band. I don’t know, maybe we just get more gigs than we used to! I should say too that our current guitarist, Scott joined us 18 months ago and he’s brilliant.

Many will know you from your widely circulated video ‘Dear Mr Gove’ and you recently toured your show Burning Books all about schools and education, politics and people. The issues it addresses feel so vital and are clearly in response to the current government, what draws you to these topics and what has the response been like?

I became really interested in education after I graduated from university and started working part time in a school library (I wasn’t a librarian – I was a ‘reading champion’). It was the first time I had been back in a school since being a student. My mum, sister and brother in law are all teachers and I think it just gave me a different perspective on the job. I was also writing a lot of political poems at the times and doing some union and trade union gigs which meant I was meeting a lot of teachers. When I began working as a poet and delivering workshops in school I sat in many staff rooms and spent a lot of time talking to teachers. The more poems I wrote about education the more teachers I met at my gigs and it became (and still is) self-sustaining. Every time we did the show on the tour or every time I perform a poem about education at a gig someone comes to talk to me about teaching and schools and I feel like I get updates on the latest massive change or move of the goal posts.

In terms of the politics, I grew up in a very political family, my mum and dad used run campaigns for Labour Party councillors out of our front room from when I was a baby. I don’t know if I really became interested in politics though until my late teens/early twenties and that was certainly cemented when this government came in.

Hear Jess Green take on Michael Gove here

She’s also pretty good at taking down Nicky Morgan here

Jess Green

You’re currently adapting your spoken word show ‘Burning Books’ into a stage play with Arts Council Funding. AMAZING! What has the process been like so far? What are the challenges and rewards of adapting and writing a new work?

Argh. You’re asking me this when I’m in a bit of a dip with it and feel like WHAT HAVE I SIGNED UP TO?! It’s one of those things where one day I’m like ‘this is amazing’ and the next day I want to give up.

But trying to be a bit more objective – overall I reckon I’m really enjoying it. It’s been fun to look at all of the characters who are in the Burning Books show, pull them out and flesh them in to real people with back stories, fears and favourite foods. Which I’m not sure they did when they were just characters in 5 minute poems.

I’m learning a lot about theatre (and how little I actually know about theatre). I’m reading a load of plays and working out what I like and what I really don’t like (I would happily be sat down and have Waiting For Godot explained to me).

I think it’s coming together. I think it should be good. Watch this space.

Any touring horror stories?

Oh god. Years ago I did a gig and the person had promised me some accommodation. Which turned out to be her younger brother who had no electricity and 3 giant desert rats which roamed the house.

I didn’t stay there.

As if all that weren’t enough…You also run a night in Leicester, Find The Right Words. Having been lucky enough to come as a guest poet what I loved about it was what a great sense of community there was around the event and having a writing workshop before. What have you learnt from hosting a night yourself? What’s enjoyable/challenging about it?

I started running Find The Right Words 3 years ago and for the first two it was a hard old slog. The past year we’ve really managed to build a community of people who come back each month either to watch, or perform or take part in the workshop. It’s lovely to see people who come along for the first time just to check it out, then come along the following week to take part in the open mic and then come back again and again until they’re a real regular.

Money is always an issue. I want to pay the acts what they should be paid (legally and morally!) which means we need quite a bit of money. I had to put our ticket prices up last year which was a difficult decision to make. But no-one wants to fund a poetry night. If you know anyone who does, send them my way, please!

I think the thing with running a night like this, particularly if you’re in a city that doesn’t have a particularly big arts scene or poetry scene (which Leicester didn’t when FTRW first started) then you have to be prepared for a slog and the stress and the regular humiliation when your headline act cancels or you’ve got no-one for the open mics or your audience consists solely of your mum and dad. You have to keep going because eventually, hopefully, it will develop in to something really great. Which I think FTRW has.

More info on Jess’s brilliant night: Find the Right Words 

4534c6_403ab26139f74722a400b25249e18887

What or who are you most looking forward to seeing at Glastonbury this year?

I wish I could give you an answer which would make me look cooler than I am.

I’ll be honest – I’ve not heard of most of the music acts on this year. However, I would like to see Adele, Jake Bugg and Sigur Ros. But I like just wandering around Glastonbury. I like having an ostrich burger, being dragged to see a band who turn out to be alright, having a walk around Shangri La (before it all becomes a bit much and I have to go back to my tent). I always enjoy Left Field. My friend Grace Petrie’s playing there this year and she’s brilliant. There are some great poets on too – Luke Wright, Buddy Wakefield, Jemima Foxtrot. Oh, and last year I discovered the organic wine tent, which later led to me spraining my ankle.

 

Quick Fire Glastonbury Qs

Headliner: Corbyn or Coldplay?

Corbyn.

Silent Disco or Silent DisNO?

Silent disco (I’ve never been to one)

She-wee or long drop?

I can’t use a she – wee, I get too nervous. So long drop.

Favourite Glastonbury stage/field/place?

I should say poetry tent, shouldn’t I?

I do love the poetry tent. And this year’s line up looks cracking.

Apart from that I reckon Left Field. Just to be the massive cliché that I am.

 

Cracking questions by the way, Megan!

x

 

‘Raise Your Game’: Poetry&Words catches up with official on-site artist 2016,Scott Tyrrell

It gives me MASSIVE pleasure to announce that the official on-site artist, easel magician, painter/poet person for Poetry&Words this year is the inimitable Scott Tyrrell.

I sat down (virtually) with BBC Slam Champion, graphic designer, last year’s blogger and generally wonderful human and caught up on all things Glastonbury 2016.

Scott Tyrrell by James Sebright

You so successfully helmed the Poetry&Words blog last year Scott, I’m a bit nervous to be honest in taking over the reins. What did you most enjoy about last year’s festival and your tenure as Poetry &Words blogger?

I was also exceptionally nervous being last year’s blogger as I had to follow in the footsteps of Deanna Rodger, Hollie Mcnish and Annie Mcgann. The joy of the job last year was getting to know the poets through interviews like these. The unique quality of Glastonbury Poetry is that it not only hires poets with real skill at writing, performing and crowd control but they’re usually very nice people who exist as a flamboyant dysfunctional family for the duration of the festival. I really wanted to interview as many of those sweeties as possible last year as I personally find the most interesting thing about the artist is the human drive behind them. I was lucky enough to get jewels of replies from everyone I asked and I discovered quickly that if you ask the right questions to writers and performers, you don’t have to write blogs at all. They write them for you!

But in all seriousness, Megan, you’re a pro. You’ve played the Albert Hall. Mary Beard counts you as a friend. You’re fastidious to a fault. You’ll be fine!

You’re now going to be the official on-site artist for the Poetry&Words stage this year. What will that entail? Last year you were live sketching poets for the blog as they performed. Can we look forward to that again?

As artist-in-residence I’ll be designing the poster again and I’ll be bringing my easel, paper, charcoal and pencils to the festival with the aim of getting as many likenesses of the poets down on paper as possible. They’ll be long but hopefully ecstatically satisfying days.

Your illustrations of the poets of Glastonbury as owls are legendary. When did you first start drawing people as owls? Why owls?

A few years back my wife wanted me to create some artwork for the house and insisted upon an owl theme (she just has a thing about owls). We’re both literary types (Melissa teaches English) so I came up with the idea of ‘Greater-Spotted British Authors’ – kind of like a Victorian scientific ornithology poster but with owl-ised authors. Between our family we democratically selected twelve authors through the ages we wanted included in the poster (which took a week of arguments).

Owls.jpg

After the artwork was completed I uploaded it to Facebook and was quickly inundated with requests for prints. Since then I’ve created a Greater-Spotted Children’s Authors poster, artwork for scientific owls and many commissions from people wanting themselves or their loved ones owl-ised.

Helen at Glastonbury Poetry was one of the first people to buy one of my posters and hired me in 2014 to design the Poetry&Words poster with owls in mind. The response was overwhelmingly positive, so much so that last year there was a slight poetic riot at the news that I was blogging instead of owling! But some poets still managed to sweet talk me into drawing one for them 😉

My ‘Greater-Spotted’ posters and other merchandise are available to purchase online here:

https://society6.com/scotttyrrell

Alongside your work in graphic design and illustration you are an incredibly entertaining and successful performance poet and you’ll also be performing over the weekend. You won the 2015 BBC Poetry Slam title in Edinburgh last year. What was the experience like?

Unreal. To add context to it, I’ve been a performance poet since the year 2000. I’d won a handful of big-ish slams around the country and a lot of local ones but I was still generally not that well known outside of the Tyneside poetry scene. That all changed last August. I was unduly surprised to win my heat at the Edinburgh Fringe, and bowel-looseningly alarmed to discover I’d be competing in the final on that iconic BBC Festival stage against Paula Varjack, Dan Simpson and Toby Campion – and the whole thing was being filmed and streamed live on BBC Arts! Ultimately my only plan was to try and look like I was worthy enough to be there. But with such capable and gracious talent up there with me – and with slam outcomes by their nature being chaotic and arbitrary – any one of us could have been holding that trophy that night. But I’m damn grateful it was me. Special mention must go to Sophia Walker for setting the thing up in the first place – a mammoth job!

The best result is the sea of paid gigs I’ve been offered since then, including hosting the slam at StAnza, Scotland’s international poetry festival and high profile charity gigs standing alongside north east legends Lindisfarne and Jason Cook, writer of BBC2’s Hebburn. Amazing times.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03131gv

You also won the Anti Slam poetry competition. Can you explain, for the uninitiated, what the competition is and who exactly is Malcolm Odour?

I love the Anti-slam – a genius idea set up by Paula Varjack and Dan Simpson. The concept is simple: Worst poet wins. Good established poets battle it out to score the lowest in a slam. They write the most hilariously horrendous performance poem they can and perform it with all the cringeworthy brilliance they can muster. Most good performance poets find it hugely liberating. They’ve had to sit through so much tedious doggerel over the years at poetry gigs – so many dreadful rhyming structures, icky topics, bad stage craft. So ultimately it can be a therapeutic distillation of all that dross into a car crash comic vignette. It’s become so successful they’re a good number of cities taking part for a place in the national final now.

Malcolm Odour is my Anti-Slam character. It was far easier for me to invent him then just run with him in mind. Malcolm is a 40 year old virgin who lives with his less than supportive mother. He’s a romantic at heart but unable to form relationships with girls due to his awkwardness and unfortunate habit of stalking them first. He was unnervingly easy to write for! All of those lines you would instantly dismiss as clunky or icky – they stay in and you turn them right up to 11.

It was quite an experience to win the final – being crowned worst poet in Britain still makes me grin.

You are great comic poet and also write powerfully about topics such as fatherhood, what kind of things have you been writing about recently?

More of the same really, as my family are very much my world. But a lot of political stuff has been creeping in lately due to the ineptitude and cruelty of the most destructive Conservative government since Thatcher’s tenure.

What or who are you most looking forward to seeing at Glastonbury this year?

I’ve been a massive fan of Madness since the early eighties but I’ve never seen them perform live. So definitely them. And Corbyn if I can. And ELO. And Cyndi Lauper. I’m old.

Anything exciting upcoming performances or projects?

A fair few gigs coming up round the country. My first Bang Said the Gun gig is in May alongside Salena Godden (eek!). Doing WOMAD in July. Got a Hammer & Tongue slam in Bristol in July and a H+T tour later in the year.

Quick Fire Glastonbury Qs

Headliner: Corbyn or Coldplay?

Corbyn, Duh!

Festival food of choice?

Square Pies with mash and gravy, hence my recent curvature.

Favourite Glastonbury stage/field/place?

Naturally Poetry & Words, as it has lovingly embraced me as a fixture in recent years. I love the night buzz of the Pyramid when the sun starts to drop below the Tor in the distance. I like the closeness of the West Hoults stage and I always take a pilgrimage to the top of the hill where they erect the Glastonbury letters – usually at sunset – just to watch the madness of the temporary city below bathed in horizontal golden light.

Glastonbury in 3 words?

Raise your game.