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.
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).
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:
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.
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?
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.