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.
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.
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
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?
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!