Ahead of our upcoming gig as part of Liverpool Acoustic Festival, we asked some of the participating poets and musicians to tell us what they were most looking forward to about the evening, what we should be listening out for and what’s exciting them about heading to Liverpool. Here’s Part 1 of the interview, Part 2 to come next week…
Phrased & Confused is all about mixing up music and spoken word, creating gigs and festival experiences that are a little bit quirky. Why are you excited to be part of that? Why should people come along to the festival gig on 18 March?
Ana Silvera: Funnily enough, I was brought up in a more wordy than music-y family, and my first love was literature and poetry. So I am excited and intrigued to check out the spoken word programme at Liverpool Acoustic Festival. Early on, I briefly flirted with the idea of incorporating spoken word into my music (my childhood party trick was reciting the whole of Ice T’s ‘Back on the Block’), but I don’t think it’s a particular talent of mine! I’ll stick with the music-making.
Luke Wright: It’s really selfish (i’m not going to go on about how great the gig is, it is, but…) but I just love working with my contemporaries! I’m so used to touring around solo shows on my own it’s just really fun for me to take the stage with so many talented people. We’ll probably have a few beers after as well.
Lizzie Nunnery (who is writing a new piece for the gig): Working with Phrased & Confused has been a huge inspiring challenge for me. Having worked as a playwright for a decade I’ve always been really interested in the different directions live performance can be pushed. It was great to be given a provocation as bold as ‘How might spoken word, live music and digital art work together?’ It’s probably the first time I’ve taken on a commission genuinely not knowing what the process would be or where it would lead me as a writer. For a long time I’ve been performing live as a musician and incorporating spoken word in to my set, but the length of this piece means I’ve been able to go much further in crafting a narrative, drawing together images and themes, sparking off the Mersey poets’ renderings of Liverpool. It’s been wonderful working with composers Vidar Norheim and Martin Heslop alongside digital maker Adrian McEwen to push the piece beyond a poem set to music, turning it in to a proper little show that hopefully uses visuals and audio in a surprising way. It seems fitting that the work of Adrian Henri is the main reference for the piece: I like to think he’d approve of the experiment!
Why do you think music and spoken word are such good bedfellows?
Luke: I think we engage with them in similar ways. Songs and poems arrest you in the moment and then linger for days, sometimes years, afterwards.
Asma Elbedawi: I think for me it’s about the words, it’s the lyrics in music that evoke some kind of emotion be it joy or sadness. And the same with spoken word, So naturally both spoken word and music are in some ways related.
Lizzie: If spoken word sits somewhere between music and lyrics that only makes it a more flexible and fluid. The style and tone of a spoken word piece might draw on hip hop or beat poetry or Wordsworth or all three and that’s exciting because it opens up the form to a wide audience and for me it suggests there are fewer rules. All poetry has it’s own rhythm and music so giving text a sound track to interact with makes perfect sense and blurring the two genres can mean you end up with work that’s brilliantly weird.
And for those in our audience who don’t know much about you and what you do, what should they expect? And is there a piece of yours that you’d recommend for a first time watch or listen?
Lizzie: Musically expect elements of folk, jazz, in this case maybe blues, maybe some more synthetic sounds… Beyond that expect story telling, journeys through the city, unusual instrumentation. Maybe look at spoken word tracks released with Vidar Norheim: Company of Ghosts and The Sleepers.
Asma: I think my poems mostly stem from experiences; I like to be as honest as I can with my writing, if my feelings change later on it doesn’t matter, so for that reason I wouldn’t say I have a specific style yet. Every poem has its own character and story, so you can expect to experience different styles and themes. Headliner was the first poem I recorded. I tried to get into spoken word scene several times, because I was volunteering with a organisation that brought in a lot of male poets from the USA, I really wanted a chance to perform at one of their events but I kept being told I can’t, in the end I was told it was a). Because I was a women, and b) I probably wouldn’t sell out a hall, and not to take it personally, it’s just business. So a while later I went into Studio12 in Leeds who have been extremely supportive since the BBC WordsFirst workshops and they helped me record Headliner. I went home that afternoon and put it on my Facebook, I was sooo overwhelmed by the response I got and a lot of females mailed me saying they experienced similar injustices in the workplace etc and that encouraged me to then record my second video, “Her Song”.
Who else on the Phrased & Confused bill are you particularly looking forward to seeing?
Lizzie: It all looks great but I’ve wanted to see Holly McNish live for a long while. I love the force and directness of her style, the political bite, the unapologetic attitude, the wonderful musical feel for language. Can’t wait to see her perform.
Luke: All of them. But it’s always nice to gig with my pal Hollie McNish. We both have little kids so it’s a rare night off!
Asma: I have been in Tanzania since December and I’m back a week or so before the performance, so I’ve not yet met my fellow Words First finalists, so I’m definitely excited about Isaiah Hull. I think the line up is amazing so it’s difficult to pinpoint anyone else in particular,
What do you love most about Liverpool, or what are you most excited about in terms of your visit to the Acoustic Festival?
Ana: The last time I was in Liverpool, I played at the Tate and it was wonderful to get to check that out, and the waterfront, though it was very brief. So this time, I’m looking forward to stay overnight and having a bit of time to see the city, the Unity Theatre, the Royal Philharmonic as well as more of the festival on Saturday!
Luke: Liverpool is one of the cities I’ve gigged in most. My pal Ross Sutherland used to run gigs in Liverpool so I have many happy memories of performing at FACT centre and then getting the 2am coach back to London to go back to my shitty temp job, dreaming that one day I might be able to do this as a job. I love the two cathedrals and streets that surround them. I’m not a fan of the Liverpool One development. Yuk. Shame it had to be homogenised like that. But I still love this city.
Asma: Haha I think I have been to Liverpool 2 times in my life, once on a school trip in primary school where we got to ride the ferry and visit the aquarium and another to get my passport renewed. So I’m excited to actually see the city properly this time and check out what the city has to offer lyrically.
Lizzie: I’m from Liverpool so I love it in an intense and complicated way. It’s not perfect but sometimes it’s magic and so often I feel lucky to come from somewhere so warm, vibrant, so full of stories. If I had to choose one thing I love most I’d say… how difficult it is to feel lonely. There’s always someone trying to catch your eye, start a conversation, give you advice whether you like it or not. It’s a great place to live if you like people.
Read Part 2 next week…