Monday, 2 August 2010

Q&A with London and Brighton based Spoken Word artist - Simon Mole

Simon Mole calls himself a Spoken Word artist, an emcee and a Hip-Hop Theatre artist. I first met Simon in 2008 at an Apples and Snakes open mic gig. He gave me his CD and I gave it a listen. It was all UK Hip-Hop and was in the same vein as many of the UK Rappers I’d known about such as Task Force, Brain Tax, Jhest etc. Although his overall individual talent was evident; I was most interested in his lyrics. I bumped into him again in 2009 at a writing workshop with Jean Binta Breeze and we clicked. He’s one of the hungriest, raw talented Spoken Word artists I know and he’s going to blow! Trust me!

Yo Simon! You legend! Introduce yourself!

Errr… yeah… I’m Simon. I’ve got a skinhead at the moment, but I only got it done because I had to. Me and my mate Josh have been making a video for a piece I wrote called ‘the say yes think no syndrome’ and if you ever get to see it you’ll understand why I had to get the clippers out. Suffice to say, a short back and sides with a bowl cut over the ears probably isn’t a good look once the need to retain it for continuity purposes has passed…

Q. You came to Spoken Word as a UK Hip-Hop emcee; do you find you’ve become more of a Spoken Word artist these days?

Yeah I do man, definitely. It’s taken me a fair while to feel comfortable defining myself in that way, and I still sometimes feel a bit self-conscious about calling myself a poet. But basically I think it’s pretty crucial to be actively and consistently doing something if you’re going to put yourself out there as that thing – simply looking at what I’ve written and what gigs I’ve done in the last year or so it’s pretty clear to me that I’m more of a spoken word artist than an emcee right now…

That said, rap is poetry, and all genre distinctions are meaningless. Ha ha! I’m not normally one for sweeping statements like that but fuck it, labels can be helpful if you put together event listings or own a record shop but beyond that fuck em. I was at this college the other day about to start a gig/workshop thing for about 200 14 year olds and I kicked off by asking them what they thought of poetry - out of the ‘like’, ‘think it’s ok’, and ‘think it’s rubbish’ options I gave them, the vast majority went for ‘think it’s rubbish’ which was funny but kind of mad really. And then I asked them if they liked rap music and most of them did – when I told them I thought rap was poetry they all looked at me like I was a complete lunatic… I mean I’m not saying 50 cent is on some Ted Hughes shit, and to be fair that kind of mainstream rap is probably what them kids are listening to, but still I mean by broadening their idea of what might be poetry surely there’s the chance of opening the idea for them that poetry of any kind might speak to them on some level, and once you’ve done that who’s to say they won’t actually get into something they might not have otherwise…

Anyway, I digress, so yeah, I AM A POET, and now ousted as such to anyone smart enough to read your wonderful blog Ray.

Q. Your work is sharp in observation and touches the rawest nerves of our human habits – is this technique something you developed or something you naturally discovered was within your ability?

Thanks man. It’s a good time for me to hear you to say that, because lately I’ve been getting the fear a little bit that my work isn’t poetic enough whatever that means, because even though I know there’s poetry inherent in the everyday shit around us which I tend to focus on, I do wish I found myself coming up more often with those wildly poetic images that just seem to pour out of some people. But yeah, I’ve worked on my technique man, of course, so maybe I just need to hone up my ‘wildly poetic image’ abilities now! That said, I should probably also stay strong in my belief that by selecting certain details of that everyday stuff and presenting them with enough space for people to grow their own thought processes around the work, poetry that observes those tiny, important and often unnoticed details can impact in a big way too, just via a different route.

Pushing myself to develop my writing was something I was finding hard to do through music for a while, and through spoken word I started thinking a lot about sensory observational stuff and did hone that skill up intentionally I guess, off the back of a few workshops like that one you mentioned, and just thinking about what I thought was good in the writing that I liked by other people.

I think I work quite visually, like quite often when I’m writing a piece I’ll have a particular place, or atmosphere or ‘feel’ associated to that place, in my mind as a kind of guide – if a line or idea doesn’t fit with the feel of that place then it doesn’t go in. Maybe kind of linked to that, I really enjoy writing using photos or film clips as kind of prompts or source material, a bit like I imagine a painter might if they want to create a realistic impression of a place, thing, person, whatever, even if they then move away from that realistic representation it’s good to have it as a foundation to start with.

I also do a lot of writing exercise man, from books and shit, sometimes to start something new off, or sometimes using little exercises I have myself for helping other people get through writing blocks in workshops, and just using them to help me get through my own blocks – it’s mad how long it took to think about doing that really, I remember Jonzi D saying to me I should think about how I approach teaching/supporting other people’s creative processes when creating my own stuff, I even plan myself little writing workshops sometimes man, with warms up and everything, I’m a proper geek for this shit, ha ha! Some people are a bit funny about exercises and that, like it should all just come to you natural in a spark of inspiration or something but I figure if you can do something you enjoy, and it will almost certainly improve your writing then surely you gonna jump on that right?! In fact, there’s one book you recommended me Ray, called ‘the practice of poetry’ which is quite a good one.

Q. I came to see your one man Spoken Word show at The Albany and you blew me away, it was genuinely amazing. Do you think one-man shows are the way forward for the Spoken Word genre?

They’re certainly the way forward for me at the moment man. I don’t know about for the genre as a whole man, I guess if everyone started doing one man shows instead of shorter pieces then maybe the market would get saturated or some shit, who knows? People should do it if they want to man, not to push the genre – if that’s your sole start point for making something I’m guessing it might not be so much fun… For me, making theatre, you know, devising new theatre that draws influences and methods from different art-forms has been something I’ve been into for years, and doing it like this is the most satisfying way of doing that for me right now. But as well as that, yeah, if some people within the spoken word ‘scene’ make some longer work, thinking more consciously about the theatrical side of it, and that then has an impact on other artists to think about their own work in a different way, or if in any way shows like say Inua Ellam’s thing being on at the national, mean that people become interested in spoken word who might not have otherwise then yeah that’s wicked. So in a way maybe it is pushing the genre so much as the genre exists at all in any concrete static way, just in terms of expanding what people think spoken word can be… But yeah, just read back your question and you didn’t even say pushing the genre at all, ah well…

Q. Where do you see yourself as a Spoken Word artist in five years?

Wow, tough question. It’s funny man because whenever I ask young people to do something like that, you know thinking about their life in five, ten years I always try to do it for myself as well at the same time to remind myself what a hard thing it is to do! I think I have an idea where I’d like to be, but the path to making a relatively stable and sustainable career as a writer is definitely an ongoing journey rather than one with a definite end point for most people.

For me, I guess to be in a position where the majority of my income comes from my own writing and performing would be amazing, mainly just because that would mean that the majority of conventional ‘work hours’ could be spent doing that type of thing, and also just because it would make me feel good. Then again I wouldn’t want to lose the education and community arts project stuff totally because I love it man. As of now, I feel genuinely lucky that I’m in a position where I’m able to make my living from a combination of writing, gigging and workshops you know what I mean? And regardless of the fact that most of my money comes from workshops really, I still manage to work it so a decent chunk of my Monday to Friday time is spent doing stuff I would actively want to do in my spare time around a ‘proper’ job if I still had one… I guess it’s good to appreciate where I am now, as well as aiming for stuff in the future you know, otherwise you can get somewhere and already be thinking about the next thing to the point that you don’t really appreciate the moment you just worked your arse off to get to. Haven’t answered that at all have I?!

Q. Can you tell us about the education/community projects you are currently involved in and how you got involved in running workshops initially?

My main focus on that front in the last few months has been a project for Guys and St Thomas’s charity which has involved me working with the porters at the hospital, getting them to write poetry. It’s been an amazing project man, they’re a safe bunch as well – they do such an important job, and in some ways it’s easy for that to go unnoticed within the hospital. The main aim of the project was to celebrate that good job they already do, by giving them a voice through the poetry they write – a lot of them had never done anything like it before but we ended up with contributions from seventeen members of their team in the end, some of them were proper good too! There’s going to be an exhibition of the poems in the atrium in the hospital which we’re launching on national poetry day in October, and this dope illustrator Jess Wilson is working with the poems so they’re going to look amazing too! You can check more on their website here:

As for how I got involved in workshops, working with young people in some way has always been something I’ve done, kind of like my real job career path alongside my music and theatre stuff until they started to merge. And even way way back when I was in Brighton youth theatre as, well, a youth, we used to run workshops for other kids back then too, so it’s always been part of my creative process really if I think about it. Around the time I was at uni I did a lot of work with a drama therapist too for quite a while, which was pretty full on at points but definitely really rewarding, and taught me a lot about a lot of things. I guess I was in a position where by the time I started to think about wanting to get paid for running workshops, I’d already been doing it for ages in some way, you know, volunteering and work experience and just doing it for fun really man. The more poetry-based workshops have come along more recently, but particularly with them I really feel that breaking down how I create in order to try and give other people a route into writing for the first time has helped me grow my own writing too, in a way I might not have done otherwise… In some ways, maybe I’ve got more natural talent for teaching than writing so it can be a case of ‘teaching’ myself at points, which might sound like a kind of weird approach but it works for me!

Q. So then, would you say the educational route is the best way to find financial stability as a Spoken Word artist?

For me it certainly has been (up to the point that I am financially stable anyway!) and I think that it’s definitely a really amazing way to support yourself as an artist because you still get to do the thing that you love, well, help other people do it anyway- actually, that tiny distinction is why its so important to get the balance right man. If you just do ‘intro to hip hop’ workshops five days a week, pretty soon you’re going to be coming home not feeling like writing yourself you know? It’s a privilege to be able to run workshops for kids and get paid for it man, so it’s important to make sure your creatively satisfied yourself outside of that environment too.

Also, I guess it’s just not for some people, if you don’t like work with kids, or you get impatient if someone ‘doesn’t get it’ or you don’t like listening to slightly out of time 8 bar raps by 15 year olds then maybe not eh?!

I think for me, the way forward is targeting the type of work I try to get, like for instance this thing at guys involved a writing commission for me, and the whole thing stretched out over a few months so it afforded me a little stability as well being something that fulfilled me creatively as an artist as well an arts practitioner. I know it’s a small difference but being an artist or writer who runs education or community projects as well, is very different to being a teacher who tries to do their own shit on the side, you know what I mean? Happy to say I’m definitely in the first camp now, but I’ve had to work hard to make that transition and I’m aware that it’s a fluid thing that could change depending what work there is about.

Q. What gigs you got lined up?

I’m hosting a little homegrown festival that some good mates of mine put on in a very picturesque valley near Bath every year. It’s called Hamswell and is the friendliest a friendly little festival can be – if you’re free the weekend of 13th – 15th August and fancy some great music, workshops, local farm barbecues and some good old fashioned unhinged revelry then take a look at the website:

Think I’m back at Chill Pill at the end of august too – props to you guys for that night man, definitely establishing itself nicely as a great place to try out and see new work, as well as a spot to see established artists for free, so yeah good work to y’all on that!

Also, September and October are looking exciting for me, really exciting actually – been waking up early some mornings and not being able to get back to sleep due to an excessively active ideas and plot-hatching portion of my brain! Basically, I’ve been redeveloping that spoken word show you saw at the albany in March – this time around it’s called ‘Indiana Jones and the extra chair’, I’m billing it as ‘the least dreaded family gathering of the year’ and a buffet supper will be provided inclusive of the ticket price, but I’m going to ask that in return people bring along their own memories of food-based family get-togethers…

Anyway, I’ve got the preview for it at The Freeword Centre on Friday September 17th, which is going to be free and a good chance for me to get some feedback on the material in a theatre space before doing a three night run of it in ‘the dinner room’ at a really cool traditional little pub called ‘the calthorpe arms’ on the Grays Inn Road. The dates for that are Wednesday 30th September, Thursday 31st September, and Friday1st October. Anyone interested should either hit me up on my myspace or email for more info…

Q. How can we access more of your work? – I just googled you and got a dead website about nothing!

Yeah, I know the website you mean and it is nothing to do with me man! I always fear people will check it out and think the cartoon of the dude in the west brom shirt, which he then takes off for some reason, is me. It’s not. I should have a website up in the not too distant future though, but a mate is putting together for me for free so it’s inevitably taking a little longer. Matthew Baker if you’re reading this, get your arse in gear man! So yeah, for now, my myspace page is the best place really –

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