Friday, 18 June 2010

Q&A with Cambridge and London Based Spoken Word Artist - Hollie Mcnish

Let’s say Spoken Word poetry blew up, some fiery incarnate of a young Bob Dylan, a reflective Nina Simone and a love struck John Keats emerged from some trees in the city, and the whole world opened their eyes to the power and value of this art-form. Riding the crest of that gate-crashing wave would be ‘Hollie Mcnish’, passionately splattering verses into the open veins of the people.

I met Hollie in 2008, we’ve performed on the same stage numerous times and she’s certainly a hard act to follow. She’s a free flowing, internal rhyme scheming, conscious, empathetic and inspiring writer and Spoken Word artist. There’s magic in her voice, its slightly gravely but boldly feminine.

Recently she gave birth and composed an entire Spoken Word album called ‘Kick, Push’. In her own words it is “a journey through the beauty, brilliance and bollocks of having a baby”.

I’ve given it a listen and it was exactly what I wanted it to be, delicate but unrestrained, one of the most important things (in my opinion) in becoming a poet/song writer/ performer is being able to deliver your own truth and integrity, something that lacks in a lot of Rappers, emcees and young writers.

If there is any justice in the world, Hollie Mcnish’s star quality will not be overlooked.

Q. Hollie, it’s been a while! What in the world are you up to?

At the moment, in between watching in fascination as my daughter learns to talk and walk and smile, I'm in the final stages of my album 'Touch', which I've been recording over the last year. It’s a mix of poetry and some music / beats and skits. And I'm just trying to keep writing down as much as I can, though a lot of rhymes I think of but don't have the chance to write down and then forget! I'm playing at Glastonbury really soon, and then Latitude, Shambala, Fordham Fest and going to Secret Garden Party. That's about as much as I can manage at the moment without keeling over but I can't wait. I've never been to any except Glastobury so it should be an experience - especially with the wee one! I'm also doing some workshops with schools around Cambridge, on poetry and riverside developments which looks interesting. But mainly, I'm looking after my daughter, who'll be coming to all the gigs and classes with me so it should be a laugh! Oh, and I've got a residency lined up for next March in Belgium which I can't wait for cos I'm forgetting my French and I get really excited talking it!

Q. Giving birth has not stopped you from pursuing your career as a Spoken Word artist. Where does that type of faith stem from? How are you managing?

I’m managing alright thanks to a lot of help from my boyfriend of course, and mum! And the fact that my baby is a bloody amazing calm tree gazer at the moment! They both forced me to read out my poems to others at the start of it all and are really supportive in making sure I carry on with it...the longer I have a break between gigs the more nervous I get again – it’s not a good look! I don’t feel like I’m trying to pursue a career as a poet – I work for an urban planning / environmental charity and love that work but I find I express my ideas about stuff best in rhyme, always have. And now I’m kinda stuck between paths!! I love writing but I don’t think I’d be able to if I gave up my job or studies – cos that’s where I get what I write about. At the moment though, sleep takes priority over both!

Q. You’re shortlisted to represent British talent as a Spoken Word artist at an Australian Young Writers Festival. How can Spoken Word artists create these kinds of opportunities?

I know this is a stupidly practical answer but I find out about loads from two websites...arts council job ads and news and another writing website... And then apply for everything you want!

Q. What or who inspires your craft as a writer and performer?

To be honest, probably people who make me angry cos that’s when I feel I need to write to get out my frustration and sort out my thoughts into a more helpful form. so in that sense, Nick Griffin, George Bush, Uribe (Colombian president), Rupert Murdoch! I write a lot of softer poetry, more personal stuff too, but I hardly ever read it out – I don’t feel like people would be interested in that terms of poets, I don’t know too many to be honest, it’s more musicians and lyrics that I would sit and listen to for hours...i love taskforce, Erikah Badu, durrty goodz, arianna puello...too many to go into really.

Q. You come across as a street-wise young woman, what was your own upbringing like and how has this led to you being who and what you are today?

Ooh, not sure, don’t generally talk about family stuff but overall had a lovely, lucky, un-traumatic, blessed upbringing. All my family are from Glasgow or nearabouts but I was born in England which was always a bit strange being the one with a funny accent! I went to a normal school, was a bit of a geek in class, always desperate to learn. I studied at Cambridge, which taught me a lot about not being intimidated by people I used to - eg very rich, upper class etc etc. I lived in the French Caribbean for a year, then did a part time masters in development economics while working in a lovely wee clothes shop and less lovely night club to pay for, I guess, I’ve had a real mix of stuff and kinda learnt a bit off it all I think – lived on my own for 8 years which helps I reckon!

I remember we were both talking once about people who “don’t get what we do” and it’s hard when those people are your loved ones and close relatives? How understanding is the family now?

They vary! Some love it, others hate it, mainly because of the swearing, others I think don’t like the subject matter, but a lot just aren’t bothered either way – it’s not really a conversation topic most of the time. The only thing that is hard is when they start to pressure me to make it like a career, and then it stops being fun, and I stop thinking of poems!

Q. So many respected poets, writers and magazines have already tipped you to blow! You’re a fantastic inspiration and I’d like to see more of you… How you going to keep hungry?

Well, I’m flattered. I still find it kinda crazy cos I’ve been writing for so many years and now I’m reading to other people and they like it – well some like it! I love writing, I always have so I really don’t see it stopping. The only time I stopped was when I was at Uni for three years cos I got no inspiration at all. Was weird. But yeah, I write about everything and anything so unless we go into a black hole, I don’t think I’ll lose the hunger! And as for performing, the more I do it, the less nervous I get and the more bloody amazing people and places I meet. It’s a great turn in my life and I don’t want it to stop!



  1. LOVEiT! Great interview Ray. Hollie, keep on repping for the UK, you're an inspiration to many of us. Bless, Comfort

  2. I love your Q and A's, Ray, they're always really interesting; all power to you for the Qs and to the other poets for the As.