Interview: Rally & Broad - 'I look forward to sitting on a bench together in the Meadows when we are 65, wearing enormous hats and swearing at pigeons, feeling immensely proud'
Jenny Lindsay and Rachel McCrum on Rally & Broad ending, and what's next for the spoken word artists
After four years, Edinburgh's literary-flavoured cabaret of spoken word and music Rally & Broad is coming to an end. We caught up with hosts Rachel McCrum and Jenny Lindsay to find out why R&B is shutting shop, what they're up to next, and where fans of the Edinburgh literati can get their fill of spoken word now.
With Rally and Broad is coming to an end, what projects are you both moving on to?
Jenny: I’m really delighted to announce that I’ve set up a spoken word production company called Flint & Pitch Productions, and have been busy setting up events for the autumn with a few different partners. Look out for more soon – announcements pending post-June. There will be three strands to it: The Flint & Pitch Revue, which continues all the best of a late-night multi-act spoken word and music event, the first of which will be in October; and Flint & Pitch Presents… which will be a series of full-length, touring, spoken word theatre shows with support acts. Finally, and very excitedly, I’m delighted to say that I’m going to be working with the team at the Lyceum to programme the spoken word and music for the new Lyceum Variety Nights, under David Greig’s new directorship. Aside from events organising though, I am planning a concerted time to work on my own writing and performing. While I find curating shows a creative process, it can take away from yer own writing time rather a lot. So, I’m also looking forward to some outings of my solo show ‘Ire & Salt’ (including at Latitude) and completing writing the script for my next solo show, which is about teaching.
Rachel: I am currently looking down the barrel of fairly peripatetic year, with some golden apples to be found at the end of it. I’m taking a step back from promoting events for the moment: I want to have a look round and see what’s next, for the spoken word scene in Scotland and for myself. Spoken word in Scotland has been my life and blood for the past five years, and part of my joy is having a look round and seeing what could be the next stages for poets, for events and for audiences – publishing, full length shows, digital work, translation, and how I can help create platforms and development for artists to explore this.
At the moment, I’m eyeing up two strands. One is around videopoetry or filmpoems, which is something that has really taken off in the rest of the world but doesn’t seem to have so much of a hub in Scotland. I’ll be living in Montreal for July and August (no Festival for me … it seems so odd!) and working with Glasgow poet Calum Rodger, Québécois poet Jonathan Lamy and filmmaker/poet Genevieve Gosselin-G to produce some filmpoems out there. In October, Jonathan and Genevieve will be coming back to Scotland to do some work with the Poetry Library and Glasgow Uni on filmpoetry – if you’re interested in having a go, watch this space! I’ll also be working with Alastair Cook and Luminate festival on some filmpoetry workshops with older people. October is all about film …
The second strand is around bilingual spoken word and performance, and how to develop that as a regular performance project. There are hundreds of wonderful writers in a huge range of languages in Scotland, yet performance is heard mostly in English. I’m working on this with Jonathan, and we’ll see where we can take this.
The other thingy for my own writing and performing is a bit terrifying – I’ll be working on my first collection proper, to be published (hopefully … maybe … er …) in summer 2017. I was awarded a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship this year, which is a lovely gift, so I’ll be working on that in France for November – and how to perform it, hopefully with the aim of turning it into a new show for 2017. Lots of monstrous women on it. I’m enjoying it. Did I mention I’m a bit terrified?
And missing drinking wine with Jenny Lindsay, really. I’m planning to make a whole project out of that.
What do you feel R&B's legacy will be?
Rachel: We started Rally & Broad with very clear ideas of what we wanted to do, and why we wanted to do it, in terms of what was happening in spoken word in Scotland in 2012. We wanted to see a bigger platform for spoken word, a glitzier night that would bring in new audiences, and be somewhere that artists from outside Scotland could visit. We wanted to bring in an awareness of gender balance billing, of proper fees for artists, and to look at a bit of professionalising around spoken word. The grassroots scene is absolutely life and blood essential for any spoken word community – hell, any artistic community worth its salt – to grow, to allow access for new artists, to support and learn from one another, and the Scottish one is a beautiful thing. We wanted to see what the next steps were, how to create a little more awareness, a little more infrastructure, a little more stability for spoken word in Scotland. I think we did a little of that. And I hope that that is now built upon further.
The other thing, that I really hope carries on from Rally & Broad is that it’s no great secret mystery to do this sort of thing, to see a gap, to see something that you love and want to support and promote, and to do it. Jenny and I started Rally & Broad literally on a beer mat – or perhaps a napkin. There was beer involved – in August 2011, and we did cos we were determined, passionate about spoken word and poetry, and we wanted to put on a show
Jenny: I think that R&B has been an integral part of building the new enthusiasm for spoken word in Scotland, and while our scene here is pretty precarious in terms of funding and infrastructure, I hope those audiences continue to seek out spoken word events. Certainly, it’s been a great vehicle to get acts from elsewhere in the UK recognising how great the scene is up here, as well as showcasing really innovative and unique ways to perform spoken word. It’s also provided a platform and a space between yer massive headliner type event, and open mics and slams, which is something we set out to do from the start. To provide ‘somewhere to go’ for artists, as well as creating a fun, entertaining event for audiences.
What goals did you have in mind when you set R&B up, and do you feel that they've been accomplished?
Jenny: Gender-balanced bills. Yep. A showcase, late-night event for longer spoken word sets. Yep. A braw night of all things lyrical, where total newcomers sit easily on a bill with established names from the lit world, alongside excellent music. Yep. Artists actually getting paid. Yep. I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve accomplished.
Rachel: I’m particularly proud that the audiences have grown so much – not just for R&B but for spoken word in general, over the past four years. Partly because, as Jenny says, there are a lot more organisations, institutions, festivals curious about spoken word and including it on their programming, bringing it to new audiences.
We also wanted to champion Scottish spoken word artists, so we’d have someone we book for the New Voices slot in Season 1, and by Season 3, we’re booking them as headliners, seeing their practice really grow and develop over this time, and giving them a stage to show that on. I think we’ve helped a bit with that.
What are you fondest R&B memories?
Rachel: Everything! I tend to walk out of every show yammering ‘wasn’t THAT the best one ever’ and then the next one does it exactly the same thing. Singing (terribly) 'Fairytale of New York' on our Season 2 Christmas show (guess who was Kirsty and who was Shane…). The Heroes + Superheroes ‘make your own supercreature out of plasticine’ game. Making the audience laugh at any point, particularly unexpectedly. Wearing jammies on stage, definitely, in general, particularly for the Hangover Specials. I was really proud of our Hogmanay ‘Coorie In Land’ for Unique Events in the Grassmarket on Jan 1st this year. I think we created a beautiful atmosphere, cosy and perfect and our artists – A New International, Calum Rodger, Maud the Moth, Rachel Amey, Billy Liar, Rebecca Green, Hailey Beavis, Rose Ruane and Skye Reynolds – were absolute stars over a very long show. I LOVED our Jan 2016 Hangover Special, running over two rooms simultaneously at Bongo, with Jenny and I hosting one each, and the audience shuffling between to piece together the story of a wild night. It was the most ambitious thing we’ve done, and I think it worked so well. Hearing new voices that suddenly stop you in their tracks – I hate singling out particular artists but Roseanne Reid, Chrissy Barnacle, Genesee/Heir of the Cursed, Faith Eliott have really stuck for me this last season. Laughing till I cried at Ross Sutherland, Aidan Moffat, Salena Godden (and often just crying). Being able to introduce audiences to the likes of Hannah Silva, A New International. Seeing audiences delighted and/or moved by folk they’ve never heard before, but have been willing to come along and try out. That’s always brought a lump to my throat. Some of our more ridiculous raffles. Erm … oh heck. All of it.
Jenny: Crikey! Difficult. My favourite ‘theme’ has been our seasonal ‘Hangover Special’ shows, my favourite of which was Jan 2016, where we did two simultaneous shows over two levels in the Bongo, with a rotating audience. It was mad, and awesome, and it sold out too. Also, while R&B has allowed both of us to embrace our love of dressing up in lindy-bop dresses, we always hosted the Hangover Specials in our jammies. Very freeing. Others would be: our very first show in Oct 2012 with a queue all the way out the Counting House (this being when we were paying decent fees but entirely off door-sales with nae funding whatsoever so a massive queue was quite a relief); a road-trip to Dumfries with Chrissy Barnacle in 2014; ‘Heroes & Anti-Heroes’ where Ross Sutherland and Jonnie Common met in Nov 2013; hosting Kate Tempest’s book launch with the Scottish Poetry Library…. But, to be honest, the best moments are when the acts ye ask say ‘aye’ and ye look at the shiny poster and think: ‘blimey. That’s a blinding bill.’ A lot of the time, we book acts we know aren’t particularly well known, but we know they’re amazing. I always love introducing audiences to new acts. Oh. And Don Paterson saying on stage, the first time we booked him, “What is this? It’s a live poetry event I’m actually enjoying?????’ Getting the backing of folk like that is pretty special.
What other spoken word nights would you recommend in Glasgow and Edinburgh for those looking to fill the void?
Rachel: Neu! Reekie!, Inn Deep, Loud Poets, Fail Better, Soapbox and anything that Flint & Pitch do. Any of it. Seriously. Sign up for the mailing list now. There’s also some cracking new nights running in Glasgow, including Sonnet Youth run by Kevin P Gilday and Cat Hepburn – excited to see where they take that. Second Space (nic e melville and Roddy Relax) and caesura for your more out-there stuff. And it’s also worth keeping an eye on events run by the Poetry Library, the Storytelling Centre, even the National Gallery. They’re all starting to programme spoken word – you may find your favourite poet-performer in unlikely places.
Jenny: I’ll focus on Edina as Rachel has covered Glasgow well there! For an absolutely stellar stramash of poetry, music and animation – Neu! Reekie! What they do is beyond compare and they’re a blindingly guid bunch. For those who love all things performance poetry in short, three minute bursts with rotating line-ups with a braw band behind it all – Loud Poets. They’re not funded, yet still pay their acts a decent fee, promote the hell out their show, and are working their erses off; they’ve provided a vital platform for newcomers. Obviously, Flint & Pitch will have some tasty lyrical treats come the Autumn too, so it would be ace to see ye all there! But mainly, I’d love to see folk experience more spoken word solo shows too. There are a whole heap of brilliant spoken word acts doing one-off shows. Hunt them out! Hunt them out live! Wee youtube clips are a good starter, but there’s nothing as good as spoken word live.
If you could sum up the last four years in one sentence, what would it be?
Rachel: I look forward to sitting on a bench together in the Meadows when we are sixty five, wearing enormous hats and swearing at pigeons together, looking at all of Chris Scott’s wondrous photographs (even the terrible ones that we never allow him to make public), and feeling immensely proud of all this. Love yer guts, Rally.
Jenny: The best project I’ve ever been part of, with the best woman I’ve ever worked with; at times nail-bitingly stressful; at times bursting with joy; overall – the thing I’m proudest of in my spoken-word life to date.