Having seen Paul perform with a passion he has certainly inspired me to pick up the pen in pursuit of creative expression and social comment. What particularly strikes you when listening to Pauls work, along with his unshying honesty, is his ability to place personal experience in a wider social context. Brave enough to question his own thoughts and actions in a public domain he almost challenges the listener, in words accessible to all, as to their own accountability and responsibility. I had been looking forward to a one to one with modern day punk poet Paul so off we wandered to one of my locals armed with dictaphone, discussing the current renaissance in poetry.
PAUL: It depends on the night a lot of the time. Say it’s a really rowdy audience or a night I’m just not suited to, I’ll get much more nervous, but if it’s somewhere I feel really comfortable, I’ll still get nervous but I’ll be more excited to get on I think, so it depends on the atmosphere. But nervousness generally means at least five or six trips to the toilet while I’m in the venue before I go onstage. It’s ridiculous, honestly. Also, there’s obviously the total fear that I’m going to forget everything I’ve written down.
When it goes well, it’s well worth it. I’ll give you an example, I did this gig in Peterborough where a guy called Martin Newell, who’s a poet and apparently he’s got really big within the poetry scene, but unfortunately I’m a bit clueless when it comes to the poetry scene. He was headlining and I was supporting him. I was pretty glad of the opportunity as there was about sixty or seventy people there. Then the promoter s came up to me and said “Martin Newell’s got to get an earlier train, so do you want to headline?”. I was like “What? What the fuck?”. Basically, one of my best friends had come down and I spent the whole time with him staring at my shoe, rambling: “I can’t fucking do this, I can’t fucking do this”. It was horrendous. But I did it and it went absolutely fine. It’s a way of working those nerves to your advantage. I played for about forty minutes; I was just dripping in sweat and almost crying from the relief. That’s a very extreme example, but most of the time it just feels really great, that kind of elation.
I think if you are a performer and you don’t get nervous, you should push probably challenge yourself a little bit more. I think you should be nervous, you just have to twist it the right way in your brain so it unleashes itself as something positive.
PAUL: Yeah or just curling up on yourself and hiding from the lights.
Artwork by Loz
PAUL: Well I used to do stand up before the poetry. They kind of bled into each other. The first time was at Edinburgh Festival, a couple of years ago and I’d sort of thought about doing stand up, then decided not to , then this other stand up said “ PauI, there’s a spare slot going”, a three or four minute slot going at this bar, at about two in the morning. I was really fucking drunk, which isn’t the best situation to do any kind of performance let alone stand up comedy, so I said: “Oh alright then, go on then”, so got this Tesco receipt out of my wallet and scribbled the jokes I could remember on the back of it and did about three jokes, no-one laughed, then I just shouted “Come on everyone, it’s my first time”, then everyone cheered and I went “ that’ll do, see ya” and walked off. (Laughs) But the first time I read poetry was a bit weird as I’d never considered doing it before, but I’d written this poem about punk and I ran a punk night with a friend of mine and I thought I’d read it there as I used to do my stand up there. It was literally me reading off the sheet, not performing it in any sense. That was really nice as it was a really sweet introduction I thought, and I just started writing poems. The first time I was ever on stage is almost a blur of drunkenness. I wish it was interesting than that, I really do. (Laughs).
PAUL: I’ve never had a truly terrible reaction where people have booed me. When I did stand up I did, but I don’t want to talk about those dark days! (Laughs). People have come up to me and taken me to task over some stuff I say, but on the whole I would say people have been really, really nice, like really fucking great. Everyone seems to be really nice about it. It’s a bit of an annoyingly smooth ride really, but people have come up to me and sort of said, with certain poems, “I don’t think you should have a go at this group”, “I don’t think you should have a go at those people”. I know for a fact that some people have got really angry about some poems that I have performed. Guess that’s the price of being opinionated!
PAUL: Some of the comments have made me think differently. I wrote this poem about how much I dislike the police the other day. I had a really bad experience recently and basically I posted it on this website and I got a shit load of comments about it which were criticising me in a really unconstructive way. But this one guy wrote a poem in response to it which I thought was really, really interesting. It was about how he used to have an anti-police stance, but then became a social worker and realised there are obviously different departments within the police. Being a social worker deals with different departments, child abuse victims and so forth, anyway, he realised that the police weren’t all bad. I have arguments against that but I thought it was a really cool way of showing what he thought. I thought it was wicked. This guy actually gave a really reasonable response. Not saying I agreed with him, but I thought it was an admirable thing to do. I’ve very rarely had outright hostility apart from when this promoter booked me to be a link between the comedy and music at this comedy club in Hoxton, the Comedy Café. It’s a really renowned comedy venue. Everyone there got absolutely fucked, coked and pissed off their faces by the time I get there. I’m on at half eleven or eleven, between ten and eleven I get there and no-one really knew what was going on. People were expecting music; no-one had told them there was going to be poetry. They were absolutely hammered and being drunk obviously isn’t the best environment to read poetry in. I got through one poem and this guy shouted out “ Is this supposed to be funny?”. I stopped mid poem: “Well not really, well some bits are, you kind of have to listen”, then some-one else said “ We want to listen to the music” and there was this girl sitting down to my bottom left saying “ Come and have a sit down, come and have a sit down, we can talk about it”. (Laughs). I did one poem then I just fucked off. You get kind of hostility when you kind of drag people into a different artistic context and they just don’t want it and I can fully understand that as obviously there’s so many moods I’m in when I don’t want to listen to poetry.
LORRAINE: I hadn’t realised that you had done stand up before today, how did you find it as I’ve heard it’s quite a bitchy environment?
PAUL: It can be, but I met a lot of really nice stand ups. For example, somebody who I used to perform with, I go for a drink with them, and a few other people I am in contact with. There’s a lot of people doing some excellent work.
PAUL: That’s a little bit of a stereotype. A lot of stand ups I know are perfectly lovely people. What kind of got me about the stand up scene and one of the reasons why I left was because it seemed very much focused on this very individualistic idea of career climbing. A lot of them do work together, but at the end of the day you’re out for yourself and I didn’t really like that very much, I like working with other people, I like co-operating with other people, I like organising nights with other people. I like doing loads of stuff with other people, especially if it’s got some kind of political or counter cultural vent to it and there was none of that going on in the stand up scene. I mean there’s obviously certain people like Mark Thomas, but yeah, that’s part of the reason why I left. It can be quite bitchy, but no more than any other scene, certain people in the punk scene…… I think it’s the same wherever you get loads of people in a remotely competitive environment. People are gonna snipe at each other, so I’ve got no particular ill will towards the stand up scene itself.
PAUL: Politically….I don’t want to use the get out, but it’s kind of an ongoing thing (laughs). I suppose a lot of my sympathies do lie with anarchist philosophy. I’ve been reading quite a lot of stuff on it recently and I’ve met quite a lot of people who are very intellectually engaged with that kind of world and that kind of thought. I really like the idea of people being trusted basically, I’ve got practically no trust in the government at the moment, nor in any police as they are at the moment. In fact, I don’t just distrust them, I have active hatred for them and no respect, none! I could go on about this for ages, I just feel, like I say, people need to be trusted. I think the moment you give people a chance to be trusted and you give them a chance to form their own social groups and their own kind of structures, they can and they will, but I think people have been kind of conditioned in a sense, or brainwashed, to put it kind of crassly, to become dependent on the government and they’re dependent on the police to do things for them, where I think people can do an awful lot of things for themselves. This brings it back to what the guy said about there being good parts to the police force and, although I believe there should be some kind of a body there, I don’t necessarily agree that it should be authoritative. I don’t think you need a police department to deal with child abuse and rape victims, I think other departments from within communities can do that for themselves. The more I think about it, the more I kind of think we’ve had so much taken away from them, just having the piss taken out of us totally and utterly. But events like 9/11 make everyone much more politically engaged, people are seeing the police brutality that’s going on and seeing the anti terror laws. There’s a fucking jury less trial going on later this year, early next year. I need to get the date for that as I am going to fucking be there as I think it’s appalling. You know, you’ve got forty day detention sentence for ‘terrorists’ without charge and now you’ve got a jury less trial. It’s like “what the fuck is going on? Has the world gone mental?”. Yeah, politically I suppose I would define myself in those terms. I haven’t got enough faith in the government or any structure like that to be anything else.
PAUL: Obviously pretty much everyone believes there are things going on behind the scenes in government, but the illuminati? People like David Ike referring to this half alien half Jewish conspiracy, and, erm, not quite sure it’s that way. I think people like the idea of an illuminati as it makes it easier to deal with, it’s like saying no, it can’t be the people we see on TV, it can’t be the people we hear on the radio. It makes it easier to deal with. I think people have a lot of trouble connecting Gordon Brown or Boris Johnson with all the fucked up things that are happening, but I think that’s only a very small minority. I think a lot of people hate Gordon Brown and Boris Johnson quite directly (laughs).
PAUL: By me personally?
PAUL: I think people assume that of poetry a lot of the time, especially poetry.
LORRAINE: To explain it further, when you get onstage and start to read, do you ever find that people think “Oh poetry, that’s not my thing”?
PAUL: Well I’ve had some really nice comments, especially when I’ve played at the more music based shows and stuff, people have come up to me and said “Oh, I never thought I could enjoy poetry before” and it’s a really weird idea I think, because these people clearly thought that poetry just wasn’t for them or they’d been taught it in school and just didn’t like it so therefore wrote it all off and I think that’s really sad. I think that’s not their fault, that’s the fault of the people who want to keep poetry as this big elite thing and they want to keep it as ‘theirs’. I think that’s why I like the punk movement so much. Everyone is sharing it, it’s a communal thing.
PAUL: What, me personally? (Laughs). No, no-one gets into spoken word for money honestly, there’s just far better rackets to get into. I was thinking about this earlier today actually, about what I really like about some hardcore bands….. There’s a band called ‘The Fall of Efrara’, I think they are one of the least accessible bands I’ve heard in a long time, absolutely brilliant. They’re atheist vegans and anarchists as well and also all their songs are about linking Watership Down to the political situation at the moment and it’s really fucking hardcore, amazing, terrifying and you’re like “these guys are playing their fucking hearts out and it isn’t the kind of music that’s going to make them any money”, you know and I think that’s cool. I don’t expect to make anything near a living wage basically. Obviously it’d be nice if I could but at the end of the day you’ve just got to take your chances sometimes.
PAUL: Loads, loads of punk bands. The King Blues, who’re one of the most important bands in the
There’s a couple of great poets: Dave Pepper. I wish I could write and perform as well as he can, the guy’s amazing. There’s a guy called Rik The Poet-Tree Man and he’s brilliant. He’s completely the antithesis of me as a performer because he just stands still on stage but he’s got such a calm energy you’re just drawn to him immediately. I don’t know what the fuck it is about him. I mean, I have to rant and rave to get peoples attention but he just stands there and people gravitate towards him, it’s incredible. A very good example of some-one who’s up and coming at the moment is a lady called Kate Tempest now, she’s brilliant, a kind of MC Rap poet, she sings about really awesome stuff , it’s so grandiose and ballsy, really, really good performer as well.
Obviously there’s more important examples, just like my day to day life, my job, hanging out with my friends, relationships, my friends giving me ideas, my family’s attitude to a lot of what I do, some are supportive, some aren’t. There’s a myriad of different social influences.
Amanda Aitkin introduced one of her poems saying she doesn’t attend that many poetry nights as she prefers going on the piss and it’s those things that inform her poetry. I thought that was a really cool thing to say. I don’t go to anywhere near enough poetry nights and spend too many going on the piss. I don’t know if that’s right or wrong, but I sympathise with that and thought it was a really cool thing to say.
PAUL: It just seemed logical really. I run these nights with a friend of mine and we were always putting on political comedians and hip hop and like, acoustic and punk and stuff like that. It’s called ‘Out of Step’ and it’s called that for a good reason, because we’re all about how you can put a whole load of different types of performance under the umbrella of punk, DIY, whatever you want to call it. So yeah, we put on loads of people, Dave Pepper who I mentioned earlier, Rik, we also put him on and they played the same gig and were both massive inspirations to me. So I started doing poetry through those nights really and I got gigs from that, I just kept getting more and more gigs, it went from there really.
PAUL: It’s relevance to me….. it’s about creating your own spaces to do whatever you like and it doesn’t necessarily have to involve punk music, it can be social centres, it can be opening your own vegan café or whatever, it can literally be anything as long as it’s this idea of taking full control, not just control but responsibility of your own life and I think that’s a very powerful message. That’s always been the main driving force, even when I was a teenager I didn’t quite have the politics in my head, but it always seemed obvious “well no-one else is going to fucking do it, so I’ve go to!” attitude you know, even though with that said, I’m still pretty lazy. There’s also so many different brands of punk now, it’s very fractionised and I think people have to stop bitching about each other. These activists always bitching, it’s like come on, you’ve got way more in common, the end result you want to see differently but there’s no point bitching about it, you may as well fight whatever you got to fight then sort it out.
I get fucking bored with older punks, who were into the punk scene when it first exploded, saying “Punk doesn’t exist anymore”. It’s like “Fuck off, I know for a fact it does, don’t use punk dying as an excuse for fucking losing touch with it, at least have the guts to admit you’re not interested anymore, at least have the balls to admit that”. That always fucks me off as I know for a fact it exists and it’s a really powerful feeling and even if it doesn’t exist in the kind of idea that we know it as, like Mohicans and really heavy hardcore, raw or acoustic punk, or whatever, a form of it has always existed throughout centuries. Since forever and ever and ever there’s been counter cultural groups. It’ll always exist, as long as there’s something to be annoyed about!
PAUL: It shouldn’t do. This is one of the many reasons I can’t wait to turn 35, so no-one can call me an “angry young man” anymore. Now you’re going to have to listen to me aren’t you! You’re going to have to listen! (Laughs). A friend, this woman I work with, said in a joking way “I bet you’re gonna totally sell out in your 30s” and all that. I can’t wait to prove her wrong.
PAUL: Exactly, it’s just a bullshit attitude. I understand, obviously, if you have a family and stuff you have to get money for your family but that doesn’t mean you have to lose faith in everything and fucking forget everything you used to believe. You can still hold those beliefs and want a better world. It’s a very weird idea that being angry, or caring even, is a youthful thing. I don’t even see where that idea comes from; it’s a very silly idea.
PAUL: It comes from a guy called Laurence Clarkson, who I mean to read much more on, but basically he was part of a very loose religious and political group called The Ranters just after the English civil war, when there was a lot of political and religious dissent going on with The Diggers and loads of different groups. Laurence Clarkson wrote some pretty hardcore stuff saying you didn’t; need to go to church, for example, to worship a god, there’s no inherent morality and anyone who tried to tell you inherent morality is affectively trying to control you, which I thought even for now is radical. It’s a scary thing, it means you’ve got entire responsibility for yourself and that’s what I really liked about him and he was called ‘Captain of the Rant’. He was saying you’ve literally got responsibility over your own life, you can’t avoid this and I thought that was really, really cool. But I DO need to read more on him. Great man!
LORRAINE: As you mentioned and I have heard for myself, you do have a good ol’ rant, where do you get the inspiration, is it mainly from the things that piss you off?
PAUL: I have been known to shout a bit , some of the poems I write really, really quickly.
PAUL: Maybe, yeah! I don’t think my poems are that cynical really, I wish I could be one of those writers where I just had to write every day else I would die or something, but I’m just not. Maybe I I‘ve got a shit work ethic, I don’t know. I can only write if something gives me inspiration, it’s not necessarily something that’s on the news, it’s more like what happens in my personal life as well and how I think that reflects on my own personal politics. If I say something to some-one I perhaps shouldn’t have said, it’s like “Fuck, I shouldn’t have said that, I wouldn’t like that said to me, why did I say that?!”. It’s very self critical. I really want to concentrate on that gap between your ideals and actions. Everyone has them, I have them. I really like being that self critical and hoping that other people can relate to that, but essentially the ideas come to me through stuff that happens to me. The poem ‘The Police and I’ about my run in with the police with a friend of mine when we were really shook up, that all really happened and the whole poem is essentially called ‘The Police and I’ as it’s about charting my faith in the police from my being young, where I have a lot of faith, as obviously I didn’t know any better, to this moment basically where I am like, “Fuck ‘em!”. So it’s about loads of different stuff, but everything that kind of happens politically I try to connect to my day to day life. I don’t want to be one of those poets who just go on talking about or slagging off some X political leader or Y government….you know, that kind of thing is boring to me. I’d rather do something a bit more thoughtful. I don’t know if it comes across like that.
PAUL: I think as much as much as music can, as much as film can. To be honest I consider myself a very small part of a huge international movement that is aiming towards change. I don’t think my poetry can affect change but maybe it can make people view the world a little differently, maybe view the world in a slightly different or get people into bands they wouldn’t have otherwise heard of or maybe listen to more poetry or read a certain book, so you know, its all about making those little impacts on people and seeing where it goes from there really.
PAUL: I have never, ever been any good at playing music, ever, for starters. Secondly, I am far too egocentric about my work. I’m good at working with other people, but only people I can really, really trust. I don’t want to end up being one of those poets who want to join a band, I still want to do solo performances as that’s where I really feel at home. I quite like working on my own, following my own kind of thing really. I like being held accountable for that, I like being responsible for that. So, no, I’m probably not a frustrated musician.
PAUL: The Skints, brilliant roots regga-punk. I really rate Neil Sutherland and Friend. I love Apologies, I Have None, Clayton Blizzard, The Ruby Kid... some older bands with new albums as well: Chumbawumba’s new album is stunning, sharp as fuck lyrics. Asian Dub Foundation’s latest album is fantastic too.
PAUL: Personally I am very proud of the fact, that Martin Newell gig, where I was headlining, I was really proud of myself for overcoming that and for doing, well, like a performance that was particularly good.
The biggest thing I’ve achieved recently is setting up Out of Step with my friend Gary, the Out Of Step nights. We’ve managed to unite a lot of disparate groups, like poets, comedians, all being part of that scene and making the audience see that these things are not disparate, they’re very similar, just different modes of performance. Loads of people come up to us and congratulate us on the nights and say they think it’s a really great idea. That’s the thing I am most proud of recently, definitely. The nights have gone really well and we’ve started branching out and have done a few benefit gigs. We’re really pleased with the benefit gig for Rape Crisis we put on. They’re a sexual abuse charity, entirely independent, a really cool group. Very pleased we raised £150 for them, it was fucking great. We’ve gone from strength to strength, we want to really keep pushing and not become complacent and apathetic.
LORRAINE: Finally Paul, if you ruled the world, what would you change tomorrow?
PAUL: Tomorrow? I’d probably take all reality TV shows off the air. Even though I am completely addicted to it, I’d dismantle Facebook, I’d get rid of it, honestly. It’s such a waste of my life, I spend so much fucking time on that thing. What else would I do? A big, obvious example would be equal distribution of the world’s wealth. Total empowerment to women and ethnic minorities and people who are seeking asylum and things like that, give them to have the rights they should have, because this government acts in a way where they take away rights then complain when people aren’t grateful, which really pisses me off. It’s like, “Yeah, fucking right I’m ungrateful actually, really fucking ungrateful for what’s happened. Don’t you dare and try and tell me you do me any favours, don’t you dare tell me that”. Obviously I am a white, middle class male from a privileged background judged by world standards, but every time I get a benefit from this social structure tons of other people are being totally fucked over. I probably wouldn’t trust myself enough as I’d get drunk with power and I’d start making ridiculous laws and then I’d probably force my friends have to have some kind of military coup and take me down.
Basically, if I was made world leader I think I’d abdicate and let the people sort things out for themselves.
25 Sep 2009, 21:00 09:00 PM - Out of Step benefit for NO SWEAT @ Area 10, Peckham,
26 Sep 2009, 20:00 08:00 PM - Housman’s BookstorE, King’s Cross,
24 Oct 2009, 20:00 08:00 PM - Oxjam - venue TBC,
31 Oct 2009, 20:00 08:00 PM - Muddy Poetry Halloween Spectacular venue TBC,
10 Dec 2009, 20:00 08:00 PM - The Duke, Neath,
Pauls MySpace: www.myspace.com/captainoftherantpoetry
Photo Credits Kym Ford