After Nyne’s Dominic Stevenson met writer, performer, and educator Simon Mole to discuss his past, his future, and travelling around the UK in a camper van.
Simon has been a huge influence on Dominic’s own journey as a writer and poet, so he was delighted to have the opportunity to find out a bit more about a chap who inspires him.
How did you get started in poetry and spoken word?
When I was a kid we didn’t have a TV in the house. I used to read about 7 books at time, kind of like channel hopping but more geeky. Me and my mum would make up silly songs and rhymes more often than we would talk normally. Playing with words, listening to and telling stories – these things have always been a big part of who I am and how I am in the world.
But in terms of actually trying to do the thing ‘properly’ I kind of stumbled across spoken word to be honest, about 8 years back. I was making a lot of hip hop music as one half of Mole & Iris and also as the emcee for an awesome ten piece funk & soul band but I was also making theatre, and then all of a sudden here was this artform which seemed to allow both of those things to happen. And from that point on I got hooked by reading poetry too. Still can’t get enough now man!
You’re part of the spoken word collective, Chill Pill, who have been widely credited in building the contemporary popularity of spoken word. Have you seen the resurgence of it as an art, or was it always there but without press interest?
My instant response is that yes I think there is more interest/uptake than 5 years ago for sure – for example, a week or so back there were two great nights on the same mid-week night, Boxed in and Outspoken, both with great line ups and great audiences. I know London is a big place but it’s hard not be excited by that number of people wanting to write/perform/watch poetry.
That said, I’m pretty sure people were asking the same questions about ‘performance poetry’ when that was suddenly getting more exposure however many years back. Not to come across as cynical, I just think it’s important not to use media coverage as a barometer for the health of a scene/artform.
Much better to judge by actually attending some shows – come and make your own mind up at the next Chill Pill – Thursday September 17th at the Albany!
You spent some time as poet laureate for the London borough of Brent. What did you gain, and learn, from this experience of working with the community?
Well I got to film a poem on the side of the pitch at Wembley. Admittedly the stadium was empty at the time but it was still pretty awesome!
I play the whole thing down a bit sometime to be honest man but it was a total honour. I lived in Kilburn then and had done for years so to get a chance to raise the profile of poetry in the area with commissioned pieces inspired by where I lived was amazing. When you add to that the work I got to do with other local artists and young people, celebrating the huge range voices in the borough, it was special time for me.
I also got to film a poem I had written about Neasden Temple inside Neasden Temple, which I still can’t quite believe I was allowed to do!
You do a lot of work around writing and spoken word education, do you have a proudest moment you’d like to share?
A lot of people feel poetry isn’t for them, for whatever reason there’s some kind of stigma attached. Anytime people I’m working with begin to see and re-see the tiny important details in their everyday lives as poetry I feel proud.
Your latest show, No More Worries, is currently touring the UK and will soon be playing for 8 nights at the Albany, Deptford – what sowed the seeds for the show?
Often I feel a bit too busy and can get quite caught up in the idea of having a break, a complete break, of getting away from it all. I started writing about holidays and ended up getting totally fixated on road trips and road trip movies – stuff like Straight Story, Nebraska, The Sure Thing , Something Wild – We’ve ended up with a show that I’m really proud of – there’s poetry, rapping, thai chi dance moves, full theatre lighting, and an original soundtrack created live on stage!
The story follows Kieran, 27 and stuck in the dead-end sea-side town he grew up in. He wants to see the world: foreign suns, adventure and cocktails. Paul is 50 and on the road again in an old-skool VW campervan. This mismatched pair end up on the road together searching for the perfect holiday moment, but discover that the past is sometimes the only thing you can’t leave behind.
If you say that last sentence in a movie trailer voice it sounds even cheesier than it reads.
The show has been a collaboration with Peader Kirk, how important has finding someone like Peader to work with been in its development?
It’s been crucial man – the dude has been working at the highest level internationally for about two decades. That kind of skill/experience is hard to come by. We also worked together on my first show Indiana Jones and the extra chair but the relationship was a more conventional writer/director vibe on that project. This time around the process has moved back and forth between writing and devising and we’ve ended up putting Peader on the stage too!
What took you to Doncaster when it seems that half the writing and performing world had decamped to Edinburgh for the summer?
A bit part of my approach is wanting to get out there and find those people who may well enjoy poetry/theatre but don’t naturally step into a venue to see what’s going on. With no more worries in particular, we’re trying to reach out to fans of cinema and box-sets – I really feel this is a show for them. With that in mind, we didn’t even put the words poetry or theatre on the flyer – just pitched on the strength of the story, because that’s what it comes back to. If people are interested in the story, if it grips them, in many ways the actual form is irrelevant.
This summer me and Peader hit the road in a campervan of our own, setting up shop at parks, town squares and quaysides nationwide to tell people about the show – we also did a range of pop-up activities for people to get involved with, asking passers-by to suggest a tune for their ultimate road-trip playlist, or contribute a perfect holiday moment to an interactive digital map. You contribute your own at our website here: http://www.nomoreworries.org.uk
Would you have any advice for someone starting out in poetry and spoken word?
Read more poetry. There is an understanding and appreciation of the craft that will only really come from immersing yourself in it. You can never run out of stuff to learn.
Which artists would you recommend a developing artist immerse themselves in?
What is next for Simon Mole?
No More Worries at the Albany! Sept 23rd – Oct 3rd!
But immediately next I will be sitting in the living room in my pants trying to spoon feed my 7 month old son yoghurt. Whilst speaking the text for the show to practise – he’s gonna grow up thinking that spoken word pieces are a standard accompaniment for lunch!
Simon was speaking exclusively with Dominic Stevenson
No More Worries: The Albany, Douglas Way, Deptford, SE8 4AG
Wednesday 23 September – Saturday 3 October 2015, 7.30pm
Post show talk: Friday 25 September. BSL interpreted: Wednesday 30 September.
Tickets: £12 / £10* concessions. Booking: thealbany.org.uk | 020 8692 4446. Ages: 14+