DIY Punk Spirit – how Poetry is Thriving while Politics is in Chaos
Ahead of their appearance at the Byline Festival, Salena Godden introduces an interview with the poet Matt Abbott about the Nymphs & Thugs poetry record label and his co-hosting of LIVEwire.
It was May 2016 when I first met the young Yorkshire-born poet Matt Abbott in a sunny pub garden in Camden. Matt had written to me and politely asked if I would like to meet him to discuss his ideas to release a poetry album on his new indie label Nymphs & Thugs. We drank lots of pints and made great friends that afternoon.
I remember us getting quite merry and I drew a mock-up of a record contract in my notebook and we both signed it. It read something like ‘I solemnly swear to make poetry, make records and make parties’ or words to that effect. We laughed and both signed it and we haven’t looked back.
Since we met he has worked and toured tirelessly. His debut collection ‘Two Little Ducks’ was published in 2018 with Verve Poetry Press. He also produced ‘Two Little Ducks’ as a spoken word poetry album, a one-man show and UK tour including Edinburgh Fringe.
Matt Abbott has an appetite and enthusiasm for poetry that I like. He has that old school DIY punk spirit, an energy and can-do roll-up-your-sleeves attitude that is contagious. His own work as a published poet and performer I find tender and poignant, he is warm and charming as a host and with kids he is engaging and patient as a teacher.
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Matt has a book of children’s poems out soon titled ‘A Hurricane In My Head’ it will be published this month, July 2019, with Bloomsbury.
To top all of all that he has also resurrected his band Skint and Demoralised and the latest singles have been championed by Steve Lamacq and broadcast on BBC 6 Music.
That was in spring 2015, before anybody had ever said the word “Brexit”, and I don’t think anybody’s life is quite the same anymore.Matt Abbott
Looking back at that first meeting I knew we’d have a great laugh working together on making parties and making records. Back then he was a floppy-haired twenty-something who came all the way down to London on a mega-bus from Wakefield to talk to me about poetry. He told me he loved poetry, pints and pies. Wakefield has the best pie shop in the UK, Yorkshire some of the finest poets, this seemed like a good enough reference to me.
I am so looking forward to Byline Festival 2019 and our specially curated LIVEwire poetry sets this year. To give you a taste of what’s to come, here’s some words from Matt Abbott my LIVEwire co-host, my record label boss and poetry comrade.
So, where did Nymphs and Thugs poetry record label all begin?
Matt: Well, as a record label with its heart firmly in Leeds, it pains me to say that Nymphs & Thugs was conceived in Manchester. I was in a meeting with indie music label Heist or Hit, who’d worked with my band Skint & Demoralised from 2011-2013, and at this point I’d returned my focus entirely back to poetry.
That was in spring 2015, before anybody had ever said the word “Brexit”, and I don’t think anybody’s life is quite the same anymore. As it happens, I’m back releasing music with S&D again, but that’s another story.
Who have you signed to the Nymphs and Thugs poetry label?
Matt: It has been 4 years since the birth of N&T, we’re home to six of the UK’s most dynamic spoken word artists. We’ve produced CDs, vinyl, t-shirts, zines, pin badges, prints, tote bags and, most importantly, events. The events so far include a UK tour, festival residencies and high-profile political fundraisers.
Two of our artists, Salena Godden and Luke Wright, are among the leading names on the UK’s thriving scene and have broadcast and performed their work globally across several decades. Both have released albums with us on 2LP gatefold vinyl.
I genuinely believe that you’ll only see a diverse audience if you have diverse artists on stage.Matt Abbott
Since releasing an album on N&T, Toria Garbutt has established herself as a regular support act for Dr John Cooper Clarke, both at home and abroad. Louise Fazackerley continues to enthral audiences of all ages around the UK, and Kevin P. Gilday is about to take Edinburgh Fringe by storm. Finally, my ‘Two Little Ducks’ album was accompanied by my début poetry collection on VERVE Poetry Press and supported by a 22-date UK theatre tour in the autumn just gone.
Where did you get the name LIVEwire?
Matt: Salena chose this name for her N&T poetry album. We released Salena Godden’s ‘LIVEwire’ on double LP vinyl. It features a wild mix of performances, radio. concerts, festivals and also quieter studio work. Overall I think the album showcases the best of Salena’s broad range, the raucous rallying cry she is famous for and her more reflective work too. The album was short-listed for The Poetry Society’s prestigious Ted Hughes Award. Nymphs & Thugs supported this vinyl release with a UK tour.
Since then we’ve used the LIVEwire banner as the title of our shows. LIVEwire is the spirit behind it. This has included our residency a the Byline Festival with Salena Godden as Byline Festival’s own Poet Laureate. We’ve also used this name for our London show in aid of UN Women #HeForShe campaign and a showcase at Verve Poetry Festival in Birmingham. Plus our regular events in Leeds. So far our LIVEwire events have included a broad range of guest performances from the likes of stars like Sabrina Mahfouz, Joelle Taylor, Inua Ellams, Maria Ferguson, Cecilia Knapp, Oakley, Elvis Mcgonagall, Scarlett Sabet, Oli Spleen and Selina Nwulu and many, many more.
We’ve always been firmly committed to programming a diverse range of artists – I genuinely believe that you’ll only see a diverse audience if you have diverse artists on stage.
What can we expect from the LIVEwire poets for Byline Festival 2019?
Matt: It is going to be a brilliant weekend! Byline is the first festival to celebrate independent journalism and free speech. This will be our third year curating the poetry that we hope reflects the spirit of this festival and the essence of the freedom of speech and truth. LIVEwire will showcase N&T poets, poetry rebels and renegades and bring together a team of the bold and courageous, the truth seekers, the powerful poets that speak out for equality and justice. The 2019 LIVEwire poetry programme is gonna be amazing. All I can say at this point is we have intentionally chosen a dozen poets that inspire us and challenge us, some new emerging talent and poetry super stars. Watch this space!
‘Salena Godden LIVE at Byline Festival’ EP is out now: check out all Nymphs & Thugs poets at www.nymphsandthugs.net
‘A Hurricane In My Head’ by Matt Abbott is published this month at www.bloomsbury.com
Salena Godden is the poet laureate for Byline Festival: ‘Pessimism Is For Lightweights, 13 pieces of courage and resistance’ is published by Rough Trade Books roughtradebooks.com
Editorial Note: Byline Festival shares some directors in common with Byline Times, which commissioned this article from Salena Godden.