In 1981, a fire broke out at a house in New Cross. Thirteen young black people died and the political events that followed would have a dramatic effect on our understanding of what it means to be Black and British.
Inspired by that story, Surge is a poetic exploration of what came after – the resistance, activism and changing notions of the state, the body and the city, narrated by the ghosts of the fire. Rooted in the area’s local history, this is a show that imaginatively blends the personal and the political, tracing a line from Thatcherism, the colour bar and the National Front to our current age of Brexit, Grenfell and Theresa May.
For three nights at the Albany Theatre in Deptford, south east London, just down the road from New Cross, Jay Bernard performed this hour-long piece of poetic theatre, exploring the important history using poetry, archive film and audio.
Jay started off this process in 2016 as poet-in-residence at the George Padmore Institute, researching the New Cross Massacre through the archives of writer and activist John La Rose. Out of the residency came a small publication, Beacon of Hope, which represented a new generation’s creative response to the fire, encapsulating the essence and sensitivity of the massacre and its horror.
Athe the 2017 Last Word Festival at the Roundhouse, Speaking Volumes worked with Jay to produce an hour-long performance entitled Surge Side A, using the poems written for the GPI residency merged with new video work they made to accompany them as Jay found parallels with today’s society in London and beyond. This performance was awarded 2017 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry.
At the same time as Jay worked on this most recent iteration of the performance of Surge, Penguin published a full collection of poetry with the same title, which was released on the opening night at the Albany.
Thanks for this show go to:
Blackcurrent Group Ltd – a multidisciplinary creative studio specialising in creative direction, media production, strategy and campaign development. http://www.blackcurrent.co
The George Padmore Institute – an archive, educational resource and research centre housing materials relating to the black community of Caribbean, African and Asian descent in Britain and continental Europe. http://www.georgepadmoreinstitute.org
It started with a web search for Passing Clouds, the iconic East London venue that was shuttered in 2016. If you’ve never been to a Passing Clouds night, well, brother/sister/friend, you missed out. I was trying to find info on the efforts to reopen any nights they were running at satellite venues, but the webpage was not there. The Facebook page was frozen somewhere in June.
For poet and musician Joshua Idehen, the clubs and community spaces of East London are close to his heart: safe spaces where he hung out, met other creatives, made friends, first performed and developed as an artist.
As gentrification started to spread east of central London, these spaces started to disappear, and with them went the collective memory of all the things that took place in them, the art created and friendships forged. When the key venue in Dalston’s community, Passing Clouds, was forcibly closed, Joshua went searching for information about it and found nothing. Another Great Night Out was born out of the desire to archive, document and remember these lost spaces.
As of 2015, 50% of clubs, bars, pubs and social venues in London have been shut down. East London, like the once vibrant walls of Passing Clouds, has seen its colour run out, save grey and brown brick. These places were more than just watering holes for the city’s multicultural working/middle class: they were music hubs, arts spaces, community halls, social meeting points, landmarks and, most importantly, fond, favoured memories. London forgets easily, especially its counter culture, and in an age where everything is recorded, it seems a miscarriage of justice that there was no central place for people to find information and media on these vibrant venues and the important activities that took place in them. Another Great Night Out is a start at preserving, and remembering, and celebrating these places. We start with Passing Clouds.
Joshua on the genesis of the project
Speaking Volumes worked with Joshua to get a Heritage Lottery Grant to create the website which collects together music, photos, posters and artwork, and memories of people who played, performed and attended activities at Passing Clouds. To go along with this material, Joshua commissioned six poets who had connections with the venue to write work about their memories and experiences of it. As well as having the text of these poems available on the site, we filmed each poet reading outside the shut up and as so far unused Passing Clouds building.
Head over to AnotherGreatNightOut.com to check out all of the archive material and commissioned poems, and keep an eye out for the next venue that Joshua looks to arhcive and remeber.
Generously funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, produced by Speaking Volumes.
Everyday Stories of a Diverse Britain – the project
Journalist, historian and award-winning author Colin Grant is inviting you to learn the techniques to identify a special real-life story, research and record it through interviews and talks, and to tell it through your own creative writing.
In 2017, West Yorkshire Playhouse commissioned Colin to write a play
about the UK’s oldest street carnival in Leeds. Interviewing people from
the era who had been involved in setting up and attending the carnival
in its early days, Colin used techniques from his journalistic
background to get to the heart of first-hand experiences of the event.
The result was Queen of Chapeltown, a critically
acclaimed play that had real resonance with the audiences who saw it
during the sold-out run, because it told real stories, constructed from
the memories of the people who have made carnival for decades. Queen of Chapeltown documents
the history and lives of the local black community, with amusing
characters whose humorous anecdotes serve to highlight the everyday
racism they faced in the 1960s.
Although the 70th anniversary of the arrival of SS Empire Windrush from
the Caribbean is being celebrated in 2018, inequality and racism is
still prevalent in the UK today. It makes it crucial to highlight how
multiculturalism strengthens and enriches society. The Windrush scandal
that coincided with the anniversary and threatened some of the subjects
Colin interviewed highlights how vital it is that their stories are
preserved. As one interviewee during the writing of ‘Queen of
“Carnival is the only connection we have to our roots … It’s part of our life and if that dies, we die as a people.”
From autumn 2018, Colin will be sharing the knowledge and expertise that he has developed through writing Queen of Chapeltown by running creative life writing workshops in areas of the country with strong links to the Caribbean and with histories of multicultural migration to Britain. Working with Commonword in Manchester, Literature Works in Bristol and Writing West Midlands in Birmingham, Colin and a local author will teach aspiring writers some of the tricks of the trade – interviewing techniques, how to turn a real-life story into a gripping plot, creating memorable characters and more – so they can weave these into a piece of quality creative writing. The workshops will culminate in public readings in each city to celebrate the work produced.
“An amazing catalogue of ‘aha’ moments and insights that have not only fed my mind but inspired my soul.”
Deanne Heron, who led the Manchester workshops with Colin, wrote this piece in response to the experience.
Initially there were seventeen people on the list who wanted to
attend the workshop but due to work and other commitments, some people
weren’t able to attend all four workshops and some couldn’t manage any.
Nine people attended two workshops; eleven attended one and ten another.
The attendees ranged from a lady, originally from the island of
Carriacou in the Caribbean, who drove all the way from Huddersfield to
attend all four sessions. We had a seventeen year old young man
originally from The Gambia, who attended two sessions and commented on
how interesting and informative he found it. We also had an elder of The
Windrush Generation, from the community who shared some stories with us
of his child hood in Jamaica and coming to Britain in the early
sixties, which had everyone captivated.
Everyone who attended was given a free copy of the book ‘KITCH – A
Fictional Biography Of A Calypso Icon’, by Anthony Joseph, courtesy of
Cultureword. They were also given a free copy of ‘Breaking Ground:
Celebrating British Writers Of Colour’, and numerous notes to take away.
Presenter, author Colin Grant, had a friendly, approachable and
relaxed manner from the start which provided the ideal setting for
people to get to know each other. He was entertaining and engaging while
sharing eye opening information of how to go about writing our stories.
We began with Colin asking us to introduce ourselves and say a little
about the meanings and origin of our names, a very significant point of
African and Caribbean culture which everyone really liked. Colin then
went on to put people at ease by speaking about our uniqueness and the
unique stories which we all have to share; memories, experiences, life,
relationships, history etc.
Colin used his book about his father and his own childhood
experiences, ‘Bageye At The Wheel’ to illustrate what he had to share.
Sharing his own story was a good way of connecting with the students and
encouraging empathy as well as sharing ideas. Colin also shared his
experience of writing his book about the life of Jamaican national hero,
Marcus Mosiah Garvey, entitled ‘Man In A Hat’. He also spoke about a
writer’s workshop which he did at Folsom State Prison. This is the
prison in California where country western singer, Johnny Cash gave a
free concert to prisoners in 1968. This visit resulted in Colin writing
about a prisoner making a phone call to his girlfriend. Colin used this
to further show us the various techniques of good writing.
During each workshop we were given numerous examples of writing such
as ‘Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal’ by Jeannette Winterson and
‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’ by William Maxwell, to help us to understand
different writing styles. ‘A Hanging’ by George Orwell, allowed us to
look at and discuss the structure and framework of a story, allowing
readers to experience a start, middle and end.
Students did a number of five minute writing exercises and shared
what they had written with the group, on the difference between memory
writing and an autobiography, the effective use of dialogue and writing
an inverse story.
During Sessions Three and Four we had a number of new people who
filled the places of those who were unable to attend. The new students
were welcomed and quickly settled as Martin De Mello from Cultureword
took our photographs.
For the final session, students were asked to bring a meaningful
photograph and share their memories. Photos were passed around and
discussed before we all looked at a photograph of reggae singer, Bob
Marley with former Jamaican Prime Ministers, Edward Seaga and Norman
Manley and shared our thoughts on what was going on. Students did a
writing exercise on what their photographs meant to them, shared with
the group and gave and received feedback. For me and many others,
hearing these stories was a very emotive walk down Memory Lane as we
heard about each other’s cultures.
We had some very positive, heart warming feedback at the end of the course such as:
“Excellent, enjoyable, informative, supportive, safe space to share.”
“Great Facilitators. Inspiring, excellent tips for writing. Great interaction between writers.”
“I found a safe space that was
open, welcoming, authentic, accepting, non-judgemental, reflective,
encouraging, creative. I am very grateful to be given an opportunity to
join such a positive group.”
“An amazing catalogue of ‘aha’ moments and insights that have not only fed my mind but inspired my soul.”
Anthony Joseph embarks on series of UK and US events exploring the legacy of The Empire Windrush. Marking the first major wave of migrants from the Caribbean to UK in the 20th century, their arrival changed and enriched our society and culture. Joseph used his new novel, Kitch, as a starting point to interrogate this history and look at where we are now, examining the politics and activism, culture and music of the Caribbean on Britain.
2018 marked the 70th anniversary of the arrival of The Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks, Essex on 21 June 1948. The same date marked the publication of Kitch, Anthony Joseph’s fictionalised biography of calypso icon, Lord Kitchener, who was famously captured on film by Pathé reporters at the landing of the ship, singing “London is the place for me”, a song he had composed as the ship neared England.
In his recordings of the 1950s and ’60s, Kitch, as he was affectionately known, sung about the problems migrants faced in Britian, from poor working conditions, the lack of satisfactory housing, to the open racism and hostility they faced in the ‘mother country’.
Kitchener’s arrival onboard The Empire Windrush has become an iconic emblem of post war immigration into Britain, and his fourteen years in London and Manchester form an integral middle section of Kitch, in which his life as recording artist, touring musician, husband and quintessential Caribbean persona are intimately explored. His return to newly independent Trinidad in the early 1960s, is set against the dissolution of his marriage and his rivalries with fellow calypsonians. By focussing equally on Kitchener’s music and his largely undocumented private and political life, Joseph gets to the heart of the man behind the music and the myth, reaching behind the sobriquet, to present a holistic portrait of the calypso legend. You can hear Kitch!, a programme that Joseph made for BBC Radio 4, by clicking here.
Joseph visited key cities in the UK with Caribbean populations – Nottingham, Liverpool, Leeds Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and London – to connect with those who were part of the migration from Britain’s colonial islands, and those who have been influenced by them, from community groups and activist collectives, universities and schools, to literary festivals and music performances, this tour had something for everyone.
Saturday 17 November, 7.30pm – Barbican, London: Anthony Joseph & Friends – Windrush: A Celebration. An array of musicians and artists come together to celebrate the Windrush generation and the triumph of the Caribbean spirit through song and spoken word. A newly commissioned Windrush Suite, composed by Jason Yarde and is performed by Joseph alongside a pan-Caribbean ensemble made up of artists drawn from the jazz, roots and spoken word scenes here in the UK. Joining Joseph on the night will be feminist icon Calypso Rose, ‘Calypso King’ Mighty Sparrow and Network Riddim Band singer and poet Brother Resistance with more special guests to be announced. Tickets £30-35 – buy here Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London EC2Y 8DS Produced by Serious, supported by Speaking Volumes
Thursday 11 October, 7pm – Cheltenham Literature Festival: Windrush Journeys: Mixtape Stories. Joseph brings the Kitch tour to Cheltenham, as he presents the story of the Calyso legend in a special event with a performance of Mixtape by Nick Makoha and Roger Robinson.
The Hive, Montpellier Gardens, Cheltenham GL50 1UW
Wednesday 10 October, 5pm – Goldsmiths College, London After Windrush – Reading & Discussion.
Anthony Joseph and Fred D’Aguiar discuss their relationship with the
history, music and literature of the Caribbean and read from their new
137, Richard Hoggart Building, Goldsmiths, Lewisham Way, London
Sunday 7 October, 7.45pm – Ilkley Literary Festival: Windrush Stories: From Trinidad to the UK. Anthony Joseph will be talking about Kitch and his own experiences alongside fellow poet Roger Robinson, as they are in conversation with Monique Roffey.
Ilkley Playhouse, Weston Road, Ilkley LS29 8DW
Sunday 19 August – Edinburgh BookFestival: as part of the Unbound programme, Joseph celebrates The Calypso King of the Windrush Generation, reading from Kitch alongside talented musicians.The Spiegeltent, Edinburgh
Saturday 7 July –Bradford Literature Festival:
Anthony Joseph and Colin Grant in conversation with Emily Zobel
Marshall, plus music from Anthony, Jason Yarde and Crispin Spry Robinson
Alhambra Theatre, Bradford
Thursday 12 July – George Padmore Institute: Anthony Joseph in conversation with Nicole-Rachelle Moore, and reading from Kitch. George Padmore Institute, New Beacon Books, Stroud Green Road, London
Sunday 17 June – Windrush Day at Keats House: Anthony Joseph in conversation with Hannah Lowe.
Keats House, London
Mixtape is your sonic CV. The gumbo of humanity that we
are – shows we like, music we like, conversations with friends. Our
experiences wide and deep.” – Roger Robinson
Rising stars of poetry Nick Makoha and Roger Robinson present a unique new show of poetry
With enduring friendship at its centre, hear poems which leap back and forth in time, giving voice to the universal struggle to carve out personal and political identities. Poems about music, poems about love, poems of protest and of exile, monologues and duet poems … all tied together through an unforgettable soundtrack of songs, from Afrobeats to hip-hop, from reggae to soul. Through a heartfelt, humorous and honest exploration of two individual lives, Mixtape will inspire audiences to compile the definitive track list of their own experiences.
Video: Roger & Nick in conversation
Watch Roger and Nick discussing the concept for the Mixtape Tour with Johny Pitts.
Roger and Nick performed Mixtape at venues and literary festivals around the UK through 2018, finishing with a show at BOZAR Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels. In Spring 2019 they were invited to visit Norway where they spent a week performing to audiences in Oslo and Haugesund.
For more information about Mixtape or to enquire about booking a performance, contact Nick: email@example.com
About Nick Makoha & Roger Robinson
Nick Makoha and Roger Robinson (photos by Benji Reid)
Nick Makoha is a Cave Canem Graduate Fellow who
represented Uganda at Poetry Parnassus as part of the Cultural Olympiad
held in London. A former Writer in Residence for Newham Libraries, his
1-man-Show My Father & Other Superheroes debuted to sold-out
performances at 2013 London Literature Festival and is currently on
tour. He has been a panelist at both the inaugural Being a Man Festival
(Fatherhood: Past, Present & Future) and Women of the World
Festival,(Bringing Up Boys). In 2005 award-winning publisher Flippedeye
launched its pamphlet series with his debut The Lost Collection of an
Invisible Man. Part of his soon to be published 1st full collection The
Kingdom Of Gravity is in the anthology Seven New Generation African
Poets (Slapering Hol Press). He is the 2016 winner of the Toi Derricotte
& Cornelius Eady Chapbook Prize for his manuscript Resurrection
Man, to be published by Jai-Alai Books in spring 2017. He won the 2015
Brunel International African Poetry prize and has poems that appear in
the The Poetry Review, Rialto, The Triquarterly Review, Boston Review,
Callaloo, and Wasafiri. Find him at www.nickmakoha.com | @NickMakoha
Roger Robinson was born in Trinidad and has lived in
the UK for over 20 years. Decibel named him as one of 50 writers
influencing the Black British writing canon. His commissions include The
National Trust, The National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and
Albert Museum. Roger’s books include the fiction Adventures in 3D and poetry collections Suitcase, Suckle – Winner of the Peoples Book Prize – and The Butterfly Hotel,
from which the poem ‘Trinidad Gothic’ was Highly Commended by the
Forward Prize and shortlisted for the OCM Bocas Poetry Prize. He is a
co-founder of Spoke Lab and the writing collective Malika’s Kitchen. He
released a solo album, Illclectica, and is lead vocalist for King Midas Sound, whose debut album, Waiting for You (Hyperdub Records), was critically acclaimed. www.rogerrobinsononline.com | Twitter @rrobinson72
The next chapter of Speaking Volumes’ Breaking Ground project began in 2017 with the launch of a new booklet celebrating writers of colour. We hope that the booklet is a valuable resource both at home and overseas, demonstrating the wide and varied literature of the UK whilst raising the profile and giving a platform to 200 contemporary British BAME authors. It was launched at London Book Fair.
The booklet accompanied major Breaking Ground showcases of British writers of colour in five European cities over 12 months, plus a series of events in the UK. Speaking Volumes took poets and prose authors to Tampere in Finland, Lisbon in Portugal, Madrid and Seville in Spain, Berlin in Germany and Brussels in Belgium. For each showcase we arranged for the translation of the visiting writers work into the language of the host country, printed individual brochures and distributed them to audiences and literature professionals in each country. These brochures can be read with the overview of each country visited along with videos and photos of each showcase.
Read the brochure in full here:
Breaking Ground Finland
Poets Zena Edwards, Vanessa Kisuule, Solomon OB, Roger Robinson and Yomi Sode performed at FestAfrika and the AfroEuropes Conference in Finalnd’s second city Tampere. Johny Pitts also gave a keynote address at the conference.
Breaking Ground Portugal
Peter Kalu and Jacob Ross gave a readings and a discussion on black British thrillers and crime writing at the Jose Saramago Foundation in Lisbon.
Breaking Ground Spain
Authors Yvvette Edwards, Colin Grant, Peter Kalu, Irenosen Okoje, Jacob Ross and Leone Ross gave talks and performed at the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora (ASWAD) conference being held in Seville, Spain. Prior to the conference, the women of the group took part in events at the University of Alcala in Madrid.
Breaking Ground Berlin
Francesca Beard, Rishi Dastidar, Caleb Femi and Xialou Gao presented multi-media adaptations of their work at Berlin organisation Lettrétage, which included film and audio accompaniments, a pecha kucha slideshow and a dual language theatre piece. In between each live performance was a filmed one, with Karen McCarthy Woolf’s Dancing Words piece, the premiere of Bidisha’s first poetry film, and a show of Johny Pitts’ Afropean travel photos.
Breaking Ground Brussels
As part of the Afropean conference at BOZAR Brussels, Speaking Volumes were invited to bring a Breaking Ground showcase for the headline event. Inua Ellams, Bernardine Evairsto, Amina Jama, Catherine Johnson read a mixture of prose and poetry on a bill opened by legendary dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, and followed by a 40 minute version of Nick Makoha and Roger Robinson’s Mixtape show.
Following years of failed diversity initiatives in literature and publishing sectors, and after the publication of Spread the Word’s 2015 Writing the Future report, we decided that it was time to act, and at least make our own small contribution to raising awareness and visibility of the immense, hidden, diverse talent in the UK, and the Breaking Ground project was born.
Conceived, curated and organised by Speaking Volumes, Breaking Ground was a double tour to the East and West Coast’s of the USA, one in November 2015, the second in May 2016. It came from discussions with colleagues at the AfroEuropes conference, following a cultural evening programmed by Speaking Volumes, a number of visitors from the US expressed shock and surprise that Black British writers existed. We felt that raising awareness of this would privde a boost for our writers, providing opportunities in the US that UK publishers were not.
The Breaking Ground tour list consisted of five prose writers, five poets. All of the artists present a vast range of themes in their work and many are multi-genre writers, combining poetry and playwriting, for example. We paid particular attention to balancing gender and age and to present both new and established names to audiences.
The ten tour writers were Diran Adebayo, Jay Bernard, Bernardine Evaristo, Gabriel Gbadamosi, Colin Grant, Nick Makoha, Karen McCarthy Woolf, Johny Pitts, Roger Robinson and Warsan Shire.
Breaking Ground had a very successful start in 2015, with three events around England followed by the first part of the US programme. Ten of the best Black British writers gave lectures at Rutgers University, NY; conducted workshops with young poets in Chicago, IL; presented solo shows in Pittsburgh, PA; and visited classes at Emory, the first black college in the US, in Atlanta, GA. This series ended with a full showcase of of all ten authors at the 2015 Association for the Study of Worldwide African Diaspora (ASWAD) conference in Charleston, SC.
As a result of ongoing demand from North American contacts, we planned a second ambitious tour of the USA, this time heading for the West Coast and Califonia. The writers read at San Francisco book shops, visited classes at the University of California at Davis, had a sold-out theatre showcase, and ran workshops at Sacramento Maximum Security Prison. At this moment in the twenty-first century, Breaking Ground represents a thoughtful and imaginative way of presenting a positive Black British experience based on a spirit of collaboration and exchange.
The dates for the second part of the US tour in 2016