Surge – Jay Bernard

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.

Jay reads from A Beacon of Hope in 2016

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.

B.O.S.S. – Blackobsidian Soundsystem, QTIPOC led sound system based in London.

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.

Professor Maggi Morehouse, Coastal Carolina University –Burroughs Distinguished Professor of History and Culture.

Rex Obano – writer for the stage, TV, radio and film, dramaturg and actor based in London.

Mwen Rukandema – Producer, singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and DJ.

Jo Tyabji – Performer and director, Associate @milkpresents, drag aka Joé de Vivre. @JoTyabji

Funded by Arts Council England, produced by Speaking Volumes with the Albany

Breaking Ground: Celebrating Writers of Colour

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.

Find out about the Breaking Ground US tours in 2015 and 2016 here.