Dan Jordan and The Warbirds evade categorisation. They are poetry. They are music. They are outlaw country. They are moody blues. They are folk storytelling. They are heavy metal vocals. The only seminal thread that runs through their latest album, Road to Ruin, is main man Dan’s clear connection to the music of Bob Dylan. He may not readily admit to such an influence being a conscious thing, but it is apparent that his time spent with Dylan over the course of his first album has had a lasting effect. His vocal delivery may not be to everyone’s taste, but one should at least be able to appreciate the hard-felt poetry that emanates from it.
Opening track Slow Burn may get off to a slow start but its first few moments of silence create a real sense of anticipation. A whirring cymbal then comes spinning into existence before being knocked sideways by the hard keys of a piano. It introduces the heavy beat which symbolises much of the album’s dark veneer, Jordan’s own smoky Dylan-esque vocals then coming in to add further shade. There is a sultry otherworldliness to the piano and electric guitar which gives it a certain intrigue and stops it descending into a black hole. The various mixing of genres, from the Latinized Country of Rider to the Metalized Blues of Run, have a similar effect, the poetic nature of Jordan’s lyrics also contributing to this sense of fascination which surrounds much of the album.
Each track is greeted with surprise. Each offers something slightly different from the rest. Ain’t Got Nothin’ may have a classic Blues structure but Matts White and Taylor bring some wonderful organ and electric guitar respectively to give it an added dimension. The soft and delicate composition on Seven Deaths of You creates a beautifully light atmosphere which allows deeper access into Jordan’s poetry. There is a real slice of folk storytelling here, delivered rather nicely through a deep voice that contains the faint presence of delicacy and vulnerability. Sweet City Ruin manages to uncover this further in lines like “stumbling through the city like a spectre” and “all you want is for the world to know that you were here” even as they are hidden behind the up-tempo, western swing style music.
There is a mythical quality to Elena which could be said to draw on folk tradition. The track that follows, Nightingale,certainly seems to suggest a strong folk influence upon Jordan’s work. His always gritty and grave delivery never allows for the same cadences that one might find among the typical folk singer however, meaning the loss of emotionality to some degree. What is lost here though is made up for in another unexpected musical addition, this time the introduction of pop elements followed by a sudden flurry of different instruments that take the album in a completely different direction. It means that, even as Jordan’s vocal starts to feel staid, there is enough originality to keep you listening right to the end.
Final track This Land has No Name is definitely worth sticking around for. On its musical surface is a wild west evoking landscape, complete with tolling bell and front porch guitar. It is the country music of the outlaws, reclaiming their rural roots from the urbanisation of an earlier sound. Dig a little deeper into the lyrics, and you begin to see the parallels. Yet this song speaks not of a place across the pond but a land much closer to home. Those “structures… crooked… battered” are the stone houses dotted across the countryside. The “roofs made of tin” are the barns stood in fields “still breathing [though] barely alive”. The bar, “as dry as a bone” and “the shops, boarded up” represent the communities who have lost their amenities to the forces of globalisation and capitalism. It is a depiction of Wales that is keenly felt and of which Dan Jordan seems acutely aware, no doubt garnered from his own geographical movement across the nation’s map. It is a protest song, if you will, inspired, whether conscious or not, by folk pioneers such as Bob Dylan, with a contemporary resonance that ensures Road to Ruin finishes with a political bang.
To find out more about Dan Jordan & The Warbirds, click here.To listen to album on Spotify, click here.
In the Jerwood upstairs, we are welcomed by smiling faces, finding our seats around the outside of a circular orchestra, filled with instruments and plant life.
The Song Project is what is says on the tin. A show created with feelings, thoughts, emotions and life circumstances and turned into song. While this feels a little like how songs are created in general, there is something new, interesting and unique about this performance.
The performers interact with us, with eye contact, welcoming us to the space, so while this is a performance, it certainly feels as if we are being welcomed by friends and into a less formal space.
There for sure is a feeling of something quite European about the type of music – reminding me of Sigur Ros, Little Talks, Bjork with its sense of sound scaping sounds and not following a usual song that one may find in the charts. With only 4 performers, they each chop and change instruments and places in the orchestra, showcasing their absolute talent.
Each song speaks to you. There are lyrics on depression, on fear, on the trails and tribulations of life, but all something that someone in the room could relate to. It’s serious at times, sometimes you just need to close your eyes and feel it in your soul and others it makes you laugh out loud.
Combined with well thought out lighting and set design, the movement of the performers around the space for sure makes this feel very professional and rehearsed but at times ad hoc and keeping us on our toes.
The Song Project could easily be described with one word: Inspirational. Coming away, I felt euphoric and sentimental as well as fully inspired to create my own work. The Song Project has something for everyone, and feels like a very intimate and extraordinary gig.
In this latest interview, Get the Chance member Gareth Williams chats to singer-songwriter Eleri Angharad. Their chat takes place in the form of a podcast, the third in a trial series in conversation with Welsh creatives. Eleri talks about her new EP, Nightclub Floor, as well as Swansea’s music scene, songwriting, her creative journey as a musician, and Welsh identity.
Hi Zara great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
My name is Zara, and I am photographer from and based here in Cardiff. My degrees are in English Literature rather than photography – I am self taught but I get some helpful advice from my partner who did study photography.
What got you interested in the arts?
When I was growing up, we always had books and went to the cinema, so that started it off I suppose. I still enjoy film and reading but it started when I was young. At Christmas we’d go to the theatre to but when I was a teenager, I became interested in Indie music.
Cardiff Calling (great name!) is a new project featuring brown and black fans of punk and goth music and fashion. We have really enjoyed looking at your photos to date on your Twitter feed. How did this project develop and what are your hopes for the future?
Thanks. The Cardiff Calling flyer is a mash up of the Xray Spex single sleeve ‘Identity’ and ‘London Calling’ album cover by The Clash. This project came from an idea I had after I photographed fans of the punk singer/icon Poly Styrene. It has developed because I wanted to focus on brown and black fans of punk and goth music and fashion because as a brown person, I am interested in it, and I know I’m not the only one who is. It’s as though we go to gigs, buy the music, dress the part, but are a niche within a subculture and all I want to do is show some visibility.
A selection of images from Cardiff Calling are featured below
I would like to have an exhibition of this current project and I want to link my portraits with my street photography – both are mainly focused on the overlooked. I would like to continue in a similar line of looking for and photographing underrepresented groups within Indie music with a particular focus on brown and black people. I will probably combine it with street photography in the future.
Over the last 18 months with the BLM movement and black history now being taught in Welsh schools do you feel artists of colour in Wales are now being fairly represented in education and cultural spaces?
I don’t think artists of colour are fairly represented and more needs to be done, particularly as we are part of Welsh life and culture. Therefore, it’s only right and fair that black history be taught in school, and it should start as early as the infant school. A movement like BLM is really important because being treated unfairly based on the colour of your skin is wrong. It’s disappointing that black and brown people’s input is being recognised quite late in the day because of systemic racism but I am hopeful that representation in education and cultural spaces both behind the scenes as well as up front in the gallery/theatre/cinema space will be the norm sooner rather than later.
If you are interested in getting involved in Cardiff Calling you can contact Zara at email@example.com
You reference Poly Styrene in your work, why is she such an inspiration to you?
Poly Styrene is such an inspiration for me because she was one of only a handful of non-white people in a famous punk band and being a woman as well was quite extraordinary. Being half Somali and half British myself it was unusual at the time to see a woman with the same ethnicity as me who was famous. I don’t know if it was in her mind that she would be inspirational to a brown girl in Wales, but she was. There wasn’t the same type of language when I was growing up as there is today like ‘you have to see it to be it’. But it certainly helps to see people like you doing things you’re interested in.
Get the Chance works to support a diverse range of members of the public to access cultural provision. Are you aware of any barriers that creatives in Wales face? If you are, what might be done to remove these barriers?
I think certain barriers are a problem for creatives in Wales such as a lack of time and money. The creative industries aren’t given the same type of priority as more tradition careers such as teaching, law or medicine, they are also peddled as difficult to get in to and more difficult to sustain unless you get lucky, or you know the right people. I hope organisations realise that opportunities need to be created that offer finances and useful links to people that need it. These offers need to be genuine and real for creatives, of any age, to build a career.
With the roll out of the Covid-19 vacancies, the arts sector is hopeful audiences will return to venues and theatres. If theatres want to attract audiences, what do you think they should do?
It’s been a difficult time for a lot of venues, but the vaccine rollout has been a good thing to help arts spaces open again. I think theatres could consider cheaper ticket prices for a period, maybe approach organisations, schools and disadvantaged groups that may have less access to the theatre in general.
If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?
This a difficult one. It would be a toss-up between cinema and photography, but I really enjoy watching films, so I’ll go for film. Also, I appreciate the skills involved from different parts of the creative industries that come together that get a film made.
What excites you about the arts in Wales?
What excites me about the arts in Wales is the array of talent here in different disciplines. Because we are lucky to have people from different cultures with careers as artists it adds a new aspect to arts practice here in Wales. We help Wales and its cultural output in a very positive way.
What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?
I was given two Xray Spex 7 inch singles from a friend recently and because I have a record player I’ve been able to listen to them. It’s made me listen to some of the vinyl I have and I really enjoy it. It’s a small thing but I appreciate.
If you go up to the woods today, you’ll be in for a great surprise. Open your eyes take a deep breath and let Mother Nature take you on a tour of her wonderland.
Amidst the spectacular and historical Rhondda Fawr Valley lies an environmental organisation that is open to all. It is called “Welcome to our Woods/Croeso i’n Coedwig” incorporating the Skyline Project.
It is surrounded by the drama of Pen Pych Mountain and the majesty of the Cwmsaerbren Woods Treherbert. With the legacy of Nant Saerbren powering the micro hydro electrical resource which channels the supply to the area.
Avant Cymru, in partnership with the organisation brought the Hydro Jam event to Treherbert over several weeks during June and July. The event proclaimed a collection of creativity and activities, so many to note here. Marquees were erected to enhance the surroundings and supply covering in the event of changeable weather conditions, with refreshments and seating accommodated by hard working volunteers.
The event began with a dancing session bringing ballroom dancing to the forestry of flora and fauna, all taught on an outdoor dance floor and stage; then the BeatBox Boys added their specialty to the prize-winning Lewis Merthyr Band, combining the band’s brass instruments to the sound of the beat. “Cwm Rhondda” was never so melodic, with the ‘beat box’ technique adding to the enjoyment for both sets of performers. The event continued during the week with Sewing demonstrations, courtesy of Julie the Stitch, make up demonstrations, Zumba on Zoom, Pilates, BeActive, the Vogue group performed, there were Swing Sessions, plus demonstrations from young dancers all leading up to the eventual Hip Hop Jam Competition held on the very last day of the event.
It was an eagerly awaited eco-friendly attraction of entertainment from local Rhondda Artists which included BAGSY, LLOYD the Graffiti master, SUZI JOSHI who produced some fantastic paintings on Perspex, Rap Cyphers presented by Larynx, together with the support of James and Bridie DOYLE-ROBERTS of Citrus Arts. The Bella Vista Coffee Club brought their folk and easy listening music to the event, performed by Helen Probyn-Williams, Sally Churchill, Gerhard Kress, Jim Barrett and Ann and Paul Hughes.
Members of RCT Creative Writers Group read their poems and short stories – who can forget the poet’s admission of being “A Naked Gardener”? (All said in fun highlighting the creativity of words).
On one night there was a battle scene performed as a rehearsal for Avant Cymru’s forthcoming performance of Shakespeare’s Henry V.
The last day was the culmination of much planning, hard work and ingenuity during this time of Pandemic. Welcome to the Woods arena, courtesy of Avant Cymru, saluted the UK Breakin’ scene with BBoys and BGirls from across the UK participating in the UK Breakin’ competition. How can I describe such enthusiasm flexibility and sheer joy of expression in one sentence? Enough to say I didn’t quite know what it was all about until this day, I now know I’m a fan. An incredible intergenerational gymnastic dancing spectacle (how the heck did they get into that position?) and what was more, everyone – and I mean every entrant was happily encouraging and congratulating each other on their routines. Let us just say it showed what taking part is supposed to mean.
The final came down to BBoy Nene who had travelled from Birmingham and BBoy Callum from Cardiff with the ultimate winner being BBoy Callum who was a student of Emma’s Motion Control Dance Group of Barry. Representatives of the Breakin’ Organisation WOOSH had a lot to consider, (one had to be in quarantine for a fortnight as he had travelled from the Netherlands to be at Treherbert for this competition) there were three judges (who each performed their own routine to much appraisal) plus DJ Jaffa from Cardiff and DJ Silence. The anchor woman was BGirl Sunanda Biswas a Choreographer and Teacher from South London.
With thanks to all who provided the entertainment refreshments accommodation and an especially warm welcome to those who came to assimilate just who or what was where at Welcome to Our Woods.
Appreciation to Rachel and Jamie of Avant Cymru for the invitation to contribute as RCT Creative Writers Group Members to this event. To Gavin Owens for the media film and Lee Williams for the photographs.
The Valleys were alive with the sound of a community enjoying life and being entertained at the same time!
In this latest interview, Get the Chance member Gareth Williams chats to Welsh Country singer-songwriter Rae Sam. Their chat takes place in the form of a podcast, the first in a trial series in conversation with Welsh creatives. Rae talks about her debut album, The Great Escape, as well as songwriting, mental health, Welsh identity, and faith.
To find out more about Rae, visit her website here, or follow her on social media @raesammusic.
Get the Chance supports volunteer critics like Gareth to access a world of cultural provision. We receive no ongoing, external funding. If you can support our work please donate here. Thanks.
This year has been the year of the audio. Scratchworks Theatre Company have brought their original stage play, written by Jack Dean to an audio tale with accompanied Science experiments for children.
Combined in a couple of audio sections, Faina and The Snow Beast features the tale of an Orphan, Faina, who dreams of becoming a scientists. Raised by the owl who found her abandoned, Maud, who believes in the magical and extraordinary, the two, with the help of Faina’s mother’s journal, undertake the most exciting adventure full of trials and tribulations to find The Snow Beast.
The story is very easy to get into. Able to download, you can dip and dive into the story whenever you want to. With the talented voices of Scratchworks, a range of different character’s are animated within our consciousness with the use of accents and skillful voice acting, evoking images and fueling our imaginations of the character’s and their adventure.
Known for their brilliant voices and musical styling, Scratchworks bring in magical yet homely and folk like music to accompany the story, making the atmosphere and the story feel sensational, with a Disney-like quality to the story in drumming up visions of the adventure.
Punctuated with their science pack, children are able to listen to the story and are encouraged and inspired to follow Scratchworks and make their own scientific experiments. The story highlights that science and the extraordinary are not necessarily different to one another. Maud states something along the lines of why should you only have the choice of belief in science or of the magical and unusual. By bringing the two together in a theatrical story telling and with science to attempt, children and adults alike can enjoy the magic of science and stories.
Faina and The Snow Beast aims itself at children, but adults are also fully taken away to far away lands, flying in hot air balloons and feeling the blizzardy atmosphere The Snow Beast creates. A joyous and sensational story.
Hi Simone great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
Thanks for having me! I am Simone Sistarelli, and I am the founder of Popping For Parkinson’s ®, a project that transforms Parkinson’s patients into Popping dance students. I am passionate about inspiring people. I am a dance artist, a social entrepreneur, a musician and public speaker. I am in the Universal Hip Hop Museum Hall of Fame for my contribution to Hip Hop Culture.
I have a BA in Contemporary Dance from Trinity Laban and an MSc in Dance Psychology from the University of Hertfordshire.
What got you interested in the arts?
I fell in love at first sight with dancing at age 10, and I have not stopped being in the arts world since! The arts are an incredible vessel of expression, and they feel liberating to me.
You have been running Popping For Parkinson’s since 2015. On your website you describe your approach as
“Using Popping dance techniques as an innovative therapeutic tool for improving the physical condition of people affected by Parkinson’s disease. Participants see improvement in their natural movement capacities, but also gain confidence, feel less socially isolated and have fun.”
It sounds like a fascinating approach. Where did the project originate?
I had the original idea in 2012 while training at Trinity Laban Conservatoire. It originated as a result of various inputs, from my granddad having Parkinson’s to the similarities between the Parkinson’s tremors and Popping dance. I thought: people with Parkinson’s shake without the beat;I train my whole life as a Popping dancer to shake to the beat. In my head, people with Parkinson’s could turn their symptom into a superpower! After years of research on Parkinson’s, dance, music therapy, dance therapy and more, I developed a methodology, started a collaboration with SLYPN (South London Younger Parkinson’s Network), I offered the first dance class as a trial run, people loved it, and we haven’t stopped since!
How does someone get involved, do they need to have any prior dance experience?
Absolutely no prior experience is needed! People can simply sign up for the online classes through our website and join us!
How would you like the project to develop?
There are around 10 million people with Parkinson’s worldwide. The ultimate aim of the project is to reach all of them and empower them all to become dancers! In practical terms, I am working on future developments by exploring different ways to reach people, from writing a book to creating dance tutorials (both on streaming platforms and DVDs), creating bespoke music for dance classes and more.
You might not normally think of Hip-Hop culture and Parkinson’s as strong partners. What has the reaction been to the project in the Hip Hop community?
My work has been recognised by the Universal Hip Hop Museum, the ultimate dream for anyone in the Hip Hop community. I hope I can inspire people in the Hip Hop world as much as Hip Hop inspired me in the first place.
There is a lack of Diversity in mainstream cultural provision. Do you think your project has connected with people who might not normally think of themselves as Dancers?
Yes! Dance is so much more than solely performing, and appreciating that is key to inviting more people to improve their life through social artistic movement.
Music is a key element of Hip Hop. How do you select the tracks to use in your class and if you had to choose one, what’s your favourite?
As a musician myself, I carefully choose the songs for my classes. I know the impact that a good tune can have! I am a record collector and I have a vast collection of songs to start from, then depending on the theme/mood of the class I will pick the most appropriate songs. Songs can go from classic Popping tunes (Cameo, Zapp) to Popping beats (Slick Dogg, Beatslaya), from recent Electro-Funk releases (Mofak, Makvel) to my own music productions.
Asking for a favourite song/album to a collector is like asking for the favourite child to a parent, it’s impossible to answer! One of the songs that I keep going back to though is Brass Construction’s “Get up to Get Down”.
Get the Chance works to support a diverse range of members of the public to access cultural provision. Are you aware of any barriers that people living with Parkinson’s face to access dance and your organisations work? If you have identified any, have you been able to reduce these barriers in any way?
People with Parkinson’s face several challenges on a daily basis. Some of these limitations are specific to accessing dance classes. We did encounter some of them and we tried to reduce the impact that they had. One example was offering both seated and standing classes, so that people with limited mobility can access Popping dance (which tends to be a standing dance style).
Another limitation was costs, so from the very start of the project we offered the classes free of charge for participants (thanks to the support of funders such as the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and the National Lottery Community Fund).
Now that classes are online only for obvious reasons, barriers are different. For example, commuting to class can be challenging for people with Parkinson’s, yet this particular limitation is not present online. At the same time, online classes present other barriers, such as technological knowledge, Zoom fatigue, access to broadband (especially for older people). We want to expand and offer several ways of participation, from interactive classes via Zoom to pre-recorded classes on YouTube, from dance tutorials to DVDs (coming soon) in order to minimise the impact that barriers create to people with Parkinson’s. It is a constant work-in-progress.
The video below is a taster video of a Popping For Parkinson’s Class
With the roll out of the Covid-19 vacancies, the arts sector is hopeful audiences will return to venues and theatres. If theatres want to attract people living with Parkinson’s what do you think they should do?
Venues should understand the needs of people with Parkinson’s in order to accommodate them, making sure that venues are accessible and that staff are trained accordingly.
If you were able to fund an area of the arts what would this be and why?
All of them! But if I had to choose, I would dedicate way more funding to the phenomenal individuals that dedicate their lives to supporting people through artistic expression. The value that individuals bring to the arts is immense, and without them organisations could not thrive.
What excites you about the arts at the moment?
Two main aspects really inspire and excite me at this stage. One is dance science, getting a deeper understanding of the relationship between arts and health, as I believe there is unlimited potential there.
The other one is the creation of new cross-disciplinary experiences that engage a diverse audience through the combination of several media (for example, from the genre-defying dance film TOM by Wilkie Branson to choreographing for drones).
What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?
Seeing my students come to class with severe difficulties and then leaving energised, smiling and confident is an experience I still cannot get used to after many years! The power of dance truly is remarkable, so much so that sometimes it feels magical!
Thanks for your time Simone
You can checkout the PoppingFor Parkinsons Spotify playlis here
If you are interested in finsing our more abour Simone and his work you can do so at the links below.
Muscle Shoals comes to Pembrokeshire as singer-songwriter Jodie Marie releases her latest genre-defying album ‘The Answer’.
(5 / 5)
Welsh singer-songwriter Jodie Marie is an artist who refuses to play by the music industry rules. Her latest album The Answer is an exemplary response to those who would wish to classify her sound under a single heading. For though there is a blues thread that runs soulfully through this 12-track collection, the genre-blending that goes on both within and between each song makes this a musical tapestry of the highest quality. It is rich with meaning, drawing on inspiration from the past and mixing it with a contemporary sound to create something that is both reminiscent yet highly original. The result is a sublime record that makes for a captivating listen.
The Answer opens with the smooth funk and soul of ‘You are my Life’. It is characteristic of much of the album insofar as it transports you back some fifty years whilst remaining firmly rooted in the present. ‘Ain’t No Doubt about It’ echoes this same feeling, with a gorgeous arrangement that soaks you in the sounds of Motown whilst being resonant of the music of people as eclectic as Amy Winehouse, Paolo Nutini and CeeLo Green. It demonstrates an altogether playful approach to music making as Jodie mixes and matches various flavours to compose songs that are replete with nods to the past. In doing so, she does not just pay homage to the music she grew up listening to but, on songs such as ‘A Whole Lot of Loving’, she breathes new life into these timeless sounds. Nowhere is this more evident than on ‘Don’t Go Telling Me (That It’s Over)’, a ludicrously enjoyable song that combines classic doo-wop with electric guitar blues to create an incredibly moreish track.
Even when she strips things back to produce moments of acoustic tenderness, Jodie’s sound remains impossible to clinically define. ‘Carageen’ washes over you like the gentle crashing of waves on a shore. Its central metaphor seems to represent a kind of spiritual grounding for Jodie: a place that centres her and from which her music, in all its eclectic glory, therapeutically flows. ‘Saving Grace’ offers up a beautifully intimate picture of love that requires deep listening. It is storytelling in the vein of a Nashville Songwriter’s Round yet one cannot claim it as pure country. Just as ‘Kiss These Tears Away’ cannot simply be a ballad of the blues. Instead, Jodie manages to weave enough elements into each track so as they become wonderfully ambiguous. This is most true in the title track. ‘The Answer’ contains hints of modern country, ‘60s rock, and Welsh electro-pop, undercut with a blues vibe and layered with pure soul. The result is a raw and rousing sound of real emotion and depth.
‘Hanging by a String’ is like an audio illustration of the kind of building blocks that go into making Jodie Marie’s overall sound. From its humble intro, Jodie stacks brick upon brick of musical instrumentation to construct a track that is perfectly-formed and insulated with solid soul. ‘This House’ is built on the blues and is kitted out with the best of classic rock. Such rock is infused with pop to create a catchy refrain on ‘Curse the Day’ that sparks with electricity. The Answer is brought to life by such commingling of genres which, one cannot help but feel, reflects the beating heart of Jodie herself. This is what makes the album so special. She has not compromised or standardised on anything. Instead, she has made a record that is truly her. And that authenticity shines through. Jodie Marie is a champion of artistic vision over and above what the industry demands. The Answer is the answer to anyone who thinks otherwise.
In our latest Playwright interview Director of Get the Chance Guy O’Donnell chats to Wales based Playwright Neil Bebber. Neil discusses his career to date, his latest project “Short Stories for Stressed Grown-Ups”and his thoughts on opportunities for Playwrights in Wales.
Hi Neil great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
Hello! I’m a playwright, screenwriter, copywriter and graphic designer. I enjoy cycling, sea swimming, hiking at night under star-stuffed skies, endlessly scrolling though Netflix trying to find something good to watch, cooking (though my recent attempts at culinary genius have fallen short) and playing online Scrabble with strangers. For the record, I haven’t lost a game. Yet.
So, what got you interested in the arts?
Pantomime. Probably. I remember the feeling I had watching a school panto when I was maybe ten years old. The Seven Dwarves had left for the day to hi-ho off to work and Snow White was left alone in the space. A sequence followed where she just made the most of having the space to herself and I was transfixed.
From an early age, I was curious about the world. Talking to people as soon as I could talk. Asking “why” even more than most other kids. That question can take a child either way. Science allows us to understand how something works. The arts allow us to explore how something makes us feel. I’m a combination of the two. But, having turned down a potentially lucrative career in banking, in favour of a poorly-paid graphic design “apprenticeship” (that’s a whole other story!) I’d chosen my path.
Can you tell us about your writing process? Where do your ideas come from?
I used to fool myself into believing the romantic notion that I could only write when I was wallowing in a pool of self-indulgent pity, but I now realise that’s not true. I don’t know who said it, but writers write. So, the most important part of the process is to start by writing something.
It’s a cliché, but it is a muscle. And the more you do it, the easier it gets. And the more addictive it is. On the many courses I’ve been on, the forensic detail of process has been useful, but I’ve always got more from the automatic writing exercises. It’s a great way to unlock the unconscious mind and discover those seeds lurking in there between the teeth of doubt.
And I make a lot of notes. The romance of a notepad and fountain pen has been superseded by the iphone, but I’m glad that, should I ever hit a pothole on my bike and find myself flattened by an oncoming bus, nobody will ever get to access my notes. There’s a lot of strange musings there. Today I wrote a paragraph about how a crow, battered by the wind, seemed to be perfectly content to walk across the road sideways. And how that might serve as a metaphor. But I don’t know what for yet.
GULL, the play recently read on Zoom by the brilliant The Far Away Plays came about like that. A note about watching gulls rip apart bin bags and hungrily tuck into a pile of used nappies. The revulsion fed the atmosphere of the play.
In terms of dialogue, I believe that writing good dialogue is more about listening than writing. Before our freedoms were curtailed by a microscopic enemy, I used to sit in a lot of coffee shops, just listening to exchanges and watching people’s body language. In recent years, I probably haven’t been the best company, socially, choosing to observe and makes notes, rather than get involved.
Can you describe your writing day? Do you have a process or a minimum word count?
Writing days vary depending on the project. I’m also lucky enough to be able to supplement an artist’s income with commercial copywriting. But, either way, I start early. Check emails, social media between 8 and 8.30 and then make a start on the writing. At the moment I’m in the process of editing an audio play for a competition, writing a new speculative TV drama and also writing, recording and editing my stories for my YouTube channel, “Short Stories for Stressed Grown-Ups”.
Producing my own work has also made me realise the amount of time that’s needed for its design and promotion. The “Short Stories…” project needed to have an eye-catching brand, as well as accompanying visuals for each story. And all of this needs to be shared with the online world. I hope I’m finding the balance between, “oh, that’s interesting, I’m so glad he let me know” and “for God’s sake, not another post about his bloody stories!” If there’s anyone brave enough out there, do let me know!
Why and where do you write?
I write because I have something to say. About something I‘ve seen or something I’ve heard. Or something I feel passionately about.
I write because it’s a compulsion. A bit of an addiction. Especially when I get to see how an audience responds to it, good or bad. Maybe that’s some deep-seated need for validation. But then maybe that’s why any artist creates anything.
I write because it helps me repair. Relax. Forget. Make sense of a world (or of people) I don’t always understand.
I write because it’s satisfying and often surprising to be taken on a journey by imaginary characters, into unfamiliar scenarios and behaviours.
In terms of where I write, I can write anywhere. As long as I have something to balance a laptop on and a reasonably comfortable chair to sit on, I can write. There’s no ritual, no lucky desk or chair of inspiration. So, the photo is of a number of places where I could easily write. And the list is always being added to…
You are a prolific writer working across multiple mediums and forms. How has the Covid-19 Pandemic affected you and your creative process?
It was clear from the beginning that the lockdown, and the continuing response to a global pandemic, was going to fundamentally change a world that relied on the physical gathering of human beings in close proximity, whether audience or performer.
But, pretty early on, I saw an opportunity to get work out to a wider audience. Admittedly, it’s not the same experience as sitting in a studio theatre, tightly-packed with an appreciative audience, breathing the same air and having a collective experience.
When Jordan Bernarde contacted me about re-staging BREATHE (to avoid him climbing the walls during the first lockdown), after a short and successful run at The Bread & Roses the year before, I jumped at the chance. And it’s success has shown that there’s an audience for online theatre.
Theatres talk a lot about diversifying their audience base and this provides the perfect opportunity to do just that. Anyone who might previously have been intimidated by physically visiting a venue, can now watch a performance online and maybe discover that it isn’t the inaccessible, exclusive experience they may have expected. And, from a writer’s perspective, there’s an entire planet’s worth of connected people looking for content. The challenge is standing out amongst the noise!
From my own point of view, there’s been a shift towards demand for more audio drama. I’ve been working on a new play for the Papatango prize, which this year will be awarded to three audio works. And I was commissioned at the end of last year to write a multiple choice audio drama, which would be navigated purely through using Alexa. Exciting stuff!
One of your latest initiatives is the new new YouTube-based spoken word project, ‘Short Stories for Stressed Grown-ups’
You’ve written a number of short stories, which you’ve also narrated yourself. This is how you’ve described the project:
“Remember when you were a kid? And how it felt to be all tucked up and have a story read to you? What a shame that, as adults, we don’t get to enjoy the sheer, indulgent escapism of those moments anymore. Well, now that’s changed. Short Stories for Stressed Grown-ups by Neil Neil is now live! So all you have do is find somewhere quiet, where you won’t be disturbed, and listen to an original short story that will transport you from the troubles of your day.
Whether you use it to help you get off to sleep, or to re-set in the middle of a busy day, every story is written just for you.”
What response have you had to this new area of writing and storytelling?
The short stories were a suggestion by a producer friend of mine, Simon Regan, who I’d worked with on an arts podcast, EVOLUTIONS, shortly before the pandemic kicked off
I was frustrated at the time it took to get work “out there” so he suggested I might do it myself.
I researched the short story market, as well as potential gaps in provision for audio content and I thought a combination of meditative and escapist character-based short stories, narrated in the style of a bedtime story, might work.
The response has been really encouraging. The audience has been very frank about what’s working and what isn’t, the real-time feedback giving me an opportunity to modify the style and content of each new story. I’m also keen to interact with the audience, using names for characters taken from contents pages and maybe asking for suggestions on story ideas and destinations.
It’s great to know, too, that these stories are temporarily distracting people from the stresses of their day and, in some cases, helping them sleep. I’m hoping my voice doesn’t have the same effect during face-to-face conversations, when we return to the “real” world!
In November your latest play GULL was read online by the team at The Far Away Plays. We think the Far Away Plays have been one of the highpoints of creative activity in Wales during the Pandemic. Have you had an opportunity to listen to any of the other Far Away Plays, play readings? And how was it to have your latest play produced on Zoom?
GULL was originally scheduled to be performed at WMC’s Ffwrnes Scratch night in March 2020, but then the world plunged into chaos. So I was thrilled when The Far Away Plays chose it for one of their online performances late last year. Their commitment to getting work out to online audiences, as well as dealing with all the logistical stages in between, has been immense.
I was also excited to be able to cast three incredible RWCMD alumni. Luke Nunn, Cecilia Appiah and Meredith Lewis were just some of the standout actors from 2020 and it was a real privilege to witness their brilliantly instinctive and nuanced performances, especially given the limited time they had to rehearse.
The director James O’Donnell also deserves a special mention. Having put a callout on social media for a director at late notice, James answered the call. The way he was able to take a potentially static medium and turn it into such a dynamic performance was miraculous. I always get really nervous before any production of my work, but it was clear within minutes that GULL was in safe hands, so I was actually able to sit back and enjoy it!
I’m waiting to hear from FAP if there’s a recording I might be able to share with all of the Artistic Directors who weren’t able to make it, because, as good as it was to see the work performed online, this play would (and this team!) clearly work brilliantly on stage.
There are a range of organisations supporting Welsh and Wales-based writers, I wonder if you feel the current support network and career opportunities feel ‘healthy’ to you? Is it possible to sustain a career as a writer in Wales and if not what would help?
“Healthy” might be a misleading term. The opportunities are available, but I wonder how writers are made aware of them. For opportunities, my go-to is BBC Writer’s Room Opportunities page. Then I check London Playwrights, which is another brilliant resource. I’m not sure if there’s a central database for opportunities in Wales. If not, it would be great to have one, where all aspects of writing were covered, plays, films, TV, etc.
Also, there are a number of theatres offering writer’s courses and residences, but there are rarely the resources available to sustain the momentum, once they’ve happened. I’ve been on three writer’s courses and one residency and none of these led to a tangible, ongoing relationship with the respective theatres.
In terms of sustaining a writing career, I think it’s important to diversify. I’m lucky to also be a freelance copywriter and graphic designer, but, even if I was commissioned to write three plays a year, the income generated wouldn’t be enough to sustain a family, mortgage and other regular day-to-day commitments. From what I can gather, to make any sort of living, TV writing seems to the way forward. Ideally I’d like to be able to do a bit of everything, though, as I’ve been lucky enough to so far.
If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?
I think a TV writing academy would be a valid investment now. As Wales becomes used increasingly as a destination for production, and companies like Bad Wolf continue to thrive, a joined up, sustained TV writing “lab” could help nurture home-grown talent and ensure Wales was increasingly self contained, moving forward. Especially given the increase in demand for content from online providers like Netflix and Prime.
What excites you about the arts in Wales?
Diversity. The sheer extent of opportunities to make and view art for a country with a reasonable small population. I’m hesitant to use the term, “punching above its weight”. Oh, too late. I have.
And then there’s always the occasional parallel universe curveball of one of Tactile Bosch’s performance art nights. That’s what first made me realise I was living in a capital city. Ah, I miss Kim Fielding. What a lovely man.
What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?
There are so many things that have either left me speechless, laugh uncontrollably or made me cry, sometimes all at the same time.
I remember sitting down in my office (in the middle of the first lockdown), with headphones on, to watch Complicite’s “The Encounter”, and feeling within minutes as if I’d been transported to another world, by both the performance and its remarkable aural soundscape. Not sure if it’s still available to view online, but there’s more, here:
Charlie Kaufmann’s “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” (on Netflix), whilst sometimes being incomprehensible, felt like a pure artist’s vision, unimpeded by the demands of people-pleasing. Maybe the best art is selfish. And this felt like that. But in the best possible way.
And no conversation (I say conversation, though this has all been a bit one way) with me goes without a music mention. The Dandy Warhols’ 13 Tales from Urban Bohemia has been my favourite album for years. And at the end of last year, they performed a live stream of it, in its entirety, for the first time. For that hour, I was there, front and centre, dancing like a kid in a sweet shop. The sweets being the songs. But not in jars. Obviously.
Anyway, that’s three. Because there’s never any shortage of great things to share.
Thanks for your time
And thank you for this brilliant opportunity to ramble.
Creating opportunities for a diverse range of people to experience and respond to sport, arts, culture and live events. / Lleisiau amrywiol o Gymru yn ymateb i'r celfyddydau a digwyddiadau byw