Hey everyone On Friday night I had a capital time spent with the good people of Edinburgh. The reason for my visit was a simple one, you see
I was given the privilege of being amongst the 16 poets selected to take part in the first ever Rally and Broad poetry slam at the relocated Bongo Club in the city’s Cowgate.
Hosted by the force of nature and co-organiser of Rally and Broad that is my good friend Jenny Lindsay and her friend co-conspirator and teammate Rachel McCrum this was always going to be a top night of quality spoken word and so it proved with a mixture of established slammers and rising stars given their chance to strut their poetic stage at the Bongo.
To be chosen as one of the 14 original entrant for this slam was a very great honour. I especially liked the fact that the entrants list was comprised of seven men and seven women with two wild cards to be selected on the night.
Also the format of four groups of four poets rather than everyone up for two rounds then going straight to the final meant that the slam was returning to its roots. As it so happens I like both formats, but this one took me a walk down memory lane and that really appealed to the softer side of my nature. So obviously with all those factors combining this was an invitation I wasn’t going to turn down.
As I began my preparation for the event I went to my local library and printed out some new poems some had been performed maybe once or twice before but most had yet to receive there first public airing. I selected a mixture of topical and comic material because as a pragmatist I learned early not to put all my eggs in one basket.
As I travelled through to our capital I was in a happy and positive frame of mind and arrived at the bus station with roughly 45 minutes to spare. However me being me, I decided to the scenic route. Well being a geography graduate joint honours with politics, I never did have a great sense of direction and behaving like a Liberal Democrat I went in completely the wrong direction to the one I should have taken. Yes I walked 90% of the cannongate before I noticed a favourite and familiar landmark in my personal geography of Edinburgh the wonderful Bene’s Chippy. Needless to say I went in to ask for directions and the member of staff who recognised me straight away sent me on the right track with a smile and the certain knowledge they’ll be sure to see me again in August when the fringe comes to call.
With just seconds to go before kick off I made it to the Bongo much to the relief and delight of Jenny Lindsay. As I looked round the venue for a spare seat I found shelter at the table of my good friend Peter Callaghan who was entering his first slam for a few years.
As the names were called out I was glad that I didn’t get picked in the first group and was delighted that I didn’t need to be first up for battle that honour fell on Alec Beattie. Lara Williams was next up to the mic with excellent poem Brave which I have to say was one of my highlights not only of the first round but of the entire evening. Lara gave a great performance of a poem delivered well, and crafted brilliantly. it was packed with fantastic imagery and rhymes which kicked in all the right places.
Highlights of an excellent first round included Rachel Amey’s thought provoking piece on the decline of NHS England. Tracey S Rosenberg’s thoughts on what cabin crew really think of airline passengers Graham Hawley’s poem on habits of the bathroom, Pete Callaghan’s satire on trying to escape from social graces and wanting to be the bad guy, the brilliant Mhairi Campbell-Jack with her poem on the perils of online dating, Colin McGuire’s stunning piece on how many different people view God, and Agnes Torok whose piece suggested we should give ourselves a hug sometimes. Quite right so she is, at least she is my opinion.
As for me I think I might have done better if I hadn’t changed my mind as to what to perform on at least 20 million occasions in just over 20 minutes. Eventually, I decided to perform a political poem celebrating May Day and a forward thinking internationalism which mocks those narrow minded British nationalists who claim Scotland is better together with them. Yes that little arrangement may well be better for them but they act in self interest and not Scotland’s interest that’s why the poem has the title The View From The Living Room Window.
This won my performance vote at the very last minute over the more comic Tears of a Style Goddess. Well I thought it may work better as we were being judged by some seriously sensible people. I mean honestly appearing in front of a celebrity panel like Alan Bissett, Hannah McGill, and Kirsty Logan was a truly wonderful if slightly terrifying experience. I think it may be have been easier being judged by Simon Cowell.
I jest of course our judges were faced with a very difficult task and it must have been a nightmare as they attempted to select six semi finalists from sixteen excellent poets. As I chatted to friends and fellow competitors Graham Hawley and Lewis Brown during the bar break and both agreed the judges had a very tough call. Graham actually went further and said that a lot more than six people deserved to go through. I have to admit I completely agree with him and I certainly didn’t envy the judges their task.
Eventually they made their decisions and Rachel Amey, Peter Callaghan, Colin McGuire Roddy Shippin, were named as the four group winners with Bram Gieban and Graham Hawley gaining the remaining two places as the highest scoring runners up. Now when Bram and Graham two guys who have won many slams in the past are named as highest scoring runners up it tells you something about the calibre of the poets participating in the event.
Just like the first round the semi finals
produced a feast of quality poetry and all the poets stepped it up in an effort to claim one of three places in the final the places going to the two group winners and highest scoring runner up. After two fiercely competitive heats with six top quality poets it was time for the judges to make their call. If they thought judging the first round
was difficult this would be a nightmare they would need a long time to consider their verdict. To compare it to a trial or possibly to world championship boxing there were a couple of split decisions.
After an excellent musical interlude during which we were entertained by the considerable musical talents of Hayley Beavis the winners were called as Colin McGuire and Bram Gieban. Indeed McGuire’s comic observations on Robert Burns would have had our national bard doubled up with laughter had he heard it. To see ourselves as others see Mr Burns that’s what I say. It really was
a quality poem performed by a man who is clearly on fire at the moment.
As for Bram Gieban this man is a real force to be reckoned with. A slam warrior who always seems to get stronger as the event progresses
he’s like that poetry athlete who always does just enough to get by in the heats but when the serious stuff starts you know he’s a real contender for the medals. The last spot the highest scoring runner up was won by Rachel Amey. The only woman in the semi finals was now the only woman
in the final and she was in it to win it.
The final was a closely fought contest between three brilliant talents all of whom were capable of winning on any particular night. On this night however the victory deservedly went to Rachel Amey whose poem on Love and its various descriptions just about shaded it in my opinion from runner up Colin McGuire whilst Bram Gieban finished third. I have to say that I slightly disagreed with the judges with regards to the silver and bronze medal position and would have placed Bram marginally ahead of Colin in the final showdown. There was no doubt however that Rachel Amey was a worthy winner of the inaugural Rally and Broad Slam.
This was a slam I was proud to have taken part in, a slam in which I heard new voices as well as more established ones and a slam where I competed well and was complimented on my poems by one of the judges and several of my fellow competitors is something I can be proud of and as I travelled back to Baillieston via the city centre on the late night bus I call the ghost train I thought to myself I know I have a problem wearing high heels but I think I can walk my local streets with my head held high.
Love And Best Wishes