After-dark spoken word SHINDING

Fay Roberts
Image credit: Photo: Howard Key
Wesley Freeman-Smith
Image credit: Photo: Jakub Hader

1. Who are you and what do you do?

Fay: My name is Fay Roberts, I live in Cambridge (originally from Cardiff… or Belfast… depending when you’re counting from…), and I’m the founder/ editor/ host of Allographic Press and associated events and publications. I’m also the Co-Director of Spoken Word for the Free Fringe (Edinburgh Fringe Festival), and host of Hammer & Tongue Cambridge.

Wesley: Wesley Freeman-Smith, Ely, Commander-in-Chief. I run a multimedia night of alternative music, art and entertainment called SHINDIG. It happens once a month in unconventional venues around Cambridge, and generally leans towards the theatrical and atmospheric end of the spectrum.

2. Give us a 10-word summary of what your role entails.

F: Corralling poets (booking acts, writing publicity copy, enthusing audiences).

W: Booking and promoting musicians, artists and performers. Spinning many plates.

3. How did you get into it?

F: I started doing performance poetry in 2006, when I accidentally got into the final of a poetry “slam” (live poetry competition) when a favour to a friend spiralled slightly out of control. I got hooked and, within a couple of years, was running the events. When I moved to Cambridge, I got involved in the local chapter of Hammer & Tongue (a national poetry slam “franchise”), and now host and organise it (every 2nd Wednesday of the month at The Fountain, Cambridge). I became a little frustrated that the performance poetry scene seemed to be mostly highlighting the work and world perspective of straight, white, able-bodied, cis-gendered males. Talented, lovely, and brilliant performers, but their stories are told a lot. I wanted to provide another set of perspectives, so – via Allographic, we focus on the “stories less told”, featuring people and poetry and stories from less expected perspectives.

W: It started out by curating opening night for my first art exhibit in CB2, where the worlds of visual art and music seemed to blend really well. I think what fueled it all was disillusionment with the typical “3 band gig” format, where little care seemed to be taken in curating an immersive experience for audiences. Cambridge deserves a more integrated arts scene, where there isn't so much of a distinction between highbrow and lowbrow entertainment.

4. Where did your interest in music and poetry come from?

F: My household was very performance-orientated, though this was always seen as something you did outside the day job/ mainstream. So I always sang, played various instruments, and did a little acting. I was always a prose writer (short stories, articles, essays, unfinished novels…) Poetry was always something I did maybe once every few years. I wrote a few songs at one point and, in fact, most of my early performance pieces were songs spoken. I still sing in choirs (and backing vocals for a couple of bands, for which I also bang the occasional drum), but poetry seems to have taken over…

5. What's the most challenging or fun aspect of your role?

F: The people involved.

W: The challenge I guess is making sure everyone feels involved and free to do what they like, while also being able to say “no, that won't work – sorry about that” occasionally.

6. Why are music and poetry important to you?

F: Poetry (and music, and art forms of all kinds) are important to me because they should be important to everyone. Art, to my mind, is an attempt to express the inexpressible uniqueness of experience, to say: “oh look, I’m human, so are you”. Arguably the whole point of any society is to encourage cohesion and the empathy required for that. Art is one of the binding tools of humanity. It is a way of broadcasting ourselves across the ages. Poetry positively revels in all that’s extraordinary about what we do with words: the sounds, the shapes, the multitudes of meanings. And poetry is an art form that makes you think as well as feel – you’re rarely given the whole story in good poetry, encouraging you to fill in the gaps left by the author.

W: It's important to everyone, is it not? The important thing is to provide a platform for creative expression, and to create an environment where artists and audiences alike feel able to take risks and try something new. Curiosity and creativity are incredibly important things to foster in a community; a live event is just one of the ways to frame it so more people can have access to and reap the benefit of these things.

7. What's the worst aspect or experience of your role?

F: Being under-prepared (either physically or mentally); things can shift radically at very short notice, and if you’re neither organised nor prepared, it can make a very tense and troublesome time out of what is supposed to be pleasurable.

W: Fay and I had one memorable night scraping candle wax off of a church floor until 1am. That was not particularly glamorous... The main issue that comes up time and time again is funding.

8. What future plans do you have for your music and poetry?

F: I’d like personally to finish my one-woman, one-hour show “Coda” and actually perform it this year, hopefully at the Edinburgh Fringe (where I curate lots of other people’s spoken word shows but never – until now – a solo one of my own). Once that’s done I can tick another thing off my bucket list!

W: Continuing in a similar vein. But with better shoes. In terms of concrete plans, I'm really looking forward to working with more people and seeing where those collaborations lead. It's kind of a 'deeper down the rabbit hole' scenario; structuring in more audience involvement, more live art aspects, and finding new ways that the aesthetic can reflect the content of the event in real time.

9. What would be your one tip for someone who wanted a performance poet?

F: Gaffer tape and preparedness (and always thank your crew. ALWAYS.)

W: Network like some sort of likeable Terminator, programmed to smile at anything with a face (and subtley hand them a business card afterwards).

10. What do you hope people will take away from the SHINDIG + Allographic Special night?

F: A sense of wonder. The knowledge that they’ve seen something new and were changed by it. Merchandise they’ve paid for. Flyers for our next shows.

W: Pews?

11. Do you have any similar events in the pipeline for the Cambridge area?

F: We’re going to start up the “Allographic Presents…” specials again this year.

W: SHINDIG happens roughly once a month, always with a focus on bringing different art forms together – from film to poetry to dance and, of course, music. Each event happens in a different space, and features a varied line-up. Come along with an open mind (and some friends).

12. What’s your favourite place in Cambridge?

F: CB2. Warm, accessible, friendly, and unafraid to allow all sorts of artists through their doors and make shapes and noises in their basement/ landing.

W: The Junction's new programme next year looks to be really varied and interesting too; I'm looking forward to seeing where they take it!

The SHINDIG Allographic Special comes to Emmanuel Church on Saturday 18th January. For tickets go to 

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