‘It’s poetry for people who don’t like poetry.’ Such is Matt Abbott’s underpinning statement of intent. Sure enough, ‘poem’, for many, is a four letter word; one that conjures up images of tweed-laden, po-faced academics spouting inaccessible and near-indecipherable literary reactions to the work of OTHER tweed-laden, po-faced academics. However, in the last few years poetry nights and spoken word performances have become increasingly popular at the grass roots level and the popularity of Sleaford Mods proves that words, even in the indie music world, can far outweigh the importance of their musical setting. Spoken word is now firmly established as a vent for people for whom the art form previously seemed simply irrelevant.
Matt’s first exposure to poetry was suitably inauspicious. At 16 years old he came home from school to be greeted by one of his Dad’s John Cooper Clark records. ‘At first I thought it was terrible, then my head went ‘hold on’, and I just tried it…’ Within a few months he was called on stage to perform at a Reverend and The Makers gig by fellow poet John McClure and shortly after formed Skint and Demoralised (with MiNI dOG) who spent time on Universal Records’ roster. After finding himself at odds with the major label decision makers on several occasions, he discovered that realising his rock’n’roll aspirations came, as they so often do, with a hefty price tag; ‘I was nearly, nearly a famous musician’ he says, a statement loaded with as much ‘thank fuck that’s over’ as genuine disappointment.
Spurred on by his experiences at various record labels and recognising the need for both performers and poetry loving public to have a platform, he recently launched Nymphs and Thugs, a label dedicated to spoken words artists. He has also recently established a zine and website with the intention, in part, of giving largely unknown poets a leg-up and establishing a central hub for the spoken word community. I met with Matt in April to talk about the label as well as his own poetry and, as you’d expect for a guy who spends his entire working day dealing with words, he can’t ‘arf talk…
Q. How are things going?
Yeah, it’s really exciting. This year, especially, it’s taken a massive notch up.
Q. What triggered the idea of starting a spoken word record label?
The idea came when I did Edinburgh Fringe last year – it’s really expensive and I funded it all myself. There was a gap in the market for poetry CDs… Possibly because no-one buys poetry and no-one buys CDs. I went to the label who worked with Skint and Demoralised after Universal and they suggested I set up my own as an imprint on theirs. We launched Nymphs and Thugs officially when we released Louise Fazackerley’s album “Love is a Battlefield”.
Q. Is there a criteria for prospective signings? Does the label have an ethos?
Poetry, for me, should be accessible, it should be vernacular, and I just want to feature artists that ARE accessible and engaging, and saying things that are important. I’ve got a plan. There are a few artists I’m going to approach between now and the end of the year. I know where I’m going, I’m not just doing it completely willy-nilly.
Q. With regards to your own pieces, you definitely seem to practise what you preach. Do you have a personal mission statement?
To do it properly, you can only write about what you know. There are lots of things I’d love to write poems about but I can’t because I don’t know enough about them or they haven’t happened to me. A lot of my gigs are at trade union events and music festivals and working mens clubs, events where people aren’t really there to hear poetry and they don’t necessarily LIKE poetry, but I get up and speak and, afterwards, they say ‘actually, that was alright…’ That’s the whole point of it.
Q. Do you think that spoken word is soaking up some of the audience left wanting by the seemingly piss-poor current indie/guitar bands?
There’s more of a crossover now. Maybe as recently as 5 years ago, certainly 10 years ago, the only places you heard poetry were in community centres or libraries or the back rooms of pubs. Now, quite feasibly, people will go out to a spoken word night. It’s much less of a shock to people. We’ve just started a night in Wakefield called ‘Unity Words’ [at the Unity Works venue] and I know for a fact that half the people in the audience last time had never previously to a spoken word night, and they loved it!
Q. What about yourself? Any releases to look forward to?
Maybe another album next year, after I’ve sufficiently plugged the last one “Skint and Demoralised”, released last August. I’ve still got 9 copies of that to shift before I break even…
You can assist the very erudite and affable Matt Abbott in achieving that very modest goal by visiting www.nymphsandthugs.net. Therein, you’ll also find information on gigs, tours and releases from the label’s growing list of poets.