Spoken Word Column: Don’t Touch Me, I’m a Real LIVEwire

Last month I gave you the story so far for Nymphs & Thugs Recording Co. – the lowdown on how we went from a conversation with an indie music label, to becoming the UK’s leading spoken word label. And yeah, I used the blog to name-drop Jimmy Page, but it was relevant within the context of what I was talking about and there’s no way I’ll do it again.

Anyway, a week ago today, we made the announcement. The next big step for Nymphs & Thugs as an organisation. Our biggest announcement of ‘LIVEwire’ events to date, and the springboard to our next chapter as the spoken word poetry scene continues to flourish.

As a full-time spoken word performer, one of the main issues that I’ve noticed is the lack of travelling that we tend to do for gigs. And what I mean is, unless you manage to get a load of Arts Council funding and then take a huge risk in unproven territory, you’re unlikely to do much gigging outside of your own region.

In fairness, as somebody that’s also a spoken word promoter, I know that this isn’t the fault of either the promoters or the performers. Funding is a huge issue, and when travel and accommodation come into it, it doesn’t usually leave much for a fee on top, so it becomes almost impossible to programme people from around the UK.

I’ve been running ‘Chelping’ at The Leeds Library since last April. My number one aim is to bring leading acts who are based in either Scotland, London or the Midlands, to one of the best venues in Leeds. Fortunately, the venue has some funding and so far, I’ve managed to stick to my brief. But for example, Kevin P. Gilday and Cat Hepburn were performing in England for the first time, and a fair few of the other acts had never gigged in Leeds before.

So, that’s one of the things that I’m wanting to change with these ‘LIVEwire’ dates. We’re starting off with four large regional dates – in Manchester, Bristol, Birmingham and Colchester respectively – as well as a residency featuring four events at Hyde Park Book Club in Leeds. Each event will feature a unique line-up, with some of the UK’s leading poets teaming up alongside Nymphs & Thugs artists.

The long-term goal is to continue staging these events around the UK (including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland whenever possible), and once we’re into the swing of things, we’ll explore taking ‘LIVEwire’ further afield. This is one of the most exciting and vital periods in UK counter-culture, and with the political situation somehow getting worse by the day (‘Years and Years’ scares the shit out of me), I think it’s extremely important that we showcase how our renegade poets are documenting, reacting, commentating and challenging.

Our first event takes place at The Edge Theatre & Arts Centre in Manchester. Alright, it’s in Chorlton-cum-Hardy if you’re being anal about it, but I’m calling it ‘LIVEwire Manchester’. In the headline slot we have Luke Wright, one of the most highly renowned poets in the country right now. We released his album ‘Twenty’ on 2LP gatefold vinyl earlier this year to mark two decades of Luke’s work on stage, and I’m buzzing about the fact that he’ll be kicking-off this series of events.

Louise Fazackerley will be main support. Louise was the first act to sign to Nymphs & Thugs and I’m utterly mesmerised by her every time I watch her perform – whether it’s in a ludicrous luxury estate in Cornwall (this weekend just gone) or in the BBC Edinburgh Fringe slam final (last summer). We also have Kirsty Taylor on the bill. I first shared a stage with Kirsty six and a half years ago, and she never fails to amaze me – the way she commands the stage is truly unique, and she’s putting Bratfud firmly on the poetry map.

A few weeks later, we launch the Leeds residency at Hyde Park Book Club. In the headline slot there is Salena Godden – the poetic powerhouse behind the ‘LIVEwire’ project and the artist that transformed Nymphs & Thugs when she signed just over three years ago. Salena is one of the UK’s leading poets, and this year sees her celebrate a quarter century on stage – both at home and around the globe.

Nafeesa Hamid will be Salena’s support act. Nafeesa is one of the leading lights in Birmingham’s scene – with Birmingham arguably making a claim to be the UK’s spoken word poetry capital right now. I first came across Nafeesa through VERVE Poetry Press and was blown away when she performed at a ‘LIVEwire’ event at Seven Arts last year. The prospect of seeing Salena and Nafeesa share a stage has already tempted folk from other cities to buy tickets, so make sure you don’t miss out. There’ll also be six open mic slots, although at the time of typing, half have already gone. They’re available on a first come, first served basis and can be reserved by emailing me at [email protected].

Our line-ups for Bristol, Birmingham, Colchester and the remaining Leeds dates have all been confirmed. I’m absolutely buzzing about the artists that’ve signed up to the events and can’t wait to announce then one-by-one over the next six months or so.

I know from personal experience that poetry can be life changing. Most of my closest friends, not to mention my fiancé, come from the UK’s spoken word scene. I can’t imagine what my life would look like if I’d not started at 17. The fact is, most people feel that poetry isn’t for them. With these ‘LIVEwire’ events, I want to attract people into a room where poetry feels like it absolutely is for them – I want people writing poems on their way home, desperate to stick them online.

These aren’t readings. They’re gigs. DJ sets, electric acts, videos, photos and raucous responses. Be there. It’ll be fucking ace.


Matt Abbott is a poet, educator and activist from Wakefield. He formed indie spoken word record label Nymphs & Thugs in 2015, and fronts indie band Skint & Demoralised (2007-2013 and now 2019-). His début collection ‘Two Little Ducks’ was published by VERVE Poetry Press in October, and his début collection for children ‘A Hurricane in my Head’ was published by Bloomsbury last month.