Spit & Polish: We talk to Oliver Gamblin, producer of London’s new spoken word night


London’s newest spoken word night kicks off this Sunday, so Nymphs and Thugs’s Matt Abbott sat down with Producer Oliver Gamblin to speak about what motivated the project and where he hopes it will go. 

You’re about to launch a brand new spoken word night in Kentish Town. What was the principal driving force behind the project?

For the past few years I have worked in theatre, as a playwright, script-reader and workshop assistant. In March, this year, I got involved in Blah Blah Blah at Bristol Old Vic and I became aware of just how much talent and diversity there is in the spoken word scene. I realised that, with some help from the Arts Council, I could put on a monthly night of spoken word where I could pay everyone involved and I could also organise workshops to be run by inspiring poets, to engage young people from all sorts of backgrounds.

For me, it’s about engaging a diverse range of people to experience and possibly get involved in spoken word, as I believe that the potential positive effect this can have on people is huge.

Is there anything in particular that you hope to achieve with Spit & Polish which will set it apart from other nights?

When I set out my proposal to the Arts Council, I said that I wanted to give established poets an opportunity to take risks and try out something new and for up-and-coming poets to have a chance to get on the stage and build a following.

I hope that this new night can bring in people who have never been to spoken word events and for those who are already fans, I hope that they will discover new talent they weren’t already aware of.

Spit & Polish isn’t just a monthly event. I am also organising workshops, which will be lead by performance poets, aimed at young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Being involved in performing arts can change your life. It can introduce you to people from all walks of life, help you build confidence, and give you a different way to express yourself.

Are there any nights in particular that you really aspire to emulate, either inside or outside of London?

What got me interested in spoken word was going to Blah Blah Blah at Bristol Old Vic. It’s a night where you can guarantee that you will see real quality performers, both established and up-and-coming. They also put on some great themed nights like the anti-Christmas night Blah Humbug and the Valentine’s slam Love vs. Lust vs. Loss. The audience at the Bristol Old Vic is so mixed and every month there are people who have never been to spoken word events before. I would love for Spit & Polish to be able to build the same kind of reputation.

The spoken word scene is thriving at the moment, as you know. How do you like to discover potential acts? Online or at other shows or events?

A bit of both. I spend a lot of time watching videos of poets on YouTube, but it’s never quite the same as seeing someone perform live. A great spoken word artist is someone who really knows how to connect with the audience, so sitting on your own with your laptop is no way to get a feel for that.

Who would be your dream headliners over the next 12 months? And do you have any tips for emerging poets for us to check out?

So far I have been lucky enough to book almost everyone I have wanted and I have a great list of performers for the next few months. For me, spoken word is an all-encompassing term, which can include all sorts of performers. I would love to book, for example, Alan Moore, Carol Ann Duffy, or Ali Smith.

As for tips for emerging poets, there is so much talent out there, people I’ve seen in the last year who have really shone are Madi Maxwell-Libby, Rachel Nwokoro, Tom Dewey, and Toby Campion.

How do you feel about poetry slams? On the one hand they’re all the rage at the moment, but on the other hand they’re very divisive. Where do you stand?!

For me, it is one way of discovering new talent and for those who end up as winners it’s great. However, in all these competitions you will have people at different stages of their development and I hate the idea of people who don’t win being put off and failing to move forward and reach their potential.

There is also something about the name ‘Poetry Slam’ which makes it sound like it is exclusively for young people. I think rather than restricting diversity, we need to look at how to engage the broadest range of people, because poetry is for all, whether slammed or not.

The first Spit & Polish takes place on Sunday 16th October at London’s Lion & Unicorn Theatre. Find out more here