Spoken Word Column: Everything that the Daily Mail are terrified of

Simon Booth

I remember it clear as day. It was Tuesday 17 May 2016, and I’d caught the Megabus from Leeds down to London. I’d arranged to meet Salena Godden for the first time at The Lock Tavern in Camden, and to be quite honest, I was bricking it. I’d shared a stage with Salena at a Philosophy Football event just before Christmas, and at this point, Nymphs & Thugs had only been in existence for just over a year. So, for me to have approached somebody of Salena’s stature via Twitter DM was an extremely bold move, and in all honesty, I didn’t expect anything to come to fruition. And yet there I was – at The Lock Tavern, waiting for her to arrive.

We chatted about mutual contacts in the poetry world and about Salena’s career in general, before it came to the time for me to essentially “sell” Nymphs & Thugs and tell her what I’d plan on doing if she were to agree to release something with us. Now clearly this wasn’t me wearing cufflinks and Brylcreem and preparing a flashy PowerPoint presentation. This was me essentially showing my passion for spoken word poetry; for giving a platform to renegade artists; for aiming to champion the best performers on the scene right now and to use my geekiness when it comes to spreadsheets and social media to try and build something that didn’t already exist on the scene.

I didn’t have a release schedule, a suitcase full of merch samples, an army of PR people or £20k to throw at a video with Peckham’s hottest director. But clearly, what I did have was passion and drive and ideas and – much to my delight – an energy that Salena warmed to. We agreed to do something there and then; drawing up a makeshift contract in the beer garden at The Hawley Arms before chatting about Jock Scott, Charles Bukowski, Zena Edwards and loads more shared poetic loves. I didn’t really know exactly how things would work out, logistically I mean – I just knew that I should throw absolutely everything I had into making an album with Salena, and that no matter what happened, it could only be a good thing for the label.

Simon Booth

A year later, we were halfway through a small UK tour to promote ‘LIVEwire’ – the album that was born out of that first beer garden meeting. I’d done an initial release on CD in the October, but in the April (2017) we released it on 2LP gatefold vinyl and Special Edition CD, as well as producing a high-quality zine, pin badges, plus t-shirts and tote bags bearing her infamous slogan “my tits are more feminist than your tits”. And not only that – ‘LIVEwire’ had been shortlisted for The Poetry Society’s prestigious Ted Hughes Award. This wasn’t just a spoken word poetry album. It was a time capsule marking over two decades from one of our foremost writers and performers, and whilst Carol Ann Duffy didn’t announce the album as the winner in the swanky London hotel, we were busy touring DIY music venues and planning festival gigs. It’s a counter-culture classic that’d landed at the heart of the literary establishment, and there was no stopping us.

Two years on from that, I received funding for the current ‘LIVEwire’ project which I’ve spoken about in this column. These ‘LIVEwire’ events encompass festivals, political fundraisers, theatre tours and more DIY venues – they completely transform people’s perceptions of spoken word poetry, whilst providing a platform for the most important artists on the UK’s scene. I’ve already spoken about ‘LIVEwire’ events; their aims, their plans, etc. I just wanted to provide some background on the events, and underline what we’re trying to achieve with Nymphs & Thugs.

The fact is, sending that DM to Salena all those years ago was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Having the opportunity to work so closely with an artist like Salena is one of the greatest privileges you could possibly hope for – not just in terms of her creative output but in terms of her drive, her spirit, her optimism, her fire, her laughter, her love and her relentless need to create; to spread her message; to stick two fingers up to all that’s wrong in the world; and to celebrate others that are doing exactly the same. Most artists only think about themselves and their own “careers”. Salena does the opposite – her energy is all about the family, the fight and the community that we find ourselves in as protest artists.

On both a personal level and a professional level, my eyes have been completely opened in terms of what it is to truly live your art. I’ve never known anybody that embodies their work to the extent that Salena does. That has the same level of dedication, the same urge to always create and develop and grow and learn. It’s incredible, and for this reason, I’m truly blessed that Salena is at the heart of the Nymphs & Thugs journey to date.

Ask anybody on the spoken word poetry scene and they’ll tell you the same. From the likes of Lemn Sissay MBE and Dr John Cooper Clarke through to Kate Tempest and Hollie McNish. Cross the Atlantic, and you’ll hear the same from Buddy Wakefield and Shane Koyczan. Salena is an icon. To see her perform live is to witness an artist that only comes around once in a generation, and if you were to try and pinpoint precisely where she’s at creatively at any single moment, she’d have moved on by the time you were finished. So, here’s to Salena Godden. A legend, a livewire and – according to Kerrang Magazine – “everything that the Daily Mail are terrified of.” If that doesn’t float your boat, I don’t know what will…

Salena Godden appears at Hyde Park Book Club, Leeds on Wednesday 2 October as part of a Nymphs & Thugs ‘LIVEwire’ event, with support from Nafeesa Hamid plus open mic. Tickets costs £6 and are available here · Her ‘LIVEwire’ album is available on 2LP gatefold vinyl, CD and zine here