The aim of the Spoken Word night, Speak, is to provide a friendly and welcoming environment for those who wish to perform something they’ve written. There are no rules (time is limited so everyone else can get to perform too), no theme or any restrictions on content (nothing racist, discriminatory or prejudiced – not a rule, just an expectation). Some were funny, others deeply poignant and some sketches had important political points to make. All were brilliant, in their own way.
Things were opened by co-organiser and compere, Alex Slater. He set the mark high with his hilarious and expertly timed poem about a northerner in London (that he called Britain’s second City!). Alex was intense and very much a physical performer, flailing his arms about and moving over the stage, dropping innovative rhymes that you just couldn’t see coming, but, worked so brilliantly. After that, Alex introduced the first guest poet, but not before he laid down the level of applause that he expected for everyone who was performing. During the first half some performers were experienced at performing, with some even doing it professionally, others were making their debut. There were poems written using only a single vowel sound (known as a Uni-vocalism), which relied on creative interpretation of language and shortened words, to deliver its message and draw laughs from the crowd – both of which were accomplished with success. The first half saw five open-mic slots of around 5 minutes each. The crowd didn’t let Alex down and whooped, clapped and cheered, as each act provided wonderfully enthusiastic entertainment. Between each performer Alex let everyone know who’d just been on and who was coming next. The atmosphere was electric; the basement room it took place in was packed out. Incredible, to that nothing but words, guts and a microphone could provide so much excitement for everyone. It was clear that the performers were enjoying things every bit as much as the crowd, making banter and cracking gags. There was a definite synergy going on, with both needing the other to make it all work. All this was just the first half of the night, too.
Following a short break, Rosie Fleeshman (the other organiser and joint “speak chief” along with Alex) came on as compere. Like Alex, Rosie knew what she was doing, and has very clearly worked hard to get to such a high standard. She jeered up the audience again, after the short interlude (during which the energy never dropped, with people chatting about what they’d just seen and taking in the sizzling atmosphere). With toilet breaks taken and drinks refilled it was time to get things going again. Rosie launched into her own poem, about the misogyny that she has come across as a performance artist, and that no doubt countless other women have and do (not at Speak, though – inclusivity is a massive part of why this night is unmissable and such a lovely event to attend). That shouldn’t be what’s remembered though, or define the performance – the delivery, wit and intelligence of the piece should, with pauses where they should be and drilled rhythms and beats.
As the second half played out, it was obvious to see that this crowd were well and truly bought into what was going on, getting louder and louder with their applause. They had plenty to praise, too. There were varied agendas within the poems performed. Some spoke of being marginalised, some of bewilderment at the state of society and the oddities of the human condition. All were bound by their power to evoke response. There more first timers, who were made to feel extra welcome and loudly supported by those of more experience. This wasn’t a place to outdo anyone or try and be better than the rest. Some performances were an explosion of language, boomed, thundered, (even sang, at times) and others lightly breathed truths by some, that reached inside and truly reminded how strong words can be. There was so much bravery on display. Yes, people showed off their skills and talents, but, the lack of any ego as a dominant force is what made things so special. Encouragement, enthusiasm and engagement were the factors at play, and in endless supply. Rosie did a fine job of keeping these things going, responding to what everyone had just seen, in between sets, and, reminding everyone that the headline at was still to come. By this time, she didn’t need to work to get the applause for the acts. There was no need for the audience to politely provide any consolation clapping, just for bravery. The noise made was a genuine appreciation at the spectacles on offer. The acts in the second half were equally as brilliant as those in the first. It was hard to imagine that the night could go up a gear from here, and, the atmosphere any fuller. It did, thanks to the headlining act.
Scott Tyrrell is a multi-award-winning performance poet and has also dabbled in Stand-Up Comedy, too. His range of work is evident in the life experience that forms the basis of most of his poems. With an incredible ear for language and an ability to make it sound exactly how he wants it to, Scott was a class act. He was as warm as he was funny too, inviting the audience to hear about him and his family life, revealing details about the ways that mental health has impacted upon him and his love and gratefulness to those who’ve stuck by him and offered support. Scott didn’t hold back in regaling the horrible truth about depression and his struggle with it. Scott looked back at times in his life, recorded in his work, and managed to find a way to laugh. A deeply humble person, with a giant heart and an even bigger talent.
Amongst other books, Scott read from his latest, aptly named Honest. In this collection is the piece ‘If We’re Being Honest’, a lengthy poem, about coming to terms with yourself, and, how that can take a long time to do. Hidden behind playful phrases that are designed to be “sketched” on stage, is an intelligence and sensitivity. Scott really was the real deal; it’s little surprise that he’s achieved so much. The set he gave was a rollercoaster of emotions, which reflected so brilliantly what he was saying – life is far from straight forward and full of the unexpected. Scott caught that aspect of life we all feel, at times – just when you think you’ve got it all worked out, suddenly you realise you’ve been trying to solve the wrong puzzle. With a combination of slapstick physicality, an array of comedic voices and the gift to so accurately make a point through humour, Scott provided a finale to what was a real show piece night.
Speak is on at Jimmy’s Bar (situated in Manchester’s Northern Quarter – Jimmy’s is close to Piccadilly Gardens ), Newton Street, every 3rd Thursday of the month. You can find details on Social Media and request to perform, too (you’ll have to be quick, though, as, this popular night is only going to get bigger, with more demand to perform). At a phenomenal £3 entry (THERE’S ABSOLUTELY NOTHING YOU CAN GET FOR THAT PRICE THAT EVEN APPROACHES THE SAME LEVEL OF BANG FOR YOUR BUCK!), for all that amazing entertainment, if you think you’d enjoy language like you’ve never seen it before, and in a scorching setting, then get yourself down. You’ll be warmly welcomed. You won’t be sorry – but you will when you realise what you’ve been missing out on. A truly phenomenal night and an important date in the calendar of Manchester’s expanding Spoken Word scene. A night like no other, Speak at Jimmy’s offers and unmissable experience that will leave you counting down the days, until next time.
Speak is at Jimmy’s on 15th November 2018.