Anthony Briscoe, aka The Bard of Blackpool, is as Northern as chips and gravy and as talented as those child prodigy violinists or the whale from Free Willy. He is a tour de force of comedy spoken word, blending idiocy with poignant moments and silliness with sentiment. Having worked as a Poet-in-Residence in his home town of Blackpool and now gracing stages all over Manchester, it was a no-brainer decision for us to take him on as one of our in-house artists. Expect dad jokes, discord and unexpected moments of sensibility that smack you in the heart.
His debut collection will be released into nature in November; until then, we cornered him for a little chat about his life and work. Read more below:
Can you describe your work in five words?
Who are your biggest influences when it comes to performing?
Rik Mayall is my comedy and performance hero. I also love Dr John Cooper Clarke - he is the reason I got into spoken word! Add Charlie Brooker, because I’m miserable too.
I also have to mention pretty much all other performers I've seen at open mic and spoken word nights. It takes a lot to get up there and share your work - to the public and other performers. Sometimes, you think they are amazing and so get nervous wondering what they think. However, most are amazing and they help me keep going; it's such a friendly community.
Weirdly, it's just how I feel comfortable writing. Being dyslexic, I'm not always very good at written communication (I mean, I've got better at it in time, I'm typing this and it doesn't look like wingdings, I hope). However, I find that writing poetry just clicks in my head.
The sequencing needed to write poetry flows in my mind better than more 'traditional' forms of written communication. That, and it's fun to perform! It gives itself its own beats and flow, which I can then use in my performance. Each piece I write, I write like a script so that I know when to pause, when to move and where to put emphasis on certain words or phrases.
You are very open on social media about your feelings and emotions around art. What made you choose to share yourself in this way, and what effect do you think its had?
That's a hard one. I suppose it's because I call myself an artist, but the title does not define me (as much as I like to use it to sound impressive… or pretentious). I'm still me and the arts mean an awful lot to me. If it wasn't for the arts, I wouldn't be writing this now, or be part of Bent Key at all.
The arts have shaped my life, so of course I'm going to have opinions on it. I truly feel the arts are an incredible tool we can use to explore thoughts, feelings and emotions that we may feel we lack the language to express. It is escapism, expressionism and - more importantly - it's hope. For me, that comes in the form of humour; I try my best to make others laugh with my performance, my pieces and in my interactions with others (with varying levels of success). I absolutely love laughing and making others laugh because it's like the height of a smile, it goes beyond to bring on a visceral reaction. How beautiful is that?
The arts offer people an opportunity to explore what being alive actually is. I feel very strongly that the arts should be for all, because if it's gate-kept then what's the point? Therefore, I talk about it openly. I also share my own experiences in the arts because if it wasn't for others sharing their experiences with me, I wouldn't have known what to do, what to expect and how to deal with issues that arise. I don't want to sugar coat it; I have had failures as well as successes and with social media we focus so much on success that we have grown more and more frightened of failure or appearing to fail. But we all do at times. I'm not afraid to say it. If I hide from it and pretend it didn't happen, how am I to learn?
If my openness in my work helps anyone, even if it's just one person, to feel a little bit better or pushes them to want to create something themselves, then that's worth it right?
Can you explain the nature of your upcoming book and the idea of Media 2.0?
The book (title tbc) isn't just a book. I'm not just a writer (I never call myself that, although with a published book, I guess I can, now? Take that dyslexia!). I am also a performer and multi-disciplinary artist and I want my book to reflect that. As I previously said, I write my material often with performance in mind and I fear that even with that knowledge a reader may not find my work as complex or nuanced as 'traditional' poetry, so I want to give the reader something more.
I want the reader to experience some of my pieces performed; it's not just a book, but it's also a ticket to a show. I am originally from Blackpool so I think showmanship and performance runs through my veins, alongside chips, gravy, rock, beer and the occasional Fray Bentos (it's a pie in a tin).
The idea is this: for a few of the pieces in the book, I shall be putting in QR codes so the reader can scan them and 1) hear me reading out the piece as it would be performed, and 2) see a video (exclusive to the book) of me performing the piece to camera to give a full experience of what me and my work are about. I also think it's a nice way to help others who may struggle with written text to have a way of experiencing a book differently.
Media 2.0, or Web 2.0 if you prefer, is a way of combining media formats to create an identity for yourself (like nearly everyone does on social media). This is my way of putting my identity across to you, my way of communicating directly to the reader in the way I know how - or at the very least, putting across an idealised version of myself.
Which is your favorite piece to perform and why?
Sold Out, easily. It's my piece that contains 42 adverts in a row (43 if I remember the one I always forget). I had so much fun writing it, even though the subtext is about heartbreak; I think it's a piece that is a fun way of talking about the subject - using adverts to replace what would normally be emotive language. Adverts and jingles are meant to get stuck in your head; so many of us build our personalities and self-worth through brands and material garbage I wanted to poke fun at that too.
People do recognise some of the ads and on occasion join in; it's a good way to get audience participation and allows me a chance to jump on it and break the flow of the piece to make a joke about a reaction or the fact they are joining in. It changes the piece from just a poem into a full-blown performance. Additionally, I feel it is my best piece, so I really like performing it. I just hope audience members pick up on that too!
What can we expect from an Anthony Briscoe show?
Me, if I turn up.
But honestly, what I want people to get is entertainment and a laugh. I like to discuss weighty topics but in a different way (as cliché as that may be to say). I like to make people engage with subjects they may not want to - or feel uncomfortable to - for example, mental health, heartbreak, even death - but with a laugh. Theatre is comedy and tragedy. The two are linked, so why not have both? If we can do it while laughing, then why not?
Any advice for poets struggling to break into the scene?
You are good enough.
You don't need to be the best performer, the most charismatic or the stand-out amongst stand-outs. Your words will speak for you, as they are yours - nobody else's (unless you plagiarise - don’t do that).
Talk to other poets and artists, especially if you like their work. Most, if not all, are often very approachable and more than happy to discuss their work with you. Let's be fair, it's also a nice ego-boost too..!
Go to open mic nights. It's scary, but like going on a rollercoaster for the first time (sorry, I'm from Blackpool, remember?). It's scary, but once you've done it you'll want to do it again... Unless you're sick, but the chances of that happening are minimal.
Go to events, even if you are not performing; supporting the scene will support you too. You will feel part of it and it will want you to do so too - you can see what it's like, settle in a bit better and find events you feel comfortable with to begin with.
Challenge yourself. I don't mean looking directly into a mirror and having a pop at yourself! Try nights you've never heard of or nights you're not sure you will fit in with. You'll stand out for sure, but you'll learn so much from it. Different audiences and different venues will react differently to your material, even if you do it the exact same way at events. That's a great learning tool.
Allow yourself to fail. I don't mean just give up or half-arse it, but don't stress yourself out if something isn't working. You could always shelve it and come back to it later, or use it and build upon it to create something even better. If something does not work or a night does not go your way? It was just that, a night. Tomorrow is always a new day and although you may want to dwell on it (that's only natural), remember there are 365 days in a year and some of those days are awesome, like Hallowe'en, Christmas, and when the council finally collect your bins.
Just because you failed once does not mean you are a failure.
My final bit of advice is this: have fun out there. This is poetry - or in my case, performance poetry. It's not a big business deal that will make or break a company; it's not life or death. It's expression, and you can express yourself how you see fit. You may worry about people judging you but don't people do that all the time without actually knowing others anyway (at least, I think that’s how tinder works)?
So, who cares? Just enjoy it. If it's your passion, be proud of it. If you are an artist, tell people you are an artist. What are they going to do, check it with the International Office of Official Artists? If you are a poet, then this remains true: You. Are. A. Poet.
P.S. Bonus advice: buy my book, yeah?
Anthony's debut 'showbook' Title TBC is dropping in November