Despite only being 26 years old, Matt Abbott has over eight years of experience as a poet and musician. This year he makes his Fringe debut with the Spoken Word show Matt Abbott is Skint & Demoralised, at Sweet Grassmarket from 17 – 23 August. We chat to Matt about his influences, the UK Spoken Word scene and why he is coming to Edinburgh.
Skint & Demoralised is your debut performance at the Fringe. What inspired you to take the show to Edinburgh?
Well, Luke Wright told me that I needed to do an Edinburgh show back in 2010 and I’ve never been one to hang around!
I’ve actually been performing spoken word for eight and a half years, but fairly quickly it developed into a musical project (which was called Skint & Demoralised) and we ended up being quite successful (signed to Universal, UK tours, major festivals, Radio 1, 6Music favourites, etc.), so the music and lyrics were my main focus for the majority of that time.
The third and final album was released in spring 2013, and in the summer of that year, I switched my focus back to poetry. I rediscovered my love for it and reinvented myself as a something closer to a “proper poet”, as opposed to somebody who just did fast-paced, smutty, political stuff between bands.
As the ball began to roll, I began working on a concept collection called Albion Falls which forms the bulk of my Skint & Demoralised set. There are a few of the old classics thrown in for balance, and I think in a way I’m using the best material I’ve written over the years to test myself on the biggest stage.
I really want to grow and develop as a poet and before long make the transition into doing it full-time, and whilst there’s no guarantee of success at Edinburgh, it just seemed like the next logical step if I was to aim a level higher. Regardless of how well or how disastrously it goes, it’ll develop me as a poet, a performer and as a person.
Skint & Demoralised isn’t exactly a cheery and happy title. Should we expect doom and gloom during the performance?
The reason I always loved the name “Skint & Demoralised” was because of the tongue-in-cheek cynicism that us Brits, and particularly Northerners, find so comforting. I actually chose it as my forum name (remember forums?!) on the Reverend & The Makers forum when I was seventeen. It’s a lyric from their track Bandits and at the time I never intended it to be a stage pseudonym, a band name or the name of an Edinburgh show. It just gradually evolved and has always remained at the centre of what I’ve done.
Obviously being a working class lad, and being so heavily inspired by kitchen sink realism, the phrase “broken Britain” crops up regularly and a lot of my poems are about the bleaker sides of life when it comes to literally being skint and demoralised. But at the same time it’s all delivered with a pinch of salt, and most people laughed whenever I told them the band was called Skint & Demoralised so it obviously has the desired effect.
Spoken word performances commonly focus on text and writing, along with performance, but did you consider how Skint & Demoralised was going to look visually on the stage while you were writing it?
Not visually, no. The performance aspect has always been central to anything that I’ve written though, because I started exclusively as a performance poet. For the first six years of my career, I only ever did poems at gigs; between songs, before bands or in short sets of my own. But basically these were indie music gigs where people weren’t there to hear poetry, so the poems had to be fast, funny, punchy and have immediate impact.
And because I cut my teeth in such a way, I’ve always been conscious of how a poem will sound on stage whilst I’m writing it. The performance is synonymous with the lyrical content in my mind, as opposed to me writing a poem and then thinking about how to make the most of it on stage. I think that answers your question…?
Spoken word nights are becoming increasingly popular all over the UK. Why do you think there has been a recent increase in popularity?
Well, it’s harder to judge being so immersed in it, but I think a special mention has to go to Kate Tempest, John Cooper Clarke and George The Poet. They’re representing poetry in the musical mainstream; people who’ve never heard of Carol Ann Duffy are standing awestruck before Kate Tempest, and I think that’s brilliant.
But also, spoken word is so accessible; you can be an amazing lyricist, but if people don’t like the accompanying music then they won’t listen to the lyrics. Poetry removes all boundaries. And that also applies if you’re a writer; you don’t need six months of guitar lessons or any expensive equipment. You don’t need amps or pedals. You just need to be literate, and to be able to speak. In fact you don’t even necessarily need to be literate. It’s the most basic form of communication and I think performers and audience members alike thrive on the simplicity; it’s actually quite intimate when you think about it and it definitely heightens the connection at live shows. Emotions generally come at music gigs when nostalgia is infused in specific songs. Whereas with spoken word, nostalgia or emotions can arise in the words of complete strangers, which you’re hearing for the very first time. Don’t get me wrong, it can be pretentious, self-indulgent bollocks. But at it’s best, it can be an incredible experience.
Compared to other forms of performance (theatre and stand up comedy for example) spoken word still feels new and undiscovered to many people. What other spoken word performers inspired you to take up performance poetry?
Well it may be boring and obvious but it has to be John Cooper Clarke. 2006 was the height of the indie craze, and I was a seventeen year old lad at Sixth Form. My mates were all in bands and I dreamed of being on stage, but had no musical outlet with which to earn my place. And then one day I came home and my dad was playing his John Cooper Clarke CD to my sister. At first I didn’t know what to think but before long it captured my imagination and I was hooked.
I became obsessed with Eminem at eleven. His use of rhyme, melody, rhythm and passion and his overall delivery fascinated me. Then I became obsessed with English lyricists, because suddenly I could vaguely relate to their world; The Streets’ Original Pirate Material was life-changing, followed by The Ordinary Boys, which inevitably led to The Jam. And then suddenly there’s Arctic Monkeys, and they’re from Yorkshire. And then there’s John Cooper Clarke; he doesn’t even need music. Everything fell into place and from that moment on, I never looked back.
Are there any other shows you are looking forward to seeing during your time in Edinburgh?
I’m a huge fan of Luke Wright and have heard great things about his new show What I Learnt From Johnny Bevan. I’m also a big fan of Elvis McGonagall so I’ll be sure to see him. I have a massive crush on Aisling Bea but our show times clash so I’m hoping to bump into her in Wetherspoons. I saw a preview show for Night + Daze by Horizon Arts a few months back and can’t wait to see the finished article. Special mention to MJ Hibbett as well. But also I know I’ll discover many things up there and it’ll open my eyes to some incredible performers, I’m sure.