spoken word

Bad Language, headed by Joe Daly and Fat Roland, is dedicated to the development and promotion of new writing. Their monthly literature night held in Manchester’s Northern Quarter has won the Saboteur Award for best regular spoken word night in the UK for two years running. The Meteor went to their ‘Bigger Badder Language’ night, on the 26 October, and spoke to them.

Bigger Badder Language

The nights are normally at The Castle Hotel but Bigger Badder Language was across the road at Gullivers due to a double booking with Woman’s Comedy Week.

There were nine open mic performances by Barbara Robinson, Barry Evans, Bryce Main, Charles Eades, Emily Stuart, Johnny Rogers, Phil Olsen, Ros Ballinger and Stephanie Lonsdale. The headliner was Mark Pajak.

“We saw Mark at Manchester Literature Festival and he was brilliant so we booked him. Then he went on to win the Bridport Prize for poetry”. Roland told The Meteor.

Mark read from Spitting Distance, his first poetry collection whose title poem won the Bridport Prize. Dark but funny, the poems he read were about memories. From memories tied up in the landscape of Liverpool to memories about midnight streaking. The last two poems he read were about his best friends:

“I wrote a poem for my oldest friend. My second oldest friend read it and he asked where his poem was.”

New voices

Roland, host for the first half of the night, started with his own story Day-care Centre for Lost Jobs. He introduced the first act, Barry Evans, and told the audience this was the first time any of the open mic performers had read at Bad Language. Later on, he explained:

“We always reserve at least half the spaces for people who have never performed with us before… We go to every literature night in Manchester to find new performers. On a purely selfish level, we will get bored if we don’t.”

The range of voices in the open mic performances was interesting. Barry Evans began his performance with a poem on childhood memories of his grandparent’s house, and ended it with a poem on homelessness in Manchester at Christmas time.

Barbara Robinson recounted being forced to spectate corporeal punishment being administered at her Catholic school run by nuns. One of Ros Ballinger’s poems was composed completely of real quotes from Tinder, and another was a feminist take on Jaws. There were a lot of great acts but Stephanie Lonsdale’s poem to the famous men she has fallen for since she was a teenager was weirdly brilliant, “I love you Damon Albarn…”.

The Manchester ‘scene’

Bad Language evidently don’t just choose performers who fit in with a certain style. Joe shared his thoughts on the idea of a Manchester literary ‘scene’:

“In terms of the more modern and alternative scene, there was a night called ‘No point in not being friends if there’s no reason not to’, and quite a few nights came out of the short-lived success of that night.

“There is a lot going on here, there are more spoken word nights than days in a month. It’s a busy spoken word scene. Actually, I don’t want to use the word ‘scene’. It’s not a ‘scene’ as such, just a lot of good nights. I think ‘scene’ implies a clique mentality and that’s not what the nights are like here.”

Scouting performers

Roland spoke about how he started performing at literature nights:

“I’ve always written but I didn’t take it seriously until 2011. That was a big year. I did 40 open mic nights in one year and wrote something new for all of them. I started putting a lot more energy into every night.

“I really like performers who make an effort and want to be the best on the bill. You can always spot them. It’s the economics of it; if you give people a stage or money, it has a transformative effect. People become more ambitious and confident. Bad Language is about giving people that platform.

“When we choose someone to perform, they’re representing us. A lot rides on the headliner. Joe is the best at scouting people, he can spot good performers.”

Joe responded: “How do I know? I just get giddy, you know? I think Roland’s a better host, he’s got more experience.”

“What Joe’s saying is I’m the biggest show off”, replied Roland.

Seven years of Bad Language

Joe talked about Bad Language’s evolution since it was started by him and an old friend from school seven years ago:

“We were back in Manchester after uni and bored as fuck. I didn’t used to perform. I hated it! But I was hosting the nights and got into it that way. You can’t really ask people to come and perform at your night if you’re not going to yourself.

“Dan and Nikki, who started Bad Language with me, left two and a half years ago. We were trying to choose who would replace them and decided to have a vote. All three of us picked Roland, who was a regular at the nights back then. Even people who had volunteered to be the other host came and said it was the right choice.”

Bad Language has been the winner at the Saboteur Awards for ‘the best regular spoken word night’ in 2015 and 2016. They are the only consecutive winner of the award. Joe said of the award:

“Yeah, that was great and it led to a lot of publicity. We actually have our first London event coming up this weekend. We’re hosting a four-hour literature stage at a music festival called Mirrors. It’s above a vintage shop, of course.”

Bad Language’s next event is on the 30th November at The Castle Hotel, in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Deborah Andrews, an award-winning theatre practitioner turned novelist, will be performing. It’s a night well worth checking out. There’s a reason that Joe and Roland are trusted to pick headliners for events like the Manchester Literature Festival and Kendal Calling: they have good taste. Alternatively, if you fancy it, they are still accepting submissions for open mic performers, email openmic@badlanguagemcr.com if you’re interested.

Sorcha O’Callahagn

Find out more about Bad Language and what they’re up to on their website or facebook.

Featured image via Flickr



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  • Conrad Bower

    Reporting interests include social justice, the environment, and human rights. A staunch advocate for the scientific method and rational debate for understanding the world - he believes only greater public understanding and engagement with the problems affecting society, can produce the progressive change we need. Co-founder of The Meteor.


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