The first independent ‘Two Little Ducks’ event of 2018 takes place in Barnsley on Thursday 29 March. I performed the show at Trouble At Mill in Leeds on Saturday as part of their quarterly pop-up festival, but next week’s event at The Lamproom is the first time that my show is going out entirely on it’s own.
There are several strong reasons why I wanted the show to start the year in Barnsley. Firstly, the distance from my parents’ front door in Ossett to the theatre on Westgate is just over 12 miles. I’ve grown up with Barnsley on my doorstep and have always felt a strong affiliation with the town.
Secondly, the way in which that national media ridiculed Barnsley in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote. 69.95% of the town voted to leave the EU on 23 June 2016, and videos like this from Channel 4 News moved quickly to parade and exploit some of the town’s residents. To this date, that video alone has amassed 11 million views.
Following on from that, I’ll openly admit to the fact that I can relate so strongly to why such a large number of the Barnsley electorate voted that way. Now in no way would I ever condone any form of racism or xenophobia. Undoubtedly that was a factor, as with the Leave vote elsewhere. It’s been an issue in Barnsley and similar areas for a long time.
But coming from a line of coal-miners, and growing up in the aftermath of pit closures and the social and economic struggles that followed, I can understand why so many people felt compelled to stick a twos-up to the status quo. This interview with Sir Michael Parkinson from April last year touches on that.
“Barnsley sits there and it’s vulnerable, and what it deserves, and what these areas didn’t get, was an adequate replacement for the pits.”
Parky said that on visiting his native Barnsley, he could understand for the first time why people voted Leave. The lack of government investment has had a colossal impact on towns like this; closures, unemployment and everything else – the people have had a raw deal.
Thirdly, in my early twenties I regularly visited primary and secondary schools in and around the town to deliver assemblies and lessons on anti-racism. I did so on behalf of Love Music Hate Racism, during my spell as their Yorkshire ambassador. We also staged demonstrations and counter-flyering whenever the BNP were out in the town centre on a Saturday.
Fourth; since 2014, I’ve been working regularly with the Orgreave Truth & Justice Campaign. A lot of their activists are from in and around Barnsley, and through the same circle of folk, I was lucky enough to appear at last year’s May Day Festival of Solidarity, thanks to Tony Wright of The Hurriers.
Fifth; since returning to spoken word in 2013, Barnsley has always been a regular gig destination – from The Civic to Arcade Alehouse, and also of course The Lamproom Theatre, where I supported Attila The Stockbroker in 2016. Last November I co-ran a political poetry workshop through Hear My Voice, and also performed a condensed version of ‘Two Little Ducks’.
This is a town which has always meant something to me, ever since I engaged in politics and pretty such from day one when I started writing and performing spoken word poetry. I love the people, and to have a successful show there would mean the world.
Sixth; it directly chimes with the concept of the show. One of the core strands of ‘Two Little Ducks’ explores the working-class Leave vote, and confronts the strong preconception that everybody who backed Brexit is a hot-headed Twitter Nazi racist imbecile. There are some who match that description – I spend far too much of my time arguing with them even now – but of the 17,410,742 Leave voters, I find it hard to argue with an awful lot of them.
Another core strand recounts my experiences at the Calais Jungle; which in my eyes was heavily misconstrued in the mainstream media. Barnsley has seen a number of anti-immigration marches, but has a decent refugee community. Last year, Sudanese asylum seeker Jaber Abdullah set-up what is now a 50-strong refugee football team.
It shocks me how strong the anti-refugee sentiment is in the country. I dare say I could discuss reasons for voting Leave in a pub in Wakefield or Barnsley, forge a rapport and an understanding, and then encounter anti-refugee sentiment later in the conversation. It’s rife around the UK. Now obviously one spoken word show won’t change that – I’m not foolish enough to think that it could – but it’s the strongest vehicle that I’ve got right now.
As somebody who earns a living from poetry, engages in a lot of left-wing activism and reads The Guardian online, I’m well-aware of the rough deal that Leave voters get. And as somebody with a coal-mining background, who lived on a council estate, didn’t go to University and grew up in a city that voted 66% Leave, I’m out to do what I can to change that. Starting in Barnsley a week on Thursday.
Support on the night comes from Matt Nicholson and Geneviève L. Walsh. They’ll blow your bloody socks off; I promise you that. So, if you fancy it, click here for tickets, and once you’ve done that, click here to shout about it on Facebook. Ta, cock!