2006-07 | Spoken word beginnings
December 2006, a few weeks before my 18th. I’m at an impromptu open mic/jam session, at a Bromheads Jacket after-show party, in a secret underground venue in Sheffield’s red light district. Somebody had heard my very early poems on MySpace, and ushered me onto the mic for the first time.
Inspired by Dr John Cooper Clarke and also Jon McClure (Reverend & The Makers), I immediately took to introducing mates’ bands as they gigged around Yorkshire. Before long, I had a string of regular compère slots, and was being added to bills in my own right. My breakthrough came at a Love Music Hate Racism gig in April 2007, where I first performed my early trademark ‘Nazis on the Doorstep‘ piece.
2007-09 | Skint & Demoralised success
It was May 2007 when my next breakthrough came, although this would be far bigger than anybody could have ever imagined. I was contacted via MySpace by a Sheffield-based songwriter/producer, using the alias ‘MiNI dOG’. He saw potential for a musical project and started layering my poems over instrumentals, which soon developed into a songwriting partnership. After 6 months, our demo track ‘Red Lipstick’ was played by Steve Lamacq on BBC Radio 1, followed by Colin Murray a week later. Lammo then named us at #3 on his Top 100 Unsigned Acts of 2007.
The buzz which followed meant that in March 2008, we signed to Universal Records. They flew us out to NYC to record with The Dap-Kings, and we completed the ‘Love, And Other Catastrophes‘ sessions at RAK Studios in London. Début single ‘The Thrill of Thirty Seconds‘ was Colin Murray’s Record of the Week on R1 and playlisted on 6Music, and all 500 copies of the limited edition 7″ sold-out on pre-order.
At this stage we were being hailed as “the next big thing” by the likes of The Sunday Times Culture, Q, Clash, The Times, The Guardian, and many online music sites. 2009 kicked off with a headline UK tour, including sell-out shows in London, Leeds and Glasgow, before momentum gathered towards a summer release of ‘Red Lipstick‘.
It was Sara Cox’s Weekend Anthem on R1, and had amassed hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube, but by the time it eventually came out, it charted at #100 and Universal dropped S&D. Despite this, we were a big hit on the major festival circuit, including Glastonbury, Latitude, Leeds/Reading, Bestival, iTunes Festival and O2 Wireless.
2010-13 | S&D indie years and solo festival shows
In April 2011, S&D signed to indie outfit Heist Or Hit Records, and subsequently released all three of our albums through the label (starting with the previously unreleased début, alongside follow-up ‘This Sporting Life‘). This included a 20-date tour of the UK in October 2011, plus some headline shows in Germany that Christmas.
Prior to that, in summer 2010, I returned to the UK major festival circuit with far less gear to carry; performing 30 minute spoken word slots at Latitude, Leeds and Kendal Calling.
The three S&D albums received critical acclaim from independent music blogs, and every one of our singles was played on 6Music. The third and final album, ‘The Bit Between The Teeth‘, was released on Monday 8 April – the day that Margaret Thatcher died.
2013-14 | Full return to spoken word
A hat-trick of spoken word performances at Glastonbury 2013 gave me another taste for poetry, having preferred music for the past 6 years. Following a late night conversation with a fellow poet, the foundations were laid for A Firm Of Poets.
Initially a loose collective, we formed with the specific aim of presenting poetry as being accessible, engaging and entertaining. As work increased with The Firm, I found myself performing at poetry events for the first time in my career; gradually finding a more matured and varied approach to my writing. We had an anthology published by Ossett Observer in September 2014.
2015 | Edinburgh Fringe, #PROPoetry and going full-time
In summer 2015, I took my début solo spoken word show ‘Matt Abbott is Skint & Demoralised’ to Edinburgh Fringe. Whilst there, I did a live interview on Shaun Keaveny’s 6Music Breakfast show. The opening night sold out and received 5* in Broadway Baby, and the week’s run was a huge success for me overall.
Following on from that, A Firm Of Poets embarked on a 22-date national theatre tour ‘Ossett Observer presents: The People’s Republic of Poetry’, which ran from 24 September until 2 December. We were joined by top acts including Luke Wright, Helen Mort, Julia Bird, Zena Edwards and Kate Fox.
Throughout 2015, I began to work with Trinity Homeless Projects as a result of my ‘I Matter‘ poem, which culminated in me closing their Big SleepOut event in December. I was commissioned to write a piece for the Orgreave Truth & Justice Campaign compliation CD, and spoke live on Channel 4 News when Kellingley Colliery closed.
I rounded off the year by being comissioned to write a spoken word version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ for Philosophy Football’s Scroogeonomics event.
2016 | Projects, political activism and TV cameo
2016 began with two major new projects for A Firm Of Poets, in the form of Unity Words and #FourUnderParr. Over the summer, we also produced Word On The Street, which culminated in running the Speak Out tent at Hull’s Freedom Festival. I also directed a show called ‘Come Sunday’ at Bradford Lit Fest.
On the solo front, I shared a stage with folk ranging from Sleaford Mods to Ken Loach. I was a central figure on the #JC4PM tour, and performed on both nights at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool. This saw me share a stage with the likes of Sara Pascoe, Jeremy Hardy, Francesca Martinez, Attila The Stockbroker, Grace Petrie, The Fall and many others. Just before Christmas, I gigged with Paul Weller in Brighton.
I visited ‘The Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais twice, and campaigned for several issues including homelessness, anti-racism and the refugee crisis. My work with The Poetry Takeaway led to me starring in a national TV ad campaign for Nationwide Building Society alongside Hollie McNish and SugarJ Poet.
2017 | #LIVEwire UK tour and Two Little Ducks at Edinburgh Fringe
The first major project of the year saw Nymphs & Thugs take to the road for the #LIVEwire tour, which supported the release of Salena Godden‘s album on 2LP gatefold vinyl, plus Special Edition CD and zine. I joined Salena on stage, alongside fellow N&T acts Louise Fazackerley and Toria Garbutt, and we had an absolute riot.
It signified a real step up for the label as an independent DIY outfit, which immediately followed #LIVEwire being short-listed for The Poetry Society’s Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry. You can purchase #LIVEwire alongside other N&T releases here.
August saw me do a full Edinburgh Fringe with my show ‘Two Little Ducks’ at Underbelly Cowgate, which again was critically acclaimed and proved to be a significant step up in my career. It features three key strands: the socio-economic climate which contributed to the working-class Leave vote; my time volunteering at the Calais Jungle; and a fictionalised character called Maria.
The show received 5* in The New European and Broadway Baby, 4* in The Wee Review and The Theatre Guide, and was listed as ‘Highly Recommended’ by FringeReview. I also had great write-ups in The Scotsman and The Morning Star.
Earlier this year I was appointed Poet-in-Residence at the National Coal Mining Museum for England, and also on a project for Efficiency North; as well as an ambassador for Eureka! The National Children’s Museum. I also appeared at the CWU‘s national conference alongside names ranging from Francesca Martinez and Ken Loach to Angela Rayner, and in July I shared a stage with Jeremy Corbyn, Shappi Khorsandi and more at an event in Kentish Town.
I’ve also appeared as a guest on BBC Breakfast, Victoria Derbyshire Live and BBC Radio 5live over recent months; discussing both poetry and politics.
Over the course of my career, I’ve shared a stage with the likes of John Cooper Clarke, Kate Tempest, John Hegley, Carol Ann Duffy, Luke Wright, Attila the Stockbroker, Helen Mort, Elvis McGonagall, Kate Fox and Salena Godden. I’ve also shared a stage with comedians including Mark Steel, Sara Pascoe, Francesca Martinez, Shappi Khorsandi and Bridget Christie, plus musical acts including Paul Weller, Sleaford Mods, The Fall, Florence + The Machine, The Specials, Grace Petrie, Dodgy, Get Cape Wear Cape Fly and The Noisettes.
I deliver poetry workshops around the UK; ranging from primary pupils to non-formal adult groups. Click here for further information on my workshops, and click here for further information on my social and political activism.