Arts Interview: Rally and Broad

Rally and Broad is the poetry slam event which has taken Edinburgh by storm and is now bouncing on to the Glasgow scene. We sent Ellen MacAskill to chat to the organisers, Rachel McCrum and Jenny Lindsay, about the atmosphere of poetry gigs and what makes a noteworthy performer.

How would you describe the atmosphere of a Rally and Broad event to someone who has never attended before, in three words?

Rachel McCrum: Spraffy, spiky, spectacular.

Jenny Lindsay: What she said.

Do you notice any differences between the crowds and scenes in Edinburgh and Glasgow, or is it often the same faces in both cities?

Lindsay: We sometimes have crossover audience members between our Edinburgh and Glasgow shows, but not always. In terms of the scene, both cities have events that pull in their own regulars and both have a great number of cracking authors, spoken word poets and performers and musicians. We’re based in Edinburgh and are far more established there than in Glasgow; also running on a Friday night as opposed to a Sunday afternoon, so our crowds there tend to be larger. But we also book a great deal of acts outwith Scotland, acts we think folks should hear and see…

McCrum: I think there is a lot of crossover between performers – people will happily go back and forth, and work with one another – but I haven’t noticed so much in terms of audiences. From a performance point of view, that’s great: Edinburgh acts also working with new audiences in Glasgow, and vice versa.

I wouldn’t say that there is any particular difference stylistically between the cities though. It’s just one big happy mulch, perhaps because of aforementioned mixing.

You both perform your own poetry at your events. How has the experience of hosting shows affected your own writing, if at all?

Lindsay: Hosting is just a completely different thing to doing a set or being booked for a performance. The host’s role is to keep the event nipping along, to either gee up or smooth out the audience as necessary, and to use their own work as required to do this, so we tend to decide which of us performs, and at what point, based on these considerations – I guess it affects which poems we might do as we only ever do one each per show. For me, as the majority of my poetry and prose is pretty lengthy, it can mean I end up writing something new for an R&B show sometimes, so that’s a positive! We’ve both compered events for a number of years so I don’t think it’s affected our writing per se.

McCrum: Oh aye, performance mode is completely different! Hosting feels much more reactive, more of the moment – you can’t really plan in advance how an audience is going to be, you just need to feel the room and see if they’re raucous, serene, contemplative, shy (they’re rarely shy) and adjust the compering to suit that, so you’re in tune with them. And the acts too. It’s been great exploring that. Having said that, I think it is important to perform at least one piece during the show (and probably not more than that, in all honesty – it’s a showcase for other folk, not us!), to warm things up, or settle an audience, and also maybe just let them know a little bit what we do. Och, of course we love performing. That’s why we do what we do what we do. 🙂

The range of talent today was very diverse. What do you look for when booking acts?

Lindsay: For any word act we book – author, poet, spoken word act – it’s the ability to hold a crowd for a full-length set of 10 – 20 minutes. Rally & Broad exists for acts who have moved beyond 3 minute slam performances and open mics, who can engage with an audience and have a conversation with them. So for poets and performers, that’s what we look for – diversity within a set too. For authors, we’re always keen to showcase debut novelists in particular – exciting new Scottish authors – and for music acts we range from booking acoustic acts to full bands. I guess it’s not just about individual acts though – there are plenty of amazing acts out there to book, so we tend to start with our ‘theme’ for the month and construct the line-up around it. Diversity is key, as well as taking the audience on a journey throughout the event itself. We’re fans of booking acts who are undeniably interesting and talented but ultimately might split a crowd at times too. But, as long as the whole event works, why not?

McCrum: Ability to engage an audience, to perform. Gender balanced billing, diversity on the bill. Showcasing all sorts of voices. Keeping an eye for the new and the interesting. Showcasing things not often seen on Scottish stages? Wit, flair, provocation, integrity, gorgeous words…the whole shebang. Why not?

It was brilliant to hear Sepideh Jodeyri read her poetry today, translated from Persian. You mentioned that Scottish PEN approached you about the last-minute booking. Have you worked with organisations like it before? Why do you think it is important?

Lindsay: I’m a member of Scottish PEN and have done some work for their education programme, outwith Rally & Broad, so when the email came through and the dates worked, we were both delighted to be able to have Sepideh on the stage. We’ve worked with many other organisations in the past though – the Mental Health Foundation being the most recent – yes; we think it’s really important to forge partnerships and be able to showcase artists and writers who audiences might not have the opportunity to see otherwise.

McCrum: Aye, I’ve done a bit of work with Scottish PEN before as well, and am also about to start working with the Scottish Refugee Council. We’re in the brilliant position of having an event that is decently attended, has a regular audience, and therefore we can provide a platform for voices that are not often heard on Scottish stages. Performance brings words to life, it lets people see the words and stories as living and immediate and close to them, not something on a computer screen or read in a newspaper or journal. Whether its work in translation, or marginalised, vulnerable or suppressed voices, being able to give a space and time for authors to perform allows them to connect with new audiences, to let their stories and their art into the air, and I think that’s hugely important.

I’m also a big fan of work in translation being presented on stage, and am starting a new project in the spring around this. Performance! Liveness! Words not usually heard! Connections! All important.

Can you give us any tasters of what’s coming up at Rally and Broad in the next season, or any hot tips of performers to watch out for?

Lindsay: Ah, we’ve loads of great stuff coming up! Not sure what we can say though. Um. Look out for a very exciting gig we’re doing in Edinburgh at the start of 2016, which should be announced soon… And I think we’re ok to announce that we’ll be doing our annual “Hangover Special” themed shows in January… Though, this year, there’s an added twist…! Performer/ writers wise, there’s a heckuva lot out there, but personally I’m really excited by Calum Rodger, Colin McGuire and Chrissy Barnacle – amongst many others! There’s also some great up-and-coming music acts like Be Charlotte and Bella &The Bear… Our November line-ups are exciting me a lot to be honest!

McCrum: Delighted Peoples and The Miss’s were two bands who just played our October gigs, and they blew me away, as did the utterly wonderful Helen Ivory and Martin Figura – look out for them again. In December, we’re messing around with poetry A LOT, with Paula Varjack and Dan Simpson’s AntiSlam and Edinburgh based poetry messers Poets Against Humanity..a filthy, healthy disregard for poetry as something precious. Our wish list is huge! I’m excited to see Sam Riviere in November, and up and coming poet Iona Lee. People to look for – aye, Chrissy Barnacle is not to be missed, and our very favourites A New International.

[Ellen MacAskill

Read Ellen MacAskill’s review of Rally and Broad’s Glasgow show Tangled up and Blue here.



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