INTERVIEW: Daniel Cockrill | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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JibbaJabba is one of the region’s best known and best loved spoken word nights, a popularity that’s seen it expanding into Sunderland and Whitley Bay for extra events alongside its usual monthly night in Newcastle. Down at the other end of the country, nestled in the capital, Daniel Cockrill has been running his own very similar night with a bunch of like-minded individuals, BANG Said The Gun. Cockrill’s night has proved to be immensely popular thanks to its slightly anarchic edge, but aside from promoting the work of other spoken word artists, he’s also a prolific poet in his own right. His collections Sellotaping Rain To My Cheek, Pie and Papier Mache and Mud Wrestling With Words contain, as he puts it, anthologies of four or five words strung together to make sentences. Despite his surface humility though, he might be one of the best, most hard-working and important poets you’ve never heard of.

Ahead of his headline show as part of JibbaJabba at The Cumberland Arms, we talked to Dan about what first inspired him to put pen to paper, his successful poetry events and his expectations for a free pint.

What first inspired you to become a poet?

Adrian Mitchell. It was Thursday 10th October 1996, National Poetry Day. I paid £4 to see Adrian at the Brighton College of Technology. I didn’t know who he was and I’d never seen a poetry reading before so thought I’d take a look. Within three minutes he had me laughing out loud and the next moment he had me crying tears of sadness. It is still to this day the best thing I have ever seen, heard or experienced on stage. After his hour long set I remember running down the corridor to buy his book so he could sign it.

I didn’t know what he had done on stage, I didn’t know that being a poet was a real thing, but I knew what I had just witnessed was what I wanted to do. That hasn’t changed to this day.

I understand now that he was telling the truth out loud and that is a very powerful thing, especially when you don’t hear the truth that often.

What inspires you to write?

My most successful poems are usually about a feeling. The subject or theme is just an excuse to bring that feeling to life. Hope, love, truth, all the big ones. I try to write short, concise poems to describe the essence of these things.

I have a very over-active brain. Writing poetry is a good way of calming my thoughts down, bringing my world into order.

I don’t really understand writer’s block. There are too many things to write about, from the very mundane to the magnificent. I have the opposite of writer’s block I suppose. So I have to find ways to focus my writing. I find collaborating with other artists is a good way of doing this.

How did you first set up the poetry night Bang Said The Gun with your fellow poetry gunslingers?

This is a long story but I will try to keep it short. I was reading poetry in a cave in 1996. My friend Martin Galton saw this event and said we should start our own poetry night. I said: “what shall we call it?” He drew a little man with a gun saying BANG!! and hey presto BANG Said The Gun was born. Without really knowing it, Martin had created a poetry brand. We chose the WheatSheaf in Soho for the first gigs. They were really fun gigs but no one really came. Some nights we only had two people in the audience. One week we turned up and there was a pool table on the stage. It was at this point we knew the management was trying to tell us something.

Fast forward ten years and as many venues later we landed at the Roebuck. The manager Michael gave us the time to get it going and develop the show. Before too long our monthly show was fully packed, we were turning people away at the door, so in 2009 we decided to go weekly.  The fact we had no money became our strength. The raw, homemade feel became all part of BANG’s anarchic image. It was punk.

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“The raw, homemade feel became all part of BANG’s anarchic image. It was punk”

You’ve also set up Page Match, which has been wonderfully described as being like Fight Club with poetry. What first motivated you to start Page Match?

In those early days the BANG team was very interested in smashing poetry together with entertainment. It was an antidote to dreary poetry nights (though there is definitely a place for dreary poetry nights too). It was just a reaction to what was happening at the time. We just wanted to mix it up a bit. How would you get people who never listen to poetry to come and see what words can do? PageMatch was just one idea we had whilst sitting with other poets at a festival. Putting poetry on television was another.

It is always a reaction to what becomes the norm. My friend and gunslinger Rob Auton has just set up a new night called “Sit Down Poetry” because everyone is standing up and doing poetry these days. We are just exploring what is possible. If poetry is quiet then make it noisy, if poetry only appears in books then boldly paint it on a wall. Simple really. When poetry starts to be owned by a certain section of society then it is time to smash it up and start again.

You’ve produced poetry films for performers such as Hollie McNish and Kate Tempest for Channel 4’s Random Acts. What was it like working on these films?

I’m very proud of what we achieved in television – 15 Random Acts, 30 minute SKY pilot – but it was difficult place for a poet to be. At the time there wasn’t many poetry films around. There were hardly any that would have been suitable for television, if any at all, so we had to try to invent a visual language for it to work. We chose the poets, wrote the scripts, hired the film makers, literally broke down the doors to persuade the Executives and money men that this could work.

We were commissioned by SKY to produce 12 episodes of the BANG show for TV. We set up an office and a few weeks into production they pulled our budget due to cut backs. So we’d made it but in the end it wasn’t meant to be. There is now loads of exciting films out there being made by young people which is great and I’m glad to have been able to play my part in that.

Are you going to be working on any more films in the future?

Never say never. If I do then it will probably be with my good friends Julian Ward and Richard Jackson, who are great film makers, animators. They work how I want to work and the process is fun, creative and fluid rather than being stifling and fixed which can happen when working within the industry.

Have you ever performed at an event in the north east before? What are you expecting?

I’ve worked quiet a lot in the North East in schools running workshops. We made an amazing Underwater Kingdom in an abandoned classroom in a school in Sacriston near Durham. It had a submarine, giant octopus, tons of poetry. It was really magical.

It was programmed by Natalie Querol who runs the Empty Space project in Newcastle who is great to work with. I don’t think I’ve performed as a poet in Newcastle though. Maybe I have? I’ve definitely drunk in the Cumberland Arms before. What am I expecting? A lot of free beer and hopefully an audience that will warm to my cheeky cockney accent. I’ve heard good things about JibbaJabba so I hope I can live up to those good things.

What can the audience expect from your performance at the JibbaJabba event?

Balloons, blasphemy, magic tricks with words and a well-crafted, but blatantly cynical sales pitch to buy my books. And Truth!

What have you got planned for the future?

BANG has a new Cabaret night starting in October to sit alongside its London and New York Poetry night. I’ve collaborated with Magnum Photographer Mark Power and we are ready to publish a book of photographs and poems that we made between 2007 and 2010. The work was originally shown in galleries but it will be great to have it finally in book form. I have two other books on the go. One with brilliant artist Damien Weighill who studied at Northumbria University and another purely poetry collection which is coming along nicely.

I’m also trying to move house so my two year old twin boys can have a garden and I can have an office space. Everything I have ever done has happened around the kitchen table. I think I’m old enough now to have my own office. I think that is all.

Daniel Cockrill performs at this month’s JibbaJabba at The Cumberland Arms, Newcastle on Thursday 23rd July.

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