Luke Wright is adept at taking poetry to places it doesn’t normally go. His poems can be tender, riotous, caustic and romantic and he delivers them with the ferocity and panache of a raconteur at the top of his game. Now Luke is preparing for an extensive tour the UK in 2022 with an all new set of poems. The tour will visit the length and breadth of Britain, from The Channel Islands to Scotland and, following the September 2021 Covid cancellation, it is coming to Lowestoft’s Marina Theatre on 31 March.
Hayley Clapperton had a chat with Luke before he headed off to Barnsley, he was feeling good and in gig mode.
HC: Briefly, how did you get into being a poet?
LW: When I was about fourteen I started listening to music and I loved Damon Albarn’s lyrics, I thought they were so amazing and clever, and even all the lyrics that were around like Nirvana and others; so I started writing lyrics, quite badly really. They were like songs that didn’t have any music so I taught myself how to play the guitar and wrote songs. Then I went on a song writing course which Martin Newell was running and Martin’s better known as a poet, he introduced me to the works of John Cooper Clarke and I went to watch both at a gig when I was fifteen. I saw live poetry on stage and I thought it was amazing – a cross between a band, a comedian and a writer. Not only did I think it was the most exciting, entertaining and interesting thing I’d seen with all this beautiful word play it also felt like it was something I could do. I mean I love comedy and I love being funny and I love writing lyrics. Everything about it appealed to me.
HC: Do you remember your first paying gig?
LW: Yes I do! My first paying gig would have been around 25th July 1999. Wasn’t my first gig as I had done a couple at college. It was Norwich Arts Centre, there were a few of us, I was first on the bill, first on stage and I spoke about three hundred miles an hour during my fifteen minute slot. The money went immediately on booze.
HC: At what point did you think you could make that jump and become professional?
LW: I was only weventeen when I did that first gig and then I went onto university and with like-minded individuals we ran a little gig night as that’s what I wanted to do, I didn’t think it would be possible. I moved to London, where the roads are paved with dog sh*t. I said I was going to give myself three years. I thought I might go and be a journalist as that appealed to me, but I knew wouldn’t be able to give my all to that and my all to my poetry so I was going to take crap jobs that weren’t going to consume me when I’m not being paid. And if I hadn’t gotten anywhere in three years then I’d try something else, as much as I wanted to become a poet I didn’t want to become a failed poet and I had to make money. It took me about a year and a half before I was scraping enough money together through doing workshops, gigs, commissions, whatever before going full time. And I’ve not looked back and have being doing it for twenty years.
HC: What’s it like being the Master of Ceremonies at Libertines gigs?
LW: At its worst, I’ve had a gig where half the audience are booing me and the other half are cheering me! The Libertines do have an intelligent art-loving crowd on the one hand and the contingent of the ‘laddy’ supporters. But it’s certainly not what they are expecting to hear and it’s quite fun.
HC: I was going to ask where you get your inspiration from, however with all the shenanigans going on, I imagine there is plenty of material these days – but what’s your favourite topic to write about?
LW: There are topics I come back to like Englishness, the natural journey we are all on, how the decisions of the people on top affect the lives of the others, I write about the feelings I am going through, relationships, emotions. Poetry is at its best when used to talk about feelings and emotions. I try and find ways of being political whilst dealing with the personal.
HC: What about differences in the audience humour in the UK, say North to the South?
LW: The biggest thing really is age. There are always older people and students, people with kids is less so as that’s a barrier to going out, but I am certainly worth the cost of a babysitter! Poetry itself does go across ages.
HC: Talking about this new 2022 tour – what can the audience expect?
LW: A great night out. I have tried to make this a night of proper entertainment. I like to take people on an emotional roller-coaster, it can be sad but there are laughs and funny bits, it’s a good combination. It’s warm and accessible.
HC: Do you change material along the way due to audience feedback or news stories?
LW: I don’t really do topical stuff. The first part is the brand new show and it’s all new material and is generally the same order each night. The bits in-between are a few gags, I am talking to people and is ad-lib and natural so that changes every night, that’s exciting for me as well. The second half is like an extended encore where there are some new pieces, however a lot of people request poems from previous shows and it’s what people like to hear. It’s not like comedy where if you repeat a gag from the last tour people would be really disappointed, or music where the band is only playing their new album, poetry is in the middle where you do want to hear some old ones but I do balance it out, play around a bit and try really new stuff. The second half changes nightly and it has that rawness and a nice organic feel to it
HC: Do you have a ritual before going on stage?
LW: Not massively. Just sit in the dressing room to take a little bit of time, warm my voice up, but no ritual.
HC: How do you balance being a performer with normal life obligations?
LW: The way I do it is quite nice, I don’t really go on tour for months at a time, it’s more a few weeks. I have my kids half the time and we work it well, and my job allows me to do that.
HC: During lockdown you performed for one hundred consecutive days online and reached viewing figures of over a thousand per stream – how hard was it?
LW: Yes it was hard, there were times where I’d had enough but it was great and it kept me happy and safe. I had a huge connection with the people who tuned in, there were loads who tuned in every night and it was a really beautiful thing. It was different, and I really missed the live performance, although it was really a performance, it’s hard to explain, you had to find new ways of exploring your self conscious and let your mind go. On the days it worked I was quite brilliant and I loved the stuff I came out with and it made me a better performer.
HC: Did you pick up any lockdown hobbies and do you still continue with them?
LW: I tried to do more of the things I like, such as walking and swimming in the sea. I started playing the guitar again since being a teenager and although now in a band, it’s a hobby, although I prefer to call it a creation and making art, which I’d be in trouble without.
HC: You’re a local lad, do you still live in East Anglia and what’s it like to perform in the region?
LW: It feels nice and really handy gigging close to home. I like it. I like Lowestoft and think it’s a great town and it’s exciting at the moment as it’s on the way up, there are lots of interesting things and I am excited to do a show at The Marina. Especially as it’s a show that’s been cancelled three times now due to Covid!
HC: What’s your writing process?
LW: I do a lot of walking and often the ideas come as I am walking. I then sit and write. If I am in the moment I can carry on and get it done in the same day, often it can take a while as I think about it.
HC: What do you enjoy about being a spoken word performer?
LW: I love connecting with the audience, that’s the fun part I want to do, like a crazy night out. I love the travel and the writing and the music of poetry. All of it. Literally, every single aspect of the job I adore.
HC: Do you have a favourite poem?
LW: There are so many but I’ll say ‘Aubde’ by Philip Larkin – a poem about contemplating death.
HC: What type of music do you listen to?
LW: I’m an Indie kid. I like post-punk like The Fall. I listen to a lot of Van Goat, a funk, folky jazzy band with great lyrics. I was a huge Smiths fan and Blur fan growing up, and I love Nick Cave. Serious heavy music.
HC: What’s your favourite word?
LW: Not sure I have a favourite but ‘Gut’ is one I end up using it lots. I love guttural sound of it.