An Interview with Paul Cree

When I was in Edinburgh this year I shared a venue with Paul Cree. When my two audience members left, his crowd would come in, and a couple of times I stayed too and watched his show. It was fantastic, one of the best and most original slices of poetic life, suburban grit, humour and truth that I’d seen in a long while. And Paul was incredibly supportive too, we’d help each other leaflet the street outside and on a day when it looked like I’d have no audience, he rustled up six people to come and watch.

Anyway, I thought I’d send him some questions and see what makes him tick as an artist and performer, particularly as it’s good to hear from a fellow Surrey spoken word artist!

– How much of your material is based on real life? The characters in particular seem well drawn and remarkably believable.
Lots of the material is based on real life, by default I always draw from my own experiences, mainly because I don’t really know a lot else. I haven’t travelled much or lived outside the south east of England, however, within that small limited range that is my little life and surroundings I find many things which to me are poetic and inspiring. I have a minor obsession with moterway service stations for instance. Large up Fleet Services on the M3, looking like the forest moon of Endoor in Return of the Jedi. Often with the characters I’ve written, one person might be an amalgamation of two or three different people whom I’ve known or encountered. It’s bit like those miselaniois bits of Lego I’d use to make spaceships when I was a nipper
– You find humour in every day situations. Do you store things away for future use?
Yes i do sometimes store things, write little notes etc. I’m naturally a worrier and an observer, as well as being quite silly but I often worry that if I find something that really amuses me or interests me, if I don’t write it down il forget it. Through years of working a bunch of jobs I didn’t like, offices and call centres etc, I was able to condense ideas into short sentences, like a mental zip file, via a quick trip to the carzy, though I couldn’t do it to often as this would arouse suspicion about my toilet habits. Upon getting home, I could later unravel the sentence and expand on what I was thinking. It’s was worth running the risk of the office gossips thinking I had a bowel problem for the sake a good idea. 
– How do you go shout putting a show together? How long does it take?
I don’t have a particular process for putting a show together. It really depends what the show is. I try and find the process as it goes along. With my first show, A Tale From The Bedsit, that was really just one long, linear, monologue but I had a very specific idea about the staging of it, so spent i spent (including the writing) probably over two years writing that then working with Stef O Driscol putting it all together. With CD Borderline it was a lot faster as my idea for the format of the show was very simple and I already had a lot of the material written. The rest was just putting it on its feet and trying out deferent combinations and finding out what worked best.
– Who are your artistic inspirations?

People, places, my own intravertness, rain drops on windowpanes . Rappers, comedians, motorway service stations (fleet services is my favourite) boredom.
– How does the real Paul Cree differ to the stage Paul Cree?
Not too far removed as most of the material is based on my own experiences. 

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On cutting out the inner editor 

Lately I’ve been trying to write poems that are almost exact copies of those by another poet. In fact it’s been an obsession these last couple of years. I’ve been taking his poems, breaking them down line by line, syllable by syllable, to see how he gets the desired effect, then subtly changing bits here and there and adding distinct touches so that they don’t look too much like the original. The poet I’ve been copying so deftly is Robert Garnham.

I should explain that I am Robert Garnham. You probably know this already. It’s a little trick I was playing on you. But I should also explain that my work, my oeuvre has, inevitably, changed over the last few years. I know more about writing now, more about poetry and comedy and what makes people laugh. I now sit down and write poems with a specific idea and target in mind. I want this poem to make people laugh. I want this poem to be serious, I want this poem to be short, sharp, funny and with a pounding rhythm. And all of this has advanced me beyond those early years when I’d just write a poem for the thrill of writing a poem.

I’ve finally cracked it. And how have I done it? By disengaging my brain while I write. It’s an amazing system. I come up with the idea and then I just write, ignoring the inner censor, the inner editor who wants a specific, desired effect, and it really is most liberating. The poems of the last few years have been some of my best work, but they’ve been more like tightly structured pop songs rather than jazz improvisations. There’s not much wriggle room. I’d also been trying to write in order to fit in with certain types of poem rather than be myself. I’d see poets on YouTube and at gigs and I’d think, hmm, what can I adapt from these wonderful people?

For the last few months I’ve banned myself from thinking along such lines. This has had a profound effect on my enjoyment of performance poetry, it’s let me sit back and enjoy or relish other people’s performances without analysing every small detail. When I first started performing I had never seen any other performance poets, and this gave me an incredible freedom to do what I liked. By disengaging my brain and cutting out the inner editor, I’ve been able to reconnect with this part of my voice. It also puts me under less pressure to write.

Static, the talkie bits

I performed Static for the last time in Totnes this week, at an arts venue in an industrial estate. It’s been quite a year, touring the first show that I’d ever challenged myself to write, and touring it to venues in Guildford, Exeter, Bristol and the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s been a great learning experience, but also the show has been very well received by audiences. This has made me confident about writing the next show.

So for your delectation, here is the script of Static in its entirety. It should be noted that this is the first such script and beats a slight resemblance to the one that I finished with last week!


Static

Robert Garnham
Robert is in the performance space with a small battery radio tuned loudly to static. 

Poem : ‘Static / Wind’
I tell you what, it gives you the willies. 
Thinks about things for a while. Opens performance book.
Poem: ‘The Increasing Physical Dexterity of Justin Bieber’
2009.
Feeling so damn unique. There’s nobody like me in the world! That sensation of circumstance, geography and time being in just the right alignment to create me, and me alone. And there’s poetry in my chest, it’s beating away, pounding out strange rhythms with the absolute promise of being such an individual, that I might one say change society and make a real difference to the world!

Putting pen to paper. Oh, you brave poet! Your words will echo like an aftershock, an earthquake as time itself bends in on you with your uniqueness, like Lord Byron with a megaphone, Wordsworth with an attitude, Ted Huges on the ten o clock news shaking his fists at convention.
2016
Seven years of writing poetry and discovering that there’s nothing really unique about me after all.

Seven years of writing poetry about minor trips out to the dentist, mild personal discomfort and vacuum cleaners. Seven years of looking in the mirror every morning and saying, Yeah, that’ll do. Seven years of my work being compared to that of John Betjeman, usually by people who say things like, ‘His work is not as good as that of John Betjeman’.
Seven years static. A life spent going nowhere.
(Sit)
I want this show to be one of those worthy shoes, you know, where you learn all about me as a person and all of my shortcomings. I suppose my first shortcoming is that I was born in Surrey, a county so bland and so irrelevant that absolutely nothing newsworthy or interesting has ever happened there. And that’s a fact. Look it up in the history books, if you like. Nothing interesting has ever happened in Surrey. My birth there in 1974 coincided with the resurfacing of the Guildford bypass, whereas here in the same year you of course had the Olympics. Oh, and later that year my aunt saw a badger.
I was brought up with this sense of low expectations and the absolute blandness of existence. Even my name is boring. Robert Garnham. I sound like an estate agent. I like to think that I was named after my dad’s favourite singer, Bob Dylan, who is of course, Robert Zimmerman, and this at least makes me a little bit excited about being called Robert. But at the time I was born my aunt worked in the factory making Robert’s Radios in Molesey. I can imagine the decision-making process that led to my parents choosing such a boring name.
(Improvised family conversation involving Robert’s Radios).
Robert sits in the chair as his own mother while feeding a baby, presumably Robert. He stands to indicate when his father is speaking.
I suppose I got off lightly. My Uncle worked for a fork lift truck company called Lansing Bagnall.
Robert builds a theremin on the table out of a corn flakes packet, two Wellington boots, a tape machine. He plays the theremin.
Let’s try and . . . 
The tape machine interrupts him. Improvised silliness with the tape machine.
School was hell. 
Poem : ‘2 Abbey 1’
(Stand)
I grew up in a house on a hill. Three generations, six of us in a two-up, two-down cottage surrounded by woods in the hills of Surrey. From the back bedroom window at night I could see the whole of West London. In the evenings I’d tune my radio through the static to the jazz stations, sit there for hours in the heat and the humidity of the sticky forest Surrey summer, and gaze at the neon and the road signs and the motorway lights.
Poem: ‘The Prince of Belgium’
Apart from being gay, that was.
(Sit).
And oh, mamma! I was very gay. I was probably the gayest thirteen year old that Surrey had ever seen. Yet my whole suburban mindset dictated that I should stay in the closet and not tell anyone because this was Surrey and people didn’t really want to know about such things, they were too busy buying bowler hats and going to wife swapping parties and voting for weird Conservatives and because of that I thought there was something wrong, a strange error in the system which just affected me. I knew that everything had to change but the time was never right.
It took a few years, and I came out to my friends first. They were surprisingly supportive, but at the same time they were incredibly surprised. Even though I’d been the gayest thirteen year old that Surrey had ever seen. You see, by the time I was twenty, I was a completely different person.
In fact, it still comes as a complete surprise when people discover that I’m one of those gay people that you hear about. I think, personally, it’s because I’m so macho, and manly, and tough, and masculine, and something of a hard nut. I think, basically, it’s because I’m a stud.
(Stand).
Though to be honest, I’ve always felt like a gay man trapped in the body of a bus driver.
I always wonder what my friends thought about that whole gay thing. 
Poem : ‘Not Flamboyant’
I was set up on a blind date suggested by mutual friends and we hit it off immediately. At the time I was a part time shop assistant, and he was a trampoline salesman. Looking back now I see that he was incredibly patient with me. In fact he even said that it was what inside that counts, and that to him looks weren’t . . .
Hmmm.
Come to think of it, he charged me twenty quid.

Poem : ‘The First Time’
So I came out. And I had oodles of sex. And I masturbated a hell of a lot. It’s hard to believe looking at me now but when I was 18 to 20 I was a very attractive young slip of a thing with a trendy haircut and a face lit up with the evident joys of life. I always wondered what my first partner would be like and I would daydream about the usual ones, bearing in mind that this was the early 1990s. Peter Davison from Doctor Who, or Chesney Hawkes, or for some weird reason, foreign secretary Douglas Hurd. My first proper partner was a young man called Jamie, a slightly taller, thinner version of Lance from Neighbours. He invited me back to his place ostensibly to show me his collection of Star Trek memorabilia. I knew it was about to get really interesting when he took me up to his bedroom to let me see his collection of phasers.
Poem : ‘Jamie’.
Oh, when I look back on it now it’s like I was doing it all the time. But as I’ve got older, I’ve shown less and less interest in these matters. Things have slowed down. I’ve slowed down. I’ve become static.
I feel like there’s this sense that my life is going nowhere. I’m now officially middle aged and there’s a huge list of things that I’ve never done.
(The list is written on cards. Robert dances and improvises as he unveils them).
I’ve never bought a house.
Learned to drive.

Fallen in love.

Had a promotion.

Earned the respect of my contemporaries.

Had a jacket dry cleaned.

Hosted a barbecue.

Owned a sofa.

Walked a dog.

Got married and had kids.

Bought a round in a pub.

Used a power drill.

Been arrested.

Paid a bribe to council bin men.

Used an axe.

Slapped a yak.

When I look at my life I’m tempted to think that I haven’t done much with it. I don’t have a fancy job or a nice big house or a big throbbing monster of a car. In fact all of the things that seem to drive successful people seem to have passed me by.
And I’m ok with this.
It lets me concentrate on the important aspects of living, like sleeping and biscuits and buying hair gel.
Here’s a diagram to illustrate my thinking on this.
(Improvised diagram and flip chart section).
I’m about as camp as an oak tree. I’m about as flamboyant as Ryvita.
(Look left and right as if imparting a secret).
Yet I see wonder and amazement everywhere. I watched a documentary once in which it was pointed out that the echoes and shockwaves from the Big Bang which created existence itself can still be heard as static on a radio receiver. The idea of this has always interested me immensely. I may be just a poet, but I’ve always wanted to probe the origins of life and existence and make my own little mark on the world. The work of the large hadron collider, I believe, will ultimately shed new light on the mysteries of the universe, and I try to muck in and help where I can.
So for you, ladies and gentlemen, and for science in general, and for deeper understanding, I’m going to construct a large hadron collider right now, right here, on stage.
Robert takes a length of garden hose, a camera, a biscuit on a plate, and attempts to create a black hole by smashing atoms together in the garden hose. He finishes by holding up photos on his ipad of the resulting smashed atoms.
Of course, I would need a proper scientist to tell me what this all means.
It’s all connected. Everything is connected. Time and memory, light and shade, and all those atoms spinning around, radio signals from the original Big Bang, and me, me as a young man with all that wonder and amazement, I’m still that person only I’ve channelled it all elsewhere, the parts of it that haven’t been ground down by the finer detail of living, every now.
Yet I’m also aware that the world I live in is freer and more open and accepting than other parts of the world, and that’s what this next poem is about.
Poem: ‘The Doors’
Poem: ‘Badger in the Garden’

Robert performs the performance piece ‘Static’ which starts with the radio being switched on again.
The whole piece is delivered with the radio on. At the end of the piece, Robert packs away all of the paraphernalia and sits on the chair with the radio in his lap. He turns it off.