At present there are many spoken word nights in Bristol for folks to sink their teeth into. From BlahBlahBlah at the Old Vic, showcasing the award-winning, the diverse and the popular to Milk at the Halo, where local poets compete in a slam and enjoy a top headliner. Bristol’s long relationship with performance poetry is alive and well. We’re quite pleased to be based here, where we have had the pleasure to put out the work of locals like Rebecca Tantony, Jeremy Toombs and Harry Baker (to name a few!) and to be able to see their influences on aspiring poets.
Raise the Bar is spoken word night in Bristol which has, with every monthly show, brought an impressive line up. In January they hosted Anthony Anaxagorou with support from Jeremy Toombs, Tom Sastry and Joshua Ward. This month they teamed up with Bristol University Student Union to help raise awareness of mental health with a ‘Time to Talk’ event and on the Wednesday 27th February they will host the 2013 UK Slam Champion Sarah Hirsch with support from Hannah Teasdale and Sam Grundgings (details here). We chatted to Danny Pandolfi, the founder of Raise the Bar:
Hello! Please introduce yourself and tell us little bit about your experiences in the Bristol spoken word scene.
Hi, my name is Danny Pandolfi. I’m the Founder and Events Co-Ordinator of Raise the Bar.
The other Raise the Bar staff members in Bristol include James McQuade, the RtB Creative Director who films events and edits YouTube video packages (the latter role I also make a minor contribution to), and Tim Ledwitch who co-hosts the events with me and helps out with the organization on the day.
I’ve been living in Bristol just over two years studying here and have performed spoken word since not long after arriving. I’ve performed at all the open mics and eventually got to a point where I was being booked for headlining and supporting roles at events both in Bristol and other cities in the UK. Having gained a lot of performing experience and attended a lot of poetry nights, I decided to set up my own event.
Raise the Bar has grown very rapidly, can you tell us how it all began and developed into what it is now?
The initial aim was to get more students involved in the scene and foster home-grown talent, as well as mixing the general population and student population to create an event that is accessible to everybody.
The name ‘Raise the Bar’ came about through a desire to emphasize the self-improvement aspect which performance experience at our events would encourage, and also to invite some of the best poets in the country to our events and raise the profile, audience and awareness of spoken word poetry.
Part of the reason in starting up was quite honestly disillusionment with how poetry is often represented through the current major UK ‘brands’ and ‘collectives’, so the goal has always been to transfer that energy into something positive. We believe in creating a scene and opportunity for everybody, as opposed to cliques and collectives which can often discourage people and push them away. So many people have come to our events having never performed before or seen live spoken word before and it’s amazing to see those people become fans and continue to come to our events.
Part of the successful development, I feel, has been effective promotion to create an awareness and demand for our events, which spoken word performers and enthusiasts in the city will tell you are unmissable, and also the repeat viewers who consistently return, as well as the word of mouth advertising which is always the most effective tool in promoting a small scene. It’s really humbling to have progressed so much and our aim is to keep growing and expanding to become the most recognized and respected spoken word organization in the UK.
There are a lot of spoken word nights in Bristol, what makes Raise the Bar stand out?
There are so many great events on in Bristol which each have a different vibe and various strengths. I think Raise the Bar stands out for its diverse audience as our aim is to bring together students, non-students and local artists from all kinds of background and of all poetic styles. We’re also the only event with a headliner format which also involves an open mic as other events either only have booked artists on the bill or have an open competitive slam, which can be daunting for some performers, so I’d like to think Raise the Bar is the most accessible platform for artists to perform in, and that’s really been our objective since the start.
Any particular favourite acts that you’ve had and who would you REALLY love to have?
I love every single poet we’ve booked, we’ve not had one artist perform a headline set who is anything less than incredible. Some of our favourites who have performed at Raise the Bar include Mark Grist, Harry Baker, MiKo Berry, Dean Atta, Amy Leon, Blizzard and Anthony Anaxagorou, as well as some awesome local talents such as Vanessa Kissuule, Buddy Carson and Stef Mo who prove how strong the Bristol scene is!
If I had to name three people I’d love to book who we haven’t had already, they would be Hollie McNish, Dizraeli and Buddy Wakefield. Who knows, you might be seeing them on line-ups in the next few months!
The quality of your open mic is very good, do you do anything to ensure different voices are heard each time?
We really are blessed to have such an amazing talent pool of open mic-ers who grace our stage. There’s only a limited amount of influence you can have on the content and quality of performances, but I believe by encouraging as many people as possible to come and perform no matter how experienced they are you inevitably increase the diversity of voices you hear. Our Raise the Bar Spoken Word YouTube channel is our most effective platform of sharing a diverse range of poetry to a larger audience.
Finally, do you have any advice for a first-time open-micer?
A really simple piece of advice which I think isn’t emphasized enough is to LEARN your poem off by heart. It takes a bit of commitment, but not having to hold a piece of paper (which can make you visibly shake) and allowing yourself to make eye-contact with people and connect with an audience invariably improves the overall quality and experience of your poetry. Apart from that, just relax, be yourself and you’re bound to connect with at least a few like-minded people. The audience are there to see YOU and the Raise the Bar crowd is always warming and welcoming so come and sign up!
Don’t forget to catch the next night on Wednesday 27th February at the Bristol University Student Union.