The first thing that you notice about Luke Wright is that he is tall, very tall, well over six foot in fact, with the face of a man a lot younger than 30. The performance poet and comedian who would rather not class himself as a ‘comedian’ meets me for a coffee in a quite café in East London to discuss his upcoming show; ‘Luke Wright’s Cynical Ballads’, which recently closed to a sold-out audience at the Edinburgh Fringe festival, and will be showing at the Soho Theatre from the 2nd to the 5th of May.
The second thing you notice about Mr Wright is that he doesn’t look like a typical poet, by this I mean, you couldn’t guess his profession by just looking at him. He is wearing a pair of jeans, a maroon polo shirt under a blazer and a pair of brown shoes; smart casual, which sums up his personality. He seems like a bit of a ‘Jack-the –lad’, a geezer who’s always up for a laugh, perhaps this is due to his Essex accent.
He carries a small travelling suitcase with him, he tells me that he shall be going to Australia the next day to do some work for an upcoming tour, and that he plans on spending his evening in London in a pub with a friend, something he doesn’t get to do as often with an eight month old at home.
At the young age of 30, the married father of two has accomplished a lot in the past decade. As well as a poet, Wright is a published author of many titles including his satirical re-invention of the rubbish we read on a daily basis; ‘Who Writes This Crap?’ a book he co-wrote with author Joel Stickley, which has received critical acclaim.
As a broadcaster, he is the ‘poet-in-residence’ on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Saturday Live’ and, the self-confessed ‘indie-kid’ used to be a guitarist in an indie band (okay, perhaps this one is more of a rite of passage than an accomplishment).
“I was in an indie band when I was fourteen,” he says, “We wanted to sound like Blur but we couldn’t get past the three chord rocker Oasis thing… I was also the song writer. If I could sing, I’d probably have chosen a different career path.”
Thank God that Mr Wright is a tone-deaf lyrical poet! His success makes up for his short-lived career as a rock star.
“I was particularly very interested in writing lyrics,” he says, “then I saw John Cooper Clarke and Martin Newell perform at Colchester Arts when I was sixteen, and that kind of open my eyes to what can be done with words without the aid of music.”
We talk about his career and about the growth of performance poetry over the past few years. We talk about performance poets turned musicians like Kate Tempest and Scroobius Pip, and then we get to the matter at hand: ‘Luke Wright’s Cynical Ballads’.
“Cynical Ballads is eight poems about Britain, it’s just snap shots about British lives.” He says, “It started with this idea that Britain is broken.”
He tells me that he doesn’t believe that Britain is actually broken; this is something he also clarifies at the beginning of the show.
‘Luke Wright’s Cynical Ballads’ centers around snapshots of British life told through interesting stories and characters ranging from: “a fat kid called Josh… which is a Beano-esque kind of story” to, “a tone-deaf girl who wants to be a pop star… the public fall in love with her because they admire her grit… it talks about why Britain watches those programmes, it’s not about being a good singer, it’s about the stories behind it…”
“The first poem of the show is called ‘Drunk Train’”, he says, “It’s about getting on the last train at Liverpool Street Station. It’s just snapshots of these drunken people on a train and all they want to do is sing.”
For Wright this idea dates right back to the way stories used to be passed along through word of mouth in pubs with everyone singing along, “I think there’s something quite wonderful and visceral and human about that,” he says.
As Wright talks about his ballads, there’s a humble hint of pure passion in his tone. His body suddenly begins to animate. He starts to talk a little faster and as he does, his hands start to move in sync with his lips.
The more Wright talks about the show, the more sentimental it becomes. He recites a few lines from his ballads to me:
I’ll stand up to my enemy,
no matter what he throws at me,
fight until I cannot stand,
and though I pray for victory,
I hope I have the strength I need to meet the sod and shake his hand.
To all the cynics out there, the show certainly has a lot of cynicism, but there’s this over-all sentiment that has the power to inspire even the biggest cynic in the world to go out and carpe diem.
“It’s quite sentimental,” says Wright, “but I feel like I’ve earnt it…” For him, sharing stories is the most important thing.
After our coffee, he walks with me to Liverpool Street Station, quite fitting I think seeing as it is the setting for the opening story in his ballads.
As we walk, he tells me stories about his life and about how lucky he feels to have made it. I tell him that I find him fascinating and he says, “I wonder if you would find me fascinating if you were an electrician, and not an artistic person.”
We part ways soon after that, but Wright’s question made me see him in a new light, yes he is a poet, and an author, and a broadcaster, but if I had to narrow down his profession to one thing, I’d call him a story teller, and his ‘Lyrical Ballads’ are a few of those stories that he wants to share with an audience.
For tickets and more information about ‘Luke Wright’s Cynical Ballads’, go to http://sohotheatre.com/whats-on/luke-wright/.
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