Jamie Thrasivoulou (Word Wise) – interview

“I believe 100% that the next revolution will come through spoken word as opposed to music for once. It very much feels like we’re a part of something that is on the rise.”

Jamie Thrasivoulou describes himself as a creative, albeit one with a destructive side, and although he’s been around on the Derby music scene most of his life it’s to spoken word and poetry he is now dedicated. A poet himself he set up Word Wise in September 2016, alongside Rhythmical Mike, in order to bring established and professional artists to the city for performance alongside locals.

Derby born and bred – with Greek-Cyrpiot, Irish and Welsh in his genetic make-up – Thrasivoulou is from a working class background and has taken a typical route through ‘mind-numbing jobs’ before ending up in the creative sector. It started on building sites as a teenager to fund his music-buying addiction, before starting and quitting a decorator qualification and then landing what he describes as his dream job at the ‘now defunct and sadly missed Reveal Records’. But it was a run in with the law that made him decide it was time to break those destructive and bad habits and head to university as a mature student.

“I played in bands from the age of 14-years-old. Most notably in the band In-Flight Program. We released a mini-album and 7″ single through Signature Tune Records and did a few tours playing with some great bands. When I started university the band was quietening down a bit so I started experimenting with other forms of creativity.

“I originally tried to write novels, but have yet to complete one, although this is something I intend to do before I depart planet Earth to live on Mars, or wherever we end up. I also started writing short-stories and poems and decided I’d have a go at reading some out at events.

“I did my first reading at the Quad poetry night back in 2009 – this night has now moved to DEDA and is every first Thursday of the month. Luckily the MC, Les, let me rant a bit and I continued to attend regularly, although my poetry was pretty rudimentary in those days.

“It took me about 20 gigs to stop getting nervous. When playing in bands I felt like I could hide a bit behind the music but it’s different when people can actually hear every word you say. For a while I did both music and poetry and then In-Flight Program split up and I really didn’t fancy starting a new band so I decided to concentrate on writing some better poetry.”

Taking a break from gigging in 2012 Thrasivoulou gained a teaching qualification and began to hold creative workshops of his own. His personal life also became more settled and now a dad to a daughter he’s engaged and free of bad habits and company he felt held him back in earlier life, more dedicated than ever to his creative work.

“I started writing my first poetry collection and in 2016 got myself out gigging the material again. I did over 70 gigs last year (some of them I even got paid for!). I also had my collection accepted for publication so that’ll be coming out sometime this year. I managed to create a bit of hype around what I do and worked really hard and continue to progress steadily.

“I also gained my first paid writing job working for Writing East Midlands on their Write Here Sanctuary Project. The project concentrates on facilitating the stories of asylum seekers and refugees and has been a particularly moving and emotional journey. The plight of the immigrant is something I hold close to my heart so it’s been lovely to be involved in something so positive, particularly given the nonsense that’s going on in the world right now. I’ve also worked with ex-offenders and young vulnerable people for the Twenty-Twenty charity as well as holding workshops for Derby College and Sheffield Hallam University’s Education Department, so it’s been an incredible year really.”

Part of that incredible year – and plans for an even bigger 2017 – was launching the Word Wise event alongside Rhythmical Mike.

“Although Derby is lucky to have great open-mic events such as Twisted Tongues (every last Tuesday in The Tudor Bar at The Old Bell) plus the prior-mentioned DEDA poets, the city lacked an event that brings established and professional artists over to the city. So the plan was pretty simple really: do something to change this!

“My years of being in bands meant I was already equipped with the skills of putting on gigs so I got in touch with the newly refurbished Maypole Bar and Theatre and they were happy to support the night and agreed to let me run the event there. My good friend and fellow spoken word brethren Rhythmical Mike said he was interested in helping out with the promotion and taking the money on the door – so we were good to go.

“We started in September 2016 and hit the ground running. The audiences have been great and the atmosphere is always lively. People can say what they want about my content but one thing they’d struggle to deny is that I have a lot of energy and passion, I’ve used this to make sure I constantly keep the crowd and performers hyped-up to the max!

“We’re carving out a good reputation as a nationally recognised event and have been lucky enough to host some great artists such as Joolz Denby, Anthony Anaxagorou, Matt Abbott, Jess Green and Louise Fazackerley to name but a few. February’s show sees the jaw-droppingly awesome Luke Wright take to the stage which is a real coup for us as he’s got one hell of a profile and following.”

This touring artists join a growing local scene, “There are a fair few of us about. I already mentioned Rhythmical Mike and there’s also Joe Coghlan, Pr@xis, Johnny Swinhoe and Sophie Sparham, whom I personally think is one of the best female spoken word artists in the U.K. There’s plenty more names I’ve undoubtedly forgotten and we see more great emerging local talent every month at the events which is really positive to see.”

Derby’s emerging talent sit within a national scene that Thrasivoulou describes as ‘time-bomb’ which he believes is only going to explode further. He believes that spoken word, rather than music, will be at the forefront of the revolution. “It reminds me of reading and hearing form my Dad about the punk scene and how that suddenly blew-up! There are so many great artists out there with different perspectives and the public are clearly engaging with the form more than ever before.”

But poetry and spoken word can be off-putting for some, a lingering perception it is an intellectual and high brow pursuit rife with snobbery, poe-faced rather than engaging.

“I certainly do see that perception and I completely understand why it exists. Some poetry, to be quite blunt, is predictable and bland and I can see why most people would be put off by it. The education system has a lot to answer for in my opinion as the way it is taught in school suggests that there’s only one type of poetry out there, the ‘high brow’. Obviously this type of poetry still exists and there are a hell of a lot of pretenscious poets still about – they know who they are and are probably proud – but there always has been a lot more to it than meets the eye.

“I personally keep that kind of poetry at arms-length and am far more interested in poetry that is more genuine and unique. My own style is often referred to as raw, gritty, distinctly working-class, polemical and highly politicised. I concentrate on writing about what I know and experience, my opinions of the world and society and observations of people. I don’t tend to write too much about fading sunsets and daffodils swaying in the calm breeze. I talk about urban environments, drug addiction, class, race, equality and above all I make social observations. Most of the time I can’t see the sunsets for the smog of the city so that’s more where I’m at. People have a common preconception of poetry, and I’m definitely the opposite of this which suits me just fine.”

This politicised style and urban outlook fits, Thrasivoulou thinks, with the times we’re living in and the responsibility upon artists to hold a mirror to society.

“In these perilous times I actually feel that the arts are more important than ever. It’s up to us as artists – whatever the art form – to portray what’s actually happening in the world. We live in an age where the media is more corrupt and untrustworthy than it’s ever been. It’s important that we counter the poisonous rhetoric and clickbait headlines which are constantly churned out on a daily basis, with our own views, uncomfortable truths and awkward questions.

“Art has the ability to interrogate and in my opinion, above all else that is what it should be doing. We are fast becoming a zombie nation who will swallow any lie without thinking about it. This needs to stop because currently we’re heading straight into a totalitarian state which will ultimately lead to censorship and the inevitable Theocracy of Stalinist Russia.

“Now is the time to speak up/sing up/paint against and fight the evils and hypocrisy of our inept and untrustworthy politicians. As you can probably tell I’m 100% Anti-Establishment and I’m all about Power for the people. We’ve seen over the last few months that we can’t trust a single politician to best represent the interests of the underclasses so it’s now more important than ever that we air our views.”

Part of that will be continuing not only his own art but growing Word Wise and supporting the scene within the city. “Our plan is to keep on spreading the love and message of spoken word and poetry. We want to make everyday people who may never have engaged with the form realise that it really is for them as well!

“For way too long the higher echelons of society and the elitist literary establishment have held on to poetry rather selfishly, but their grip is loosening and now the cat is out of the bag, so to speak. Word Wise is promoted to giving a platform to artists who have something to say and not those regurgitating cliches and trying to be profound and clever. Come and check out the events we reckon you’ll blooming well love them!”

The next Word Wise event is 24 February at the Maypole Bar & Theatre, featuring: Luke Wright, Toria Garbutt, Cullen Marshall, Sophie Sparham, Bethany Slinn and more.

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