Creative Renfrewshire Interview
Shaun Moore – Spoken Word Poet
Shaun is a spoken word artist, activist, and music lover. He hails from Johnstone, but spends much of his time in Paisley. Since he was a boy, he loved poetry, but in the last few years has come into his own across Renfrewshire and Scotland for his pointed, often comical, spoken word poetry. Combining his love for music, Shaun enjoys the “rhythm and rhyme” of the genre and often crafts bespoke pieces for events where he’s asked to perform.
Shaun and I caught up at Canal Station for a coffee and these were some of the insights he had to share.
Corbin: So Shaun, tell me a bit about what got you into spoken word?
Shaun: Em, a series of unfortunate events. A combination between, a bit of time on my hands [and] a long term interest in writing, and words, wordplay, reading.
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My real passion was music and I had written a couple of pieces, and poems, which friends and bands were quite happy for me to do at fundraisers nights. Did that, was surprised how well it went down, and then other people told me about this spoken word scene, which I didn’t know existed… to my eternal shame.
And then it was quite mercurial, it all kinda came flooding at one, discovered the spoken word nights, the poetry nights, the kinda jam nights where your working, kinda liaising with other musicians. That was maybe 2014, it was also about the time of the referendum where I was doing some kinda political stuff and rallies. Which was maybe not great as a writing tool, or masterclass, but as far as looking at thousands of people in front of you and getting rid of stage-fright and things like that, it was worthwhile. So yeah, that was maybe 2014-15, so it’s just been kinda consolidating and trying different things since then.
Corbin: So did you read poetry when you were a kid, or other kinds of literature?
Yeah, I did. I enjoyed poetry at school, mostly other just novels. It was exciting books, novels, funny books. It was the Pratchetts. It was the Tom Sharpes. It was the crime writers. At school, too, we were quite fortunate, but my experience of poetry at school was contemporary British/Scottish poets, which I could relate to. Also, that it was okay to speak in your own dialect, which up until that stage at school, had been the opposite, it was kinda drummed out of you.
So, I enjoyed poetry at school and kept that interest in it, and that probably followed through in my interest in music as well – most of the songwriters… your Paul Simons and all of that, the guys who were poets basically. So, It was always kinda there, the love of lyrics and poetry, in whatever guise you want to give it.
Corbin: What do you think makes spoken word different than other forms of poetry?
Shaun: This was a discovery to me, and again, probably one of the reasons that I’m reluctant to put stuff down on paper. I went to various spoken word nights and these guys were rhyming away, and it was all about rhythm and rhyme … I discovered (and I mean some poets would say rhyming’s a cheap thing to do, don’t do it), the spoken word performance is a lot more about the “music”, it’s rhythm and rhyme, and I learned that off of these younger guys who were looking at me thinking: “Oh, this guy’s been round the block. He’s been doing this for years”. I hadn’t. And I was learning off them!
I found it all the more enjoyable then. That fact that I could write pieces for certain occasions or certain events or certain people, that weren’t immaculate poems where every little word was so clever. I could do something that was [clicks fingers]… was a 4/4 … bum, bum, bum… getting into a nice rhythm, that people would enjoy – that people would tap into.
Corbin: Spoken word in the last five to ten years has really started to gain momentum and take off; What makes it a powerful medium?
Shaun: I think it’s very accessible. I dunno if it’s a bit too simplistic to link it back to the Punk thing a few years ago where all of a sudden people were told it didn’t have to be about musical expertise or songwriting skills, as long as you could batter out a Chuck Berry riff at twice the speed, then that was fine. And it was accessible. It was about people picking up an instrument and going. Plus, the fact that a lot of the early Punk outfits felt they were saying something. I think maybe the spoken word thing is about that as well. You’re given a license to … put out there whatever your thoughts and feelings are, whatever grinds your gears, or whatever you want to celebrate. You’re given a license to do that.
Other little things too: Social media probably has been a boon for letting people, who would otherwise be locked away in little rooms writing in a very solitary way, [know] that there are others out there, a kinda self-help group. I think also another thing about social media, as well, is people maybe feel empowered. And, aye, the license trade as well, I think. The fact that pubs are struggling and they’re having to diversify. They’re looking for things to get people in mid-week. So, there seems to be a lot more open mic jam nights (for music, as well). I think that’s a contributing factor.
Corbin: So you mentioned “grinding your gears”; What are some of the things that kinda grind your gears?
Shaun: I’m 51, so everything! Middle-aged, grumpy-old-man territory.
Corbin: Where do you see spoken word going in the next five to ten years, do you think it’ll change or morph?
Shaun: Wow, I hadn’t really thought about that. D’you know, I think like any entertainment – genre, product, or social exercise (whatever of those two brackets it’s going to come into) – if your going out there as part of a social network to mix with like-minded people, or to go and be entertained for an evening in a different environment, I think that will be more difficult because people are becoming more insular.
I think it (spoken word) is becoming more commonplace. People are actually asking. They want you to do a little bit of that, just to mix up the bill that they’ve got that night. I think it will become more common, it won’t raise as many eyebrows. But again, then there’s the… the need to guard against it becoming so diluted. Is it all just a series of people saying the same things, in the same style?
Corbin: You mentioned just before we started the interview about doing some more corporate gigs and some other kinds of things. What are those sorts of things, how did those come about?
Shaun: Erm, again, a happy accident. You see little openings and things and take them, and I like trying new things. It was a couple of fundraisers again, someone would ask me to do a piece on a certain awareness raising issue, and then people would say, ‘Gonny come along to our charity’s event and do a piece?’ And then … a couple of these conferences were linked to my work, it was all about social-inclusion, disabilities, and whatnot. And I had a genuine interest, so I says, ‘Yeah, I’ll take part in the conference.’ And then, what I did was I started taking notes during the day at these things and maybe toward the end of the afternoon do a … a little kinda reflective recap piece on it. And I could pull in wee interesting things that had happened during the day, or main points that speakers had made, and people really, really loved it. It was personalised. It was about that event. And it was good fun to do as well, it was kinda stretching yourself. But after I’d done one, a delegate would say “Gonny come to ours?” and I’ve had quite a few of them.
Corbin: So what are some of the other events your doing here around Renfrewshire and Paisley?
Shaun: I’ve got a couple with the council, the council awards, and things like that. Em, next, there’s a couple of the usual spoken word circuit, “Overhead in the Westend”. I’m actually opening for Hardeep Singh Kohli, the comedian, in Glasgow and Falkirk towards the end of the month.
Corbin: You’re doing a jam at Sma’ Shot Cottages as well?
Shaun: I approached them just in a personal capacity a couple of years ago … three years ago… and asked could I put on a poetry slam… which they were very receptive to and very supportive of, and it was quite successful. And I’ve done that three years now. But, last year they asked me also to compere a little stage during the day, which was nice. They called it the Dooslan Stage, which was after the Dooslan stane up at the park, where the old, the drummer Charleston drummer would gather all the workers for their march on the original Sma’ Shot Day. Em, so they called this the Dooslan Stage and – there’s always been a tradition of having community speakers and trade union speakers at Sma’ Shot Day – so, they decided last year to dovetail this with some music, and, em, again that was great. So, I was able to draw on the network of people that I knew that did protest songs, political songs, just songs with a social message, and also just various community groups. It was really, really interesting. It was good fun. Weather permitting, we’ll maybe do it again this year.
Corbin: So would you say that living in Renfrewshire has influenced your work?
Shaun: Oh, definitely. There’s been a healthy scene in Renfrewshire. I think the Renfrewshire scenes probably let me diversify a lot more. Yeah, there’s a healthy poetry scene in Glasgow and Edinburgh. But, being connected with Renfrewshire, with Paisley, I found myself getting involved with some of the local charities, or nights that were going on for whatever. There was the Reclaiming the Streets, there was the Mental Health Arts Festival, there was the Women and Children First, and things which kinda felt you were doing something worth while. I was helping these organisations put their message across, so, that was an immediate reward there. The next level to it was knowing you were taking it to different people and it’s just getting them interested in poetry or opening their eyes to what poetry might be, but it was also good for me, too. It was encouraging. It was reaffirming.
I’ve been really fortunate, the time I’ve started doing this, as I say 2014 there was a lot of stuff around the referendum. But then, straight after that there was a whole buzz about Paisley, and whereas I wasn’t really involved in the 2021 thing in the early days of it, there was a whole spin off from that which filtered into individual cafes and pubs and young guys that were starting out bands. There was a more can-do attitude. In Paisley, with the jam nights and the open mic nights in the various pubs … it was so, so inclusive and giving. To the extent that, I’ll go to the Bungalow or the Abbey or the Anchor or whatever just to listen to some music and have a pint, and folk are saying “Gonny get up and do it?” It’s so inclusive and encouraging. So yeah, both local scenes or both local networks have been a boon. I mean, I’m kinda lucky to be in Paisley the last couple of years. But, aye, I’ve been involved in the town, I was born in Paisley. But I’ve always worked in Paisley, and often socialised as well, so it is like there was already a little network there. It wasny like I was parachuted in.
Corbin: For someone interested in spoken word, how would you recommend they get started?
Shaun: Go onto Facebook and just check out ‘Poetry & Spoken Word in Scotland’. There’s a list of umpteen nights, mostly Glasgow, Edinburgh, but in the provincial towns and cities as well. But, there’s a list of regular nights there. And whether you want to just be a consumer or performer… there’s various styles of nights, which is great. There’s the more upbeat nights – almost like hip-hop – there’s edgy nights, there’s nights that are based in the universities, there’s nights that are more booky and quiet.
World genres are welcome, slam poetry, people reading excerpts out of novels that they’re writing… trying things out in front of a supportive peer-group. So there’s all those different levels. It’s a supportive network it really is.
Corbin: That’s great. Thanks, Shaun.