EXCLUSIVE: Matt Abbott Interview

MATT ABBOTT is Skint and Demoralised. No really. S&D is one of Matt’s many, many brilliant projects along with his inspiring poetry (he performed a powerful, personal and political spoken word show ‘Two Little Ducks’ around the UK to 5 star reviews) Matt also debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015 with his ‘Matt Abbott is Skint & Demoralised’ show. As well as this he is an ambassador for the Eureka! in Halifax. What can we possibly ask him before he gets bored with us? We’ll go with these questions and see;

You’re a very artistic man with many strings to your bow Matt. How would you describe yourself to a layman?

Above all else I’m a poet. Being a full-time poet entails a whole range of activities, many of which aren’t poetic in the slightest (admin, social media, etc.), but ultimately poetry rules my life and generates 100% of my income (as things stand).

When most 17-year-olds are playing computer games (I think) you were on stage in Sheffield’s red light district doing poetry. Do you recall the feelings you went through at that time?

 It was an incredibly exciting time (2006/07) because Yorkshire was the indie music capital of the UK, and in discovering “spoken word”, I’d given myself a direct route into the scene. It was several years before I performed at a poetry event. Nobody wanted or expected to hear poetry at those gigs but somehow, I always won the crowd over. I got a real buzz out of doing something so unusual. And it was a great way for me to find my voice and have my say, whilst also having a lot of fun. I never could’ve imagined where it’d lead.

You’ve also done Glastonbury which led to a spoken word collective ‘A Firm of Poets’. Tell us more about this?

S&D released what was supposedly our final album in April 2013, so I was having a bit of an identity crisis (aged 24!) because S&D had dominated my entire adult life and identity. I went to Glastonbury initially as a punter but ended-up doing a hat-trick of poetry gigs, and it made me realise that I wanted to pursue poetry as a full-time career. I’d previously ditched it in favour a music career, which at 18 I can understand. 'A Firm Of Poets' taught me an awful lot both on and off stage. It led to some amazing opportunities and some extremely valuable connections. It was the first time that I regularly performed at poetry events, which had a major impact on my craft.

You’re back with your band ‘Skint & Demoralised’ with your close friend David J Gledhill (MiNi dOG). Steve Lamacq was a big supporter; you toured and released 3 great albums. What made you want to return to this after a six-year break?

It was completely out of the blue. David and I have remained best pals since S&D stopped writing and recording and we both live in East London, so we see each other a lot. He sent me a WhatsApp message on a Saturday afternoon at the end of November, half-joking about writing a new album. I think we’d been speaking about Sleaford Mods a few days earlier. From the outset, we agreed that it had be simple, enjoyable and entirely on our terms, and that’s how it’s remained. There was no plan to sign a record deal or even make an album – I think we agreed to three songs at first.

Your first album started with sessions in New York with the Dap-Kings amongst others. What was that experience like and have you ever considered basing yourself in NYC?

I still can’t digest it to be honest. I was 19 years old and had just signed to the biggest record label in the world, 9 months after we’d even met each other. New York is a phenomenal city and The Dap-Kings are a globally renowned soul session band, so it was a real whirlwind. I recently revisited NYC for the first time with my other half. I’m properly awestruck by Manhattan and would love to live over there, but sadly I don’t think it’d ever be remotely feasible!

Do you have a current lyricist or performer you admire at all?

I was estranged from the music scene for a couple of years, mainly because I’d immersed myself in the spoken word poetry scene since 2013. But in the months leading up to S&D’s unexpected comeback, I’ve been getting really excited by music again. In particular I love She Drew The Gun and IDLES at the moment. I’m obsessed by their latest albums. Special mentions for Baxter Dury, The Orielles, Grace Petrie and Louise Distras as well.

How did you get involved with Eureka! The National Children’s Museum in Halifax?

I know Ruth Saxton at Eureka! because I used to work at an indoor sports venue in Leeds, at Ruth skated there with Leeds Roller Dolls. We shared a love of roller derby and LUFC and stayed in touch, so I was honoured when she approached me to be an ambassador as part of their 25th birthday celebrations. I used to love going there as a bairn.

What would be your earliest memory of Leeds United?

I vaguely remember the 4-0 defeat to Man Utd which led to Sgt Wilko’s sacking, but my first full memory is my first trip to Elland Road – 1st March 1997, which saw a scrappy Lee Sharpe winner secure a 1-0 win against West Ham. I was wearing my full Leeds kit, and I’m pretty sure I brought my boots along with me in my boot bag as well; I’ve no idea why. My dad told me to wear a coat, but I insisted that the “atmosphere” would keep me warm (in the Family Stand!).

Do you have any highlights supporting Leeds?

Where do I start? I had my first season ticket in the 2000-01 season but was too young to appreciate just how good we were and how exciting the CL venture was; same with the whole O’Leary spell. I was 12 when we played Valencia. So, this might sound odd, but my highlight is probably Southampton away in 2005-06. We were 3-0 down with 20 minutes to go and won 4-3. A load of us had gone down for the weekend and I’ll never forget the utter carnage when Liam Miller (RIP) netted the winner. Also, I know I was too young, but Viduka 4-3 Liverpool will always stay with me as well. I didn’t appreciate the class, but purely for entertainment value. Oh, and the 1-0 win against that lot in January 2010, of course!

Have you got to see them at all this season with you being down south these days?

Much to my regret I’ve only been to ER once this season, which was the 1-0 defeat against Sheff Utd the other week for my old man’s birthday (sorry dad). It’s not just that I live in London; it’s extremely rare that I’m not working on a Saturday. I have managed to watch them on TV quite a bit, which has been great, because Bielsa’s side are the best I’ve seen probably in a good 20 years.

If you had to choose; who would be your all-time favourite Leeds United player?

That’s a very tough one. From my lifetime, I reckon it’d have to be Lucas Radebe. And from what I’ve seen in videos etc., I’d say that Eddie Gray is the most exciting to watch – obviously I love Billy Bremner but ‘The Last Waltz’ is utterly mesmerising. That goal against Burnley…

What are your opinions on ‘Safe Standing’ and do you think it should be brought back to all grounds so people can make a choice to sit or stand?

I passionately believe that it should be brought back. When I had a season ticket in the Kop, we didn’t sit down once. And I’ve never once sat down at an away game (I followed LUFC absolutely everywhere during the first Championship phase). Obviously, what happened at Hillsborough was horrific, but stadiums are a world apart nowadays in terms of crowd management, security and infrastructure, and as a fan, standing improves your experience tenfold. Sitting down completely sucks the life out of the experience.

Leeds United as a club have been involved with the Foodbanks this season, along with the Leeds United Supporters' Trust. What are your feelings on this; ordinary families resorting to Foodbanks due to financial difficulties?

It’s heart-breaking and it also makes me angry. I really admire what LUST have done for the foodbanks this season, but the bottom line is that nobody should have to do that; not in a country as wealthy as ours. Austerity has been an ideologically-driven choice, not an economic necessity, and the hardship being felt as a result is nothing short of a national disgrace.

What do you think about Marcelo Bielsa and would you consider doing anything about him whether it be in song or poetry?

I’ve said a couple of times that Bielsa is the closest we’ve ever come to Revie. I realise that he hasn’t won anything yet, but I mean in terms of the obsessive detail and analysis; the non-footballing approach; his attitude in general. He’s a real touch of class but also a total maverick; he completely embodies the club and what it is to be Leeds. His side have been a joy to watch; it’s been electrifying and has restored some long overdue optimism and pride. An LUFC poem is in the pipeline but I can’t reveal anything yet…!

You have been quoted as saying: ‘When I get to 30 or 40 I would like to settle down with a wife and kids and for life to not be quite so intense.’ What do you think now?

Ha, well I can’t remember saying that, but at the start of this year I proposed to my other half on my 30th birthday, so it looks like I’m on track on the marriage front at least. I can’t see the intensity going anywhere for a good while, mind.

On top of everything else you currently do, I believe writing a children’s book is one of your latest accomplishments with a collection set for September. What inspired this enterprise?

I’ve been leading poetry and creative writing sessions for children since 2013, but for some bizarre reason I’d never thought about writing poetry tailored at a younger age group. As part of becoming an ambassador for Eureka!, I was asked to write the official poem for their 25th birthday, and the video of that poem led to the publishers getting in touch. One thing led to another and they commissioned a full collection. It was a colossal challenge, but I absolutely loved it, and it certainly won’t be the last of my childrens poetry.

You did a Nationwide advert in 2016 (filmed in and around Hyde Park, Leeds) with your poem entitled ‘This Place Is Ours’ (still brings a tear to my eye!) Aside from performing at the Fringe, did this open any other doors for you at all?

It did bring in a fair few gigs and workshops, but more than anything, it gave me a big chunk of cash which allowed me to invest in my career. Self-funding a full Edinburgh Fringe run simply isn’t something that working-class artists can afford to do without significant support, and I wanted to use the opportunity to try and take my career to the next level. The Fringe led to last year’s 22-date UK theatre tour, which was part-funded by Arts Council England, as well as my debut poetry collection on VERVE Poetry Press (which fronted by poems from the show), so the Nationwide ad was undoubtedly transformative for me. Ultimately, without the Nationwide ad, ‘Two Little Ducks’ might never have been created, and it’s without a doubt the crown in my jewel to date.

Also in 2016, you visited ‘The Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais campaigning for homelessness, anti-racism and the refugee crisis. What sort of experience was this for you?

Visiting ‘The Jungle’ was one of the most mind-bending experiences I’ve ever had. On my first visit, I only found out that I was going about 24 hours beforehand, so it was a real rollercoaster. I’d read articles about the camp and seen footage on the news, but nothing could’ve possibly prepared me for what was there. The main thing that struck me was that everything I saw that was the most newsworthy hadn’t been mentioned in the mainstream media in the slightest – that’s what drove me to write about ‘The Jungle’ in my ‘Two Little Ducks’ show. The mainstream media wildly misrepresented it and did it a huge injustice, and that really angered me.

You’ve been visiting AET schools delivering poetry sessions. What stimulated this and what have you learned?

AET approached me in August and asked if I could write a poem called ‘Remarkable Lives’, which reflected their new identity and was something that would hopefully inspire the pupils. Most commissions are done and dusted once I’ve submitted them, but in January, I saw that a primary school in Birmingham had a mural made with the poem on one of their walls. AET schools around England were really running with it, and I love educational work, so I started to contact them. I’m absolutely loving it – I’ve visited schools around the country, and to see pupils responding to the poem so enthusiastically has been really humbling.

Lastly Matt, will Leeds United be a Premier League club in 2019/20?

No – they’ll be a Premier League club in 2019-20, 2020-21, 2021-22 and from then on…!

 

Following a 6-year hiatus, Skint & Demoralised are back with a brand-new single ‘Boro Kitchen 4am’ released via Fierce Panda TODAY!

Also, a comeback gig is at London’s ‘The Social’ on 11 April.

Comeback single is now available to stream and purchase. It's released via  

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