Interview – Rachel McCrum

Rachel McCrum is an award winning poet and performer originally from a small seaside town called Donaghadee in Northern Ireland. She currently lives and works in Edinburgh where she is the Broad half of the sensational cabaret duo Rally and Broad, who run a monthly night of words, music and lyrical delights. She’s also to be found popping up at all number of spoken word events including the upcoming Apocalypse New at Illicit Ink Skyground on 1st November.

We caught up with her for a chat…

Thanks for coming along! Let’s start off with the basics, shall we? Who are you, why are you, where are you and how are you?

I’m propped up in my bed on a crisp Saturday morning with a small bucket of Earl Grey (with milk, because I am uncouth) and the window open to the world. The bedsheets are clean and the morning is fine. Frankly, I’m glorious.

Oh, and when are you?

Today, always today.

(that’s not my line)

Tell us a little bit about Rally & Broad. How did the whole thing come about?

Jenny Lindsay and I knew each other from literary type events around Edinburgh. Actually, we bonded in 2011 August of Madness that was the last month of the Forest Cafe in Bristo Place. We (my darling Forest) were about to lose the building, and it was crackling with apocalyptic electricity – every corner full of gigs and people and mentalness. Jenny and I were hanging out there quite a lot, and were having a competition to see how our Festival bellies were coming along. You tend to develop a really weird physique in Edinburgh in August (well, I do), wherein your arms and legs get really skinny from a month of running around but you get a bit of a belly from all the beer. I think the plan was for her to birth angry Scottish gnomes, and for me to birth drunken Irish leprechauns, and then they were going to have a fight.

Then we decided it would be easier just to put on a beautiful, spiky, mixed artform cabaret every month.

What do you think makes you want to write?

In part, it’s how I process and respond to things. I’m not great with clarity of communication – I tend to be quite a chaotic talker and thinker, and I’m not good at expressing what I think in other ways. I find writing academically, journalistically etc, difficult. It takes me forever to put together an article (or answer this!), but writing a poem or a piece of prose, some freedom of creativity – that’s a joy.

The way we respond to the world around us, make sense of it in our way, and make that response and that sense public, and therefore, in its turn, part of the world, a communication to it – that makes us human, I think. Whether you do that through a painting or a play or a song or a scientific theory or a piece of  analytical journalism or a blog or incredibly detailed, thorough, Facebook updates – we’re all analysing and critiquing and making up and responding. Poetry is just another way of doing this.

And also – I love language. I just love it. Putting two words together, and then trying out two different words, the difference of effect, the power that can have. The sheer physical power of it. Who wouldn’t write?

What do you like about performing stories and poems that you don’t get from just reading them?

Adrenaline. ‘WHAT IF I FORGET THE WORDS OR BURP OR FART OR VOMIT OR JUST FORGET HOW MY LIMBS WORK AND FALL OVER ON STAGE IN FRONT OF PEOPLE OH GOD WHAT IF I DO?’ These risks all seem very real just before I go on stage. That I manage to get through any performance without having inadvertently lost control of all bodily functions in front of a roomful of people is a constant miracle to me. The buzz afterwards is phenomenal. I should probably seek help for this unwholesome addiction.

What do you think marks out really good writing? What marks out really bad writing?

Good – honesty, no matter how grim or complex that makes it.  A sense of humour, somewhere. An individual conscience.

Bad – self indulgence. It really pisses me off when a writer is serving themself over anything else. I’m not a fan of false humility either.

Any tips for any nervous writers who’ve never performed before?

  1. Breathe.
  1. Practice – take a walk up Blackford Hill and mutter away to yourself. I might see you up there. I will also be muttering. We can nod, knowingly to one another.
  1. Be aware of how you’re standing. Are you on the balls of your feet or the   heels? Play with that – work out how it makes you move on a stage.
  1. Don’t apologise for what you’re about to read. You made the decision to get up there and try it out – just present it to the audience with some grace, even if you’re not sure about it.
  1. And more than anything, think about your audience. Concentrate on putting them at their ease, making them believe you know what you’re doing. They’re doing you the favour of listening.

Which of your skills do you think would be most handy in the apocalypse?

I’m pretty loud. Also, I can drive, sail, ride a horse, and gut a sheep.

And last but not least, anything upcoming you’d like to plug?

Rally & Broad, third Friday of every month, the Counting House, Edinburgh!

And actually, the entire Edinburgh spoken word scene. It’s bloody marvellous. This city is rich with it – Inky Fingers, Blind Poetics, Neu Reekie, Soapbox, Speakeasy, Caesura, Illicit Ink (that’s us!), events at the Scottish Poetry Library, National Library…go to them all. Right now. It’s all there for you.

Be sure to come see Rachel performing at Apocalypse New at the Scottish Storytelling Centre on 1st November! And don’t forget to follow Rally and Broad on Twitter.