Luke Wright: interview
Luke Wright used to be in a band but seeing John Cooper Clarke made him ditch the instruments for verse
At different points in his past, Luke Wright has worked as an events organiser and as a bellboy at the Victoria Palace Hotel. He marketed the Bible for HarperCollins and produced the soft porn TV show ‘Babe Station’ on the Games Network. But these were temporary jobs. By profession he’s a poet. He writes the stuff and performs it. The usual tag for what he does is performance poet but Wright’s never liked the term. He thinks ‘performance’ sounds ‘a bit luvvie’. He prefers ‘live poet’. But that sounds as if he’s simply trying to set himself apart from all those dead ones.
Wright was born in Hackney but brought up in Colchester: ‘Essex has a tacky, grimy side that I’m enamoured with.’ As a 16-year-old, he’d already caught the performing bug in a band called Koonunga. ‘I wrote all the songs. We sounded like Blur, but with the musical ability of Oasis – old line-up – or worse.’ After that came an outfit called Dorian Gray: ‘I wore make-up and played bass with a distortion pedal. Our last song was called “99”. It went on for about ten minutes and we detuned our instruments and smashed stuff up. It was stupid, but it was really good fun.’
The watershed moment, however, had already arrived, soon after the first band split up. In December 1998, Wright saw John Cooper Clarke perform at Colchester Arts Centre. ‘That day changed everything. I became obsessed with poetry. Though I must say it was another poet, Ross Sutherland, who really made me want to get up there and do it. It was like watching an amazing frontman with a band and a comedian rolled into one. The words were as clever as they were smart and trashy. I thought it was really unpretentious and yet really intelligent, and that’s a great combination.’
Sutherland gave Wright help and support. Together they formed the Aisle 16 live poets collective which, in 2005, made the Time Out Critics’ Choice of the Year list for its theatre show ‘Poetry Boyband’. Wright has no illusions about the early stages of his career: ‘Well, obviously I was shit.’ But in 2002 he was the Glastonbury Festival slam champion. In 2004 he starred in the BBC3 ‘Slam Poets’. Last year he took his first solo show, ‘Luke Wright, Poet Laureate’, to the Edinburgh Fringe. ‘I guess that, over the last eight years, I’ve written about 250 poems,’ he declares. ‘Most have been performed at one stage or another. But I only have 20 or so that I’m really proud of.’
Many of these will feature in the show Wright takes to the Pleasance Theatre this Saturday. It’s a reworked version of what he performed in Edinburgh. ‘One Night of Spending’, for instance, contains his observations on the infamous events (aka riots) at IKEA in Edmonton when consumers scrabbled for bargains. ‘Mummy, the Poet Keeps Trying To Touch Me’ is about education. ‘The Rise and Fall of Dudley Livingstone Esquire’ has been modelled on politicians like Boris Johnson. In ‘Dance’ Wright reflects on his inability to do just that.
Back in 2004, Wright says, he spent about six months trying out on the London comedy circuit. ‘I was doing poetry. I was so fucking petrified about the need to be funny that I wasn’t myself. I felt really constricted. But I’d feel confident enough to do a club now, if I were asked.’ As he should, since Wright’s performances nowadays have all the directness and swagger of a leading stand-up. He’s still only 25. One way of summarising Wright’s approach would be to cite some of those he says most fire his imagination: John Cooper Clarke, Stewart Lee, John Betjeman, Jarvis Cocker, Richard Herring, Eddie Izzard, Martin Amis. But he puts it more succinctly when he describes his creed as both writer and performer: ‘The best stuff communicates a complex message simply.’
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