When Glaswegian poet, writer and performer Kevin P. Gilday published his last poetry collection Anxiety Music through Verve Press at the end of last year, he was fresh out of his Edinburgh Fringe run at The Stand’s New Town Theatre. His show, Spam Valley, was a highlight in a programme that presented how the Stand Comedy Club’s tastes go beyond the traditional person-and-mic, laugh-a-minute shows. Not that the show isn’t funny, Gilday is eager to stress. In fact, its humour was at the forefront of the glowing reviews it received in August. Nor is its stage set-up more convoluted than anything you’d expect from a personal, stripped back, hour-long show of its kind. But the show, by his own admission, is nonetheless difficult to pin down. SNACK caught up with Kevin ahead of his Scottish tour.
Could you summarise your show Spam Valley for us?
Spam Valley is a kind of autobiographical monologue. But that makes it sound really boring and it’s not. It’s a mixture of contemporary spoken word, monologue, but also a bit of stand up comedy in there as well. It’s about the idea of how the class system in Britain is forced upon us without any choice in the matter and how it completely shapes and affects your life; all of your decision-making way into adulthood.
I felt like the right person to tell it because I’ve been on both sides of the fence. My entire family stayed in a wee flat in the East End of Glasgow. But I now work in the arts and I’m surrounded by posh people at all times so I feel like I have this dual life. I experience one thing, and I now experience the complete opposite on a daily basis.
With class being so inevitably linked to place, how does it feel to be touring the show?
One of the most interesting things I found out when I was first promoting this show was that everywhere in Scotland has their own ‘Spam Valley’. And everyone thinks it’s completely unique to their place. So people were going, ‘Oh, you mean this specific neighbourhood in Hamilton.’ Or, ‘Oh you’re talking about this end of Govan.’ To which I respond, ‘No, I’ve never been there before. This was just a phrase that was used towards me.’ But it turns out it’s kind of a universal thing.
So some of the places I’m going to are probably seen as Spam Valley, or have been given that title at some point. So I think it’s going to be interesting to take it to the heart of these places, and I think people will be really interested to see someone take it apart in a creative way.
There’s an association with poetry, I think, with a middle-to-upper-class audience. A lot of your poetry touches upon other cultural touchstones like music, which strikes me as a window into the form that’s a more accessible way in for all. Is that something you’re conscious of when writing?
Absolutely. I write poetry, a lot of the time, with the performance of it in mind rather than how it’s going to appear on the published page. I use a lot of repetition in the work that people might associate more with music; I use a lot of rhythm or rhyme; stuff that I feel like can break down that barrier to what people think poetry is. But poetry is so obsessed with keeping that door shut and making sure that nobody likes it because it likes to be this insular little community where everyone feels very special about what they’re doing. It just makes no sense because here we have this amazing artform that is completely accessible; that is completely democratic, you don’t need to learn an instrument to do this, you can sit down with a piece of paper and write it yourself. Yet it’s being kind of held hostage by these gatekeepers.
You might not like shite poetry, you might not like some boring kind of classical piece, but you might really like something contemporary. You might like something that’s hip-hop influenced, you might like something that’s really simple and speaks to your experience. So I think that poetry has a great potential to be this amazing art form that is really accessible to people. And hopefully a show like Spam Valley can show that’s the case.
You seem to wear your influences and inspirations on your sleeve, like in your 2017 play Stephanie Says, named after a Velvet Underground song. Lou Reed sings about animosity towards his hometown in the song Small Town, would you say you harbour that same feeling?
I think that your relationship with where you’re from is so complicated. Mine feels like it’s that dual thing of wanting to escape but wanting to be wanted. I might have decided I didn’t want it for a bit and moved away and done something new, but it didn’t want me either, because I didn’t fit the stereotype of what a working class person should be. Particularly what a working class man should be. All of your behaviour is policed. It’s policed by each other, it’s policed by other working class people. And I felt very hemmed in by that my entire life. Which is probably why I ended up doing what I’m doing now, where I get on stage and have a chance to express myself and talk about the things that happen to me.
I’ve never been able to quite record that or put it into words, but Spam Valley is kind of the closest I’ve ever got to giving shape to that and making it so that other people can understand it.
It was that feeling that excited me to kind of bring it back for this tour. Because I could have just left it at The Fringe, but really I thought that more people need to see it and more people need to connect with it, and I want to have more conversations about it, so it’s going to be great to bring it on tour.
Spam Valley tour kicks off at The Stand, Edinburgh 19th February and runs throughout Scotland till 18th March. Visit kevinpgilday.com for all dates. Kevin P. Gilday’s latest book Anxiety Music is available via vervepoetrypress.com