For over a decade I hosted and curated a live monthly variety show called The Brown Bread Mixtape, and it took place upstairs in the legendary Stag’s Head pub here in Dublin. Those eclectic, electric nights in that old Victorian room were some of the most fun and creatively exciting times I’ve had.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I recently stumbled across a digital treasure trove of recordings from the shows and I put together a handful of mixtapes from the shows that captures some of the best moments. This volume is centred around spoken word poetry, which is a deep passion and love of mine, and the mixtape features some of the finest practitioners of the art form on this little island of Ireland from the past decade. Storytellers, lyricists, polemicists and rhymers, whose wonderful words will wash over you. The featured poets are John Cummins, Erin Fornoff, Colm Keegan, Raven (RIP), Catherina Behan and Stephen James Smith
I adore the podcast format and I’m an avid fan of all audio longform storytelling. I’ll do a post at another time about some of my favourite podcasts, but this post is about the brief spell where I produced a podcast of my own. It was motivated by two creative impulses. Firstly I wanted to test the waters of hosting and interviewing in this type of creative format – I have facilitated and MCd plenty of live shows in my time, but its such a very different skill and discipline to interview artfully in this longer audio format, so a really great thing to sharpen the skills on. And secondly I wanted to showcase some of the world class musicians and writers that had treaded the stage at the brownbread mixtape.
The format for the first chunk of episodes was always the same. Invite a great musician or poet along to talk about their creative process, a bit of their life story, and then have them select some favourite clips from the brownbread mixtape down the years, as well as perform an in-studio session featuring an original and a cover. And what a series of gems we managed to record. They are all embedded in the YouTube player above and I urge you to give them all a listen, with episodes featuring Pearse McGloughlin, EleventyFour, Colm Keegan, Justin Grounds, Fergus Costello and Lindsey Ryan
Now that time has passed I can see a few things I would do differently. I would certainly be more judicious in editing down the episodes so that they zip along a little bit. Perhaps I was too enamoured with keeping everything in, rather than making it a snappier show each time that might appeal to a wider audience. It would have been something that a slightly objective producer would have been able to spot right away. I’d also nudge myself to be quiet more often and just let the interviewee speak. Far too often in the earliest episodes I felt the need to say “yeah” or “mmm hmm”, when silence would have served the whole experience better. But I did learn from that and the later episodes were better. There is loads to love about them. I really dig the intro music / title sequence that Enda Roche cut together. And we managed to capture some absolutely stunning in-studio songs, especially some of the cover versions (Pearse McGloughlin and Lindsey Ryan are real standouts)
The latter chunk of podcasts veered away from that original format primarily because I simply didnt have time to record and produce the show any more. And then an artist I was acquainted with, Eamonn McLoughlin, had produced a documentary radio series for a local station in Ireland, and he had nowhere to house or archive the episodes. Given that many of the episodes covered artists and writers who had performed at the brownbread mixtape, it felt fitting to put them out under our banner. Some of the interviews are really interesting with top drawer Irish writers, and I even make an appearance on one of them chatting about the brownbread mixtape.
I would love to return to the podcast format and have a few ideas bubbling away, so watch this space. In the meantime, have a listen and let me know what you think.
At my monthly Brownbread Mixtape show I would regularly write radio style comedy sketches to be performed by myself and our resident sketch troupe The Brownbread Players (Gus McDonagh, Eva Bartley and Sean McDonagh). I have been a huge Werner Herzog fan for many moons and something tickled me about trying to do one of his earnest and odd documentary style pieces about inner city Dublin. Gus also did a great Dublin accent and so I wrote it specifically with him in mind for the part. It started to flow pretty quickly as I wrote it, but then something wasn’t fully clicking. Suddenly the Joycean elements popped in my head and it came together really sharpy then. The closing monologue lifted from The Dead by James Joyce really elevated the piece from pure silly parody to something slightly more profound, just like a proper Herzog piece. It was one of the most odd and surprisingly popular sketches we ever did. The original live version can be seen here.
Enda Roche who ran the monthly Brownbread Mixtape show with me was studying audio engineering at the time at Windmill Lane, and decided to do a studio version of it as a project one semester, and so the studio version above was born. The sparse twangy guitar lends a lovely feel to it (and echoes the Herzog film soundtrack to Grizzly Man very nicely), and the sound effects of the chipper give it a nice documentary feel.
The sketch subsequently got incorporated into my award nominated Fringe show The Definitive View with Sneachta Ni Mhurchu, and a slight rewrite made it slightly softer and more empathetic to the skanger character. It had never fully sat right with me that he was an object of pure ridicule of the piece, and in the new version I made him more a victim of the harsh Irish government and society. In that show we had an ethereal piano piece to accompany it, and I felt it lifted the piece even further into a poignant piece about the forgotten faces on our streets.
It is still a piece of writing I am very proud of and it really proved to me that even the most obscure reference points can prove to be hugely popular if framed in a comedic setting, as the audience doesn’t need to know who Herzog is in this case, but if they do, it adds an additional layer. Plus I love doing Werner Herzog impersonations. I think it’s my true artistic calling in life.
Back in 2014, the poet Dave Lordan, was serving as guest editor for Penduline Press – a publication from Oregon in the United States. He commissioned a special audio broadcast from me to showcase some of the very best contemporary performance poets in Ireland. I had never really tried something like it before but I was really excited about trying to piece something that was representative of the many great voices in Ireland at the time, as well as making it an audio piece that was enjoyable to listen to, maybe even informative, and maintain a good energy and rhythm to it, so it actually flowed like a proper album. There was also something nice about taking the time to go back through the archives of the endless hours of audio from all of the many poets at the brownbread mixtape shows, and handpicking some of the standout moments. (I was even cheeky enough to put one of my own poems in there from the Fringe show “Three Men Talking About Things They Kinda Know About”. More on that show and the unique creative process of writing a show collaboratively in this post.) The curation process was really hard and ended up being super subjective of course (but isn’t all curated content?) and I decided to not script my interludes, but instead to speak from the heart about how these poets and their work had connected with me. That conversational tone felt right for the piece and it flowed relatively well. Then once I found the haunting simple piano piece by Irish musician Elder Roche, it all seemed to click into place. The end result was something I am really proud of and I totally stand over today. I actually think it serves as a nice snapshot of the variety of spoken word in the country at that time. And it is a proper document now. Many of the poets have deservedly gone on to greater success as performers and published writers, which is so brilliant to see. They are listed below. Seek them out, they are all legends.
Here’s what Dave Lordan said about the documentary at the time:
“[the brownbread mixtape] is a very professionally run cabaret and it has featured many of the most engaging and entertaining live arts practitioners in the country. Kalle is an excellent host and curator, a fact proven by the popularity of the monthly event. Everybody wants a gig at The Brownbread Mixtape. [ … ] Kalle probably has the closest to an overview of performance poetry in Ireland and he was the obvious choice to make a showcase selection for Penduline.” – Dave Lordan, Guest Editor, Penduline
Here is a list of the poets in order of appearance:
1. Stephen James Smith – “The Gardener”
2. John Cummins – “Brink”
3. Abby Oliveira – “the television”
4. Karl Parkinson – “The Positivity Manifesto”
5. Raven – “High John”
6. Erin Fornoff – “Hymn to the Reckless”
7. Brian Conaghan – “Waiting for the penny to drop”
8. Colm Keegan – “Ireland Is”
9. Fergus Costello – “Extract from a letter to the fella that used to be married to my sister”
10. Kalle Ryan – Excerpt from “Three Men Talking About Things They Kinda Know About”
Here is the original link to the publication in Penduline Press: