Very few regular arts events have had the cultural impact of Rally and Broad, in the four short years it has existed. This week, at its regular haunts in Edinburgh and Glasgow, the final curtain comes down on what has been a remarkable story. Jenny Lindsay (Rally) and Rachel McCrum (Broad) set out with specific aims in mind and, unlike most, achieved their aims quickly, and consistently kept that up for 4 years. Bringing some of Scotland’s best known literary talent together with young up-and-coming poets, international artists and exciting and innovative music acts, they have set a standard that will be difficult to follow, but follow we did, they lifted all of us up. The rise in spoken word events in this country has come about for many reasons but I, for one, believe that would not have been the same without the Rally and Broad template. They succeeded where others have failed in linking the “pagey” poets with the “stagey” poets, the borders are not just blurred at a Rally and Broad event – they simply don’t exist.
You may have seen several interviews with Jenny and Rachel recently as the clock winds down on Rally and Broad, I will not be repeating that here, I will be telling the story of what it means to the artists involved, and my own personal Rally and Broad story – the nights that I enjoyed as a punter and as a performer, the acts I discovered, the friendships I formed.
When looking back, I am astonished to realise that I have only known Rachel and Jenny for five years. They have become such friends, such an influence on my work, and such an important part of the life of a poet in Scotland that it seems like they have forever been there.
Jenny Lindsay was already an important performance poet before I knew her. I knew of her work with Jem Rolls at The Big Word Cabaret and knew of her reputation as a poet when we both performed at the Scottish Poetry Slam Finals at the Aye Write Festival in 2011 (I came second, she was third, we were both losers). A few months later, I joined a marathon poetry event protesting the imminent closure of The Forest cafe in Edinburgh. Rachel McCrum was working there at the time and, unbelievably, wasn’t a poet (yet). It was the summer of that year that saw the two of them come together to hatch their plans for Rally and Broad. They launched in 2012 at the Counting House in Edinburgh, with a rough idea to have a great night out, pay artists, and not lose money. They could not have predicted how successful Rally and Broad would become.
I can’t even recall how many of the nights I attended in Edinburgh and in Glasgow but, like many people, became part of the story. No matter what level of your involvement, you couldn’t help feel welcome and, somehow, part of a family. You see, R&B simply don’t allow you to not feel that way. Their shows are a package, not a list of performers. From the wonderful posters offering “Lyrical Delight” designed by Cameron Foster, to the spectacular photographs by Chris Scott. Each event is themed and had the wonderful themed raffles as part of the fun. When performing at R&B you are a seamless part of an overall show, not an item in a collection of items. Poets, writers, performers, who would otherwise not fit together, who would be uncomfortably shoehorned into a gig feeling clumsily out of place, seem naturally part of one thing.
So Denise Mina, Jackie Kay, Martin Figura, Hollie McNish, Gav Prentice, Teen Canteen, Sepideh Jodeyri, Paula Varjack, Jo Clifford, Sam Small, Janice Galloway… are, to me, no longer random names from literature and music, they are firmly part of one memory for me, fitting together naturally.
Much of that is down to the individuals themselves. It’s very difficult not to like them. As writers and performers they are among the best this country has produced in recent years. As promoters they care about the shape of their shows and the people involved, they take care of the artists (and pay them – every time!) and they have attracted a team of people around them who “get” them and what they are doing.
I spoke to performance poet Katy Hastie, one of the organising team for the Glasgow events. She refers to Rally and Broad as “a gift”.
“What made R&B exceptional was its generative generosity. They gave everything and the Scottish live scene expanded into a better, more inclusive, diverse and fun place to be as a result.”
I recognised the generosity and warmth that Hastie refers to – it made me and other performers feel part of it. But more than that, it was the way that they boldly went about their business as if the previous parameters didn’t matter. And, it was fun.
“They were never content with a subculture superiority complex, these gigs bust wide open all those myths about what a mainstream audiences would enjoy – and they made that happen month after month.”
The biggest names in Scottish literature sat comfortably with the new acts, the visitors from England and beyond and the downright weird. Rally and Broad was true entertainment. I am going to miss those days and nights with Rally and Broad, a wee part of my cultural calendar has gone, but I am not going to cry when A.L Kennedy closes the last gig on Sunday (I might cry a wee bit) as their legacy is huge, Jenny will continue here in Scotland with her new project “Flint and Pitch”, Rachel moves to adventures in Canada and beyond.
I will leave the final word to Harry Giles, in my mind the most innovative and exciting performer in Scotland, whose work doesn’t recognise boundaries and, as such, was a perfect collaborator for Rally and Broad. I asked Harry to describe what Rally and Broad means to him:-
“True dedication to the artform of spoken word, always looking for ways to delight audiences more fully, support artists more widely, and grow the community more deeply. Rally & Broad raised the standard and leave us so much richer than when they began.”
Rally and Broad – we love you and we thank you, bon voyage.
*The final Rally and Broad shows “Once More with Feeling” are at the Bongo Club Edinburgh on Friday evening and Stereo Glasgow on Sunday afternoon