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From homelessness to haemorrhoids: meet the Salford poet who tells it like it is


Salford-born poet JB Barrington is a man who puts together hard-hitting verses about working class life that hit you right in the heart.

His poems cover everything from homelessness to haemorrhoids via clocking and Caturday and they’re guaranteed to ruffle a few feathers.

“I tried to fit in with the highbrow poetry academic set,” he says, “but they could smell the CSE woodwork grade 3 on my 70s chip pan breath.”

His one-man shows have been described as a roller coaster of emotions, “because its starts humorous, moves into my politics, takes you into some personal and sad stuff then brings you back into the humour (or so one review said).”

His work has a musical quality. He’s a prolific listener and is on the airwaves every week on the Thursday evening show Looking For The Perfect Beat on Salford City Radio, 10pm-midnight.

Pic Trust A Fox Photography

He’s made a number of festival appearances reading his work including main stage at Kendal Calling for the last two years, main stage of Rec Rock, Festival No6 and supporting Johnny Vegas and Ricky Tomlinson.

At Kendal Calling he met Suggs who was so impressed he took JB’s book onto the main stage and read from it to over 20,000 people during the Madness headline set.

He’s also an Amnesty International slam winner and scooped the best spoken word award 2014 at the Greater Manchester Fringe.

He’s also been commissioned to write poetry by the BBC amongst many others – but NOT Nationwide, he hastens to add, “because I’m not a salesman.”

His book of poetry Woodchip Anaglypta and Nicotined Artex Ceilings is out now.

Tell us a little more about yourself

I grew up just off Madams Wood Road which was on one of four big council estates in Little Hulton in Salford. As a kid I was the archetypal class clown which, on reflection, caused me all kinds of mither back home most of which resulted in me being kept in for weeks on end.

I remember watching The Specials on the Top Of The Pops and saying to me Mam I wish I had a front tooth missing like Jerry Dammers. Then me Dad said “bring another one of the them shite school reports home and you’ll have all your teeth missing.”

But that kind of quick retort humour coupled with the humour which was endemic in and around the estate in what one could say were ‘financially challenging’ times had a profound effect on me.

When did you start writing poetry and why?

I’ve been writing stuff since I was a kid as I’ve always had a love of the written word which, initially, came from reading the lyrics to songs.

I can remember the first time I was moved by a line or should I say a couple of lines and it was Little Boy Soldiers by The Jam from the album Setting Sons. The lines were “they send you home in pine overcoat, with a letter to your Mum, saying found enclosed one son, one medal and a note to say he won”.

I was only 8 years old but those lines encapsulated the horror of war and the expendability of human beings and I remember not really knowing what was meant by a pine overcoat so I asked my Mam and she said it probably means a coffin.

I reckon it was that that made me want to write. I wanted to do the same for someone else, give someone else the same feeling and evoke similar emotions to the ones I’d experienced in those lyrics and others like them. Writing stuff down, whether it be verse, song or story format is something I’ve always done but I didn’t really do anything with it until about five years ago. The Kings Arms in Salford March 2012 to be exact.

Is there a piece of advice you would give to people thinking about writing poetry?

Yes – write about what you know, use simile and metaphor and never use a rhyming dictionary. If the lines or the rhymes don’t come naturally then they weren’t mean to come at all. Don’t write for the sake of writing ‘cos invariably it’ll be load of shit. That’s how I feel anyway.

Do you think we need to change the way we see poetry?

I think it might be more a case of some poets changing the way they write and perform poetry in order to appeal to those who think poetry is not for them, but then what do I know?

But yes, I do think there’s almost certainly a ‘snobbiness’ around some poetry but not all. But then I don’t really care for that type of poetry nor the world it revolves around or its supposed ‘performers’. I don’t fit into their world and I would never want to. I’d rather walk the length of the East Lancs from Salford to Liverpool with a stone in my shoe.

Are you happy for your poetry just to be read on the page or do you always try to perform it where possible?

I write a large and significant amount of my poetry specifically to perform but there are some of my poems that only really work on the page and not so much on a stage. I generally write to a rhythm and my poems have to work phonetically so they sound good live.

Tell us about some of the people who have influenced you.

In terms of writing then definitely Paul Heaton, in my opinion one of the greatest lyricists/poets of my generation. I’d say the same for Paul Weller and The Jam period of All Mod Cons and also Setting Sons huge influence on me as an 8/9yr old.

I’d also have to say Jacques Brel (go listen to the words in Funeral Tango, the Scott Walker version) Chuck D from Public Enemy as well, not only lyrically but the way he delivered his words. I was and always have been into hip hop but when PE came along Chuck almost sung his raps in a kind of Solomon Burke style. It had a huge effect on me and it’s definitely influenced the way I deliver my poems live.

Politically it has to be Robert Tressell and his book The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Tony Benn and Malcolm X. From a comedy perspective then Bill Hicks, Doug Stanhope, George Carlin, Bobby Thompson and Les Dawson.

What have been some of your biggest achievements when it comes to poetry/writing?

Sounds a bit of cliché but if I’m honest every gig I’ve ever done has been an achievement for me as I’m always honoured that folk turn out to listen to stuff I write in books.

From shows on my own I’ve done where 12 people have turned up to selling out Salford Arts Theatre three times and Hull twice. They’re all achievements I could never dream of. Others that come to mind are Suggs reading one of my poems on the main stage during the Madness set (obviously) as I was a huge fan as a kid.

Then there’s touring with Sleaford Mods and performing to venues with over a thousand people all listening to my words, playing the 100 club in London (iconic), main stage Kendal Calling, doing a gig with Johnny Vegas and Ricky Tomlinson plus doing my own show the following day with Johnny in the audience and proposing mid-show to my beautiful (then girlfriend) Sharon Pickup (she said yes by the way). All achievements I could never dream of.

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