Talia Randall, a founding member of the poetry collective Rubix, has been carving it out on her own recently. She has just released her debut EP 3 Mile Radius, a spoken word epic, combining clever poetic narrative and huge musical backdrops. After the sell-out launch for the EP, Nick Murray met with Talia to chat about influences, chicken shops and growing up in North West London.
Bursting through the door to the Roundhouse cafe in Chalk Farm, I’m running late to meet Talia Randall. She is unfazed and cheerful. and immediately we fall into a steady rhythm. It turns out we grew up in the same areas and hung out around the same schools. Talk turns to the EP, 3 Mile Radius, and it is clear that Talia is passionate and dedicated to her writing. In a short space of time, she amassed a group of producers and musicians with as much drive as she had and put together a stunning record. It is the kind of work that we don’t see much of at the moment. The spoken word record seems to be a little out of fashion at the moment. I imagine this will go some way to changing that back round.
Nick Murray: How did you first get into poetry? I noticed on the website, you call yourself a visual artist as well. Which one came first?
Talia Randal: I think they grew together although spoken word is my main practice. A lot of my friends when I was in school were rappers. They put on wicked nights which really influenced me. In fact some of them have featured on the EP which is a great full-circle thing. I would see them perform at the time and think that I fancied that, but knew it wasn’t exactly for me. I didn’t really know about performance poetry at 16-17 because it wasn’t as prominent as it is now. I experimented in writing some of my own rap – really terrible rap, probably still in a shoe box in my mum’s house somewhere – and experimented with drama. Basically storytelling.
It was when I went to uni at Sussex, that I properly found the spoken word scene. Brighton is not just a nice place to be a student, but also to be creative. There’s a great music scene and an emerging spoken word scene. I left performance for a couple of years, until after uni, before I got back into it. I was in an art collective called Leftovers, in which we played around with performance and made a few word-based installations.
I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t until I joined the Roundhouse Poetry Collective that it really made sense to me that if I like this as much as I think I do I should give it some more time. And getting together regularly to be with other young people who were on the same page, with Polar Bear as a mentor was really encouraging. It all gave us a sense of focus.
How did you find out about the Roundhouse Collective?
I work for a youth charity and so, at the time, I was aware of a lot of opportunities for 16-25 year olds. I decided to take advantage of a few of these things before I left the bracket. Roundhouse Collective was the one that really stuck. Around spring 2010, I saw that the PBH [Peter Buckley Hill] Free Fringe, up at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival was accepting spoken word proposals. I highly recommend it for anyone starting out. You don’t have to pay venue hire and audiences pay what they want on the door. It’s a way for new artists to experience the fringe for minimal costs. I got the roundhouse poets together, produced the show and we put on The Greatest Poet Who Ever Lived, a show about a fictional poet that had influenced us all in some way. It was a way for us to push poetry against other art forms to see what worked. We only did three performances, but it was a brilliant entry into that kind of performance.
That was the start of our transformation into Rubix. The Roundhouse saw that this group of young people was passionate about what it was doing and they really helped us to become Rubix. We did another ensemble spoken word show at the Roundhouse in April called House Party. It was a mix of theatre and spoken word performance.
After that I wanted to focus on my own work a bit more. I thought that I was writing the same stuff over and over again, but as I got back into it I realised that, no, it was a body of work. A lot of the stuff I speak about has to do with music. So I wanted to explore that with the recording. More than just sparse atmospheric sounds. A proper soundtrack intertwining with the narrative. It got way bigger than we thought. From our initial idea of laying some fairly simple sounds, we ended up with 60-70 tracks per poem. It’s massive. In contrast to the audio epic of the EP, the live experience is a bit more gentle. I think that with the live musicians, the performance deserves to be a bit more delicate. A bit more considered.
You formed this body of work and I imagine that was the start of the collection… Where did the subject matter come from?
A lot of the pieces started in the Roundhouse poetry collective. We were using the city as subject matter. That’s how the ideas cropped up. I could have moved away from that, but I found something special in it. I took the starting point of the city and turned it in on itself. I looked at my own experiences within the city and how the two bounce of each other. The EP is essentially a coming of age story. When asked what my influences are, more often they aren’t other poets, but my surroundings. That comes out in different ways. Also, I grew up in a specific area and, working with young people, I see so much that kids are finding it increasingly hard to move beyond the boundaries set out around them. We often forget how segregated these huge towns we live in can be. There are kids finishing secondary school who still may have never got on the tube. Their little area becomes all they know, which is bizarre seeing London as this epicentre of culture and wealth. As the subject matter is quite personal, I think that people who grew up in particular areas will get something extra out of it, but I hope that the EP resonates with people that have grown up in a city anywhere.
It seems to be an all-star cast of Camden’s musicians. How did the you assemble them all for the project?
I first approached the record label, Emerging Species, with the idea of a spoken word EP that utilised sounds of the city to create soundscapes. From there I worked with the three producers [Elian Gray, Noemie Ducemitiere and Jay’la Payne] to get the whole thing started. I had known the producers before. A couple of them are those rappers I was inspired by at school! It was great working with them as I don’t think that someone coming into it blind would have been able to do what these guys have done. The same goes for the musicians on the record, people like Cosmo Sheldrake [Gentle Mystics] and Richard O’Connor. They are guys I grew up knowing and respecting. It was a perfect opportunity to get together to create the EP.
What’s the next step both for you and for the EP?
Performance! I would love to do a tour. I want to find intimate theatre spaces as I think they work far better for this than the places where you would usually see spoken word, like pubs and cafes. When we presented it at the launch it was performed from start to finish with no gaps. At some points we had some incredible musical moments, like playing the saw. You really appreciate the wide range of stuff that went into the EP when you get to actually see it. I think it works better as a sort of theatre show. I’d enjoy trying to build something site-specific around the work. Also, the launch was the first time I’d performed the piece Pitbulls. I thoroughly enjoyed it and really want to do it again. A couple of the pieces I had used for past performances and that was fine, but performing the whole thing as a single body is a whole different experience.
Talia Randall is a poet and performer based in London. She works with poetry collective Rubix.
The EP 3 Mile Radius is out now, released by Emerging Species.