Interview: JibbaJabba

– interviewed by James Webster


JibbaJabba has been nominated for the Best Regular Spoken Word Night category in this year’s Saboteur Awards. Here, I chat with Jenni Pascoe about what makes the event unique.

Let’s start with the basics: how long has JibbaJabba been running and when/where does it take place?

JibbaJabba started at The Trent House in Newcastle in 2010 and has just celebrated its 3rd birthday.

We relocated in January this year, moving into the space left by the much loved ‘Take Ten’ (formerly Ten by Ten) night, at The Cumberland Arms in Newcastle on the 4th Thursday of every month. 

How did JibbaJabba come into being and what’s its ethos/mission statement?

I had just started performing poetry and noticed that though there were many fantastic events happening in the city, at that time there wasn’t a regular open mic available where less established performers could take to the stage without having a fully polished set prepared. 

The ethos is to have an open platform where complete beginners and experienced professionals can all have an opportunity to perform, and any form of spoken word is welcome.

Who have been your favourite performers you’ve had at JibbaJabba and why?

One of my favourite performers was Dominic Berry, who created an amazing atmosphere of electricity in the room with his wonderfully energetic delivery of brilliantly written poems. 

Obviously, it’s great to have a fantastic headline act, but I also love to see anyone getting up for the first time, or people who usually perform in a different medium trying out something new to them. 

What do you look for when you’re booking your feature performers?

It’s usually someone I have seen elsewhere, and instantly decided ‘I have got to have them at Jibba!

I like finding a performer who is a little bit different, someone who has something new to say, or an original way of saying things… 

I want performers who can take an audience by the hand, (or in some cases grabthem by the throat!), and hold their attention through every word, pause and movement. 

You make a point of opening up the open mic to any performance so long as it’s ‘word-based and entertaining’. What led to that decision rather than just focusing on one medium?

From the start, I didn’t want Jibba to exclusively be a ‘poetry night’. The term ‘spoken word’ covers such a wide range of performance styles, and I wanted to create a place where they could all stand side by side with equal merit. 

I have always tried to make the night as accessible and entertaining as possible, and think having a more diverse range of performers achieves this. 

What have been the challenges of running a regular spoken word event?

That’s hard to answer, I suppose there are the usual stresses about timings, wondering whether people will turn up etc, which you would encounter when running any event, but I enjoy it too much to think of any of it as a challenge. 

More generally, what is the spoken word scene like in the Newcastle area?

Newcastle has a superb spoken word scene! New events (such as Hot Words at the Chilli), are popping up all the time, and it feels like spoken word is being accepted much more as part of mixed media events. 

Newcastle has a great mix of cabaret style events (like JibbaJabba), literary based events (such as Trashed Organ), and prose based nights (like Fiction Burn). Apples and Snakes provide great opportunities for performance poets in the area with monthly scratch nights, and there are also lots of regular events in nearby County Durham (like Poetry Jam), and Teesside, (such as Black Light Engine Room). 

There is a wonderful community of poets and performers in the North East of England, who are all incredibly supportive of one another and it is an absolute pleasure to be part of that. 

Everything I’ve heard and read about JibbaJabba has praised it for its lively atmosphere and the quick-fire and fun nature of the open mic. How have you fostered that atmosphere?

I suppose if you’re having fun then the audience do too! 

JibbaJabba doesn’t take itself too seriously, it’s all about everyone having a good night out.

I love the way the audience instinctively follows the mood of the show. The way they can be almost in tears at a beautifully moving, softly spoken poem then be launched into hysterical laughter at a stand-up performance merely minutes later.

If you’re trying to convince someone who’s never heard of JibbaJabba to come to your events then what do you say?

Recently, a stand-up comedian asked, ‘Having never been to a spoken word gig, is it just stand up without the need for laughs? 

If so, what is the appeal?’

I replied ‘Sometimes it’s not about being funny at all. Sometimes it’s about making it moving, thought provoking, beautiful, sad, angry, making a point, using word play, or just generally saying something interesting, as well as the funny stuff. It means you can use poetic form if you want, just talk, rap, do a character piece / monologue, tell a story, or do stand-up, because stand-up itself IS spoken word. A spoken word night gives you a mix of everything, covering all styles of verbal performance. Come to JibbaJabba sometime and see what I mean.’

He said, ‘Oh, I might give it a try then’. 

And finally, have you heard of Sabotage before (if so, what?) and are you pleased to be nominated for a Saboteur Award?

I honestly hadn’t, but I have checked out the site since being nominated and will certainly keep an eye on it from now on. 

I am completely over the moon to have been nominated for a Saboteur Award. It means at least one person must like what Jibba’s doing!

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