Runner-up, Leeds Peace Poetry Competition 2008

Yorkshire Evening Post Article

JL Williams on the dangers and responsibilities of theatre critiques

The Scotsman, 19 August 2008


Becoming a Brit brought real freedom

Sunday Herald, 25 May 2008

by JL Williams

GROWING UP IN AMERICA, my notion of Britain had to do with policemen being called "bobbies" and double-decker buses. I dwelled on romantic images of TE Lawrence riding his motorbike through roads lined with towering hedges and of Sherlock Holmes traipsing about misty fields with a magnifying glass.

Newsnight and EastEnders fascinated me when I first arrived in the United Kingdom. I'd never seen a TV news programme where people talked so intelligently, objectively and with such varied opinions before, and I'd never seen a soap opera where everyone wasn't beautiful and fake.

It was recently revealed that the number of foreign nationals who became British this year is up 7% on the previous 12 months - I'm one of them .But why did I want to become British?

So much in American life, under the guise of freedom, is geared toward institutionalising the American dream, in repressing people's individuality and independent voices until the culture is forced to split between good and evil; the well-off and the down-trodden; the religious and the doomed; the gun-toters and the freedom fighters; the educated and the dispossessed.

I love the shock I still experience when I hear British people expressing their opinions in public. The other night as I was celebrating my new status as a British citizen with an Irishman and a Scotsman, an Englishman at the next table joined the conversation and added his tuppence-worth about Scottish independence.

In coming to Britain my own status for years as a self-exiled person, as an "other" in Britain, felt wonderfully freeing.

Now that I am not only an American citizen who grew up pledging allegiance to the American flag every morning but a British citizen who has promised to faithfully support the monarch and sworn loyalty to the United Kingdom, is it a divided allegiance I bear or a doubled allegiance?

We live in a world where borders are increasingly restricted and the sense of real freedom I have to live, work in and explore not only the United States and Britain but the European Union is extraordinary though having finally become British I have no plans to move just yet.

JL Williams is a British American poet who runs a cabaret called Neue Liebe which is on tonight at the Voodoo Rooms in Edinburgh



A star

The List, 16 August 2007

By Kirstin Innes 

Gotta sing? Gotta dance? Kirstin Innes trawls Scotland’s grassroots music, comedy and poetry scenes, from open mic nights in pub basements to glitzy cabarets in community halls, to find out the best ways to get your voice heard, and picks up top tips from some rising stars

Talent. Britain has it, apparently. The airwaves are clogged up with fat, snaking queues of wannabes who want nothing in life so much as the chance to perform an acapella version of Rihanna’s Umbrella to a sneering celebrity panel. We’re in an age where to ‘make it’ means that moment of discovery where you’re plucked from obscurity and launched on the world fully formed, and everyone else realises just how special you’ve always been.

Television and Myspace make instant stars of the likes of Girls Aloud and Kate Nash, so the notion that you might have to work at your talent, that getting yourself heard might take years, seems almost outmoded.

And yet, down at the coalface – the open mic nights, comedy clubs and spoken word evenings in back rooms of pubs all over the country – people are slogging away to tiny audiences just for the joy of putting on their craft.

Gerry Lyons has run the open acoustic night downstairs at Nice & Sleazy’s on Sauchiehall Street every Monday for ten years now. It almost feels irreverent to write that without appending ‘legendary’ to either venue or night – both are institutions, and have exerted huge influence over the recent evolution of Glasgow’s music scene, although Lyons himself is far too modest to admit it, and is still slightly wide-eyed about the success his nights have had.

‘I honestly don’t think there’s ever been a better time to be a musician in Glasgow, and it’s really quite exciting for me to see how many bands on the scene today have started from meetings and collaborations at Sleazy’s acoustic nights – The Pendulums, Dead Fly Bukowski, Tom Snowball. Jo Mango and Gareth Dickson, who now tour with Vashti Bunyan, met there, and they still come in to try out new stuff.

‘It took a few years for people to “get” the acoustic night, and to properly realise that this was a platform where they could showcase their own stuff, get feedback, and meet like-minded folk. At first everyone just sat around doing the same Oasis covers, then after a while they all moved on to Radiohead . . . ! However, as the idea of the scene grew, the performers grew more confident, and these days, I don’t want to over-romanticise, but there are moments when we get that sort of Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell in Greenwich Village vibe. There’s an atmosphere that people come back to. Elliot Smith played onstage when he was in Glasgow – just turned up with his guitar. I think everyone got a real thrill out of that.’

Although Lyons relies on a core group of performers who attend every week, there’s no predecided programme for the evening and first-time musicians are always welcome.

‘It’s a regular crowd, but they’re always really accommodating of newcomers. We get people who come back, week after week, and you see their songs evolving and improving with the experience of performing live and learning what that audience will respond to.’

Glasgow slam poet-about-town Robin Cairns, who runs monthly open mic poetry night Last Monday At Rio, as well as the biannual Glasgow Slam (like a dance-off for performance poets), would agree with Lyons’ emphasis on slowly evolving your craft.

‘Open mic nights are a good way to find out if you’ve actually got any aptitude for the thing you’ve set your heart on, but they’re also really valuable because of the range of other performance styles you’ll encounter. We don’t all spring from the rock with our performances developed and intact – by taking part in events you learn what other people are doing and start thinking about other possible styles you can adopt. The spoken word scene is so new in Scotland that we’re all still finding our voices, and maybe there isn’t a fully authentic style here – we get a lot of English and American influence. However, what’s important is that we’re building a scene. It’s like being Billy Connolly, in a way, starting out as an alternative comedian in the 1970s. You have to create the venues, you have to build the scene yourself, you have to create the audience.’

Cairns is well aware of his part as an architect of that scene. Last Monday at Rio is an evening in two halves – there’s an open mic format to start out, where anyone who fancies themselves the next Murray Lachlan Young can try to impress the audience, although be warned: you’ll be gonged off if you go over the two minute mark. Cairns himself comperes the second part of the programme, with a line-up of invited guests.

‘I usually pick my headline act out of the pool of spoken word artists and performance poets currently working the scene, and then complement them with different kinds of performers. It’s essential to maintain some sort of quality control, but we need the open mic sessions to keep the scene rejuvenated.’

If you’re tone deaf, and performance poetry isn’t your thing, why not start your own evening and do something different? License Pending, which debuted at Glasgow’s Tron Theatre in July, was set up by current Glasgow Slam champion Drew Taylor and local actor Martin O’Connor in order to create a freespace for emergent musicians, dancers, comedians and performance artists to come together. Over in Edinburgh, Neue Liebe, inspired by the smoky, sexy cabarets of the inter-war years, was a surprise hit of the recent Leith Festival, incongruously throwing ballgown-clad musicians and painted burlesque performers together with the occupants of a Leith working man’s club.

‘All our events have been very well attended and well loved – cabaret especially seems to be a perfect form of entertainment for a crowd that wants to explore a variety of art forms,’ says Neue Liebe organiser Jennifer Williams. She curates the acts in her cabaret, but is open to new performers approaching her.

‘I consider it my own duty as a poet to find ways to share my work with as wide an audience as possible, and helping other artists in this pursuit is a worthwhile and necessary activity.’

What Williams, Cairns and Lyons are all absolutely clear on is that the performers who attend their nights do it for the love of performance itself.

‘I can’t see a career in television for a performance poet,’ Cairns says, with a grin. ‘Spoken word performance isn’t going to make you famous, and it’s not a crash course in becoming a comedian. This is a haphazard scene, but it’s wonderful when you get these big, beautiful voices rising out of it.’

‘It’s therapy, isn’t it?’ says Lyons. ‘That’s why a lot of people write music, that’s why people need to perform it, that’s why they come to open mic nights, where people are sympathetic to them. It’s got absolutely nothing at all to do with the fact that we give them free beer.

Neue Liebe 


Swimmer One come back up for air

Edinburgh Evening News, 23 May 2008

 SWIMMER One don't get out much these days, but having made their first live outing of the year at the GRV the other week, the synth-poppers seemingly enjoyed themselves so much they're at it again this weekend.

The duo appear at cabaret club Neue Liebe on Sunday, with a live set and screening of the video for new single The Balance Company.

JG Ballard may claim there's no music in his work, but there's something distinctly Ballardian about this hauntingly atmospheric first track to be lifted from the duo's debut album The Regional Variations.

They will be joined on the night by an eclectic supporting cast of poets, musicians and burlesque girls.

• Neue Liebe featuring Swimmer One, The Voodoo Rooms, West Register Street, Sunday, 8.30pm (doors), £7 (£6), 0131-556 7060



New Love is the New Black

The Skinny, 5 May 2008 

Neue Liebe (New Love) is the sparkling new brain child from four of Edinburgh's most lustrous cabaret producers. Acting as a platform for the quirky arty sexy and fun, this original and modern day cabaret is a delight for the senses. The intimate Voodoo Rooms is the perfect venue for the event, with the private bar buzzing and a general sense of excitement throughout. Neue Love involves a variety of acts from musicians to comedians, burlesque dancers and rah-rah girls. Local organic chocolate makers The Chocolate Tree are present giving drops of there divine little treats, and the inclusion of such extra elements creates an intimate sense of community throughout. By partnering more traditional forms of burlesque (from The Academy of Burlesque) alongside modern comedians, quirky musicians, and a hint of politics, the New Love presents a full bodied and sexy night out.



Wilkommen, bienvenue, welcome...

 The List, 17 January 2008

Pulling together a host of well-meaning, spiffily-clad and shamelessly talented Edinburgh bohemian types in the brand new surroundings of the Voodoo Rooms, Neue Liebe, performance-poetess-about-town JL Williams’ (pictured, right) cabaret evening, is back for the new year. We’re promised fire-dancers, poets, acrobatics and burlesque turns alongside music from Dominic Waxing Lyrical, Wounded Knee, and Laura Lewis and Her Tea Dance Orchestra, before all the dancing starts.



Cabaret with an old-style twist

Edinburgh Evening News, 13 April 2007 

By Gary Flockhart

FROM the occasional performance at out-there club nights, Weimar-era style cabaret is kicking and screaming its way back into the limelight in an explosion of sequins, suspender belts, sultry song and striptease.

The capital itself has seen a barrage of such nights open their doors recently as the burlesque boom continues its revival unabated.

One of the more recent additions to the scene is Neue Liebe, which was held for the first time back in February at the Queen Charlotte Rooms in Leith, to where it returns next Thursday.

With a promise to "intrigue, titillate and unhinge rusty cabinets in the mind and Pandora's boxes of the heart," Neue Liebe is a performance art inspired by the cabaret of pre-Second World War Germany - when speaking out politically against the government was so dangerous it could often only be done through the art being made in cabaret clubs.

Neue Liebe was conceived by Jennifer Williams, Paul Keene and Phyllis Martin, each of whom had produced cabarets of their own and various other events in the past.

"We knew of each other and all knew that we wished to produce a new cabaret drawing from each of our various backgrounds or specialities," explains Williams, a published poet and performer who moved to Edinburgh from New Jersey five years ago to work at the Festival.

"Each of our individual cabarets had a slightly different bent or style, and our aim was to combine them all to produce the premium quality cabaret that is Neue Liebe."

The first Neue Liebe proved a great success, and Williams and her co-organisers put a lot of this down to location.

"We decided to host the cabaret in Leith because it seemed a good idea to put on an event that drew crowds out of the much-occupied centre of town and into what is, for some, the new and mysterious port area. Leith is gaining in artistic kudos all the time, with the expansion of the Leith Festival and many art galleries."

With poets, singers, acrobats, fire dancers, clowns, burlesque girls and musicians all on display, it is not hard to see why many are welcoming an evening with so much variety on offer.

"I think it's a delightful, provocative form of enter-tainment," says Williams, when asked to explain this latest burlesque cabaret boom.

"Its high turnover of acts and glamorous posture makes for a high impact, attention-getting evening in a social space where people can feel safe and free to express themselves."

Neue Liebe, Queen Charlotte Rooms, Queen Charlotte Street, Leith, Thursday, 8.30pm, £6 (£5), 0131-555 6660