Blog: Steve Stroud

The Blackpool poet tells Big Issue North about the town's underground arts scene

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Ah, Blackpool. The town of the stags and hens, sticks of rock and kiss-me-quick hats. The town of the tower, amusement arcades and rollercoasters. The town of cheesy 1970s-style cabaret holidays and innuendo-laden postcards, fortune-tellers on the piers, cheap beer in the bars and romantic strolls along the prom.

All true, of course, but scratch the surface and you’ll find another Blackpool: less neon-lit, more down to earth. On the quiet, Blackpool is a hotbed of local writers, musicians, choreographers, poets, actors and comedians, all doing their thing in back-street bars for little more reward than the pleasure of the process.

As one of these performers, it’s easy to find myself unrepentantly inhabiting my comfort zone, hanging around the same old open mics, avoiding the tourist areas and rougher parts of town. No alarms and no surprises, just places where everybody knows my name, there’s an attentive audience and I’m guaranteed a good round of applause at the end of my spot. I’ve been happily plodding along like this for a number of years now, until Scratch came along.

The brainchild of Melanie Whitehead, who possesses a CV including the National Theatre and RSC, Scratch is like nothing else I’ve performed at. I suppose, if pushed, I’d be forced to call it a variety night but it represents so much more than that. Before Scratch came on the scene, poets would go to poetry nights, comedians would go to comedy nights, actors would… well, that’s my point, I have absolutely no idea where actors, dancers and everyone else would go to show off their talent and if there were places they went to, I wouldn’t have been in the audience.

Scratch is part of the Electric Sunshine Project – named after the original description of Blackpool Illuminations – and I can’t help but equate it to someone shining a torch on the back streets of Blackpool and watching all of us spotlight-shy locals come scuttling out of the shadows to show each other what we can do.

It’s not just about bringing local performers together though. It’s about bringing them to areas of Blackpool that you wouldn’t normally find them and bringing in performers from the wider world to share the stage. It’s about encouraging first-time performers to get up and give it a go. It’s about inspiring people who haven’t written before to pick up a pen for the first time and, most excitingly for me, it’s about performing in front of a different audience and giving them the ability to provide instant feedback on what they’ve seen.

My first Scratch was an experience to say the least. At the Royal Oak in South Shore, I found myself performing my Jeremy Kyle poem to a room which included some very vocal Jezza fans. You can imagine some of the feedback I got, given that the poem includes lines like “Jeremy, Jeremy, I am your enemy, watching your show’s like electro-shock therapy and conclusive proof of society’s entropy, why couldn’t your dad have just had a vasectomy?” Thankfully though, the majority laughed along and I came away with a great feeling of winning a room over that really boosted my confidence.

A year later and Melanie has brought Scratch to the Castle pub on Central Drive and introduced an intriguing new aspect called Zeetings, an app that allows audience members to provide real-time feedback to those performing. Melanie reads out comments received after each performance and emails them to the acts in question, introducing a more constructive approach than people shouting “I LOVE JEZZA” at you. Already this is allowing established performers to offer support to those stepping up to a mic for the first time. Personally, it’s given me the boost I needed to carry on writing my first book and, as weird as it is having others look to me for advice, it’s been great offering them what encouragement I can. Something special’s starting to happen on Central Drive but we’re just scratching the surface. Why not come and see?

Scratch is monthly at the Castle Inn, Central Drive, Blackpool. Visit for details and to sign up for newsletters. Photo by CJGriffithsPhotography

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