Aisle 16 From Vodka to Homework; and Almost Everything Else Inbetween: An interview with Luke Wright

Aisle 16 is a collection of creative artists; poets, stand-up comedians, musicians and writers. The literary stars which compile the group are Tim Clare, John Dunthorne, Chris Hicks, John Osborne, Joel Stickley, Ross Sutherland and Luke Wright. Each have their specialist field in the arts, yet they all come together to perform at places like Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Glastonbury, pubs, clubs and even service stations all over the UK. They are famed for their quick wit, satirical lyrics and hard-edge punchlines; but I wanted to find out a bit more about the real aisle 16, so I interviewed Luke Wright who told me all about the trajectory of the group and what the true tribulations and terrific times were.

 

Firstly could you start by giving me a brief potted history of your education and career and how it led you to found Aisle 16 in 2000? 

I did my first poetry gig in early 1999 after seeing Martin Newell and John Cooper Clarke at Colchester Arts Centre. I supported Ross Sutherland, who was a couple of years older than me and had done a few gigs before. Neither of us knew anyone else our age who did performance poetry and we struck up a friendship. Ross was at UEA and I followed him there in late 2000. I wanted to set up a club, Ross had the name Aisle16 which he was planning to use for a website, I nicked it off him and we became the first resident poets at a quarterly poetry club called Aisle16. From there we accrued more residents and started taking our act on the road.

 

Is it significant that you chose the venue of the first poetry club to be above a communist themed pub?

Not really, no. We just liked the bar. Obviously theming your capitalist venture on communist symbolism is an insult to communism, we just liked the vodka.

 

From 2000 to 2003 you were picking up members, putting on a few little gigs and did your first and second Edinburgh fringe festival, what is your fondest memory of this period?

At the third Aisle16 gig I remember there were about 30 people there and I started the gig by saying hello to each one of them by name, I knew everyone in the audience. In 2003 at Edinburgh we played our show to 3 people once. This sort of thing was always happening, but they were often the best shows – I think once it became clear that we weren’t shit people felt like they were part of something special.

 

At Christmas 2003 Aisle 16 was nearly over, how did you recover it? And how did you know your attempts wouldn’t end in failure?

It didn’t really matter. There was nothing else I wanted to do with my life, I was working in a hotel as a bell boy. Life was bleak. I had nothing to lose.

 

So in 2004 you began PowerPoint, this was a show where the group used PowerPoints to slate modern corporations, can you tell me a bit about that and the creation process behind it?

It came from a drunken conversation Chris, Ross and I had at my 22nd birthday. Instead of each member doing a little set, I wanted us to do a quick-fire, one-on, one-off show. Chris had been playing around with the idea of spoofing PowerPoint presentations. Ross was probably most keen to use visuals. We put the ideas together and PowerPoint was born. It developed organically and that deadpan style informed a lot of our work afterwards.

 

Would you call PowerPoint the moment when you knew Aisle 16 was heading upwards and not looking back?

PowerPoint was the first time we got funding, it was the first time I started to see a way we could make a living out of it, so it was an exciting time, but I was always looking forwards.

 

Poetry Boyband came after PowerPoint for Aisle 16, this was a performance of 12 mini-lectures which comically drilled the subject of poetry, this must have been pretty intense, what were the highs and lows of this experience?

We spent a week at my parents house in Essex to write much of the linking material for the show, we developed the characters and wrote accompanying material for the website. I remember it being a really fun week; relaxed, creative and lots of laughs. I also loved the final two shows we did, right at the end of 2006. We did two nights at The Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre’s studio. We were being egged on a group of middle aged ladies in the audience who whooped like we were Take That or something. Ross and I threw our jackets into the crowd. Later that night Ross had a serious asthma attack and realised his inhaler was in his jacket pocket.

 

Next for Aisle 16 was the task of giving a tribute to John Betjeman, you did this through finding poetry in the most unpoetic places, yes motorway stations! I found this fascinating, it was quite an unusual trip, what discoveries/ life lessons can you say you took away from it?

Don’t live in service stations for a week. That’s a pretty good lesson! Actually, I kind of love all the souless, shiny consumerism of those places. They’re obscene but kind of comforting. And I have really good memories of them. We had some low points on that trip, but even when there were tensions we were laughing. There were always jokes.

From researching Aisle 16 it is clear that friendship is the glue that holds the group together, but can you tell me a story of an argument or clash of creative ideas that has potentially threatened the group?

The arguments were never really creative. There were much more petty than that. A lot of them grew from the fact we were still scrapping for bits. We had different ambitions. Chris had a job which was demanding of his time. He resented his job but didn’t have enough work to jack it in. I think it was hard for him to see us without jobs just about getting by. That said he had a lot more money than we did. I think we would all handle it so much better now, but we were kids, we weren’t always as sensitive to each other as we could have been.

 

Each member of the group is creative in their own right; can you give me three words for each of the other 6 describing their work and personality?

I think it would be difficult. I love all the guys so much as people, so let’s remove the summing up their personality bit. Work wise:

Tim – bawdy, filthy, funny

Joe – calculating, sparse, icy

John – warm, colloquial, quotidian

Ross – nerdy, humble, inventive

Chris – articulate, cynical, angry

Joel – clever, tidy, witty

 

Can you do the same for yourself?

Nope.

 

Which poets or creative artists inspire you?

Philip Larkin, Vernon Scannell, John Cooper Clarke, John Betjeman, Aisle16

 

What are the plans for your solo career?

I am touring my fifth solo show – Cynical Ballads – and working on a new piece about the England Riots called REVOLT!

 

What is next for aisle 16?

We’re finishing the fourth season of HOMEWORK with a show called Poet-in-Residence, and then we’ll have a beer.

www.aisle16.co.uk

Interview by Elizabeth Staiano

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