Landscape and local culture often influence the work of writers. And for Roy, a spoken word artist from Walton, it is North Liverpool that inspires the gritty narratives created in his stories.
The tales are told with a comedic rhythm, as Roy combines witty, astute observations with themes of working-class men dealing with inner conflicts and social issues. And these hard-hitting realities are magnified by the unfiltered Scouse accent of the mystery alias that is known only by his first name.
“Here, where we’re sitting, is where I spent a lot of my time,” says Roy, as he met up with Scottie Press in Stanley Park.
Given his unassuming appearance, Roy doesn’t really match the conventional image associated with his craft. And that adds to his authenticity – as a straight-talking lad from the north end.
Recently turned 40, Roy’s writing and performing skills didn’t come through until later in life.
“As a kid, and definitely as a teenager, I always kind of liked reading and music. So I started knocking around with people in bands. And that’s basically what I’ve done ever since – hung around with creative and talented people in the hope that it would rub off on me!”
As for the writing thing, I read Trainspotting when I was 14. It was something I just picked up – it wasn’t even my book. I just picked it up and couldn’t stop reading it. Up until then, I didn’t really know you could write stuff in your own language.
“I thought there must be rules for a publisher. And the stories he [Irvine Welsh] was telling – you could just swap the heroin for weed or cocaine, and it’s just like round here.
“I always had this idea that I was going to write – ‘I‘m going to do it as a teenager’ – but I didn’t actually do anything until I was about 30.”
Roy joined a writing group and recalls: “I loved writing it and reading it, and the people in the group liked it. That was it then. It was only ever a hobby though.
“It wasn’t until around 2016 where it really started. I was doing gigs, and people started to take notice. It was then down to other people because I just didn’t think I could take it any further. But they were like: ‘This is good – you should get up”.
”Having that experience, looking back, it was a feeling of belonging. In fact, it was my first feeling of belonging to a club. It was like: ‘This is our thing’. As I’ve got older, I’ve now realised how important that is – and I still do that now."
“Standing in front over 300 people on a Saturday night – where they are all pissed, waiting for a band – and then they look at me on stage with my carrier bag. Like: ‘Who’s he?’
“But silencing them – it felt brilliant.”
The colloquialisms Roy uses make the stories sound like familiar interactions, which he’s mastered over decades of absorbing everyday conversations, “I used to sit in the pub with my dad and I’d just listen,” he says. “I liked pubs even when I was nine years old,
“Y’know, back in the 80s people took their kids to the pub and just stayed there all day didn’t they? The kid would get a packet of crisps and a glass of Coke, and you would just stay in there all day. I was fascinated by adults’ stories, just fascinated by the notion of storytelling.
“Even as a nine-year-old, I was like: I can’t wait until I’m old enough to do this properly.
“Old stories that I remember from being a kid just become legends and myths. You just put your own take on them, or even like a current conversation I hear, just some bizarre snippets I hear. I just make notes.
“I don’t carry a pen or paper. I put notes in my iPhone, and I look through it now and again and just think: ‘What is that? When did I put that in?’ And I’ll have a go with it and just try to start writing something – I’ll always get something from it.”
Although he has lived in the Dingle, in south Liverpool, for over 10 years now, Roy’s focus remains based in North Liverpool, as he depicts his past.
“Like anything – maybe a lifestyle, or certainly an area – you don’t really know what you’re in until you get out of it.
“The place where you grow up shapes a lot of the ideas and views you have in your later life. I spent 25 years in the same street. There were four – or possibly five houses – I’ll have to check with me Ma, but all in the same street.
“My dad really liked The Kinks as a band, and one of The Kinks songs has got a lyric in it: ‘This is my street and I’m never going to leave it’. And that’s how I used to feel there. I was like: I can’t even get out if I want to.
Roy in Stanley Park
“Obviously, that was bullshit – I can go wherever I want. But sometimes what was happening to me, I was becoming quite insular. My world was getting much, much smaller. So it was a clean break I made when I moved down the south end – but I’m still very fond of around here.”
The search to find purpose and fulfilment in life underlays many of Roy’s pieces, as the story-teller is presented as a disconnected, joyless, figure whose internal monologue gives listeners a window into their own emotional distress.
Breaking out of destructive patterns and finding a deeper calling is something Roy discovered himself, when he gave up drinking at the age of 26, and again when he found writing later in life. He feels there is an absence of purpose for many people, especially men from deprived areas like North Liverpool, which is also a key element in many of Roy’s stories.
“When you want to make some kind of change, regardless of what it is, you have to let go of one thing before you can grab the other,” Roy explains. “There is a little bit in the middle where it is really weird.
“You want to be liked, deep down, everyone wants to be liked, loved and accepted – but round here, and I don’t know about anyone else, I craved acceptance and went about it the wrong way.”
“The very thing you’re looking for – an identity, a solid sense of self – you lose it because you’re acting. I know. I started to misbehave in my teenage years.
“That’s not me. It was out of character. But I wanted the older lads to like me. I wanted them to think I was mad – but I just wasn’t. And whether they think you’re mad or not, you don’t get any sense of belonging – you just get a slap off yer Ma for acting like a tit.”
Throughout his live performances, there are references to music, films and artists that all have similar raw characteristics to Roy’s own work – like photographer, Ken Grant, whose social documentary work dramatically captures working-class culture in Britain.
“I’ve got most of Ken’s books, and I’ve looked through them hundreds of times,” says Roy. “I’ll just never get bored of it, ever. They’re just so evocative, aren’t they? When I look at his photos, I know a lot of the people in them, and even know what they’re doing now. Ken also took pictures of my old football team, the Tramways, in Everton Park in 1991”.
That was a time which Roy remembers fondly. He tells us: ”Having that experience, looking back, it was a feeling of belonging. In fact, it was my first feeling of belonging to a club. It was like: ‘This is our thing’. As I’ve got older, I’ve now realised how important that is – and I still do that now.
“I think that was the first time I ever felt it, when I was 10 and 11, playing for a football club with lads from Kirkdale, Bootle and Walton.”
For local audiences, Roy’s tales feel close to home. For others, they describe a different existence. But even when told in a Scouse dialect, the impact and meaning of the stories reach far beyond native Liverpudlians.
“Every time I got a little bit of press or exposure, and I got offered gigs away from here, I used to think they are not going to get it. But that wasn’t fair of me.
“What really happens is that they just relate it to their own version of life – they get it.
“What I like doing – initially it was intentional, now it just kind of happens – is when I’m performing something and leave the audience going: ‘That can’t be true, can it?’
“They just don’t know, they genuinely don’t know.”
As Roy’s craft has evolved over the last 10 years, other opportunities have begun to emerge, having supported idol, Steve Mason, from the Beta Band and featuring on the title track of a Beautiful South album. And as of September 2020, he’s also secured a debut book deal with renowned independent publishers, Rough Trade Books, which will mark the first time releasing a collection of his writing.
Another facet to Roy’s creative sphere is Violette Records, a platform that showcases musicians and artists, which he joined after the organisation’s founder pitched the idea to him.
“I really like what he said to me,” Roy recalls. “He said: ‘We’ll have maximum four acts on, a mixture of spoken word stuff, storytelling, bands, acoustic, fucking raconteurs – anything.
“We’ll have amazing artwork, we will move around venues. But here is the killer – we won’t take a penny from it. We will ask the bands to promote it as equally as we do, we will all work hard, and the aim is to sell a lot of tickets and pay the bands’.
“Him and me have both got a gripe about bands not being paid. It just needs to be wiped out, that.”
Roy’s most recent commission is for Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre’s, Love, Liverpool: an A-Z of Hope project, a new digital initiative made up of a series of love letters to the city from a variety of contributors.
Given the letter K and the theme Kirkdale, Roy has used his signature gritty stamp to produce an unorthodox love letter set to be published this Friday on the 2nd of October.
Roy on the road he grew up on.
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