Shaun Moore – Tannahill Makar and spoken word artist
Just weeks on from his appointment as Tannahill Makar, Mill caught up with spoken word artist Shaun Moore to discuss his new role, Renfrewshire’s radical heritage and more.
When it’s done right and without airs, graces or elitism, poetry and spoken word has the capacity to effect and advocate for change, broaden horizons and imbue those who experience it with an innate sense of their own humanity. In the case of Shaun Moore, the renowned spoken word artist who was recently dubbed Renfrewshire’s new makar, these attributes are hard woven into every syllable and intonation of his work and performances.
As opposed to dedicating himself to the craft since his adolescence, the growth of Shaun’s affinity for wordplay from a casual dalliance to a driving force in his life happened in a near-subconscious way.
“I’d always had an appreciation for poetry, but it was as a consumer at first and a case of reading it and enjoying it,” Shaun remarks over a cup of tea in Brew. “I’d dabble and write wee things occasionally, but I always had a feeling of ‘what can I really do with this?’ Then, there was the issue of discovering what I wanted to write about. All the love poems had already been written and I wasn’t a learned expert in a certain field, so I felt like I had nothing to say.
“I don’t know how much of that is kinda West of Scotland self-deprecatory stuff as it wasn’t so much that I had nothing to say, but that I didn’t realise that I had a way to say it. Plus, when I stopped playing rugby, I had to find some other kind of release.
“It was empowering and humbling at the same time, particularly as it was affecting people emotionally”
“Eventually, I would start doing bits and pieces at music gigs. It really surprised me, not just how well it was received but that people were prepared to listen. It was empowering and humbling at the same time, particularly as it was affecting people emotionally. Whether that was them feeling energised by it or near to tears.
“One of the main watersheds was The Clutha disaster,” Shaun reflects of his progression as a poet. “It was close to home, as people had texted asking if I was down there as I was always in, just as a music fan.
“Seeing the way the music world and the music community rallied round was really quite amazing and I wanted to celebrate it. Rather than have it as a dirge, I wanted to show what this community does and point out the power of music. I did it at a few charity gigs and it was amazing that these pissed up folk at rock gigs wanted to hear this poignant story about what just happened.
“After that, people were saying, ‘you need to go to this night’ or ‘you need to check out this show.’
“I always saw the likes of Chuck D [Public Enemy] and Zach [De La Rocha of Rage Against Machine] as poets, but that always seemed inaccessible. So, going to these things was a real turning point, particularly when I saw all the different styles and techniques.
“Coming to it late in life was good as well, it gave me something fresh. Instead of running about with the old guys that I played rugby with or went to heavy metal gigs with, I was rubbing with literature students from Glasgow, art school students from Edinburgh and all of these folk who’d cut their teeth on all sorts of hip-hop and I was learning off these guys.”
A scene that’s allowed Shaun to be gleefully confronted with other perspectives in a way that no other subculture does, his nascent days learning the ropes in Glasgow’s open mics and events provided the inspiration for his own heralded, Renfrewshire-based event in the annual Sma’ Shot Poetry Slam.
“I still marvel at it, you’d go to these nights and see some ancient crusty writer and then there’d be some young buck doing their political tirade and they all listen and applaud each other. That’s what I try to recreate at the Paisley Sma’ Shot Slam, just that melting pot.
“In the seven years since it started, it’s been great. The council very much just let me get on with it, so that’s perfect. I just felt like Paisley was big enough that it should have something like that. There was already Kathryn Metcalfe’s night at Bianco Nero which gave people an outlet, so it seemed like there was already a hub.
“Now, as the makar, I’ll be looking to organise more. It’s not necessarily my specialty, but it’s good to push myself out of my comfort zone!
“The previous makar [Brian Whittingham], who did a great job before he unfortunately passed away, was a bit different from me,” he remarks of taking on the moniker. “But obviously, the council appreciates that it’s two sides of the same coin and that what I do is just as legitimate and important.
“The only reason that I was known about Paisley and further afield wasn’t because of being published in books or anything, but because I’d been to so many fundraisers, charity gigs and things like that. Basically, just working through poetry as much as I could. I thought I’d have more imposter syndrome about it than I do, but I’m alright with it (laughs).
“In a town where you have statues of Robert Tannahill and someone like Alexander Wilson, who was actually jailed for his seditious poetry before immigrating, ensuring that we keep getting people to put our message across and hold onto that identity is so important. For me, that’s definitely a part of the job of the makar. I’d already written poems to do around that, but this just gives me a licence to do it.”
Similarly keen to reflect on our shared heritage while striving towards a prosperous future, Shaun’s years of performing in pubs, venues, function halls and anywhere else that’d have him has meant that he’s very attuned to Renfrewshire’s flourishing arts scene. And as far as he sees it, this thriving creative community is one of the biggest assets we have at our disposal.
“I was probably quite blinkered before I was involved as although I was a local and a consumer, you see a whole different side to it,” he declares. “Not least of all, the organisational side of it. You realise that a pub doesn’t just phone up a band and they come and play, there’s so much more that goes into it. Not to mention the love and the passion that goes into it.
“Even for the guys who make a living off of it, whether it’s the guys at The Bungalow or the council’s events team, they ultimately still do it because they believe in it. That love has to be there, otherwise it wouldn’t happen.
“I think there’s a real legacy from the 2021 bid too. It might not be measured in monetary value, but the sense of self-belief that it put into all of these grassroots artists and promoters was amazing. Covid really consolidated that.
“Obviously, you had the government telling people to retrain and all that. But at the same time, you had all these people who were realising how important it was. It’s amazing when you go to these things now and just see like-minded people throwing their arms around each other,” Shaun muses of the return of live performance. “It’s a network that’s nurturing and isn’t founded on beating another team or anything like that, it’s healthy and supportive.”
Shaun Moore Quickfire Q&A
Favourite place for lunch? Malatso for chai latte and dog friendliness.
Favourite place for dinner? Their Cullen Skink “swings” it for Pendulum.
Best pint? It has to be The Wee Howff or Anchor.
Favourite nature spot? Our bit of Muirsheil! And our only sandy beach with open meadow and woodland walk, Boden Boo.
Keep up with our new makar’s work at Shaun Moore – Written & Spoken on Facebook.