Bradford poet Kirsty Taylor's site-specific musical set in a pawnbrokers in her home city
Bradford poet Kirsty Taylor has turned her hand to writing a musical, Cashy Cs, set in a Bradford pawnbrokers. She talks to Yvette Huddleston. Pictures by Karol Wyszynski.
Poet and educator Kirsty Taylor is one of a growing number of young, Northern, female spoken word performers who have made their mark over the past few years. Bradford-born and raised, she is proud of her roots and passionate about the city and its people. Taylor has been telling their stories in her powerful, lyrical and unapologetically political poems for several years now and like many young artists has a substantial following on social media where she regularly posts new work.
She is a featured artist on Nymphs and Thugs, the UK’s leading spoken word record label. As part of its LIVEwire x Lockdown project, Taylor delivered free online poetry workshops for care-experienced young people in Bradford and was commissioned to write her poem Go Safe in response to that underrepresented group. She hosts and produces Front Room Poetry for the Bradford Producing Hub, last year she wrote a heartfelt, pithy and perfectly-judged ode, BFD, to her home city for Bradford BID and she delivers a range of educational programmes in the local area for the National Literacy Trust.
One of three writers selected for BBC Radio 3’s The Verb New Voices scheme in 2017, Taylor writes unsentimental, uncompromising and sensitively observed pieces about the working class based on her own lived experience and that of the communities and young people with whom she works. In a blend of hip-hop influences and modern-day kitchen sink realism, her poems are honest accounts of the challenges faced by the working poor and make reference to council estates, Greggs sausage rolls and Iceland shopping bags, as well as well-known local landmarks.
“Bradford is such an inspiring place for me,” she says. “There is something uniquely special about it and it has a character that’s built from having to overcome certain obstacles. The work I do with communities and kids feeds into my poetry and I feel lucky to be able to share how they live and their view of the world.”
Her latest project, supported by Bradford 2025 and other partners, is currently in development and due to receive its world premiere later this year. Cashy Cs: The Musical is a site-specific full-length theatre production set in a Bradford pawnbroker and featuring an original score of grime, bassline and rap music produced by local artists.
It tells the story of working-class people who are forced by circumstance to live hand to mouth. Taylor explains that the idea came to her when she was in a pop-up pawn shop in Bradford city centre one day.
“I saw people who, out of necessity, were temporarily trading in things that they love for a quick fiver. What really struck me was that they were still chatting to their friends and coping with what they were experiencing with humour and friendship.” She hopes the show will offer some insight into the reality of those who don’t have a comfortable financial buffer and who are struggling to survive in a post-Brexit, post-pandemic world in which Universal Credit is stretched and a Premier League footballer is doing more to campaign on food poverty than any politicians.
“I want people to know how working-class communities live, I want those voices to be heard, but it is not going to be a sob story,” adds Taylor. “It is about empathy. I want to put some of those issues out there, challenge those stereotypes of the ‘benefit scrounger’ and show how the fact that people end up behaving in certain ways is down to the system.”
While she has written for radio and theatre before, this is the first time she has tried her hand at a musical.
“For years, Bradford has had a respected underground scene of rappers, MCs and beatmakers and the whole piece is heavily based on that,” says Taylor. “The rappers capture and articulate the real lives of Bradford people – the funny bits, the hard bits and everything in between, all delivered in the best Bratfud tones. For me, it was the only way to bring to life the people and the stories of the district.” She admits that she has felt a bit daunted by it. “Not just about the writing of it but also getting it right, I want it to be authentic. I know I am the right person do this, it is such a big part of my identity; in some ways, it feels really close to home.”
One of her inspirations, not surprisingly, is the Bradford playwright Andrea Dunbar who, before she died tragically young at the age of 29 in 1990, wrote three acclaimed plays – The Arbor, Rita, Sue and Bob Too (made into a hit film in 1987) and Shirley – which unflinchingly documented the sometimes-brutal reality of working-class life.
“I was definitely inspired by her life and her story,” says Taylor. “And I have also been inspired by the work of Clio Barnard, especially The Selfish Giant. But mostly I’m inspired by the things and the people I see around me.”
At the end of last year Taylor directed a music video which introduced Live Like This, one of the tracks in the musical, to promote the production. “We filmed it all on location in BD4 with the rapper Ty Richards and a cast of professional and community artists. Lots of people wanted to be involved and I called on friends and family. It was a bit of a team effort and we had a brilliant time.” The resulting film is at once joyful, powerful, gritty, witty and unashamedly political.”
Does she see Cashy Cs: The Musical as a call to action? “I feel that in the working-class community we are often pitted against each other,” she says. “It is about being politicised and voting – we can take action, we can protest. I think and hope that maybe on the back of the pandemic, people are becoming more politically engaged.”
Due to the level of debt and the kind of hardship that so many are facing, the use of pawnbrokers has become a part of everyday life for some and Taylor’s play reflects this.
“It’s now more relevant than ever as one in five UK households have an income below the poverty line,” she says. “People rely on reducing benefits, the communities around them, and their wits just to get by. I want everyone who sees it to feel moved by how some people have to live, and I want to give people an opportunity to think differently and to act.”
Cashy Cs: The Musical will be performed at site-specific locations in Bradford later this year. The promotional music video for Live Like This can be viewed on YouTube.