Poetry at Eroica Britannia 2017

Photo of Seamus reading at Eroica Britannia 2017

Shay the Poet at Eroica Britannia 2017 (picture courtesy of Howard Broughton)

The weather often plays an important role in outdoor festivals and this vintage cycling festival is no exception; following last year’s event on waterlogged site this year the unusually hot and dry weather meant there would be plenty of people queuing in the shade of the beer tents for liquid refreshments ad a break from the searing sun.

I was proud to be back at Eroica for the third year and sharing live poetry and spoken word to new audiences away from the traditional libraries and back rooms of pubs. Poetry is becoming more mainstream and my 2.00pm set was staged in the Britannia Arms, temporary pub for the weekend, and the place was packed and noisy; fortunately there was a good sound system and my voice carries well.

As always I had my set list prepared in advance and also as always I had additional material to hand so that changes could be made depending on the mood of the room or indeed my own mood.

Having been announced on stage I began my set with a cycling poem, People Riding Bikes, which was well received and confirmed that people near the far end of the marquee could here me. You can listen to a recording of that reading by clicking play below:


The rest of the set consisted of:

The Curse, Standby, A minute and a half, Entitlement, Truncated, Dead Eyes, Domestique, Saffron Vultures, Seahorses, Mental Stuttering, A platform I don’t know and Honed.

I was particularly pleased with the audience reaction to my new poem, written for and completed in time for this event, “Saffron Vultures” which is about cycle racing and in particular motor-paced racing at the Saffron Lane Stadium in Leicester which sadly closed some years ago. The poem is perhaps my longest at about 4.5 minutes so I had been concerned about holding the audience’s attention – fortunately I needn’t have worried.

Picture of Seamus with Brian Robinson

With Brian Robinson at Eroica (pic courtesy of Howard Broughton)

To cap a great afternoon I had the good fortune to sit and chat with an all time cycling legend, Brian Robinson (now aged 85) the first British cyclist to ever win a stage in the Tour de France amongst many other world class events.

A brilliant day, although the sun could perhaps have been turned down a tad!



Eroica Britannia 2017 – Shay the poet returns

In just a week’s time I’ll be stepping up to perform at Britains festival of cycling and all things vintage, Eroica Britannia.

The Festival runs from from Friday 16th to Sunday 18th of June 2017 and Frinden Grange in the Peak District and I’ll be performing at 2.00pm on Saturday.

My health has not allowed me to take part in the ride around one of the spectacular Peak District routes this year but I’m looking forward to sharing some of my poetry with an audience including old friends and new, poetry enthusiasts and those who “only came for the vintage bikes”. Well you might ask:

What has that Eroica Britannia festival got for me?

Well there’s all the vintage bikes

Yeah but apart from the vintage bikes what has the Eroica Britannia festival got for me?

Well what about the rides, and the vintage bike rides?

Yeah the vintage bikes and the vintage bike rides obviously, but what has the Eroica Britannia festival got for me?

There’s the stunning Peak District scenery

Yeah, yeah, the vintage bikes and the rides and the stunning Peak District scenery, but what has the Eroica Britannia festival got for me?

And the music

Yeah, OK the vintage bikes, the rides, the stunning Peak District scenery and the music, but what has the Eroica Britannia festival got for me?

And the vintage outfits?

And all the activities for kids?

Yeah the vintage bikes, the rides, the stunning Peak District scenery, the music, the vintage outfits and all the activities for the kids, but what has the Eroica Britannia festival got for me?

And the shopping?

And the amazing range of food and drink?

And the roaming entertainers?

And the best in show?

Yeah, that goes without saying; the vintage bikes, the rides, the stunning Peak District scenery, the music, the vintage outfits, all the activities for the kids, the shopping, the amazing food and drink, the roaming entertainers and the best in show, but what has the Eroica Britannia festival got for me?

And the mini velodrome, the Lancaster Bomber fly past, and the camping and glamping?

Yeah, the vintage bikes, the rides, the stunning Peak District scenery, the music, the vintage outfits, all the activities for the kids, the shopping, the amazing food and drink, the roaming entertainers and the best in show, the mini velodrome, the Lancaster Bomber fly past, and the camping and glamping, but what has the Eroica Britannia festival got for me?

And the bloke doing poetry?

What? There’s a bloke doing poetry? at a vintage cycling festival? Well why didn’t you tell me? What’s he doing?

Well he’ll do some poems about people and places and bikes and stuff

So this Eroica Britannia festival has the vintage bikes, the rides, the stunning Peak District scenery, the music, the vintage outfits, the shopping, the amazing food and drink, the roaming entertainers and the best in show, the mini velodrome, the Lancaster Bomber fly past, the camping and glamping, and the bloke doing poetry about people and places and bikes and stuff. You know what I think I might give it a go….



Eroica Britannia – The Universal Citizen – a little irony!

So the big day arrived and there I was sitting waiting over to one side of the stage and as the announcer stepped up introduce me I waited for the signal to climb the few steps to the stage.

I’d finally settled on the poems to complete the set the previous evening and they were printed and ready in my hand with a copy of my book as back-up should I decide to make any changes to the set as I went along. All pretty normal except that my hand that was shaking less than it usually might and I was feeling quite calm.

The signal came I stepped onto the steps, thanked the compere for her lovely introduction and walked up to the single microphone in the middle of the stage. There had been no soundcheck so I was a little surprised by the strength of the foldback speakers but at least I knew the audience would be able to hear:


I’m Seamus

And I’m

I’m a poet….”

With those first few lines of one of my longest lived poems I introduced myself and hopefully set the mood.

As I did so the organisers projected a massive fluttering Union Jack on the large screen behind me. I had absolutely no idea and as I talked to the audience I had no reason to look back.

Picture of Seamus reading with a large Union Jack projected in the background

Reading at Eroica 2016

Photograph courtesy of my friend Howard Broughton.

My poetry doesn’t shy away from issues and it is no secret that my strong beliefs in social justice and fair treatment for ALL human beings are dear to me and feature large in my writing.

So as I stood (unknowing) in front of that massive symbol of national pride I read “Universal Citizen” pointing out that we are all the same regardless of where we happen to be born, I read “Not like the rest” criticising successive governments for failing to treat some people properly and I read poems about my own Irish (immigrant) background.

I now know (because they told me) that some of the audience loved the irony of that juxtaposition of myself and my words against that flag.

To me Nationalism is all about pride based on things other people have done in a place where we happen to be born or originate from. Of course we can be justifiably proud of our backgrounds but the flag, like all national flags, is not just a symbol of pride and of belonging but it can also be an emblem of difference, a symbol of we are better than you and if not used with care it can become divisive.

I love the place I was born, I love the places my parents were born. There are also other places I have come to love.

I don’t wave flags because where I happened to have been born and where my parents happened to have been born makes me no better, no worse, no more entitled or no more deserving than anyone else.

I am the Universal Citizen; whether you wave a flag behind me or not!


As for the set itself? Well the audience were great, very responsive and very attentive. People reacted to all of the less obvious references in the poems although very few picked up the references to Pancho and Lefty. The applause was warm and I was particularly pleased when people I’ve never met before came along to buy copies of my book which of course I was very happy to dedicate for them.

Sunshine and Poetry – Best way to work

This morning the sun has been shining, the mercury nudged past 24 degrees and the garden bench beckoned. I’ve dealt with emails, checked the social media and then set to work in this rather warm and temporary office.

My set list for Eroica Britannia (now only 11 days away) needed some more thought and, as I tend to doodle while I think, I have ended up with the illustrated set list as shown below:

Picture of the set list with doodles

Set list for Eroica 2016

I’ve yet to decide the order for the set but I know where it will start and I have a pretty good idea where it will finish too and the middle will always find its own way if necessary.

Perhaps I’ll produce some printed copies for the audience once it is finalised – I’d be interested to know if people think this is a good idea; please comment here or let me know on Facebook at – “shaycycles”


Eroica Set List grows

With just 2 weeks today until Britain’s most handsome festival of all things cycling and vintage my set list is taking shape. Like myself it has become a bit larger than it ought to be and over the next couple of weeks it needs to trim down a little.

Picture of my developing set list for Eroica 2016 in notebook

My developing set list for Eroica 2016

There are a poems that have been heard around the country, poems that have only been heard close to home and a few that have never yet been heard in public. The task challenge in finalising a set list is to appeal to the audience, to get over whatever messages are intended, to give the audience a range of emotional experiences and of course to do the things we love to do. For my Eroica set the questions include:

How many poems about cycling? (currently 5 or 6 on the long-list)

How many political poems? (tricky just days before the referendum, 1 or 2 on the shortlist)

How many personal and family poems? (a few that have wide enough appeal)

Can I risk the really serious subjects? (can I avoid them – no – so yes there’s a few in the long list)

Can I risk making the audience cry? (can I even stop them crying)

Should I give them something to laugh or smile about? (of course – even if just to stop them crying)

How many old ones?

How many new ones?

How many can I fit into a half hour set with room to breathe, to listen, to digest, to laugh or cry and to chat with the audience?

So here I am in the middle of the night adding and subtracting from the list, a mini-referendum for each poem; in or out?

And as I think I’m nearly there I wonder about finishing one or two of the bunch of poems still under construction, but it gets late and “what if they aren’t ready, what if they won’t be good enough?” and the poet tries to get some sleep.

Countdown to Eroica Britannia 2016

Last year the organisers of the UK’s greatest festival of all things cycling and vintage gave me a slot to perform my poetry in their Arts tent. The experience was terrific and you can read about it in my posts from last year’s event.

nib with ink 7

Pen nib with red ink

I am really delighted to say that I’ve been invited back for the 2016 Festival and will be performing at noon on Saturday 18th June.

I’m busy planning my set for the event and I’ll be sure to include some of my poems about cycling and of course some of my newest poetry. It would be safe to assume that the set
will be designed to entertain, to inform and most of all to give pause for thought.

I’ll be reading work from my book “Thinking Too Much” and a range of my more recent work including some about my own family which, although very personal to me, are likely to resonate with any listener. There will be copies of my book available for sale and I’ll be very happy to sign copies after the performance, I may also have a selection of my vintage cycling images for sale and will be happy to take orders on the day.

Come on Hat poem

Here’s one of my recent poems under development- Come on Hat – it may well feature at Eroica Britannia 2016

The full set-list will evolve over the next couple of weeks but it is sure to include:

Too Soon – a poem that looks back to my 3 year old memory of my Grandad and the photo, still displayed in his house, that takes me back 52 years before he was taken too soon.

A minute and a half – one and a half minutes of words that hurt less but evoke the memory and feelings of racing up Monsall Head – a hill that some thousands of riders will tackle the day after my performance; in my case at a much more sedate pace than in the 1980s!

Entitlement – A brief look at the Lance Armstrong story and the American Dream (with a line nicked from John Mellencamp).

Shay the Poet performs at Eroica Britannia, Bakewell

Performing my set at Eroica Britannia

Finally on Saturday afternoon at the Eroica festival it was time to step up on stage and for half an hour, mess with the minds of my audience. I warned them that poetry was like prose on steroids and that they were about to take a journey into my own thinking and that they’d be happy, they’d be sad and they’d be made to think. They were up for it and we had a great big dipper ride and they left me on a high.

The full set list:

My set list on the table in our B&B near Bakewell

I like people riding bikes – just a happy celebration of people riding bikes
(see earlier blog post from 01/05/15 for the full poem)

I’m a bloody poet now – how I got started in poetry – maybe
(see earlier blog post from 15/10/10 for the full poem)

Standby – a look at modern life, on the go 24/7
(see earlier blog post from 17/11/10 for the full poem)

Seahorses – about one of my primary school teachers back then and getting old
(see earlier blog post from 19/2/12 for the full poem)

Maggie with one of the large event posters on site

Badger brushes and brass – a less than serious look at the fashion for retro – in a barber’s shop
(Not in my blog – yet)

A platform I don’t know – looking at the loss of bereavement through travelling and the train station
(Not in my blog – yet)

Domestique – the saddest side of doping in cycle racing
(see earlier blog post from 01/05/15 for the full poem)

A minute and a half – how it feels to tackle a cycling hillclimb race
(Not in my blog – yet)

The curse – the curse of dementia, a personal poem about my own granny
(see earlier blog post from 12/12/12 for the full poem)

Dead eyes – my short anti-war poem focused on child soldiers – one of my saddest!
(see earlier blog post from 18/11/10 for the full poem)

Stranger conversations – a look at how we relate to strangers told through a true story
(Not on my blog – yet)

Different Dad – a silly, non-biographical, poem about a dad with too much rhythm
(see earlier blog post from 07/11/10 for the full poem)

Something – a love poem for Maggie
(see earlier blog post from 23/02/12 for the full poem)

To read all about Eroica Britannia – the most handsome festival of cycling, held in the wonderful Peak District town of Bakewell, including the festival events, the entertainment and the rides – head over to my other blog at http://shaycycles.blogspot.co.uk

Eroica set list building

A little peek into my set list for Eroica Britannina on 20th June,

A minute and a half – if you’ve ridden short hill climb races or if the pain and exhilaration is new to you then this poem will tell you about all of that, in about a minute and a half, the time it takes to race up one of my favourite climbs at Monsall Head.
Standby – it’s not all about cycling and bikes! This one is about modern life and that mad need to be always doing something, always connected and ready for action 24/7.
More to follow over the next few days….

Shay the poet heads to Eroica Britannia

Just one month to go to the most handsome cycling festival – Eroica Britannia.

Vintage bikes, vintage everything and 30,000 people heading to Bakewell in the Peak District for a fun filled 3 day family adventure on 19, 20 and 21st June


There’s music, films, conversation, food, drink and of course loads of old bikes.

And this year there will be poetry, courtesy of yours truly, with a half hour set on the Saturday afternoon.

My set list is almost sorted and although I never really stick to the list there will be a couple of new cycling ones in the set including “A minute and a half” and “I like people riding bikes”. There’ll be a fair few non cycling ones too and we’ll have a great time.

I’ll post more on the set as we draw closer.