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Leon the Pig Farmer Talking His Way Out of Trouble

Now Then squeezed in a few words with spoken word artist Leon the Pig Farmer ahead of his show supporting Peter Hook.

"I'm Leon the Pig Farmer. I don't have a band. I just talk. How are you doing?"

We all have ways of dealing with stress at times; it could be yoga, going for a walk, even exercise, but the first time I came across poetry as a way of dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was when I met Jack Horner, aka Leon the Pig Farmer.

For those not familiar with the more obscure films of the early 90s, 'Leon the Pig Farmer' is a 1992 British comedy about a Jewish estate agent in London who discovers that, thanks to an artificial insemination mishap, his real father owns a pig farm in Yorkshire. So why did Jack adopt the name? "A couple of things really. It started off that my mate who's a promoter, he wanted to put me on a gig poster, and he wanted a name. [He asked] 'Do you want to go under Jack Horner or how do you want to do it?'"

"I just thought of Leon The Pig Farmer. It just came instinctively. It's a film I admired in the 90s. In a similar way my career and life was not too dissimilar. I could only imagine that a Jewish guy - or a guy who's brought up in Jewish beliefs who now owns a pig farm - is like a fish out of water, swimming upstream. So it's how I felt in quite a lot of my professional career, to be honest."

“So it's an ode to having had a career, a false name, a profession, while working in harsh areas. It's topical. It creates conversation. It also detracts from me being Jack Horner. When I get up on that stage I create this persona as Leon the Pig Farmer. It adds that level of mystique. It's nice to have a bit of a stage name and a lot of really good musicians have them, so why not?"

Leon the Pig Farmer gig rsz

After leaving the army in 1998 after 10 years' service and a spell in civilian life, why did Jack choose poetry as a path to follow? "It came to me, pal. It wasn't that I intended to use poetry. It was something that, really, it sounds strange, but it came to me. I left the army about 22 years ago, having done roughly 10 years. I had another profession that was mostly Monday to Friday. I hid a lot of the trauma through toxic behaviour, weekend binge drinking. I was just trying to mask it really. It wasn't until my mid to late 40s that it [PTSD] really started seeping out and I started to become aware, although I didn't initially do anything about it, the mental health issues that had accumulated over that amount of time."

"I kind of felt a little bit lost from the initial camaraderie that you get in the army. The Band of Brothers scenarios - I was in a really good, close-knit group of mates that you can trust. I stepped out of the work stream. I started walking. It seemed to come in that format, probably because of the cadence that I was walking with. And also having a really good interest in music and lyrics. So it kind of came to me. I was writing my journal and thoughts down and they naturally formed into this poetry rhyme and storytelling. So I just ran with it. It was a creative art form that I've never had much interest or knowledge of but it was something that I just found myself instinctively doing when I had a lot of time on my hands and I enjoyed the process, the process of writing, the process of giving myself some boundaries and getting that cathartic release."

"The thought process and the trauma that had come to the forefront of my mind, getting all that out, it became a natural process and I enjoyed it."

"I tried to find that [connection] in social scenes of hanging around with big groups of lads and lasses. It wasn't really the same [compared to the army]. I've still got those mates but I think the poetry, the spoken word and the arts scene.... it's a totally different culture, and a different group of people. However, the camaraderie, the support is not too dissimilar. You've got a lot of people you can trust, and like minded people who you can enjoy a lot of time with. There's the thoughts, the emotions and the social aspect of it. It's good. I enjoy it and I've kind of found a new lease of life with a group of people that I can relate to".

Jack's roots are in Yorkshire, but he has performed at a lot of events in Manchester. "I left [Yorkshire] at the age of 17 moved to Manchester in the late 90s. I live straddling the two up in Saddleworth Moor, so I have like one foot in each camp almost. I live in Mossley and that's why I do a lot of gigs in Manchester."

Leon the Pig Farmer performing rsz

Pre-Covid, there used to be many poetry and spoken word events in Manchester such as Verbose and Punk In Drublic, but now, unless you know about them, they can be difficult to stumble upon. How is Jack finding things? "It's a little bit easier now with social media. There is one, Speakeasy [at Dulcimer in Chorlton]. I've found Sayin, which is an absolutely brilliant one with plenty of MCs and rappers. That was down in South Manchester" [Formerly at the Old Abbey Taphouse and moving to Niamos in Hulme].

"So, there is The Long Story Short, which is kind of storytelling but on the day, they accept a lot of spoken word. Simone, who runs that, does hers on Instagram and she gets a really good reception."

"I went to one and then you get to meet few people and then they put you on to other ones. I know one or two have fallen by the wayside during Covid, but I think they'll eventually resurrect and get themselves back up and running."

Leon the Pig Farmer spoken word rsz

One thing I've noticed about Jack, both live and in person, is that he is a really voluble person, comfortable with people around him. "I've always been very chatty, very open, very approachable, very nattery. Growing up as a kid in a pub, I've got very social parents. Being open, being opinionated, has always been at the forefront of growing up in a pub. I've always moved around in those sorts of circles, always had an opinion, always said it, always been quite up front and challenging with my point of view."

"So that was my natural side of going into the spoken word. The actually standing in front of people, although I get really nervous and anxious doing it, that's more through the self flagellation and the personal worry of, 'Are they going to get it?' But the actual confidence of standing up in front of people, it doesn't bother me speaking to an audience. I've always knocked around with that sort of environment."

Now, having witnessed Jack warming up for his act, pacing around like a coiled spring, is it the nervous anticipation and eagerness, or is that just his warm up routine?

"A bit of both. I like to feed off that nervousness. It's an anxiety when you are up there. But stomping around, it's that Leon persona and tone, where I can challenge it through the words, because the words that I say, they're not all that nice. They're all from my mental health or my social observations and I like to challenge it and be full of energy ready for when I get up on stage. Sort of channel all that anxiousness, of getting ready; to hope that people like what's going to come out."

His inspiration is all around him, with sources such as the walls of the Peer Hat toilets or travelling on the tram, but his early works were a lot closer to home.

"A lot of it was personal to start with, which was around my mental health and recovery and all these experiences of happening and going through therapy, taking medication, and just trying to get back to a normal way of living that people express that we're all... we all can have a bad time at some point.

"But my message is kind of changing and I write and target new avenues that I can write about. So, yeah. I've written about toilet walls, I've written about trams, I've written about airports, people on busses, people sat in the Northern Quarter. I like to add it with a topical subject and get a current message across when I'm doing it. So I'm constantly writing and observing. I've always been a people watcher. And I enjoy how lots of different cultures work in a social platform and areas of society."

The city lives in the shadow of the Hacienda

The warehouses and factories are now homeless shelters.

Lines from 'Life Share' by Leon the Pig Farmer

"I'm just taking my natural observations and hobbies into a writing form and telling people stories about what I'm seeing on a daily basis. I try to add a little bit of humour to it as well because all my early stuff was very dark, talking about mental health and other things like PTSD, so it's nice now to write about things and have a political edge or a sense of humour to finish on a lighter note."

Opportunities to develop and mine new veins of material have come via opportunities such as appearing on music-focused line-ups with bands, and the experiences that entails.

"It influences the way that I write, the people that I meet. It's quite a natural progression. It started very early on. I do have a lot of friends who are musicians, performers and promoters and run venues. They naturally embraced what I was doing and found a way that I could perform and it complemented a lot of bands on the independent and underground music scene, which is the music that I'm interested in. So to support my peers, and be involved with them, it's a privilege, and I love it. It's great to hear what they're writing and talking about as well. So that can inspire and influence me into different things, and thought provoke me into what I'm writing about."

So who would Jack recommend to listen to on the spoken word circuit? “I'm a good friend of Karl (Hilderbrant from San Pedro Collective). We talked about writing together. He's moved out the Manchester area. He's a pal of mine and we talk about collaborating and what we write about and things like that."

"There are some cracking spoken worders that are on or around the scene in Manchester. All diverse and all different, and it is starting to bring in people from outside Manchester, as well. I did a gig up in Oswaldtwistle with Johnny Lindsey and my mate Nathan Parker in Blackpool. It's bringing those people into town and getting a very vibrant, spoken word scene around town.

There's my mate Loll and Tonka Bell. She's [Tonka Bell] brilliant and she does a lot of social observation. There's Amy Harris; a South Manchester girl. My mate, Patrick T Davis, he does it to music and he's a bit more grimy; a good lad as well. We all speak about different things, all in different sorts of cadences and styles, but we complement each other.

Leon the Pig Farmer pointing at the camera rsz

In the future does he see himself going along that music line or will he remain in spoken word, using his impassioned, vocal mannerisms?

"I like using my vocal mannerisms. As Leon, it will stay as spoken word with me doing another book [the first was Talking My Way Out Of Trouble]. I am doing stuff with music, but that's totally different as it will be me and my wife, who is a Japanese multi-instrumentalist, and we're doing stuff with her playing a lot of guitar distortion and loops, so it's quite psychedelic punk. We've already started that project [The Dirt] and got an EP through Bandcamp. We're doing a solid, tangible product with the CD release in December."

Jack's book was released in spring and he held a book launch with some good friends. The collection of 30 verses is based around PTSD, anxiety, depression, and mental health recovery.

Having done a fair bit of travelling, how much hand sanitiser stock has Jack got? [Laughs] "Believe it or not, I've got lots of hand sanitiser, and it's not through me. My wife is a clean freak when it comes to Covid, so she has always got a bottle on her. I leave that business to her. She's always got hand wipes and things, and masks. She produces them like a magician at will."

But face masks aren't particularly good for a poet, are they? "Not for some, but for me they're all right. You've seen me. I shout loud. My voice can carry through a bit of fabric. A mask ain't going to stop me.”

I'm not sure what will.

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