Antony Szmierek on Jools Holland and his recent EP 'Seasoning' for DIY's Class of 2024

Interview Class of 2024: Antony Szmierek

Armed with spoken word songs that celebrate the beauty in the everyday, the Manchester poet is ticking off career milestones seemingly by the minute.

There comes a point in every success story when you have to take the plunge and go all in. For Antony Szmierek, it’s arrived in a whirlwind, all at once. But, having escalated - in little over 12 months - from a teacher at a special needs college penning songs in his spare time, to one of BBC 6 Music’s recently-crowned Artists of the Year with a Later… with Jools Holland performance under his belt, Manchester’s own musical Clark Kent is readying himself to go into Superman mode, full time.

“Even a month ago it didn’t feel possible in terms of sustaining myself, but now it’s like, OK, I can kind of see it,” he says, in a tentatively hopeful tone. “Everything’s been so quick. We were in the lobby of Wogan House at the BBC waiting to go on Lauren Laverne’s show and we still didn’t know the [rest of the 6 Music] list. I got tagged in a post, and saw Blur and boygenius were on it and was freaking out. Then we pretty much immediately went on tour and it was already sold out, but all of a sudden it was ‘6 Music Artist of the Year Antony Szmierek’ and I feel like those shows changed because of that.”

All the while, until he hangs his staff card up at the end of the year, Szmierek has still been teaching; after today’s DIY obligations, he’s popping over to recent collaborators Jacana People’s London show to sing their track ‘Twist Forever’, then heading home the following day to run a poetry workshop. It’s a double life that’s been having more and more crossover of late. “In Glasgow, I was pulling people up on stage for ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Fallacy’, and grabbed this guy and it was Benji from my old Year 10 class,” he chuckles. “I looked at him and he was like, ‘You alright sir?’ in the middle of a show. So that was fucking wild…”

But aside from extracurricular run-ins, there’s a synergy between Szmierek’s two career paths that’s undoubtedly fuelling the empathetic everyday storytelling that sits at the heart of his music.

Antony Szmierek on Jools Holland and his recent EP 'Seasoning' for DIY's Class of 2024

“It’s quite bleak in Manchester; everyone’s a poet or a dancer or in a band because you kind of have to be.”

Szmierek’s output to date - debut EP ‘Poems to Dance To’ and recently-released follow up ‘Seasoning’ - positions him in a long line of working class northern poets, from his hero Jarvis Cocker to Alex Turner, who he would impersonate as vocalist in the school staff band (cue a more than serviceable impromptu snippet of ‘There’d Better Be A Mirrorball’ sung across today’s pub table). Though Szmierek’s medium is a hybrid of genres that has one foot in the sweaty gig venue and the other in the club, lyrically he’s an everyday observer of life as a whole, cribbing from an endless array of iPhone notes stolen from “overheard conversations on the tram or the bus or the train”.

Take breakthrough single ‘Hitchhiker’s…’, in which Szmierek’s stream of consciousness narrative hops between succinct, relatable vignettes that find tenderness and humour in the seemingly humdrum: “Is hope included in the meal deal, or? / Nahhh I didn’t think so / The good stuff never is .” Perhaps inevitably, it’s a style that’s led to a fair whack of Mike Skinner comparisons but, says Szmierek, there’s something innately different to his Mancunian point of view.

“It’s quite bleak up there, especially in Manchester where it’s pissing it down every day because of the Pennines; everyone’s a poet or a dancer or in a band because you kind of have to, you’ve almost got to [make it better for yourself],” he suggests. “It’s a different thing to down south. There’s a certain mundanity and a certain thing that we’re rallying against - trying to find the beauty in the very mundane, quite sad, everyday traditions."

Antony Szmierek on Jools Holland and his recent EP 'Seasoning' for DIY's Class of 2024 Antony Szmierek on Jools Holland and his recent EP 'Seasoning' for DIY's Class of 2024 Antony Szmierek on Jools Holland and his recent EP 'Seasoning' for DIY's Class of 2024

What I do in my spare time is go and watch bands so if we’d been shit live that would have been awful…”

The beauty and the joy, however, is the key. Having first started out writing novels (debut, The Hypocrite, is still loitering on Amazon for any keen investigators), before moving into short stories, poetry and - after a lengthy period of lockdown furlough - songs, his recent musical endeavours are clearly scratching an itch that’s been there Szmierek’s entire life.

An indie kid through and through (“I was 17 in 2007 when there was ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ and Klaxons and all that. My identity was around what bands I liked; it was the first thing that I found purpose in”), he’s keen that the UKG element that seeps in on record isn’t necessarily the focus. “This summer, I was quite determined to show that this is an alternative act played with a band because that’s what I always wanted to be,” he notes. “It’s not me and CDJs or a backing track, it’s a full thing. My favourite compliment is when people say it’s good live, because what I do in my spare time is go and watch bands so if we’d been shit live that would have been awful…”

Currently nestled in his live set is an unexpected cover of Sugababes’ debut single ‘Overload’. “It comes after a really serious poem on purpose,” he notes. “There’s a spoken word, heartfelt piece about my dad and the state of the world, and then we do ‘Overload’ after. I just want it to be a fun show; I’m not taking myself seriously.”

With his next ticketed London show sold out five months in advance and a 1,300-capacity hometown gig nearly sold out equally as far ahead, Szmierek’s methods are clearly working. Recently, he’s been plotting what a debut album will look like; the plan is for it to be “quite novelistic - not a concept album, but there’s gonna be character names that crop up [throughout] and loose threads, almost like an anthology.” It’s an ambitious plan but one the affable musician makes seem easy - much like everything else in his rapidly escalating trajectory right now.

“It’s a funny thing where it’s been my hobby forever to listen to music and go to gigs, and I’ve always watched Jools Holland and me and my brother would actively go: ‘What would we wear? What would we do? How would we play it?’ Even though we weren’t in a band,” he laughs. “I was always doing something - always writing, always performing - so it almost kind of felt inevitable when we were on Jools. Not in a way where we deserved to be there; we were so nervous and we had two backpacks of stuff to bring in when everyone else had seven lorries so it was silly that we were there. But only recently I’ve been like, fuck, was this always going to happen?”

Antony Szmierek headlines Night Two of DIY’s Hello 2024 series at London’s Old Blue Last on 16th January.

Tags: Antony Szmierek, Class of 2024, From The Magazine, Features, Interviews

As featured in the December 2023 / January 2024 issue of DIY, out now.

Read More

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Stay Updated!

Get the best of DIY to your inbox each week.

Latest Issue

March 2024

Featuring Green Day, English Teacher, Everything Everything, Caity Baser and more!

Read Now Buy Now Subscribe to DIY