Nick Toczek - poet, writer & performer - biography
Nick Toczek is a full-time professional writer and performer who works variously as a poet, music journalist, writer-in-schools, magician, puppeteer, radio presenter, political researcher and author, creative-writing tutor, rock lyricist and classical librettist, occasional stand-up comedian, and – though he should know better at his age – rock vocalist.
He’s English, was born in Shipley, Yorkshire in 1950 and now lives in Bradford, just a couple of miles from his birthplace. He’s married (to Gaynor) and they have grown-up two children and two grandchildren.
After gaining A-Levels in Maths, Physics and Chemistry at Bradford Grammar School (1958-1968), he took an honours degree (BSc) in Industrial Metallurgy at the University of Birmingham (1968-1971), since when he’s been a professional writer and performer.
Photo by Tony Woolgar
So, it seems about time for him to have a fully functioning website to showcase his many books and CDs and videos. And to give him a platform to have a good old rant, should the mood take him!
Based in Moseley in Birmingham until 1977 (when he’d return to his Bradford home-town), he launched and ran his own literary magazine, The Little Word Machine, had five poetry pamphlets and a short novel published by Aquila. co-edited and published Melanthika the UK’s first full-length collection of pan-Caribbean writing. During this same period, he co-founded, toured with and ran a poetry and music group called The Stereo Graffiti Show, co-founded and ran Moseley Community Arts Festival, and began working in schools via The School of Living Poetry, an educational project, based at Cannon Hill Arts Centre, which he both founded and ran.
After their year-end break-up, Nick continued to edit and publish The Wool City Rocker which folded in 1981 after fourteen editions. He also continued to front a re-vamped version of Ulterior Motives which made a number of recordings – some of which are included on his Totally InTOCZEKated CD (see The Shop section of this website).
After moving to Undercliffe in Bradford with his then partner and fellow Stereo Graffiti Show member, the singer-songwriter and guitarist, Kay Russell, the pair formed their own punk/indie rock band, Ulterior Motives (releasing one double A-side single, Y’Gotta Shout c/w Another Lover, in 1979). At the end of that year, prior to splitting up (personally and professionally), they co-founded and launched the northern monthly music fanzine, The Wool City Rocker.
On Xmas Day 1979, he met Gaynor. The two were married in September 1984. Their daughter, Becci, was born in 1986 and their son, Matt, followed in 1990. Meanwhile, having given up working live with bands, Nick continued to tour as a performer-poet and continued publishing books (check out his Wikipedia page if you want to know the full details of his publications and recordings).
In March 1982, Nick began running regular weekly punk and indie gigs, first at The Funhouse in Keighley and later at an assortment of venues in Leeds and Bradford (see Archive section of this website). These continued until early September 1986.
Later that same month, he and fellow poet-performer, Wild Willi Beckett (see Archive for Nick’s posthumous profile of Willi), began running their seminal alternative cabaret club in Bradford – initially at The Spotted House, later at various venues around the city. Over the next few years, Nick and Willi ran these weekly events as a not-for-profit venture. Indeed, many of these gigs were linked to specific charities with attendees encouraged to make donations and to take away and distribute leaflets, posters and other information about that week’s cause. Each summer, from its founding in 1987, the pair organised a full cabaret programme as part of the Bradford Festival. In June 1987, they also co-founded Bradford Writers Workshop via a series of meetings, leading to the creation of a lasting organisation which evolved into Beehive Poets, a group still active more than thirty years later. In April 1989, with funding from Bradford City Council, they programmed, organised and ran the city’s first Festival of European Literature. After Willi left Bradford, Nick continued to run alternative cabaret events on a regular basis at venues throughout West Yorkshire until 1993.
Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, Nick toured as a political performance poet, had his poems and lyrics published extensively in music fanzines, and had many tracks, with and without music, released on sampler albums. He continued to publish books, mostly of poetry. He also became established as an authority of the activities of racist groups in the UK and the USA, making numerous radio and TV appearances and writing articles on the subject for many newspapers and magazines. In 1991, his book, The Bigger Tory Vote, was published in the UK and USA by A.K. Press.
In 1986 he toured the USA, from New York to Los Angeles, with two punk bands, The Underdogs (from Britain) and The Detonators (from America). During the mid-eighties, he performed throughout the UK with The Intolerance Tour (working alongside fellow poets Ginger John and Seething Wells and singer-songwriter Kevin Seisay). In 1987, he toured Canada with three Canadian bands – Rhythm Activism, Mecca Normal and Mourning Sickness.
Bradford Festival Radio was an independent station set up in 1987 to run throughout the couple of weeks of the festival. Nick became involved in the making and presenting of programmes from the outset. When, in the early 1990s, this evolved into Bradford Community Broadcasting which soon became a year-round broadcasting venture, Nick began working on weekly humorous and literary programmes – often working fellow comedians and writer-performers. Since the later 1990s, Nick has presented his own weekly one-hour Sunday night music and spoken-word show, InTOCZEKated, broadcast in FM across West Yorkshire and world-wide on the web (check this out at www.bcbradio.co.uk where there’s a listen-again function if you want to hear recent shows).
September 1986 was also when Nick became a part-time degree course lecturer in poetry at Wakefield’s eccentrically arts-based Bretton Hall College. Over the next eleven years, his remit at the college expanded to see him lecturing in subjects as diverse as Film Studies, Modernism, Global Image, Aesthetics, Creative Writing, Post-Modernism, the Short Story, etc. In May 1995, Bretton Hall invited him to set up a series of modular course for the general public. He did this under the banner of a new organisation, The Northern School of Writing, of which he was the founding director. Among the courses he thus established were Becoming A Professional Writer, Journalism, Storytelling, Stand-Up Comedy, Investigative Journalism, and more. After he left Bretton Hall College in 1997, Nick continued to run The Northern School of Writing and its courses as an independent Wakefield-based entity for two years.
In 1993, in addition to his work at Bretton Hall, Nick began a two-year stint as the resident story-teller at Eureka!, the museum for children in Halifax, a post funded by UK booksellers W.H. Smith. His brief was to tell stories about dragons. Rather than use pre-existing stories, he decided to write his own and to create a series of poems. These poems were brought to the attention Susie Gibbs, the poetry editor at Macmillan Children’s Books. At the end of 1995, Macmillan published his first children’s poetry collection, Dragons. Over the next ten years, they successfully published many more of his books and he soon found himself being described by them as a best-selling children’s poet. Writing these books and touring schools, children’s festivals and libraries quickly became a full-time occupation.
In 1997, Nick was contacted by the composer, Malcolm Singer, who’d bought a copy of Dragons and wanted to set some of the poems to music. Thus began a fruitful collaboration. Their Dragons Cantata had its London premiere at The Royal Albert Hall in 1998. This they subsequently developed into The Dragons Musical which was published by Golden Apple in 2005 (see the shop section of this website). While this was in preparation, Golden Apple commissioned Nick to write a pantomime, Sleeping Beauty’s Dream which they’d published in 2003. Meanwhile, using Nick’s football poems, he and Malcolm produced a second cantata, Perfect Pitch, which had its London premiere at The Barbican in 2004. Their political opera, The Jailer’s Tale, followed in 2010 with a London premiere at The Arts Depot.
Nick’s school’s work was now taking him abroad. In 2002, for example, he spent a fortnight as visiting writer at The Western Academy of Beijing, accompanied by his eleven-year-old son who became a temporary pupil at the school. In 2006 he spent three weeks in Indonesia (working in schools in Sumatra, Borneo and Bali). These tours were far from easy to organise. Thus when Trevor Wilson, a former teacher in overseas schools, contacted him in 2008 offering to organise his international school visits, Nick was keen. He therefore became the first of scores of writers now represented by Authors Abroad, the agency established by Trevor. They now book all of Nick’s overseas work in schools and almost all of his visits to UK schools. And their imprint, Caboodle Books, has since published several of his poetry collections for schools. He has now been a visiting writer in schools in more than forty countries.
Nick has been a rock journalist since the 1970s, writing regularly for both national and regional journals since having a live review published in Melody Maker in January 1980. That led directly to him becoming a regular contributor to Musicians Only, a short-lived weekly (June-December 1980) established by former Melody Marker journalists. From 1980-84 Nick contributed a regular column to the monthly magazine of the Yorkshire Arts Association, The Month in Yorkshire. Also, for two years March 1981 he had a weekly column in his local free paper, Bradford Star. For more than two years, from June 1987 until its demise in July 1989, Nick was a features writer and reviewer for Cut, an Edinburgh-based UK music and culture monthly, From 2006 until it folded in 2008, Nick was frequent contributor to the northern fanzine Mono. Since 2008, he’s been a regularly reviewer, interviewer and features writer for UK bimonthly music magazine R’n’R (originally called Rock & Reel and then briefly R2), contributing his own humorous column to each issue since 2009. His wife Gaynor is a photographer with this magazine so they sometimes work together on live reviews and interviews.
Since 2014 Nick has worked for the UK educational charity, First Story, as their writer-in-residence at Appleton Academy in Bradford.