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This is the land of the 'Riser', son!

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

This is the land of the 'Riser', son! thumbnailTHE Democrat's Martin McGuigan interviews Tony 'Riser' Smith.

"THE day I was born actually," he said, deadpan.

I had asked Tony 'Riser' Smith when he had discovered he had a talent for getting to know people and getting them to open up for him. 

Anyone who's spent any time in the company of 'Riser' will be able to vouch and testify to the fact that he's an incarnate composite of infectious exuberance, natural charisma and an innate mischievousness that rarely fails to put his guests at ease.

At the launch of the all-new Banter Show, in conjunction with Sugar Island Media, I caught up with Newry's pre-eminent curator of banter, where we broke bread (not literally) on what inspires, drives and makes him and his flourishing creativity tick. 

If you haven't seen the Banter Show on YouTube, it does exactly what it says on the tin as Tony travels the length and breadth of the district putting the community in the frame.

As someone who's been subjected to the 'Riser' experience myself - in my former guise as a maudlin minstrel - it was going to be interesting to put Tony on the other side of the microphone and see what unfolded.

Pausing momentarily and taking stock of the question, he elaborates:  "All joking aside, I've worked in Newry most of my life; I've lived in America, lived in Co. England, as I call it, reared my children and had a good steady job in the Water Board for a long time. 

"I initially tried to take voluntary redundancy, but they [the Water Board] wouldn't let me out, so I had to work for another year, and when I eventually did get out I went straight to London and got involved in a few acting classes all over the city. 

"I had been tour managing for bands up and down the country all through the years, and there were times where they had nobody to present or introduce the band onto stage, and that's where I came in. 

"So it started a long time ago, I never had any fears of it, hadn't any fears about speaking in public or addressing large crowds, so I thought, 'time to bite the bullet'."

Ironically, it was on his return to Newry that the Banter Show was born, said Tony.

"I was in London for two years and then came back to Newry, and I was only back a couple of days when I was asked by a crowd called Destination Newry if I'd get involved in the studio.

"They didn't know what to do with the studio at the start and that's when I thought, 'Let's do a bit of banter. Good old-fashioned banter'. 

"That was about four or five years ago and I've kept the banter going. Then I met Mickey, the cameraman, through a charity video we were both involved with for PIPS."

Synonymous with banter and inextricably linked to his now ubiquitous 'Riser' catchphrase, Tony explained its meaning to me.

"Riser is the trademark, and 'Riser' means to pick yourself up. For anybody who's not feeling well, we're giving them a 'Riser' to just lift your life that little bit. Even the Sugar Island media logo is an upward arrow- that's the Riser.

"I wasn't enjoying it [his old job], whereas now I'm enjoying what I'm doing, I turned The Banter Show into a company last April and I'm involved in another new upcoming company with Keven Sands, from Sugar Island Media. Keven builds websites and stuff like that, so we can do a whole package now.

"We've got a green screen facility, so we're going to make Monday music day on The Banter Show. We're here to promote and showcase bands and give artists the plug that they need.

"It's a working studio and we've all new equipment; brand new mics, brand new sound-desk, everything, we've got the latest streaming box so we can stream straight to YouTube live... we're not cutting any corners," said Tony.

Harnessing the local talent is a key part of Tony's ethos, and, in utilising his industry experience, he wants to provide creative people with a platform. He said: "I was in the music industry for over 20 years, so we want to give musicians and singer/songwriters, who deservedly need that little push and need a plug. It's not just music, it's everything."

Tony has always been much more multi-faceted than acting - a craft he enjoys immensely nevertheless- and has a restless creative energy that transcends being pigeon-holed, being equally adept at presenting and compering as he is in character. 

He said: "I love being creative, I've done banter shows in London and Manchester. I was an actor, but I love comedy and improvisation as well as that. With acting you have to do the training and get the experience, but I enjoy being creative in various things.

"I was crying out for a place like this, especially green screen because it's the way to go for creative filming. We've invested in top-end brand new equipment, so it's a massive opportunity.

"I see talent out on the streets every day, and I think 'If that young person had a video, or came into the Banter Show, we could try and promote them', so I want to get the real good talent out there. This is a gateway for artists to get themselves out there with high-quality product," added Tony.

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