How London’s beautiful station poetry boards came to be. By founders, N1 & E1
We started ‘All On The Board’ in March 2017, working at North Greenwich station. We were working there to assist people going to see Craig David at The O2 Arena. We were singing “Walking Away” to the customers after we gave them directions, and then started listing some of his songs that we liked. Then we came up with a little poem using some of his songs.
Both of us thought, that’s a good little poem, let’s say it to some Craig David customers when they ask for assistance. We decided to write it down on a whiteboard that was just saying ‘Keep Right’ instead. We noticed a couple of people stopping in front of it, smiling and then taking photos. It seemed to make them happy. So we thought, we could do this some more. So we did.
Before All On The Board we both liked writing poetry, songs, stories, making movies, having script ideas for years. We find being or at least trying to be creative, very therapeutic and if it brings joy or connects with other people it’s very rewarding for the soul, knowing that you have made someone feel better.
At the time of the Craig David poem we decided we needed a name. As we were writing it on a board, we knew we had to include that in the title. We called ourselves ‘All On Board’ at first, as in, everyone’s welcome on board. There was a guy using that name on Instagram and all of his photos were him on a yacht with girls in bikinis. We thought we had better change the name slightly just in case we got followers mixed up. We lazily added a ‘The’ to the name, then All On The Board was born. We wanted to underline the song titles so any fan of his could think, ‘Oh, I see what they did there’.
It pretty much happened instantly from Craig David.
The next couple of weeks after that we set up a Facebook and Twitter page. Then soon after that an Instagram page. From the Craig David board we knew what we wanted to do, because we were seeing people really liking it, and taking selfies with a board that normally says Keep Right or Good Service on all lines.
Craig David was our first board and was a bit of an experiment that took about 10 minutes to come up with. It wasn’t a very long poem and we didn’t realize what it would lead to. Now our poems spread sometimes across two boards, and our handwriting has got a lot better.
There are just the two of us.
N1 and E1. It’s short for Everyone and No One. After we did a poem for Ed Sheeran and it went viral, we kept getting asked who does the boards by customers. We wanted it to have an air of mystery so we would say, “ No one does.” And sometimes say, “Everyone does.” So, when we answer the customers, when we tell them Everyone and No One do them, we are not actually lying.
We sometimes manage to rope in people to wear masks for us, or to put poem boards out when we can’t get to certain stations (so you may see handwriting different to the majority of our boards) All the social media is by us, photos, videos etc… all done by us too.
We do poems for concerts, awareness days, certain sports events, things we get excited about, highlighting human conditions, reminding people they are not alone, we have tried magic tricks, little love stories, and things that amuse us that we come up with that we hope others will find amusing.
We don’t get political, we try not to offend anyone at all, and we pride ourselves by creating original content. If we do use quotes they will normally be a song line or a movie line in which we put our own spin on it.
We then place the boards normally in a ticket hall of a station so it can be seen by someone exiting a station going to whatever event is on. We do the same with “Awareness” poems too. Wherever we put the boards we make sure they don’t get in the way and don’t cause any safety problems. Safety is the first thing we consider since it’s our job to be that way. If it’s safe we do it, when it’s not we do not.
Our Creative Process:
We know months in advance what concerts or events are taking place, where they will be and what station The Board will be best placed. It’s hard for us to get to certain stations because we do actually work full time for the underground. We don’t get paid for the boards, we get paid for being Station staff. We do the boards outside of work time, normally when a station is closed or before work.
Sometimes things can be quite spur of the moment, like the death of a beloved celebrity or a tragic event or a happy event has just been announced, and we want to write about it, often it’s when we are at work, so we grab a spare board and come up with something quite instantly. Sometimes as much as we want to there’s just not the time or space so we can’t. We get a lot of requests. Unfortunately, we often turn them down, but always keep a list for the future when we can find the right time to do those.
We exchange a lot of texts and try lines of poetry and ideas by messenger to test them out on each other and straight away tell each other what we liked or what we didn’t, and it gets sorted out straight away. That is pretty much how it’s edited.
Then a day or two before the event, we write it up. A board can take between 30–45 minutes to write-up, bar any mistakes. A quick one can be done in 10 minutes. We also clean our boards, use our own pens etc, but sometimes we will have no choice but to write on one that is a bit grubby if we are not in a station we frequent much.
We used to write in non-permanent pens, but a lot of them, when people would pose by the boards for photos with their friends, would sometimes get half wiped out where they have been lent against. Or we would get people come along and wipe out certain words or letters with their fingers and the poem would end up containing a few naughty words instead of what we intended. So, we decided to use permanent marker pens.
We are both huge music fans. We like music from all genres.
Obviously we have our favourite bands, but with every event we don’t know a lot about we will listen to some of their songs and get a feel for them and what songs we particularly like and which ones their fans like.
Some bands we don’t need to do that for. We will know their back catalogue inside out. We are already listening to music for artists next year we don’t know much about.
We select our favourite songs, and quirky titles we particularly like. The Pearl Jam poem is a classic example of that process where we own the albums and we want to get particular song titles in them, like “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town”, because we love the title of the song, it paints a picture in our minds, and we could set up a scenario using other song titles.
We have not collaborated with any artists, just ourselves. The only collaboration we have is using their song or album titles to create a poem for them and their fans. It’s astounding to us the amount of artists that have shared or liked their poems.
Here’s a list of some of them.
Gorillaz, Queen, Pearl Jam, Liam Gallagher, Noel Gallagher, Lana Del Rey, Celine Dion, Iron Maiden, Little Mix, Jamiroquai, John Legend, Kiss, Elbow, Rita Ora, Richard Ashcroft, Foo Fighters, Imagine Dragons, The Script, Quincy Jones, Paul Weller, Placebo, Depeche Mode, Mark Ronson, Alt J, The Vamps, Niall Horan, Micky Flanagan, Steps, Katy Perry, Olly Murs, Robbie Williams, Take That, Harlem Globetrotters, Diversity, The Wombats, Blink-182, Bros, Sir Mo Farah, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Impractical Jokers, Metallica, Queens Of The Stone Age, Justin Timberlake, Bryan Adams, Sam Smith, Nickleback, Paloma Faith, Aha, WWE and quite a few more.
We have had Micky Flanagan, Steps, Jamiroquai, Katy Perry and Gorillaz stand next to their poem boards and have photos with them.
Why & What’s Next:
We like writing the poem boards as a little gift for the artist and their fans from us. Something else to take away from the concert they are going to. A little souvenir. If they want to follow us and like what we do, then that’s brilliant, if not, then that’s cool too.
We want to make people smile, take their own meanings from the poems we create and give them a reminder of some of the artists’ songs that they may not have heard for a while as well as their favourite ones. We like to let those that feel they are alone; know that they are not alone in feeling that way. They may have mental health issues or a chronic illness where they may feel lonely and isolated. We want them to know that there are others that are experiencing similar things and that there are places to go and people to talk to.
We have had articles written about us by NME, Londonist, Nigerian News, LovinManchester, LADBible and the Daily Mail. Across these we’ve been described as “the banksys of the underground” “Genius” and “the masked duo” but we argue over who is Batman and who is Robin or who is the Lennon and McCartney of whiteboards. We also have a kind of stalker.
We have started up a YouTube channel, just a month ago where we intend to expand what we do to video. We love movies as much as we do music so this is going to be an outlet for that. We plan to do music videos for songs we’ve written, short comedy skits and much more.
We could do this forever.
~ All On The Board
Produced/in collaboration with Jeff Gorra: