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Free Fringe leads as spoken word gets its own official section at Edinburgh Festival

By | Published on Wednesday 4 July 2012

One of the first things you might have noticed about this year’s Fringe programme, when it was unleashed back in May, is that there is a whole new section in it this year dedicated to spoken word, another genre that has been slowly growing in recent years at the festival, partly reflecting and partly fuelling a wider rise of in the spoken word scene around the UK.

The emergence of a strong spoken word community at the Edinburgh Fringe is certainly down, partly at least, to the growth of the genre’s strand within the Free Fringe, which has been led by performance poet Richard Tyrone Jones, despite him nearly dying from heart failure a few months before his first stint as the free show strand’s Spoken Word Director in 2010.

“Spoken word has definitely grown at the Fringe in recent years”, Tyrone Jones tells ThreeWeeks. “The first year I was the Free Fringe’s Spoken Word Director  we programmed thirty shows. This year its fifty, and the new spoken word section of the Fringe programme lists 22 shows other than ours. And next year I’d expect to see even more, if only because some other performers and shows will realise they fit better into a spoken word strand than they do under the comedy or theatre banners”.

“It’s blowing our own trumpet a little to say so”, he continues, “but I do think the Free Fringe’s spoken word programme has had an effect, we programme about half of all the spoken word shows you’ll find at the Festival. Plus, of course, the genre at large is getting a higher profile as you increasingly start to see poetry, storytelling and hip hop/battling curated under one sexy umbrella at other festivals, such as Luke Wright’s excellent programme at Latitude”.

For Tyrone Jones, having a stand alone section for spoken word in the Fringe Society’s big programme is an important development. “As the Fringe grows”, he says, “it’s as important as having a plumbing section in the Yellow Pages, rather than lumping the plumbers in with the builders or electricians. Like plumbers, spoken word artists might know a bit of building or electrics (so to speak), but when you look in the Yellow Pages (or Fringe programme) for someone who can mop up when emotions burst or provide overly-convoluted classified ad metaphors, you don’t want to accidentally end up with a builder (or comedian). Or vice versa. Basically, the more headings (and sub-headings) the better as far as I’m concerned”.

With fifty shows appearing in his own Free Fringe spoken word programme, how does Tyrone Jones go about securing the acts? “I know half the performers I programme personally, because I’ve been on this scene for ten years. For the rest, acts from around the world, I go on YouTube clips, websites, writing quality and CVs: to be a success at the Fringe you must be talented AND organised. I try not to discourage anyone, but to match the slots I offer to their experience and potential”.

As for his top spoken word tips for 2012, he continues: “Ben Mellor’s ‘Anthropoetry’ at Fingers Piano Bar promises to be a subcutaneous musical, biological analogy by the talented BBC Radio 4 slam champion; Mark Grist’s ‘Rogue Teacher’ will be packed to the rafters with, well, other rogue teachers and some of his 2 million YouYube viewers; and we also have his talented ‘Dead Poets’ co-star Mixy on at the Free Fringe with his own solo debut, ‘Content’. Tea-fuelled Art’s four spoken word shows and lanky hip-hop prodigy Harry Baker’s two will all be worth seeing as well, but for a host of minority voices try ‘Other Voices’, compered by Fay Roberts”.

“And of course there’s my own ‘Richard Tyrone Jones’s Big Heart'” he concludes “a poetry show about the heart failure that almost killed me. And ‘Utter!’ [the regular spoken word night co-hosted by Tyrone Jones] is back too. Plus the whole thing will climax with the first ever Free Fringe Spoken Word Awards at 9pm on 25 Aug at Fiddler’s Elbow”.

The full Free Fringe programme, with listings for all the spoken word shows mentioned here, is online at freefringeforum.org/programme.php, while Richard Tyrone Jones’ website is at www.richardtyronejones.com.