Fringe report 09 –Richard Tyrone Jones, ‘Utter!’ spoken word

Performer reviews of their venues/shows/experience in 2009

Fringe report 09 –Richard Tyrone Jones, ‘Utter!’ spoken word

Postby Richard Tyrone Jones » 01 Sep 2009, 21:58

‘Utter!’ Edinburgh Fringe report!

Fringe report 2009 – Richard Tyrone Jones of ‘Utter!’ spoken word, Fingers Piano Bar (5.30pm)

The run-up to the Fringe was hard work, sending out and chasing up press releases, inviting people on Facebook etc, but resulted in interviews in The Fix and Three Weeks, a psychological boost, although from straw polls I carried out neither actually really brought anybody in. Doing the Royal Mile’s Family stage, too, was a hard slog and was always better with other people, such as Jude Simpson, with whom doing the first night, also featuring Tim Key, and the first three days, was fantastic. I’ve seen Jude many times before and it was a pleasure to finally work with her and meet her incredibly supportive husband Ben – really pleased about their two pieces of good news! Also, Radio 4’s You and Yours recorded us, but it wasn’t used. I did ask Judi if she was getting everything, but she never asked to turn the air-con off!

The first Music Special on Mon 10th saw local spoken word band Zorras play, who were great, but their fans were obviously only there to see them and bucket was poor. Utter! Scots next day was great, however. The best thing about doing Edinburgh has been seeing Scots poets whose work is new to me – very refreshing. Claire Askew, Rob A Mackenzie, Graeme Hawley, Anita Govan, Stephen Barnaby and Milton Balgoni have all turned in great performances of great writing, but special mention has to go to Robin Cairns, probably the warmest, funniest and most charismatic spoken word performer I’ve ever encountered, and Gavin Inglis’ hard work and great ghost stories at the almost-always packed local writer’s night Underword. He’s taught me a thing or two.

It was great to have the La-de-Dahs, intensely talented vocal harmony three-piece up, and Niall Spooner-Harvey guest hosting and giving me a much needed first day off. However, bucket was definitely down on all the days guest-hosts stood in. I blogged for Fest on Free shows, mentioning the different techniques of ‘the ask’, but what it boils down to is it’s my money on the line so I’ll always ask for donations better than anyone else. Also, we were giving a a copy of my book to those who gave £5, and if I’m not there reading from it, why would anyone want to get one? I’ll need to do more readings of my own stuff next year – we’ll see if doing a one-man show works!

I was PBH Free Fringe venue captain, and Fingers Piano Bar was a good venue, as I’ve asphyxiated in some shit ones. Own PA, air-con. Cons: we had to find more seating, which Gavin Inglis and Pamela from ‘Underword’ sourced, and there process starting at £3.90 per pint meant people were less likely to drink, and therefore less generous on the bucket. It also turned out that PBH had not managed to programme all cabaret/spoken word. The Love Guru was drafted in to fill a gap after us and so was in neither the Fringe brochure nor (initially) the Free Fringe Brochure. Nostalgy Tango cabaret, though excellent, were packed for the two days they were mentioned in the Fringe brochure and empty for the days they for some reason weren’t. Later in the run the show before us, V.G. Lee, had to pull out, and though Hoopla, the improv group, were always full of appreciative audiences they were not spoken word at all, contrary to their billing as ‘an improvised history of poetry’. This is something that can hopefully be rectified next year. Though I’d be happy to work there again I think Fingers would work better as a music venue and I’d rather we found a spoken word venue in a cheaper bar somewhere nearer the Royal Mile, or West Port and its independent book festival – establishing such a venue would be a news item in itself.

Sat 15th’s Donut night with Tim Turnbull v Tim Wells’ donut-eating contest, and John Hegley, was our most successful night in numbers, bucket, audience reaction and press: 65 present, filling the piano bar. BBC Scotland online turned up but did bugger all about it, and we got a good pic in Three Weeks. Next day, I was surprised Simon Munnery didn’t bring in more as I think he’s great. Over the next week highlights included James Kettle, Tim Turnbull, Politics! With Rapunzel Wizard, a thoroughly nice bloke, and Ritchie Scurvey, who sadly ran off with the bucket money. A warning to promoters: NEVER BOOK THIS TROUBLED MAN.

Our second Music special had the excellent Jessica Delfino and Young Dawkins, VP of Edinburgh University and secret beat poet. Sadly his musical backing didn’t turn up. Screw them, he was great on his own. Kunt & The Gang seemed scared of the audience, having done ‘wanking and crying’ at 6pm the day before and gone down like a lead balloon, but we had agreed he’d do his less blue material and the audience really warmed to him; he’d no reason to be perturbed and he didn’t do my favourite, ‘cup of tea’ (we at ‘Utter!’ really do rate him)!

Fri 21st’s ‘Dead Poets and Puppets’ had the excellent Lance Pierson as Betjeman and Mab Jones with a Taliesin puppet – first time I’ve seen her and she really is a class act. James McKay’s Poe rendition with raven was good but I should have given him gothic ghostly makeup (I’d lost my paints). I wasn’t happy with my own performance as Ted Hughes, hosting and performing ‘The Sylvia Plath story: in puppets’. As James said, I’d ‘shot my load on the Royal Mile.

On Sat 22nd James McKay, Ernie Burns and I did the ‘Visit Scotland’ tent on St Andrews Square. But the air con machine inflating the tent drowns out quiter poets and performing to kids, while I enjoy it, was futile as Fingers cannot admit children! Lovely to say hi to Francesca Beard and her lovely bairns though.

Rushing off from there, going on Lauren Laverne’s show was cool – I hardly ummed and ahhed at all although I do seem to somehow end up doing ridiculous sound poetry every time I go on the radio. Lauren was very nice, although the seat still smelt a bit of Jimmy Carr’s hair gel. Asking for autographs for my indie kid friends and not myself may, however, have been a social faux-pas. Thanks to PBH for putting me in touch with Adam, Lauren’s producer and for James Kettle who did a great job of hosting the ‘Comics do poetry’ night with Tim Key, Richard Sandling’s Spak Whitman character (who did I think five appearances during the run and just kept getting better – sorry to have missed ‘Spak Whitman sings!’) Nick Helm and Hannah George, who both went off a treat despite Hannah losing her notebook with the poems she’s written specially and having to rewrite!

The only drawbacks to Edinburgh had nothing to do with the quality of the acts, which was overwhelmingly good. They were my being knackered and despondent by the end of it through not going to bed early enough or getting enough exercise, and my getting frustrated by the lack of reviews. So thanks to Rachel Rose Reid who read my moany tweet and got someone from hairline in to review ‘Utter!’s got talent on Sun 23rd. 3/5 stars in a favourable review for an obviously-variable show: funny they didn’t mention the deserving winner, local girl Laura Hainey, though. Three Weeks came in about this time, but despite my going in to nag them, to date have not printed our review – or published it on their website.

Rachel was fantastic with her storytelling in Utter! Fiction on Monday 24, and I loved UEA graduate Megan Bradbury’s dark tale of pubescent sexuality. A good night made for £83 in the bucket. Thanks to Anita Govan and George Chopping for then guest hosting and giving me a couple of days off, when I visited Leith. Especially as George’s day was the worst of the run with only about 6 audience and £6 in the bucket. Lessons? I can’t take two days off in a row, or depend on someone who’s only up for two days and wants to meet friends, etc, to do the necessary amount of flyering. Next year I’d like to bring up a team who’ll be here the whole time, so I can concentrate on thinking strategically while they do routine stuff, guest host and further the contacts net. I also shouldn’t over-programme acts, as no-one can bring in all their friends more than about twice in the run, even if they’re excellent readers. I’d also choose a later slot so that local writers can bring in their friends who work 9-5s.

For our extended last night we started at 4.44pm to offer open mic slots and got about 60 in. Audiences ranged from 6-65, averaging 30-40 but we did suffer from smaller audiences (and so bucket) towards the end of the run; Channel 4 recorded the show but unfortunately the only footage they used was me falling off a bollard during a fun day flyering on the Royal Mile on Fri 28th with Dzifa Benson and Paula Varjack. This only resulted in a few more punters though – the venue’s too far away. I think we got some from the half-price hut on Princes St. Flyering there and the Assembly room queues (if present) in the hour before was the only flyering that ever worked, I think. The venue is just too far from the action (and affected by the tramworks) to attract many randoms.

But May, the owner, was pleased with how things had gone and their income (when Simon Munnery started doing his fill-in show there and rammed the place with Kristen Schaal especially) and is up for continuing next year. They’ll need more chairs. The staff, though used to dealing with late-night drunks and wary at first, were by the end very helpful and appreciative.

Despite the lack of reviews, it was excellent both to do ‘Utter!’ in a different city, to see so many other great Free (and unfree) shows, to meet new talent, and to perform in other excellent shows like Rich Sandling’s Perfect movie (can’t believe I forgot to read my Total Recall villanelle!), comedy in a cave, Simon Munnery’s AGM, and successfully getting people to read Andrew Motion in shifts for the duration of Mark Watson’s 24 hour show, thus creating a ‘Perpetual Motion’ machine (a record for most amount of work put into fulfilling a weak play on words ever???)

We might just break even (not considering the costs of food and booze) – though only if, as seems likely, the printer we used for flyers and posters goes bust so we don’t have to pay them. The Free Fringe was, however, the ONLY way we could afford to do it. PBH was very good at hooking me up with media contacts, and everyone in the Free Fringe I met was very supportive – there’s a real sense of community.

So you get what you put into it and I hope I can get more involved next year, and also get more people in ‘Utter!’ and in the UK’s spoken word scene in general to take part. I also hope that ‘Utter!’s returning will get us more reviews, from becoming more of a ‘festival fixture’. I’d still appreciate advice from anyone reading about how to get reviewers in though, as I think we were doing great shows and deserved more attention and the audiences and income it would bring. Plus, not that I’m a spoken word dictator or anything but I have a military-style jacket with epaulettes which would look great with about four stars affixed on each side….

RTJ 01/09/09
www.utterspokenword.com
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Richard Tyrone Jones
 
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