Wednesday, 26 June 2013

New Album: A Maze of Breaths: @PBHSpokenWord at @TheFreeFringe

My name is Dave Pickering and I run a night called Stand Up Tragedy. We're taking a show up to the PBH's Free Fringe this year. As our show is also a podcast and we have lots of audio experience, we agreed to put together an album to celebrate and fundraise for the spoken word line-up at the Free Fringe, which our tragic variety show is proud to be a part of.

It's a selection of live and recorded tracks, bringing to your ears the spirit of the spoken word line-up at the PBH Free Fringe. We bring to you the variety and energy of the festival, making you laugh, think, feel and move with this collection that combines poetry, storytelling, music, comedy and everything in between.

All the tracks were donated by people who are either taking a show up to PBH's Free Fringe or who have done so in the past. Performers either sent in tracks or arranged for us to record them live. We had lots and lots of amazing submissions, which I whittled down to this selection. I've tried to order it so that it flows as an album, but also to highlight the contrast between the types of spoken word that are contained in these 19 tracks.

The quality of the work submitted really took my breath away. There are a lot more songs and soundscapes than I'd expected. There are also some brilliant live performances, some of which were captured by the Stand Up Tragedy team. Shout out to Bryony Hawkins (who produces the SUT podcast) and our sound technician Steven Harvey, who also mastered this album and set up the bandcamp site.

The artwork was donated to us by another Free Fringe spoken worder, Max Scratchmann. 

Track By Track:

1. Katherine McMahon with Fiona Keenan – Blackberries

This track is as sweet and tasty as its title suggests. It gives me a warm feeling inside and seemed the perfect track to ease the listener into the album with its combination of gentle music and wonderful words.

2. Dan Simpson –You Make My Flesh Crawl

This is a romantic and macabre story set against the backdrop of the zombie apocalypse. I recorded it live earlier this year at Richard Tyrone Jones' spoken word event, Utter Shite! For me this is one of those poems where the last line blows you away and gives you a new understanding that you can't quite explain. I chose it as the second track so that people would get used to the way the tracks switch between live and produced sound. And also because it meant a transition from relaxed energy to tension; from sweet to bitter sweet.

3. Fay Roberts – Blissful Chance

Inevitably an album showing the range of what spoken word can do will also show the range of what the human voice can do. This is the first of two tracks from Fay Roberts, the current director of spoken word for PBH's Free Fringe, which mixes speech and song. It's also another take on the topic of relationships.  Love has, of course, been a preoccupation of poets and singers through the ages and this album is no exception.

4. Flea Circus: Superbard – Brixton’s Afloat

This tremendous track is the first longer form set-piece of the album. It's also our first straight up story. The relationship element this time is a subplot for the main narrative as Superbard imagines what would happen if a man who thinks Brixton will be flooded is proved "right". Beautiful vocals form a stirring chorus. Powerful and dramatic electronic scoring and a sad and funny tale give us something to really get our teeth into.

5. Isadora Vibes – Lady V

This track takes an often neglected and historically ignored part of the female anatomy and anthropomorphises it to a thought-provoking and often comic effect. Sex, like love, is perhaps one of the timeless topics of poetry, and it’s great to hear so many different voices and perspectives on this subject in the album. A range of sexualities are explored, so hopefully there’s something for everyone.

6. Friends of Friends (Vera Chok, stephenmcaines and Pascal Barras) – Victor Lou (Sequin Edit)

This track is a wonderful piece of music. The spoken word element is almost secondary. The voice functions as another instrument and a texture which helps create an engaging musical atmosphere.

7. Sophia Walker – Around the World In 8 Mistakes

This track was recorded live at a Stand Up Tragedy event. It was written on the day of the performance and is fresh, surprising and thought provoking. It takes you in all sorts of directions and has a strong ending. This is the first track that focuses on another age-old preoccupation of poets: the self. It expresses the interior emotional journey through a series of challenges and experiences.

8. The Morris Quinlan Experience feat James McKay– The New Bali Ha'i

This piece makes me think of Joy Division or Depeche Mode. It’s a poetry and music collaboration that fits strongly into the tradition of John Cooper Clark. Its lyrical content is surreal, ambiguous and evocative. And at track 8, we have the first meta track(!) which examines what it is to be a poet or make spoken word. But this isn't empty naval gazing in any respect. It explores the external as well as internal. To me, it’s about half connections, the unexpressed, and everything in between. It's pretty epic.

9. Alan Wolfson – Love Sickening

This was another track I recorded live at Utter Shite! It's a mix of the funny and profound, and is an example of what can happen when you force yourself to force the rhymes.

10. Richard Tyrone Jones – Visiting Time

This is a new poem from Richard Tyrone Jones, who is currently taking a sabbatical from being the Director of Spoken Word at the Free Fringe so that he can tour his poetry all over the world. This track is part of a live performance he gave at a Stand Up Tragedy event, and it focuses on his grandmother’s dementia. It really is a beautiful collection of observations and feelings. The context he gives the poem is as profound and poetic as the poem itself.

11. Catherine Scott – That Fucking Cockerel

To liven the mood, we go from personal sadness to the frustration of having a cockerel crowing outside your widow. This is a fun poem, which is also a kind of love letter to the swears we scream and things we think when we run out of patience.

12. Mellor and Steele – Beat 'n' Trachea

This is another longer form set-piece. It examines the voice itself, how we make sound, what sounds we make and how we choose to use them. It's part science lecture, part song, and part manifesto. I was so impressed with the cleverness and execution of this track.

13. The Antipoet with percussion by Mark Gordon – Hanging with the Poets

Some more self-referentialness as The Antipoet sings a song about hanging out with poets. It's a camp and humorous take on the spoken word performer’s lot in life.

14. David Lee Morgan – DUH-MOCKRACY

We go from a farce to a powerful and sincere piece from David Lee Morgan in the tradition of political performance poets like Gil Scott Heron. An evocative piece of wonderfully delivered rhetoric that considers what democracy is. 

15. Mel Jones – Porn

This track from Mel Jones' album, Fuckin' Mel, takes a look at the state of modern pornography. It's an earthy and funny discussion of pornofied culture, which posits an alternative approach to the one that currently dominates much of the Internet.

16. Stand Up Tragedy – An extract from a true story by Andy Bodle

This is the submission from my show, Stand Up Tragedy. It's an extract from a longer true story told by ex-stand-up and core member of the SUT team, Andy Bodle. It gives you an idea of the tone we go for at our night. A sad and thought-provoking story of a teenage suicide attempt that will make you laugh.

17. Jem Rolls – I know what the birds are thinking and I understand that look in their eyes

This was recorded by Bryony Hawkins at a Bang Said the Gun night in London. Jem's performance style made his set hard to capture as he moves around the stage a lot and doesn't use a mic. But I'm so glad we did capture it, as this is one of my favourite tracks on the album. Its delivery combines a wonderful mix of humour and anger and it will make you think about birds in a completely different way.

18. Marcel Lucont – The Tits Of The Brits

Marcel Lucont is a comic character that affectionately parodies both poetry and French people. It's a bawdy, ironic piece which playfully provokes, and it was performed live to an appreciative audience.

19. Fay Roberts (featuring Gav Sirisena) – Turn Again

This is the second track donated by our current Spoken Word director, Fay Roberts. Like many contributors, she gave me a few tracks to choose between; in this case I decided to use both of them.  I think they both give different flavours of what spoken word can be. This track is backed by music and forms, with the first track, Blackberries, a set of mellow musical bookends. The title for the album was taken from this track, although the shortlist included lines from many of the other artists.

Anyway those are my thoughts. Hope you enjoy the album that we've put together for you. Some of it is rough and ready, some of it beautifully produced, and all of it brings you some of the spirit and flavours of PBH's Free Fringe.

With love both spoken and unspoken,

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