Music and Spoken Word at The Edinburgh Book Festival

The Edinburgh International Book Festival is well underway, and we headed out to dive a little deeper into the world of music and spoken word at Charlotte Square Gardens.

Feature by The Skinny | 21 Aug 2018

The Edinburgh International Book Festival continues across August with an exceptional array of events from the world of music and spoken word. Here are a few of our recent highlights.

Michael Pedersen's Oyster Party for Scott Hutchison
Michael Pedersen’s Oyster Party for Scott Hutchison is a beautiful, sad, joyful celebration of life, friends, music, and poetry. Organised by Pedersen, and featuring some of Hutchison’s pals as well as his mum, the evening is a safe space to remember, mourn and honour the Frightened Rabbit frontman in all his glory.

Elizabeth Hanks performs rich, dark poetry, based on Scott and on water and her voice trembles. It’s sad until laughter comes. When it comes, it comes often, and it’s relieved and through tears as Hollie McNish’s ribald friendship with Hutchison comes to the fore through lush, seedy short poems. Pedersen yields heart-wrenching, gut-smacking verses from Oyster, plus a piece he wrote on the day of Hutchison’s funeral, Withered Hand serenades, and the finale is a warm rendition of ‘Head Rolls Off’, with McNish on record and Pedersen on the xylophone.

It’s words from Hutchison’s Mum, Marion, that make the evening extraordinary; she speaks with humour and pain about her son, telling stories and reading a poem she wrote for him. It’s a beautiful memorial for a man that meant so much to so many. [Kirstyn Smith]

Unbound | Babble On Presents: Out-Spoken Press
Every night, the Unbound programme displays an exceptional array of literary talent for free. Babble On brings an exceptional spoken word strand to the festival, with their partnership with Out-Spoken Press being a fantastic nightcap for a Friday night. The six-strong line-up showcases a brilliant display of performers - sharp, witty, emotive.

Sabrina Mahfouz reads brilliant excerpts of How You Might Know Me alongside a brand new piece, both punchy and painful at once; Raymond Antrobus captivates all from his collection To Sweeten Bitter, and Joelle Taylor performs the rawest of poetry that seeps beneath the skin.

Indie publishers are constantly showing that they're at the forefront of publishing talent; Out-Spoken are a powerhouse of poetry and performance, and this showcase is testament to the wondrous work of small presses.  Each performer brings a new flavour to the evening, and if you're looking for your next read or poetry recommendation, Out-Spoken should be your next port of call. [Heather McDaid]

Pussy Riot's Maria Alyokhina: Russia's Avant-Garde Freedom Fighters
Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina is not allowed to leave Russia. Yet she appears at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. The former Greek Minister of Finance Yanis Varoufakis says that when we want to change the world, we tend to be armchair revolutionaries. We send emails, we write letters. Maria doesn’t know what will happen to her when she goes home. She is the embodiment of revolutionary, and it should humble us all.

Pussy Riot's protests against Putin and Russia's authoritarian ways have drawn global attention. Her book is from the frontline of democracy’s battlefield. In Russia, she faces a dictatorial system, yet she acts without fear. It’s a choice – you can stand aside from what’s going on, or you can do something. “Fear is quite a useless thing,” she says. "The importance is to do."

Her book is a practical guide for doing, a guide for fighting, and it’s a wonder to listen to someone so brave and fearless, who risks everything to stand against those abusing power. Maria doesn’t care for what-ifs, otherwise, by her own admission, she would never do anything; if we can bottle even a fraction of her attitude individually and take it forward, the world could be a very different, and better, place. [Heather McDaid]

Salena Godden & Molly Naylor | Frank, Funny and Full of Dark Joy
"When I was a child I thought my name was Salena There's-No-Need- To-Shout," cackles Salena Godden before launching into a reading of 'Red,' a poem about menstruation that involves football chants, sound effects, and a lot of foot stomping. Despite her warning that she’ll start us off gently, there's nothing gentle about this poet. Godden is a poet who wants to cause trouble expressed in her poem/love letter, 'Troubled Poets'. Her poems and her performance are apologetically political - she takes aim at the government, the patriarchy, casual misogyny, Trump.

Molly Naylor stopped writing poems and started playing badminton. Now she's writing poems about badminton. "I say badminton, I mean life," she admits before launching into her manifesto for badminton/life. A television scriptwriter as well as a poet, Naylor is down to earth with no air of pretension. Her poems cover everything from writer's block to learning how to be a skipper to the (almost) unbelievable things she's heard from TV executives.

Despite the difference in their material, Godden and Naylor compliment each other well. Their performances are a tornado of fresh air into Charlotte Square. [Katie Goh]

Bruce Dickinson: Writing With An Iron Fist
Iron Maiden’s frontman doesn’t really do quiet. It’s fitting that the man who can captivate arenas with his voice brings a few (albeit unintentional) theatrics to the book festival’s smaller stage – explosions in the form of fireworks and powercuts, just to shake things up.

Olaf Furniss guides Dickinson through conversation that just scrapes the beginning of his career with Iron Maiden – through his childhood and bullying he faced, to the ballsy rules he laid down when fatefully asked to audition for the band that would become his life. In effect, if you’re asking me to audition, you already want to hire me, so we’ll play by my rules.

Those rules have taken Bruce on an exceptional journey through music; autobiographies are for those about to die, he laughs, unless you’re a premiership footballer, and his cancer diagnosis was the tipping point where he finally considered it, before handwriting the entire thing in eligible scrawls in his WHSmith notebooks. He talks at length about his life and love of music, the fear he had stepping into his predecessor's shoes, and reads several passages, including a particularly troubling time for his bowels, which he reveals in reading to gasps, groans and cackles.

Above all, it's a fun hour and a peek behind the curtain of one of metal's most prolific icons. [Heather McDaid]

Edinburgh International Book Festival 2018 takes place until 27 Aug at Charlotte Square Gardens