In 2012, Harry Baker became the youngest ever World Poetry Slam Champion. Having toured internationally, this year he’s in Edinburgh with his fourth Fringe show The Harry and Chris Show, working with musician Chris Read. Harry’s debut collection The Sunshine Kid was published in 2015 by Burning Eye Books.
If you are performing a poem at a gig and you forget a line it’s not a big deal
What went into creating the Harry and Chris Show?
It is my fourth year at the Edinburgh Fringe, having brought up three solo shows previously. This year I’m bringing my best mate, a childhood friend and fantastic musician named Chris Read. The Harry and Chris Show is two childhood friends playing music together. Chris calls it “reckless joy”, which I like. This is an attempt to be unashamedly positive, even when the world doesn’t feel like that.
My background is poetry, and Chris is from a jazz background. Sometimes it can sound just like rapping, but Chris knows the poems well enough that he can give them space. Having someone that knows your work can make it a much more enjoyable collaboration.
In the show you mention that you have been playing together for ten years. What was one of your favourite moments?
We went on tour to Texas. There was one time where these people had this huge ranch, and they built this this amphitheatre into the garden. As the sun was going down, they were cooking barbecue, and we were playing to a group of strangers. There were so many levels in that, like relying on people you don’t know, and experiencing the kindness of strangers. Even though we were half way around the world we were made to feel at home. There was something empowering about knowing you are fully in someone else’s hand.
What kind of inspiration do you and Chris draw on?
When we were coming up with a flyer blurb, we were wondering what to put on there. There is music, and also funny bits, but we didn’t want to put ourselves in Musical Comedy. In a way, we both love Flight of the Conchords, two people who are clearly mates playing music. When I was growing up, as a poet there was Sage Francis and Scoobius Pip. Chris has a lot of jazz influences, and in the show there is a little bit of Louis Armstrong. But we both grew up in the 90s, so there are R&B references.
How has working with Don’t Flop been changing your work?
What I find interesting is that rap battles are all about punch lines. When writing a poem, or storytelling, it is about the overarching theme of the poem. In a rap battle the theme is always ‘I’m better than you, and this is why.’
In The Harry and Chris Show a lot of the songs are a battle-rap structure, in that there is multi-syllabic rhyming and puns. I find writing for rap battles really enjoyable, because I can think about a few lines at a time. But to write a full poem, you need to get more into the headspace of where it was going.
Are you going to continue competing in Don’t Flop?
I enjoyed stepping away from that to focus on The Harry and Chris Show, because I am a poet, and that’s what I love doing. Don’t Flop was really good for promoting that, and I love that people have seen me on an online rap battle and come to an hour-long poetry show because of that.
I’m trying to focus on other stuff now. When you know you have a rap battle coming up, there is that pressure because you know it is going to be filmed and put out there, and if you choke that is the worst possible thing. But if you are performing a poem at a gig and you forget a line it’s not a big deal. I’ve not written as many poems in the last year because I’ve been focussing on rap battles instead. But now I’m trying to put the emphasis on other things. Some people want to rise to the top of the rap battle world, but I don’t think that’s my destiny. It’s great fun though.
Are we going to be seeing more of The Harry and Chris Show?
Absolutely. We are going to be moving in together in September. We’ve got a couple of gigs and we are looking to tour with this show. What is good about this show is that we can break it up into twenty minute slots. So far we’ve done stuff at poetry nights, in music venues, and in theatre. At the moment we want to promote our CD, but I’m sure we will end up writing more songs.
You can follow Harry Baker on Twitter @HarryBakerPoet, and The Harry and Chris show at @HarrynChris. The Harry and Chris Show is on at 13:45 Aug 6-27th, not 17th, at Pilgrim (Venue 100).