With Lingo in full swing, Ireland’s first ever spoken word festival, I couldn’t help thinking that it was worth taking stock of Ireland’s increasing turn towards the spoken word scene. While still very much a niche mode of entertainment, recent publicity over the Lingo festival – you may have seen the promotional Lingo booklets left around in cafés and bookshops, looking attractive, with their pleasantly geometrical yellow and black design – has brought attention to a trend that has been growing for quite some time.
The Lingo festival started yesterday, kicking off from 6pm and taking place in a variety of locations: the Liquor Rooms, the Workmans Club, and Smock Alley Theatre are all hosting acts throughout the three-day event. While featuring some individual acts, such as Karl Parkinson, All-Ireland Slam Poetry Champion John Cummins, and Polar Bear & Abby Oliveira, Lingo is based around a unique structure in that a large amount of the acts are in the form of showcases representing certain Dublin nights and collectives.
With weekend passes sold out well in advance (individual day passes are still available, however), it became apparent that it would be difficult to see everything. However, the fact is, many of the groups of spoken word performers are part of a host of regularly occurring nights around Dublin. Therefore, Lingo has the added bonus of directing audiences towards a variety of music, performance, comedy, and open-mic nights that they may not have been previously aware existed.Par exemple:
The Brownbread Mixtape
Hosted by musical comedy duo Kalle and Enda, The Brownbread Mixtape happens on the last Wednesday of every month, upstairs in the Stag’s Head, Dame Court. Possibly one of the most thematically varied performance nights I’ve encountered, it offers a range of comedy, poetry, drama, improvisation and songwriting acts. The presenters have a continuous and hilarious presence as musical MC’s throughout, and the night’s built-in theatre troupe, The Brownbread Players, offer strange and wonderful interludes.
The Monday Echo
The Monday Echo is notable for its approachability and extremely encouraging attitude to fledgling performers. Situated in the basement of the International Bar, Wicklow Street, it is a weekly poetry and songwriting night hosted by Aidan Murphy. While each week features a line-up of acts on the bill, there is also an open-mic section at the end of the night, in which performers new to the scene can share their work. While hosting some extremely talented bands, songwriters and spoken word artists, such as Temper-Mental MissElayneous, Ana Gog, and Mongoose, the Monday Echo is also an extremely receptive environment for new writers to share their work.
Having just celebrated its 1-year anniversary, Slam Sunday is a recently established poetry evening, taking place on the first Sunday of every month in Accents Coffee and Tea Lounge, Stephen Street Lower. Co-hosted by Adele Doran and the Monday Echo’s Aidan Murphy, it makes a change from gig-style performance nights insofar as it is structured in the manner of a competitive poetry slam. According to Slam Sunday guidelines, poems must be learned off by heart and be under three minutes in duration. Participants sign up prior to performing, and take part in two rounds, a semi-final, and a final. The winners receive cash prizes of up to 60 euro. Having started small, this event has seen a dramatic increase in attendance in recent months, a testament to the poetry scene’s move from a niche interest to a significant cultural presence in Ireland.
Dublin’s Underground Beat
Taking place in the International Bar every Wednesday, Dublin’s Underground Beat is a night of live music, acoustic songwriting, and poetry. Hosted by musician Jonathan Mac Glinn (a.k.a. Johnny Rayge) the night features performances from its hosts, a range of up-and-coming Dublin acts, and an open-mic section at the end of the night. Regularly featuring songwriting acts such as Red Sail and poets including Sean Ruane, David Hynes, and Daniel Wade, Dublin’s Underground Beat guarantees a varied and interesting lineup with a focus on new acts and beginner performers.
Nighthawks is a charity performance night taking place monthly at the Cobalt Café, North Great Georges Street, and organised by Stephen Kennedy. Tickets are €15 and it is possible to book in advance. Following a varied format, Nighthawks features performance poetry, short theatre pieces, musical sets, and standup comedy. Nighthawks is one of the more prominent and talked-about Dublin performance nights – it guarantees an incredibly high standard and a packed line-up every month.
Launched this year by Daniel Ayiotis and Victoria Fradgley, Mixed Messages takes place upstairs in Jack Nealon’s pub, on Capel Street, at two-month intervals. Based around an ambitious premise, Mixed Messages is a performance night that breaks the boundary between crowd and audience. Poets and musicians do not introduce themselves, and there is no MC presence speaking between acts – instead, performances run smoothly into one another, giving the impression of an overarching organic unity tying the many acts together. There is no ‘stage’ as such: performers are seated around the room, mixed with the audience. Therefore, an interesting effect is created when a performer detaches themselves from the crowd and begins to walk around and speak; or when a guitarist’s music gently fades in after a poem has been performed. Mixed Messages is also very interdisciplinary, offering improvisation, theatre, and comedy in addition to music and poetry.
The Circle Sessions
Set up by Brian James Kingston earlier this year, the Circle Sessions takes place in the Harbour Bar, Bray, every Tuesday night. This is another night that makes use of an innovative structure. Situated in the opulent conservatory of the bar – the circular structure of which explains the name – this is a uniquely cosy night. Treading the line between an open-mic and a pre-arranged line-up, performers are invited, but do not give their set all at once. Instead, acts are picked at random from the circle, and may be asked to perform two or three times, interspersed throughout the night. The flexible structure of the gig means that audience members, friends, relatives, or significant others of performers are also welcome to share their work – like a school talent show or ‘circle time’, this night offers a friendly and approachable perspective which takes the intimidating element out of performance. This is a night worth traveling for, and it usually ends at a sensible hour – between 10.30 and 11pm – in acknowledgement of anyone who needs to get the last Dart.
Hosted by Maurice and Ria Czerniak, Velocoustic is an acoustic songwriting and poetry night taking place every Wednesday in the basement of The Black Sheep, Capel Street. This night takes place in a lovely space and always has a unique ambiance. Acts such as John Cummins, Gavin Mee, and Donal Quinn have featured. While the focus is mainly on songwriting, there is a considerable poetry element to the acts as well. In a similar manner to Dublin’s Underground Beat, Velocoustic also features a weekly set from its hosts. Maurice and Ria are an acoustic duo (Ria on vocals and Maurice on guitar), and their sets are always very original and enjoyable, mixing jazz vocals, traditional Irish elements, and folk melodies.
If you are only hearing about Lingo in retrospect, or did not manage to get yourself a ticket, all is not lost. My guide is by no means exhaustive – these are just some of the regular happenings in the Dublin performance scene. The interconnected aspect of these nights – there is considerable overlap between them, and they are attended by a circuit of regular patrons and open-mic performers – means that it is easy to become involved and informed. If you are an aspiring performer, a music lover, a literary type, or just looking to branch out from the monotony of your local, it is a scene worth exploring.