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'Because I try and write from a place of honesty, my faith comes through in the poetry'



Harry Baker is the youngest every World Poetry Slam Champion. His TED Talk has racked up more than a million views, and as half of the comedy-rap-jazz-duo Harry and Chris he has been featured on BBC Radio 2 and Russell Howard’s Hour

He's a regular at both the Edinburgh Fringe and Greenbelt, where he spoke with Sarah Stone about writing and performing with his best friend, his journey from shy teenager to confident performer, and what his Christian faith means to him. 

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I have seen you perform quite a few times and always feel really joyful by the end. Are you trying to spread a positive message?

Yeah, definitely. When I started writing it was just a natural extension of myself, and because I am naturally a positive person that came into it. I think in poetry and comedy it is quite easy to be cynical about the world – and there’s absolutely a place for that – but I felt like I wanted to fight back slightly. So it’s not that I will only ever write about positive things, but that’s what I am naturally drawn to.

And doing it in an interesting way. So not just saying, ‘hey, be happy!’. But trying to spread some joy.

When did you get into spoken word?

My earliest recollection of performing is when I was about 16 or 17. At school, whenever we were given a task to write a poem I used to love it and go above and beyond what we were supposed to do.

But that was still always written on a page. Through listening to a lot of music, I got to really love the performative nature of it – so then I started going to open mics. I would get up and do raps I’d written as a teenage boy without music, and get away with calling them poetry.

I felt like I was welcomed and treated as an equal, even though I was young and not very good. And I loved that space.

That must have been nerve-wracking! Or were you a very confident teenager?

I completely attribute my confidence now to my journey through spoken word. Because when I first started, it wasn’t that I was desperate to be on stage, but I really wanted to share my words and my poems. At first, I couldn’t make eye contact from the stage; I’d just read from a piece of paper, blitz it through and then leave.

But then slowly, as I got used to that space, I realised if you can give the poem a bit of context it feels more natural, and before you know it, one three-minute slot has moved on to a 20-minute feature.

Between 16 and 25 is when you’re learning a lot about yourself anyway. So to be able to be vulnerable in that space, and to try and make people laugh and share thoughts and be listened to was really powerful for me.

Because I was quite an introverted, shy teenager. And even now, I think people are surprised when they’ve seen me on stage and then I come off stage and I want to shrink away a little bit, because it’s a very different feeling.

Was it hard to go from working as a solo artist to working with Chris Read and surrendering some of that control?

I think why it works with Chris is because we have been best mates for ten years. Partly when I started I loved poetry because I had complete control over everything. So initially, working with someone else I found a bit trickier. Because you have to give up some of that control and trust the other person.

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That’s why I love working with Chris, because I know him well enough to do that. And we can be honest with each other and say when a bit works and when it doesn’t work, and so there’s none of that secret wondering if you could do it better by yourself, because we’re very open during the process. And if I get stuck I can hand it over to him, and he can hand it back. So it becomes a lot more dynamic and fun.

How does your Christian faith impact your work?

When I first started, I found the differentiation between being a Christian artist and being an artist who also happens to be a Christian really interesting. It seems to me that there are some artists who like to play to Christian audiences, whereas I really like performing to all kinds of audiences and being out there in the world.

But naturally, because I try and write from a place of honesty, my faith comes through in the poetry. I wouldn’t want anyone to be turned off from it because it is explicitly preachy or that kind of thing. But there are references in there.

For me, my faith is part of every aspect of life. We’ve done gigs and people find out we’re Christians and they’re like ‘oh, you seem normal’. Because they’ve not interacted with that many people who would call themselves Christians. So I think it’s important to be in that space as a Christian, and as a human being.

What do you enjoy about Greenbelt?

Greenbelt is genuinely like the light at the end of the tunnel for us. The Edinburgh Fringe is so hectic – over the course of three weeks, we perform about 50 times. So to know at the end of all that we get to come to Greenbelt, where I have come as a punter for years and performed for the last five or six years…

And by the time we get to Greenbelt we are really practised and can present the best version of ourselves to such a great audience. I really love that.


Photos | Alex Baker

Harry Baker was talking to Sarah Stone at Greenbelt 2017. Find out more on his website, watch him on Youtube, or follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Harry's TED Talk has been viewed 1.4m times. Watch it below: 


Baptist Times, 11/01/2018
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